Clear Skies for the New Year

January 2nd, 2017

Fifteen minutes past the start of 2017 the sky is clear. All was quiet following the barrage of noise at midnight. My equipment runs flawlessly in the crisp 23°F (-5°C) air. Blue light from neighbors holiday display illuminates the telescope tube (click for larger version):

Fantastic way to start the new year!

This will be a great year for visual astronomy here in the United States. Unlike 2016 many meteor showers have favorable conditions. The Quadrantids, Lyrids, Orionids, Leonids and best of all the Geminids are all relatively free of moonlight interference. Only the Perseids are affected this year.

The Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

The biggest astronomy event of 2017 is 231 days from now.  On August 21, 2017 the moon will pass in front of the sun and its shadow will race across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. There hasn’t been a solar eclipse where the path of totality crossed the United States in almost 100 years.

This is an event you don’t want to miss and you must be in the path of totality. This narrow strip, just 70 miles wide, is where day will turn to near darkness for a few minutes. Where you will see the incredible beauty of the sun’s corona.  No video camera can capture the true spectacle of this event. You must be there!

 

Dumb Shift of Time

November 5th, 2016

Tonight we shift back to standard time. In a few months when we start the Dumb Shift of Time (DST) think about this:

 

False Dawn

October 19th, 2016

A beam of light intensifies before the sun rises: morning Zodiacal light. My favorite image from a series of photos I took Friday morning just before the end of astronomical darkness. A few clouds drifting over the area enhanced the color of the bright star Sirius (middle right) and added a bit more color on the horizon. Click picture for a larger version.

It wasn’t but 15 minutes earlier that the sky was completely clear as captured in the picture below, taken with a different angle that captured the Pleiades .

There were active imagers and observers scattered throughout the field. Click image for a larger version. Both of these photographs were 1 minute long exposures using a Skytracker to follow the stars.

The steady brightening of the Zodiacal light was a pleasure to experience this year.  Starting about an hour before the end of astronomical darkness the cone of light slowly grows in intensity until a moment is reached where it is brightest and the sky is still dark. Then it fades, the sky begins to lighten as the sun creeps closer to the horizon and  the Zodiacal light  is washed out with the approaching dawn.

Another Week At Okie-Tex

October 8th, 2016

One week ago tonight I arrived back home from No Man’s land Oklahoma, aka, the Black Mesa area of the Oklahoma panhandle. In past years I’ve posted a first picture I’m particularly happy with.  Tonight I’m doing it a bit different, this picture courtesy my friend John Struckmeyer:

This is from the 2014 star party but the actors were the same this year. That’s Johns neighbor Tom looking/yelling up at John’s quad copter. The scopes and red Eurovan are John’s, he’s got a great setup and you can’t believe how much equipment he packs in that van. Back in the day John and Kent Kirkley developed film on the spot inside their vans.  Now he runs the scopes and imaging from a computer in the van. One reason its covered in light blocking material.

I realized this week I’ve made a mistake not taking more pictures of my fellow star gazers over the years.  Pictures of the moment. Yeah I’ve taken many shots of scopes and mounts, boring.  I’ve written about weather, the night sky and some neat events.

But what I’ve utterly failed to do is show the fun and cool people I get to hang out with. From airplane pilots to school teachers, young campers to retired professors. All enthusiasts of the night sky, driving hundreds of miles to gather in the middle of nowhere. Pictures like above that captures Tom likely making some smart ass comment. I don’t have a single picture of John Bozeman walking around the field mid afternoon in PJs, fuzzy slippers and a drink in hand. Telling some outlandish story likely rooted in truth.

In many cases one can’t get a picture of the moment. It’s night and we’re all out under so many stars you wouldn’t believe it unless you are there.  Like this year when a group (Fred, Steve, Tim and others) argued over whether Pluto is actually in the eyepiece of a telescope. After all its just another little bitty, teeny tiny white dot. But that doesn’t stop folks from having an entertaining and lively discussion for an hour.

In fact that’s one thing I’ve always loved about being an imager. Once on target and exposing I’m essentially free to wander about the field. To visit various groups there like the Minnesota observers, the Tulsa group or the Kansas bunch I’m usually close by. To me its like a big street party only there’s no bright light, just the stars overhead. Instead of blaring music its the sound of people chatting, bitching and laughing about equipment or software problems. The occasional sound of a telescope slewing to a new location, an autoguider beeping in warning about its guide star. In a rare moment its a pack of girl scouts sounding like a small bee hive seeing the milky way blazing overhead for the first time in their lives.

Sometimes things are geek fun. This year I picked up an old Kenwood TS-450SAT from Wes Atchison (WA5TKU). Along with John Love (WD5IKX) giving a live demonstration of hf CQ using a portable inverted V antenna. My long time Texan friends have been neighbors, imagers and ham operators for years and I’ve always said they were the geeks among geeks. Not sure what to think now that I’ve essentially joined them. One night few years back Chuck and I put an Annoy-a-tron on their telescope shelter. That provided hours of entertainment.

I will try to improve, try to capture some of the people moments there. For while I see many of the same people every year some I don’t.  Chris Lamar and John Davis haven’t attended in a few years and its been many years since Kent last setup here. One never knows. All these words are likely a result of reading of Pieter Hintjens passing this week. His “Ten Steps Toward Happiness” had been a recent read.

The night sky is filled with an infinite number of amazing things but ones time to experience it is  short.

73 de KE0JVZ

 

Sprang my ankle springing forward

March 13th, 2016

Today about 2/3 of the world changed their clocks forward one hour in a stupid effort to save daylight. Supposedly we do this to save energy but I’d like to see a comprehensive study that proves that. I doubt it saves anything.

One thing I see different this year is the increased talk of abandoning Daylight Saving Time (DST). Good!  California has legislation introduced to eliminate it as well as Missouri. Several states like Arizona don’t follow DST at all. Others are a bit of a mess like Indiana.

Lets just end this practice Benjamin Franklin proposed as a joke. You want more daylight get your butt up earlier in the summer (northern hemisphere).

Oddly I’ve noticed increased discussion of eliminating time zones as well. Put everyone on the same clock. Well that’s also stupid in my opinion. The notion of local time has always been based on the sun, that is when the sun crossed the local meridian it was local noon.  Why on earth would we want New York, Los Angeles and Bejing all at the same time? It would make no sense locally.

But wait, we already do keep time the same across the earth. Its called Universal Time or Coordinated Universal Time to be exact (UTC). Computers use this internally and  transparently convert it for humans.

Time, dates and calendars are complicated. Why add the useless additional complication of DST. Lets get rid of it.

Instant Nostalgia

March 3rd, 2016

As a kid I remember being handed a fresh Polaroid film picture and waiting about a minute before peeling it apart to see the image. It was amazing!  Fast forward many years and the digital revolution all but erased that era from my mind. I didn’t know the film still existed until Okie-Tex 2015 when a photographer (sorry I forgot his name) walked up and took our picture:

Ed Wiley, Abby and myself relaxing in the shade at Okie-Tex. Scanned from the print I was given.

I was pretty amazed this film technology still existed. I was told that Fujifilm has been making instant peel film for years.  That print I carried home from Okie-Tex has sat on my desk for months. A fun reminder of the trip and a photographic style almost extinct.

A few days ago I read that Fujifilm is discontinuing production of the Polaroid compatible peel type film.  Perhaps I should get a pack or two before its gone.  When my dad passed away I got the Polaroid Model 180 he used for years. Might be fun to surprise people with ‘instant’ film some time.

 

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

September 24th, 2015

OTSP 2015-09-15

The Okie Tex star party field glows red under the milky way and stars (click for larger image). Photograph is looking South West as astronomical darkness begins Wednesday night, September 15th. I was trying to capture the feel of the star party as everyone starts observing and imaging.

This 90 second 1/2 speed tracked photograph reveals the night sky is not fully dark yet but it looked dark to your eyes. This is not the entire observing field, it extends a bit further north (to the right). Brightest red spot on left side is the midnight cafe. Nothing like having a fresh grilled cheeseburger at midnight out in the middle of no mans land.