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.



Summer Meteors

August 22nd, 2015


The Perseid meteor shower peaked on Thursday morning August 14th and with nearly ideal conditions this year it was a must see event. Jeff, Phil and I met out in the Flint Hills and the weather turned out pretty good. With the odd weather patterns we’ve had in NE Kansas this summer I feel fortunate.

Pictured above is 37 seconds of the night sky looking north around 2:00am Thursday morning (click for larger version). A long dead Osage Orange tree in the foreground has likely seen thousands of nights like this. The camera captures the colors your eyes can’t make out, the green airglow in the bottom left, the yellow tint of light pollution from Emporia some 30 miles to the north.

Two meteors frame the double cluster. Neither of these meteors is a Perseid! The top one is a Kappa Cygnid (KCG). I was pleasantly surprised how many KCGs I saw, far more than the 3 meteor per hour rate would suggest. These meteors were distinctly different than the Perseid being much slower.

The Perseid meteors put on a good show with many bright ones. One really nice fireball lit up the sky early in the morning. I didn’t count all night, I spent most of Wednesday night just enjoying the beauty of the dark night sky. It had been a year since I was in the Flint Hills! Pity as the KCGs seemed particularly strong early in the night. These are the numbers I did record:

1:00 - 1:22 14 Per, 1 KCG, 1 sporadic
1:35 - 2:00 19 Per, 8 spo
2:13 - 2:32 9 Per, 1 spo
3:05 - 3:35 21 Per, 4 spo
4:00 - 4:15 15 Per, 4 spo
4:35 - 5:00 17 Per, ? spo (didn't write anything down)

Altogether I counted 95 Perseids but during breaks saw even more, in total well over 120 Perseids and dozens of Kappa Cygnids not to mention all the sporadics and ANT meteors.

Our crew was up all night, I took hundreds of images but didn’t capture many notable Perseids. They travel so fast that the camera fails to record all but the brightest parts. Next time I will rethink my camera lens / ISO settings. Really wide images with f2.8 or f4.0 lenses fail to record much of meteors trail. Which leads me to wonder how many images I’ve seen posted from the Perseids are actually Perseid meteors (instead of say the KCGs or ANT).

Now that I got a good night out under the stars I’m really ready for the Okie-Tex Star Party in a few weeks!


Star Dog

January 21st, 2015

Today I lost the best dog I’ve ever had. She happily spent nights outside with me as I worked the observatory or watched for meteors. For the past two years she came with me to the Okie-Tex Star Party. Lucy was a star dog if there ever was one.

Lucy lies on the grass listening to Chuck and I ramble at the 2014 Okie-Tex star party.

She was the finest dog I’ve ever have had. None have ever been more devoted than her. Whats funny is I didn’t pick her, a dear and special friend brought her home and Lucy chose me.

We’ve had almost nine years of fun and adventure. I’m deeply saddened by her passing but I’m glad it happened so quick. Just last night we were out back looking at the stars together, well, she was hunting around while I looked at the stars. Then all of a sudden, from this morning to this afternoon she slipped away.

We haven’t had much snow so far this year. Lucy loved being out hunting in the snow, like this from two years ago:

Lucy Hunting

Tonight around midnight the constellation Canis Major will pass over Lucy’s grave. She truly was the “greater dog”.

Update Thursday 1/22: I woke up without my companion. Last night a friend sent me the OTSP picture above

The first morning without my girl feels just as bad as the moment I lost her yesterday. Every morning for the past few years she was my alarm clock. The moment she heard me stirring she came over by the bed, her wagging tail thumping against the wall. She would nudge my arm with her nose. I always smiled, how can you not?

The Gegenschein

November 19th, 2014

The Gegenschein is a faint glow in the night sky 180 degrees opposite the sun. It just so happens the Okie-Tex star party is held when the Gegneschein is in a favorable position. But that’s not enough. The sky has to be transparent and dark for it to be noticeable. This year around 1am I captured my best photo of the Gegenschein so far, click the image below for a larger version.

I think presenting in black and whitehighlights it better. The rich Milky Way running along the top of the picture can be so distracting. This is also more of how your own eyes would see it.

There are times at night when all the right ingredients come together for a perfect viewing experience. Most of the world has no idea this happens anymore. Their view is cloaked, hidden by the glow of man made light polluting the sky. This is why many of us travel so far away from city lights. Out under a dark sky full of stars one never knows what wonders you will see.

One night at Okie-Tex, I think it was 2008, Chris Lamar and I were talking under crystal clear skies. This was his first trip to the star party. Like all of us on our first visit to a truly dark site he spent the night awed and overwhelmed by the beauty of the sky above. He was pointing out the Gegenschein to me and I was dumbfounded. I argued that it couldn’t be that. The band of light was just too bright to be what I understood it should look like. I was wrong. That hour of that night maybe the best I have ever seen the Gegenschein.

The Color in a Dark Sky

September 28th, 2014

Under the dark sky of far western Oklahoma the 31st Okie-Tex star party started September 20th. As a speaker I was granted early arrival permission and setup Friday evening. Overhead the sky was spectacular that night. Even though it started to cloud over around 1:00am (Saturday morning) those few hours of dark clear sky, free from any man made light, is why I drive nearly 500 miles.

Unfortunately the next few nights were not very clear. As expected a storm system moved by us. It wasn’t until Tuesday night (9/23) we would have a good night. That night I wandered around taking pictures using a 5D Mark II on a iOptron Skytracker. This was the first time I’d used the SkyTracker in the field and of course I made a few user errors but the tracker worked good. I’ll post a review later.

One of my better shots of the milky way over the star party is below. Click it for a larger version and I will soon post an even larger version in my gallery. This picture is what the camera sees in the sky. A 3 minute tracked exposure, ISO 1600 using in camera noise reduction Lightly processed yes, to even out the serious vignetting of the Samyang 14mm lens at f2.8 and to sharpen and highlight the details. No gradient removal or masking was done at all. Note the wide variety of colors in the picture:

[ Milk way over the 2014 Okie-Tex star party ]

Looking north over the west observing field the photo is from ground level to nearly the zenith. Overhead the night sky was clear, the background dark. The dark spot above Cygnus was very distinct. Far to the north a few clouds pass by, just black spots. Around the horizon things got a bit murky. While the human eye sees shades of gray in the sky, especially near the horizon, its really full of color.

Across the top of the picture note the various red emission nebula spots, the detail and color of the Milky way. Going down the picture we see bands of green air glow and some hints of gravity waves in the atmosphere. On the ground red light abounds from the many astronomy enthusiasts awake. Busy observing or imaging.

This was a typical ‘good’ night for the star party, not great, just good. A great night at Okie-Tex requires a number of conditions coming together. Its not rare but difficult. For one you need the air mass above the Kenton area to be dry, really dry. For hundreds of miles in every direction. We were not in that situation when I took the above picture, note the NOAA water vapor image for that time frame below.

Far away from the glow of made made lighting the night sky is dazzling. Yet the natural night sky is not a uniform black or a shade of gray. Its a subtle, ever changing color. From moisture, air glow and the energy off the Earths magnetic field.