Moonlight Thoughts

Tonight the moon is full. Earth is located exactly between the moon and the sun (ok technically that precise moment for my location is 4:06 CDT tomorrow morning). In 44 days, the the moon will be between the sun and Earth and at exactly 13:05 CDT the moons shadow will be just north of me. I will be somewhere in that shadow.

Whats interesting about the full moon is that the night sky during full moon is reportedly how dark the daytime sky will get if one is standing in the path of totality during a solar eclipse. I don’t know since I’ve never experienced the wonder of totality. Clearly the horizon during totality will appear more like sunset. But what is the naked eye limiting magnitude (NELM) during totality?

Only way to find out is to be in the path of totality in 44 days. I’ll have my sqm with. Incidentally the NELM with a full moon was 4.3 at 23:40.

Flashes in the night

Last week as true darkness started I wandered my backyard in awe and wonderment. All around me were fireflies flashing. They floated by my head the close flash incredibly bright. Those near the ground would momentarily create a circle of greenish light. They were everywhere. Some near the ground, some up high in the trees, most floating a few feet above the ground in the still air. At least a hundred blinking lights. Truly a magical night. I knew then I’m at peak firefly.

Every night for the past ten days I’ve been out watching the little bugs. The timing has been great this year with the moon now days past full, a waning crescent. Observing fireflies isn’t something I just started as I’ve been seriously doing it for years. I’ve even tried photography several times. But my local light pollution and perhaps lack of skill, or maybe poor technique, haven’t yielded good results. Its really difficult to capture that special feeling be around hundreds of fireflies

I have learned a great number of things about fireflies over the years. That each species flashes in a unique way. That they are out to mate and will die after their light show is done. That the males are flying around and the females sit waiting to chose the right one.

Perhaps most interesting to me is that a peak period of activity happens. That is, for a short time, perhaps a week or two, the greatest number of fireflies are active. For my location its roughly this time of year ever year. And then they will get less and less as the days pass. Certainly there will be some fireflies flashing in my backyard a few months from now. Just as their were a few flashing two months earlier. But nothing like the numbers I have now. Peak firefly, week of the lightning bug, seems like their should be a name for it.

Fireflies come out well before the sun sets and get ready for their nightly show. If one looks around you’ll see them waiting on tall grass or perched on bush like this guy from my yard last July:

Firefly getting ready for the nights show

I read that firefly numbers are going down which does not surprise me at all. Between light pollution and lawn maintenance chemicals I’d bet their numbers in suburbia, where I grew up many years ago, are greatly reduced. None of that is present where I am now. I also border a wet wooded area: perfect habitat for fireflies. Even with good living conditions their numbers do vary from year to year. In particular around the 2011 drought period here the firefly activity was significantly less.

And this is something I’ve wondered for years: how do I get an accurate count of the fireflies active in a given area at that time? Maybe accurate isn’t the right word. Maybe quantifiable is a better one. Fireflies per cubic meter / per second? I have observed variations from year to year and would like to be able to compare numbers rather than a gut feeling I have that there are more or less fireflies.

Even if I never figure out how to properly count their quantity or get a stunning picture that truly reflects what I am seeing, I consider myself lucky I get a lovely show every year.


Clear Skies for the New Year

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? (-5?) 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!


False Dawn

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

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

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.