Friday, May 19, 2017


Red Spot!

More than a year has gone by since my last attempt to image Jupiter. It was time to try again in nearly perfect conditions on the evening of May 15th. The sky was completely clear with very little wind and low humidity as the temperature dropped from pleasant middle 60's to slightly chilly low 50's during my time outside.

I lost some telescope operating efficiency while my Stellarvue 130mm refractor sat idle for so many months. Consequently, I made several blunders during set up. The most serious mistake was forgetting to sufficiently tighten screws holding the telescope in the mount. When the mount performed its initial homing slew the telescope began sliding down out of the mount and was well on its way to crashing into the concrete observing pad below. Fortunately, I happened to be standing next to the mount and desperately caught the sliding telescope in my arms at the last minute before any damage was done. Yikes! How could I be so dumb?

I also used a new laptop for this imaging session, so there were several delays getting software to communicate with the mount and the camera. Finally, since I stupidly forgot to line up the finder scope with the main telescope, it took way too long to get Jupiter centered in the eyepiece after the mount initially failed to place Jupiter in the field of view. In spite of these problems Jupiter eventually appeared on my laptop screen and I began recording images. The initial view looked like the first image below, recorded at 10:23 pm EDT with a 3X Barlow lens.
Three Galilean moons are visible to the right of Jupiter. They are, from left to right, Io, Europa, and Ganymede. The fourth moon, Callisto, was out of the field of view far off to the right. At first I didn't realize that Jupiter's Red Spot was located on the lower left edge of Jupiter, ready to rotate into view over the next hour. Can you see the hint of the Red Spot on the left edge of the lowest white band?

Just 29 minutes later, at 10:52 pm EDT, the Red Spot had become more visible as you can see in the next image.
The moons hardly changed position during the 29 minutes between the first two images. The Red Spot, however, was coming into better view. The next image was captured at 11:18 pm EDT, 26 minutes after the previous image.
I switched to a 5X Barlow for the next image, captured 17 minutes after the previous image at 11:35 pm EDT. The 5X Barlow gives too much magnification for my telescope/camera combination, so I have to reduce the image size by half to display a pleasing amount of detail.
Finally, I switched to a 2X Barlow lens and took this last image after midnight at 12:08 am EDT on May 16th. Another 33 minutes had passed since the previous image.
While I captured the images above over a span of one hour and 45 minutes the Red Spot rotated from the edge of Jupiter around to nearly the central meridian. From the image sequence you can see it would take more than two hours for the Red Spot to rotate halfway across the face of Jupiter. The exact time is 2 hours and 29 minutes, making the Red Spot's transit time across Jupiter's face 4 hours and 58 minutes. (The sidereal rotation period of Jupiter is about 9 hours 55 minutes. Half this period is 4 hours 58 minutes.) 

Because the Red Spot isn't obviously visible near the very edges of Jupiter, visual observers have less than four hours to see it cross the Earth-facing disc of Jupiter. During these four hours good observing conditions are required. Jupiter needs to be above the horizon on a clear night. No wonder I've rarely seen the Red Spot.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rock Show

Minerals, Meteorites, Fossils, Gems!

I recently visited the NY/NJ Mineral and Gem Exposition in Edison, NJ. The long, unpleasant drive from Virginia on Interstate 95 wasn't much fun, but when I first entered the vast exposition hall, I immediately knew my journey was worthwhile! Spread before me was the equivalent of hundreds of rock shops all in one place. It took more than one day to see all the displays and shop for additions to my modest collection of curiosities.

Many display cases were simply beautiful. For example, look at this orderly array of colorful crystals.
Some dealers had elaborate glass display cases.
I wanted to purchase one of the beautiful blue specimens of benitoite, pictured below, but they were incredibly expensive. The benitoite specimen in the upper left of the next image was priced at about $7,000!
Next to the benitoite was a meter-high array of blue fluorite crystals.
High intensity lights, strategically placed, increased the attractiveness of many displays like this next one.
During a visit to Denver years ago I saw red rhodochrosite crystals and thought they would be a great addition to my collection. I hoped to buy a rhodochrosite specimen, but, as you can see below, they were surprisingly expensive, even for a small specimen. I really liked the large $775 specimen with the colorful pyrite foreground.
A few vendors were selling meteorites like the ones in this display case.
I'm particularly fond of pallasite meteorites whose cross-sectional slices look like stained glass windows. Several expensive slices were displayed in the case shown in the next image. Meteorites are usually sold by weight. The pallasite slices were going for something like $20/gram! Since the slices are mostly heavy nickel and iron, there are quite a few grams involved! The slice in the upper left was about $2,600! (Unfortunately, there was no way to get a picture without white reflections from overhead lights.)
Many exquisite fossils were also on sale.
Not sure where I would display this enormous 30,000 year-old cave bear fossil even if I could afford its $29,500 price!
By the end of my second day at the expo I was completely exhausted from walking around peering at specimens. As I was about to leave I saw a sign for an ultraviolet light display, so I took one final detour from the main floor to look at displays of fluorescent minerals under ultraviolet light. I'm glad I made the effort because the exhibit was amazing and beautiful as you can see in the next two images.
I ended up buying an ultraviolet flashlight and a couple of phosphorescent minerals to show my granddaughter. I left the expo very satisfied with the whole experience.

At this point it was way past lunch time, and I was starving in addition to being exhausted. I decided to eat at nearby Harold's New York Deli, an over-the-top authentic Jewish deli, where truly ENORMOUS portions are served. For example, the sandwiches are about a foot high, packed with so much meat it's nearly impossible for one person to eat an entire sandwich at one sitting. (The patrons deconstruct towering sandwiches into manageable sizes and, either share the smaller sandwiches with companions, or take the remains home to eat for a week.) The smallest menu item I could find was the thick, foot-long hot dog with sauerkraut seen below. I was able to finish it, but it was quite a salty overload to my system. It cured my hot dog craving for the foreseeable future. I enjoyed the NJ atmosphere of the place with NJ/NY accents all around.
Below are pictures of some of the minerals I bought. First is brilliant green dioptase from Kazakhstan. This specimen was surprisingly beautiful under short wave ultraviolet light. The white matrix fluoresced bright red!
Next is lazurite and pyrite from Afghanistan. The blue and gold colors are dazzling under bright light.
This strange round ball is prehnite sitting on epidote from Mali.
Multiple cubic pyrite crystals are always interesting. These are from Spain.
Finally, below are three images of my favorite purchase, a polished slice of the Seymchan pallasite meteorite discovered in 1967 in Magadan, Russia. This bit of extraterrestrial material was once located near a boundary between the core and mantle of a differentiated asteroid. It contains silvery crystallized iron and nickel, characteristic of the core, and pieces of the silicate olivine, characteristic of the mantle. Some unknown ancient catastrophe blasted the asteroid to bits. One of these bits ended up in Russia! Now it sits in my living room. The first image, made with a flash, shows fascinating structure resembling a stained glass window.
The next image, made without flash, emphasizes light passing through the partially transparent olivine.
This last image best shows the unique silvery iron/nickel crystallization structure known as the Widmanstatten pattern.
I'm so glad I made the effort to attend this expo. 


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Sun Wakes Up

Two Significant Sunspots

Recent months of sunspot drought temporarily ended on April 2nd when two good-sized sunspots were visible on a cool, cloudless day. A northerly breeze accompanied 51-degree temperature as I set up my solar telescope to begin observing before noon. Seeing was not particularly good, but blue skies and sunshine were very welcome.

My attempt to construct a whole disc mosaic failed because I was careless when capturing constituent panels. But the smaller successful 9-panel mosaic below shows almost all major solar features present. Complex sunspot group 2645 is on the lower left. Sunspot group 2644 is near the right limb. A few prominences sit on the western limb.
Seeing conditions improved for a while as morning hours passed. The next image is a close view of sunspot group 2645 made by stacking the best 100 frames from a 3,000-frame video. Notice the fine detail present in the dark sunspot umbras. This sunspot group deformed surrounding spicules making a pattern similar to iron filings sprinkled near a bar magnet. White energetic eruptions sit between outlying umbras. (Click on the images for a larger view.)
Sunspot group 2644 was churning with activity near the western limb. I recorded 21 minutes of the action by capturing one 500-frame video clip every 60 seconds. Each video clip yields a still image which becomes one movie frame. The repeating movie below runs at 10 frames per second, so it compresses 21 minutes of solar action into about 2 seconds. Movies like this always make me wish I had recorded longer. Unfortunately, I had to stop too soon.
The Sun may soon go back to sleep, so I'm glad I was able to observe this temporary burst of activity. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Modest Sunspot

Erupting Prominence

I recently enjoyed my first solar imaging session since July, 2016. Hardly any major sunspots or filaments had appeared for 7 months. When a modest sunspot group rotated into view near the eastern limb on February 20th, it was time to return to the activity I love. Conditions were comfortable with nearly cloudless skies, temperature in the low 60's, and a slight breeze. I worried about forgetting steps in the imaging routine, but, even after 7 months away, I had no trouble setting up equipment and capturing video clips.

The first image below is a 3-panel mosaic showing modest sunspot group 2638 left of center and a large prominence which happened to be in the midst of a dramatic eruption. Not long after this image was made the prominence had lifted off into space leaving no trace behind.
Seeing was not particularly good this day. Aside from the one modest sunspot, there were hardly any remarkable features present on the solar disc. One active area, 2636, near disc center looked like this.
I captured 21 video clips from locations around the solar rim. Below is an imperfect 21-panel mosaic showing a number of prominences scattered around the limb. (Click on the images for larger views.)
It was good to use the solar telescope again after so many idle months. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Grandfather's Joy

Grandkids Frolic

How could I be a grumpy old man when I have grandkids like these?
Little Annabelle has made great progress lately exploring the world with increasing mobility.
Annabelle was so happy to crawl on her own through snow after a recent storm.
Big sister Sophie enjoys building elaborate marble runs with three sets of Hape Quadrilla Marble Runs I have given her over the years. A few days ago Sophie and her Dad constructed some magnificent cascades.
Marbles descend on straight or curved tracks, spiral on circular tracks, take alternate paths at random, and even strike musical chimes as they steadily travel downhill. These monumental marble runs were exactly what I had in mind when I pictured Sophie and her Dad working together to build them.
Looks like fun, doesn't it?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Iberian Discovery - Part 10


Our wonderful trip was nearing its end as we left Cordoba and headed for Madrid. A morning bus ride took us to the town of Viso del Marques where we visited the Palace of the Marques de Santa Cruz built during the 1500's. The palace was yet another unexpected delight. As we walked towards the plain looking building shown in the first picture below I didn't know what to expect. There was no indication of its interior beauty.
As soon as we entered the interior courtyard we found an amazing sight! All around were painted alcoves depicting noteworthy historical sea battles.
Here are two examples of the paintings.
Elaborate stairways led to the upper floor.
Ceilings and walls on the upper floor were lavishly decorated with scenes of naval battles or mythology.
These ceilings were particularly bright and colorful.
The palace was home to Alvaro de Bazan (1526-1588), a Spanish admiral who was undefeated in naval battles during his entire career. He was also commander of the Spanish Armada, but died before the armada's demise. This statue of the admiral is located just outside the palace.
After the unexpected beauty of the admiral's palace we drove to a less exciting place. Our visit to the manchego cheese factory was, for me, the least favorite tour stop. We put on required paper robes, booties, and hair nets before entering the factory, as you can see below.
Manchego cheese is made from sheep's milk. Inside the factory the combination of nauseating smell and warm moist air made my stomach quake. We saw all the steps in cheese production as we walked from room to room and smell to smell. All the while I concentrated on not getting sick. Finally, we finished the factory tour and, thankfully, emerged into fresh air in a gift store/welcome center where samples of cheese were set out for us. Most of our group happily munched cheese, but not me! Genetic quirks have left my personal taste bud chemistry very sensitive to most cheese varieties. Cheeses enjoyed by lots of people taste like vomit to me. Manchego cheese falls into my vomit category, so I passed up the free samples. The factory manager then came out with gift bags containing huge wedges of the vile cheese. We politely declined the gifts, but he seemed personally insulted by our refusal and insisted we take the cheese. Later, we gave one gift bag to our bus driver and left the other in the refrigerator at our hotel.

My stomach recovered as we drove to a restaurant for lunch. These giant wine containers decorated the restaurant entrance.
The main course at lunch was sea bass served over a bed of baby eels. At first, the identity of the gray, noodle-like stuff under the fish was uncertain. Some of our group insisted it was noodles. Our guide remained uncharacteristically silent. I tentatively tried one "noodle". It had the taste and consistency of spaghetti and had no visible internal structure or eyes. Actually, it wasn't bad at all. It went well with the fish. I ate my entire serving. For once in my life I was more adventurous with food than C who wouldn't touch the stuff. Eventually, we discovered it was, indeed, baby eels as you can see in the picture below.
After lunch we drove to Madrid through La Mancha. Cesar, our guide, read a passage from Don Quixote, and we did see windmills, both modern and antique. Finally we arrived in Madrid and passed this enormous bull ring on the way to the hotel. The bull ring picture was taken from behind a bus window causing an unfortunate blue reflection.
Our hotel in Madrid was on the Calle de Goya, a very busy street. We were free for the evening to walk around and get dinner. People on the crowded streets looked determined to reach their destinations. It almost had the same feel as New York City. Gone was the more relaxed vibe of Seville. The Calle de Goya was lined with expensive stores. Many of the passing women looked like they stepped straight from the pages of a fashion magazine. Eventually, we found a small eating place on one of the side streets where we had sandwiches for dinner.

The next morning our bus drove around a little so we could see the general layout of sights in Madrid. Then we visited the Naval Museum where we saw a nice display of antique nautical instruments.
One of the highlights of the museum was a display of the original restored map of Juan de la Cosa who actually sailed with Colombus on voyages across the Atlantic. In 1500 Juan de la Cosa created the first map showing the Americas based on exploratory voyages of Columbus and others. Other museums may have copies of this map, but the Madrid Naval Museum has the real original map! The first picture below is the actual map. Unfortunately, the glass display case made it hard to photograph. The second picture below from the Internet isn't degraded by display case reflections. North is up, Europe and Africa are on the right, and the green eastern coasts of North America and Brazil are on the left. (Click on the second image for a larger view.)
Museum walls were covered with impressive paintings of naval battles like the three pictures below.
Several beautiful ship models were also on display.
After the Naval Museum we walked a short distance to the famous Prado Art Museum shown in the next picture.
Inside the Prado our local guide began lecturing at length about some of the paintings. Once again, my patience for these art lectures was quickly exhausted. In one room the guide went on and on about a "famous" portrait while my attention was drawn away to another more striking portrait that was, apparently, not famous enough for notice. I longed to spend more time looking for other remarkable art works instead of spending so much time on only the few deemed worthy by the guide. For example, the veiled sculpture below fascinated me. It is a bust of Queen Isabel II created in 1855 by Camillo Torreggiani. Isn't the effect just amazing? No pictures were allowed in the Prado, but I found the picture below on the Internet.
After the official Prado tour ended we were free to wander for the rest of the day. We ate lunch in the Prado cafeteria and returned to the museum to explore many of the rooms we didn't see on the official tour.

We next walked to another art museum, The Sofia Museum, where Picasso's Guernica was on display. It was nice to get free admission since we were "senior citizens". A variety of modern art was exhibited here, as well as several films about the Spanish Civil War, and some very old films from 1897. I particularly enjoyed these three paintings.
By the time we finished exploring the Sofia Museum we had been on our feet for most of the day. Nevertheless, we still needed to walk back to our hotel. We've been distance runners for most of our lives, so we are used to persevering through fatigue. I thought it would be nice to walk through a major city park on our route to the hotel. With the help of a map we found a route through the lovely Parque de El Retiro. On the way to the park we bought some ice cream and passed a row of stalls selling used books.
Attractive, shaded paths through the park were a welcome break from busy, traffic filled streets. Soon we came upon a lake in the heart of the park. Near the lake a man was feeding birds from his hand.
The lake was filled with people in row boats enjoying a glorious, sunny day.
Here is the scene as we neared the park exit.
We rested awhile back at our hotel before joining the tour group for a final dinner. The next morning we departed early for the Madrid airport.

We had a wonderful, wonderful trip! Places we saw in Portugal and Spain were lovely, historic, fascinating, and beautiful. Sunny mild weather throughout the tour helped present these modern countries in a good light. Food and lodging were consistently excellent. Our outstanding expert tour guide, Cesar, was efficient, friendly, patient, witty, and a font of historical knowledge. He was largely responsible for the success of the tour. I will retain fond memories of this trip for a long time to come.

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

John Lennon