Friday, July 29, 2011

July 29 Sunspots

Unsteady Air!

Three sunspot groups marched in line across the Sun this morning. I was anxious to try my new camera on this parade, but the "seeing" was poor (the atmosphere was swirling). Here are my best three images:
The three sunspot groups barely fit within one field of view.
Here's the group in the upper right of the previous image.
Here are the two groups in the lower left of the first image.
These images were made with a DMK41 camera at the prime focus of a Celestron-8 telescope equipped with a mylar solar filter. Each image is made from a stack of hundreds of individual video frames.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Camera!

Improved Solar Images!

I used my new solar imaging equipment for the first time recently.
Box shields laptop from the Sun.
Next time I'll place the table on the left side of the telescope for better wire connection.
The new camera is a DMK41AU02.AS from The Imaging Source. Beautifully small and lightweight, it fits where an eyepiece would normally go.
The DMK camera with Barlow lens on the Lunt 100mm solar telescope.
A laptop runs the camera. The box shields the laptop from the Sun, allows the laptop's screen to be visible, and also nicely shades me while I work.
Wireless trackball and telescope control are also visible.
The new camera worked perfectly right from the start! I could hardly believe how simple it was to get a well-focused image on the computer screen! Within less than 60 seconds of connecting the camera to the computer I was looking at an amazing image of the Sun. The camera software allows single frame images as well as video recording. Here's my first single frame image with no post-exposure processing whatsoever:
One 30th second exposure - no processing or enhancements (click to enlarge)
Here's the second single frame image showing a white active area around a sunspot group in the upper left and an emerging sunspot at the upper left rim (again, no post-exposure processing):
Notice the dark filament right of bottom center (click to enlarge)
Now check this out! Here is the same view shown above but produced by stacking multiple video frames and processing the result. The amount of detail revealed is astounding!
Please click to enlarge this image to fully see the detail.
Finally, I tried a 2X Barlow lens to magnify the telescopic image. Here's the higher power single frame image of the active sunspot group with no post-exposure processing (click on the image for greatest detail):
Notice the fine detail in the white active area and the spicules on the Sun's limb.
Compare the previous image with the amazing image below produced by stacking 151 video frames and processing the result. (The view is slightly shifted. Notice the flame-like spicule detail on the Sun's limb! Please click to enlarge so you can really see the detail.)
A sunspot is emerging near the Sun's limb at upper left.
I've hardly begun to explore the methods of enhancing these images and producing even sharper images from recorded videos. I'm looking forward to learning the tricks of image enhancement.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Biking the New River Trail

Sunday, July 27, 2003

The New River Trail is an old railroad line running between Galax, VA and Pulaski, VA. It follows Chestnut Creek from Galax for about 12 miles and then runs along the New River to Pulaski. We chose to start from Galax and finish in Pulaski in order to have a short drive home after biking.

The 2.5-hour drive to Galax on Saturday was pleasant. After checking into our motel we strolled along Main Street in downtown Galax thinking we had returned to the 1950’s. We spent more than an hour stuffing ourselves at the local Macado’s restaurant before heading back to the motel.
At the start in Galax
Since the motel was located about a mile from the beginning of the trail, we started our journey right from the front door of our room. We pushed off at 6:56 AM looking down on fog-shrouded Galax. Our motel sat on a hill overlooking Galax; so we began with a mile-long downhill cruise to the trailhead. Soon we were pedaling along the trail next to Chestnut Creek. Fortunately, the fog wasn’t heavy enough to obscure views of the creek and woods. It was a bit cold for the first hour, but not uncomfortably cold. C accompanied me for the first hour of the trip. We rolled easily along the flat, well-maintained trail enjoying the early morning scenery, the sounds of rushing creek water, and the interesting country houses. Only one other biker appeared for the first two hours, so the trail was our own private recreation facility. About six miles into the journey we came upon Chestnut Falls, a small pretty waterfall in the creek.
Chestnut Falls in the fog
C looks out at Chestnut Falls from a small trestle
C turned around as planned after one hour of riding. She returned to the motel after her two-hour round trip, had time to pack up her bike, shower, and get breakfast before driving on to meet me at trail’s end in Pulaski. She should have continued with me for about ten more minutes! About a mile after C turned around, and approximately 12.4 miles from the start, the trail passed through an interesting short curved tunnel. Then, almost immediately, it opened upon a spectacular trestle crossing over the New River!
Trestle crossing the New River just before Fries Junction
Now the trail began to parallel the New River. The New River Trail is much nicer than the better-known Virginia Creeper Trail! The New River Trail seems better maintained and less crowded. The surface is well-compacted cinders, and there are several permanent restrooms along the way. The scenery is also more interesting because the trail mostly runs high above the New River, constantly presenting new views. I frequently heard the sound of rushing river rapids, and I really enjoyed the highland forest scenery. The trail often passed through shady groves of hemlock and pine trees. Rhododendrons were still in bloom in some locations. In many places one side of the trail was bordered by high stone cliffs while the opposite side dropped off to the wide rocky New River. Everything was quite a contrast to the swampy lowland terrain of the C&O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River where I had biked on a previous trip.
The Buck hydroelectric dam
When I ride my road bike I ride hard. I attack hills, drip sweat, pant, and grunt. When I ride a trail on my mountain bike I glide along at 10 to 15 MPH and enjoy the journey. The last thing I want to do is set a speed record!

Riding along the trail was like taking a railroad trip, but with several advantages. The trip proceeded quietly because I supplied my own power. I went along at an easy pace, and saw all of the scenery without being limited to the view from a window on one side of a train. I stopped to read informative signs along the way, ate or drank when I pleased, and no ticket was required for the trip!
Trestle over the New River at Ivanhoe
View down the river from the Ivanhoe Trestle
Eventually, after pedaling for about 27.5 miles, I came upon the Shot Tower visible about a hundred feet from the trail on a trailside hill.
The Shot Tower
This stone tower was built in 1800 by Thomas Jackson and operated for roughly ten years to produce lead shot for rifles. The lead came from a nearby lead mine, the oldest lead mine in the U.S. At the top of the tower molten lead was poured down the tower shaft where it formed spherical drops and partially cooled as it fell through a height of 150 feet. The visible tower is 75 feet high, but the tower shaft continues 75 feet further into the ground. At the bottom the falling lead drops splashed into a water pan where they were collected for ammunition. The bottom of the tower was accessed by a horizontal shaft dug from the nearby river’s edge. Someone had to crawl along this horizontal shaft to retrieve the lead shot at the tower bottom.
Approaching a very short tunnel
I continued on without much fatigue and passed interesting abandoned houses, a boarded-up cliffside cave, and the picturesque little railroad village of Allisonia after 40 miles.
Kudzu enveloped the front porch of this abandoned house
Two miles later I came upon the Hiwassee River Bridge which crosses the New River where the river widens into Claytor Lake. Views of Claytor Lake were spectacular here and on other trestles in the next mile or so.
The Hiwassee River Bridge Trestle spanning Claytor Lake
The view downstream from the Hiwassee Trestle
Now only about 8 miles remained until trail’s end near Pulaski. A few miles were noticeably uphill, but these were no problem since I’m in good shape.
Looking back at Claytor Lake after crossing another high trestle
I pedaled through sunlit rolling farm country passing solid concrete railroad mile markers and crossing several small trestles.
Sunny fields in the final miles to Pulaski
The trail just beyond Draper, VA
A typical railroad mile marker
Soon I arrived at the parking lot where the trail ends. The time was 12:17 PM. I had biked about 50.7 miles in 5 hours 21 minutes, slightly less than 10 MPH average. The trail ends at mile marker 2.
Feeling good at the finish!
According to a park ranger, if you go around the fence at the very end of the trail, you can walk through weeds for about a mile and come to a working Norfolk & Western rail line. The weeds were pretty high and impassable, so I decided to stop where the official trail ended. This was an extremely enjoyable ride!
Ready to head home

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comet Movie

The 2006 Apparition of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann

Here's the second example of my not widely shared observations made at Winfree Observatory at Randolph Macon Woman's College (now called Randolph College).

On the night of April 27, 2006 fragment C of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 was in the constellation Corona Borealis. (Just for fun, say Schwassmann-Wachmann five times fast. Pronounce the w's like v's.)
Location of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann left of Corona Borealis on April 27, 2006 (click to enlarge)
The comet's strange name actually has specific meaning.This was the 73rd periodic comet ever discovered, hence 73P. The comet was discovered on photographic plates taken May 2, 1930 at the Hamburg Observatory by Professor A. Schwassmann and A.A. Wachmann, hence 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann. It was their third periodic comet discovery, hence 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3.

Between 9:26 PM and 11:26 PM on this 2006 April evening I took 25 sixty-second exposures of the comet through a photometric R-filter using a CCD camera on Winfree Observatory's 14-inch telescope. Here's a picture of the telescope and camera that imaged the comet.
Winfree's Celestron-14 telescope equipped with an SBIG ST1001E CCD and ST4 autoguider in 2006
Comets orbit the Sun. When we view comets from Earth we see them move against the background of distant stars. Below is the movie I made from my 25 images. It shows two hours of the comet's orbital motion.
Fragment C of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3: two hours of orbital motion
Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 was breaking apart in the spring of 2006. Here is a Spitzer Infrared Telescope picture from May 4, 2006 spanning about 6 degrees along the comet's orbit showing 45 of the 60 or more fragments stretched out in a line, all orbiting the Sun, all having tails pointing away from the Sun.
The brightest fragment at top right is fragment C. The next brightest fragment is fragment B.
Here's a Hubble Telescope image from April 18, 2006 showing fragment B breaking apart.
How can a comet fall apart like this? It must be rather loosely held together by gravity, perhaps like the 600-meter long asteroid, Itowkawa, imaged in 2005 by the Japanese Hayabusa Mission:
The Itokawa "rubble pile" asteroid
Another view of the Itokawa "rubble pile" asteroid
If comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann broke apart so drastically in 2006, what will be left when it returns for its next appearance in the fall of 2011?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bike Route

Nothing beats a bike ride on a nice sunny day!

Come along on my bike route and share views on the way. Let's go!
Ah, no traffic!
Into the shade!
Blue Ridge Mountains on your right!
Let's get off the bike and sit on this bench a while!
Enjoy a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge from the bench! (click to enlarge)
Watch out ahead! This is an infamous skunk hangout!
Cross a railroad. Still heading out.
Cross the railroad heading home.
Safely through the skunk hangout on the way back.
One last hard hill before the finish!
It feels great after the ride! Let's eat!

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