Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bad Luck Sun

Observing Train Wreck

Back on November 8th huge sunspot area 1890 had rotated to the center of the Sun's disk. In spite of the cold morning and low altitude of the Sun, I decided to set up my telescope to capture the best sunspot in quite a while. It wasn't long before the train wreck started.

First, I had forgotten about the change from daylight savings time to standard time. I thought I was setting up with plenty of time before the Sun would be blocked by an obscuring tree. In fact, I was an hour late. When I was ready to get the first image, the Sun just started passing behind the tree! So I had to wait an hour and 20 minutes before the Sun emerged clear of the branches. I then managed to quickly capture four video clips before the next problem popped up: the communication link between the telescope and the computer broke. By the time I reestablished communication, the seeing conditions had deteriorated significantly. The Sun's surface was swimming around and tremendously blurred. I waited a while for the atmosphere to settle, but soon noticed clouds moving across the Sun. I looked up from the computer to see many clouds moving in from the west. At this point I had spent about 3.5 hours trying to image the Sun and obtained only four images for my efforts. It was time to give up.

When I later examined the four images, only one was reasonably sharp. Sunspot 1890 was really spectacular a few days earlier. I couldn't capture its full glory then because it was cloudy. Just my luck. Here's the one decent picture I captured of sunspot 1890 with a 2X Barlow. Click on the image for a larger view.
This sunspot had a complicated structure with many small sunspots trailing the largest one. The smaller spots showed up much better in ordinary white light than they did in the hydrogen-alpha image above.

Observing season has ended for the year. Next year I'll observe from a new improved location free from obscuring trees and buildings which have plagued me in the past.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sun Wakes Up

Finally! Some Features!

Back in October it seemed like a long time since the Sun displayed significant features. More than a month had passed since my last solar observing session in September. When some cool clear weather finally arrived on October 20th, I was ready to image a variety of sunspots and filaments spread over the eastern half of the Sun.

The following 8-image mosaic, made with a 1.5X Barlow lens, shows features on the Sun's east side. Large sunspot 1877 is in the lower left, and smaller sunspot 1872 is on the lower right near the image edge. Sunspot 1875 is a pair below the two nearly parallel dark filaments. Sunspot 1873 is the white area near the center accompanied by a c-shaped structure. Click on the image for a larger view.
The biggest sunspot, 1877, with interesting activity to its left, is shown in more detail below.
The other sunspots, 1875 and 1873, are shown in the next image. 1875 has a double structure below center. 1873 is smaller and dispersed to the upper right accompanied by a c-shaped structure. I experimented with a new pale blue color in this image.
Filaments near sunspots 1875 and 1873 show nice "float" in the following inverted image.
Finally, I imaged two prominences. First, two dim, spike-like prominences are displayed below.
Another brighter prominence was also present.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Iceland - Part 8


In this final post about Iceland I'll return to my astronomical interests. On the morning and evening of October 4th I saw beautiful, dark, cloudless skies from our window at the Hotel Ranga. No auroras were in progress, but the dark sky was too inviting to ignore. I couldn't sleep during the predawn hours of the 4th, so I went out into the dark at about 4 am to try photographing constellations. To get outside I walked down this quiet deserted hallway in the rustic hotel.
On the way to the front exit I passed the enormous 10 foot high polar bear in the hotel lobby.
When my images are manipulated into the blog format the image quality seems to diminish. Full sized images look better than the compressed shrunken images appearing below. So, please click on each image below to get a better view. In the cold and dark before dawn I took this image of Aries, Triangulum, and Andromeda. The Andromeda Galaxy is barely visible slightly to the right of center.  
Auriga, Perseus, and Cassiopeia are spread horizontally across the middle portion of the next image.
Next are Auriga, in the upper left, and the V-shape of Taurus, below center, including the star cluster called, The Pleiades, above and to the right of the "V".
By the time I swung around towards the south some clouds had begun to ruin the clear sky. The clouds have an orange glow in this picture of Orion and Taurus. Bright Jupiter appears on the extreme right edge of the image.
After a full day viewing waterfalls, a glacier, and a black sand beach on October 4th, the evening sky was dark and clear again. Once dinner ended I went out in front of the hotel to try capturing evening constellations. Our location at 64 degrees north latitude made Polaris, the North Star, 64 degrees above the horizon instead of 37.4 degrees above the horizon as it is at my home in Virginia. Here is a view looking north showing both dippers: Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, in the bottom center and Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper at top center. A dim companion of Polaris shows up in the image. Can you see it? Click on image for a larger view.
The dimmest stars in the image above are about magnitude 7.5. I expected to capture dimmer stars than that. The next image below shows Pegasus, the great square, on the right, and also Andromeda spread nearly horizontally across the center of the image. The Andromeda Galaxy is barely visible slightly above and slightly left of center.
All images above were captured with a tripod-mounted Nikon D40 camera with exposures of 30 seconds, ISO at 1600, and an 18 to 55 mm lens set at 18 mm.

We had a great time in Iceland!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Iceland - Part 7

Glaciers and Black Sand Beach

We visited two impressive glaciers in Iceland and saw many more from a distance. I think the glacier below is the Myrdalsjokull Glacier, but I'm not completely certain. Hot springs beneath the glacier contribute to its melt water.
The end of the glacier displayed cave-like melting features like these.
The glacier produced a melt lake shown in the following wide angle mosaic. Click on the image below for a bigger picture.
We also visited the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier, shown in the next picture, during our trip to the Thorsmork Nature Reserve. The glacier descends from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, the famous "unpronounceable" volcano, which severely disrupted air traffic when it erupted in 2010. The glacier is pronounced: AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl-uh. That helped, didn't it? Our guide easily pronounced it over and over during the tour. I gave up. I still can't get the hang of it.

The 2010 eruption caused the collapse and catastrophic draining of a large glacial melt lake, now seen as the empty gray foreground area in the picture below.
We also visited a beautiful black sand beach near the small village of Vik. The "sand" we walked on looked like this.
I was fascinated by the spectacular basalt column cave which I tried to capture in photos. The cave had a silvery interior glow not apparent in many of my photos. I found the basalt structures and cave so enthralling that I spent little time photographing the shoreline or the rock formations offshore. After a while foggy mist rolled in from the sea hiding the offshore rock formations. Birds soared overhead. Our guides said we had the best conditions they had ever seen - no strong winds, or huge dangerous waves at the time of our visit.

The first picture below, a wide angle mosaic, shows the basalt column complex surrounding the dark cave in the middle, but it doesn't show the glow within the cave. Click on the image for a larger view.
The next wide angle mosaic does a better job of depicting the illuminated cave. Click on the image for a larger view.
Here is a closer look at the basalt columns to the left of the cave.
And here are the columns to the right of the cave.
Looking above the view in the previous picture revealed a multitude of tilted columns.
Pulling back further you can see the whole cliff with birds wheeling above.
Check out these strange formations near the base of the cliffs.
My last Iceland post will come next week.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Iceland - Part 6

Turf Houses

Early Icelandic settlers survived in houses insulated with turf. We saw three examples during our tour. In pouring rain at Skalholt we walked around this reconstructed specimen.
You can see rain drops in the next picture of the house's side and side door.
This particular house had small windows in front and rear.
The reconstructed turf farm house at Thjodveldisbaer, shown in the next images below, had no windows. It must have been dark and gloomy inside. The Thjodveldisbaer farm house is based on an actual ancient farm called Stong. The ancient Stong farm, along with 19 others, was buried under a blanket of pumice during the 1104 volcanic eruption of Mount Hekla. The Stong farm was particularly well preserved under the pumice, and this reconstruction is based on what was found during a successful 1939 excavation.
The house would normally have been closed at the time of our visit, but a film crew was shooting a documentary there, so we were allowed to see the interior. Below, a pot hangs above the fire pit in the long main hallway within the house.
Benches were arrayed on each side of the main hallway.
At the end of the hallway was a work room containing a loom.
Adjacent to the main farm house was a small turf church with a scenic waterfall behind it.
The next picture shows a portion of the vast pumice deposit that buried 20 farms in 1104.
Modern examples of turf houses were seen at Skogar. According to our guide, people lived without heat or electricity in houses like these in the late 1800's to early 1900's .
The next pictures show the spartan interior of these houses. Our guide said people slept five to a bed for warmth.
I can't imagine enduring such primitive conditions in this remote country.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Iceland - Part 5

Geothermal Fields

Iceland sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating. The Icelandic Rift Zone cuts diagonally through the country. In the picture below, taken on our first day in Iceland, the European plate is on the left and the North American plate is on the right.
Iceland has active volcanoes, and there are many hot spots not far below the surface. After seeing the fissure between tectonic plates pictured above, we visited a geothermal field near a geothermal power plant. We were warned not to venture too near scalding volcanic vents by signs like this.
Hot vapors and smelly sulfur fumes spewed from the ground.
This hole emitted a warning hiss. The ground around these vents had coloring reminiscent of Jupiter's volcanic moon, Io.
We also saw bubbling mud pots.
Here's a mosaic wide angle view of part of the geothermal field. Click on the image for a larger view.
A geothermal power plant can be seen in the center background of the previous picture with plumes of steam rising in the distance. Iceland gets approximately 26% of its energy from geothermal plants. The overwhelming majority of heating and hot water for buildings is supplied by geothermal sources. The remainder of Iceland's energy requirements are met almost entirely by hydroelectric plants. Iceland must have the greatest renewable energy infrastructure in the world! On our last day of touring we saw the geothermal power plant in the background of the previous picture from a different angle. This new view of the power plant is shown in the next picture. The plumes are steam, not polluting smoke.
Iceland is famous for its Blue Lagoon located near a different geothermal power plant. This is an outdoor spa where people soak in warm water no matter what weather exists. Click for a larger image.
C went in the Blue Lagoon, but I did not. Instead, I hung around to document her experience. Undressing, showering, stuffing a locker, getting soaked, and carting around the resulting wet bathing suit afterward just didn't appeal to me. C enjoyed cruising around the steamy lagoon and smearing white mud pack skin treatment on her face. You can see some of this white stuff on her forehead in the picture below.
Geysers are another phenomenon associated with geothermal fields. We visited the site of the Icelandic geyser, named Geysir, which gave its name to all other geysers. The boiling water hole pictured below bubbled vigorously while rain fell and foggy mist surrounded us.
The blue cauldron in the next picture is where the Strokkur geyser originates. It erupts 25 to 35 meters high about once every 8 to 10 minutes. We saw it erupt 4 or 5 times. It was quite a show!
Other pools of hot blue water were scattered about near the geysers.
Here is the famous prototype geyser, named Geysir. It doesn't erupt on a regular schedule, and didn't erupt while we were present. Apparently, it is active only after earthquakes.
After visiting the geysers we returned to our tour bus, damp, but happy.

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