Saturday, May 24, 2014

VA Eastern Shore

Quick Trip

This year we plan to take small, relatively inexpensive trips to explore the region around our new home. Recently, we visited Virginia's Eastern Shore, a place we hadn't seen in many years. It was fun to cross over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on a clear, calm day and watch ships from the restaurant viewing area.
Shortly after crossing the bay we stopped at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. A brief, hot walk along one of the trails there brought us to an enormous gun which once guarded the Chesapeake Bay during World War II. The gun had a range of 25 miles and was only fired in practice, never against an enemy. It was originally mounted on a giant concrete bunker under which the gun now sits, and it fired huge shells as C demonstrates below.
Then it was time for a great lunch at the Cape Charles Coffee House in Cape Charles. After lunch we took a slow, leisurely stroll through extremely peaceful streets where wide avenues and almost complete lack of traffic inspired C to call Cape Charles, "the low blood pressure capital of Virginia"! The public beach there was wonderfully uncrowded.
The next day we drove to Chincoteague. On the way we stopped at the NASA Wallops Island Visitor Center where we watched planes practicing aircraft carrier landings on a nearby air strip. Several sounding rockets were on display.
During our last visit to Chincoteague many years ago we were chased from the hiking trails and beach by swarms of biting flies. Apparently, flies have been breeding well ever since. Within five seconds of leaving the car at the NASA Visitor Center I was again attacked by several pesty flies! Later, fortunately, a good breeze off the ocean kept flies away as C enjoyed her time at the sparsely populated beach. Maybe the beach is packed on weekends or holidays, but we enjoyed the retirement perk of uncrowded weekday attendance.
We did see some famous Chincoteague ponies off in the distance while driving back from the beach.
Driving among sparse traffic along Route 13 reminded me of 1950's childhood trips to Florida along Route 301 before Interstate 95 was available. Now, lots of abandoned houses and businesses line the road. Speaking of throwbacks: we had dinner at the Exmore Diner which featured old fashioned diner booths, barstools at a counter, and a reasonably priced menu of good diner food. And none of the gratuitous, annoying background music I hate!! No formless, meandering, grating, jazzy saxophones, or worse, radio stations blaring car commercials!! Just the sound of conversation and dinnerware.
On our final day, on the way home, we stopped in Kiptopeke State Park and explored one of the hiking trails there. The weather was perfect: low humidity, a fragrant breeze, and temperature in the upper 60's. The trail would have been much, much less enjoyable with swarming bugs and steamy humidity. No wildlife was visible, but we enjoyed moseying along the trail.
A spur on the trail went over a boardwalk and onto yet another uncrowded beach.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was visible in the distance, and C had one last chance to put her feet in the water.
Soon we were headed back to Interstate 64 and heavy traffic. The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel was completely blocked by an accident, and we sat at a complete standstill until that was cleared. In Newport News yet another accident had traffic backed up and crawling for miles. Eventually, we got off 64 and took smaller roads home.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sunspot Cluster

Beautiful Group

The Sun changes daily. Recently, just by chance, a bunch of sunspots formed close together. I made a quick decision on the afternoon of May 11th to try capturing the sunspot cluster which was nicely located near center on the solar disc. Seeing was surprisingly good despite afternoon heat. Only 48 minutes of clear sky prevailed until increasing fair weather clouds eventually ended the session. The steady atmosphere allowed good detail in the images I did record.

The first picture below, a 2-image mosaic made with a 2X Barlow lens, shows the closely packed swarm of sunspots. Between 5 and 7 dark umbras are all within the field of view! Imagine the complicated magnetic field lines emerging from and descending into umbras, arching from one spot to another!
The next picture is a 7-image mosaic showing the tight grouping within a wider field. An additional small sunspot pair and some filaments are located beneath the major group.
Finally, the eastern portion of the Sun contained a complex sunspot region seen near center in the following picture cropped from a 17-image mosaic. (Click on the image for a larger view.)
It's too bad all the previous images couldn't be joined together in one inclusive mosaic. Unfortunately, I blundered by making image overlap too small in certain key regions. None of my merging programs would stitch the images together, so the three separate images displayed here are the best I could do.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Glorious Prominences

Ring of Fire

After more than three weeks of clouds, rain, and wind, the morning of May 4th was good for solar observing. Seeing conditions varied. At times, the air was steady enough to capture some good images. The Sun displayed only a modest smattering of sunspots, but a lovely array of prominences adorned the limb!

The first picture below is a mosaic composed from 14 individual images, each made with a 2X Barlow lens. It shows roughly one quadrant of the Sun with large double umbra sunspot 2049 above and to the left of center. Sunspot 2047 is below and to the right of center. A bright flaring region is overexposed to the upper right of sunspot 2047. Some beautiful prominences are visible on the limb. (Click on the image for a larger view.)
Next is a mosaic designed to highlight prominences. It was made from 19 individual images, again, using a 2X Barlow lens. Prominences are much dimmer than the Sun's disc. The overexposed disc has been covered by a black circle, so only the prominences and spicules on the rim are seen. When the camera is set to capture prominence detail it also, unfortunately, captures noise in areas close to the Sun's limb. The noise shows up as a hazy collection of dimly lit pixels forming a halo around the Sun's edge. In the picture below I erased most of this noise by hand. It took more than an hour to complete the task and left me blinking through watery eyes by the time I finished. (Click on the image for a more detailed view.)
This is the best image of prominences I've made so far.

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