Thursday, July 31, 2014

Baby Sunspots

Mild July Weather

On July 29th the jet stream dipped far to the south and brought unusually cool weather to Virginia. I observed the Sun in relative comfort on a day normally unbearably hot and humid. Seeing conditions were mediocre, but puffs of breeze helped diminish any discomfort from sitting in bright afternoon sunlight. The Sun had been almost entirely featureless for quite a few days. On the 29th it finally displayed small emerging sunspots and a couple of nice filaments.

The following 20-image mosaic shows the arrangement of solar features. To the right of center two modest sunspots sit below a broad two-dash filament. At lower left four small sunspots have rotated into view. Two giant dark filaments grace the left half of the Sun. (Click on the image for a larger view.) White active areas are a bit overexposed. I should have chosen different camera settings to avoid this.
The inverted version below came out nicely. Overexposed areas are black here, so they don't stand out as much as overexposed white areas did in the previous image.
All sunspots were relatively small since, like babies, they just recently formed. The following 6-image mosaic shows the eastern part of the Sun where four newly emerged sunspots are visible.
The huge snake-like prominence above center in the previous picture is quite striking.
I experimented with colors while constructing this next image of the inverted, floating, curving filament and nearby limb features.
The other major filament on the Sun's eastern half was also in good contrast.
Next is the inverted version of the previous picture.
Two nice prominences were also on display.
I took these images while a huge roaring dump truck delivered several loads of topsoil to the newly constructed house next door. Soon the construction will end, and I'll observe in peace.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Return of the Cicada Killers

Can't Escape!

I rolled my bike to a stop after this morning's ride and noticed a pair of mating cicada killers on the driveway.
Swarms of these scary looking insects buzzed all around me. I had hoped to leave these pesty bugs behind when we moved to Williamsburg. Apparently not! They're having a party on my front lawn!
Why am I plagued by stinging insects? This spring I mowed my lawn through clouds of ground bees. Red velvet ants meander through my back yard. On bike rides during the past two months I've been stung three times by unidentified culprits who struck so fast they were gone by the time I looked for the source of pain. When I run I'm pelted by biting flies bouncing off my head. I think I'll sit inside for a while.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Solar Fireworks

July 4th Sunspot Explosion

Overnight between July 3rd and July 4th hurricane Arthur moved up the east coast and closely approached Williamsburg. The picture below shows the storm on July 3rd just before it moved past Virginia. The red dot on the left above the hurricane is very near my observing site.
The sky unexpectedly cleared after noon on July 4th immediately after hurricane Arthur passed, but it was quite windy. Since the Sun was exhibiting quite a large number of sunspots, I decided to try observing despite the wind. Wind gusts moved the cardboard box used to shade my laptop. The dark cloth draped over my head to prevent light reflections from the computer screen was flapping like crazy. Several twist ties from my electric cables, normally left lying on my observing table, blew away never to be seen again. Surprisingly, in spite of strong winds, the seeing was good, and video images on my laptop screen were very steady.

The first picture below shows the proliferation of sunspots on the Sun's left (eastern) side. It is a 22-image mosaic made with a 2X Barlow lens. Above center, enclosed within a parentheses of dark filaments, is sunspot 2106. Tiny spot 2102 is to the right of 2106. Below center is triple umbra sunspot 2104. The large single spot below and left of 2104 is 2107. Moving left, we come to sunspot pair 2108 and 2110. Large spot 2109 is left of the pair. Finally, small spot 2111 is closest to the Sun's left limb. (Click on the image for a larger view.)
The next image shows a magnified view of sunspot 2106 with small spot 2102 off to the lower right. If you click on the image and reveal more detail, you can see the nonuniform, spotted blackness of the dark umbra on 2106.
The different shades of blackness also appear in the umbras of sunspots 2104 and, especially, 2107 in the lower left of the next picture.
Finally, large sunspot 2109, on the left below, also exhibits a splotchy umbra. Magnetic field arches stretch between spots 2110 and 2108 on the right.
I'm glad I ventured into the wind to observe this fine July 4th display of solar fireworks.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bike Path Field of Dreams

Running Through Corn

One segment of my early morning run passes along a bike path through the middle of a lush corn crop. At the time these pictures were taken the corn was well above my head. Frequently, rabbits run in and out of the corn. Some mornings, deer slowly emerge from the stalks like baseball players in the film, Field of Dreams. They calmly look at me, sauntered across the trail, and disappear back into the dense growth. 
I've been amazed by the rapid grown. Within a day or two, it seemed, tassels appeared atop the stalks and corn silk sprouted from small newly formed ears of corn.
Just a few months ago this particular stretch of trail was bounded by windswept fields of barren dirt where forlorn flocks of geese stood in cold winter sunlight.

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