Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sun's up

Another grand sunspot is rotating into view:

The photo was taken today (19 Oct. 2014) with a white-light solar filter over an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassigrain telescope at F10. I added a little yellow tone for aesthetics.

The photo below shows the sun with my scope's focal ratio reduced to F6.3, allowing me to get the full sun on the frame. The inset highlights the sunspot.

This sunspot will rotating toward the middle of the sun (from our viewpoint). It is the type of sunspot that will make news if it lets loose a flare while pointing at us. On the other hand, it may fade slowly and uneventfully.

Below, I've doubled what one can do with a solar filter. It's great for solar selfies. Here's me, my camera, and our sun in the solar filter, which is essentially a mirror that reflects 99.9% of light.

I pulled out just the sun from the above photo. The photo was taken at 39 mm focal length. I believe a camera at 50 mm focal length produces images of a scale matching human perception. So, the sun in this photo should be smaller than human perception. With that in mind, I wondered if this sunspot would be visible to the naked eye under cloudy or hazy conditions that allowed for a safe glimpse. DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN, but I suspect this one under special natural conditions could be viewed with naked eye. You can see a fragment of the grand sunspot in the lower left corner:


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Opening Fire on a Can of Worms

I probably shouldn't touch issues involving the Second Amendment and gun violence. I'm no expert on the risks and benefits, and commenting on this topic gets you labelled as one of us or one of them. Additionally, I've observed how issues such as climate change, vaccinations, evolution, and genetic modification are misreported by various media and amplified by people of specific political views. (Note my examples represent liberal and conservative extremes.) So, the same misinformation is to be expected in the issue of gun safety, gun control, and interpreting the Second Amendment,  It is difficult to know where to get reliable, objective research. It is also difficult to examine and remove one's own biases.

I've known one person who used his gun to shoot and kill his ex-wife and himself. Events reported suggest that he intended to kill his two children too, but they managed to escape. I know one person whose intimate friend was shot and killed by an intruder. I've met a sociopath drunk who screamed murderous threats all night from a neighboring campsite (he was provoked by my asking him kindly to stop urinating in our campsite). I've been threatened directly, words to the effect that "If I had a gun, you'd be dead". I once lived in a home that had been broken into for the former occupant's gun. (Just the gun was stolen.)

I've watched a national organization, which is proud of its values, instruct children in the use of BB guns without adequate barriers between the shooters. They lectured that each person's gun must point up or downrange, no exceptions, but that didn't prevent one clumsy child, perhaps age 7 or 8, from pointing his barrel to the temple of the child next to him. I later learned that a BB gun to the temple can kill a child.

I'm sure there are many more examples if I plumb the murky depths of my memory. And of course there is the ongoing  non-events of many gun owners who are not involved in a shooting, as well as the hard-to-quantify deterrent effect.

A recent shooting in a nearby town got me thinking again, mainly because I've imagined myself in the same situation as the home owner who had to shoot an intruder. But by the grace of God, I could have been that person, and I can guess at the fears, self-doubt, and questioning of what is happening as one warns an intruder and then feels compelled to shoot in self-defense.

Studies I've read cite little evidence of the use of firearms in self-defense compared to other uses. These studies also acknowledge that this statistic is difficult to obtain. How often is a deterred intruder really a dog or a raccoon? Accidental shootings, miss-use of guns, have a body as evidence. The deterred intruder leaves no evidence.

Studies acknowledge this bias and try to compensate by comparing cities with different gun laws or the same city before an after the enactment of a gun law. But still, they arrive at fewer examples supporting legitimate self-defense and that the majority of incidents (which excludes the daily non-incidents) involve a gun used by accident, in a suicide, stolen and used against others, or used to intimidate spouses and family.

So, when the nearby home owner had to shoot an intruder, I  accepted that this was a clear case that bucked the data trend, a clear case of demonstrating the value of having a weapon and being prepared to use it. But a couple days later, more news of the event was released. It turns out that the intruder was drunk, staying with a friend on the same street, and had mistaken the house for the home of his friend.

There is no excuse for being this drunk and for resorting to breaking a window, but when one steps back from the incident and looks at public policy, it looks like a stupid error on one person's part was made lethal only the presence of a gun. Yet, it could have gone the other way.

Reading List:
American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: Risks and Benefits of a Gun in the Home
The New England Journal of Medicine: Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home
The New England Journal of Medicine: Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lunar Eclipse, 8 October 2014

Below is a photo of the recent lunar eclipse, or "blood moon, " a term that has become quite popular.

Less popular is the term "selenelion," which is used to describe an eclipsed moon that is visible when the sun rises, such that you can see each in their respective directions. This condition occurred for viewers in the eastern United States.

Compared to previous lunar eclipse from April, this one is a touch bloodier:

Next stop on the moon's busy agenda: a partial solar eclipse on October 23.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Star Party in Wildomar, Sept 20, Marna O'Brien Park

The City of Wildomar is hosting a free and open to the public star party on Saturday, Sept. 20. The suggested arrival time is between 6:30pm and 7:30pm. Bring blankets and chairs for the show at 7:30. Observing will begin, weather permitting, at 8:00 pm. Below are a map and a snippit from the show I prepared for this event.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Comet C/2014E2 (Jacques)

It's exciting to have comets visit us, as they exhibit a range of qualities, defy prediction, and if nothing else, change position from night to night.

I've been able to photograph Comet Jacques twice this week using a telescope. These photos are with a 3-inch telescope at focal ratio 6.3:

Comet Jacques, 26 August 2014 (The image has been
cropped and the exposure level manipulated in Photoshop)

Comet Jacques, 26 August 2014 (Image cropped)

I can see this comet through a 9x50 finder scope, but not in my 7x50 binoculars. Two reasons may explain this: the finder scope isn't being held, so doesn't wiggle, and though both instruments have the same light gathering power, the higher magnification of the finderscope improves the contrast so that there is less glow from the background.

UPDATE: I got a little more quality time and space on Aug 29 to add this:

Same camera, same scope, but better sky.

In this animation, I spliced images taken from 9:40 to 10:20 pm:


Knowledge as a foreign, invading power

Knowledge is power, but there are people who see any application of physics, collection of data, and survey of scientific literature as foreign, and therefore they fight it's presence as though it were an invading power.


The Bugle is a monthly paper produced by Knight Publishing. Ad hominem attacks are an assumed risk for anyone offering an informative article. The September 2014 issue published a community forum article that confused a high school reading level with jargon and attacks me personally.

Here is the Sept 4 Community Forum by Ken Woytek:
John Garrett took great exception to my “mythical” claims of fraud in the scientific consensus of climate professionals crying Wolf over dangerous trends in global climate. His response, printed in the Aug. issue, is replete with jargonic references that only serve the unbiased reader to agree with my premise condemning the self-serving 97% of active “climatologists.”
These alarmists are simply furthering their own secure careers in bolstering the theory of  anthropogenic global warming, as they toil away measuring conditions that support their creed. Computer models so key in the mantra are man-made and undeniably reflect the bias of the developer, equally as crucial as the manmade CO2 explosion.
Have you, for example, ever had any faith in a program sponsored by the U.N., which reacts to every open argument with condemnation of the West, USA in particular, to court the majority of General Assembly members that envy and despise America? The vaunted IPCC meets regularly to rebuke our material success, without recognition of our humanitarian exceptionalism, with climate-abuse sanctions never visited upon the grossest violators in China, India, or Brazil who share our planet.
The only answers to 176 climate myths announced by Garrett that were not faith-based are those that refer to the destruction of the Amazon rain forest as a causative factor in growth of the CO2 concentrations in the global atmosphere. That massive CO2 consumer, and all smaller brethren gardens, are pivotal in the equilibrium necessary to radiate heat back into night space after earth insolation temperature rises all day, acting together with cloudless skies. All the other references paraded by Mr. Garrett are similarly flawed pseudo-science, to which he has become irrationally enamored in classic scholastic fervor colored by his political persuasion and shared by Mr. Inconvenient Gore, Sir RT Watson, and eminent scientist BH Obama.
Best regards, Ken Woytek, Menifee
What did I say to deserve such a come-uppance?

I wrote this:

The July Community Voice [by Ken Wyotek] alluded to at least a dozen climate science myths(1), too many to discuss here, so we need to start with the basics to correct the misinformation:
Predictions of global warming are based on fundamental physics. How much warming to expect from a given increase in greenhouse gases is constrained by observations, computer modeling, and past climate reconstructions(2).
Observations include surface and ocean temperatures, solar output, Earth's reflectivity, greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations, and outgoing radiation.
When considering all of these, rising CO2 is the best explanation for a global average temperature increase of 1.44F over 150 years, a conclusion supported by 97% of climate scientists(3). For comparison, cooling of 9F gives us an ice age. Warming of 3.6F over pre-industrial climate is worrisome but possibly safe, so our current 1.44oF increase is almost halfway through our safe zone.
Observations can be compromised by small sample sizes and measurement errors; thus decade-to-hundred-year trends such as global warming can be masked by natural year-to-decade long fluctuations. It takes 30 years to see the long term rise among short-term waves; and no one region can be taken as typical of the planet as a whole.
Computer modeling tests our understanding of the underlying physics of the climate system. Models are tested against observations and past climate reconstructions. Any scientific theory is incomplete without a physics-based model. Models have even identified errors in observations(4) and have demonstrated how global warming can dry the western US while cooling the eastern US.(5)
Climate reconstructions are based on ice cores, sediments, plant residue, and cave formations. These reconstructions of past climate smooth out the short-term effects. For example, when you look at an ice core, you’re seeing hundred-year trends, not decadal trends. It is these hundred year trends that are most disturbing, for they show:
• Our climate has changed drastically due to very small but gradual changes in energy.
• Naturally occurring changes in atmospheric CO2 levels regulate global climate on thousand-year timescales.
• Warming trends invoke feedback effects that amplify the warming.
• Our current rate of warming and level of greenhouse gases have no precedent going back millions of years.
The concern for global warming will not go away because the science will not go away despite the steady stream of misinformation.
1. SkepticalScience: Rebuttals to 176 climate myths,
2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Assessment Report 5. On my entire summary of observations, modeling, and climate reconstructions,
3. Environmental Research Letters, Cook et al.,
4. Nature, Fu et al. How a long-standing discrepancy between models and temperature observations was resolved. htttp://
5. Geophysical Research Letters, Wang et al. Modeling study shows global warming influence in the 2013-2014 California drought,
Additional information:
For instrumental temperature records, see
(I’ve created interactive version here:
For CO2 and temperature data for the past 800,000 years, see CO2:
(I’ve created an interactive version here:
Questions and criticism are welcome
at my blog:
John Garrett -Wildomar

I think the differences between these two illustrate the gulf between reason and ignorance in the climate debate and in many other unnecessarily politicized issues.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Comet Splicing

Last night I observed a comet passing through Cassiopeia. Here is a wide-field image with Cassiopeia rising on the right and the comet (a green smudge) almost dead center.

I was using a 28-105 mm zoom lens, so after centering the comet, I took images at maximum zoom:

The comet is just left of center and Cassiopeia's center star is at the right.

Here is an un-cropped wide-field image. Depending on how well this web media preserves the image size and quality, you may be able to click into the image and see the comet and the Andromeda galaxy.

When you think about it, the above image shows Earth, an object from our solar system, our galaxy, and a distant galaxy. 

Using the telephoto lens, you can also detect the comet's movement against the background stars. This animation joins three images taken between 9:40 and 11:05 pm:

The first two frames were taken at focal length 70 mm, and the last at 105 mm. I wasn't planning to capture an animation, so I failed to keep consistent camera settings throughout my session, but you can tell the comet's motion is not due to my inconsistency.


Update: I've added a map showing where to look on Aug 25: