Monday, September 28, 2015

Super harvest killer blood moon

I'm enjoying hyperbole in the title. Last night was the lunar eclipse at perihelion and harvest moon. I was able to get photos with my 3-inch refractor by running back and forth along the front sidewalk to dodge my neighbor's trees.

First presentable photo after moon rise:

A little adjustment to the exposure brought out a double-red effect: red from lunar eclipse and red from being low in the sky.

First blood, that is, the first photo that shows the moon completely red with a hint of an airplane in the lower left:

At this point, I started noticing stars in the picture:

Here, I painfully discovered that in the rush to find a clear view between trees, I hadn't polar aligned my scope suitably for a 15-second exposure. I captured a plane in that time, but the stars and moon moved in picture, leaving them blurry:

Polar alignment was corrected in this photo exposed long enough to bring the stars out:

And this one:

The minutes before or after totality are under-rated in my opinion. This is the best time to image a band of purple on the umbra's edge.

All of these photos were made possible by my neighbor's kind attention to good lighting.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Astronomy Night at Marna O'Brien Park, Wildomar

This Saturday, Sept. 19, is another astronomy night in Marna O'Brien Park, 20505 Palomar Road, Wildomar, CA. Events include pizza sales starting around 6:00 pm, a telescope giveaway, a presentation around 7:30, and star gazing through telescopes till 10:00 pm.

The telescope giveaway is a free raffle of Galileoscopes, a 50 mm telescope that must be assembled. The assembly is a rewarding learning experience. At last year's event, a child assembled his scope during my 30-minute presentation. The Galileoscopes are provided by a sponsor, whose identity I don't know yet, but will be announced at the event.

Highlights of the evening are the crescent moon, Saturn, Ring Nebula, and the Milky Way.

The presentation is for kids of all ages and adults. The presentation will occur even if clouds scuttle the observing. Rain and severe weather will cancel the whole event, but neither is forecast for Saturday.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Small notice on CNN

On July 22, 2015, CNN posted an article about the University of Queensland's free online course called Denial 101. The course is developed by John Cook, creator of the website Skeptical Science and to which I contribute illustrations and articles. Many of my illustrations were used in the course and a few of them appear in the video samples included with the CNN article here:

The course required some new illustrations and animations from me, and I'll be adding these to the Skeptical Science climate graphics resources:

A shortened link to my illustrations is here:

From Denial 101, lecture


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Life in the Zone, a presentation at the Temecula Library, July 14, 2015

On July 14, 2015, I will be presenting with my fellow Temecula Valley Astronomer Chuck Dyson at the Temecula Library. Our topic is Life in the Zone, a look at the search for life in our stellar neighborhood. The library kindly made this flyer for the event:


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Antikythera Device, modelling its elliptical motion

The Antikythera Mechanism is a hunk of metal fragments found in the Mediterranean Sea over 100 years ago. Numerous scholars have demonstrated that it is the corroded remains of a calculator of celestial motions, built around 2000 years ago.

I've dabbled with a few illustrations of the object and its origin in my show The Astro Time Machine. Since creating this show, I've worked a little on my animation of how this device was thought to portray the motion of the moon's elliptical orbit.

The journal Nature published a description of the use of a pin and slot mechanism to create elliptical motion. I've created an animated version of the pin and slot mechanism on my website (Pin and Slot):

My model is simplified. I'm showing only the pinned and slotted gears, which is enough to show how this arrangement produces elliptical motion.  The actual device would have had a minimum of four gears for the same motion, similar to this exploded diagram:

And using four gears would have allowed the modeling of additional motions, such as the change in axis of the moon's orbit.

I don't claim to accurately show the arrangement of gears used in the Antikythera device. My animation is meant only to show how two wheels with a pin and slot produce the motion of an elliptical orbit. My animated model could easily be replicated with real wheels for a classroom project. Gears could be replaced with wheels connected by belts of elastic cord. With the correct tools, I think it would be easier to build a real elliptical motion mechanism than to program a model, at least for me.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Worst community safety lighting ever

A community near me endures the worst street lighting I've ever seen. It ranks worse among stiff competition by being the primary lighting for the community.

From an distance, the light fixtures are attractive.

And a close-up shows the ornamentation:

But at night, they turn into glare bombs. Their placement at every corner ensures that every direction a motorists looks includes glare to obstruct a safe view of the street.

Glare bombs, looking west

Glare bombs, looking east (before a car approached). 
Notice the strong shadows, now imagine the same 
shadows between parked cars.

While documenting these lights, a car intruded into my photo, making for a good comparison. Notice how the light and glare from the approaching car is comparable to the glare from the streetlights:

Car approaches from one block away

Car reaches the nearest intersection 
and appears as bright at the street light 
that is a block away.

I know of no one who sees better while in the beam of car headlights. (That's why we have low-beams). Yet, people don't question the same quality of light when mounted for "our safety and protection".

Watch out in these neighborhoods. You may not see the child or pet that foolishly enters the street or the rock or nail that can break your tire. 


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rattling a Snake

When I climb through places that could harbor a rattlesnake, I make loud claps to improve the chance that a rattlesnake might hear me and start moving away, or start rattling. Yesterday I had the opportunity to test this method. I encountered a dozing rattlesnake, so I recorded before and after making a loud clap to wake it. The loud clap didn't disturb it in the slightest. I conclude that one shouldn't be confident that making noise will help avoid a rattlesnake encounter.

I will add that most of my snake encounters fall into two categories: One, like this one, where the snake makes no motion or sound, and two, where the snake quickly hides and rattles. These responses appear to have more to do with the mood of the snake than with anything proactive that I can do.


Update: A closeup, as the video didn't capture the snake clearly: