Sunday, November 22, 2015

Moon dog

On Oct. 24th, 2015, I saw my second ever moon dog. A moon dog is the same phenomenon as a sun dog but the light source is the moon instead of the sun. Moon dogs are more rare than sun dogs:

  • The moon is dimmer, so the effect is less noticeable.
  • At least half the time, the moon is in a phase that is less than half full, so it provides too little light to observe the prism effect
In the following photos, the moon is on the right and is over-exposed. The moon dog is the splash of light and color near the tree. Also visible in the pictures is the 22-degree ice halo that is commonly seen around the sun and moon:


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Plume and Gloom: A Trident II missile makes a mysterious blue blob in the southern California sky

Around 6:10 pm on Saturday evening (7 Nov 2015)  I got a call from my cousin in San Diego wondering if I could see and if I knew what the great green blob in the western sky was. I think I suggested a rocket launch or noctilucent cloud but would have a look. I was surprised to see what appeared to be a green blob high in the west. It didn't look like previous rocket trails I'd seen, so I began photographing:

I was surprised by the blue color and the lack of a clear trail. (However on the following morning modified the output levels of my photos and could clearly see the trail on the left of the blob.)

I entertained a variety of explanations. I googled noctilucent clouds, vaporized meteors, and circular aurora. Of course, the most obvious, a launch that had been announced in the news and was the reason that the LA Airport had stopped outgoing flights, was pointed out to me though the wonders of social media. In my defense, it was hard to see a trail which lacked the mother-of-pearl tendrils common in launches.

The effect reminds me of comet Holmes from 2007. This comet expanded greatly over a month, but by virtue of it's orbit and Earth's, it remained in the same area of the sky for a month. Thus, we were looking at it from behind and therefore seeing a plume but no tail.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dyson's Sphere of Influence, Part 3: The Garden of Eden

(This is part 3 in a series of posts Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)

One thing that scientists and conservative Christians may agree on is that there was a garden of Eden six thousand years ago; however, they may not agree on it's location nor its size. The garden I speak of is what is now the Sahara Desert. Ray Pierrehumbert describes the mid-holocene climatic optimum as a time in which forests extended farther north in Europe and rivers flowed in the Sahara (Principles of Planetary Climate, Chapter 1). The wet Sahara was probably a climate response to Earth's orbital precession, Earth's wobbling top-like motion that determines how the sun's energy is distributed globally.
Regarding the wet Sahara, Dyson said:
Six thousand years ago seems to have been the warmest and wettest period of the interglacial era that began twelve thousand years ago when the last Ice Age ended. I would like to ask two questions. First, if the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is allowed to continue, shall we arrive at a climate similar to the climate of six thousand years ago when the Sahara was wet? Second, if we could choose between the climate of today with a dry Sahara and the climate of six thousand years ago with a wet Sahara, should we prefer the climate of today? My second heresy answers yes to the first question and no to the second. It says that the warm climate of six thousand years ago with the wet Sahara is to be preferred, and that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may help to bring it back. I am not saying that this heresy is true. I am only saying that it will not do us any harm to think about it. (Dyson 2007, Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society)
The statements in this passage struck me as odd. I've perused many Holocene climate reconstructions and I didn't recall any prominent global spikes in temperature from this period, but my knowledge is incomplete. As a check on my memory, I consulted some graphs of ice core data plotted for Greenland and Antarctica and confirmed that nothing exceptional affected Greenland and Antarctica:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dyson's Sphere of Influence, Part 2

(This is part 2 in a series of posts. Part 1, Part 2,  Part 3)

I've been looking at climate modelling studies with a renewed vigor since reading Dyson's statement that projections of global warming are based on flawed climate models. It's not only Dyson's comment that provokes me. The climate models fallacy is promoted by many private interest groups trying to influence the COP21 climate talks in November. For example, the Cornwall Alliance is a group of faith-based, pro-fossil fuel, evangelicals:
Many fear that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use endanger humanity and the environment because they lead to historically unprecedented, dangerous global warming....
Computer climate models of the warming effect of enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide are the basis for that fear. -- An Open Letter on Climate Change to the People, their Local Representatives, the State Legislatures and Governors, the Congress, and the President of the United States of America. Cornwall Alliance, 2015. 
This letter also cites a lot of inaccurate and outdated information on the instrumental record, and credits the Judeo-Christian Heritage with the rise of the modern scientific method and dismisses computer modelling as not a reliable avenue of research.

So, I want to share what fictions climate models help us to maintain, and I didn't have to dig deep for good example, rather, just open my mailbox. My most recent issue of Nature (15 Oct. 2015) reports on modelling the loss of continental ice from Antarctica:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dyson's Sphere of Influence (Part 1)

(This is part 1 in a series of posts. Part 2, Part 2, Part 3)

I've been asked to comment on an essay by Freeman Dyson written in 2007 in which Dyson proposed some heresies about climate science. It seems unfair to criticize an essay from 8 years ago, but some of what he said was demonstrably wrong in 2007 and a recent interview from 2015 suggests his opinion hasn't evolved since then. A physicist with his reputation has the potential to influence a lot of people, so it's worthwhile to examine if his sphere of influence should extend to the realm of climate science. The recent interview with Dyson coincides with a release of a report by the special interest group The Global Warming Policy Foundation in which Freeman Dyson wrote the introduction. The latter two items appear to be in preparation for the upcoming climate talks in Paris, possibly with the goal of influencing public opinion.
This is part 1 of two or more posts in which I'm commenting on the following:
Part 1
  • Dyson should acknowledge the entire scope of climate science before downplaying it's conclusions. 
  • The greenhouse effect is often described inadequately, even by physicists.
  • Ocean acidification, a result of our rate of CO2 emissions, is a well-acknowledged problem and missing from Dyson's commentary.
Part 2
  • It's dangerous to use regional climate change to justify global climate change.
  • What does land-use management and genetic engineering offer for mitigating our CO2 emissions? 

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.