Monday, June 25, 2018

2018 Canyon Wrapup

Again, better late than never, here are a few photos and stories from this year's Grand Canyon Star Party! It ended a week yesterday, but as normal lately, the photos have to settle into my brain before figuring what I'll do with them - text normally follows the photos I've selected! With a recently-obtained fisheye (Sigma 15mm F/2.8), I think these are the most striking photos! Particularly the one at left that shows the Milky Way rising over the crowd of star party telescopes and observers...

The shot at right is a bit more personal as I'm shown sitting beside my Celestron 14".  The string of red lights is one of the park rangers stopping by to say hi, and there is also someone looking thru the telescope. The bright "star" at upper right is planet Jupiter, and Saturn, a little fainter, has just risen above the trees, just to the right of the observer's head... The same part of the Milky Way - the brightest part near the Sagittarius/Scorpio border, is always spectacular as a backdrop. These are both 30 second exposures, wide open and an ISO of 4,000.

In the right shot above of my C-14, you can see above the observer's head my 500mm lens mounted there for some snapshots taken after the crowd thins out... I did this last year and was a lot of fun, so decided to do it again! With the C-14 properly polar aligned, it should easily track for a couple minute sub-exposure, so took a few frames to stack to decrease noise and increase signal and color saturation. At left is an eternal favorite this time of year - Messier 20 above (the Triffid Nebula), and Messier 8 below (the Lagoon Nebula). On more than a few occasions, I pulled up a frame of this image and used the colors to explain the physics that caused them. Of course visually no colors are visible - just shades of grey. It was a powerful demonstration - people could see the blue (reflection from a nearby blue star) and red (hydrogen fluorescing from UV light from nearby hot stars) nebulae, but no color. It demonstrated how our eye has evolved so that our B&W sensors (rods) allow us to see in dim conditions, but the color sensor (rods) only work during daylight brightness levels.

Also visible nearby in Sagittarius was the comet 2016 M1 PanSTARRS. I knew approximately where it was and in my 3rd shot there it was! Comets are easy to spot when near the sun - they show up green from the dissociation of carbon molecules by sunlight. On this night (11 June), it was 120 million miles from us on the Earth, and 214 Million miles from the Sun! While it gets a little closer to the sun at perihelion in October, it will not be visible from the northern hemisphere... This is a stack of 4 exposures of 60 seconds each. Oh - that fuzzy star at upper right? That is Messier 70 - a globular cluster about 29,000 light years towards the center of our galaxy...

Anyone who knows me also knows I'm a fan of dark nebulae! How do you see a black cloud, I hear you ask? Well, you see it in silhouette against clouds of stars, so looks like dark clouds against the Milky Way, as in the fisheye shots above. A spot in southern Ophiuchus is rich in dark clouds. Shown here at left thru the 500mm is part of what is called the "pipe" nebula because of its resemblance to a smoking pipe with more dark nebulae curling upwards...

And at right is a little dark cloud visible at the top in the link's wide field - the Snake Nebula, or B72... The "S" shape of the snake is strikingly apparent in photographs, but try as I might, have never seen it visually!

There IS one dark nebula you can see - Barnard 86, the Inkspot Nebula! It is shown at left in the full frame of the 500mm. Seen against one of the brighter clouds of the Milky Way center, the small dark cloud is easy to see in silhouette between a small star cluster and bright-ish star... Several friends and I show the dark cloud at the Canyon for something "totally different"!

Also for something different, Omega Centauri is a spectacular globular cluster that just clears the southern horizon.  Not many people have it on their observing list at the Grand Canyon, but I happened to notice that it was hanging just over the visitor center from my telescopes location on the field. I happened to have my 200mm mounted on the scope that day so took a 30 second snapshot of it - shown at right. It is a HUGE cluster, upwards of 4 million stars about 16,000 light years away.  But it is usually a dim glow seen so lowly in the sky. A photograph can make it look more apparent - here over the VC roof!

We had a great 6 nights of the star party, but some clouds and sprinkles (!) at the end. There were spectacular crowds at night, good crowds of astronomers too - likely about our best year given the weather at the end. We had elk too! Remember I've been going to these things for 28 years, and in the beginning saw absolutely NO elk. Now they are hardly getting excited about. They are evidently smart enough they know how to turn on the water fountains to get a drink - the photo at left taken near the bathroom at our old site at Yavapai Point... And as the star party wound down, a young female stops by the telescope field to say hello to Erich Karkoschka! We are supposed to stay over 100 feet from them, but we're not sure the protocol when they walk up to YOU!

Finally the last Sunday dawned clear - very clear, and after a few days of clouds, a trip was needed to go see the Canyon. We all took many photos of the Canyon, but one of the most striking of mine was from Mojave Point where an agave flower in its brilliant yellows was seen against the reds and browns of the Canyon. At left is an HDR shot of the plant mostly in deep shade, and at right is a close-up of the flower with what I think is a female black carpenter bee pollinating the beautiful flowers...

Next year's star party, the 29th, faces some uncertainty as the current organizer Jim O'Connor has broadcast his intentions to retire from those efforts. But the event is so successful that I think it would continue regardless. The astronomers love it, the public and park loves it, so I'm sure it will continue far into the future in something like the present form...

Friday, June 1, 2018

Fishing for Pollinators!

Back at "Ketelsen West" in Tucson where it is deep into late Spring - the "5th Season" careful observers get here, where it is ungodly hot and made comfortable by the lack of humidity! It is supposed to be 108F this Sunday, yet the humidity will likely be somewhere close to 5%, making it entirely comfortable if you are at least out of the sun...

As for local flora, we are nearly to the end of the Saguaro blooming season, so there is little on the bloomin' calendar till the summer rains start another spurt of desert growth in 5 weeks or so. But wouldn't you know, my cereus repandus on the east wall of my house, spurt out 7 buds on 2 plants last week, and I enjoyed 3 consecutive nights of flowers of a couple per night! The photo at left shows a good number of them (click to enlarge image) about 4 or 5 days before start of blooming. By late afternoon you can spot the ones that are going to open that night, finally opening to their full 5 or 6 inch diameter (!) by 10pm or so. Once the sun hits them the next morning, the show is over and they close, either setting fruit or if un-pollinated, drop off in a few days... At right is a photo of the last night of blooming showing the spectacular flowers.

These flowers are so large and deep that they require pollinators with a long tongue or proboscis to be able to reach the nectar. There is a story where evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin predicted the existence of an unknown pollinator that could reach the bottom of a 12" long flower in Madagascar, and it took 130 years to prove his prediction! For these flowers, one need only wait and they will come to you. My favorite hunting technique is in setting up a camera on a tripod, taking flash photos in the dark on the off chance of catching one. It has worked well except rarely do I catch moths in the early May blooming - my suspicion is that they are not active in the pre-monsoon season... Here at left is shown a great photo I took a few years back of an uncurled proboscis of a rustic sphinx moth as it is about to dive in to feed on nectar. How deep does it go? Well, the photos at right (again, from years ago) show how far in they reach, and you can see their effectiveness as pollinators - they must get covered in it! The fact that it was in 3 consecutive photos indicate it fed for at least 90 seconds...

On Wednesday night I set up the gear and started it about 11:30, and awoke about 5:30 to fetch it. At 2 photos per minute, that corresponded to something over 700 photos. Did I catch any moths this time? YES! Exactly 2, their images shown here left and right. The one at left came in at 20 minutes after midnight, and the one at right came in at 3:07 am. Don't know if the flash scared them off, as they only appeared in a single shot each, but I've spent some nights in the May blooming without capturing a singe one, so am ahead of average in May!

And yet, pollination occurred - I can tell by looking at the stigma to see if pollen has been transferred from the anther... With the macro lens plus extension tubes at 5:30 in the morning, sure enough, it appears the stigma had a good coating of pollen as well as "moth feathers". Make sure to click on the image to show the full resolution. This was a 3-frame focus stack to slightly extend the depth of focus of the exposure...

SO success for the May blooming outing - rare indeed from my earlier excursions to catch anything. But it is always fun to try and see what you will catch. You bet I'll be back in the busier August and September blooming season!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

More Images of Spring

I think of myself as an observer of nature, but have to admit that my neighbor Elaine first noticed the bird's nest over my porch light, asking if it was inhabited. Well, I had no idea, but a quick reach upwards with the cell phone and its built-in flash confirmed 3 robin eggs! Once revealed, then yes, I noticed the pair taking turns on it, always flying off as I went into or left the only door in use. Only one rainy night when arriving home did it stay in place while I walked directly under it. I avoided looking up and making eye contact, but it definitely stayed put! The photo at left was taken by leaving the camera and telephoto on a tripod, set to a 5 minute delay, then taking a photo every couple minutes so I had a few to choose from. At right, I used a fisheye lens and a flash to light up the nest to get a "bird's eye" view. I also note that the light in the porch light is a compact fluorescent, so even though it is on 24/7, it doesn't heat up the nest and hard-cook the eggs!

So when I left on my week-long road trip to the Carolinas, there were 3 eggs. Once back, I was excited to check the new "housemates" and found a 4th egg had been laid. No action for a few days, but finally, on Saturday the 19th, spotted what looked like a blob of mud - hatching time! Took a full day for the 4th one to hatch.

I didn't really see much action going on - the robin pair were a little more protective, staying VERY close as I came or went, but never really attacked me directly to try driving me off. I did not see any feeding activity the 2 days before I left, but I did document a couple of the nestings with the macro lens before I left Tuesday. Not particularly cute, but full of interesting details! Interesting that the eyes aren't open yet, but eye slits have appeared. Neck seems all tendons and transparent skin...

Wikipedia claims they'll fly in 2 weeks, so don't expect to find any traces of them in a month or 6 weeks when I'm hoping to return... It would have been fun to photograph the "captives" before they fly away, but thems the breaks!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Reports of my Death...

To quote a famous American author, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"! And yes, it is evidently true - about a month ago I was reported, by the paper no less, that I had died! Well, at least that someone named Dean A Ketelsen had died, and that part was true...

One of my standard tasks on my way to Iowa is to stop in Fulton along the Mississippi River and visit my Aunt Velma, now in the nursing home. She is among the few survivors of my Dad's generation, and as I get older myself, I like to hang on to those times as long as possible! I've blogged about her before - just 18 months ago here, and back when we held a reunion on her farm here. Evidently she was the first to discover in the Clinton Herald that I, or rather, Mr. Ketelsen had passed. Convinced it was me, even though the birthdate was wrong and what the heck would I be doing dying in Ohio, she was evidently inconsolable, even after being told that if true, my sisters would have alerted the family... They finally had to look up the full obituary and saw the details of Mr. Ketelsen's life as well as his photo before she finally believed it wasn't me that did the passing...

Finally word got to my sisters and eventually on to me. While I'm sorry for Mr. Ketelsen, I'm sort of glad it wasn't me! I guess my passing would explain my lack of posts the last few months, but can't claim that distinction!

The Silly Goose and Other Views of Spring

From the paucity of posts, you might well think I'm out of business. I'm only lacking in inspiration to post, not in content! In fact, since my last post (was it really 3 months ago?!) I've gone from "Ketelsen East" to Tucson, and back again! Have been enjoying the emerging Spring for several weeks already and taken a road trip to visit family and friends in the Carolinas... So yes, I have content...

So on this trip east, I lucked out - arrived to the Midwest 2 DAYS after the last of the snow melted! For the last week of April I was shocked at the lack of signs of new growth other than daffodils... But it was soon to bust out! Fortunately there were other signs of a new season. Canada Geese now overwinter, and get an early start on a new crop. Interestingly, you rarely see the nests except for this one I saw on my daily trip to pick up a morning paper - in the middle of a Jewel/Osco parking lot! I was taken aback when I first spotted her, but sure enough she was stuck on her nest like glue. So much so that the store staff had spotted her and left bread crusts for her to eat. Note on the image at right there are at least 2 goslings hanging w/mom while the last eggs hatch. The next day as I drove up (without camera), mom, dad and 5 babes were waddling to edge of the lot to cross the street to a pond. So despite the iffy location, there appeared to be a successful conclusion!

Meanwhile on the grounds of "Ketelsen East", there are always groups of geese coming in off the Fox River. Shooting out the open window, I caught a group of goslings and their mom caught in a brief downpour. From first image to last, only about 6 minutes had passed. As it first started raining the babes all ran to mom, who spread her wings to protect them all from the brief downpour. As soon as it stopped, one peeked out and before you knew it, they all went about their business! The image at right is a blowup of the 3rd image showing them all piled under mom. I believe all 9 goslings are there under her!

As I said above, there wasn't much of a wait for the yard to brighten up. Among the first is the Blue Scilla - a favorite of mind, tinting the lawn blue in places! These strange downward-pointing flowers are tough to photograph - even when on the ground pointing horizontally not much of the flower can be seen! But the bright color is a welcome early harbinger of Spring! The image at left is a 7-frame focus-stack to extend the full flower into focus. At right is a wider view of the yard showing the day or two of the lawn dominated by the scilla before the red trillium starting coming in too. Interesting how they all come, bloom and go sort of one-at-a time!

Yes, trillium is always a favorite of mine - but so tough to image... I've done images of both the red and white trillium before, but decided to do an ultra-close-up of the white trillium this time. At left is the wider view showing the 3 petals of the flower, and at right is actually the same image, but shown at full-resolution showing flower parts and pollen-laden anthers. In both of these, 25 frames w/a slight focus shift between were combined to extend the depth of field of the image... It continues to amaze me how much resolution you can squeeze out of an image using focus-stacking techniques!

And surprisingly, there were NO dandelions for the first two weeks of my stay! I always thought that they were among the first of the flower/weeds to appear in the yard, but obviously the blue scilla and trillium won out this year... I enjoy stalking the dandelions, hunting the tiny little aphids that feed on nectar in the flower... Tiny, but suitably challenging to capture! This time I was loaded for bear - had 2 different systems to track them down - my regular macro plus extension tubes to get as large as possible, and also, this time borrowed an infinity-corrected microscope objective shooting in front of a 200mm lens for a comparable 2X view. Here are the two results - both of these are focus-stacks of a half-dozen frames. At left is the 100mm Canon macro lens with about 6 cm of extension tubes. At right is the 2X microscope objective in front of a 200mm lens. While the results are comparable, the edge goes to the macro/extension tubes as the depth of field is a little larger and the hardware (as mine is set up) is a bit easier to use. Further study is warranted!

And after the blue scilla and still during the dandelions, the violets came out too. They seem so innocuous, and yet, under a macro lens seem so mysterious and different compared to other flowers.  At left is a "wide" shot showing mostly just a flower petal and the subtle color veining. At right is the center of the flower where the numerous "fingers" obviously guide the pollinators for maximum effectiveness... Both of these are focus stacks - 5 frames for the petal at left, 10 for the close-up at right...

And there were some new ones for me too - neighbor Elaine was pointing out the population of flowers in her yard and identified these large-leaved forest dwellers near the fence line as "May Apples", indeed some forming small "apples" about 1.5 cm diameter on the stalks under them. And sure enough, some of them also sported striking flowers, but instead of atop the plants, they were on the stem well protected by the leaves! Kind of weird, but worth lying on the ground to get a close up of the flowers with the macro. These were taken after a rain, but they looked a little "waxy", which might have been a product of the rinsing they had...

The weather these weeks has just been fabulous! It has been cool - cold enough to support making a batch of chili one weekend! Have not yet used the AC, and in fact, many mornings have had to use the heat to get the house into the 60s! We've had long stretches of clear sky, so that watching the spinning of the spheres across the sky are an entertaining pastime! At left is the rising moon showing over the barely-budding trees 3 weeks ago! Note that even this photo is not a simple one to take! Shooting with the 300mm lens, to keep the trees in focus, as well as the moon required 3 exposures - one for the tree at left w/the buds, then a middle-range shot for the other trees, then third exposure focused on the moon - the most distant object - duh! Photoshop assembled the 3-frame focus stack easily, keeping the sharp parts of each of the 3 exposures to combine into this one!

And we've also had some rainy weather, which to this desert rat is just as welcome as a sunny day! Sleeping with the temps in the 50s or 60s with the windows open during a storm is just heavenly!  Although I have to ask - is there anything sadder than a dandelion seed pod after a heavy rain, as shown at right?

Back to "Ketelsen West" soon, where I hope to catch up on some of the content I've been collecting. Don't give up on me!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Chicago Museum Rounds!

In the nearly 12 years I've been coming to "Ketelsen East" to visit Melinda, we only went in to what most consider "downtown" a few times, mostly when visitors were stopping by. There was a trip to Adler Planetarium, once to Navy Pier and Millenium Park, once or twice to Wrigley, that was it! The western suburbs were good enough for us! My friend Karen has intended to broaden my horizons somewhat, plus I've given 2 talks at Adler the last 5 months! So last weekend we took public transportation down to the Chicago Art Institute for a few hours, then in a lovely blizzard, took in Millenium Park. A couple days later (President's Day) we risked being over run by kids out of school to take in the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). I still remember a long bus drive from Iowa when I was in 7th grade (!) to visit not only MSI, but Natural History Museum, Shedd Aquarium AND Brookfield Zoo. THAT must have been a day! My highlight of the entire day was the Nazi U-Boat on display at MSI. Would love to see that again - missed it this week! It is impossible to see anything close to a majority of the displays in a few hours, so repeat visits, better yet, annual memberships are well worth it!

I'm thinking I'd been to the Chicago Art Institute before - I remember the lions in front if not what I saw inside... I know that Grand Wood's "American Gothic" usually resides there, though is currently on a tour of Europe. We saw some sketches from war-torn Syria, a photography exhibit, a gallery of glass paperweights and Marc Chagall's "American Windows" in the couple hours we spent there. We spent a good amount of time reading about "Chagall's Windows", which were created for the Bicentennial and tell the story of America, but unfortunately, I evidently miss most of the symbolism in the story told in the glass. As someone who has previously dabbled in stained glass, his use of making images without the standard caming techniques is somewhat foreign too... Case-in-point is what I thought was a dove - a symbol of peace at right, but turns out it is an eagle, a symbol of strength... You can also see where he does not use the standard lead caming division between colors and textures but somehow incorporates it into the glass - a little strange to me!

As we returned to one of the galleries that overlooked an open space, we saw it was snowing heavily. It seemed disconcerting to be looking at Italian sculpture from millennia ago with heavy snow falling in the background!

There was Byzantine sculpture and mosaics from what is now war-torn Syria that was absolutely beautiful. Originally found in public places, the leopard mosaic at right was just stunning! It would be fun to try to replicate this on some smaller scale! Make sure you click on the image to see the details in it!

I think I've seen the glass paperweight gallery in a previous life too! There were some beautiful objects - the line of various sizes at left immediately jumped to mind as a focus-stack - 7 individual frames at various focus setting combined to extend the range of the in-focus setting. This particular design is known as millefiori - or "thousand flower", the effect of using hundreds of colored canes to create the effects of colorful flowers.

Likely the most impressive "paperweight" was the huge 30cm diameter one at left that had to have weighed in at 60 pounds or more! It was huge, yet very nearly perfect as I could make out!  There were other amazing examples too - what looked like real bees buzzing around what looked like real flower buds was one standout...

We were just about to leave as they started kicking people out at closing time, walking out into the evening blizzard.  But the temperature was moderate and snowfall was manageable - quite pleasant to be in, and perhaps some interesting photos would come of it. Of course first we had to photograph one of the "guard lions" with a fresh coating of snow.  They do not have names, but this north one was indicated to be "on the prowl" by the artist... Millennium Park is just a block to the north, so headed that way. The first public art we came upon is known at "Crown Fountain", a pair of 50 foot tall towers faced with LED displays that randomly shows few-minute videos of about 1,000 Chicagoans, ending with a "kiss" that results in a water spray during the Summer months. It is quite striking, especially with snow falling, surrounded by people and the Chicago skyline.

The other highlight of Millennium Park is the incredible sculpture "Cloudgate", commonly called "The Bean"! I thought it would be interesting in the snow, but it likely detracted from the reflecting surface...

If you can't find photos to take at "the Bean", you aren't trying hard enough! We weren't there very long, and even with the perfect reflective surface partially blocked, it was a fun time. We ambled a bit, and I snapped the shot at left of another fellow snapping it, then walked around to the west end where there was an ice skating rink. The Bean from that angle does reflect the rink, but is tough to spot with the snow partially blocking the reflections.

I was doing some reading on its installation, and they did a LOT of work in the construction, from welding 168 pre-formed stainless steel panels together. The panels are 3/8" thick and in total weight about 100 tons. The tough part was in polishing the stainless steel, including the welded seams so that the joints are totally invisible. After looking closely, I can say they did a very good job!

Two days later we did a post-brunch visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) on President's Day. While risking hordes of running schoolchildren, since school was NOT in session, it seemed to be mostly families, so wasn't a bad day! First up was transportation, where some time was spent investigating a 727 on display! One of the best things they could have done was put a pilot there to talk to - which is what they did! Scott worked as a pilot for both Midways and United Airlines and had some great stories to tell. He truly made it sound like it was the best job in the world! Even the story of how it got there was interesting. Since even Midway is 10 miles away, they landed the 727 at the old Meigs Field, a small, single-runway airport. Once landed, the 727 was stuck there as the runway wasn't long enough to take off again. It was transported the mile or two to the MSI, split along it's length for easy access to the interior and displays in the museum. That is the 727 hoisted to the second floor at left, and at right is Scott, eager to talk all about flying it!

The weather section had lots of displays too, highlighted by a 40 foot tall vortex, looking for all the world like a miniature dust devil like you would see in Arizona. Operators had some control over it, including the air speed and the angle of injection of the input blower. In the vortex photo at left, you can also see the Foucault Pendulum at right, a closeup of which is shown at right. It is a simple demonstration of the earth rotating. If mounted at the north or south pole, the plane of the pendulum would sweep out a full 360 degrees in 24 hours. At the equator, it would stay in the same plane. At Chicago's 42 degree latitude, seems to me it would go about 2/3 of the way 'round, about 240 degrees... With the pendulum's slow swing I took my selfie in the reflective ball at left...

While there were ample opportunities for kids to be running around like wild Indians, it was gratifying to see lots of them actually paying attention to the displays and principles being taught, especially young women. From the electrical to more vortices, they seemed to be outnumbering the boys at paying attention!

All the museums visited are worth further exploring, since only a small part of each were seen. I stand by my wish to go thru the Nazi U-Boat again, after my first visit 50 years ago!