Saturday, January 21, 2017

More Stars WIth the 500mm Lens!

A post or two ago I promised some more astronomy shots with the "new to me" 500mm F/4 telephoto lens. It is a fun lens to use - a full order-of-magnitude increase in scale over a normal camera lens it opens up a whole new world for imaging, and its unrivaled sharpness transfers to astronomy as well.

In my first post showing off the lens, I showed first results of the North American and the Rosette Nebulae. Both of these red-glowing clouds of hydrogen are excited to fluorescence by nearby hot stars, whose ultraviolet light cause the gas to glow much like the glow of a fluorescent light. This time of the year (recall these were taken the end of November!), it is possible to shoot the Summer Milky Way objects as it sets, as well as the Winter Milky Way as it rises, and these clouds of gas are large enough and bright enough to capture well, so more included here today. First up at left is NGC 2174, its popular name being the "Monkey Head" Nebula! I like to display my images with North up, sort of how it would look in the sky as it transited the meridian. The "Monkey Head" is more easily seen with South displayed upwards to see the outline of a monkey. Try it and you will see! While the nebula is very large and faint, I actually discovered this visually through my 11" Newtonian telescope at a star party while sweeping along the Gemini/Orion border. This is a stack of 5 exposures totaling about 12 minutes of exposure with the 500mm lens, with a pretty moderate crop.

The next object to show off is one of my
favorite areas - the belt area of Orion! The 3 main belt stars are the brilliant stars stretching diagonally across the image at left. The reason I like it are the little reflection nebulae scattered among the bright stars. While there is an ionized hydrogen cloud off the frame at lower left, the blue nebula at upper center is IC 426, a reflection nebula - here, the blue light of the bright stars are reflecting off the dust and gas making up the nebula. A careful examination will reveal LOTS of nebulosity through the field of both kinds - both reflection and ionized clouds, as well as a few others that are dark clouds that show up in silhouette against the others. This is nearly the full frame of the 6D with about 22 minutes of stacked exposures with the 500mm lens.

I've been a fan of IC 426 for a long while - it was one of my first objects photographed with my old venerable Canon 20Da camera and 11" Newtonian telescope. At left the nebula is shown in close-up cropped from 20 minutes worth of exposure with the 11" from January, 2006 - 10 years ago!

Finally often as I'm about to shut down for the night, I take a single exposure of a new object just to see how it will appear in the scope or lens in use. In this case, the only really clear night this lens was out on 28 November, I took a single frame of the Orion Nebula - 150 seconds-worth shown here. I rarely shoot the Orion Nebula, one of the more spectacular objects in the sky because it varies so much in brightness and is difficult to show such extremes in brightness well. Anyway, as soon as the image read out I could see something "weird"! Even though I was tracking the stars, there were streaks in the image! Of course, I'd seen them before and knew immediately what it was - geostationary satellites! Orbiting the earth 22,000 miles above the equator they orbit every 24 hours, so appear stationary in the sky, and if one was broadcasting a TV signal, your antenna dish wouldn't need to track it - ingenious, no? But as a result, from Tucson's latitude while tracking the stars, they will trail through the Orion Nebula. Here 4 satellites showed up in the 2.5 minute exposure... Just the other day, the Astronomy Picture of the Day showed a movie clip showing several hours worth of satellites "sailing" through the field...

Finally, I'll close with one more astro shot. While not taken with the 500mm, it was taken with a slight telephoto 80mm lens from Whitewater Draw 2 weeks ago. Watching the dance of the planets in the western sky, for many weeks I've been watching the orange-ish planet Mars as it approaches the brilliant Venus. But I also knew a secret - there was a 3rd planet between them! The most distant planet Neptune appeared between them... Since all the planets orbit more or less in the same orbital plane, just knowing that the planet was between them, I didn't have to know where it was - I could look it up later, and sure enough, just did this evening. Just shoot it with the appropriate lens to get both Mars and Venus and you'll get Neptune too! It was easily seen in this stack of a couple 30 second exposures tracking on the stars with the little Vixen Polarie tracker. One of our astronomy club members makes a planetary report every meeting, and Erich had noted the alignment, stating that the brightest planet (Venus) and dimmest (Neptune) was over 100,000 times different in brightness! You might have to click the image to even be able to see it!

As the cogs of the solar system continue to grind on, Neptune is, of course, no longer between them. I believe that Venus passed Neptune last weekend, and is now headed towards superior conjunction behind the sun on 1 March, 2017.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brush With Celebrity!

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, April, 2010
Congressman Ron Barber, Aug, 2013
Working at a high-profile location like the Mirror Lab, we get our occasional VIPs and celebrities. Frequently some of these groups are lead by the College President or more likely by founder Roger Angel or former Director Peter Strittmatter. The Lab is quite the local source of pride - and so it should be! I think I recall spotting Senator John McCain once, but have recorded two congress-persons, Gabby Giffords, shown at left, and her replacement Ron Barber at right. Gabby's photo was taken at a solar power technology meeting hosted at the lab and the photo is of a solar-powered car an engineering team had built. The photo was taken 8 months before she was shot in the head in an assassination attempt. Ron Barber's photo was taken in the Lab as he was hounded by the media! Since these photos we've also seen their Republican replacement Martha McSally...

Mike with Bill Walton
Linda and Bill, photo by Steve West
But I've never quite seen the excitement that was caused by a VIP last Friday. After announcing the UA/ASU basketball game at McKale Center Thursday night, Former UCLA and NBA standout, and now sports commentator Bill Walton was taking in a tour from engineer Mike Tuell! Evidently Mike had contacted him nearly a year ago through Bill's website offering a tour and it finally happened last week! Now you have to realize that Mike towers over most everyone at the Mirror Lab, so it was a bit unnerving to see someone, anyone, towering over him! And later I saw a photo that I also had to share - the same grinning Bill Walton REALLY towering over our receptionist Linda - who I always considered normal height, but appears deficient by comparison here... Oh, and his actual height - Mike claims it is 7', but there was some conspiracy involved for listing it officially at 6'11"...

Anyway, there was excitement in the lab as he was recognized by most, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Congressmen and Senators, I guess are dull by comparison compared to a famous athlete!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

More Whitewater Draw Thru The 500mm Lens

Folks seemed impressed with my first results through the "new" (to me, anyway) 500mm lens in its debut at Whitewater Draw. In that last post I talked about how I found the lens and showed a few of my favorite shots of cranes and astronomical objects too. I took a closer look at the images collected and have a few more to add - this time I'll restrict myself to just the bird shots - may have more astronomical ones next time.

Interestingly, last year they (AZ Game and Fish) installed a webcam providing a live HD view of the cranes. This was a wonderful idea for the crane observing season as you could tune in several times a day to observe and even in the middle of the night you could enjoy their rattling calls to each other. Unfortunately, since my last post a couple days ago, it has been offline, but I will keep an eye on it and provide a post providing it comes on again soon. The crane season typically winds down after Valentine's day, so it may not get back again this season. Anyway, shown here is the camera, solar cells and little transmitter. The shot at left shows it right after sunset at the wetlands, but the sun was still shining up in the Chiricahua Mountains - at upper left you can see the profile of "Cochise's Head", a well known landmark from Eastern Arizona... At right is a closer view of just the camera on my most recent trip...

The cranes have been keeping their distance from the viewing stations, so the images can't compare to some of the images I've taken on foot from a few yards away in Illinois! There seems to be a lack of water this year, and they tend to congregate where the water is located to protect themselves from predators. But sometimes you can catch flocks of them against the sky which can sometimes be striking compositions. Shown here are a pair of shots of profiles against the twilight after the sun has gone down. As a result, they are only silhouettes, but hey - still striking profiles! I particularly like the left shot as it isn't quite dark enough to obscure the "purple" mountains, which occur for about 15 minutes before and after sunset. And the shot at right, the birds seems consciously to stagger their wingflaps to prevent interference! In actuality, they are likely offset along their direction of flight to prevent that...

But on my most recent trip a week ago, there were a lot more water fowl than the mid-December trip! With the lack of water, these birds stayed close to viewing stands too where the water was located, so was able to get some decent shots. While not uncommon, they are striking. Most have appeared here before in previous trips, but still fun to photograph and show off!

I love the striking color difference of the eyes and body color of the Cinnamon Teal at left. This was just about the first photo taken on last weekend's trip. Hadn't seen these for a few years, likely last time at Sweetwater Wetlands, a manmade retreat off of the water treatment plant on Tucson's west side. At right, the Green-Winged Teal has some similar colors, but quite striking patterns on its head and neck.

And this one might be a new one for us! At least in Melinda's birding book, where she meticulously notated where we first saw each species, this entry is blank - a Northern Pintail. There was quite a gang of them feeding together here, but I don't recall seeing them before, so snapped a few shots, but usually can't trust my memory if we've seen them before. Good thing I did!

And there are a few things besides birds at Whitewater. My first trip there in December, well after sunset there were a couple peering thru their binoculars at something, whispering to themselves. When asked what they were looking at they said they had been spotting some deer, so again, recorded it for posterity. Sure enough, I counted about a dozen white-tails venturing across the west side of the property - the dark shapes with birds in both the foreground and in the fields in the background too. It was actually quite dark, but the fast lens was able to pull them out of the dusk...

That's about it for now - some more astronomy shots next time...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Newish Glass!

The past few years, whenever I would suggest a purchase, Melinda would usually respond with "when I'm dead you can spend my life insurance money", which usually brought any discussions to a halt - you can't argue with a cancer patient! She did agree to a new TV when the old CRT set died, and she eventually came around after flat out stating that the 48" screen was "too big" at the beginning. Watching our Cubs win thru the summer became our favorite pastime...

Anyway, now that she has passed, and now there IS insurance money, I've tried to be responsible and spend it on what she would approve - paid off the AZ mortgage, and still debating on the IL house... Invested most of it so retirement should be more pleasant... But I did buy a little "toy" - one she even might have approved of if we had some disposable income! We were both fans of birding at Whitewater Draw and elsewhere, and also of astronomical imaging, so when I saw a Canon "super-telephoto" lens on Craigslist, I had to check it out. Shown at left, it is a 500mm F/4 - very fast optics allowing short exposures for astronomy and pretty good reach with fast autofocus and image stabilization for birding. It is an older first generation, but was a good deal including the camouflage-cover, the Wimberley tripod head and a Canon 2X converter. Note in the photo that most of the large diameter part is the sun shade!

I got the lens in the closing days of November and have had it out a few times and it is impressive in it's performance... If you do a Whitewater Draw search on this blog, I've hoisted a few telescopes along for birding a few times and while the images for a distant crane is impressive, the very fast autofocus and image stabilization it is a whole 'nother ball game! I can now focus and follow birds in flight and have them come out tack-sharp! I've made 2 trips to their over-winter home and have gotten a few favorites already. At left are some cranes in flight at that "magic time" just before sunset. And at right is a straight shot taken with the lens of cranes at rest.

In my most recent trip this last Sunday, I
caught some distant flocks of cranes coming in from miles away where they were likely feeding on grain fields in the area. Over the same mountains shown at upper left, here at left are 127 cranes (by my count) coming in for the evening. There is "strength in numbers" as they spend the evening together at Whitewater, using the water pools as protection from predators (usually coyotes). Click on the image to enlarge to full scale to see the multitudes of cranes... And at right is the standard shot of LBT glowing in the last rays of sunset from the Observatory near 11,000 feet elevation. At 80+ miles away, it is still eye-catching as it is usually parked at an angle that reflects sunlight to us birdwatchers... This frame is actually a focus-stack of 2 frames, otherwise either the birds or observatory would have been out of focus. But here 2 shots were combined to keep the sharp part of each image.

This last trip out there was a larger variety of smaller water-birds from a month ago when there were mostly just cranes. They also cruised closer to the observation platforms, so were a natural to photograph with the 500mm! At left is a long-billed dowitcher that was difficult to freeze as it was in constant motion marching and picking thru the shallow waters... And at right is an eye-catching killdeer - a common bird, but a beauty nonetheless!

And even though we're suffering through what seems like the cloudiest Fall and Winter in recent memory, I've gotten the lens out on a couple occasions for astronomical imaging. The first time I was fighting thin clouds and wasn't a good test for its capabilities. But the next time I shot a few objects and got some promising results. At left are a couple nebulae that shine by fluorescence of hydrogen resulting in a reddish glow. Commonly called the North American nebula at left and the Pelican Nebula at right, they are analogous to the glow from a fluorescent bulb, but excited not by electricity but from a bright star out of the field. This image is a stack of 17 frames totaling about 35 minutes of total exposure. The lens is extremely sharp from corner-to-corner across the full-frame 6D sensor, and I did stop it down to F/5.6 to reduce vignetting at the corners a little. But overall the results are quite good! At right is another glowing cloud of hydrogen - this one known as the Rosette Nebula, looking almost like a ghostly Christmas wreath! This one is only 10 minutes of total exposure!

So I'm impressed with the overall performance of the lens for both birding and astronomy! It will be one of my standard tools when going out on excursions, and might be just about perfect for the upcoming solar eclipse in August! But it is a sobering reality to know that it is a product of a life insurance payout... Would much rather do without it and have the presence of my bride back... But it will give me a chance to remember her every time I have it out with me!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Rare Optical Alignment!

The first day of work in 2017 at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab and what should I find, but a first-ever (that I'm aware of) alignment of the first 3 mirrors of the Giant Magellan Telescope! There are 4 mirrors in various stages of completion in the lab, but today GMT1 was moved from the test tower where it has resided over the holiday shutdown, out into the integration lab while both machines are undergoing some upgrades. So as seen at left, from right-to-left are GMT1, GMT2, and GMT3!

GMT1, the blue-colored one at right is finished, but will likely serve as reference to measure all the other mirrors, so may be the last to be delivered! It has a brush-on blue coating to protect the finely-polished surface.

The center mirror (with Leslie standing in front for scale!) is GMT2 and is diamond generated and awaiting fine-abrasive lapping and polishing. In the rear is GMT3 - currently face-down, with rear work of applying load-spreaders and thermocouples complete. It will soon be flipped over and work started on the front concave surface.

All of these mirrors are our standard-size 8.4 meter diameter substrates. That converts to nearly 28 feet in diameter. If you go to the GMT website above, that telescope will consist of 7 of these mirrors combining to form a single HUGE telescope... As seen at left, these 3 mirrors nearly fill the integration lab completely, with barely room to walk between them. You can see that both polishing cells are nearly identical, with a plumbing skirt to contain polishing and generating fluids around the outside. Visible on the GMT2 cell at left is the inflatable pressure seal at the backplate which allows pressurizing the cell plus mirror to match the polishing pressure to reduce print-through in the finished mirror surface.

And some of you may well wonder why the rear of the GMT3 mirror is covered with foam. Nothing secret certainly, just protecting the rear surface with the now-attached load spreaders which will interface with the supports in the polishing cell and the eventual telescope cell. At left I've pulled back one of the foam sheets to show loadspreaders and the thermocouple wiring so that mirror and air temperatures can be monitored during polishing or in the telescope.

And just because it is MY blog, here are some 3D anaglyphs! Grab your red/blue 3D glasses and enjoy the following shots. By adding another shot an inch or two away from the loadspreader shot above, you can make the 3D shot at left.

And while I was on a ladder taking the above shots, Looking back across the lab, I took another stereo pair of GMT1 and GMT2, shown at right.

We're continuing machine upgrades, and need to run some experiments to checkout machinery and software before continuing work on the GMT mirrors. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - A Year To Put Behind Us...

As I've said before, the best ideas are worth stealing, so since blogging buddy Andrew Cooper started doing a year-end review, I've been copying his idea and doing the same thing. There is something about having the most memorable ideas and images from this year's 91 posts collected in a few choice spots, and a year-end summary of one's existence seems appropriate on New Year's Eve!  Dates of the posts are in parenthesis...

Of course for me and many of my friends and relatives, 2016 will be remembered for the passing of my lovely wife Melinda Jo. No one ever fought harder against her cancer, following her doctor's every suggestion to get every edge on the battle. But her small-cell lung cancer is one of those where good news is generally temporary and she knew that going into the struggle. But in the last 3+ years, we did a lot of living our lives, but always around the treatments that seemed to change every month or two. The image at left is one of my favorites of her and was seen in many places this Fall. It was the lead photo in her slide show, in her obituary, and hung at both of her memorials. It has its own backstory - it was about the first photo taken of her when we were alone - I was visiting her at her house in St Charles (now our house), without chaperones! People say the love she already felt for me was seen in her eyes, and I'm likely to agree with them... It was April in 2006 with the Fox River serving as backdrop...

Returning to 2016, we celebrated her 60th birthday on 15 March with her favorite carrot cake for a treat. On the same post she insisted that I also post a photo of her from her childhood. Seen at right, it is known as Melinda's "potty-picture", taken when she was 2 years old. While it is an adorable image, it was always special to Melinda because even 10 years later, it was in her father's wallet when he died of a heart attack. Knowing it was the photo that he carried and showed to friends and co-workers made it an iconic Johnson image!

As the year wore on through the continued chemo treatments, her strength waned and mobility became compromised. I was the first to deny them, pushing her harder to walk and move more. We made her last trip to the Midwest in May, renting a wheelchair for her to get around when we left the house. The image at left is at one of the Ketelsen eat-and-meet gatherings at Pizza Ranch, with Dean's sister Linda at left and Alivia photo bombing from the rear.

In July, I called 911 when she went into septic shock from an infection brought on by a puncture wound from one of our cats! After a few days in ICU, a week in a regular room, she needed to go to a rehab place for a week, which was a living hell for her. She was glad to get discharged to home eventually.

The decline continued and eventually she felt poorly enough that she refused treatments for the next round of yet another new chemo regimen in mid-September. At left (20 September) she is sleeping on the couch in the living room in a standard pose, with a cat (here, Mia) asleep on her.

Everything seemed to move at the speed of light after that. They started in-home hospice care the following Monday under the care of me and Melinda's sister Maj. Wednesday she choked while eating a pear snack and aspirated some stomach fluid and died 30 hours later at an in-patient hospice facility. At right is a photo (24 September) at 3am on the day of her passing, 22 September, with sister Maj holding her hand...

Maj was great through all of this, spending over 6 weeks in Tucson with us over the last 2 months of Melinda's life sleeping by her side and helping make arrangements for the memorials we held in Tucson and 2 weeks later in Illinois. After the Tucson memorial, my sister Linda and her husband drove the cremains to Illinois for us, and finally she was back home in her beloved "Moss Cottage", the alternate name for "Ketelsen East"! At left (13 October) her golden container takes the place of honor on the fireplace mantle among the family images of her mother, brother, sisters and her nursing graduation photo.

After the memorial in Illinois, the interment was small, just a few close friends. At right, after loading the container and a few icons into the niche, Maj provides a final caress before it is closed...

In some respects, Melinda had planned everything out for us, down to the music she wanted played.  For a memorial slide show I downloaded about half the images here from her iPhone, and the other half gleaned from 8 years of blog images of our adventures.  While I worked on the images for a few days, it wasn't till the musical tracks were added that the tears started...  I still can't get through it without crying...  Here is the final version, including a couple images for the "Illinois Version"

After all that, the rest of the year seems trivial in comparison.  I've not been inspired much to post the last month, but will likely start back up again soon.  In the meantime, there was still a lot we accomplished in 2016...

There were a couple cool astronomical
events this year.  On 9 May, the sun rose over the Catalina Mountains with the disk of Mercury already silhouetted against it.  Called a transit, because of the inclination of Mercury's orbit, it doesn't happen very often, just over a dozen times per century, the next ones occurring in November of 2019 and 2032.  At left is shown a full-image view of the sun as it rose over the mountains NE of Tucson - Mercury is the small hard spot at lower left that just cleared the ridge.  At right is shown a much higher-resolution view of Mercury passing a sunspot.  I used the TEC140 refracting telescope with its 1-meter focal length that provides pretty good scale on the APS sensor of the XSi.  The right view shows the full resolution that the camera resolved.   Besides umbral detail in the sunspot, the solar granulation is visible throughout the image.  Unfortunately the disk of Mercury didn't pass closer to the sunspot - if it had it would have been plainly visible that even the core of the sunspot isn't black - at least not as black as the un-illuminated silhouette of Mercury!  The best part of the transit is that it was a nearly 8 hour event, and it could be observed from the back yard where I could keep an eye on Melinda at the same time!

On 27 August was a planetary appulse of Jupiter and Venus. They appeared very close in the sky - at least as seen from the Earth! I always try to get a foreground object of interest in astronomical shots like this, and in this case I used my standard fallback foreground of the silhouette of Kitt Peak National Observatory. Of course, I needed some field trips to go find the correct location from which to observe the alignment. Fortunately the weather cooperated, and both Melinda's sister Maj as well as our friend Donna came by to keep an eye on Melinda while I chased the planets. Both of these images were taken with the TEC140 this time with the Canon 6D to take video of the planets setting behind the Observatory. At left is a shot showing the planetary pair with the moons of Jupiter between them. At right is a shot a couple minutes before they set over the Observatory profile. This was taken before the video was started, so are still a bit high. Check the post from 28 August to see the movie clip with my audio commentary...

Donna also came in and helped care for Melinda so that I could keep my 26 year attendance streak at the Grand Canyon Star Party, that I started in 1991! Roger came up with me (11 June post) and we had a couple nice nights showing off the night sky to visitors from around the world... It is always great to meet up with the regulars that return year after year (some nearly as long as I have attended!) to share the views through their telescopes to the tourists. At left 5 of the regulars wait for darkness while pondering the sky and catching up with each other. This year I was too busy with the crowds to take any photos from the telescope field, but during the day, I put the TEC140 to work on the Canyon interior! At right is shown a mosaic of 4 frames with the 6D, with full-res blowups showing some of the details of the inner Canyon...

In March Melinda joined me on an outing to photograph the "Thunderbirds" perform for the air show at the local Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. We found a parking spot outside the base, but lined up to the runway from which to observe the F-16s perform. This avoided potentially hours of trying to park on base with her mobility issues, so it was the best decision. And just being near the base was great. Shown here at left is one of the loops over the base, and at right is a high-speed, low altitude pass near our position. Both were taken with a 300mm lens with the XSi and its APS sensor. It was easy to lose track of the aircraft, so I was lucky to catch the low pass right over us as you can't hear them coming up until they are right on you... The outing tuckered Melinda out, but she enjoyed it!

Many of my photo outings were right in our yard, so didn't have to feel guilty leaving home. I'm fond of saying that most any photo is made more interesting by zooming in or getting closer! Since discovering the gecko colony living under our roof rafters, I've been keeping an eye out for them. Evidently they are descended from escapees from pet shops as the Mediterranean geckos are not native to Tucson. But they are exceedingly cute, though tough to photograph as they are only out at night. These images are from the 17 September post where one shot captured 10 of them gathered around the porch light hunting for the insects there! These are taken with a macro lens and on-camera flash with several focus-stacked frames to extend the range of sharpness. I just love the details around the legs, feet and toes and around the eyes...

Cactus flowers were a favorite this year also - again using the macro lens, tripod and focus-stacking techniques to extend the zone of sharpness. It is really amazing what can be done with these simple setups and techniques. Both of these are mammillaria cacti, and consist of about a dozen frames with slight focus shifts between them. Photoshop is then used to combine only the sharpest part of each frame to extend the range of focus where you want it... The little reddish flowers at left are quite small, only about 1cm diameter, while the hedgehog flowers at right are a little larger, perhaps 3cm diameter...

Another cool back yard project utilized a prism I'd polished years ago, combined with a telephoto lens. The wedge of polished glass, of course, makes a prism that disperses light into a spectrum that can be recorded with the camera. The exceedingly simple setup is shown at left. Here my 300mm lens was used. If the spectrum is aligned vertically, I was wondering if it would work to take spectra of stars as they culminated in the sky to the south. By manipulating the F/number and ISO and keeping the exposures to 8 seconds, I found that I could record the spectra of ANY star I could see in my back yard - down to 4th magnitude or so. Using just a tripod and taking advantage of the earth's rotation to trail the image slightly, spectral features can be seen! It is so cool that you can see the spectral signatures of elements in the atmospheres of distant stars. At right is shown an array of spectra photographed with the setup, arranged in order of temperature from hottest on top to coolest at the bottom.

Another backyard project that was fun was capturing an image of the International Space Station. After what, a couple decades of construction, the ISS is now quite sizeable and can be resolved in a small telescope! Using a website like Heavens-Above(don't forget to enter your time zone and location), you can see when it will appear overhead. Finding a date when it was to pass directly overhead (thus as close to Tucson as it can get!) I again used the TEC140 with a 2X Barlow lens to increase the scale. On 20 February you can see the details of the setup and the brilliant sunlit satellite allowed exposures of 1/1000 second to keep blur to a minimum as I tried to track it manually. At left is shown the result of stacking 3 images to reduce noise, but still cool to see in a tough imaging situation!

More backyard macro fun is always easy! There are almost always aphids feeding on the young shoots of the Rhus Lancea tree in the AZ back yard. With the macro and another 4cm of extension tubes, at left is shown a small herd of aphids and an ant corralling them (24 March). Aphids drink a lot of sap to make enough protein and excrete sugar water that the ants love, thus the symbiotic relationship. This picture was in need of focus-stacking, but the ant was moving so quickly it would have been impossible!

At right, I was putting the new Canon 6d through its paces and photographed maple seeds on a tree stump in IL - a 10 frame focus stack showing the full 35mm frame.

Also from our Illinois yard is a dandelion seed head shot with the macro and the XSi camera. The amount of detail in this 6-frame focus stack is quite astounding!

And at right is a shot of a young fern shoot literally growing against the side of the house there. This was one of the very first shots taken with the 6D - frame number 20!

Sometimes you spot things that just grab
your attention! I was at the Culvers burger place (16 February post) across the street from the weather vane at left, from 200 yards, not all the details were visible, so got out the small telescope (that happened to be in the rear of the van!) and surprisingly showed amazing detail even when blown up! I like the serendipity of the bird joining the scene on the agave plant!

And just so this weathervane wouldn't be alone, I knew there was another one near a historic water tower near El Con Mall, so include it here.  Shown at right it is a design by local architect (50s vintage) Josais Joesler, who has several of his building designs topped by vanes locally...

The epitome of  my macro-themed posts was from 9 November. The challenge in mid-Fall is to find anything w/color to add interest to a composition. After a few weeks at "Ketelsen East", I had not been in the routine of rising early, but did on this particular day, and walked out into the dewy yard to look for photos. Now normally you wouldn't be seeing dandelions in November, but fortunately there were a few seed heads around and covered in microscopic dewdrops, they were just drop-dead gorgeous! The first one, shown at left was a complete head and the drops looked like jewels scattered on the part of the seeds that were to catch the wind. Beautiful in its own way, but the kicker was the one where half the seeds were already gone and revealed a more impressive side view of the seed head, shown at right.

I think this is clearly my favorite image of the year! Both of these dandelion shots are focus-stacks of over a dozen frames, and care had to be taken not to overexpose the water drops. The result, even though it doesn't involve color to make it impressive, is quite amazing! In that same post, I did catch a flash of color, some of the fallen leaves from the "flame bush" out front on a yellow mulberry leaf, with the long-down brown oak leaves is very good too!

Thankfully, with all the frenzy of the year gone by, I was able to get out under a dark sky a few times. Nothing seems to calm me down more than a quiet dark sky, where it appears my goal is to photograph objects, is more likely just to look up with mouth agape staring at the sky. Case in point was a selfie shown at left from 4 May, when Roger and I visited Pat down in Benson. I was exposing with my 11" diameter telescope and was caught staring upwards in amazement as the Summer Milky Way rises in the background.

Springtime is galaxy season, and one of my first targets was new for me, though I've never seen it, yet is about the easiest galaxy to locate in the sky! Shown at right, Leo I is a dwarf galaxy companion to the Milky Way and is exceedingly faint, hidden in the glare of Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo. So find Leo, Regulus, point a half degree north and expose! It looks like a little smudge or optics reflection, but if you click on it, it is partially resolved into stars! And an old favorite is NGC 4565 - an edge-on galaxy that most everyone has seen on the credits of the old "Outer Limits" show or elsewhere. I like in both of these photos that all the larger galaxies have small companion galaxies adjacent to them...

A few months later (7 July), from Kitt Peak, the fisheye view of the Summer Milky Way again rising over the slope of the mountain is just awe-inspiring! Seen against the dark outline of the mountain seems to make it pop even brighter! A few hours later, shooting with the then-new 6D, the brightest part of the Milky Way was shot with the kit lens, greenish airglow visible in the bottom quarter of the frame. Mars is visible at upper right, and Saturn at upper center...

Later that month (16 July) another trip to the same location I was able to use the TEC140 to take a 3-frame mosaic to capture a pair of my favorite objects, Messier 8 and M20, the Lagoon and Triffid Nebulas, shown at left.

After Melinda's passing, Roger got me out for yet another night of meditation under the stars... I followed in the same vein as before - at upper right, did a 2-frame mosaic to capture the galaxy NGC 255 at upper right and cluster NGC 288 at lower left... Finally, for the last object of the night, I grabbed some frames of the Pleiades, which turned out pretty spectacular, with only 16 minutes of total exposure...

And after 8 years in Tucson, Melinda's Jeep finally got to explore a jeep trail! She never allowed to use her "daily driver" to go anywhere the paint might get scratched or stress it in any way. Buddy Donna expressed interest in possibly buying it, so I suggested a trip up the back road of Mount Lemmon. It was a great time and I'm sure Melinda would have enjoyed the thought of it, if not the actual drive with her "Baby". Shown at left is a self portrait of us exiting the road back to civilization. On our way down the "civilized" side, at Windy Point Vista we saw some spectacular rainstorms in the distance, with Kitt Peak visible in a clear spot in the distance and hikers in the foreground. At right is an HDR image, combining 3 shots of different exposures to capture the full range of brightness of the scene.

Speaking of Windy Point, I've only stopped there a few times over the decades, but twice this year - once for the shot above, and this one from May when my sister Linda and her husband Lauren came to pay us a visit (post from 4 June). Melinda joined us for a trip up Mount Lemmon, but only Linda and I wandered out to enjoy the view of the Tucson valley and the front range from the rear side! The shot of Linda enjoying the view was priceless! I ended up making a large print of it for her to hang at home...

And because this is MY blog, there are 3D anaglyphs to enjoy! I REALLY like 3D, and viewing these with the red/blue glasses make it just about the easiest way to see the 3D... So grab your glasses and close this post out!

These are so easy to take - 2 photos separated by inches or feet or yards. At left Isis Temple from the south rim of the Grand Canyon has about a 100 yard baseline as it is pretty far away...

Here are a couple of stereo shots from a flight we took in to Tucson in 2015, but the pairs didn't make it to the blog till this year (16 January). At left is a sun-dappled view of the Catalina Mountains, the frames taken a couple seconds apart. Thimble Peak, separating Sabino and Bear Canyons appears at bottom center. At right, taken 30 seconds later, Window Peak is at left and Cathedral Peak at right, with Ventana Canyon at left.

And yes, I still work at the Mirror Lab, but don't blog about it much. But I've got some anaglyphs of the latest casting - GMT4 from 27 February. At left is a view of the naked mirror after hard refractories has been removed from inside and outside of the casting. At right is a view of the mirror after the spider had been glued to it in preparation for lifting off the oven and the move to mold cleanout...

And with all the backyard macro shots from the year, some 3Ds were a natural! From 27 April at left, My neighbor Susan's saguaro was showing buds ready for blooming. By 30 May, there was a profusion of blooms, looking great in 3D!

One more cactus stereo that shows interesting structure (27 April). Not sure of this one's name, but got it at a cactus sale and looked interesting!

Finally, this Fall at "Ketelsen East" the table that Melinda and friends used to gather round for a visit and smoke was covered by a healthy layer of leaves (30 November). Also cool in 3D!

So that is it - the highlights of my year.  Thanks to all my readers who have been wondering where I've been.  Still buried under a rock, but will eventually crawl back out and be a little more apparent.  The second half of the year has been tough and I'm still in recovery, but working to get out of the house a little more.  See you in 2017!