Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Photons From The Past...

With the recent posting of rarely-seen photos of Melinda on her birthday, I got a Facebook message, then an envelope in the mail from Melinda's Godmother Marie with a precious cargo - long ago photos of Melinda and her siblings from their school days!

While Melinda has a bookshelf full of photo albums, we never sat around looking at them, and one of these trips to "Ketelsen East" I'll have to work up the nerve to sneak a peak. So I've never seen her as a young girl as shown here. It isn't until the most recent, taken when she was 16 that she even resembles the woman I came to know. Her siblings too are presented here - I never met her older brother Dick shown here at left - he died just as Melinda and I were seriously dating. While I knew Susan pretty well (shown at right), she also died just over 3 years ago.

Only her sister Maj (Mary Alice Johnson!), shown at left, remains and thrives and connects me to my beloved Melinda. By the way, all three of these photographs are labeled from 1964. Unfortunately, I don't know their birth years, so don't know their ages from these images, but they are a great-looking group of kids! Jumping forward in time - I'm guessing about 2005 to 2006, is a group shot of the Johnson girls that Marie also provided. I present them all here as ancient artifacts from another time.

But the Melinda photos that are the little gems. While unlabeled, I suspect the photo at left is the earliest, perhaps when she was 6 - looking like a candidate for Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz!

My guess is that the next shot in the sequence is at right - it is labeled 1963, so it was taken when she was 7 years old. I would have been hard-pressed to guess that this little beauty would grow into Melinda - not much resemblance yet - to me, anyway!

Next in the sequence is shown at left, and is now starting to resemble My Girl! While unlabeled date-wise, I'm guessing she must be about 10 or 11. Interestingly, in a cursive note on the back of the photo to "Aunt Marie and Uncle Bill", she signs her name Melynda!

Finally, in the last photo labeled 1972 when she was 16 (at right), you will all agree the Melinda we all know is shining through!

While I love seeing these photos, they also bring a sense of melancholy.  Photos of school kids always show such potential and promise for the future!  Not that Melinda didn't accomplish a huge amount in her life - making a real difference in hundreds of lives of the preemie infants that came through her care.  But because she left us so early, there was so much more to do!  Still, I'm glad "Aunt Marie", whom I've never met, chose to share them with me - thank you so much!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Evening Star Moves On!

For those of you who have been watching Venus in the evening sky, we've had a good show, but if you have looked in recent days it has disappeared! It is already sneaking into the morning sky and in another week or so should be visible to early risers coming up before the sun. But for those of us who have a telescope or for that matter, any optical aid at all, the last couple weeks Venus has been quite striking! If you have been a reader of this blog, you of course know that Venus orbits inside the Earth's orbit, so undergoes phases not unlike the Moon. It passed "Inferior Conjunction" a day or two ago on 25 March, where it passed between us and the Sun, so was "new" (using the same terminology we use for the Moon). In actuality, Venus passed the Sun from our vantage point about 8 degrees north of the Sun, so was never un-illuminated, but showed the skinniest of crescents. Behold the image at left - it was taken on 19 March. It shows about what it looked like thru a small telescope or good pair of binoculars. While a pretty view of a world the same size as the Earth, it is rather humdrum - kind of boring. Needs a little spicing up! On a field trip, I caught the crescent next to some cacti at Gates Pass, but with the darkened sky, the brilliant crescent is overexposed, and also likely a little out of focus with the cacti so near...

To the rescue comes my favorite foreground! Whenever there is something in the western sky, I generally head west of town and use the silhouette of Kitt Peak National Observatory as a nice foreground to frame the object(s). Whether for a comet and Moon, or some other close planetary conjunction, Kitt Peak has served many times to make a shot more interesting! I've actually attempted to catch Venus over Kitt Peak on the last inferior conjunction 18 months ago, but the geometry didn't work out and while I made a trip to look for it, clouds and a bright sky resulted in failure. This time, with Tom and Jennifer Polakis also taking part and calculating the setup position, we had a good chance. That is them at left, searching for the crescent even with the sun still up to verify that we were in the right spot to see it hanging over the Observatory. The silhouette of the Mountain/Observatory is always spectacular to me, and is shown at right in a 2-frame mosaic with the Canon 6D and TEC140 telescope (1,000mm focal length).

We didn't need to worry - Tom's calculations were spot on - he had worked towards it going behind the 4-meter telescope at right and sure enough, it did disappear behind the dome! That is my shot at left, with the still-slightly overexposed Venus crescent in the darkened sky.

It was interesting to note what a difference a meter or two makes in our observing position. At right is shown a single glimpse I got of the crescent appearing on the side of the 4-meter - you might have to click it to detect it to right of dome. Tom, a couple meters to the right of me, got a much bigger bite of it - his video clip of Venus setting is shown here. MAKE SURE YOU GO SEE IT!

As well as these exposures had come out, I was hoping for something a little better. A day or two later, Venus would be closer to the sun, the sky would be brighter and a shorter exposure would do better at keeping Venus properly exposed. As a result, on 21 March, I repeated the trip. Tom and Jenn couldn't join me, but advised me for positioning, advising a move to the south to get it behind the solar scopes. Unfortunately, there were no clear shots to the west where needed, so missed it going behind the south side of the Observatory. Still, the image of Venus was properly exposed. I also used a longer focal length - a 7" F/12 refractor made by Roger Ceragioli, resulting in a 2.1 meter focal length, more than double that used in the above image, and I also used the Canon XSi and its APS sensor, expecting considerable vignetting with the 6D. Interestingly, when I had first envisioned the shot 18 months ago, THIS was the shot that I saw in my mind! The colors on the Venus crescent is from atmospheric dispersion, since the Earth's air and curved surface combine to make it act like a thin prism. Seeing was also a factor as the features on the telescope, 12 miles away, and Venus, 26 million miles away, show structure and "waviness" from atmospheric turbulence...

Finally a minute or two later, Venus descended behind the water storage tanks atop the mountain. Using the profile of the mountain above, I was able to identify a couple other items seen in the photo, including 3 of the telescope domes...

I think it is amazing to capture planetary details with earthbound foreground, so would absolutely do this again. Will I try for the next inferior conjunction in October of 2018? More likely than not! What more fun can you have!?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Birthday Girl!

Hi All! As you have seen, I'm not winning any awards for my volume of postings on the blog. I'm embarrassed that it has been a month since the last post... I have no excuse other than I've suffered a lack of inspiration. So I come to you today with a task to accomplish! Today would have been Melinda's 61st birthday. On Facebook last month on the 6-month anniversary of her passing, I promised to dig through my photo archives and pull out some images that are little-to-never seen. We dated for over 2 years before we married, so that is 2 years of pictures before the blog started, so some pretty fertile ground! So as a present to YOU, those who knew her from work, play, relations, or didn't know her at all but are running across this accidently, here she is in her glory. Know that she was a special woman who touched all that knew her! Photos presented here in approximate order they were taken...

First photo! 25 Feb, '06
Unchaperoned Weekend! 7 April, '06
More alone time! 9 April, '06
Visit to Tucson 19 May, '06
Grand Canyon Star Party 20 June, '06
My favorite Portrait!  Iowa Star Party 23 September, '06
Dinner over Sea of Cortez 15 December, '06
Dallas Trip! 29 Jan, '06
Proof of engagement! 13 Jan, '07
Cranes at Whitewater Draw 10 Feb, '07
Goofing around the Fox River 17 March, '07
Birthday Celebration 17 March, '07
Moss Cottage, aka "Ketelsen East" 18 March, '07
Dean's Family celebrates her b-day 18 March, '07
Melinda on the Fox at dusk 28 April, '07
More Canyon star party 14 June, '07
Summer Feast!  7 July, '07
Ketelsen reunion 15 July, '07
Daily Crossword 3 August, '07
The Bean!  29 September, '07
With Great-niece Alivia 25 Nov, '07
Giving Thanks!  25 Nov, '07
On the river path 4 January, '08
Snowy Ketelsen East 1 Feb, '08
A cool Spring day!  13 April, '08
Last night as an unmarried woman! 6 June, '08
Yard Wedding!  7 June, '08
Johnson Sisters!  7 June, '08
Melinda looks good in our ranger's hat! 13 June, '08
My Fave of Maj and Melinda!  19 May, '10

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lights in the Sky!

Always on the lookout for topics to blog, I watch certain websites, Heavens-Above among them. A few days ago I saw there was a good pass of the International Space Station (ISS) this evening, but promptly forgot about it! Thanks to the local weatherman at 5pm who mentioned it again, I was motivated to look it up again and set up a camera.

Now if you go to the website above, the first thing it wants to know is where you live - duh, it needs to know where you are located before it starts telling you where to look. Click the "change your location" button to tell it where you live, using the search box, or the google map to locate your city. The closer you can locate your observing location, the better! For some observations, like Iridium Flares, a mile or two off makes all the difference! Anyway, for tonight's ISS pass, I got the map at left. It is a map of the full sky with north at top and south at the bottom. You can see that Venus and Mars were bright in the west and Orion high in the southern sky. The path of ISS was to skim the three belt stars of Orion, and it ends before the bright star Sirius. What happens there? Well, since the ISS needs the sun to hit it to be visible, that is the sunset point - as the ISS continues to move eastwards, it moves into the earth's shadow!

I set up tripod and tracker so that the stars would look like points, working from the back yard. My sky glow from Midtown Tucson limits my exposures to 30 seconds or so before the orange glow from sodium lights starts to color the sky. For the exposure here, I used the Canon 6D and 85mm lens at F/3.5.  Seen is the streak of the moving ISS, just grazing under the 3 belt stars of Orion. Below the belt stars is the reddish glow of the Orion Nebula, and near the bottom are the 2 stars that make up the feet of Orion. I wasn't sure how long it would take to move through the field, so used 60 second on the intervalometer, planning to stop it when it blinked out to minimize skyglow.  This shot ended up being about 40 seconds, and I had to use Photoshop to neutralize and minimize the sky glow a little.

Surprisingly, the ISS didn't "blink out" once the sun net from its vantage. Just like it stays light right after sunset here on earth, the color of the ISS took on an orange-ish tint and faded out slowly - pretty cool!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Saguaro Saturday!

My buddy Donna was down over the weekend. Since our Jeep outing last Fall, a group of fellow astronomy nuts has been debating where to go on a 4WD outing as the weather gets warmer, and someone suggested a petroglyph site in Saguaro National Park, western unit. It isn't a difficult drive even for a passenger vehicle, so Donna and I hit the road on a lovely Saturday yesterday to check it out. I haven't been there in a good 15 years, so reviewed the maps and hit the road for a couple-hour road trip.

The first stop was Gates Pass, where Speedway/Anklam Road crosses the Tucson Mountain Range. It is spectacularly scenic with groves of saguaro cacti, and as shown at left, the view opening up towards the west quite dramatically. The main photo was taken with a 16mm full-frame fisheye on the Canon 6D, so has a 180 degree diagonal field-of-view. To show some of the details at reasonable scale, the inset shows a blow-up of Kitt Peak National Observatory about 35 miles to the SW with a 500mm lens and blended with the magic of Photoshop...

The view towards the north is no less exciting, even in the dull light of midday - saguaros all the way up the slopes to the profile of the mountain ridge, though the fisheye lens doesn't show them much. It again takes the inset from the 500mm lens to bring out those details...

We drove down past the West Unit's visitor center and checked in (free, thanks to my Golden-Ager NPS pass). We continued north a bit on Sandario Road before hitting Golden Gate Road, a dirt road we followed for a couple miles to the Signal Hill picnic area. From there we could spot the petroglyph site about a 1km hike away, with the trail spiraling up the far north side. An image is shown at left, with a group atop the hill, behind a protective fence checking out petroglyphs. It didn't take us long to hike over a well-maintained trail - literally a freeway compared to some of the raw trails I've seen in the SW!

The petroglyphs were made by the Hohokam culture about 1,000 years ago and are quite striking. The main spiral is shown at left, with many others scattered about the stones of the hilltop. Besides the spirals and possible symbols for the sun and moon, you can also imagine figures of deer or sheep, scorpions and snakes. Niles Root has done some spectacular images and analysis, proving that the site was used as an astronomical calendar, finding dates of the summer solstice(first day of Summer) and vernal and autumnal equinoxes (start of Spring and Fall). His website with fascinating photos and descriptions is linked here.

A wider shot of the area showing a few more symbols is shown at left. The main spiral shown above is now near the left edge, with more visible at lower right. And at right is another large spiral on a nearly horizontal stone. Root's description didn't mention the symbols over here on the west side, so there are still mysteries about!

With all the examinations of the
petroglyphs, you forget you are still in Saguaro National Park, and the view towards the NE towards Mount Lemmon, shown at left shows the forest of Saguaros in the area. That is Mount Lemmon at far distance at center.

And because THIS IS MY BLOG, I've got lots of 3D photos too! So grab your red/blue glasses and follow along. Since I just showed the cactus forest at left, at right is an anaglyph (3D shot by adding another shot taken a couple feet away). Using the glasses, each of your eyes sees the appropriate frame and your brain reconstructs a stereo image.

And, of course, I've got 3Ds of the
petroglyphs too!  At left is a close-up of the main spiral at the site.  This was taken with a telephoto and is a "hyperstereo", taken with a baseline further apart than your normal eye separation.  Doing it this way emphasizes the stereo effect, amplifying the unevenness of the stone and spiral itself! 

At right is a wider field including some of the mountainous background too. and finally below, is the wide shot showing other petroglyphs...

We returned to Sandario Road, but rather than return the way we came, continued north and returned to Tucson on Picture Rocks Road  (so named because of the numerous petroglyphs), making a big loop for our Saturday adventure.