Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Astronomical Snapshots With The Hyperstar

While I have fun trying to image the night time sky, the effort of getting a "proper" image that is fully flat fielded, dark subtracted (correcting for electronic noise and non-uniformity in illumination in the telescope), as well as stacking dozens of images to bring up a faint signal, is just plain work! So on my usual partial night of observing, I usually only get one or two such objects. But sometimes I take "snapshots" to see how an object looks in the telescope field of view - then perhaps chase it down another night.

Case in point are these short exposures taken in the last month or two as test objects. The first was taken just this last Friday - I went out to shoot comet Lulin once more, and to work on a few potential objects for the observing list. This pair of galaxies was found from the East Valley Astronomy Club's edge-on galaxy list. The designations are NGC (New General Catalogue) 4631 (upper) and NGC 4656. Thought to be about 25 million light years away, this galaxy pair is sometimes referred to The Whale and The Hockey Stick, from their shapes. This image is cropped down slightly from the full frame of the Celestron C-14 plus Hyperstar imaging system with a Canon 20Da camera. It is a 60 second unguided exposure.

This next image is similarly another snapshot taken in January of the Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237) . A mostly hydrogen gas cloud, it acted as nursery for the star cluster that condensed from the gas. Shaped like a Christmas wreath, it is observable in the winter season. Similar to above, this is a 90 second exposure with the same hardware. These snapshots are easy with the Hyperstar setup (equivalent to a 660mm lens working at F/1.9) because of the wide field and short exposure. This image shows the light falloff at the upper part of the frame, which can be corrected in the flat fielding. Some day...

Lastly, this lunar shot was taken at the Messier marathon this last Saturday night. It is a .1 second exposure to show the "dark side" of the moon that is illuminated by the nearly full earth from it's perspective. It also shows the almost 2 X 1.3 degree field of view with the nearly half degree orb of the moon. Hardware is the same as above, and only simple levels adjustment was done to better display the images.

Tuesday ramblings

Having suitably recovered from the weekend's Messier Marathon (which I fell into the 4th place grouping!) - one would think that I wouldn't be so anxious to get out to observe again too soon. Wrong. Last night we (along with 3 or 4 of our other TAAA friends) provided the "astronomy" portion of Rio Vista Elementary School's Science Fair. It was great fun! Picture 5 or 6 telescopes, 300 eager kids and their parents, and beautiful views of the moon, Saturn, and the Orion Nebula! It was great! The kids were well behaved, eager to look through the telescopes, and very interested in what they were seeing. This is just one of the many, many school star parties that the TAAA does every year. I'm ready to sign up for the next one too!

While I'm back to work tonight, we have a social function to attend before I head to work. Our friend, matchmaker, and all-around good buddy, Jane, is retiring from her 30+ year job at the University of Arizona at the end of business today! To celebrate we are meeting her, and other friends, at Barrio Brewery for 'happy hour'. While I won't be able to toast her with an adult beverage, I'm glad that I will be able to share in her excitement at being finished with her job! Jane has so much excitement ahead of her! While she will remain in Tucson for the next month, her plan is to then head north to Henderson, NV - to begin the new adventure of living with her long time boyfriend, Ron! It will be sad to see her leave Tucson, but she will be back - we are assured of that. So here's to you, Janie! Live long and prosper!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Messier Marathon Madness

Last night was the All-Arizona Messier Marathon. All amateur astronomers know about Charles Messier - a 1700s French comet hunter who, besides discovering over a dozen comets, catalogued 110 of the brightest and most spectacular nebulae, galaxies and clusters in the night time sky. It was realized about 3 decades ago that for a short period in late March, the sun was sufficiently far from them that all of the Messier Objects might be visible on a single night, and the Messier Marathon(MM) was born. The object is to observe all of the objects from sunset to sunrise. It is not a trivial undertaking - a couple of faint galaxies (M74 and M77) must be observed in evening twilight low in the west, and M30 - a star cluster must be found in the rapidly-brightening morning twilight. In between, there is a rush to observe evening objects before they set in the west, navigate your way through the dreaded Virgo cluster of galaxies (dozens of Messier objects scattered among hundreds of galaxies), and a rush to make it through the rising summer Milky Way before twilight starts.

Arizona has become the Mecca for the MM because of the high likelihood of clear skies and relatively warm spring temperatures. In addition, local amateurs were among first to champion the Messier Marathon and a local following has built up over the years. This year there were nearly 100 attempting the feat, the farthest traveling fom Albany, New York (just about the cloudy sky capital of the country!) and nearly that many just along for the evening observing. I counted myself with the latter, but Melinda was doing the competition. The rules permit computerized go-to telescopes, but her advantage was perhaps offset with only 5" of telescope aperture, relatively small for seeing all the objects.

The site is located at The Middle Of Nowhere, Arizona, about 25 miles south of Arizona City. About equal driving distance from major the metropolitan areas of Tucson and Phoenix, it unfortunately has light pollution issues from both, but has a large area to set up with good horizons in all directions.

We arrived by 5pm and got the gear set up early before visiting with our astronomical friends we only see a couple times a year. There was a meeting of marathoners explaining the "rules" right about sunset, then it was game on! Of course, with a go-to scope, where a computer aims the telescope for you - it needs to be aligned properly, which is difficult to do until you can find stars to align to. So while not really getting a late start, Melinda started out by being unable to find those first two galaxies mentioned above. I let her work on her own, while I used the 14" scope to image comet Lulin again, and take some images with a fisheye lens borrowed from Tom Polakis, who had brought it along to the star party at my request. I checked on her occasionally, but after the initial difficulty, she was tearing through the list and by 10pm was nearly halfway done! I took a self-portrait imaging the comet with the winter Milky Way hanging low in the west, and another of Melinda with Orion looking on.

Finally, about midnight, she was out of objects to observe - was waiting for them to rise in the east, so we laid down in the back of the van for a nap. When rising an hour later, some thin clouds had moved in from the south that would hound us through the rest of the night. Melinda made remarkable progress though, until M10 - evidently there was an error in the telescope data base - it kept slewing to an imaginary object below the horizon. With the clouds in the sky, it was difficult to find without aid. I eventually picked it out in binoculars, and used a laser pointer to guide her to the spot where she found it. After another nap cycle, she had less than a dozen objects to go, but also thicker clouds with which to contend. Finally it was down to the cluster M30 as twilight started in the east. If trying counted, she would have seen it, but between the clouds and growing dawn, it wasn't spotted. So with that missing entry and the two initial galaxies, she nabbed 107 of the 110 objects - a great first effort! While hoping for a small plaque to mount on the telescope (awarded to the top 3 places), at the registration table, she found out that several had seen all 110, some 109 and some 108, so she was "just out of the money" and will have to settle for a certificate. We hit the road for home and were in bed by 8:30 or so.

While she can't think of repeating it soon, another time and with a little more light gathering power and she will likely increase her count. She did great!

Friday, March 27, 2009


I'm so glad it's Friday! I still have to work a half shift tonight - having agreed to doing a split shift switch with one of my co-workers earlier in the week. It's nice to know that I'll only have to do 6 hours though. There's comfort in that! Last night was the proverbial "night from Hell". Of course I can't discuss it! HIPPA violation, you know! My patients were busy, but okay, but it seemed that every kid in the NICU had some sort of 'issue' going on. My co-workers and I were running all night - not to mention the Nurse Practioner and the Residents! Every once in a while it gets that way. It's during those times that it's tempting to grab my car keys and run for the car....but I don't. It's also during those times when my skills are tested, and I always feel good if we all make it through the night intact.

This weekend will be exciting! I am doing the All-Arizona Messier Marathon for the first time! The Messier Marathon is definitely an Astronomy Nerd sport. In a nutshell, it's going out observing from sunset to sunrise - looking for the 110 heavenly objects that Charles Messier catalogued in the 1700's. Some are easy to find, some are visible to the naked eye - but some are pretty tough to snag! Through the course of tomorrow night (this only happens once a year) all 110 objects will be visible (with a telescope) and able to be accounted for. Thousands of people, worldwide, will be doing the same thing I will be doing - finding the object and checking it off of their list. While many people aren't able to find all 110 objects (star clusters, nebulae, planetary nebulae, galaxies, etc.), if I find more than 50 or 60 I'll get a certificate saying I was somewhat successful in my quest. If I find 110 I'll get a plaque that I can put on my telescope! Cool beans! I've seen most of the objects before - the trick is seeing them all in one night. I would imagine that I could enlist Dean's help if I get to lost in the universe. He's good about that! We will be observing from a site sponsered by the Saguaro Astronmy Club from Phoenix. We'll also get to see and visit with friends from there - which is about half of the fun! I'll be able to post my results, and blog about the experience on Sunday. I should have some pictures to post then also..... stay tuned!

Orion's belt picture by hubby Dean!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Post #200 - a milestone!

We can hardly believe that this is our 200th entry onto our little blog! It seems like I should say something particularly poignant or profound - instead you have me!

We read some interesting news regarding the State of Illinois and what is considered by the astronomical community to be the ugly, redheaded, stepchild - Pluto. Mind you, if you read back in our posts, you will see that I am a firm Pluto supporter - it is still a planet to me! But, there are those who will present very different opinions on that subject. However, I am very proud to say that the State of Illinios came to it's senses for at least one day!
LRB096 04130 KXB 14171 r
2 WHEREAS, Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto,
3 was born on a farm near the Illinois community of Streator; and
4 WHEREAS, Dr. Tombaugh served as a researcher at the
5 prestigious Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; and
6 WHEREAS, Dr. Tombaugh first detected the presence of Pluto
7 in 1930; and
8 WHEREAS, Dr. Tombaugh is so far the only Illinoisan and
9 only American to ever discover a planet; and
10 WHEREAS, For more than 75 years, Pluto was considered the
11 ninth planet of the Solar System; and
12 WHEREAS, A spacecraft called New Horizons was launched in
13 January 2006 to explore Pluto in the year 2015; and
14 WHEREAS, Pluto has three moons: Charon, Nix and Hydra; and
15 WHEREAS, Pluto's average orbit is more than three billion
16 miles from the sun; and
17 WHEREAS, Pluto was unfairly downgraded to a "dwarf" planet

- 2 -
LRB096 04130 KXB 14171 r
1 in a vote in which only 4 percent of the International
2 Astronomical Union's 10,000 scientists participated; and
3 WHEREAS, Many respected astronomers believe Pluto's full
4 planetary status should be restored; therefore, be it
7 overhead through Illinois' night skies, that it be
8 reestablished with full planetary status, and that March 13,
9 2009 be declared "Pluto Day" in the State of Illinois in honor
10 of the date its discovery was announced in 1930.

Yippie-yi-ya!!!! This, of course, made my day - when Dean read the article to me from the New York Times! Since Pluto Day is two days from my birthday it will be easy for me to remember and celebrate every year!

Other things "in the news" here: The bougainvillea that I planted (a bit prematurely, perhaps) and thought had frozen to death are not only alive, but blooming! Also today I saw a little rosebud emerging from one of the rose bushes I planted at the same time as the bougainvillea! Spring is springing, even here! Of course, if you don't live in Arizona you think that we have 100F temperatures every day (not true, it's 59F right now), cactus everywhere (true), and flowers blooming all of the time (partly true). There are seasonal flowers, and the trees bloom in the Spring. Our orange tree (which seems to be some sort of growth challenged thing) is blooming like crazy -though it never seems to produce fruit or grow taller. The orange blossoms are so sweet smelling though, it's like the entire out of doors is being perfumed! We took a little walk around the neighborhood last evening and enjoyed seeing cactus starting to bloom, as well as cats claw, and assorted ground covers beginning their bloom. It's nice to have some color popping up in our own back yard! Friend Jane has made some great suggestions for other plantings in the yard, and Dean found a "Plants for Dry Climates" book that was stashed in one of our bookcases. I see more plantings in the future!

I failed to mention, previously, that Dean gave me a zoom eyepiece for my telescope, for my birthday! I LOVE it! We got to try it out the night we took Carolyn observing, and what a joy to not have to change eyepieces! I'm particularly excited about having it now as I am getting ready to participate in the All-Arizona Messier Marthon this coming weekend! I have Dean's old study guide (he's found all 110 objects on his own during a previous marathon), as well a nice map of all of the objects. We have also been getting my telescope ready (getting it wired for power from one of Dean's big batteries, also learning more about the capabilities of my telescope), and I'm 'pumped up' for this! Please take the time to follow the link to read about the marathon, it should be great fun!

Last evening we attended another of the Steward Observatory's free public astronomy lectures. The topic was images of planets around other stars, presented by Laird Close, PhD of the U of A. It was a very interesting lecture and presentation, showing pictures taken of planets that have been discovered in the past 6 months. No evidence, yet, of another tiny blue planet like ours - but the possibilities are out there! One of my favorite pictures were shown during the presentation - Saturn, with Earth visible in the far distance. I have intentionally left this picture large (when you click on it) so that you can see the earth in the full sized image. Click on the image and scroll to the left side of the rings of Saturn. I have marked/indicated our Earth there for you. In the image shown at the lecture last night there was a zoom in of the Earth, from Saturn, and we could even see our Moon! One of the points made by the speaker was (while looking at the image on the screen) that this is the only place we have been in the universe....makes you feel pretty vulnerable and fragile, doesn't it? It's a stunning image, and one used by many astronomy media...sadly, Dean did not take this picture. The rest of my favorite pictures are from Dean, of course! After the lecture we were joined by new friends, Donna and Mike (who also attended the lecture) to take some looks through the 21" telescope in the Steward Observatory dome on the U of A (go Wildcats!) campus. We had some nice views, though the seeing wasn't particularly good last night. It's always fun to look through a big telescope, we rarely pass up that opportunity! If you ever have the change to look through a big telescope, do it! Don't be afraid - astronomers rarely bite, and when they do it's usually "love bites"!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'll Take Odds And Ends For $200 Alex...

Sometimes it just seems that there isn't much of interest to blog about, and this weekend seems like one of those times. Melinda is finally off after 3 nights of work. Clouds and tonight's winds have prevented me from thinking about any astro-photos.

Today was the twice-a-year camera show - a good chance to get some used photo gear for cheap (where I've gotten most all of my 35mm film gear). But though a few items caught my eye, I didn't spend a nickle. One item that interested me was an extension tube for my Canon camera - it extends the lens out, allowing closer focus, thus enabling to take images of very small objects. I ended up passing on the $200+ they were asking, and saw the same thing on E-bay an hour later for $40. I bid $65 max, but ended up being outbid at the last second by a couple dollars. Eventually...

Actually, the thing that perked my interest in closeup photography was another blog. Andrew Cooper , former local astronomy club president and electrical engineer now living in Hawaii and working at Keck Observatory has an excellent blog that we've linked on our right border since about day one of this blog. A few weeks ago he mentioned another blog - Nature Diary , a truly spectacular showcase of closeup photography. While most closeup imaging is called macro photography, Thomas Whelan's work can truly be called micro-photography. His work on insects, flowers and ice crystals is just stunning. From his blog intro, it sounds like he images what he finds on his walks, which sounds a lot like what I do in the Illinois summer, so it would be nice to have some capabilities in close-up imaging.

While we are on the topic of other blogs we read, another that hasn't quite gotten to our public "Blogs We Read" list yet is Carpentry & Home Repair , written by Peter Bales, a tradesman living in Nashville, Tennessee. While only blogging for a month or so, he has managed to post nearly every day with helpful hints, useful tools, and remodelling ideas. If he keeps up his prodigious output, with both of the fixer-uppers we live in we'll find lots of help for our own projects. (Note: this is not one of our project rooms. The pictured room/project is that of Peter Bales - the capentry guy who's blog we've been reading)

And while we don't go out of our way to waste too much time reading on the blogosphere, another I read just for fun, especially if I have time to watch the NBC nightly news is the Brian Williams Tie Report. Written by an Ohio English teacher, she daily reviews Brian's neck wear and is really a fun read.

Oh! And speaking of fun, brand new on our "Blogs We Read" list is I Do, I Really Do! , written by Dayna, a new bride-to-be. I ran across it one afternoon by repeatedly hitting the "next blog" button up on top of our blog (you did notice that button, right?). I thought Melinda might get a kick out of it - it sort of reminded us of our own intentions early on in our planning, but as time goes on, they sound like they are getting a little more obsessive!

Well, enough for now. Rah, Rah - Arizona basketball made it to the Sweet Sixteen! We're not big basketball fans, but you can't miss the groundswell of support right now in Tucson!

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness comes to Tucson

As the mania spreads across the nation, March Madness is not a new phenomenon to Tucson. We are, as you may know, the home of the U of A Wildcats - 25 year (consecutively) veterans of "goin' to the dance" - and 1997 winners of the NCAA title. Our friend, Valerie, pointed out that Tucson doesn't have any professional sports teams - we have our Wildcats, and we support them to the end! This year's season wasn't a 'gimme' in terms of NCAA. This team has fought hard to get where they are right now (currently playing Utah in Miami). We wish our team the best of luck - and chant U OF A! U OF A!...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Vacations go too quickly!

The saying goes..."time flies when you're having fun"...and that can't be truer than the past 5 days with Carolyn visiting! Sadly, she left today, but promises that she will return next winter - before March (escape the frigid January or February weather in sunny Tucson, AZ!).

We didn't squander a bit of time on her last full day here. Destination: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. For those who have been there, it's in the "must do" column of places to take guests in Tucson. For those considering a trip here (either to visit us - or just on vacation), put it on your list of places to see. It's a museum/zoo/nature center/walk through the desert - all of those things rolled into one! Not to mention the incredible view from the terrace (you can see all of the way to Mexico)!

One of the more unique features of the ASDM is that they have the only successful hummingbird aviary in the US. It's outstanding, and quite an experience to stroll through (or take a quiet break on a bench) and have hummingbirds whizzing past your head, or flitting under your bench near your feet!

They also have a wonderful free flight bird program which includes a variety of birds. Carolyn is a little nervous around birds, though the hummingbirds didn't bother her. The Chihuahua Raven made her a little nervous, as did the Ferruginous Hawk that was flying over our heads during the program.

The grounds of the ASDM are a spectacular example of the living desert, complete with every example of desert vegetation. It gave us a chance to get up close and personal with the different varieties of cacti, as well as enjoy some of the wildflowers that are starting to bloom. There didn't seem to be many butterflies in the butterfly garden, but the different varieties of Lantana, Fairy Dusters, and Jasmine were beautiful to see! It would be easy to spend days going through there, though we limited our visit to about 4 hours (including a beautiful lunch in the Ocotillo Cafe). We were there during the heat of the day, so we did get a bit of sun while strolling the grounds. While most people shy from the sun here (it can be deadly), we enjoyed getting a bit of color. I couldn't send Carolyn home without some sun on her cheeks!

Dean and I decided that it would be fun to have a cookout, so that Carolyn's friends (here) could have one last evening to visit with her (for this trip). We invited several of the friends over for "burgers and brats on the grill", and Dean did an excellent job grilling up the meat as well as some fresh asparagus! Dinner was great, and then we all enjoyed a fire in the chimminea once it was cooling off outside.

This morning brought a leisurely breakfast at The Egg Connection restaurant, before taking Carolyn (begrudgingly) to the airport. I made her promise to hug and kiss everyone (including the entire town of St. Charles) for me, upon her return home - and also to promise to come back to visit us again! I had a call from her this evening, letting me know she had arrived home safely and had a nice flight on the way. The time went too quickly and we are already planning where we will go on her next visit here....Tombstone?....Agua Prieta?....Puerto Penasco?....Mt. Lemmon?....San Diego?.....the list goes on!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Carolyn's Excellent Vacation - Day 4!

I was off to work this morning, but Melinda took Carolyn on a driving tour of central Tucson, and later met our buddy and matchmaker Jane for lunch at the Blue Willow. All this as prelude to the highlight of the day - observing!

We loaded scopes and cameras into the van and headed west towards Kitt Peak for some real dark-sky observing. My mission was to image Comet Lulin once more with the 14" before it faded away, but Melinda set up her 5" Celestron for some visual observing. Shortly after sunset we spotted Venus, by now getting low in the west, and saw the skinniest of crescents in the scope - it is passing inferior conjunction (between us and the sun) in 9 days (27 March). It is amazing how fast it is diving towards the horizon - 2 weeks ago it was very high in the west and now it sets by the end of twilight!

Another highlight came very early - the International Space Station made an appearance 30 minutes after sunset. Fortunately, I was able to have a camera set and focused and caught it passing under Polaris to the north, visible as the streak in the time exposure. Polaris is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper asterism, and you can see some of the stars curving down to the dipper part behind the tree. The Space Shuttle Discovery is on the way to the Space Station, and was supposed to be following it, but was not seen, so perhaps it had already docked with it...

This time of year the Big Dipper stands on it's handle at the end of twilight and made a striking sight rising in the nearly dark sky to the northeast.

Comet Lulin was spotted in binoculars just below Delta Geminorum - in fact, that is the bright star above the comet in the photo here. It is nothing fancy - just a straight average of 6 exposures of 2 minutes each with the Canon 20Da and the Hyperstar corrector on the C-14. No flat field image yet - someday I've got to get busy on properly reducing these shots, but this will have to do for now. There are also at least 2 satellites visible on these exposures.

I think we overexposed Carolyn to astronomy - even in the dark I think I could see her eyes beginning to glaze over! But she saw some cool stuff, including the Orion Nebula, the edge-on rings of Saturn, and comet Lulin and it's faint tail. With the dark sky west of town, it really is easy to impress newcomers. I think she was also amazed how much of the hobby Melinda has picked up over the last couple years "under my influence"!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Birthday weekend adventure to the Grand Canyon!

With the arrival of friend Carolyn, we also celebrated my birthday this weekend! What better present than to have a loving husband, a dear friend, and the Grand Canyon?!

We headed north to the Canyon yesterday - arriving there around 3:30pm. That gave us time to check in, view the Canyon in all of it's glory, and then watch the sunset from the terrace of Bright Angel Lodge (where we were staying)! Carolyn had never been to the Grand Canyon, so it was especially fun to share that with her. While this was my fourth trip there, this was the first time we had stayed in one of the lodges (vs. camping in a tent during the Grand Canyon Star Party for a week). We loved our housing - a small cabin with adjoining rooms, very near the main lodge - charming to the max! We were joined for dinner (in the dining room at Bright Angel) by 'our' Ranger, Marker Marshall. Marker has been involved in the Star Parties for the past few years, and always fun to visit with. Dean set his camera up, rim-side, and did a great series of pictures of the Canyon - the shadows growing as the sun was setting. It was chilly there, being at something over 7,000 feet elevation - and it's always breezy there. We saw the remnants of snow in the wooded and coniferous shrubbed areas. This morning the sky was clear and bright blue, the sun was shining brightly, and we enjoyed seeing more of the sights around the village before heading east along the rim to exit the park at Desert View. Dean also had a nice visit with "our other" Ranger, Chuck Wahler, who has been a friend for many years. On our way to Desert View we stopped at some of the scenic overlooks, including a favorite of Chuck's - Lipan Point. We could see a really nice stretch of the Colorado River, including a couple of segments of the killer rapids that are encountered there. I would highly recommend the drive to the east rim - beautiful views, very different from what is seen from the south rim! We arrived at Desert View (last stop before the exit) and spent considerable time at the Watchtower there. The paintings inside are wonderful, and they have (of course) yet another great gift shop to explore! Leaving the Canyon is always sad, it's a place to stay and savor for as long as possible. From there we headed towards Cameron, AZ - and took the eastern approach to Flagstaff. It was a beautiful drive through a portion of the Navajo Nation reservation, seeing the Little Colorado River Gorge, and the snow covered, north face of San Francisco Peaks (Mt. Humphrey's). We ate lunch at the classic Galaxy Diner, in Flagstaff - in view of Mars Hill, home of the Lowell Observatory (and site of Tombaugh's discovery of the planet Pluto!). From Flagstaff we took the scenic route through Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona - enjoying the view of the red rocks, and stopping at the Chapel of the Holy Cross to take some pictures (and find a red rock for Carolyn to take home as a souvenir!). Once we hit the highway, heading towards Phoenix, it was head for home - and arriving home around 8:30pm. It was a long day, but one filled with breathtaking sights and enjoyment of my favorite planet! I think we've just about worn Carolyn out, already! Tomorrow - lunch with friend Jane, and then a fun observing session tomorrow evening!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Company's comin'!

I'll have to have Dean take a picture of the bathroom ceiling, in the guest bathroom, to show the effect now that it's done! The walls aren't painted, but after sanding the ceiling in there - Dean did a great job of painting it up! If I were really good, I would have picked out a wall color and painted those walls, too. I still have to sand the ceiling in our bathroom - and it will get done.

All of this is in preparation of my dear friend, Carolyn, arriving for a vist tomorrow! If any of you were coming to visit, we would do all of this for your visit too... I'm sure that Dean thinks I've been cracking the whip, getting him involved in the cleaning too. The whole place needs a good cleaning (easy to put off when we enjoy doing lots of other things instead of that), so this is a good chance to do it. Of course, I've worked the past two nights - but will make up for it today! I'm sure we'll include pictures of Carolyn in our upcoming posts She and I worked together for over 20 years before she retired a few years ago. We always refered to her as our mom's "oldest daughter" - as she was like a daughter to Mother, as well as a sister to me and my sisters. Her husband Bob was as dear to us as she is, they were "family". Bob and I used to do our laundry together on Friday mornings, using that as an excuse to go have breakfast too. He was a strong shoulder to lean on, and Carolyn has always been "the quiet voice of reason" when turned to for advice. Being away from St. Charles has meant that I have been away from my sisters - Susan and Maj, as well as my brother-in-law Jeff, and countless dear friends from work and neighbors that I love. It has also meant being away from Carolyn, who I always tend to spend more time with than any of my siblings, friends, or neighbors! It will be good to see her! She's never been to Arizona and I have promised her "Sister Wendy's Grand Tour" (of the PBS series fame). We're taking her to the Grand Canyon on Saturday, returning on Sunday. She'll only be here for 5 days, so we have to see as much of Arizona as is possible!

Monday, March 9, 2009

More Fun Than Humans Should be Allowed To Have!

About 5.5 years ago, Vicki and I had some uninvited guests - termites! Their appearance was manifested by peeling paint on the bathroom ceilings. A visit by a pest control company confirmed they were a type that ate the paper on the drywall in the more humid rooms of the house, and likely lived in a ground colony nearby. A simple perimeter treatment got rid of them almost immediately, and they have yet to return. But being the dorky sort of guy when it comes to home improvement, I wasn't sure how to repair the cosmetic damage.

Well luckily, I married into the Johnson family, and after living here for 4 months, Melinda moved this job up to the current project queue, promoted a bit because her good friend Carolyn is visiting this weekend! So yesterday and today, armed with putty knives and an assortment of other tools, it was tackled. As the pictures show, they really did just devour the paper layer of the drywall and as a result, the paint peeled away as it's backing disappeared. So we were able to easily remove the damaged paint layer, and the gypsum underneath was mostly undisturbed, though there was an abundance of what appeared to be residue likely bound with termite spit and excrement (yummy!). The residue was also easily removed with a stiff brush mounted on a pole, and interestingly, the residue fell into the brush bristles, and fell out when inverted over a waste basket - little of the residue became airborne. As an observer, even the pattern recorded in the gypsum of the drywall was interesting. There are the thoroughfares they used to travel to the "excavation sites", then there are what looks almost like growth rings as the feeding continued outwards from a central location. Similarly, the other bathroom had the same sort of damage, and initially looked to have less activity, but after removing the paint and exposing the damage, both bathrooms looked to have about the same amount of area affected.

Once the damaged paint was removed to solid material and the loose residue removed, we got out the drywall mud and started rebuilding the damaged areas back up to the original paint layer. We got the first layer on tonight, and it is looking better already, though it is a lot of work, and a lot remains with sanding, more mud, more sanding, then priming and finally paint. Eventually it will look great with a new color scheme with no evidence if foreign invaders. I'm just lucky to have one of the Johnson girls who enjoys getting her hands dirty and appreciates that the work we do now will result in a great final product!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Flandrau Science Center Star Party

Last night we set up our scopes at Flandrau - no special event other than Saturn is at opposition (opposite the sun in the sky), and we also had a spectacular crescent Venus visible considerably before sunset. Mike Terenzoni, head of educational outreach, is always looking or a few scopes and I like to oblige when our schedules allow. The bad news reaching us these days is that the 33 year old facility is mostly being shut down as a cost cutting move.

While the science center is still used extensively as a field trip destination for hundreds of classrooms throughout the Tucson area, the University has chosen to eliminate the salaries still on the payroll. In addition, it appears the University is also postponing Flandrau's ultimate replacement as part of the Rio Nuevo development downtown, at least for a year, possibly for longer - who knows... It is a shame such a resource is closing down...

Last night we attracted the normal amount of traffic, and also had a huge surge a little later when the basketball arena let out after the last home match of the season against Stanford. Everyone was in a good mood with a solid win, and also, folks were really impressed with the high-power views of the Moon and Saturn I gave with the C-14. It was Melinda's first public outing with her C-5 and she also got some rave reviews and long lines. She was quite the pitch woman, getting lots of the people to drop donations into the "light buckets" nearby to raise money for the science center. I remembered that we had a hand counter that I used to keep track of those looking through the 14". Tonight we got 230, a little fewer than we usually get in a night at the Grand Canyon, but a good turnout nonetheless!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring forward....except in Arizona???

You can't turn on the television without being bombarded by phrases such as "TIME CHANGE THIS WEEKEND!!!"...."GO TO DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME!!!"...."SPRING FORWARD THIS WEEKEND!!! Of course, that applies to the rest of the US, outside of Arizona! Somewhere along the line (and I won't even pretend to know when, or why for that matter) the state of Arizona decided it didn't want to "Spring forward", or "Fall back" anymore (if they did to begin with). Thus, we never change time here. Now, while that is simple for the folks living in AZ (no repeating silly tomes to remember which way to turn the clocks, no excuses for being late to church on Sunday - or late to work on Monday, no having to work an hour less on night shift, or an hour more in with the 'fall back'); it does present a quandary. Every one of our relatives live outside of Arizona. Most in the CST zone, some in the EST zone. The one or two hour time difference was easy to understand - but now we're stretching it to 2 and 3 hours, which means my "calling schedule" will be really messed up.

The alarms are already sounding, regarding Dean's open declaration of riding on RAGBRAI this summer. After reading his post about it (mind you, we had briefly discussed the notion of him riding - reading it here was when I found out that he had registered) I cautioned him - "Our families will be calling! They will accuse you of trying to make me a 'young' widow!!" I had a call from sister-in-law Kathy two days ago....sure enough! Last night at the astronomy club meeting, friend Liz.... echoing the same sentiments, added by "How can you let him do this????" We have finally talked about this, in earnest, and I really have 100% trust in Dean's judgement. I trust that he will talk to his doctor about it beforehand. His athletic ability is not new - he's very athletic, and working towards this goal is healthy for him! Also, RAGBRAI is not a 'race' - thus, if he's feeling overworked on it then he can opt to take a day off and take it easy. I also trust him to not do anything to intentionally cause me to cry. I think it will be great for him to get out there and ride with the Toddville Toads again, and I know that he is very excited about it! He's out riding this morning, and it's a beautiful thing to see him on his bike again! I should be so industrious!

This was a rough week, for both of us. Dean had to work evening shift all week, I worked Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. We got to see each other in the mornings for about 5 minutes - as he was waking up, and I was falling asleep. Neither of us liked it very much. We're so used to spending time together, and we enjoy that! Last night we were able to enjoy going to the TAAA meeting. The topic was astrophotography, and though Dean was supposed to be one of the speakers, he bowed out due to lack of time processing his most recent images. Kudos were given to him, however, by one of the speakers, listing Dean as "one of the top 10 astrophotographers in the United States". Dean scoffed at that, but he doesn't see how wonderful his images really are! Tonight's activity is a public star party on the Uof A mall (grassy area in front of Flandreau Observatory). We're both planning to set up our telescopes, as more are better! While these public star parties at the Flandreau are held in a very well lit area, there are always a lot of people who show up - families with small children, students, tourists. It's a great public outreach event, and we can show them Venus and Saturn tonight, and maybe I'll get to use our cool laser pointer we got at Christmas time!

Note from Dean- Part of the reason Arizona doesn't follow the rest of the country on daylight savings - when it is 100+ degrees during a summer day, you want the cool air of evening to get here as soon as possible, thus, we are always on MST. That also means the summer sunrise is at 5:30 n the morning - perfect for walking the dog or taking a bike ride before work. Think of it this way - during the winter we are the same time as New Mexico, in summer, we're the same time as California... Speaking of bike rides, I pushed hard on a 10 mile ride wednesday that I felt the next day, and just got back from a recreational-pace 16 mile ride this morning and feel great!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New Workout Goal - RAGBRAI!

I was lamenting over an e-mail from Carl, the fearless leader of our RAGBRAI (Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) bike team yesterday. They were down a couple riders this year and had replaced me after I had indicated I wasn't interested in driving the support vehicle this year. It was sad not to look forward to spending a week with friends I saw but once a year...

Then I thought - well why not ride? I haven't ridden a mile of the route since an aortic dissection caused the second of my emergency heart surgeries a few weeks after completing the 2005 ride. While I work out regularly at the gym, mostly doing treadmill work, I've been a slug the last couple months after my doctor ordered me to stop exercising till an infection cleared. I just never got around to going back... And as the RAGBRAI Homepage countdown says, "137 days to RAGBRAI XXXVII". That is certainly enough time to gain some semblance of athletic ability on what is purported to be a hillier than average ride. So I e-mailed Carl - he says I made his day as he returned a thumbs up, registered on line and sent him my entrance fee. I got so excited I went to the gym this morning and spent 50 minutes on the treadmill! Will get on the bike tomorrow!

What is RAGBRAI, you ask? Well, it is almost impossible to describe. Those from Iowa have likely experienced it, either as a rider, or innocent bystander if they've come through your town. Imagine 12,000 people on bikes, traveling from a starting town to another overnight town 70 miles away over a defined route. Repeat for 7 days. Traveling from the Missouri River on the western edge of Iowa to the Mississippi on the east, it is a traveling horde of humanity searching for food and entertainment and mostly finding it. There have been joyous days of tailwinds where you seemingly coast all day, and other days from hell with heat indices of 122 degrees (with humidity factored in) where the asphalt sticks to your wheels. I blogged some about it last year, and if you google RAGBRAI you will find lots of stories and pictures.

But it is with some trepidation that the journey is undertaken - while my cardiac health is good, my aortic dissection is mostly unrepaired, though the worst of it was surgically rebuilt. I'll discuss it with my PCP when I see her in 5 weeks, but in the meantime, more exercise and salads!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday night Astronomy Lecture - or "Run for the Hills!"

This evening I attended another of the UofA's night time, free, public Astronomy lecture series. Dean (poor Dean!) is working evenings this week, and wasn't able to attend. I was, however, joined by our friend from Saskatchewan, Ed, who is in town for the next couple of weeks. This evenings topic was the Catalina Sky Survey, which is done from the observatory on the top of our local Mt. Lemmon. Ed Beshore (co-Investigator), of the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) was the featured speaker, and gave a most interesting talk. The CSS is (in a nutshell) surveying the sky, along with two other observatories, searching for asteroids big enough to cause catastrophic damage should they impact the earth. There is evidence of such an impact occurring some 65 million years ago, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The damage attributed to that impact is suspected to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. There is evidence that the impact was significant enough to cause a thin iridium layer to be found, virtually, every where on our dear planet Earth; and it is suspected that it blew debris out as far as our Moon. So, the value of searching for asteroids the size of cruise ships that may "hit home" is significant, to say the least! Granted, you can observe and search - but how do you know you're right? The CSS got the 'confirmation' that it needed last fall, when Asteroid 2008TC3 hit Sudan. The CSS had discovered the asteroid, determined that it would impact the Earth, predicted when it would hit and it was observed impacting the Sudan desert as predicted. Furthermore, it was just announced (in the past few days) that an asteroid fragment had been found and recovered at the site! Granted, what was left is the size of a large shooter marble and damage was nil. However, picture "The Love Boat" tumbling through the atmosphere with your house in it's site. It would be nice to know in advance. You can't 'plan' a test of the survey, it was by chance that it all came together with 2008TC3 and the Sudan. Interestingly, between the three observatories (Mt. Lemmon/Mt. Bigelow; Palomar Observatory in California; and Siding Spring Observatory in Australia), they are able to do a deep survey of the entire sky once a month. The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab (Dean and his work buddies) are currently creating the 8.4 meter mirror for the new LSST (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope). I know that Dean has blogged about that telescope in previous posts, but it bears repeating. Once completed and running, the LSST will be able to do a total deep sky survey every three days. Incredible! It's nice to know that someone is 'watching our backs', as they say!
(Photos courtesy of the CSS website - please visit their site for pictures, videos, and news releases.)
Addendum: Rest assured, we have no reason to believe that Asteroid 124075 Ketelsen will ever pose a serious threat to our fragile blue planet.