Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Hawaiian Tradition

Turn on the TV in your hotel room and it always comes on to the Hawaii tourist channel, which advertises various activities you can do on the island.  It always shows iconic clips of Hawaii, and among these is shown native islanders fishing with throw nets.  This morning, while exploring tidal pools near the hotel, I got to watch a trio of locals fishing with a net.  It was interesting to observe him stalking fish by peeking over the edges of the tidal pool to remain hidden as long as possible, then throw the net correctly so weights at the periphery spin out spreading the net to cover as large an area as possible, catching several fish at a time. 

Of the three, one evidently had experience, one's job was to carry the bucket, and  the other was a kid who was just tagging along.  The guy was pretty successful, they caught 4 good-sized Orange Spine Unicornfish pretty quickly, then the local supply dried up and of the 2 adults, the experienced one gave throwing instructions to the other.  After showing how to wrap and hold the net, the student made a couple practice throws about the time we headed back poolside for some lunch.  It was cool watching skills that had been passed down through the generations...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Evening With Pele

Of course, one of the highlights of a trip to Hawaii is a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see a real live volcano.  The Kilauea vent has been continuously erupting for nearly 30 years, and this being my 3rd visit, I've never been disappointed.  The previous trips we've gone down to the south flank of the volcano at night and watched lava flow down the slope and enter the Pacific.  This time the real action is at the Halemaʻumaʻu crater (which the road used to go through in a previous visit!), where a vent opened in 2008 and molten lava has been observed there since.  Lucky for us, the height reached a record height just a few days ago 80 feet below the crater floor, so has been extremely active.  I was hoping to see lava directly, and regardless of height, the crater walls have been illuminated directly, so visible at night.  I wanted those night shots!

Oh, and by the way, the title above mentions Pele, the volcano goddess associated with many stories and myths of ancient Hawaii. 

Our travelling family unit, Melinda and me, Betty, Susan and Shannon left about 9am and took the "scenic route" counter-clockwise around the Big Island from our hotel.  We were always within a few miles of the coast, and made a number of stops for refreshments, fruit and nut stands, black sand beaches, that sort of thing.  We got to the Park about 2pm, in time for a cold sandwich for lunch before exploring the visitor center and observation station where we could gaze out at the belching steam and sulfur emissions coming out of the crater (imaged above).  That was pretty cool, but we were hoping for more for our night time visit.

After a dinner trip to Volcano Village, the girls allowed me to return to take pictures.  As we approached, this little populated part of the island suddenly resembled the parking lot of a home football game.  Rangers had blocked off the road and were only allowing cars in as fast as they were leaving, which I guess is a good idea with limited parking and lots of demand.  But we finally got to the overlook with the Hunter's full moon rising into the eastern sky.  It was quite spectacular!  While no lava was directly visible, it did directly illuminate the walls of Halemaʻumaʻu with a golden fiery glow.  The glow extended up into the venting steam and gas, and the moonlight also lit up the western edge of the crater.  The glow from the lava was so strong that I couldn't expose long enough to collect much starlight without blowing out the subtle glows!
As mentioned, the place was rocking with visitors, most shooting it with cellphones.  Image at left with Scorpius setting - Antares is just about to set behind the south slope of Mauna Loa, with planet Mars just above.  I was hoping to get some better results with a real camera, in fact I took a few hundred frames at regular intervals to turn into a time-lapse image eventually when I get home.  The trade winds were blowing mightily, and the girls were getting impatient in the cold (volcano vent is at about 4,000 feet, so it was admittedly very cool, temperature-wise).  But before closing up shop for the night and do the marathon drive back, we took a group shot with the vent in the background.  Front-to-back is Min, Susan, Betty, Shannon and me.  This is an 8 second exposure with some combination of flash and moonlight for us.  The return trip was via Hilo, where predictably it was raining on the windward side of the island.  We then returned to the hotel on the west side via the Saddle Road, which passes between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  It was cool passing between 2 of the largest mountains in the world, when measured from the sea floor where they start. 
It was a marvelous night when we returned, though the trade winds were still howling.  The bright star Archenar was culminating to the south over the shield volcano Hualalai, 8300 feet above us, since we were sitting at sea level.  You can see that the palms were in constant motion during the 30 second exposure.  Interestingly, Archernar just grazes above our southern horizon from Tucson.  But here in Hawaii we are about 13 degrees further south in latitude, so the star is correspondingly higher.  Another benefit of visiting the island paradise!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Still Here...

It might not have made the news where you are, but when the Tsunami Warning hit Hawaii this evening, it got everyones attention!  We were in a local restaurant when the TVs that had been showing college football highlights, suddenly showed the notice of an earthquake off BC, Canada and an associated Tsunami for all of Hawaii.  Returning  to the hotel 30 minutes later, we found that the ground floor had been evacuated to higher floors, but we were ok on the 2nd.  We retired to our room and watched the coverage on TV - appropriately enough, it was all that was on.  Officials indicated a 5 foot surge was expected, hitting the island at 10:28 local time.  Suddenly, we were in the evac zone, and we had 20 minutes to move to the far side of the hotel on the 4th floor!  After carefully unpacking and moving in to the dressers and closets, we repacked in 5 minutes flat and made the move.  Here we are 30 minutes after the expected arrival, and the live TV reports are filling the air time admirably well for what has so far been a non-event.  Evidently 18 months ago when the Japanese tsunami hit (another 5 foot event), there was a lot of shoreline damage, so most are following evacuation orders, though the TV cameras are showing people at the beach awaiting "an event" of some sort.

Meanwhile, we had a long day and are about to collapse (more in a future post).  Meanwhile, our boat trip and snorkel day tomorrow is in jeopardy with tonight's events.  But at this point, we're safe and paying attention to something we've not been through before!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kinda Blue!

We are in Hawaii!  We've been planning the trip for months - actually since April since we last went to Columbia, SC to see Mom-in-law Betty.  She mentioned she was attending a conference in the 50th state, and we decided then and there to invite ourselves along!  Then Niece Shannon wanted to join in, then Sis-in-law Susan from Dallas jumped, so we've got a real party!  We're doing lots of sightseeing things, since neither Melinda nor Shannon have ever been here.  It starts with an observatory tour at Mauna Kea tomorrow morning, and there will be snorkling, volcano-watchin' and lots-o-fun along the way.

The trip out was uneventful, but after leaving our interim stop in San Francisco, the bulk of the trip was over water, and I was shocked how blue it was. While sky blue is my favorite color (something about astronomers liking clear skies) from 35,000 feet, the sky is a different shade, and the ocean resembles something closer to sky blue from the ground.  That leg of the flight was over 5 hours, and we had an unremarkable movie double feature - something we never get to enjoy going to Chicago.  But even with Morgan Freeman it didn't hold my interest, though the low-fidelity earbuds that wouldn't stay in place plus my bad hearing made it nigh impossible to understand anything.  Hoping for more interesting features on the return, plus my own earbuds (checked in luggage on the way out - DOH!) should make for a better experience.

Finally, Hawaii materialized out of the mist!  Out our starboard-side windows, Maui materialized first, with Molakai in the distance.  A little further along and mighty Haleakala, a 10,000+ foot tall extinct volcano came to dominate our window.  It is of particular interest to me because like Mauna Kea on the Big Island, its peak is home to several telescopes for both national defense and astronomical research.  I've never been to Maui, but know about some of its instruments there.
Finally we landed on Hawaii - the Big Island!  We were literally in the last row of the plane, so were the last to depart, and turned to take a picture of our faithful steed - a 757 - I've not been on one since likely the last trip here in '03.  We had a little time to kill till Shannon arrived, so made it to the car rental place - of course, since nearly everyone on the plane goes to rent a car, we had a lice wait in line.  Back to the airport, we could stand a snack, but the airport restaurant is only for passengers after going thru security - bum deal!  Fortunately we found a little stand where I had the best chili dog ever!  The chili dog plate special came with white rice and about 10 molecules of potato salad, but with a diet Pepsi to wash it down, it was truly paradise on earth!  We ambled back to the terminal just as Shannons plane landed, and after getting her a lei, there she was!  It was good to see her, and she gets to hang with us till Betty and Susan arrive in a few hours.  More fun later and through next week!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Blogs to Read!

Some of you may not know it, but down the right side of our blog a page or two, there is a list of links to blogs we find interesting or unique.  Some are about astronomy, some have interesting writers, some have interesting photography.  In the last few days I've discovered a couple gems that are certainly deserving of our attention.  I don't spend a lot of time exploring the InterWeb, and I can't say how I find these, but here they are!

This first one is called "Humans of New York".  Brandon Stanton is a street photographer in New York City.  I happened to have the Today show on yesterday morning, and Brandon was on as support for a young woman overcoming body image issues.  He had only reposted a self-portrait she had taken, but with his wider net, she became famous and he was invited along on the show.  So in short, he was sort of an innocent bystander, but in the meantime, I discovered him.  His blog is amazing, the pictures and words bring up a wide range of emotions, and it is easy to spend a couple hours exploring his range of work.  The video shown at left shows his work and his techniques in humanizing the diversity of this urban population.  In addition to the images, he also has a writer's command of language in describing his encounters, including a "Stories" section where he essays at length about the characters he meets.  Do check it out.

The other new arrival is "Ranger Kathryn's Arches", and if I had to describe it in a phrase, it would  be the opposite of the above blog.  Kathryn is a newbie park ranger at Arches National Park after previous careers as teacher, midwife, massage therapist and home school teacher.  She writes with an artist's soul about the stark beauty of what has so far been 2 years in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  It is a guilty pleasure to follow by her side as she explores and falls in love with a little-seen part of the American West.  Her season is winding down, but I'm hoping the blog continues for a long time!
So scroll down, check out the new entries, and if you've not been keeping up with our other blogs of interest, check them out too.  And, of course, if you have blogs to pass along, let us know!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One Down...

The press release came out today - WE FINISHED A MIRROR!  Melinda had been chiding me recently that since she has known me (going on what, seven years now), that we've never finished a mirror project.  Well, the press release explains a little of what went on.  This first mirror of the Giant Magellan Telescope has been the most difficult mirror to finish OF ALL TIME!  Really!  What makes it difficult is that it is an off-axis parabola, is very large (8.4 meters, nearly 28 feet diameter) and very aspheric.  Its asphericity is a measure of how far the surface differs from a sphere, which has a constant curvature, but isn't very useful in a telescope.  Most large telescopes have an aspheric departure measured in tenths of a millimeter.  The Large Binocular Telescope likely held the previous record at over 1mm of departure.  The outer GMT mirrors have 14 millimeters of asphere, and unfortunately, it isn't rotationally symmetric, which makes it even harder!  We have been polishing on it seemingly for years, and we really have - it took a lot of work to develop tools to polish and test the surface and the result is that it was completed to 29 nanometers rms (millionths of a millimeter).  Note that the diameter of a human hair is about 75,000 nanometers diameter!

The image at top left is from the LBT site linked above and shows the 7 mirrors that make up the surface.  The plan is for each mirror to have its own adaptive optics secondary that will correct atmospheric turbulence, and the yellow lasers are used to make artificial stars to control the flexible secondary mirrors to do that correction.  I like how they've been recently including semi trucks into the scene to provide for scale!

We finished the polishing a couple months ago and had a testing campaign of all 4 different methods of testing the mirror shape (thanks to the Hubble controversy of 25 years ago!).  The photo at left shows some of the process of the SCOTS test.  There is an array of fiducials placed on the mirror that are used to accurately align the error mapping to the mirror surface.  With testing complete, the last few weeks we've effectively put the mirror in "cold storage".  Since this is the first mirror completed, when the second one rolls around, we'll repeat the testing of this first one - effectively using it as the standard for completion of the rest.  This mirror may be around for a while, it might even be the last delivered!  So we've put a protective Opticote layer on the optical surface, covered it with 4" of foam, a layer of plywood, then a 10 mil layer of polyurethane.  So not only is it safe from dust, but also falling tools!  The photo at right shows it safely parked in our integration lab.  The mirror substrate in the rear is a 6.5 meter for the San Pedro Mártir Observatory,  to be eventually located in Mexico's in Baja Norte.  It is up next in the fabrication queue.
And speaking of what we're working on next, besides the ongoing LSST project, we've already cast the second mirror for GMT, and just yesterday has been exposed after mold clean out from the cast substrate.  If you think these mirrors look big standing next to it, try standing under it like I am here!  We'll be starting diamond generating of the rear surface along with the SPM scope mentioned above in the coming months, giving the second GMT mirror a bump on the progress curve.  Meanwhile the casting crew has already started the mold for GMT3!  No rest for the weary around here!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Touch Of Local Color

Our recent trip to Illinois just about coincided with the peak of Fall colors, though this year's display was muted perhaps by the Summer's dry weather.  Still, it was outstanding to this desert dweller, where any seasonal color is non-existent other than Spring wildflowers and cacti blooms.

While we had a busy visit this trip, I got in a couple walks down the bike path to the Fox River, very near our house there.  While yellow and orange trees were common - the maple shown at left had an interesting display - the colors of a single branch transitioned smoothly from emerald green to red - it almost smoothly displays half the colors of a spectrum!  Looking back uphill along the bike path reveals a wide variety of colors from greens to reds, picture shown at right...
Walking all the way down the hill to the Fox River, there were quite a collection of waterfowl that were still hanging around.  While the sounds of Canada Geese overhead were frequently heard, I didn't see any wedge-shaped groups forming yet - it was still a bit early for heading south.  Yet in this picture, geese and a variety of ducks were feeding, and numerous barn swallows were in flight feeding on insects as well.
I'm always looking for new ways of looking at things, so capturing Fall foliage was no different.  At left a pair of tree trunks frame the leaves of a young oak tree.  And at right the colorful leaves of a sumac make a dramatic image.  I liked the effect that shooting into the sun makes too - the color of these pictures is lit through the leaves.
We had some muted colors around the house in some of our big trees, and the leaves were falling at a prodigious rate, requiring daily sweeping to keep the porch clear.  But out in front of the house we had what we think is a Buckthorn tree.  The reddish color seemed to grow stronger every day - the picture at left was taken the last day of this trip. 
A short walk up along the river less than 200 meters from our house brought me to another impossibly red bush.  About its only distinguishing features were "wings" along part of the stems...  Googling "red bush winged stems" brought up the ID - the appropriately-named "Burning Bush" (Euonymus Alatus), which it turns out is an Asian invasive species introduced 150 years ago.  It is interesting that the "fact sheets", one of which is referenced to the link above, gives hints both to cultivate it and to wipe it out...  Interesting!  Anyway, our dose of fall colors will have to hold us for another year - it was great we got to witness some this trip...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Safely Home...

We had an uneventful return trip to Tucson after a great visit to the Midwest.  With temperatures still pushing 90F (32C) in Arizona, it was a thrill to experience some Fall colors and brisk temperatures in Illinois and Iowa.  Of course, it won't be many weeks till the colors transform to bare trees, bleak skies and frigid temperatures for the next 5 months.  One of my regrets is that we still didn't see any northern lights this trip.  The one night there was a minor display in the northern tier of states, we had thick clouds and some rain.  They are getting closer, so perhaps our December trip will have better chances of spotting them.  Even while flying over south-central Iowa, I took the chance I might catch something with the camera far to the north, so took the 10 second exposure at left.  The big dipper is visible over our wing, but look at the greenish glow to the right - I'm thinking I've caught a little aurora far to the north!  There is a chance it is the over-the-horizon glow of Minneapolis, but the color is wrong.  I think it is aurora, but still not a visual sighting...  The cats were sure glad to see us - more so that other trips where they could care less.  They were all over us for the couple hours we stayed up.  We missed them terribly too, so the feeling is mutual!
The next morning I got an e-mail from our Russian friends who had visited us a couple weeks back.  They also arrived safely home after spending a good 10 days after leaving us in Tucson.  Sergey included the picture at left - the same cast of characters we had every blog post for a while, along with astronomy promoter John Dobson front and center!  John just turned 97(!), and is hobbled somewhat by the lasting effects of a stroke a few years back, but it is good to see him, if only in a photograph.  Besides being the originator of the Grand Canyon Star Party back in the late 70s (which I restarted in the 90s), he visited our friends in Krasnoyarsk on 2 occasions in the last decade, so they were glad to visit him in California.
And look what Sergey and crew got to fly through in their marathon flight over the Arctic - Northern Lights!  He provided the picture at right which is a 30 second exposure out his plane window.  The constellation of Orion is visible at left over the wing, so they were still short of the pole while headed north.  No question about his auroral detection!
He thanked us and everyone who had a hand in providing support for their unforgettable experience in Arizona.  He says: "Maybe in months or even years kids will fully realize what they experienced for these 3 weeks that flew by so fast. I do realize it myself - impressions I got would be enough for many years to share with future generations of (Astronomy) Club students".  It was a pleasure to help host them, and both Melinda and I hope we can do it again!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The "Crimes" of Malala

I don't think in 600+ posts we've mentioned current events or politics and with good reason - there are other more dependable sources of news and information.  Anything I've got to say is generally my opinion and everyone is entitled to form their own about most any topic.  As much as I'd like everyone to think as I do, it is the differences between us that make life interesting.

But I've been dismayed and sickened by the news from Wednesday regarding 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a young girl living in the Swat Valley of Pakistan.  Seems I've read about her in recent years, but she was front-page news in the New York Times as she was specifically hunted down Tuesday as she rode the school bus home by Taliban and shot in the head and neck, along with 2 other classmates.  She continues in a coma and some signs of improvement were seen today, her odds of survival placed at 70%.

Her crimes consist of her continued interest in going to school and becoming a doctor, which girls are forbidden to do according to Taliban doctrine.  Despite the acid attacks, public beatings and bombing of girls schools, Malala has become the face of girls in the Islamic world interested in furthering themselves.  She appeared in the documentary film "Class Dismissed" chronicling the closing of the private school run by her father Ziauddin as they were forced to flee Swat Valley when the Taliban took control.  My favorite parts of the documentary is when Malala is shown with her father - he is so proud of her standing up for what is undoubtedly right.  The young girl, 11 when the film was made, shows confidence and intense purpose among the beheadings, beatings and killing around her.  The half-hour film can be accessed through the link in the article above, or in a blog post written by the film's maker Adam Ellick.

Read the articles and comments, watch the documentary and be outraged at what zealotry is capable of performing.  Try as I might to understand how her crusade to go to school can be defined as "an obscenity" (Taliban quote as they accepted responsibility), I am utterly speechless...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Road Trip and Destination

Last weekend we took a road trip - normally we just go to visit my family in Iowa, but with Fall colors near their peak, we took the "long" way 'round, heading mostly west and north to Galena, IL on route 20, then continued west to Dyersville, IA to visit the St Fransis Xavier Basilica and "Field of Dreams" baseball field before heading south to my family's part of the state.

We barely made it out of our driveway before our first stop - our neighbor across the street had these amazing plants with leaves nearly a half meter (18") across with odd seed pods atop the stalks.  Well, no more had I stopped and taken a couple photos when he stormed out half dressed wondering what was going on!  When expressing interest in his plants, he calmed down considerably and told us they were castor plants, grown from seed every year when the temperatures warmed up enough to support them.  I've noticed them growing out front of his house the last few years - they are quite striking, but also among the most poisonous of all plants (seeds).  It is fortunate we photographed them Sunday, as it got below freezing that night and they were pretty wilted on Monday...

It was quite a spectacular drive across Illinois - a beautiful blue-sky day, and no lack of red color from maple and sumac, and yellows from most other deciduous trees.  As in the "Sunday Drives" of old with Dad wandering the countryside, we noticed nearly all of the Illinois corn was unharvested, though the beans had already been put up, but in Iowa, the beans were long-gone and most of the corn was actively being picked, likely due to drier conditions reaching back through the summer's drought.  We finally reached a rest stop atop a hill a few miles east of Galena with nice views of the rolling hills as we neared the Mississippi.

The roads were filled with similar-minded drivers, and yet, there were Fall festivals in several towns.  We departed St Charles which had a well-attended   "Scarecrow Festival" (as featured on the Today Show!), and Galena was absolutely packed wall-to-wall with a crafts fair of some sort.  It would have been nice to stop and spend time there, as it appeared to have some interesting stops and shops through downtown.  But with all the people and absolutely no parking, one driving lap through downtown had to suffice for this trip.

After a gas and bathroom break near Dubuque, we pressed on to Dyersville.  Years ago, when I was still biking RAGBRAI, we overnighted in the town, and I was really impressed with the Basilica there.  With a population of only 4,000 people, it is quite the religious landmark, testament to the congregation when it was built 125 years ago.  The St. Francis Xavier Basilica is a twin-spired gothic church reaching 212 feet, yet built entirely by hand with block and tackle in the years 1887-1889.  A church becomes a basilica by Papal proclamation, so declared at the centennial of the mission in 1956 by Pope Pius XII, in recognition of the architectural attributes and fervent faith of the congregation.  It was only the 12th church to be so honored at the time in this country (53 at present), and of only 3 serving rural areas.

And while the exterior is astounding, the interior is even more amazing!  It seats 1200, with 64 stained glass windows.  Coming off some renovations 10 years ago, every detail appears perfect.  Arriving a mid-afternoon we had the place to ourselves, with ample opportunity to do a couple panoramas and stereo 3D views of the interior.  Melinda had been hearing me rave for a couple years, and she and Caroline both agreed that it deserved the recognition.  Our only hope now is to return and catch a mass at a future date.

Unfortunately we ran out of time, and given our timetable to meet my family for dinner, we couldn't tarry in Dyersville and visit the "Field of Dreams" ball park...  So that will have to await another visit.  Unfortunately, sister Kathy informed us at dinner that the land had recently sold and they are developing it into a baseball complex, losing some of its charm as a movie set...  So now I'm the bad guy for getting us lost in Dubuque and delaying us those 15 minutes!  Perhaps a Springtime rerun is in order!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Good As New!

We obtained our Toyota Highlander in Tucson about what, 3 years ago, to keep for us to drive when we visit "Ketelsen East" in St Charles.  It has been a great, reliable car, even though it only gets used less than 7 weeks a year.  There are some minor issues - like the seat belt retractors don't work great - but can you really complain about such piddly little things in a car?

Anyway, another issue is that the headlights were fogged/frosted - you see it pretty often in cars as the plastic covers get sandblasted and exposed to UV rays - it happens.  This trip I finally decided to do something rather than pay the $250 for new Toyota covers.  The auto parts place had a couple kits - the 3M kit was on sale for $16.  It is effectively 4 grades of sandpaper/polish with an attachment that goes on your drill to grind the plastic cover down to new material and re-polish it.  Since I polish as a profession, I was a little fussy, and took about 90 minutes for the process.  The electric drill we had was on its last legs - throwing sparks and got so hot it was hard to hold sometimes.  But it survived long enough to work through the 2 grades of sandpaper for the bulk of the work.  Switching to a polyurethane pad w/fine diamonds the surface cleared like magic, and a little buffing with polishing compound finished the job.  The pictures show the before lamp with masking tape just before starting, and the finished job.  It worked amazingly well, and the night time improvement is quite striking!  Best part is that there are enough pads left to repeat the job a few more times, or I can set up shop on a street corner somewhere!
(This post written by Dean, of course!)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Behind The Curtain!

Since we fly back to "Ketelsen East", our little place in the woods of St Charles, every couple months, that means that in the 4+ years we've been married, we've made the trip 20+ times.  Sometimes the trip can be a trial (the tornado in Dallas comes to mind, where we slept in the airport and it took about 24 hours to get to Chicago).  So we have our favorite non-stop flights to and from O'Hare, and are always on the watch for fare sales since we're always looking for a bargain.

But this trip, as Melinda was checking into the flight, she was offered a First Class upgrade!  I've never flown First Class, and she's only been once before, so it was quite the deal - and quite the upgrade in treatment!  She won't tell me what she had to pay, but suspect it about doubled the price of our coach tickets.  But it was a great time.  Now realize I've not had what I consider a meal in an airplane for about 2 decades, but here it was white cloth napkins all the way!  The picture at left shows Melinda enjoying her cup full (!) of warm nuts served once in the air, and at right is our choice of meals - Min went for the steak and cheesy potatoes, and I went for the chicken breast over salad.  And we also had a cranberry oatmeal cookie (warm, of course) for dessert!  And of course, there was a bottomless supply of beer, wine or soft drinks, though I couldn't quite order anything other than my usual diet Pepsi...  It was also interesting to observe the changes in security, since it was the first time I've been in front of the plane in decades.  The flight attendants barricaded the aisle with the beverage cart and stood guard while the pilot came out of the cockpit to use the bathroom.  Interesting!

Even the windows seemed larger, and certainly cleaner than any I've observed through in Coach.  Perhaps it was the extra 8"-10" of extra knee room...  I could barely touch the seat in front of me rather than in coach where the reclining seat in front of me is wedged against my knees!  So with Melinda coming off night shift and likely napping, I took the window and watched the country scroll by, starting with cruising past downtown Tucson at left.  We had a nice view from the train station at upper left to the Convention Center at the right edge.  The dome of the old courthouse is visible at lower left center.   While it was clear most of the trip, we had some really interesting clouds the last few hundred miles, and I took the opportunity to take some cloud hyperstereo pictures.  These are 3D pictures where the baseline between the photos is likely several miles to get depth in distant cloud banks.  And these were very nice multiple-level clouds that shows good stereo depth in them.

As always, these 3D pictures are presented for cross-eyed viewing.  Cross your eyes slightly so that you view the left picture with your right eye, and the right picture with your left eye.  As you do so you should see a center image that will snap into a 3D stereo view.  It is the easiest way I've found to present a pair of images for folks to view depth.  We landed in deep overcast and heavy drizzle, but the view from on high was the highlight of the trip.  We're currently enjoying the fall colors and temperatures, and expect a couple more posts of those in the coming days.  Unfortunately, we're going back in coach - can't live the First Class life forever!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Large Binocular Telescope

Just now catching up with some of the extras I captured during the visit of our Russian amateur astronomers.  We had an absolutely spectacular tour of the Mount Graham Observatory, given to us by Jackie and her husband Mark.  They actually work for Eastern Arizona College, who organize the tours of the site through the Discovery Park Campus - a really cool little museum facility, given the size of Safford where it is located. 

The trip to the top of Mount Graham is not for the faint of heart!  Project Scientist John Hill once told me there are over 500 bends or turns on the required 1 hour trip up the mountain and I've no reason to argue with that number.  And because of the primitive nature of the road, there isn't a safety rail along the entire length!  Many of the switchback turns are quite steep, and coming down a few years back by myself one night required a couple 3-point turns - really disconcerting in the dark!

But the University of Arizona's installation there is quite amazing!  We only toured the optical telescopes that day (21 September), the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT).  Both are products of the UA Mirror Laboratory's ultra-fast primaries - the VATT primary is F/1 (focal length is the same as the 1.8 meter diameter) and the LBT is F/1.14, about the same, though with a diameter of 8.4 meters, the scale of that beast is huge!  Particularly with 2 of those mirrors mounted side by side, it seems the telescope structure is arena-sized! 

Our tour of LBT ended at the telescope enclosure, and fortunately the astronomers finished their work on the instrument and we were able to witness the dome opening.  Because there are no mirror covers, the telescope must move to horizon-pointing when opening the dome, in case snow, ice or precipitation falls in.  After it is open, the telescope then moved back to zenith.  With the couple minutes of advance notice I had, I set up my camera on a tripod with the intervalometer, taking a pic every 3 seconds as the scope moved and dome opened.  Tonight I finally uploaded it to YouTube.  Just click on the viewing window to play - you can change the viewing size and resolution to what you like depending on your system capability.