Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mysterious Travellers!

In 1973 I was a geeky astronomy major at the University of Iowa in my sophomore year.  Somehow I landed a job helping grad students collect their data at the observatory.  Earlier that year the "comet of the century", C/1973 E1, better known as Comet Kohoutek had been discovered.  Hyped by the media because of it's discovery at a large distance from the sun, it was supposed to attain a brightness nearly as bright as the full moon!  From the University's observatory, I obtained my first published image when my 400mm shot ran in the student paper before it's close approach to the sun.

About the time it made it's appearance in the evening sky, something went wrong, and it never attained the predicted brightness.  About the same time, cruising a record store I found the album pictured here - Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveller", likely the first of a few albums I bought for it's cover...  While I wasn't an immediate fan of the jazz fusion genre, it's grown on me and is currently on my phone's playlist, and the spacey title song is a favorite.  The cover art is drawn by Helmut Wimmer, who was an artist at Hayden planetarium for over 3 decades long before the digital age.  It shows Comet Kohoutek as it was predicted to appear in the post-perihelion  evening sky (after its close approach to the sun).  We had several open-houses at the astronomy department with hundreds of people wanting to see the much-hyped comet, but all they saw was a little fuzz.  As a result, Comet Kohoutek is synonymous with spectacular duds!

The reason I tell this story is that we've got incoming comets!  First up is Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) which will peek above the western horizon in a couple weeks.  It is already visible from the southern hemisphere, where, like Kohoutek, has been revised downwards in its predicted brightness.  Besides being featured in Spaceweather,the periodical Sky and Telescope is keeping updates on the PanSTARRS appearance, and supplies the graphic shown here.  It is currently predicted to be of about 3rd magnitude - bright for a comet, and well-visible to the naked eye from a dark location, but it won't be casting any shadows like the full moon!
Another interloper, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) was discovered last Fall and sounded a lot like Kohoutek - early predictions placed it about as bright as the full moon (where have we heard that before?)!  It still has a long way to go, won't near us until late fall, but is currently predicted to be about as bright as brilliant Venus near perihelion rounding the sun.  It should still be relatively bright and highly visible for northern hemisphere viewers the end of the year.
So keep an eye out for these known visitors to the inner solar system, and of course, there is always a chance of a bright one appearing suddenly without much warning.  I'm hoping to get some pics, so keep an eye on this space as well!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Binocular Meeting Concludes...

Today this weekend's Binocular History Society came to a conclusion.  The final wrapup day included a series of talks and demonstrations at host Steve's house where we also met yesterday.  The 17 or so attendees found his living room the perfect venue.  If the crowd were much larger is would have been less comfortable, but a private home worked out great.  With a temporary screen set up for the video projector we heard 5 presentations today.  A panorama picture of the group is shown at left.
My buddy Dick, who supplied the group shot from yesterday, today gave a presentation on the state-of-the-art of wide-angle eyepieces.  One of the things I noticed in the binocular shootout yesterday was that the high-end binoculars had both wide fields of view, yet a reasonable eye relief so that you could wear glasses while using them.  A lens designer himself, he showed new eyepiece designs that need to use large elements to provide super-wide fields.  Unfortunately, while these work well with telescopes when used by themselves, in binoculars when you need 2 of them side by side there is no way to mount them close enough to look through one with each eye.  So there is no way presently to build binoculars with these newer 100 degree+ eyepiece designs.
And speaking of the binocular shootout from yesterday, today Steve (another Steve, not our host) presented the analysis of yesterday's optics judging.  The results of best image quality and best overall portable binoculars are shown.  The blue lines show the relative quality, the red shows the standard deviation of the results - the smaller the red bar, the more we agreed with the results!  Of the 13 pairs compared, the overall winner appears to be a pair of Zeiss 8X30s.  As I said yesterday, most were high-end and of very good quality.  The Bresser 10.5X45s were just about my favorite of the group, small, yet very sharp with a wide field of view.  Interestingly, these were donated to the society to be auctioned off to help cover expenses of this week's meeting.  They sell on Amazon for over $900, and I e-mailed my offer this afternoon, substantially less than that, unfortunately.  There are some pretty deep pockets in this group, so we'll see if there are others that liked it as much as I did.
Overall it was a fun, enjoyable meeting, and I learned a lot, especially from some of the primo examples of binoculars that some folks brought in for display and for the shootout.  And our host's garage was full of some very unique optical devices - good thing he agrees with me, that garages are NOT for vehicles!  They expect up to 80 people to meet in the Netherlands in October for the next meeting.  We've got a friend that lives there we've been looking for an excuse to visit - might be fun!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Binocular Overdose!

Today was day 2 of the Binocular History Society meeting, held at the home of local collector Steve, up on the far NE side of Tucson, nestled between the Catalina Mountains to the north and the Rincon Mountains to the east.  It was a longish drive from the central part of town, so we missed part of the "swap meet", and the official picture of the day from our buddy Dick Buchroeder who supplied the shot at left.  There are a few people from Tucson, but there are a number from Phoenix, one from Iowa and Washington State as well. 
Our host Steve has an incredible collection, and most of it is still in storage in Washington, as he continues his relocation to Tucson.  Highlights included some aged big Zeiss binoculars, or perhaps better referred to as double telescopes!  Now I've seen these before - in fact, posted about them!  They were in the collection of the State Museum in Columbia, South Carolina, donated by Bob Ariail a few years back.  Of course, it is always better to look THROUGH them rather than AT them, so it was great to have a chance to do so.  While these I think are smaller than the 130mm in the above museum link, they are quite good - difficult to believe they are approaching 100 years old!  The weird-looking assembly in the rear is actually a turret eyepiece, allowing you to change the eyepiece, thus the magnification to 3 different powers.  It was great to sit in a chair, use the nice controls to scan across the landscape, and change the magnification at will - the device worked absolutely perfectly and the optical quality was excellent.
These binoculars are also Zeiss, but I think they are a little older.  They also have turret eyepieces, and can vary the magnification from 23X, 45X or 100X - yes, 100 power!  Again, the optical quality and collimation was good, but the clarity wasn't quite as good as the pair above.  High power was pushing it, but the low powers were quite good...
It wasn't all play, though...  We were invited to bring in some of our favorite binoculars to compare to other's favorites and there were some very good performers.  Comparisons were non-trivial, there were a number of criteria we needed to rate, including resolution, contrast, ability to use glasses, those sorts of things.  It is difficult, perhaps not even fair to compare modern binocs to older uncoated models, so most of these were from the last couple decades, most of very high quality.  There were many of Zeiss and Nikon manufacture, but a number that were new to me.  Results will be compiled overnight and reported tomorrow morning... 
One big surprise was presented to me later in the afternoon as it was passed around the group.  Though of unmarked manufacture, they were supposedly Zeiss, manufactured for the German war effort under the code name blc, highly prized by u-boat commanders (M.S.S. supposedly stands for Marine Signal Station).  They were quite stunning visually, with enough eye relief to allow my glasses, low distortion and very high acuity.  They have the reputation as the "best handheld military binocular ever made!"  And yes, they have the Nazi swastika stamped on the right side...  From my Internet research tonight they are quite rare, but I'd love to try them out under a dark sky sometime!
The last item of this post is a device I'd never seen or heard about before - but Steve had 2 in his garage!  This was a multiple-position fire control sight.  This one had 3 pairs of objectives and observing positions, one behind/below, the others on the right and left side.  The optics were quite exceptional in quality, and supposedly were used on German cruisers to control anti-aircraft or canon fire.  I'm not sure what the redundant sights get you - perhaps I'll learn more tomorrow as there is a talk on "Fire Direction Optics", though it covers the Japanese Navy...  I've been spoiled by my limited binocular exposure, but I sure learned a lot today as I got to use all of the varied units presented.  After thinking about what I've seen, I'll have to ask more questions tomorrow - my last chance this meeting!

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Binocular Kinda Weekend!

A few weeks ago, I posted about my ole' battleship binoculars.  Some friends told me about a meeting of binocular nuts right here in Tucson - the Binocular History Society, and they are meeting this weekend!  Festivities started today with a tour of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, which I skipped, since I work there, but I recognized a few folks on the afternoon tour from the machine I was operating.  I caught up to them later in the afternoon for the start of formal activities at the Optical Sciences Center a block or two away.

One of the main attractions there is the relatively new Museum of Optics, a historical collection of optical instruments collected mostly by faculty member Dr. John Greivenkamp with use of discretionary funds.  At the present time they have over 800 pieces, a large percentage of which is on display through the building, representing some prime examples of early telescopes, optical devices, and of most interest this weekend, binoculars and opera glasses.  And besides the historical stuff, they've got doodads and optical goodies of all sorts.  Above is the back end of a large view camera - the ground glass in the back shows the inverted image the photographer would use to compose and focus, in this case, of the Planetarium dome and adjacent Lunar and Planetary Lab.  At left here is a 20" sphere of glass that one of the graduate students ground and polished to a high level of accuracy.  At right, buddy Gene Lucas is shown transmitted through it, in this case, I inverted the image for your convenience.
Even though I frequently go through the building, I mostly go to the optics shop in the basement, and I've never actually examined any of the collection.  But it is quite extraordinary.  Certainly most colorful is a shelf of opera glasses, mostly of European origin.  There are many finished in baked enamel, some finished in mother of pearl, some of aluminum, which 150 years ago was the equivalent of platinum or gold today!  My friend Keith and I roamed the 7th floor display, at right he examines some brass Gregorian telescopes from the latter 1700s.
Dr. Greivenkamp at left poses with some of the oldest pieces in the collection - paper telescopes from the late 1600s before brass tubing was generally available for construction (lower shelves).  He talked to the group about these early telescope constructions and designs, and then the evolution into binoculars for use of both eyes.  In face, he showed the original 1608 exchange between inventor Hans Lipperhey and the patent office one week (!) after his application which asks effectively "yes, the telescope is nice, but how 'bout using both eyes?"  Of course, with a collection like this belonging to OSC, they are able to disassemble some of the instruments to see just how they were engineered in "olden days".  I'd seen nearly the same talk about 18 months ago, but with new items in the collection it was still great.
Of course, the weekend activities continue tomorrow with a swap meet and getting to try out some examples of these old instruments, as well as check out the binocular collections of the local members of this group - should be fun!
EDIT:  I meant to, but forgot to include this picture taken from the 8th floor conference room where we ate our box dinners and socialized after Dr. Greivenkamp's talk.  I can't imagine holding a meeting there - I'd be too distracted looking out the window.  It was less distracting at night, but the view here is to the North of OSC showing the Flandrau Science Center, Lunar and Planetary Labs to the right, National Optical Astronomy Observatories offices behind Flandrau, and Steward Observatory across Cherry avenue.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Desert Frosting!

Most may have the impression that the desert southwest is a hot, lifeless place.  Yes, it does get hot in the summer, but there is an abundance of flora and fauna that lives here, in fact thrives throughout the year.  And while most associate us as a Winter destination, we do get snow here!  In fact, we've had several storms that have dropped several feet of snow in the higher elevations of nearby mountains, and I heard that they might have gotten some down in the valley while we were in Illinois a couple weeks ago.

Today another storm came through, and dealt a catastrophic hand to normally pleasant tourist activities.  The first round of the PGA golf tournament was cancelled this morning, and it will also have an effect on the big Tucson Rodeo Parade tomorrow, and also for a series of soccer tournaments currently in town as well.  It snowed for a while today while at work, which I missed, but I did catch the snow level in the Catalinas north of town on the University of Arizona's "Sun Cam", shown at upper left. 

Tonight I peeked out in the back yard and saw it coming down pretty heavily again for a bit and snapped a couple flash pictures of snow and cacti.  It is always incongruous to see snow-covered cacti, but it happens more often than you think.  I think on average, it snows in Tucson about once per year, even at the lower elevations of the city.  There have been memorable snows over the decades of more than just a few inches, but of course, the good thing about it here is that it typically is gone in a few hours as the temperature rarely stays below freezing for more than a few hours or overnight.  Just the way I like it!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Nice Iridium Flare!

I often check out the website Heavens-above to check for favorable appearances of the International Space Station, as well as Iridium Flares.  The former, of course, is a nearly football field-sized satellite in low earth orbit that can make breathtaking passes shortly after sunset or before sunrise when it is illuminated by the sun over a darkened planet.  Showing an unknowing public bystander always impresses them, especially knowing that it is permanently manned (or womaned!) and they are also looking down upon us...  The website is simple to use - enter your location using Google maps or search for your city, make sure your time is entered properly, and you'll be on your way to observing space objects..

The above-mentioned Iridium Flares, are similarly earth satellites, part of a satellite telephone array, in fact.  They have door-sized shiny antennae that are of known orientation in space, so it can be calculated when a narrow shaft of sunlight can be sent down on your location on earth.  For brief periods of time, they can be the 3rd brightest thing in the sky after the sun and moon!  For an event a couple nights ago, I noticed a bright one (magnitude -7.8 - very bright) would pass just east of Orion tonight.  The map that heavens-above shows is displayed above at left.

So with the chance to show the brilliant flare, as well as some detail in one of the brightest astronomical objects in the sky (the orion nebula), I set up my tracking mount and planned to use my 70-200mm zoom to catch both flare and nebula in the same frame.  We met friends for dinner with the plan to be home in time for the 7:30 picture, and I had everything all set up in advance.

Right on schedule, about a minute before the flare, I spotted it just left of Betelgeuse, and as it approached the edge of my frame I started the 90 second exposure.  I ended up stopping it after 55 seconds when it was out of my frame.  The result is shown here - I just got the entire flare, but the field was narrower than I expected, but still a shot to be proud of.  I'm glad it worked out, and will certainly look out for future photogenic shots.  I encourage you to do the same!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

New Mount, New Evening Star"!

I needed to set up for an astronomy event last evening and was finally "forced" to set up my "new" (to me, anyway!) AP1200 mount!  I was forced to use it as my old reliable G-11 mount finally has a new home with a friend of mine.  So for the first time I mounted the C14 telescope on it - it worked great!  It breaks down into more pieces, so even though it is a much more substantial mount, it is no more difficult, likely easier to set up that the older mount.  I've yet to use it for imaging, so haven't put much of a strain on it, but it seemed to work well, and I'm looking forward to next dark of the moon to get under a dark sky with a camera.  The deal I made for the mount only included the equatorial head - I needed to make arrangements for a new pier and legs, and I also refused to pay the inflated prices for counterweights, and all of these accessories worked well too.  It should serve me well for many years...
Last night I also noticed that the innermost planet Mercury is also quite high in the evening sky, so I went out tonight to image it in the twilight.  Shown at left in a 1.5 second exposure, as it gets dark it is easily seen just south of due west.  It will be an excellent chance to go out and search for the most elusive of the visible planets because it never travels far from the sun, and rarely in a dark sky.  So certainly go look for it in the next couple weeks.  If you click and look at the full-size image, the star seen faintly to the left of Mercury is Phi Aquarius.  Normally a star barely visible to the naked eye, it is obvious here only because of it's proximity to Mercury!  Be sure to step out and catch the show the next few nights!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Back Yard Visitor...

Despite the yard full of owl snacks (ie, our beloved kitties), both owl and cats seemed pretty low key about our backyard stalker.  We got back into town last night, quickly jumped back into our routine here.  After a quickie Valentine's dinner before Melinda headed back to work, I returned home to spot our visitor.  I've seen a few great-horned owls in town, there used to be some resident pairs living under the stadium, but I've not seen them in our neighborhood lately.  As long as they feed on the pigeons in the front yard, and leave the cats alone, I'll be happy!  Photo was taken with Canon XSi, 70-200 lens @200mm w/1.4 extender, monopod with on-camera flash.  After a few out-of-focus shots (difficult with dim sky background and flash/autofocus didn't work with extender), I got this one and he flew off a few seconds later.  Perhaps he's a little camera shy, or more likely, put off by the flash...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lights in the Sky!

While hampered somewhat by our illnesses this week, we still keep an eye on the local weather.  Melinda is obsessed, actually - all you need to do is ask her and she knows the current temp and forecast from memory!   The week has been all grey, with white stuff or rain falling from the sky most every day, it seemed. 

Finally, last night - our last night in Illinois, the sun popped out very late in the afternoon, with the waxing crescent moon making an appearance as we drove to our dinner plans.  Later, back at home, I looked skywards - unfortunately, no chance of aurora with the very low levels of solar activity, but stars were seen for the first time this trip.  Shown at left is Orion to the right, it's upper shoulder Betelgeuse forming the Winter Triangle with Procyon at upper left, and bright Sirius below.

To escape the golden glow of the local "security light" I ambled down to the bank of the Fox River and shot the 3-frame mosaic shown here.  The river, which had been frozen over early in the week, mostly broke up and melted with the moderate warm rain we had Sunday.  It is rather scenic with the water reflections off the still water and ambient lights, though the glows from development mostly hide the starlight in the sky.   Today, there is about 20 feet of ice ringing the banks, making watching the Canada Geese interesting as they navigate their way to feeding on the lawn in front of our house.  Our next trip back there may well be chicks joining them as they feed!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Our Illinois "Flu-Cation"

As I've stated before, we book our trips to the Chicago area without regard to weather as we mostly come to visit friends, family, and spend time at "Ketelsen East", our little cabin in the woods near Saint Charles.  Regardless of time-of-year, we generally spend time outside, work on the house, visit favorite restaurants and watering holes, including at least one trip to Iowa to visit my family. 

This time we've been hobbled with the flu...  Melinda caught it in Arizona, in fact missed her last 2 days at work before we traveled here last Wednesday.  Politely, I waited about 5 days to catch it, hitting me hardest the day we were to go to Iowa for a great-niece's birthday.  So instead of infecting other family members, I got to meet a real-live Doogie Howser in an urgent-care center here.  He literally looked like he was too young to shave, but diagnosed my ills about 2 seconds after I said aaaah.  The urgent care place was quite impressive, I don't think we were in the place 25 minutes, including dispensing meds - just about the highlight of our trip here...

Anyway, while we've missed some of our normal activities here, we're both on the downhill side of our illnesses, and should be well enough to hit the ground running upon our return to Arizona.  Springtime awaits us for our next trip!

Friday, February 8, 2013

A World of White!

We're up in the Midwest this week on our every-two-month visit to Illinois to visit friends and family.  Yes, we know it is not a good time to travel to the Great White North this time of year, but neither of us are averse to cold weather, so we come up regardless of time of year.  And wouldn't you know, they are enjoying their first substantial snow of the season!  Sister Maj claims they've had snow off and on the last week or more, but with temps around freezing the snow level has ebbed and flowed as well.  Last night it came down heavily for an hour or two, adding about 3 inches to the 2 on the ground.  The pic at left was taken about sunset during a pause in the snowing action, just before we went out driving in it for dinner... It is below freezing today, so it will stick around through the weekend, but will ebb again later in the weekend with temps above freezing and moderate rain expected.

But in the meantime, we're enjoying the sight of snow while snug in our little cottage.  The panorama at left shows our view from the house of the Fox River, nearly frozen over.  Riverwood's camp canoes look a bit forlorn while covered in snow, but overall, is a nice change from the green we usually see.  It may be clear tonight, so the chance to see familiar constellations at new sky locations (due to the 10 degree difference in latitude from Tucson) will get me out in the cold to enjoy.  Meanwhile, while I was out taking the panorama at left, a flock of Canada Geese flew over, perhaps rethinking their plans about deciding to stay for the Winter.  They are headed south here, but can't imagine they'll go far - Spring is right around the corner, I hear!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Whitewater Draw, 2013!

With the sandhill crane season winding down, it looks like we'll only have 2 visits to Whitewater Draw this year.  As normal, every visit is different, depending on temperature, water level, and a variety of other things I still don't understand.  Sometimes we see an abundance of birds we never see again, but the one constant is that there are typically lots of cranes, usually tens of thousands...  This year we went on 5 Jan, and again 4 weeks later on 2 February.  The big difference for me between the 2 visits is that last weekend I lugged the big 11cm diameter, 770mm focal length refractor, getting me closer to our buddies there than ever before.  As a result, the picture quality is incomparable, and other than the last image below, all images are from the most recent visit with said lens.  I'm still amazed that even at full camera resolution you can pick out tiny details!  At left here as an example, are the same 2 cranes as headlined the last blog post.  This shot was taken not only with the 770mm, but with an additional 1.4X extender (1080mm focal length!),  which I only used to take a half dozen frames.  The additional focal length makes it harder to focus, narrows the depth of field, and amplifies the shaking and platform wobbles as people walk nearby.  But at the same time, you can see the lower crane has a bit of a hook to his beak - another view I've never seen before!  Clicking on the image will load the image's full resolution, ie, not resampled to make a smaller file - it is cropped from the "actual pixels" image from Photoshop...
With such a closer view, you start to observe little details, some pretty mundane, like taking a drink of water.  I've never noticed before nor realized their long neck might create difficulties.  At least this fellow here scoops a mouth full of water, then raises his head to let gravity help it run down his (her?) throat.  The still water's reflection is an added bonus...
While wintering here they spend their days feeding in nearby fields and return to the wetlands to avoid predators - enjoying both safety in numbers and using the shallow pools of water to ward off coyotes.  But those are not the only things on their mind - there seems to be a lot of posturing and conflict going on!   I don't understand these things and Wikipedia doesn't discuss it, but there seems to be battles for some sort of domination going on.  You can often see these very short battles going on with their considerable wingspan extended, beaks poised as deadly weapons.  Of course, for a 2 second battle, the telescope is rarely pointed in the right direction, but I did catch this sequence right about sunset.  Occasionally you see them hop/fly up and also wield their feet as weapons too.  Several were spotted with a beak full of feathers, so they do play seriously!
By this third shot at left, the bird to the left has turned, and you can see his previous battle scars - some missing feather from his left wing (seen also in first pic above).  A second or two later the conflict is resolved and the combatants dissolve into the crowd.  Since I can't tell boys from girls, I don't know if it is a male thing or not.  Most of the cranes seem totally uninterested in these sorts of things, like the fellow at right, standing on one leg, beak tucked under wing for a standing nap...
The telescope was great for catching them in flight as well.  My technique on calibrating the focus and adjusting the camera diopter setting to match my eye seemed to work well, as many of the shots where I caught them in flight seemed pretty well-focused.  The image at right is a favorite - also shown at full camera resolution, the view of them flying is almost from right over their shoulder, showing them, muddy feet and all!  Of course, as it got darker, longer exposures were needed - I even tried some shots for an artistic effect.  Longer exposures as they flapped their wings added an interesting feel to the images, at right a tenth of a second exposure.
There was a single non-avian observation - one of the Large Binocular Telescope, seemingly watching over us from atop Mount graham 80 miles to the north.  They park it in the same location every day, which catches the rays of the setting sun for observers down at Whitewater.  It is very apparent as a brilliant orange-yellow spot as the sun sets from our location.  The picture shows how the LBT building dominates the profile of Graham with it's boxlike structure.  The brightest part of the reflection is actually from the glass-lined observing room and dining area with a direct solar reflection at the bottom of the structure.  Clicking the image to load the larger view, to the left of LBT you can also see the Vatican Observatory just above the tree line.  There is a third major structure in the Sub-Millimeter Telescope, which I do not spot in this image.  This single image is a bit underexposed so as to not blow out the details in the LBT structure...
Oh - and there were birds other than cranes there!  Several of their lagoons, normally flooded were dry this year.  Someone mentioned they were trying to control weed overgrowth in them, but as a result, many of the waterfowl normally found there were absent.  We didn't spot the grebes, buffelheads and many duck varieties we'd seen in recent years.  And the yellow-headed blackbirds that were so numerous a year or two ago were almost totally missing this year.  American coots are also normally abundant, but only a couple were spotted.  But there were a good supply of green-winged teals - the male shown here shows a nice pattern of op-art B&W feathers along with his characteristic head banding.  This bird got pretty close, yet I was able to focus on him at the 20 yard distance or so.  It is hard not to demonstrate the fine detail in the image with the full-rez crop at right.  Note the double-sun reflection in his eye - one directly from the sky, one reflected off the water...  Again, it is the same image, just a crop at full resolution...
While the numbers were down somewhat from previous years, there were still some northern shovelers feeding in front of us as well.  with the sun behind me, the iridescence of the head and wing feather was quite good.  Another new bird for me was the long billed dowitcher.  They were quite interesting when a group of them were feeding in shallow water, bills extended downwards, heads moving up and down like little sewing machines.  I also liked this one for the reflection in the water - couldn't make myself crop it out!
Finally among the last pictures taken last weekend were the silhouette of cranes against the sunset-tinted water.  Again, this and all the above pictures were taken with the 770mm focal length William Optics 11cm, F/7 apochromatic refractor.  We have yet to get through Melinda's pictures - she is recovering from a brief bout with the flu, so may well yet post some of her shots.  I'm going to close with the one shot from our early January trip to Whitewater.  The wetlands is a long way from anywhere, and while we've always thought about doing some night time observing there, our wintertime visits are invariably frigid and after being out for a few hours watching birds, staying later always seems like a bad idea.  But in January, I wanted to take a self-portrait of myself against the twin spires of the Milky Way and Zodiacal light.  I found a berm not far from the car and after everything was packed up from birding, set up the tripod and 16mm fisheye lens for the 45 second exposure.  The horizon glows are from Tucson at far right, Tombstone and Sierra Vista left of center.  As for the sky glows, the Milky Way galaxy extends upwards on the right half of the exposure, and the diffuse glow of the Zodiacal Light at left.  The latter is rarely seen, but is sunlight reflected off dust and meteoritic particles in the plane of the solar system.  As an added benefit, the planet Mars is centered in the Zodiacal Light where it meets the horizon.  Seems a suitable bookend shot for this year's visits to one of our Winter stomping grounds...