Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Best, The Worst, The Memorable!

In an idea spawned by bloggin' buddy Andrew Cooper, as the year ends, it is time to look back on the memorable images of the year appearing on these pages.  While not presented in chronological order, dates referenced will allow you to search out the original posts for more information if needed.

The major jolt to our normal-way-of-life was Melinda's diagnosis of small-cell lung cancer in August.  She went from biopsy on Tuesday, meeting the oncologist Thursday, and admitted to UMC for chemo that night!  Posts from 24 August show her as an inpatient at UMC getting her first round of chemo.  Since she works a couple floors above at the NICU, she had a constant queue of visitors, especially at shift change!

The news has been good.  She made it through 6
cycles of 3 week duration, finishing on 11 December. They make a big deal of small steps - on the completion of her last chemo, the nurses all gathered at bedside for an emotional bubble-blowing salute!

Even with all the seriousness of the medical
news, it seems like we travelled a lot!  A springtime trip to speak at the Southern Star astronomy event in North Carolina allowed us to visit family in South Carolina.  At right, niece Shannon wrestles with a tree on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate (18 April), and on a walk along the Congaree River in Columbia (27 April) revealed a multitude of minnows evidently beloved by egrets fishing in the shallows...

The Grand Canyon Star Party, which I organized
for 18 years before retiring, is still a must-do event on our annual calendar.  Showing pristine skies to summer tourists just can't be beat.  This year I carried a scope to the edge of the Canyon a few times, recording a mule train on the South Kaibab Trail at left (15 June).  The same post also showed a nice display of banded airglow visible in a wide shot to the north.

I'm always looking for the best way to show the
star of the Grand Canyon Star Party show - the rising Summer Milky Way.  The dark skies show it off to best advantage - we've had some folks mistake it for incoming rain clouds!  The shot at left is a 1 minute exposure with an 8mm fisheye shot showing the arch of our galaxy's profile over the red lights of the star party's parking lot.  At right, walking back from the rim, I paused to catch the center of the galaxy over the scrub trees growing at Canyon's edge (12 June).

While we waited for the "Comet of the Century",
comet ISON, which became a non-event when it disintegrated in its close pass to the sun on Thanksgiving, we got lots of practice on comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4).  We heard good reports of its visibility from the southern hemisphere before it popped above our horizon in March.  My first spotting was on 10 March, but 2 days later, appeared in conjunction with a crescent moon over Kitt Peak (posted 13 March).  Besides the 3-way alignment of comet, moon and Observatory, a 4th object is little reported - gas giant planet Uranus is just below the comet in the left shot.  The right image makes the green-tinged planet pop out a little better in the closeup.

And PanSTARRS wasn't done with the show!  While never a visual spectacle, it was a nice binocular and telescopic comet.  A couple months after the above appearance, the Earth passed through the comet's orbital plane, making another feature visible - an anti-tail!  Normally the tail is pushed outwards by solar wind, but when crossing the orbital plane, dust and gas trailing behind can sometimes appear by perspective to point towards the sun - thus the anti-tail.  At left on 19 May, on the C-14 plus Hyperstar the anti-tail appears as a spike towards the left, the real tail points to upper right.  On 30 May, as it passed Polaris, as a proof-of-concept, I used a tripod-mounted (untracking)camera to stack 15 one-minute exposures as it passed the Little Dipper.  Amazingly, it is almost all anti-tail!

Sad news reached us as Melinda was finishing her cycle 5 of chemo on 20 November.  Her older sister Susan died of an apparent heart attack overnight.  Ironically, she had been diagnosed with non-small-cell lung cancer within days of Melinda's diagnosis and had been responding well to treatments.  The image at right was taken during happier times at our wedding in June of 2008, Susan at right.

With the green of Illinois revealed in the last
image, we continue to trek to our place there every couple months.  While we generally don't do any astronomy there, an entertaining alternate activity is searching for prey with the macro lens.  On 2 August I posted about the bizarre insect at left, a two-spot tree-hopper, which have apparently evolved to resemble dead leaf stems to avoid being eaten!  On 19 October, I loved the raindrops on the oak leaf acting as little magnifying glasses...

On 14 May were some closeups of the wild flowers in our "native" lawn.  At right is a stereo image of the trillium flower.  This is a "cross-eyed" view - cross your eyes slightly to look at the right image with your left eye and vice-versa.  You should see 3 images, the center one showing depth.  And on 30 October, I was out on a frosty morning with the macro to observe some tubular frost crystals that morning...

In our frequent flights to the Midwest, we just recently started taking the early-morning flight that gets us in at noon instead of much later, usually after dark.  Of course, with full sun the whole time, and now that cameras are "approved electronic devices" that can stay on the entire flight, pictures of flights are more fun to take.  On 30 November, one of my favorites of the year was a newly-frozen slough off the Illinois River.  The wind had blown ice or snow to create interesting clear spots on the surface.  A few minutes later, as we banked to turn around, a bird's eye view of the Chicago skyline presented itself.

Kitt Peak National Observatory was featured in a
lot of posts.  A job there is what originally brought me to Tucson, and I still work there on a part-time basis in their public programs, but my love of astronomy and observing makes it a destination for me.  We bookended the entire year with sunset alignments involving the Observatory.  On 18 December, from the Mount Lemmon highway, we watched the sun silhouette the observatory, then the clouds provided a spectacular sunset for desert!

And way back on 16 January, while watching yet another sunset over the Observatory, we marveled at an amazing display of observatory domes casting shadows on the hazy air just after the sun dipped below the horizon.  Other times during the year, Kitt Peak featured prominently.  On 20 September, we trekked up the road to take time-lapse of datura flowers opening in the twilight almost in the shadow of the moon-lit domes.

On 25 April, on a night when it was almost too
windy for the domes to be open, camera and I survived buffeting to make a time-lapse of Omega Centauri and a pair of bright galaxies rising past the "vintage" 2.1 meter telescope.  A few months later, on a rare clear night during the monsoon rainy season, we again shot the 2.1 meter against the Summer Milky Way as the last rays of the setting moon died out.

A few nights previously (9 August) I had also
gone up to shoot some star fields as well as capturing an Iridium flare cross a Milky Way field with a telephoto lens.  Flat shiny antennae briefly shine the sun down to your location, and this "flare" also passed some deep-sky objects.  A month and a half later (30 September) at an astronomy club "Star-B-Que", I shot a 9-frame mosaic of the Milky Way center with diffuse airglow, mostly as a test for the Microsoft "ICE" mosaic assembling software, which it excels at!

While not astronomical, at the same Star-B-Que (posted 29 September) we saved a little lizard that had managed to get stuck in a short length of hose.  How many engineers does it take to free a lizard?  In the remote location, the one with a variety of tools won...  This is the before picture...

At another observatory about 100 air miles away,
we snagged invites to the LBT employee's picnic on Mount Graham (11 October).  Working at the Mirror Lab, we polished the nearly 30 foot (8.4 meter) twin mirrors for this telescope.  At left is a mosaic of just one of the pair of scopes, in this case, the Gregorian secondary and tertiary are swung out of the way, and a prime-focus camera installed.  A month later (9 November), from the valley floor below, we watched the first run of ARGOS, the laser beams help correct for atmospheric turbulence.

More recently we reconnected with our niece and nephew Kathy and Rick (9 December).  They had been estranged from Melinda's sister Susan (their mother) and as a result, our family.  Between Melinda's cancer diagnosis and Susan's death, we've reconnected with them, which is about the highlight of the Fall!

In the potpourri section, I talked a little about my
"little" binoculars that are fun for both daytime and night time viewing (2 February).  Made by Nikko during WWII, they are spectacular in use at the edge of the Canyon... And interestingly, there was a BHS meeting in Tucson (Binocular History Society), where we had a couple days of talks and a tour of the optics museum at the Optical Sciences Center.  Shown here are 19th century opera glasses, mostly French and European (22 February).

In the "strange" categories, there was the image
of moiré fringes at a McDonald's in Omaha (1 August).  The screen patterns of non-uniform hole spacing created the  pattern seen from inside the restaurant.  And I checked out the operation of my IR modified camera before sending it off for a friend to use for the summer on 1 June.

We made a couple trips to Whitewater Draw to observe cranes and whatever else was wintering there.  On 7 February I lugged my William Optics APO to get some closeup portraits of sandhill cranes.  The depth of field is so shallow that the rear one a couple feet back is out of focus.  On another trip with our visiting friend Carolyn, I used the on-camera flash to capture a great blue heron fishing in near-total darkness.  I was after the cats-eye reflection from its eyes, but also got focused lines of light across its body - waves in the water concentrating the flash.

Finally, from one of our last posts (28 December) an "omega" sunrise from our Christmas visit to Puerto Penasco.  The omega shape (named for the Greek letter Ω which resembles the outline of the disk) is caused by an inferior mirage (warm air near the water next to cooler air above).  The lower section next to the sea is a squashed, inverted image of the lower disk of the sun.  The apparent waves on the water are also a magnified aspect of the mirage...

It was a great year, one of contrasts certainly.  As this one draws to a close, we have optimism regarding Melinda's health, and look forward to getting back to something resembling a normal life!  All we can do is do what we can, and hope the best to all of our readers, wherever you may be.  Do keep in touch, and hopefully I'll be able to continue to entertain you with some aspects of our lives here on the blog.  Happy New Year!

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