Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 - The Best, Worst, the Memorable!

Friend and bloggin' buddy Andrew Cooper has had a lot of good ideas, including an annual "best of" post at the end of the year!  Since it is New Year's Eve, time for a review!  Post dates for the pictures are shown in parenthesis.

Of course, dominating our activities for the year was Melinda's continuing battle with small-cell lung cancer.  Diagnosed in August, 2013, we're through 16 continuous months of treatments.  While declared in remission for a couple months in the Spring, subsequent PET scan showed more hot spots, so back to more treatments.  She has been an excellent patient, doing all the oncologist has asked and more...  At left is an appropriate fortune we had last January (1/21).  Some of her radiation treatments put her in the hospital for a couple stints, and at right (3/28), she models the head mask she wore for her full-brain radiation treatments, to keep her from moving her head.

Despite her continuing treatments, we continue to travel and have as much fun as she has energy for.  At left she is shown at the completion of work on our Illinois kitchen she supervised (8/03), and at right she's shown in front of a pretty sunset atop Kitt Peak (8/19).

Speaking of Kitt Peak, as the ultimate cause of my being in the SW (35 years now!) with employment, it continues as photographic inspiration.  From day one of 2014 (1 January), it appeared in my successful search for the very young crescent Moon from the Mount Lemmon Highway with the lights and skyline of downtown Tucson in the foreground.  And in the nearly last post of the year, I finally caught my Winter Solstice sunset alignment on 26 December.

On that same date (26 December), an hour later, I also caught the planet Venus drop behind the National Observatory and the 4-meter Telescope as well in deep twilight (shown at left at 10 second intervals).  And speaking of Venus, early in the year it passed inferior conjunction, passing between us and the Sun on 11 January (at right).  Fortunately it was 5 degrees from the Sun and could be imaged with the sun hidden behind a building.  A skinnier crescent you would not be able to catch - at least for this conjunction!  The intervening 11 months it was in the morning sky...

More from Kitt Peak National Observatory, Melinda and I caught the tail end of a monsoon storm over Tucson and caught some lightning (8/19), and a little later the same night captured a 3-frame mosaic of the transiting Summer Milky Way.

On an earlier scouting trip to the mountain (7/02), working alone I caught a 4-frame mosaic of the Milky Way arcing over the 2.1 meter Telescope, soon to be retired as an NOAO-accessed telescope.  And at right, something new - a 3-D image from the Mountain of tree and Milky Way.  This is a cross-eyed view - start with the thumbnail - cross your eyes slightly to look at the right image with your left eye and vice versa.  The result will be 3 images, the center one showing a 3D effect.  Click on the image to load the full-size version for more resolution.  May have to try more of these in the future!

Every annual review seems to include someone important who has passed.  This year was no exception with news of the death of John Dobson in January (1/15).  I first met John at the first incarnation of the Grand Canyon Star Party on my first visit there in 1980.  His hold on the imagination of the crowd that night was memorable.  A decade later I asked if he still held the event and I learned he had offended someone and was asked not to return.  So I asked if I could hold a similar event at the second incarnation of the Grand Canyon Star Party was born.  He returned several times as "astronomer emeritus" of the event.  He is shown here blessing someone with a raven feather.  A more colorful astronomical character we are not likely to see!

Partly the lunatic in me, and mostly the search for interesting posts motivated to me on a nearly full-moon night to image the moon (1/16).  Normally ignored by most astronomers when they catch up on their rest, I captured a pair of memorable images.  By upping the color saturation of the moon, you can see real color differences in the moon. They are thought to originate from compositional differences in the asteroids, whose strikes formed the Maria of the front face.  That night was also said to be about the smallest "Full Moon".  When composited on an earlier image I had with the same telescope (in this case a C-5) of the "Supermoon" of May 2012, the apparent size range of the moon from its close to farthest point of the moon is striking.

And even more lunacy!  At the Kitt Peak picnic area in June (6/03), the employees of the Mirror Lab were allowed to hold a cookout/star party.  We had a very striking lunar crescent that night before it got really dark for observing.  At right is a 4-frame mosaic through the C-14 telescope to fill out the entire crescent.  At right is a single frame showing the full detail revealed.  Also seen is a little color from atmospheric dispersion as the moon was getting a little low in the west...  This mosaic was assembled by freeware, Microsoft ICE.

Though spending the Christmas holiday in 2013 in Rocky Point, Mexico and getting lots of posts from that trip, we actually only spent a few nights in Mexico in April for the lunar eclipse the 14th.  While my shots from a tripod don't qualify for the best-of-the-year, there were some interesting effects observed.  One was in the atmospheric effects.  Shown here from a post on 4/18 is "Bird Island" from friend Margie's astronomy deck atop her roof.  Shown at sunset, nothing much unusual.  However, a few hours later with cool air accumulating over the Sea of Cortez, from the precisely same spot they look a little different at right under the full moon!  Likely the "Fata Morgana" stretched the islands vertically!

More from the April Mexico trip - while Arizona has lots of sand, there aren't many beaches, and I especially loved some of the beach 3D image pairs I took!  Again, these are for cross-eyed viewing.  Start on the thumbnails which are easier.  Cross your eyes slightly so that you look at the right image with your left eye and vise-versa.  You should see a 3rd image in the center that shows 3D stereo depth.  Since the camera took an image for each eye with a greater separation than your eyes, these are considered "hyperstereo", which accentuates the details, which for small beach detail is great.  Go to the post from 5/11 and our earlier trip from 1/03 for more beach 3D.

We did a lot of traveling through the year.  For Christmas 2013, Melinda got us tickets for Ebertfest - a film festival started by the Chicago movie critic Roger Ebert.  I was a big fan, actually corresponded with him on a topic or two before he died in Spring 2013.  But his wife Chaz is continuing the tradition and it was GREAT!  We hung out for all 12 movies over 4 days and rubbed elbows with actors and directors.  Features were Spike Lee and Oliver Stone for the 25th anniversaries of "Do the Right Thing" and "Born on the Fourth of July", both attending screenings.  At left is shown the spectacular Virginia Theater and at right we're shown on the "Ebert bench" which was dedicated that weekend (4/28).

We're always at home in the Midwest. Not only do we have a "getaway cottage in the woods" at Ketelsen East, but also family.  We celebrated a trio of birthdays on the Eberfest trip by launching a few Chinese hot-air balloons (4/30), and in the Fall, while going back for Melinda's 40th high school reunion, took a trip into northern Wisconsin in search of aurora and foliage (9/29).

The Midwest is always a great source of macro subjects.  Searching the yard for blog-worthy creatures is nearly as much fun as astronomy in AZ!  My favorite bug of the year this year was identified as the nymph of the planthopper Acanalonia conica , shown at left (8/07). Fortunately, I eventually also found an adult before leaving that trip, shown at right.

Also on the 8/07 post are a few other of
my buggy favorites!  These also helped me refine some of my macro techniques, moving slowly enough to allow focus-stacking, where multiple frames are taken at several focus settings, then combining them in Photoshop to keep just the in-focus parts of the image.  The technique is amazing - nothing short of astounding with slow-moving subjects, or those that will pose for you.  At left is a buffalo leafhopper, and at right a pair of swamp milkweed bugs, a 7-frame and 9-frame stack respectfully (both w/on-camera flash).

I think my favorite macro shot of the year was a Springtime shot (5/04) of a dandelion flower with macro plus extension tubes for just about the largest magnification I can get.  On a windy day, shooting off a tripod, I managed a 7 frame stack of an aphid holding on to the stigma of the dandelion - it is so cool!  A Fall favorite is the seed pod of a swamp milkweed, just before seed dispersal (9/30).

Our trips across the country to Ketelsen East were often entertaining and educational in their own right.  Taking the same route so often meant that we often knew, or could figure out where we were.  Headed back for Melinda's reunion, we witnessed the confluence of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers near far-southeastern Iowa at Keokuk (9/24) in a 3-frame mosaic, and on our holiday trip, on our final approach witnessed our shadow and a glory, which allows calculation of the cloud droplet size! (12/15)

My IR-modified camera saw some action this year.  Instead of the normal blocking filter that filters out the unwanted light past the red part of the spectrum, a few years back I modified a Canon 20D with an IR-only filter.  Landscapes look distinctly different in the longer wavelengths.  While I don't normally shoot the legs of teenage girls (at left), I suspected that the longer wavelengths would penetrate the skin, and sure enough, veins in her legs are revealed when upping the contrast (7/15).  And at the Grand Canyon, the IR wavelengths shows natural airglow better than visible wavelengths - the comparison is shown at right with a visual, color image (6/28).

This year we were able to attend what was my 25th straight Grand Canyon Star Party!  I started the event back in 1990, but retired from organizing after 18 years.  It is in the capable hands of TAAA member Jim O'Connor now.  It is always fun to inspire and educate the public with big scopes and dark skies of the Canyon.  At left I took a selfie with an ultra-wide 8mm fisheye lens, and at right, my lovely telescope assistants, Melinda and Donna pose with the C-14 scope (both 6/26).

Besides the Canyon, we didn't get in much serious observing, but had some interesting astronomical field trips.  I took a scouting trip to Mount Graham with LBT's run of the ARGOS instrument, which uses lasers to improve seeing across the field of view.  Though I didn't get any shots of the laser emanating from the telescope, I did witness the beam from a few miles away in the shot at left (3/24).  This Fall, I joined a friend on Mt Lemmon Sky Center for a night's observing, which included an afternoon view of the partial solar eclipse (10/26).

I got a new (to me!) telescope!  It is a TEC 140 premium triplet apochromatic refractor that is really second-to-none in the 6" class.  I made a sturdy mounting for it, shown at left (6/18).  It saw a number of sessions on the sky, including one from friend Pat's observatory in Benson.  At right is an accumulation of 25 minutes of exposure on the nebula M20 with the TEC (9/16).

Of course, with a new telescope, you have to put it through its paces.  From "A" Mountain, with a home football game against arch-rival ASU, I put the 'scope to a resolution test.  At left is a full-resolution crop from 3+ miles away.  You can't quite recognize faces, but you can certainly tell the UA fans in red from the ASU fans in yellow! (11/29)  From the same post and same vantage point, Window Rock in the Catalinas shows excellent detail from 20 miles distance.

And an observatory is finally being built in the back yard!  Since most of my observing is of the dark-sky variety, most of the equipment is stored in the van, ready to hit the road for better conditions.  But for observing the moon, planets or brighter objects, it is a pain to set up gear, then restore them at the end of a session.  A removable-roof observatory makes observing from town simple and easy, so suspect I'll do much more when it is complete.  Way last April, friend Frank brought his mixer and helped pour 2500 pounds of concrete for the pier (11/20)!  And finally this fall, with cooler weather, building contractor John Vermette has completed most of the assembly of the exterior (12/11)!  I'm responsible for design of the fold-down roof, and hoping for a Spring or early Summer debut!

Finally, I'll close with a few nature shots
from our yard in Tucson.  Spring and Summer is a good time to capture Cactus buds and flowers.  At left, a row of prickly pear buds line up for a focus-stack exposure (4/02).  And night-time blooming cacti attract night-time pollinators!  Shooting at regular intervals, my cameras captured several rustic sphinx moths with their 14cm proboscis pollinating my cereus cactus (8/10).

All-in-all, it has been a busy, hectic, interesting year!  Sometimes it takes a review like this to make you realize it.  While the cancer battle continues and dominates, it hasn't slowed us down much.  I'm glad for that, and other than hoping that part of our lives gets behind us, I'm sure we'll have another memorable year in 2015!

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