Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Seeing Double!

As cat owners, we feel badly for the feral cats that show up at our door in bad shape. We've certainly had some beat-up specimens show up looking for a handout - how can you say no? Most all of our "inside" cats were walk-ups, starting out as ferals in the past. Case in point is one of the ferals, Spats (though I spell it with a "Z"), so named because of his tuxedo pattern with white feet. He has been a semi-regular for a long time, perhaps over a year, and now looks pretty healthy and is now about the friendliest cat I've ever seen. For some time he has greeted my arrival from work by walking up to me and collapsing at my feet, forcing me to either trip over him or stop to pet him...

But interestingly, about 5 or 6 weeks ago, I'd step outside the house and he would run away from me like he had never seen me before! After a few instances of that I realized it was a different cat with identical markings. Unfortunately, this one was in bad shape, skin and bones, just covered with mats of dirty fur, with clumps of mud and poop hanging off his tail. But occasionally, Spatz and the new one would be there at the same time and the resemblance was amazing. I've never heard of identical twins of the feline persuasion, but this was what appeared to be going on. So we called the new beat-up one Spitz to go with Spatz... After a few weeks of feeding, he allowed me to pet him, first as he was eating, then as a prelude to food, finally, whenever I wanted. He had a full-body mat along his back that was doing the same thing that Donald Trump's hair does in a breeze - sticking up in the front. Well, I grabbed it and jerked him up off the ground a few times and got this full-length pelt a good 14" long off of him! It was quite amazing, particularly when he didn't run and hide - for another week I was cleaning him up a little each session, clumps of fur still decorating the front of our house. He was obviously enjoying how much better it felt with the mats gone.

A couple weeks ago, another feral we'd been feeding off-and-on for a couple years, Big Tuna, showed up dead on our doorstep one morning. He had been doing poorly in recent weeks, but I was careful to look out for him and make sure he got food whenever he came by... It made me feel guilty we'd never had him to the vet for some TLC. So I made a pledge to get Spitz in to get looked at. That was last week, and yesterday he was back at the vet to get nearly all his teeth pulled. That was one of his issues, why he didn't clean up his fur as his mouth hurt so much. He is already working on his coat... Telling this story at work, pictures were requested, so at left are a couple shots Melinda took of me holding Spitz with her iPhone. He is still a little rough around the edges, but as much as he eats, he'll bulk up pretty fast. He has a chronic tongue sticking out, and his nose appears to have an infected mosquito bite, according to the vet. And oh yea - he is FIV+, so precautions will be taken not to infect the other cats, but with most of his teeth missing, bites won't be too big an issue. He is already living in the cage in the living room for the other cats to get used to him... And as for Spatz - he was outside tonight, so picked him up and brought him in for a comparison picture. Compared to Spitz he is a sleek, muscular athlete, and also needs a neuter job. BTW, Spitz was already neutered, with his ear clipped - there are some organizations that trap strays, neuter and release, and the clipped ear indicates this was done. Anyway, the Spatz picture is at right.

So assuming all goes well with Spitz, Spatz is next on the list to get a trip to the vet, checked out, neutered and moved inside. It will be nice to get to the point where we're not putting food out for the ferals, but there seems to be an endless supply...

Monday, September 28, 2015


If you get your news off of the Interwebs (you poor thing!), you certainly would have known about the "Supermoon Eclipse" or "Super Blood Moon", or "Blood Moon Spells Doom", or some combination of the above. While I learned that the last "Supermoon Eclipse" was in 1982, back those days we NEVER called a moon at perigee a Supermoon. In those "olden" days, we also NEVER called a total lunar eclipse a "Blood Moon". I do not know how these terms get into the vernacular, and I hate it, so you will note that outside this paragraph, these terms will NEVER be used again here!

From the western part of the country, where we live (Tucson, AZ), the full moon rose right at sunset, of course, just as it was moving into the shadow of the earth. Since we just passed the autumnal equinox a few days ago, the eclipsed moon would pretty much rise due east. We were invited to a 5-year-old's birthday party late in the afternoon, and I suspected we'd be arriving home right about the start of the eclipse, so I at least thought about what I wanted to do. I actually went out the evening before scouting some locations, looking for a foreground that might say "Tucson". I went wandering around downtown, and found this scene looking east down Congress Street, but it didn't yell "Tucson" enough for me, even with a rising eclipsed moon down the street...

So I gave up on a scenic background, especially with the party taking up a chunk of the afternoon. We just went home afterwards for Melinda to rest after spending time at a Hispanic birthday with Techno band and hyperactive children (actually, I could use some quiet time too!). We got home about 15 minutes before sunset and I started setting up the equatorial mount in the back yard to set up the TEC 140 refractor. Right about sunset, I took an amble around the neighborhood with telephoto zoom to look for the rising moon. In the alley behind our house I ran into the neighbors, who were holding a small party with chairs facing west. I pointed out the moon would be rising behind them, but they were celebrating the sunset first... They joined me in the trek towards the rising moon, soon spotted rising due east as expected, shown at left. We have lots of suspended power and cable lines, so walked a hundred yards to clear some of them, as shown at right. These shots taken with the 70-200 zoom off a monopod, 200mm at left, 140mm at right.

It soon got dark enough that the short exposures to properly record the moon way underexposed the background, so I departed to set up the scope. Plus there was lots of good stuff on TV! There was the Cubs game against the Pirates (CUBS WIN!), there was the CSI finale, and a little later there was the Silent Sunday features on TCM. Fortunately, working in the yard, I could keep track of the game while stepping out frequently to monitor the eclipse. My first mistake was assuming the eclipsed moon would clear the tree from where I had first set up the mount. Wrong! Moving an assembled AP 1200 needed more strength than I had, so needed to disassemble and set up against my western fence. It amazing how fast the thing goes together with an eclipse progressing over your shoulder! The shot at left was taken with the zoom lens again off a tripod for 6 seconds at F4.5, showing the total phase of the moon against the stars of Pisces. The TEC 140 works at F/7, so is just about 1 meter focal length, just about perfect for an eclipsed moon, even at perigee! My first guess at an exposure was 20 seconds, shown at right - a little overexposed, but shows more stars than in the shorter, properly exposed images.

I finally settled on 8 second exposures at ISO 200 that didn't saturate any of the channels. With the scope set to lunar rate to track the moon, I used an intervalometer to take an image every 60 seconds. It finally started routine exposures at 7:42, just a couple minutes before mid-totality when the moon was deepest into the earth's shadow. The image at left shows mid-eclipse at 7:47. I let it go pretty much automatically, occasionally adjusting the north-south position of the moon, as lunar tracking only handles the east-west motion. After the deepest part of the eclipse, the moon slowly got brighter at lower left until it eventually left the full shadow of the earth. The image at right was at 3rd contact, just as the edge of the earth's shadow hit the edge of the moon.

The partial phases don't interest me much, so I took down the gear after 3rd contact and put things away. After work today I finally started messing with all the frames, about 43 all told. The limitation turned out to be the visibility of a single star to center on during the sequence, taking out the declination adjustments, and visible throughout. Using Nebulosity 2 software, I centered on the same star, so that in a time-lapse, shown below, the stars appear fixed and the moon moving through the field, as it should be. Since the earth's shadow moves slowly (about 1 degree per day), the moon's motion of about a half degree per hour dominates and zips through in a couple hours at most. Here is the result, uploaded to Youtube. Be sure to go full screen and HD for best visibility of stars and details...

All in all, a pretty good eclipse! The last few we've had had issues, clouds, or shooting from Mexico w/out a tracking mount. They are about to get a lot rarer - after 3 of them every 6 months, the next total lunar eclipse for North America won't be till January, 2019! Seems like a long time off...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Night Of The Mantis!

Today's title is a partial mash-up of various late-night horror movie titles, The Deadly Mantis, Day of the Triffids, you get the idea. Since discovering the colony of geckos living under our porch light, I usually take a look before opening the door at night, and the other evening found a couple praying mantis! Haven't seen any in years, the last time being on Kitt Peak, where they were devouring telescopes! Anyway, I figured I'd try to take a few snapshots, all these being taken with the Canon XSi and 100mm F/2.8 macro. Of course, being that it was after 10pm and pitch dark, without enough illumination from our porch light, the on-camera flash was used too. At left is a nearly-full-body shot as he climbed towards the light, and at left is the over-the-shoulder glamour shot. The fellows were good-sized, about 7 or 8 cm long, and while they occasionally took flight when tired of my flash, but they would re-land and pose more for me afterwards. The Wikipedia entry indicates this is the time of year for mating, and they are attracted to the insects attracted to outdoor lights, but I think both of these were female, or at least, if they were a pair, I only ended up with pics of the female!

I'm a fan of a well-turned leg as they say, and these didn't disappoint with their armored accessories! Their forelegs are used to grasp mostly insect prey, and with their jagged teeth, you can see the combination of nutcracker leverage and teeth would nigh be impossible to escape!

I'm closing with a couple head shots. Their highly articulate necks result in their most always looking at you with their face or compound eyes tracking you. In the image at left, besides their large compound eyes, separated for good stereo vision, you can also spot their three eye spots, or ocelli between them. Yes, they have two different kinds of vision! It is thought the ocelli provide orientation clues during flight, since they seem to be incapable of resolving forms. The left photo shows them mounted on the forehead - with the head tilted further back, as at right, they "cats-eye" reflect the light from the flash to appear bright. Also in the right image, the mandibles that act like fingers to hold and manipulate food are visible. Neat stuff - wish they were around more often as there is more to explore!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Casting and Re-Dedication!

At the Mirror Lab where I work, we're casting another 8.4 meter diameter (nearly 28 feet!) mirror substrate for the Giant Magellan Telescope. This one is #4, which will be the center one in the 7-mirror array that makes up the 25+ meter diameter telescope. On the occasion of the "hot hold" at 1165C as the glass melted into the light-weighting mold, the lab was renamed the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab in honor of our newest benefactor. So at the end of a busy week of activity, on Friday we gathered to celebrate the renaming and another casting. Of course, there were speeches and congratulations all around, especially with the recent delivery of the Large Synoptic Telescope mirror a few months back. Shown at left is a photo-shopped image of the new sign on the building modified as an announcement f the rededication. And at right are a couple of the speakers at the short ceremony, Joaquin Ruiz, Dean of the College of Science, and Ann Weaver Hart, President of the University of Arizona.

Richard F. Caris, the new namesake of the Mirror Lab formed the company Interface Inc, which manufactures load cell force sensing instrumentation. We've been using devices from his company since our first mirrors, so evidently he felt we were something in which he desired to invest. At left, Head of the Astronomy Department and Director of Steward Observatory Buell Jannuzi at center reveals the photo that will hang at the entrance of the Lab, here assisted by President Hart and Associate Director of Steward Jeff Kingsley.

There was a nice crowd, a good fraction of which I knew!  Interestingly, as each mirror cast has its own t-shirt design, only the latest version reflects the name-change.  At right is the black design of GMT3 from 2 years ago, and the new powder blue reflecting the new name and artwork.

After the ceremony, we were all queued up to tour the Mirror Lab, and watch the spinning oven with 18 tons of molten glass within. Of course, the VIPs were allowed in first - interestingly, though I work there, I was at the end of the line in group 29! I walked in regardless to grab some photos - you never know when you might want to do a blog post! Melinda attended, but wasn't up for too much walking, so found an office to sit in for a while. I sneaked past the volunteer security staff to go catch Mr. Caris next to the spinning oven, shown at left chatting with another guest (note the new signs on the wall behind him!). The tour exited down past the base of the oven and out under the handling ring, which dwarf the guests walking past it at right.

We didn't see much of the casting crew - they were busy monitoring the oven.  The temperature was approaching its peak, so they had plenty to do.  The oven, spinning at 4.8 rpm, was radiating heat, and the interior orange glow could occasionally be glimpsed as it spun.

I connected with some friends in the crowd, and walked them into one of the labs so I could pull up the time-lapse of the glass melting that was live on the internet. About the time we finished that, and my explanations of some of my activities, the staff was turning out the lights trying to clear visitors out. Interesting, with the bright lights out, illumination from the safety lights provided an unusual glow to the interior of the polishing lab. Shown at left is a 4-frame panorama of the two 8.4m mirrors awaiting work. The GMT3 substrate is on the Large Polishing Machine at left, awaiting generating of the back plate, and the GMT2 is parked under the test tower at right awaiting faceplate generating. Both are awaiting refurbishment of the Large Optical Generator which is wrapping up. As I went past the spinning oven for the last time, I took a shot of the digital thermometer attached to the oven, to compare to the shot I took earlier. Shown at right, in the 58 minutes elapsed time between frames, the temperature had climbed 19C, so was likely programmed to climb 20C per hour.

As I mentioned above, there is a time-lapse automatically generated as images are taken through the 7 cameras watching the interior of the oven. The cameras are normal small digital cameras, so to keep from melting, they peer through sapphire windows and are actively cooled with fans. Similarly, since the interior is dark except for the glow of glass, the cameras shoot mostly in the blue part of the spectrum, so need flash units to light up the interior. Since this time-lapse clip continues to grow, I saved it early Saturday morning at 300MB, and uploaded it to Youtube to make it easier to view. There is enough resolution to watch it full screen. Note that the clip is copyright Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab.

As you can see, there are many things going on. Of course, from room temperature, the mold that the glass is cast into is assembled from an alumina silicate ceramic. The glass is graded before loading - rejecting some for high stress and impurities, and the best quality set aside to go in last to form the upper faceplate. At the start of the video the glass blocks can be seen placed atop the mold. As the temperature climbs above 800C, the glass starts to soften and at it's highest temperature of 1165C is a liquid consistent with that of honey. At some point it becomes fluid enough to flow down the 1cm-sized gaps to form the ribs and backplate at the base of the mold. The excess that doesn't flow into the mold will become the faceplate, which is about 2 inches thick (note the marks at the edge of the mold, indicating the faceplate thickness). It is a fascinating time-lapse, and I love seeing these every time!

As I write this, the oven has cooled to under 750C. The displays state the oven is still spinning at 4.8 rpm, but as this is under the "freezing point" of glass, I expect the full-speed rotation to end any time now. At left is shown the temperature-profile-to-date, so it doesn't spend much time at full heat - only a few hours, before cooling rapidly (don't blame me for hard-to-read labels - they are assigned randomly). Cooling will slow down soon though, as annealing starts. Through the 400C-600C range, they must cool it very slowly (.1C/hour) to control stress and crystal formation. But all-told, the entire heat cycle lasts about 3 months, so I expect we'll get to inspect the new substrate before the Christmas break! Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Latest From The Edge Of The Solar System!

I just saw the most incredible image yet from the New Horizon spacecraft, just sent from Pluto and I had to share it with someone!  Shown at left is the image, with NASA's caption reading:

Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 3,500 meters high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. To the right, east of Sputnik, rougher terrain is cut by apparent glaciers. The backlighting highlights over a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 18,000 kilometers to Pluto; the scene is 1,250 kilometers wide.
While taken mid-July, over 2 months ago, data from the close encounter is continuing to trickle down, and will continue to do so for something like a year! The gift that keeps on giving... Since this blog is limited to images only 1600 pixels wide, the original image is much larger. I won't try to add my own interpretations, nor give the details of how it was taken - I leave that to the experts - in particular, Emily Lakdawalla's excellent blog, where I first saw the original image.  She has an excellent summary describing what we are seeing and how it was taken. Be sure to read it and visit ALL the links she has on her post. Incredible stuff!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shout It From The Mountains!

We were dreading the routine.  Here we are on 10 September, 25 months into Melinda's cancer fight, sitting in the oncologist office waiting for the results of yesterday's PET scan that monitors the effectiveness of her treatments.  These scans, taken every 2 cycles of treatments (each cycle is a month) are the gold standard for monitoring the growth and spread of her small-cell lung cancer tumors.  Unfortunately, for over the last year now, each scan has been progressively worse, or new spots have popped up in new places, marking a wider spread each time.  Our oncologist, Dr Garland, who we love, always seems to have a new chemo combo to offer as we abandon each treatment that isn't helping her.  But after a year, you would think that the list of options are getting shorter and shorter...

So here we were on another Thursday waiting to get the update.  I asked Melinda, "What is your "spidey-sense" telling you about the results"?  She felt that the results would be good, which I thought was going out on a limb after so many cycles of bad news...  Minutes later, nurse Nancy (yes, really!) came in and said Dr. Garland was in her office doing cartwheels - the PET scan was miraculously good!  Unfortunately, we saw our oncologist's PA (who we also like a lot), and she provided us a copy of the PET report.  There were lots of $5 words, but notably states "Marked interval decrease in size and metabolic activity of the previously identified lymph nodes.  Previously identified left retrocrural, aortocamal conglomerate and periceliac lymph nodes are not seen on today's exam."  One set of lymph nodes that had grown into a single mass in the last scan was now reduced and resolved into 3 smaller spots.  So while we didn't do cartwheels, the ear-to-ear grins we carried expressed our relief!  Good news at last!

So we'll continue with the Irinotecan for a while, and in two more cycles (2 months) hopefully we'll see continued improvement.  She had today's infusion immediately after seeing the PA.  Our buddy Erica sat with Melinda during her treatment as I had to be home for meeting pest control, then we went out for steaks to celebrate, and Melinda finished off her Ribeye without leftovers!  It is amazing how a little good news will brighten your day, week, or for that matter, the entire month of September!  Spread the word!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Those Times I nearly Died...

Labor day is one of those holidays that don't hold a lot of meaning for most. But for me, 10 years ago, it was important as I nearly died. Well, on more than one occasion - twice, actually...  But it is a long story, seemingly a lifetime ago. But now, 10 years later, let me tell it.

It starts in 2003.  It was not a good year for me. That was the year I turned 50. My wife Vicki died of pancreatic cancer the end of October, and on MY ACTUAL 50TH BIRTHDAY, 16 December, one of my best friends Ed Vega died of brain cancer. Well, at least 2004 had to be better! A couple weeks into the year and I came down with the flu or something similar... Whether purely physical or if there were emotional aspects to it, I can't say, but I was admitted to UMC in February. Blood cultures indicated an infection, but hydrated and started on antibiotics, I felt better and was discharged a couple days later. Initially feeling ok, I went downhill fast to the point where my friend Roger likely saved my life by driving me to the ER. I finally had a diagnosis - endocarditis with pneumonia. The infection had eaten a hole in my aortic valve - time for some open-heart surgery! The surgery to implant a pig valve was uneventful, and I woke up in intensive care with a 10" chest scar and orders to cough out the phlegm in my lungs - NOT what you want to hear with a new scar!  But sister Linda came out to Tucson to nurse me back to health with some good Iowa cookin' and I recovered quickly.  I was a maniac in cardiac rehab - a shining poster boy on the treadmill for most of the patients nearly a generation older, and back to work in 6 weeks, as I recall... So that was the first time I was near death, but came out of it fine.

Fast forward to 2005, 10 years ago. I had done RAGBRAI, the bike ride across Iowa as a rider - biking the 500+ miles in 7 days the end of July with 15,000 of my friends. It plum wore me out, though, and I didn't have any zip on the hills - but completed it! 10 days later I was back in Tucson and biking in to work on a warm morning (most August mornings are warm in Tucson!). About halfway there, a sledgehammer hit me in the chest - it felt like boiling fluid was flushed down the interior of my chest top-to-bottom. I did not know what it was - I didn't stop, though slowed down a lot. I made it to work, but felt an unusual pain in my stomach, so biked home (good call, huh?) to get horizontal. Couldn't really get comfortable, so went to see my Primary Care Physician the next day. Externally, I seemed fine - he was concerned about my abdominal pain, thinking gall bladder attack, but sent me to a cardiologist. A couple days later I saw the PA of the doc who did my first heart surgery, and she prescribed an MRI, so about a week later went to NW hospital for that. By that time I was feeling fine, was back to work (biking, of course). I'd never had an MRI, but spent seemingly a LONG time in the tube. When I came out the tech wouldn't make eye contact, made me sit down, and literally pushed me the 200 yards in a wheelchair to the ER at Northwest Hospital. I finally found I'd suffered an aortic dissection 10 days before! It had started at my 18-month-old pig valve, and continued up the arch of the aorta, down the entire length to where my femoral arteries branch off. Evidently no one survives that, so they were sort of at a loss of what to do...

The doctors at NW all insisted I'd be operated on that day, then that night, then they transported me to University Medical Center (waiting till evening rush hour so I could add to the traffic congestion). There I was told they had to clear the surgeon's schedule for what was to be a long operation - it was put off till tomorrow, then a couple days - this all while I was NPO (no food) and under observation. After 2 days, I could finally eat, while they continued me under observation. Finally my ER doctor friend Chuck helped them make the decision by sneaking in a cake and 6-pack of beer from a party he left. We drank beers, hiding them under the bed from the nurses, and of course I had some cake too. It was about the next day they sent me home with orders to come back in a week, the day after Labor Day for my marathon surgery. Noted heart surgeon Jack Copeland was on hand to assist, with Raj Bose doing the heavy lifting. It went over 12 hours start to finish, replacing my pig valve with an artificial one (I click now if you listen to my chest!), and rebuilding my aortic arch with a Dacron graft. While the length of my abdominal aorta was unrepaired, I've had annual CT scans to monitor it, and it has been stable to date. There was always talk of reinforcing it with stents, but hasn't been needed. Coming out of surgery I did so much better in recovery than the first surgery as I didn't have the pneumonia to deal with. Vicki's mother Betty came to Tucson for a couple weeks to help nurse me back to health. Shown at left back in those days when she was a mere 80 (we celebrated her birthday while she was with us then), we're headed to South Carolina next month to help her celebrate her 90th. Again, without the pneumonia, recovery was swift and I was back to work in 5 weeks.  It was my 3rd Family Medical Leave in 3 years (Vicki's illness, my first, then second surgeries), and while I was out of sick leave to get paid, thankfully volunteers at Steward Observatory donated vacation hours so I'd get paid! And of course, my friend Valerie Goff (gone now for 4.5 years) made sure everyone was informed of my status and that I had everything I needed, even finding me a new PCP, Dr. Mackstaller who specializes in cardiac issues.  She just retired this month, so I'm not looking forward to replacing her!

The recovery was complete. When it was apparent I was going to survive, I bought my first DSLR camera to take these pictures - among my earliest digital! Physically, I'm on too many blood pressure meds to think about biking across Iowa any more, but I do spend time on the recumbent bike in Illinois. An interesting read about aortic dissections came from the NewYork Times, when noted heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, who developed surgery to repair dissections, suffered one at 97 years old. His description of his symptoms as he suffered them was interesting to read, at least to one who suffered a similar affliction. As I gained strength, I was finally able to travel and carry Vicki's ashes back to South Carolina, where they were scattered off Charleston harbor. Besides Roger and Valerie, sisters Linda and Sheri accompanied us as well, shown at dinner afterwards at left.

Since then, I've had a most excellent life. While I had first met Melinda a couple weeks after Vicki died, we re-met a few months into 2006, married and started this little blog in 2008. So I've cheated death twice now, and finally got to write a little about it, now that the 10th anniversary has come.  Congrats to me!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Night-Time Buddies!

The Summer monsoon weather pattern has been hanging on for dear life - "good for the corn" as they used to say in the Midwest with near-daily clouds and rain, but bad for the stars and photon-deprived amateur astronomers around here! What is an observer of the universe expected to do? Well, like in Illinois when I switch to lookin' at bugs in the backyard, there are similar subjects here in Tucson. Fortunately, late monsoon season is a good time for the spectacular flowers of cereus repandus - night bloomers with flowers up to 15cm (6") in diameter! It is sometimes tough to tell very far in advance when they'll bloom - at left is one about to open, shown near sunset. Yet a mere 3.5 hours later, it is transformed to the image at right.

But while the flowers are beautiful, what is interesting to me are the visitors that come by during the night. Almost magically, about a half hour after fully opening, the moths start drifting in to feed on the nectar and help pollinate the plants. It is the transitory appearance that is of interest to me. I've blogged about them many times, starting with the time-lapse I made back in 2012. Back then taking only 20 frames/hour, I was lucky to catch one moth during the night.  Close examination of the time lapse indicated from flower movement that many more were visiting while not exposing. Since then I've upped the frame count up to 240 per hour and now am seeing 20 or more during the night - a busy location indeed! Something to note is what they accomplish during the night - at left is the near-virginal flower enlarged from the right image above. Note the clean greenish central stigma, and the anthers loaded up with pollen. Of course, far down the throat of the flower is where the nectar is located that the moths crave. The image at right shows the stigma after only 8 moth visits over the course of an hour.  The sticky stigma is "dirty" with the shed scales of the moth, as well as pollen from this as well as other plants carried by the pollinators.

Over the course of the night this continues with dozens of moth visits. The large tubular flowers require pollinators with a long proboscis to reach down the flower to where the nectar is located deep in the flower. Note the long probes of the moths seen (and blogged) previously here, as well as here. This year I might have caught my best proboscis picture, shown at left. You can see the length exceeds their wingspan by a considerable amount. You can also see how far in they "attack" the flower - from the image at right (a different moth) they can reach considerably far down the neck of the flower!  Note also the moth at right has some wing damage - it doesn't seem to affect its flying characteristics much, and would actually serve a useful purpose to identify future visits to the yard...

And if you'll indulge me a few more images (got lots of 'em now!) at left is another great proboscis shot, though the moth is mostly out of focus. Still, you would think they have to be careful as they come in for docking - damaging that thing would likely affect its feeding significantly! At right is the best view I've had of the proboscis base - note that it is actually a pair of tubes! I've not noticed this before, nor know the purpose, but find it quite interesting... Almost all of these images that includes their eyeballs shows a "catseye" effect. If you shine a flashlight or take a picture of them, the lens focuses the light on their retina and there is a beam that comes directly back to the viewer. It is an easy way to find your cats in the dark yard - shine your flashlight around and look for the glow from their eyes. Works for moths too!

Note that all of these moths are the same species! The 3 orange spots down the thorax indicate manduca rustica - the rustic sphinx moth, with a classic image shown at left. I've never caught any another species until last Sunday evening at 10:48, the 3rd moth to visit the blossom along the house. Shown at right it looked pretty similar, perhaps slightly smaller, though it had pink spots down its side! Submitting it for an ID request to Bug Guide, by morning I had an answer! Interestingly, it is called a pink-spotted hawk moth, or Agrius cingulate. I only captured the one image of it, but is the only non-rustic that I captured of 32 moth-visits over one and a half nights of imaging, and of course, over my previous sessions over the years. Rare for me, anyway!

Note that nearly all of these images were taken with a timer - I set it up to take images every 20 seconds on 30 August, and every 15 seconds on 2 September. It resulted in 1300+ images on the first night and 640 over about 3 hours the later. But the return of 32 moth visits was pretty good in my book (a little under 2%). As modern shooters are fond of saying - "digital film is cheap" - it isn't like we've got to pay for film and processing these days! Still, as a result, most of of the images are "accidental". Short of sitting in a chair and pushing the button manually or devising some sort of "moth detector", I can't see doing much better. I actually did have one come visit while I was checking the camera and caught 6 images over its 33 second visit by pushing the button myself. Shown at left in the montage, the number indicates the elapsed time in seconds after the first image. It shows that the moth made several "lunges" at the flower, presumably to reposition its proboscis and assist in feeding.

 I almost forgot!  On Sunday evening there was a full moon, and before heading to bed I tried to take one by the light of the full moon instead of the on-camera flash, like all the others. The result is at right - pretty good, thought the narrow depth of field tells you I opened up the aperture to its maximum 2.8 for the 30 second exposure.

As I've noticed before, the moths stop coming by about a half-hour before sunrise, and minutes later the bees arrive and do their thing till the flower closes an hour or so after sunrise. See the animated clip in the second paragraph to see for yourself. As I was taking a few close-ups before dawn, I shot the bee at left, shown at full camera resolution. Note the anthers, so packed with pollen early in the evening, are mostly bare here. Seen in drifts on some of the photos above, where did it end up? Well, at right is shown an 18 (!) frame focus stack of a cropped, extreme close-up of the stigma after a long night of pollinators. Besides the dark-looking straws (scales) from the moths, they are packed in spherical pollen grains, eventually to be seeds in the ripening fruit.

Anyway, the flowers and their pollinators are suitable distractions for observers looking for details! Give it a try - likely it will clear up eventually and show us some twinkly lights. But in the meantime - "gotta make some hay while the sun shines" - another Midwestern adage!

EDIT: I forgot to mention in this post that an earlier-in-the-summer blooming, only 3 months earlier hadn't brought ANY pollinators! At the end of May, a full night of camera monitoring showed nothing came by, not even the honeybees at the end of the night... Nothing sadder than an unused, unpollinated flower... Given the visitors we have this time of year, obviously the earlier blooming was before these pollinators were active in their life cycle...