Saturday, July 30, 2016

Melinda Update

It has been a week already, so time for an update on Melinda! Seems like a bad remake of "Groundhog Day" with an endless repetition of the day before... Our last post gives a good synopsis of the events - turns out her infection caused her to go into septic shock, due to the pasteurella and her lowered immunity from cancer treatments and radiation therapy. Fortunately she was only in the ICU for 48 hours, and has remained since then in a normal hospital room in the oncology ward. Starting Wednesday she has been able to continue her radiation therapy, and after today's session, only has one left on Monday. With the proper antibiotics she has responded well, and the 20cm (8") red blotch marking the infection in her leg has all but disappeared. The original plan was for her to be released today, but several scenarios has caused a rethinking of these plans...

For Melinda, the highest priority has always been to follow the course of treatments outlined by her oncologist. In her mind, nothing should stand in the way of that battle that has raged for nearly 3 full years! The plan was to discharge her to an in-patient facility for rehab, since she has effectively been bedridden for a week now. There has been no attempt to administer rehab or occupational therapy while in the hospital. Unfortunately, all the rehab places do not have the mechanism in place to allow transportation to her radiation or chemotherapy treatments. As a result, Melinda turned down that offer and then the plan was to discharge her to home, with home health-care nursing visiting every day. Of course, since she has not been up, I'm reluctant to take on the responsibility of assisting in her mobility around the house to use the bathroom and other activities. We got to the point that the home health team brought her meds over to us and in the image at left, Danielle is instructing Melinda in giving herself the antibiotic and flushing her port afterwards...

But Melinda hasn't been feeling well the last few days and really didn't want to come home either.  So her doctor approved her staying until Monday.  She will get her last radiation treatment Monday morning, then be released to a rehab facility, and hopefully recover in the week she has off treatments until her chemo starts up.

So that is the plan - a couple more nights at Banner University Medical Center, and some more in a rehab place.  We both feel better with that plan.  Note she has been getting near-endless interruptions to her rest from calls and visitors, so I've taken to carrying her phone with me so as to not wake her while she is napping.  So if you try calling, don't be surprised if I answer!  You are officially up to date!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Our Weekend in the ICU...

Well we've had an interesting weekend - Melinda spent 2 days in the Intensive Care Unit at Banner University Medical Center (BUMC)! Saturday started normally enough - we were sitting around relaxing, mostly controlling Min's back pain w/her Vicodin and my taking care of her needs. She took a dose and laid down for a nap about 4pm, while similarly, I laid down back in the bedroom dozing in front of the Tour de France replay on TV.

When I returned to the living room nearing 6 to do the cat-feeding chores, she was lying funny, as if about to roll off onto the floor. She was sort of "out-of-it" and only partially responsive. Her extremities also had Parkinson's-type tremors. She said she was cold, so I put another blanket on her, turned up the AC a degree and warmed her up some food, which she didn't want once done... After feeding the cats, I queried if she needed anything and she wanted help to go to the bathroom. All this is normal, I've been assisting with most of her bathroom trips the last couple weeks. But she couldn't get up on her own, and once I hoisted her up, she couldn't stand... My first priority was to get her to the bathroom so I fetched the wheelchair we've rented to get her around the hospital, hoisted her up, rotated her and set her down in the chair, and did the same in reverse in the bathroom for her to go. She continued to be only partially responsive and had difficulty holding herself upright, even keeping her head up seemed difficult. I figured there was certainly something going on, so called 911 to get them on their way. After some confusion about our address and how to get there, they arrived in about 15 minutes. Six buffed-out EMTs and firemen hoisted her out of the bathroom onto the cart and rolled her into the ambulance and hauled her to BUMC.

Once there, her heart rate (HR) was 220 with a very low blood pressure (BP). When she saw me, she asked for me to be near her head and I was positioned with a good view of the action. At one time I counted 14 people in, or trying to get into ER room 19 to assist. On two occasions they injected a drug to slow her heart, but both times after the initial drop to near normal, it sped back up over 200. Finally the third time it stayed down. Had it taken a 4th time, they were going to shock her to reset her heart rhythm! She ended up getting 3 liters of fluid, and giving about a gazillion blood samples, many of which were contaminated somewhat with all the saline she was getting.

By about Midnight they moved her up to the ICU, where they took very good care of her. After she got settled in I headed home about 1:30am, and was back about 10. We saw a slew of doctors, and I recounted the above story every time, since Melinda didn't remember anything before getting to the ICU... Tests showed an elevated white blood count and even the preliminary blood culture indicated an infection. So while that is what they were zeroing in on, they took a CT scan, x-rays, ultrasounds, and likely other auxiliary tests I've forgotten. We had a few friends stop by - at left our buddy Erica is shown chatting it up with the patient. Coming back from the CT, the nurses rearranged the bed and equipment so she could enjoy the view out the window from the 3rd floor room.

Today (Monday) we also talked to doctors from infectious diseases and our radiation oncology doctors. Melinda had been getting daily radiation treatments last week, and I called their offices this morning to make sure they knew she was an in-patient, in case the treatments were contributing to her condition, or affect her receiving treatments this week. She got put off for today, but will likely start up again soon. The infectious disease docs came in and talked to us about the likely diagnosis - that her infection was identified as Pasteurella - likely given to her by one of our cats! The bacteria is part of the normal flora in the saliva of cats and can get into humans through a scratch or bite, where a serious infection can result. Once brought to our attention, Melinda had developed a red blotch about 8cm (3") in diameter early on Saturday, which had grown to about 20cm (8") by Sunday before fading today from the antibiotics. While we typically don't get bites from the cats, since they lick themselves, if they were to sit on our laps, get startled and jump down, their claws can break the skin and pass the bacteria. Since Melinda's immune system is diminished from cancer and treatments, she is ultra-susceptible! Sure enough, near the center of her red blotch was a little puncture...

As of 10pm tonight, she was moved out of the ICU do the oncology ward 3NW, where she will likely stay for a day or two before possible discharge to a rehab facility. Well that is the latest - I didn't think life could get much stranger than taking care of her and getting her to her daily radiation treatments, which tend to stretch into 5-hour long affairs. But a trip to the ER and ICU is a kick in the pants that life is easy to shake up even more!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Kitty Accounting!

Most of you know that we're cat people. Most are rescued off the street and are important in our lives. I think they joy they give us way offsets the expense and effort to give them a good home. With YellowCat's recent passing, and as his cremated remains return home, I thought it was a good time not only to review our loved ones that have recently passed, but re-introduce you to the rest.

Of course, the down side of pet ownership is that eventually they will die. I'll admit that I've buried a few in the back yard, but there may be ordinances against that sort of disposal. So generally we've been cremating them, as you can see by the collection of cremains from the last 10+ years. I'm thinking that as work progresses on the back yard observatory, I'll eventually cast the ashes into a cement step at the entrance...

The Current Population:  We've currently got 8 cats living in the house.  While we know that keeping them indoors is the safest situation, a couple decades ago I built a "cat proof" fence that does a reasonable job of keeping them restricted to the house and back yard. Of the eight, only 3 of the recently-turned ferals that are still pretty athletic can get over the fence. As it is, they all go over a 9 foot wall at the back gate, and I've never figured out how to prevent that. So the current strategy is we're slowly fattening them up so they are unable to escape!

Of course, they think the purpose of the house is to please them and they are truly the heads of the household.  Case in point are the black cats at left - two cats and there is no room on the queen-sized futon to sit... By the way, the two black cats are our most recent addition - Squeakers in on the left and Henry on the right (I think - or the reverse!).

The Boys:  For the first time in memory, we've got an equal number of male and female cats. We always used to have an excess of boys, but with the recent passing of males, we're now 4:4 male and female. Of course, all are spayed and neutered, so there isn't much interest in pairing up - in fact, the females are all pretty much anti-social, both with other cats and humans, and just want to be left alone except at mealtime. The males are the friendlier ones, mostly...

I used to kid bloggin' buddy Ken when he would post his cats' pictures and not know which cat was which. And they didn't really look similar! We've got a bigger problem in that of the 4 boys, 3 are fully black and while we could tell them apart when they first arrived, as they tame down and put on a couple pounds, they are mostly identical! At left is the friendliest cat and second newest (and the first to go over the wall!), Squeakers (his meow is more of a squeak). Compared to Henry at right, he has a longer body, is a pound or so larger, and has slightly coarser hair... Henry is our latest arrival, likely too the youngest and has an amazingly soft coat along his spine. He is enjoying the regular meals, though I still find him missing from the yard at breakfast time. He comes running when I call, though, so he doesn't wander far - he does love his Fancy Feast...

Sugar Pants!
Rounding out our black cats is Hootie 2, who we've shortened to Hootie after the previous Hootie died 18 months ago. Like Henry and Squeaks, he and Hootie were virtually identical, though their mannerisms were different. I don't actually have a record when he showed up, though the vet records would reveal it. He is pretty shy, eats by himself, and prefers to be alone, but occasionally surprises us by joining us on the couch and is a real love-bug! He spends nights out in the garage, where we've got a warming blanket plugged in for him to be comfortable on cold winter nights. He is a little larger than Squeaks and Henry, and also has a notch out of his right ear, as seen in the photo at left...

Sugar Pants may be our oldest boy - arriving about 12 years ago. At the time I had a student renting out the spare bedroom and we couldn't think of a name, and finally the day he went in for his neuter job, she suggested "Sugar Pants", which was embarrassing when they called out his name as I picked him up at the shelter after he was done! He is also a "sprayster" and is most-likely to mark his territory. It is a good thing he is so cute and friendly, as cleaning up after him isn't fun. And the more he marks, the more the other boys are prompted to do the same...

The Girls:  Of the girls, Hannah is the oldest at 16. She called to me as a kitten up a tree in Washington, Iowa while I was biking across Iowa on RAGBRAI! The tiny kitten spent the night camping with us, and the folks whose house we stayed at kept her till we drove thru the next day on the return drive to Tucson. She is truly the queen cat, and doesn't allow anyone to bother her - a simple growl will keep most away... She has recently taken to sleeping on the rocking chair on a folded-up blanket...

Our second-oldest cat, though she very much resembles a kitten is Mia. She showed up at the Mirror Lab on campus as school let out in May 2004. We figure she was living with students in the dorm under the football stadium and was "set free" when school was out. She is just about our owliest cat - DOES NOT get along with any of the others, though she will accept people. As a result, she gets her own bedroom to stay in which she will share with humans when we get company staying over. She is very petite and still very athletic for her 12+ years. If she would just learn to play with others...

Like Hannah from Iowa, Annie is from Wisconsin! Before we were a couple, Melinda went to a shelter in Stevens Point, WI after seeing a photo of her on Petfinder! A momma's girl, she was slow to warm up to me, but now after a decade (and me as her primary food source now), she likes me, she really likes me! Shown at left, she just had her summer haircut about 6 or 7 weeks ago. She has longish thick hair that mats up over the winter, so we spring for a groomer to clip her down pretty severely. After a few years of this, while she initially hated it, really likes how she feels after her fur is clipped so tolerates the haircut pretty well.

And finally we've got Lucy! At the time 4.5 years ago we weren't looking for a cat, but after all that our vet has done for us (30% shelter discount!), when she calls asking if we can "foster" a kitten, you've gotta do her that favor! After some health issues, she had adopted it from a shelter, but her adult cats were beating up on her, so she called on us. She has had some issues - a head-tilt and perhaps some brain damage from her earlier health issues, and sometimes "forgetting" which side of the litter box to use (sometimes NOT the inside!). But she is so cute that we put up with her. She is our most kitten-like, though she is a little meatloaf-shaped! Fortunately, after discovering the cat doors to the back yard, the litter box issues were moved outside where they were less of an issue.

Well there you have it - all have their own personalities and traits. Some have little problems and issues, but we love them all and do our best to keep them in good health. We still put food out front for the ferals in the neighborhood, but I don't see many. I think Squeaks and Henry are sneaking out eating what we put out. Old habits die hard, I guess!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Surviving The Republican Convention!

Blessedly, the Republican National Convention ended this evening. I normally wouldn't be watching it, but as a fan of Rachel Maddow, I feel bound to watch her show every night, and since she was covering the convention this week, there you go! I'm not really a fan of Trump or his ilk, but we've found a way to make watching (and listening) to them more enjoyable...

On our last trip to the Midwest, on a visit to our nephew's house, they had little guns that shot suction cups at flat surfaces (think television sets!). You get a little emotional release by shooting at anyone causing you stress or unhappiness. Fortunately, I found a couple in the Target store when we returned to Tucson, and it was one of Melinda's anniversary presents when we celebrated in June. Shown at left, they shoot little Nerf suction cups with surprising velocity and easily fly straight across the room and stick to our new big-screen TV. The only problem with them is that Melinda is a little too weak to pump the mechanism, but it is easy enough for me to do it for her. The little stickers are different colors, so you can identify which of you took which shots.

So Melinda found some release in shooting the TV after I made her at least listen to the broadcast. At right is my grouping from across the living room, though I moved across the room so that I could get the gun and TV in the same frame for an image. Nice shootin' eh? Must be from the practicing I get w/my shootin' buddies out in the desert, though the suction cups are easier on the TV screen than the real thing!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

More Stars!

While my lack of new posts may imply things are quiet here - that could not be further from the truth! It has been a zoo here, trying to get Melinda's radiation oncology treatments started... Was supposed to start Wednesday, but then she was in too much pain to continue. Thursday and Friday with a new plan in hand, the machinery was down, so reset to this coming Monday. Best laid plans...

What this post is supposed to be about is that John Davis from work, and I got out observing again last Saturday. Even though we had a 5-day-old moon, the clear sky was calling and we again went up to a site on the south side of Kitt Peak. As opposed to the weekend before when Roger and I got out and I only did wide-field stuff, this time the plan was to do more close-up work. John is a mechanical wizard, and made the mount shown here. It used to be fixed at an observatory at his in-laws place in Sierra Vista, but realized it might get more use as a trailer-mount, and this was it's first excursion!

My setup, shown at right, was the standard AP1200, shown here with the early-evening setup of the Meade 80mm F/6 refractor and a Canon 300mm F/4 telephoto. Later I installed the TEC140 for some imaging with the 1,000mm focal length that it provides...

Baboquivari w/the Pentax 165mm on 6D
Baboquivari w/Meade 80mm F/6
But in the early evening, while setting up, suitable targets are everywhere! I'm still finding out which lenses work best with the "newish" Canon 6D's large sensor. My first trial targeted the mountaintop of Baboquivari with a Pentax 165mm lens. Designed for the 6X7cm format and available for a song on Ebay, it should have no trouble covering the 35mm sensor size of the 6D. But you never know about older lenses - sometimes color correction or other aberrations show up that weren't an issue with film, but at least on this daytime shot at left it was fine. Turns out I didn't have time to try any night exposures - another time!

Same shot as above, Vignetting corrected!
At upper right is a shot of "Babo" with the 480mm focal length of the Meade 80mm F/6 with the Explore Scientific field flattener (more on that later). It also performed great and looking at the images brought back memories of hiking on the mountain decades ago, as part of the "Forbes Route" is visible in the view from 15 miles distance! Unfortunately, also ominously visible is vignetting - darkening in the corners, likely from the small aperture of the t-ring adaptor or the 2" field flattener. If anyone knows an easy way of correcting this in Photoshop on an uncharacterized optical assembly, drop me a line!

Actually, I looked it up on Youtube myself, and while the videos were less than helpful, poking around in Photoshop, I was able to figure it out myself. Compare the upper right image with the darkened corners, and this one, approximately corrected manually in Photoshop CS5...  It looks much better!

As night fell, I investigated more properties of the Meade 80mm with the 6D sensor. For several months, I've borrowed a field flattener to correct the field curvature inherent in many refractor telescope designs. For the smaller APS sensor of the XSi I've used for many years, it wasn't an issue, but for the 6D, I knew it would be. Particularly when it comes to my star images, I'm a little picky and want them to be aberration-free and in focus!

Meade 80mm, no flattener - corner clearly defocused!
Meade with Flattener - sharp to the edge!
So as soon as it got dark (though with the moon still up!), I pointed the Meade's 480mm focal length towards a suitable target, the Antares region in Scorpius. There are some globular clusters and dark and bright nebulae that are of interest and serve as a good subject. In these comparisons, I've done small section blowups and over-plotted it on the image. Shown at left without the flattener, an image where the telescope was focused at the center of the frame showed considerable defocus at the edge. 

With the inexpensive flattener ($150) at right, again focusing at the center, the stars were uniformly tiny across the frame.  Both arrangements suffer from vignetting pointed out above.

One always wonders how these small telescopes compare to actual camera lenses... Lenses like the "football telephotos" used at games are very expensive because of their autofocus engineering and large apertures. Give up the autofocus and multiple elements that would likely fix the vignetting and field curvature, the Meade might be a good alternative to a 500mm. Looking just now at prices, a 500mm F/4 "football lens" runs in excess of $8K, though a third-market maker of a 150-500 F/6.3 is less than $800, with autofocus and image stabilization (not useful for night-time use!). I spent about $600 for the Meade, and I've been happy with it - depends what sort of "bang for the buck" you would like! Spend the $8K if you can!

But a couple years back, I got a used 300mm F/4 Canon lens and this is really the first time I've gotten to use it for stars, and the 6D's larger size is a pretty severe test. Yet, 7 exposures of 2 minutes each of this same region came out great! Shown at right is orange Antares near the center. To its right is the globular cluster Messier 4, and to its upper right is the more distant NGC 6144. Most of the stars have dust clouds around them illuminated by the colors of the stars themselves, and there are multiple dark lanes in the upper part of the exposure - one of my favorite star fields in the sky! And note that while I stopped it down a stop to F/5, field illumination is very good, perhaps just a bit darker in the very corners, and the star images are tiny across the field! Looks like a winner!

After a few shots with the 300, I took these lenses off and installed the TEC140 (5.5" F/7) with a focal length very close to 1,000mm... I also attached a small autoguider and used a notebook computer to run a Lodestar camera for guiding the mount. Also for the first time, I used a field-flattener lens (another used-market purchase after getting the TEC) designed for the TEC under a dark sky. By this time (after 11pm), the moon had set and we finally had inspirational skies! So both the telescope/flattener combo was an unknown, as well as how sensitive the 6D was to the red H-alpha light that the hydrogen clouds mostly emit.

Canon 20Da and 11" Newtonian from 2010
TEC140 and new Canon 6D
I can report that the combo works beyond expectations! Even at full resolution in the corners, the images are excellent and small, the field illumination looks extremely uniform, and the 6D showed good sensitivity to the reds of Messier 8 shown here at left. This is a 7-frame stack of 15 minutes total exposure at an ISO of 3200. I could find little to complain about in these images or the resultant stack.

As for the sensitivity to red wavelengths, yes, these nebulae put out a LOT of red light, but interestingly, the eye is not very sensitive to H-alpha when dark adapted. Modified cameras that admit more red light almost go too far! Shown at right is an image of Messier 8 taken 6 years ago with my Canon 20Da and 11" Newtonian - about the same focal length, F/4 at 8 minutes with an APS sensor, thus it appears larger in the smaller area sensor... Anyway, the enhanced red-sensitivity almost makes it look "too red". I almost like the 6D version at left better - it shows the blue and "white" (combination of blue, green and red) that your eye sees better... Feel free to argue w/me in the comments!

The only weird thing I noticed in the 6D images were some sharpening artifacts, even though no sharpening was done! Shown at left here is a full-res section of a single raw frame. Nothing was done to the image other than minor levels adjustment, yet, the medium-bright stars show dark rings around them as though I ran a sharpening routine and over-did it. If any of you have 6Ds or have otherwise seen this, let me know if I am doing something wrong! Certainly when the image is downsized for web display, the artifacts disappear.

The large sensor size and correspondingly large swaths of sky encourage extending that into a mosaic. With a few other objects nearby, shown at left is a 3-frame mosaic extending north that includes M20, the Triffid Nebula, Messier 21, the open cluster above and left of the Triffid, and NGC 6544 the globular cluster below and left of the Lagoon Nebula - also visible in the lower left corner of the M8 shot above... Note this is assembled from single exposures, 3 minutes exposure each, so 9 minutes total...

I took a few more frames, but nothing as exciting as the above... John talked me into staying a little later than I was wanted, but we eventually finished up and hit the road about 1:15, my getting home about 80 minutes later - tired but excited by another great night's observing. John is already thinking to getting out again, but with the monsoons, it is difficult to make plans before September!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Last Weekend - Part 2!

In the last post, I showed some of the first results with the new-to-me 6D. While taking the wide shots of the transiting Milky Way, with the lower edge of the field near the horizon, I noticed the strong green cast of an airglow display. The last image of that set, shown at left, shows the airglow at its highest extent that I caught. While it has the greenish glow of aurora (558nm), airglow is completely different from the northern lights they can resemble. First, they can appear in any direction - due south in this exposure. Airglow (the green kind) is caused by the recombination of oxygen atoms that were photo-ionized during the daytime.

But when airglow is visible as green in the camera or faintly visible to the eye as a glowing white cloud (too faint to trigger eye's color sensors), chances are there is a good display in the near infrared as well. I've got an IR-modified camera that replaces the IR blocking filter with an IR-pass for some cool landscape effectsI've also posted some airglow images and time-lapse clips here before. Of course, being duly prepared for anything, I had packed the camera for the outing Sunday nite, so set up the modified Canon 20D with the Nikon 16mm fisheye on a tripod to shoot a clip. There was indeed a nice display that filled the field of the fisheye lens. In addition, the structure showed good motion, so was great for a time-lapse clip. Interestingly, while the green airglow showed very faintly to the eye, this IR stuff, that looks so much like bands of cirrus moving through the field, was totally undetectable! Oh, and just to show the subtle changes that shooting in the near-IR (NIR) shows, at right is a close-up of the Milky Way center.  While the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius and the end of Scorpius are readily visible, there are some bright stars that seem out-of-place. Eta SAG and G SCO seem brighter - as bright as any of the other stars in the constellations (compare to color image above!). Sure enough, checking their Wikipedia entries, both are spectral class K or M supergiants that would appear brighter in the red...

The IR airglow emissions, interestingly enough, are known as OH Meinel Airglow, named for the scientist, Aden Meinel, who identified the source of the infrared glow from OH emissions in the upper atmosphere. And if you don't know Aden Meinel, shame on you! A Lick Observatory astronomer when he was hired by the NSF to establish a National Observatory (eventually located on Kitt Peak), he served as its first director before moving across the street to serve as director of Steward Observatory, and then went on to found the Optical Sciences Center! He is really the reason the Tucson area is a major center of astronomy and optics, even now 50 years after his efforts! I blogged about one of his last appearances in Tucson 6 years ago (he passed in October, 2011)...

In his first paper (1950) where he presents his evidence the spectral lines were due to OH+, he talked about the "short exposures" of 4 hours at Yerkes Observatory, compared to the 32 hour exposures required (over several nights!) with older instrumentation at Lick Observatory! Of course, this was due to the extremely slow IR photographic plates of the day. Imagine what he would think of the 60-second exposures shown here! So about 80 minutes of monitoring are included in the clip here, after some minor stretching. The banding structures are known as "gravity waves" - not the newly found electromagnetic waves from merging black holes, but bands in the upper atmosphere caused by upper winds and the restoring force of gravity...

Here is the clip - enjoy!

Thursday, July 7, 2016


A confluence of possibilities came together last weekend that allowed me to get out for a few hours of dark sky observing. Even though our Summer Monsoon season has started, we got a respite on a dark-moon weekend (rare if you ask astronomers), and Melinda was doing well enough to leave for part of a night. Even my observing buddy Roger was tempted to join me for company!

Seems like it has been ages since I'd been to Kitt Peak to observe and other than assisting with an astro-photo class this Spring, it has! Since our astronomy club attendance at the twice-a-year Star-B-Que was dwindling to near zero, I stopped organizing them, so no excuse to go up this Spring at all. My goal was a primitive site at a clearing near mile post 9 - a little level spot off the highway where road materials are sometimes stored. It is far enough off the road that headlights of cars going up or down have no effect on any observing, with room for a few cars and a few observers. The image at left shows a nice panorama of the site from a nearby rise. It is actually darker than the peak of the mountain - hills to the east block the view (and light pollution) from the lights of Tucson, and similarly a little rise to the north does the same for Phoenix. But the view to the south is great - right to the horizon. The panorama shows the view from NE to just west of South. The striking mountaintop of Baboquivari is visible and marks nearly due south for us...

I've talked about Baboquivari several times here. It is a spectacular landmark, about 800 feet higher than Kitt Peak, and about 15 miles to the south. No paved road anywhere near it, unfortunately, though in my more athletic days I've hiked it a number of times on the "Forbes Route". With this trip to check out various lenses on the newish Canon 6D camera, the image at left was taken with a lens from a Pentax 6X7 medium format camera - a 165mm lens (easy to use with an inexpensive adaptor). I set up a couple tracking platforms to run a couple cameras, and Roger set up his excellent little 8" refractor for some visual observing as a side highlight. Before I knew it, darkness was upon us and I got one more exposure of Baboquivari - the stars' short arcs over the mountain demonstrating that due south was actually a little to the west of the unique mountain profile. Just over the peak is a fuzzy star cluster in a rich part of the Milky Way in Norma - NGC 6067. This is a 30 second exposure with the kit lens set to 105mm focal length (F/5, ISO 6400). The slight, barely visible light glow around the peak is likely due to the little town of Sasabe on the Mexican border.

So before I knew it, it was time to get the cameras exposing. Looking to the east, there was a striking view of the Summer Milky Way rising over the hill forming our eastern horizon. This shot is with the 6D and Nikon 16mm fisheye, so has a 180 degree view corner-to-corner. It is tough to realize you are seeing the Milky Way from Cepheus to Scorpius in one view! The glow sneaking over the hill at left is some of the light dome of Tucson... I chose to keep the exposure short at 30 seconds. Any longer and stars would trail. Of course, I could track the stars, but then the hill would trail! A short exposure, w/high ISO minimizes any trailing.

My first target was the glorious Milky Way, just short of transiting in the South. I've heard rumors that the 24-105 kit lens was a pretty good performer and not terribly slow at F/4, so tried that first. Mounting the 6D and hefty lens on the Polarie, I stacked 6 exposures of 3 minutes each at F/5 and ISO 3200. I thought the results were pretty spectacular. Of course, the orange Mars to the upper right and Saturn at upper left dominate the image, the dark nebulae and a numerous reflection nebula and Milky Way make it a memorable first image. Shot at 50mm focal length, the weight of lens and camera was near the Polarie limit. I really wanted to catch all of Scorpius, so for the next set of images, also used the kit lens set to 35mm, and repointed slightly to get the image at right. It certainly picked up more of the Milky Way and all of Scorpius, but also some of the airglow hugging the southern horizon. Still, the image quality and vignetting demonstrate that it might be a decent lens for general use with the large format sensor of the 6D. Also demonstrated here is that the 6D is low-noise enough that I've no longer got to take dark frames while observing. Normally with my older cameras, I would use "long exposure noise reduction" where it would take a 3 minute exposure, then subtract a 3 minute dark to minimize hot pixels. Generally considered bad form for astrophotographers, as it doubles your exposure, or reduces your duty-cycle to 50%, I look forward to not needing to do that any more!

While those images were coming in, I had installed the venerable Canon XSi and 70-200 zoom on an Astrotrac mount. The target - currently the brightest comet in the sky - Comet C/2013 X1 PANSTARRS. I had noticed when looking it up on "Heavens-Above", that it was well-situated, transiting shortly after it got dark, but only about 10 degrees above the horizon in Norma. But I like a good challenge, so went for it! Even with short exposures with the XSi and 200mm focal length, it was easy to sweep up, though I don't think it was near its predicted brightness of 6.5. Perhaps 7.5 would have been a closer guess, though perhaps its low elevation reduced the brightness. Check out the images at left... Both use the same 5 exposures of 2 minutes each (taking a total of 20 minutes with the in-camera darks of the XSi). The difference between them is that at left, the images are stacked on the stars, and at right they are stacked on the comet nucleus. On the left image, the comet moved fast enough to leave a trail, so stacking on the comet nucleus is preferable. If you squint, I think you can see a hint of a tail that goes to the left of the comet. This is cropped considerably from the full 200mm frame...

While first playing with the bigger sensor back in Illinois, I did a comparison of the sensor sizes with a macro lens and suitable subjects - maple seeds and dandelions! But perhaps a star field would serve as a better example of what a sensor twice as large could do... One of my favorite fields is of the Pipe Nebula in Ophiuchus. With the 70-200 zoom set to 200mm and pointed to the field, a series of exposures were taken with both the XSi (APS sensor) and 6D (full-frame sensor), just changing the bodies out between shots. I'll let the images speak for themselves - at left with the XSi and at right, the full-frame 6D. These are the full-frames, so the larger sensor at right translates into a field of view at least twice as large. Between the faster speed, lower noise, and larger sensor, I'm looking forward to getting more from the Canon 6D!

As the evening drew to a close, I finished out with a fisheye view of the transiting Milky Way. Shown here is a 5-frame stack of 2 minute exposures with the 16mm. Tracking on the stars the trees are trailed, as are distant lights of towns on the Tohono O'odham reservation. A memorable view on a memorable evening.

By the way, it was nice having Roger and his scope there too - we got some great planetary views, as well as the comet and a variety of other sights. The goal was to be on the road back to Tucson about Midnight - well, we didn't quite make that, closer to 1220, but I walked into the house before 2am and got to sleep into the 4th of July holiday a little. Of course, once you get a night like that, you can't wait for the next one, and with our rainy season here, the next chance might not come for a while!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

There is a Plan!

It has been pretty quiet here on the blog... There are a couple of reasons - my computer was down and it wasn't just the screen connector as it has been the last few times, but it actually needed a new screen! $100 for a screen and the same for installation and verification and it is good to go again.

Also, it was a transition time in Melinda's cancer treatment. News comes in slowly, typically every 2 months when another PET scan is taken to measure how the last 2 cycles of chemo have worked. If tumors are smaller and less numerous, we continue what we've been doing. More tumors and bigger, and it is on to something else to try. Mostly lately is has been the latter and we feared that one of these times our oncologist would run out of things to turn to and we'd be facing a dead-end alley as far as options. So it was with some trepidation that we finally saw her yesterday after Melinda's latest PET scan last week.

The result is what we didn't want to hear - the oral chemo she has taken the last 2 months appeared to do nothing for her small-cell cancer. Personally, I wasn't optimistic as it had been developed for brain cancers, but we've done nothing but do what the doctor suggests... The tumors are bigger and brighter. Her back pain that has been the most debilitating is evidently NOT currently the result of her fall from September of 2013, but from near-doubling of an invading lesion near her vertebrae. The image at left is a comparison of the PET from a year ago, and the two most recent scans. At the lower curve of her spine is the whitish-orange of what we're up against...

But while the cancer is worse, at least Dr. Garland reached into her bag and pulled out a plan! We're going back to IV infusions, this time of the drug Taxol, used for the treatments of solid tumors.  The descriptions of side effects are scary, but then so are the list of what might happen for most chemo drugs.  She has fought through all side effects like a trooper, and is ready to start tomorrow!

But first, another wrinkle! The conglomerate tumor near her spine has been deemed close enough to the surface to try to hit with radiation. So tomorrow they do a "test run" to map out everything, and they'll be ready in about a week for 10 straight days of radiation. Then the plan is to take a week off, then start the Taxol on a once-per-week schedule for 3 weeks, then a week off. Two cycles of Taxol and another PET scan come late September or so. A long time to wait for news of progress, but hey - we're just thankful there is a plan! Dr Garland is also optimistic that the FDA will approve some of the new immunotherapy drugs for trials on small-cell cancer, so another thing to cross-fingers for. Some of the results applied to some cancers have been sounding miraculous, so perhaps something to look forward to!