Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Window View!

I know, has been a full week since blogging. Seems that since returning to Tucson, time seems harder to come by! The flight back was if anything, uneventful. Niece Kathy provided an early morning ride to the airport on her way to work. The morning was overcast with some fog, that seemed to thicken as we neared O'Hare, yet, the display monitors inside assured the flight was on time. Security was a snap and got thru in seconds, if not a minute or two, so was sitting gate-side a full 2 hours early! Finally boarding the plane, it was only about a third full! Evidently the fog kept connecting flights from coming in, so most everyone missed their connection! Fortunately the plane was already positioned - we could take off, but evidently flights were not coming in!

The first pictures show the situation - as we turned, I could get a glimpse down the runway, the fog and the queue of planes behind us. As we started our takeoff run, a quick shot of the terminal showed the thicker fog obscuring even the top of the control tower!

But almost moments later we broke through - it was a very low layer causing the problems. And right away I caught an amazing sight - the shadow of the plane surrounded by a glory! These are caused by water droplets reflecting light from the sun back to the observer. The circular glory is centered on my shadow, so you can see I was sitting behind the wing on the down-sun side! I took photos at about 15 to 20 second intervals, and made a sequence of our ascension out of the fog.  As the plane climbed, our shadow, of course, gets smaller as the projection screen (top of fog/clouds) gets further away. What is interesting is that over the 3 minutes of elapsed time, the diameter of the glory stays the same or grows! I went to some trouble to assure the scale was the same between exposures, so what does that tell us?

The diameter of the glory actually tells us the size of the water droplets! I actually did the calculations a couple years back. Since the diameter of the glory is inversely proportional to the water droplet size, as the glory grows, the droplets get smaller and smaller. Shortly after the sequence ends, we ran off the end of the low-hanging clouds, as shown at left, 7 minutes after the start of our takeoff run. The growing glory indicates a falling droplet diameter size to the edge of the fog layer. Makes sense that the edge of the fog extent has a smaller droplet diameter... Data seems to bear that out, anyway!

With the rapid clearing so close to
O'Hare, I was quickly able to orient myself, spotting towns and cities just west of where our house is in the Western Suburbs. I was able to quickly spot Decalb and the nuke plant southwest of Rockford(shown at left), the town of Dixon - just visited a few weeks before. We crossed the Mississippi River just below Clinton, Iowa - the town where I was born and spent much of my youth. The image at right shows the "Tri-City" area of Fulton, IL at right and Camanche, IA to the left of Clinton in the center. Looking at the full-size image I can show you dozens of landmarks from casinos, my Uncle John's farm and housing development adjacent to the golf course I used to walk to and search for lost golf balls, as well as lose a few too! Above the two bridges that cross the river into Clinton is Lock and Dam #13.  I worked most of my summers at my Grand-Dad's (now Uncle's) farm, so know the area reasonably well and is fun to look for the little details that would take hours to drive around to see.

I was able to follow our path out to Iowa City where I attended college before I lost track of what I was seeing. I suspect it might have been a record for me as we usually travel quite a bit further south - don't know a lot of landmarks around the southern part of the state!

Opposition Effect brightening!
Most every time I travelled it was with Melinda, so this was one of the few times I've flown alone. But looking out the window, I recognized a friend and spent a good part of the middle section of the drive documenting the "Opposition Effect". Shown at left, it is very similar to the Heiligenshein which I blogged about a couple posts ago - it is the bright spot near the shadow of your head on dewy grass. That effect needs water droplets, but looking at where the shadow of the plane should be, you see another bright spot. From our high altitude, the plane is much smaller than the subtended angle of the sun, so the shadow would be subtle at best. So what causes the bright spot? This sequence was made from exposures taken at about 1 second intervals, each going through the same enhancements I do for most of these images taken from planes - nothing extra-ordinary...

The effect is a combination of a couple things - first, like with the heiligenshein, shadows of the landscape disappear, so there is a component of brightening from that. In addition there is another contribution from some grains in soils and rocks that retro-reflect light back towards the sun. If you pay close attention (it can be sometimes be low contrast and difficult to spot) you can watch it pass over farms and towns and then something else happens - light retro-reflects back up towards the sun from vehicle reflectors and the glass micro-balls added to traffic signs to illuminate towards you from your vehicle lights at night. It is way cool to see these signs get absolutely brilliant as your shadow crosses them. At left is shown some random town, I'm thinking in SW Iowa, but not sure. I noted our "opposition effect" was going to cross it so got the camera ready. Not too much noted in the slightly darker exposure at left, but at right is the same frame with the brightness set just black - just showing the saturated pixels. It is neat seeing the red reflections likely returned from stop signs that face south towards us at regular block intervals.

I am still amazed at the nonchalance of folks flying along at 550 miles an hour 6 miles above the ground. I continue to have my nose glued to the window the entire time but this mostly empty flight demonstrated those with opposite feelings. The couple in front of me had the center and window seat and as soon as we took off, they moved AWAY from the window to aisle and middle, and no, they weren't watching a video or something where the light might have bothered them... Anyway, I don't understand not looking down at the spectacular 200 minute show right outside your window! Look at these pictures here, I believe taken in northern New Mexico - just spectacular landforms that I'm glad I didn't miss. I've got stereo pairs of most of these, but won't bore you with them now - will work on a 3D post later!

Most every flight you can catch the city of Albuquerque in New Mexico. If you draw a line from Chicago to Tucson, the line passes about 80 miles south of Albuquerque, but evidently air traffic is steered near it before turning more southward towards home. Here at left it is seen on the western slopes of the Sandia Mountains at right. The darkish channel from right to left center is the upper waters of the Rio Grande River which flows up there in NW New Mexico with its ultimate headwaters up in Colorado!

Lately it seems we also always pass over the VLA radio telescope west of Socorro. Not always easy to spot with 27 dishes spread over 40 miles of track. Shown at right is the eastern arm of the "Y" shaped array. Each of the 80 foot diameter dishes are mounted and moved around on tracks so can be repositioned at regular intervals. I think this fully spread-out setup is Configuration A which results in the highest resolution images from the telescope.

Two more spectacular images shown here. At left is a spot just north of VLA, which I've not been able to exactly locate on Google Maps, but is just a sublime landscape of erosion channels in a dry desert! The subtle colors plus the amazing landscape just blows me away! Similarly, the distinctive view at right came by the window 12 minutes later - I believe it is the Middle Gila River in SW New Mexico. Note the golden foliage in the trees along the river channel at bottom.

One of the things that always interests me on a plane trip is how far you can see from 30,000 feet elevation. Of course, even how far you can see from a mountaintop interests me too (easily entertained!). Fortunately, on this section of the flight through SW New Mexico we had a nice reference to look for. Barely visible from the time we left Albuquerque was a pimple on the horizon. At left is a well-stretched image of it taken about this time from the above pictures. I believe with all my heart that the bump shown just below the tip of the wing are the San Francisco Mountains north of Flagstaff Arizona. With my trusty ruler and Google Maps, it was a good 260 miles away, which I think is a record for knowing how far I can spot a landscape. Two years ago on a similar flight I saw 220 miles, so a good jump in the distance record here!

Before I knew it we had passed the big copper mine in Morenci and the LBT telescope atop Mount Graham, both a little too far away to pay justice to here on the blog. We did pass right over the relatively new windmill farm run by Tucson Electric Power, dedicated just over a year ago on the western slopes of the Winchester Mountains (east of the Rincons). I had spotted them from up on Mount Lemmon so was nice to get a near-vertical view upon them...

And minutes later we circled the north side of Tucson to line up to land. As we passed over the eastern slopes of the Tucson Mountains, I marveled at some of the houses perched atop the very top peaks, shown at right. Good thing they don't get much snow on those hills - would be hard to get up some of those driveways if it were icy!

So the trip was great, and the longest break I've had in memory was over. Back in Tucson and trying to get back to normal now. Hopefully I'll get blogging at more reasonable intervals - I promise!


steven said...

Your airplane window photos are beautiful, and seem closely matched to the views I usually see out the windows. However, my attempts at those photos always result in washed out grey-ish photos with little contrast. So, please tell us.... What is your secret to good quality airplane window photos!? inquiring minds want to know. Thanks!

Astroweis said...

Hi Dean,

very interesting and beautiful images. You really have a great talent in capturing nature's optical secrets. Thanks for sharing!


Dean said...

Yes, between shooting thru several layers of glass/plexiglass and then long path lengths of a hazy atmosphere, the original images are washed out and flat. I use Photoshop (cause I have it) to correct. The technique I use is to use "Levels" to set the black point and white point to the histogram of each color channel. Quite easy and just takes a few seconds. An alternate is to hit "Auto Color" under the Image Menu, which works nearly as well. Don't know about other widely available processing programs, but even Elements should allow the above... I should write a demo post about it - stay tuned!