Sunday, February 25, 2018

Chicago Museum Rounds!

In the nearly 12 years I've been coming to "Ketelsen East" to visit Melinda, we only went in to what most consider "downtown" a few times, mostly when visitors were stopping by. There was a trip to Adler Planetarium, once to Navy Pier and Millenium Park, once or twice to Wrigley, that was it! The western suburbs were good enough for us! My friend Karen has intended to broaden my horizons somewhat, plus I've given 2 talks at Adler the last 5 months! So last weekend we took public transportation down to the Chicago Art Institute for a few hours, then in a lovely blizzard, took in Millenium Park. A couple days later (President's Day) we risked being over run by kids out of school to take in the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). I still remember a long bus drive from Iowa when I was in 7th grade (!) to visit not only MSI, but Natural History Museum, Shedd Aquarium AND Brookfield Zoo. THAT must have been a day! My highlight of the entire day was the Nazi U-Boat on display at MSI. Would love to see that again - missed it this week! It is impossible to see anything close to a majority of the displays in a few hours, so repeat visits, better yet, annual memberships are well worth it!

I'm thinking I'd been to the Chicago Art Institute before - I remember the lions in front if not what I saw inside... I know that Grand Wood's "American Gothic" usually resides there, though is currently on a tour of Europe. We saw some sketches from war-torn Syria, a photography exhibit, a gallery of glass paperweights and Marc Chagall's "American Windows" in the couple hours we spent there. We spent a good amount of time reading about "Chagall's Windows", which were created for the Bicentennial and tell the story of America, but unfortunately, I evidently miss most of the symbolism in the story told in the glass. As someone who has previously dabbled in stained glass, his use of making images without the standard caming techniques is somewhat foreign too... Case-in-point is what I thought was a dove - a symbol of peace at right, but turns out it is an eagle, a symbol of strength... You can also see where he does not use the standard lead caming division between colors and textures but somehow incorporates it into the glass - a little strange to me!

As we returned to one of the galleries that overlooked an open space, we saw it was snowing heavily. It seemed disconcerting to be looking at Italian sculpture from millennia ago with heavy snow falling in the background!

There was Byzantine sculpture and mosaics from what is now war-torn Syria that was absolutely beautiful. Originally found in public places, the leopard mosaic at right was just stunning! It would be fun to try to replicate this on some smaller scale! Make sure you click on the image to see the details in it!

I think I've seen the glass paperweight gallery in a previous life too! There were some beautiful objects - the line of various sizes at left immediately jumped to mind as a focus-stack - 7 individual frames at various focus setting combined to extend the range of the in-focus setting. This particular design is known as millefiori - or "thousand flower", the effect of using hundreds of colored canes to create the effects of colorful flowers.

Likely the most impressive "paperweight" was the huge 30cm diameter one at left that had to have weighed in at 60 pounds or more! It was huge, yet very nearly perfect as I could make out!  There were other amazing examples too - what looked like real bees buzzing around what looked like real flower buds was one standout...

We were just about to leave as they started kicking people out at closing time, walking out into the evening blizzard.  But the temperature was moderate and snowfall was manageable - quite pleasant to be in, and perhaps some interesting photos would come of it. Of course first we had to photograph one of the "guard lions" with a fresh coating of snow.  They do not have names, but this north one was indicated to be "on the prowl" by the artist... Millennium Park is just a block to the north, so headed that way. The first public art we came upon is known at "Crown Fountain", a pair of 50 foot tall towers faced with LED displays that randomly shows few-minute videos of about 1,000 Chicagoans, ending with a "kiss" that results in a water spray during the Summer months. It is quite striking, especially with snow falling, surrounded by people and the Chicago skyline.

The other highlight of Millennium Park is the incredible sculpture "Cloudgate", commonly called "The Bean"! I thought it would be interesting in the snow, but it likely detracted from the reflecting surface...

If you can't find photos to take at "the Bean", you aren't trying hard enough! We weren't there very long, and even with the perfect reflective surface partially blocked, it was a fun time. We ambled a bit, and I snapped the shot at left of another fellow snapping it, then walked around to the west end where there was an ice skating rink. The Bean from that angle does reflect the rink, but is tough to spot with the snow partially blocking the reflections.

I was doing some reading on its installation, and they did a LOT of work in the construction, from welding 168 pre-formed stainless steel panels together. The panels are 3/8" thick and in total weight about 100 tons. The tough part was in polishing the stainless steel, including the welded seams so that the joints are totally invisible. After looking closely, I can say they did a very good job!

Two days later we did a post-brunch visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) on President's Day. While risking hordes of running schoolchildren, since school was NOT in session, it seemed to be mostly families, so wasn't a bad day! First up was transportation, where some time was spent investigating a 727 on display! One of the best things they could have done was put a pilot there to talk to - which is what they did! Scott worked as a pilot for both Midways and United Airlines and had some great stories to tell. He truly made it sound like it was the best job in the world! Even the story of how it got there was interesting. Since even Midway is 10 miles away, they landed the 727 at the old Meigs Field, a small, single-runway airport. Once landed, the 727 was stuck there as the runway wasn't long enough to take off again. It was transported the mile or two to the MSI, split along it's length for easy access to the interior and displays in the museum. That is the 727 hoisted to the second floor at left, and at right is Scott, eager to talk all about flying it!

The weather section had lots of displays too, highlighted by a 40 foot tall vortex, looking for all the world like a miniature dust devil like you would see in Arizona. Operators had some control over it, including the air speed and the angle of injection of the input blower. In the vortex photo at left, you can also see the Foucault Pendulum at right, a closeup of which is shown at right. It is a simple demonstration of the earth rotating. If mounted at the north or south pole, the plane of the pendulum would sweep out a full 360 degrees in 24 hours. At the equator, it would stay in the same plane. At Chicago's 42 degree latitude, seems to me it would go about 2/3 of the way 'round, about 240 degrees... With the pendulum's slow swing I took my selfie in the reflective ball at left...

While there were ample opportunities for kids to be running around like wild Indians, it was gratifying to see lots of them actually paying attention to the displays and principles being taught, especially young women. From the electrical to more vortices, they seemed to be outnumbering the boys at paying attention!

All the museums visited are worth further exploring, since only a small part of each were seen. I stand by my wish to go thru the Nazi U-Boat again, after my first visit 50 years ago!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Weather Roller Coaster!

I'm still at "Ketelsen East" in Illinois, and really enjoying the weather! Of course, it is February, so you never know what you are going to get, blizzards to Spring-like conditions, and we've actually seen it all the last few weeks. When I last posted, we were enjoying single digit temps (F) and below, and since then they set a record 9 consecutive days w/snow - a total of 18" in places! The map showed that amount very close to us, but seemed a little less outside. Still a massive amount! But while the last few Winters have been mild, we've got professionals here, and the roads get cleared pretty quickly. Picture at left show what the house looked like, and at right is a picnic table 30 yards from the house! It really was a winter wonderland, but difficult to walk in snow that deep! At least it was cold with all that snow and it was light and fluffy - perfect for shoveling!

Shortly after all that snow it cleared again and got cold - resulting in some really pretty sunsets! At right is one showing the deep snow reflecting violets and orange colors from the last of the twilight. The bluish color is from the blue of the clear sky illuminating the snow - it can also be seen in the shadows of the tree and picnic table above. With the sun shadowed, the predominant light is from the blue sky...

A few days later warmer temperatures came, highlighted by a day of temps pushing 70 (!) and 2" of rain! Even 14"+ of snow won't last long with that! Of course, all that snow plus 2 inches of rain totals something in excess of 3"+ of rain, so now all the rivers are flooded, the Fox River outside the house included! At left is shown the snow and a week later when it is all gone, with the river at least a little out of its banks. And at right I've done a before-and-after closer to the house, after I cleared the sidewalk around the house and now with all the snow gone.

It almost seems like an early spring with temps in the mid-30s, and now magically the Canada Geese have returned! They all disappeared somewhere when it was cold and snow-covered, but those that over-winter obviously have a hiding place and they are now out again to play!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Frosty Time!

I'm back at "Ketelsen East" in the western 'burbs of Chicago after a week-long road trip through the Midwest. It is great to stay in familiar surroundings, though has been a while since I've been in these weather conditions - temps in single digits and new snow falling most days! It has been beautiful, especially when combined with a blue sky, but what is one to do when confronted by temps near zero? Go out and shoot photos, of course!

I noticed the strange glow just looking out into the dark - the sky seemed aglow as what I assume were streetlights reflecting off the new snow. These photos of "Ketelsen East" and surroundings are only 5 seconds long, but you could easily see without a flashlight. There were a few snowflakes still coming down, and other than the "Grinch, Grinch" of my feet compacting the cold snow underfoot, it was completely silent. At left, I was shooting at the "security light" of the church camps pavilion on the grounds where my house is located. At right is a view of the Fox River, mostly frozen over with the snow cover over it making it look deceptively safe to cross on foot. While Melinda and I have crossed the frozen river before, it would have to be cold for much longer before I'd venture out onto the ice!

The next morning I awoke to an incredible frost display in the bathroom window between the inner pane and the outer storm window. I shot these with macro lens and some extension tube added in for good measure to record crystal detail. I shot it first with good reason - shortly afterwards, the sun hit it and it melted into a hazy patch of condensation and a few sizeable drops of water. No doubt the next evening a new pattern of frost would appear magically drawn by the randomness of crystal growth and moisture availability! Hmm - perhaps a time-lapse subject - but in a night-darkened bathroom???

As soon as I snapped the above shots in the bathroom, I looked outside on the porch (where it truly was nearly zero Fahrenheit!) and saw the sun glinting off some really nice snowflakes atop new snow fallen on the grill and bushes a few feet outside the door. The cold temps and still air from the night before must have been perfect conditions for crystal formation, as there were many choices to draw from. In particular, what had initially caught my eye was the near-specular reflection of the sun off the large flakes, so attempted to recapture that reflection. As mentioned, some flakes were huge - the one at left measuring (with a ruler!) to be a full 5 millimeters across! The flake is so bright because I was lined up with the sun's reflection, and the much shorter exposure required darkened the background snow... Similarly at right I found a pair of flakes that lined up their sun glints in the same direction, so was able to catch the pair with their crystal structure!

Well that was fun! Now I'm wishing for more quiet, cold days w/snow to look for more crystals and frost! Since we're still in the early days of February, I'm thinking the chances are good!

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Fine Winter Night!

Those of you who know me knows it doesn't take much to get me under a dark sky, so when buddy Laurie Larson expressed interest in coming down for a visit and a camera session under the stars, my answer was, of course, YES! So last weekend we headed west towards one of my favorite pieces of sky, that over Kitt Peak National Observatory. It was a job on that mountaintop that got me to Tucson, and after a stint as a full-time employee there in the '80s, another as a docent in the '90s, and another with their nightly observing programs in the '10s, it is still a favorite place to go, though one can't interfere with the night time activities there. I use one of the pull offs on the west side of the mountain for a sky that can't be beat! We made it to the Observatory well before they closed to the public and wandered around for a bit, finding I no longer know anyone working in the visitor center! The photo at left shows a view of the 4-meter telescope atop Kitt Peak from the road far below through a 500mm lens and a 6-frame mosaic assembled in Photoshop...

A bit later, after we finished atop the mountain, we went to the first pullout below the 4-meter telescope and set up my TEC 140 to do some real telephoto-lens imaging! With a focal length of 1,000mm, it works great if the seeing allows. Case in point is the shot at upper right. At right foreground is the San Xavier Mission, likely just under 40 miles distant. Above that is the Tucson International Airport, above that the Pima Air Museum and at top is the "Boneyard" of spare airplane parts at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base!

Also, a couple months ago I documented the LBT shooting off the ARGOS laser from Mount Graham 120 miles distant! While easy at night, I've never spotted it during the day. While I couldn't see it in the viewfinder, I shot blind and sure enough, is also easy with a little Photoshop adjustment of brightness and contrast...

We moved down a few miles to my favorite pullout and set up a small tracking mount for wide-angle lenses, and the big AP1200 mount here to mount the 500mm lens, as well as another piggyback 300mm without breaking much of sweat! That is Laurie doing her best Vanna White impersonation...

The first object of the night was an unusual comet - 2016 R2 PanSTARRS. It has been putting on a good show in larger telescopes and digital detectors, with an unusual blue color due to an overabundance of CO. Not quite as impressive through the smallish 500mm lens (compared to some telescopes), but the color still comes shining through! This is 15 minutes of total exposure through the 500mm. The 10 exposures were stacked on the comet nucleus, so the star images are trailed due to the comet's motion.

Laurie was interested in chasing down some of her favorite sky objects through the 500mm telephoto, and took these of the Rosette Nebula at left, and the Horsehead Nebula at right. In both images, the colors are real - the red is mostly from ionized Hydrogen gas, the most common element in the universe! Also in both images, the gas is condensing to form new stars. In the Rosette Nebula at left, you can see there is a loose cluster of stars that have used up and/or blown out the gas from the center of the nebula accounting for its hollow appearance. The Horsehead nebula is similarly composed of dust and gas also forming new star systems. the cream-colored nebula at upper left is actually a "reflection nebula", reflecting starlight from nearby stars, compared to the red glow caused by the gas' fluorescence! The "horsehead" part of the nebula is a dark cloud blocking the glow from the hydrogen cloud behind it. The Rosette is 10 minute total exposure, the Horsehead is 22 minutes!

I was content with some wider-angle fields, so went with the small tracking device after the comet photo above. At left is the Winter Milky Way rising over the southern slopes of Kitt Peak. While we thought it was clear, the photos make it obvious that it was not, with thin clouds being lit up by distant city lights. Over looking towards the west was a different kind of light! While parts of the Milky Way is visible in both images, the searchlight-looking beam reaching nearly the zenith at the Pleiades is the Zodiacal Light - meteoritic dust in the plane of the solar system reflecting sunlight to us. It is bright this time of year in the evening sky, even outshining much of the Milky Way! Both of these frames are with the 16mm Fisheye, and are each 70 seconds long.

As the night wound down, I did a 2-frame mosaic of Orion with a "normal" 50mm lens. The effect of doing the mosaic is retaining a little more resolution, though blog limitations remove most all of those advantages! Visible through most of the Orion shot (at left), are a plethora of red hydrogen clouds, including the above Rosette Nebula in the upper right corner, and the Horsehead under the left-most star of the belt of Orion...

I took another Fisheye shot to close out the night as the night's attendees also departed the mountain, illuminating the roadway with their headlights. Just above the southern horizon near the "blip" of Baboquivari is the bright star Canopus. I never saw this star growing up in the Midwest as it never clears the horizon there. The "light domes" of a couple towns are visible - I think the glow just to the left of Canopus is the border town of Sasabe about 30 miles to the south. And on the right hand edge of the horizon, the largish town of Caborca about 90 miles away illuminated the cloud deck.

Even given the clouds it was a great, mild night for January. They just don't come often enough for my taste!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Star of the Show!

One of the traditional holiday trips to take in AZ is down to Whitewater Draw to see the over-wintering Sandhill Cranes. We've been there likely over a dozen times the last few years to observe and take in the sights and sounds of up to 30,000 of them congregate in the wetlands as evening approaches. My suspicion is that numbers are down this year, as is the water level kept at the wetlands. Note also there is a live "Crane Cam" that provides a live view - make sure you check it out!

However, this year, on a New-Year's Day visit, while there were lots of cranes, they were not stars of the show, but rather another of my favorites, a male Vermillion Flycatcher put on a good display. We've seen them often, perhaps a third of the time, but this time he was in a tree very close to one of the lookout posts. One of the characteristics they follow while feeding is a return to the same perch they've launched from. So by staying set up with a big telephoto on the perch, you can catch them returning by hitting the camera "motor drive" as they return. The first shot, shown at left, shows blurring, even though taken at a 1600 second. As a result I adjusted the camera to use shorter exposures for subsequent frames. And the frame at right even shows his success as hunter as he has a fly in his beak!

The rest shown here are easy to take as you are just waiting for a return. Seeing all the maneuvers they make sure make you want to take flying lessons! Make sure you click the images for the full-size version!

Finally I left him and moved on to other subjects, but he was fun to shoot! Shortly after sunset the "Supermoon" rose over the peaks to the east - another easy catch! It might have made a nice time-lapse, but the sudden onset of twilight observers moved the platform too much!

Yes, Kinda Still Here!

My Friend Liz asked me at the astronomy club meeting Friday - "So is the Blog over"? A valid question as I've not posted for nearly 2 months, including any in December, nor the what has been the usual year-end review. With only 44 posts in all of 2017, it hardly seemed worthwhile to do a "best-of"... But believe me, I'm still having adventures, and while distracted by work, play and considerably longer stays in the Midwest, I'll try to do better - promise! In the meantime, here are some nearly-2-month-old photos to wrap up the last trip to "Ketelsen East"!

In my nearly daily outings around the parks and forest preserves near the cottage in the Fox River Valley, I keep an eye out for bits of color, especially as Fall and Winter descend and the color palette move towards earth tones and grays! But a walk down the bike path at Tekakwitha FP on Thanksgiving revealed these bright flowers or fruits growing along the ditch between path and folks' back yards. They were completely new to me, even after living there for 8+ years now. They appear in long viney tendrils their bright colors their only property that makes them stand out. Of course, I seemed the only one in the dark - the first two friends I showed them to immediately said it was "Bittersweet", and with that start, the Google revealed them as Celastrus_orbiculatus - Chinese Bittersweet. In the photos you can see these are the Asian version as in the native North American version fruit only grow at the vine ends. Will have to keep an eye out next Summer for the green flowers they are said to produce.

Both of these images are focus-stacked. Eighteen frames were combined for the left image, ten for the right. Images were taken at slightly different focus settings and combined in Photoshop to extend the depth of field thru the area of interest.

A day later (24 November) I again shot the quarter-moon through the mostly bare trees adjacent to the house. Unlike a few days before, This time I got out the 300mm, but the longer focal length either threw the moon or the tree branches out of focus. The solution was easy - focus stacking again saved the day! Taking 2 images, one focused on the branches, the other on the moon were easily again combined in Photoshop resulting in the shot at left. I actually took a 3D pair, but didn't come out as well as I had hoped, so will stick with the single frame for now!

Well, that wasn't so bad - finished the first post of the year! Hopefully they will come more often than every 6 or 7 weeks!