Wednesday, November 28, 2018

POTUS Profile Peered at Pedestrian Paths

The other week I was on my way home and got stuck in a construction backup. As I was passing a portable sign marking a pedestrian crossing, I caught a glimpse of something that made me do a double-take - a clear profile of our current president! I almost didn't believe what I was seeing, but saw it the next day at normal speeds, but finally a couple days later I parked safely and took a photo with my phone. Sure enough, the normally round head of the "walking pedestrian" had an official-looking POTUS profile!

Of course, once seen, it cannot be unseen, and as my excursions for chores around Tucson had me wandering, I've now spotted well over a dozen of them within a few miles of my house! There are some of the old round-headed versions, but the majority of those in Midtown show Trump's visage!

Some of them, like the one shown at left, are mounted a good 10 feet off the ground, so it isn't like someone is throwing a sticker over the sign - tools and at minimum a tall ladder is needed. Examined closely, you can see the vinyl sticker is placed over the bolt holding on the sign - a clue that it likely isn't officially sponsored...

I returned to the original sign shown above, and with my "real' camera, adjusted the exposure so you can, in fact, see that the original round head of the sign is still under the vinyl sticker placed over it, shown at right...

And carefully, I worked my fingernail under the vinyl sticker and with some difficulty, could actually pull the edge of the sticker up off the sign - but notice at left that it sticks so well it pulls off the round-head sticker below it!

I've yet to find anything on Google to explain the appearance of POTUS profile on these signs... But then, I've not called the city's sign department also - may have to do that to see if anyone besides me has even noticed!

And finally, space artist Joe Bergeron, a long-time friend from the Grand Canyon Star Party, said the resemblance wasn't quite striking enough, so enhanced one of my photos.  Shown at right, it more closely resemble POTUS - rounded abdomen, small hands, and of course, the overly-long tie! What do you think?!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Another Post-Thanksgiving Outing

It was such a perfect Thanksgiving weekend - Temps in the low 70s and a perfect blue sky. On Saturday was the final football game of the year - archrival Arizona State was in town for the big game. If AZ wins, they qualify for a bowl game, lose and they are done till next Fall. Can't get much more dramatic!

I took the opportunity to do a little road trip to "A" Mountain, otherwise known as Sentinel Peak, located about a mile to the SW of Tucson's downtown area. It has a paved road to the peak, a few hundred feet above the desert floor and the view extends from south to north - an expansive view that is popular all day long!

I chose to set up my TEC 140 refractor and take some photos of my favorite landmarks, and with Arizona Stadium a mere 3 miles away, used it as a target to evaluate a 2X converter (doubled the focal length, thus the scale of images). At left is a photo taken with a 50mm "normal" lens with my fave targets labeled.

I've used this telescope to image AZ Stadium before. Seeing effects (atmospheric turbulence caused by mixing of different temperatures of air) usually limit the sharpness at 3 miles distance. But still, the scope is ALMOST sharp enough to recognize people from 3 miles! Shown here are the full frames of the Canon 6D of the stadium view. Clearly seen is that in the view with the 2X converter at right, the image is larger and field of view is narrower. The real question is whether use of the converter provides any advantage, or can you just enlarge the straight image in Photoshop...

Of course, the real limitation on this blog is that images are limited to 1600 pixels wide, while the camera has almost 5500 pixels across the image! So just showing you the full image above you are losing a huge amount of resolution because each pixel there shows an average of almost 16 pixels in the original image (4 across and 4 high).

So here is the answer. Shown here at left are full resolution crops from single images from each configuration. The fields of interest are the same - the 2X converter version below is on the left side without the converter so you can compare directly (taken a few minutes apart, 2X later). It looks fuzzier, but again, because the scale is doubled, is resolution any worse? I think the answer is no - the bowl games played are about equally legible, as are details in people and clothing being worn. I think both are limited by the atmospheric turbulence - the effect can be seen in the horizontal white line in each - wiggles seen in it is caused by turbulent air mixing at these large magnifications... Oh, and by the way, I went to some length to minimize vibration - used a 2-second delay after pushing the camera button, and also locked up the view mirror to minimizw "mirror slap". So it is a wash for distant objects to use the converter or not. Perhaps closer objects less limited by "seeing" might work better with the 2X converter...

I then moved to a few of my other favorite targets. At left is the old Pima County Courthouse, with its distinctive tile domed roof. It is interesting that it is seemingly surrounded by newer boring architecture...

Also photographed, but not detectable by eye mid-afternoon was the "window" of Window Rock. A good 16 miles away from my "A" Mountain observing location, it is visible by eye from Midtown when conditions are right - preferably evening or morning twilight. Here the scope makes shooting it simple!

I also did a 10-frame mosaic past AZ Stadium up through the NE side of town. Combined together in Photoshop it shows the stadium, Catalina High School just above and left of the stadium (in truth about 3 miles past it!), Tucson Medical Center upper left of stadium, then the Mount Lemmon Highway which leads up the mountain in the far distance on the NE side of town. Right about where the road disappears, "Bad Dog" overlook can be seen - another favorite lookout of mine! Of course, here the mosaic is only the 1600 pixel limit wide - was more fun in the original nearly 15,000 pixels wide with the full camera resolution...

And one more shot are some of the homes creeping up the foothills of the Catalinas. I think these are about 12 miles away and you can see how they get permission to build right next to the National Forest boundary considerably up the slope of the foothills. Good thing they don't get much snow and ice here - can you imagine climbing those hills in slick weather?!

After an hour taking in a shooting the view, I headed home. It was an exciting game - the home Wildcats hanging on to a thin lead, then at the end the "Scum Devils" overtook and won the game by a single point! Next year!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Post-Thanksgiving Outing

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! I spent a quiet day with a friend up in Phoenix, but was home later in the evening much to my cats' relief!

But Friday dawned pretty darned nice, though still some thin clouds in the sky. But I had visualized a photo op of the nearly full moon rising over the Tucson valley. Where is the best place to observe such a thing? My immediate thought was to shoot it from Kitt Peak, the moon rising over the profile of the Catalina Mountains and the city lights.

That is about the way it worked out - an uneventful ride to arrive at sunset, and set up 2 tripods for 2 lenses (500mm and 200mm) and 2 cameras (Canon 6D and XSi). Pretty much as soon as it got dark enough to take some exposures of the city lights with each lens, the glow identifying the moonrise position came into view! In making these images, I combined the long-ish exposures of the city lights with a shorter exposure properly exposed for the moon. So it is sort of an High Dynamic Range (HDR) exposure to record details much different in brightness. At left is the slightly wider view with the 200mm lens, and at right the 500mm, taken a few seconds later.

It was amazing how fast the moon rose above the profile of the Catalinas, but the clouds really add to the images. In the end, it pretty much turned out like I had envisioned... And with that image the only one on the program, with packing up of gear, I was back in town before 8pm! An early night!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Chiricahua Bound!

Have been back at "Ketelsen West" for nearly a month now... Still suffer from lack of inspiration to blog, though I've got loads to put up! Case in point is this trip to Chiricahua National Monument, that I visited 2 weeks ago now! My friend Laurie needled me to get out and observe that Saturday evening and since the Chiricahuas are a favorite of us both, we hit the road early afternoon for the 2 hour trip.

We got there a little before sunset, and drove up "Rhyolite Canyon" along some beautiful scenery. Fall colors were a little past peak among the sycamores along the canyon bottom, but still the rock formations formed of compressed ash from a long-extinct volcano were quite spectacular! Rock formations at left, and that is Laurie at right...

I hustled to set up the mount at Echo
Canyon parking lot - the plan was to mount the 500mm Canon camera lens to do some astrophotography for part of the night. Once set up, we both adjourned to Massai Point a half mile south for another project. I've always had a "thing" for the rock formation 5 miles to the north - the perfect profile of the Indian chief Cochise. While I've shot it many times before during the day, I was hoping to use the 4-day old moon's illumination to make it stand out a bit in the dark. At left is a shot right about sunset. Then after aligning the mount to Polaris and taking some sky flats, I returned to shoot Cochise with stars wheeling overhead. I found out that the moon was way too dim to even assist with locating the rock formation in the dark! I persevered and managed to take a passable frame.

Returning to Echo Canyon, Laurie worked on some wide-field shots of the sky, and I took three series of exposures on 3 objects of interest (to me, anyway!). First up was a dark nebula along the Milky Way in the constellation Cepheus. Shown at left, the dark nebula is known as the Seahorse Nebula, from its distinctive shape. Its catalog name is Barnard 150.  Also at left is a spiral galaxy NGC 6946, unusual for being located so near the Milky Way. It is relatively bright, and only 23 million light years distant - relatively close! And not to be forgotten, at lower left is a star cluster, NGC 6939, well within our own galaxy, a mere 4,000 light years distant.  This frame is about an hour of stacked exposures with the 500mm lens and like all exposures here, north is up.

The next object was a "bright" comet, almost directly overhead. If it wasn't so close to Beta Andromeda (itself a guidepost to finding the Andromeda Galaxy) it might be harder to find. But being just north of Beta, I just put the bright star in the lower edge of the field and shot away - there it was, glowing green! This comet is 64P Swift-Gehrels, making a close appearance to the earth - only 43 million miles from the earth, and 130 million miles from the sun (the earth is about 93 million miles from the sun). The green glow is caused by solar radiation dissociating carbon molecules from the comet's nucleus, which glows green in the vacuum of space... The sharp-eyed among you might note a fuzzy spot just upper left from Beta Andromeda at the lower edge. That is NGC 404, long a test object to see if your telescope reveals it so close to a bright star. This is 10.5 minutes of stacked exposures.

My last object for the night was a pair of "bright" nebula (as opposed to dark, seen by silhouette), also adjacent to a bright star. In this case, the bright star is Gamma Cassiopeia - the bright "W" currently on its side in the northeastern sky. Gamma is the center star of the "W", and the photo at left reveals some diffuse glows near it. The intense radiation of the star excites the gas to glow by fluorescence, as well as the radiation pressure pushing back the gas to form "sharp" formations pointed towards the star. I've seen photos of these (IC 63 and IC 59 left and right) thru big telescopes, but didn't know if it was possible in a "mere" telephoto lens.  This is 16 minutes of stacked exposures...

With the early sunset, we got in all the above observing, packed up and hit the road for the Tucson return about 10:30, hitting home about 12:30 - a productive night for the limited time on-sky!

I asked Laurie to send along her photo of
the wide-field shot of comet 65P Swift-Gehrels that also included the Andromeda Galaxy. Shown at left is a stack of 6 frames of 4 minutes total exposure taken with her T3i APS sensor camera with my 200mm lens. Please ignore the magenta halos around stars - they can sometimes be removed by adjusting focus slightly, but harder to remove in post-processing!

And at left is a labeled version - north is approximately at upper left... Note how obviously the greenish tint of the comet makes it so apparent! Unfortunately, it doesn't work when finding it visually as our eyes aren't sensitive enough to see colors on faint objects!