Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Window Seat!

Have been at "Ketelsen East" for over a week now, and time to get my travellin' photos posted! It is fun to schedule a down-sun seat and watch for the waypoints we pass every trip that seem like long-lost friends. And every time you seem to see more and sometimes weird stuff - no exception this trip! The plane, a 737, was absolutely full, so took longer than normal to load and we took off about 10 minutes late. The photo at left shows the view from my vantage point from seat 28A as we turned onto runway 11 to start our takeoff roll.



The flight path usually takes us just south of Mount Graham and in many recent trips have gotten some impressive views of the telescopes there. This time the plane flew pretty much due east for a good length of time - I could look out my window and see Willcox below me and Mount Graham a good 30 miles to the north. We must have turned towards the NE shortly after as a bit later the big copper mine at Clifton/Morenci came into view as usual. We never got close to it, but thanks to the clean windows, got some decent views! At left is one of the photographs showing good detail, and at right is a pair of images put together to make a 3D anaglyph image. You will need the red/blue glasses to see the 3D, red lens on the left! The mine is the largest production copper mine in North America, so is a big deal in the local economy - Morenci is located in eastern AZ, in fact, I'm thinking we might even have been in New Mexico airspace when this photo was taken!


Now that we were nearer our normal flight path, the waypoints came by like clockwork... Twelve minutes later, the VLA (Very Large Array radio telescope) came into view. It was tough to spot visually, but a little contrast adjustment in Photoshop brought the telescope dishes into clear view. 27 dishes, each about 80 feet in diameter are spread out along a big "Y", each arm about 9 miles long. The dishes can be easily moved on a rail system, mounted closer to the center to provide highest sensitivity, or spread out widely along the 9 miles of each arm for the highest angular resolution. According to the observing schedule, this is configuration "B" which provides the second-highest angular resolution...  Click the left image for the full-size view!


Six minutes later and we were approaching Albuquerque, looking up the Rio Grande Valley. At right is a great view up the river. Click to load the full image and you can see some Fall colors in the foliage near the river, as well as the patchwork of fields irrigated by river water. I believe the town above center is Belen, NM...


We passed Albuquerque and the Sandia mountains they nestle against as we continued ENE. Then I spotted something I've never seen before - what appeared to be a landing strip built along the top of a narrow mesa, with some symbols bulldozed into the desert. I took some photographs and didn't think much about it, finally looking along our path on Google maps, finally finding it! It is known as CST Trementina Base, so named because it is near Trementina, New Mexico. It belongs to the Church of Spiritual Technology, affiliated with the Church of Scientology. Supposedly the location houses an underground vault where the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard are preserved for future scholars, the symbols - another Scientology emblem for future faithful to find the vault. The view at left is the straight image, and at right is the 2-photo combo made into an anaglyph that shows the impressive terrain there. Again, the red/blue glasses are needed to see the 3D image.


Eastward of New Mexico and Kansas we
ran into clouds, which forms their own set of pretty views! The photos for the anaglyphs are easy to take in a plane going nearly 600 miles per hour... All you need is a little stereo separation between the 2 frames, much like your eye separation provides for items close enough to reach with your hands. Since clouds are farther away, typically 4 or 5 seconds of a plane's motion is fine. If the clouds are more distant, I've gone as far as 12 or 15 seconds to show a good stereo effect... At left, I love the effect of the clouds floating over the landscape forming a pair of layers at different heights. And at right, when the ground can't be seen, even the clouds themselves form their own landscapes analogous to mountains and valleys. There is a never-ending variety to clouds that I've seen over many trips... Again, both of these are anaglyphs, so use of red/blue glasses required!

It is always a challenge I set for myself to see how soon I can locate where we are as we approach Chicago. Paying attention to the flight path, I can spot the Illinois River and that network of locks, dams and barges plying their way to Chicago. If there are clouds over the Mississippi, hiding where we are crossing, it is sometimes a challenge to locate our approach. On my July trip clouds prevented me from seeing the Illinois river, and I didn't catch the location till we descended over the Fox Valley and saw the "big circles"! As seen at left, it is the Fermilab nuclear accelerator just outside Batavia, about 15 miles south of "Ketelsen East". By using strong magnets, atomic ions can be made to follow the circles and be accelerated to nearly the speed of light and collide into another beam or target, releasing strange and exotic atomic bits and pieces. It was state-of-the-art 45 years ago, but has been superseded by the big accelerators in Europe.


This trip, we were further north, in fact,
likely flying within a couple hundred yards of "Ketelsen East", which is often in the flight path of approaching planes.  I knew because I could look out my left-side window and see the Stearns River bridge, built just a couple years ago and a frequent turn-around point for my walks along the Fox a mile and a half north of the house.  This trip, with the loss of Daylight Savings Time, it was too dark to grab a photo, but the one at left is from April on the same flight following the same path.  The view is looking north up the Fox River, with the Stearns Avenue Bridge at bottom, with it's distinctive green pedestrian and bike path built-in underneath.  Note also the much older railroad bridge just north, which I've not seen used...  In any case, you can see the bike path along the left (west) side of the river, where I took the photo at right last Spring on a walk...


Of course, the endpoint destination is O'Hare Airport (ORD), named for Edward O'Hare, the first WWII flying ace and Medal of Honor winner.  Built in the late 40s and later, it is one of the busiest airports in the world.  We flew past it in September as we went out to Lake Michigan to turn around for our approach towards the west.  The photo at left shows it sprawling over it's 7,000+ acres of land.  I would be intimidated as hell trying to fly a small plane into something like that!

Well, that was this flight - we landed nearly 30 minutes early even with the late start, likely the jet stream was behind us!  I'll keep pushing for the window seat - too much to miss by ignoring the view!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Star of Local "Crime of the Century" Passes Quietly...

The New York Times is always interesting - that is why I subscribe to weekday delivery. But today I read something that shocked me as I'd never heard the story before - and it happened in Tucson! June Robles Birt, who had been kidnapped for 19 frantic days in 1934, died 2 months ago. Her original obit had her married name listed, explaining why so much time passed before the star of the story was recognized as passing.



It was big news in 1934 - 6 year old "Little June" was kidnapped off a Tucson street while walking to her aunt's house after school setting off a frantic search. Over the course of a couple weeks and 3 ransom notes, the case was no closer to being solved. Finally a week after the last ransom note, a letter arrived, mailed from Chicago, with a crude map where "the girl's body could be found". Spectacularly, after a 3 hour search, the county attorney found her alive, locked and chained in a metal box buried underground in the oppressive AZ heat. Even with daily nationwide headlines, no headway could be made in the case, and June went on to successfully become as anonymous as she sought to be, marrying quietly and raising 4 children.  Of course, this is the "Cliff Notes" of the story - go read it yourself at the NY Times website!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A New View!

Long time readers know I'm justifiably proud of some of the Mirror Lab accomplishments, including the twin mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope, each 8.4 meters (about 27.5 feet) in diameter. In particular, I've been on a quest of sorts of imaging the telescope while it does interesting things. It seems to have culminated last Spring when I caught the ARGOS laser propagating into the sky from a distance of 12 miles. From the town of Safford, through a small telescope, I almost had a front-row view of the instrument, visible at left, which is used to project a constellation of artificial stars in the field of view of the telescope to partially correct atmospheric turbulence. Several hundred similar frames were combined to make a short video seen here.


Well, without permission from the powers that be to get any closer (made more difficult by the recent severe fire this last spring that approached within 50 meters!), my most recent query was - from how far away can you see it?! From a post a few years back, I knew that LBT was line-of-sight from Kitt Peak National Observatory, very close to 120 miles away! The image at left is from that post and demonstrates that if you can see KPNO from LBT (flat-topped mountain in center), you can see LBT from KPNO!




So last night after work (working evenings this week at the Mirror Lab), I found my way driving westward - this after confirming with the LBT telescope operator that indeed ARGOS was operating properly. Being that it was dark-of-the-moon, I parked on the last pullout before turning towards the Observatory so that my lights would have no effect on operations there. It was an interesting night - totally clear, but obviously above an inversion layer. I watched the thermometer climb as the van ascended. It was 60F at the base of the mountain, 70F on top! The wind seemed a little blustery, alternately blowing out of the south or the north - weird! But fortunately, I was very comfortable in shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

I had several optics to try - the first was easiest to set up - the 500mm F/4 "big bertha" telephoto. I had it up, pointed and focused on the lights of Tucson in a few minutes. It took me a couple shots to find where the LBT would appear - I'd never seen it from Kitt Peak, as it is quite small. But I knew it would be left of the red-lit radio transmission towers atop Mount Lemmon, so used that as my guide. About my 3rd shot - there it was! The green laser standing out from the occasional star and headlight visible on the Mount Lemmon Highway. At left is shown a 6-frame panorama of part of Tucson. with the green spot of the 18 watt ARGOS laser visible. At right is a single frame at a little larger scale better showing the laser beam.


I then broke out the big gun - the TEC 140 - a 5.5" diameter telescope with 1,000mm of focal length. Again, because of the large magnification, it took a couple practice frames to get it pointed properly. Note that at NO TIME was the ARGOS laser visible to the naked eye or even visible in the camera viewfinder. It was only the power of a 20 to 30 second exposure that revealed it was there. I had started an exposure sequence for a possible time-lapse, and interestingly, the inversion layer is visible just under LBT. In a couple minutes of exposure, it slowly dropped and became a little brighter in the less-affected air. Also visible in the exposure is the south slope of the mountain, brightly illuminated by the lights from Ft Grant prison at its base.


Most of my outings, I usually finish with a practice shot or mini-project that can be completed while putting away gear. This night, approaching 1:30 in the morning, I mounted the 16mm fisheye on the Canon 6D and took a couple frames of the sky from Andromeda to the rising Winter Milky Way. What is most interesting, besides the reddish airglow that looks like clouds to the west (right), is the oval glow just below center. This is called the Gegenshein, or counter-glow - a spot defined by being opposite to the sun in the sky. An optical effect allows sunlight to reflect from meteoritic dust back to us. This may be my best photo of it, and from only 2 stacked exposures shown here. Each of the 2 exposures were 2.5 minutes with the fisheye working at F/4.

Always great fun to be under a clear dark sky, and while chasing an ARGOS viewing might be only an excuse, it doesn't take much to get me out looking up!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Deja Vu, And Then Some!

My friend Donna had a hair appointment in Tucson this last weekend and suggested a road adventure, and another buddy Bernie was impressed with my photos from the weekend before on the Baboquivari 4WD trip. What could I do but suggest another trip to the most sacred site of the Tohono O'odham? Neither had been to the area, so by noon we were again winding down the Sasabe Road! As on the previous trip, my new riders were impressed with the view of Kitt Peak from 12 miles away. At left, Bernie shoots the observatory - the flat peak seen on the horizon.


We didn't waste a lot of time on the drive down - turned off the paved road just beyond milepost 16 and followed the road back NW towards the impressive profile of Baboquivari. With our little later start, we found a nice spot for our lunch with a view of both the peak and vistas to the east as well. The 5-frame mosaic here from our lunch spot with the 300mm lens well-captures the peak and surrounding area. Unfortunately, with the 1600 pixel-wide limit of pictures much of the impact of these panoramas is lost. At right what I've done is crop out the peak area of the panorama, keeping it at full resolution to give an idea of how powerful the full resolution panorama is! The crop at right is the same image, just cropped, not downsized from the panorama...


The previous trip I had seen a lot of huge grasshoppers, though didn't stalk one down on that trip. This time one came walking by at our lunch, so was able to molest it and take it's photo. It is a colorful fellow, flightless, though with underdeveloped wings seen here with black spots. It didn't take long to identify it on the Google as a Plains Lubber Grasshopper, Brachystola magma. Interestingly, in that link, they find that the Plains Lubber has a 2-year life cycle. I really love the subtle but strong earth-tone colors!

A little later we did some hiking when we hit the locked gate mentioned in last week's post. We turned a corner and I discovered the Praying Mantis shown at right at eye level on a plant. It was quite patient while I twisted the plant to bring it into the sunlight to get one or two good shots...


About 1km above the locked gate, we saw a ranch house that looked a lot better-kept than I remember hiking past back in the 80s! It appeared to have newer double-pane windows and a metal roof, even as the road leading up to it seemed long-unused. I ventured a little past the "private property" sign, but only to get the photo at left. Following the trail around the house and the corral, I took the mosaic at right. It looks like an idyllic place to spend some time! Back 30 years ago when last here hiking the peak, we parked much nearer the ranch house, but was pretty run down. In my reading, about that time it was known as Riggs Ranch. I'm not sure who operates in the area now. On our trip last weekend, we saw a big truck going in, but didn't stop to talk. Did not see any cattle either trip, though saw some white-tail deer (about a half dozen, including fawns) this trip.


We pointed the Jeep downhill about 4pm, making good time back to pavement without incident. Returning north on the Sasabe Road (the way we went out) we were rewarded with more nice views of Kitt Peak. Shown at left is an odd-looking view when 99% of the time you only see the profile from Ajo Way on the way to the Observatory from Tucson. Here, looking from the SSE, the 4-meter telescope appears between the solar and 2.1 meter scopes! This was taken with the 500mm lens...

Thankfully, one of us was thinking and we used Donna's phone to take a selfie of the three of us, shown at right. It was another beautiful, if not warm (temps still in 90s) Fall day that will remain memorable!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Another Jeep Adventure!

Well, it is October in Arizona, which means that the temperature has dropped below 100F - barely! After being back to Tucson (from Illinois) for over a week, it was time to get out of town for a drive. I still have Melinda's Jeep, so since it has been parked the last couple months, I thought it should get out on a day trip. I decided to redo a trip that Melinda and I had done almost 9 years ago shortly after she moved to Arizona - a drive out to a unique mountain, Baboquivari! Since the car was her daily driver, she got nervous when the road got a little rocky, and we turned around WAY early. Less chance of that happening today!

Anaglyph image - 3D pair of Kitt Peak from east
Anaglyph image- 3D pair of Kitt Peak from the SSE
The route from Tucson takes us out Ajo Way towards the SW, then turns south on the Sasabe Road at Robles Junction (Sometimes called Three Points). I've often been on this route when photographing sky objects in the west, as the silhouette of Kitt Peak National Observatory 12 miles to the west makes a fine foreground! I used the opportunity on Saturday to take some stereo pairs of the Observatory, taking image sets a couple hundred meters apart to show 3D effects at the distance of the mountain. Use the usual anaglyph red/blue glasses to see the 3D effect! While the image at left shows the usual profile one sees heading west towards the Observatory, the 3D image reveals the topography you don't usually see! As the road continues south and curves towards the west, you get a completely new vantage point of the mountain, as shown at right. Kitt Peak's top is sort of shaped like a "T" with the broad side on the south, and you can see this topography with a couple hundred meters separation. These pairs were taken with a 500mm lens out the car window, pulling over when there was a clear shot to the horizon...

Anaglyph image - 3D of Baboquivari over foothills
A few more miles and Baboquivari, which had been visible miles away, comes to dominate the western horizon. It is a spectacular mountain - the remaining lava plug from an ancient volcano. The anaglyph at left shows the peak towering over some of the foothills that surround it. The diagonal slash of green just above the foothills is a natural ledge (called Lion's Ledge) that forms a route across the sheer east face of the mountain. A lifetime ago, a Kitt Peak programmer (an experienced climber) led another employee and me across Lion's Ledge to climb that left side profile, called the "Southeast Arete". Never having been rock climbing before, I chickened out and met them back at the saddle on the north side, after they successfully summited and descended again. I've never been comfortable in highly exposed situations, and while I've climbed to the peak three times since, it was always on the easier Forbes route on the north and west sides...

Peak nears, road becomes a little sketchy!
The turn towards Baboquivari was near milepost 16 on the Sasabe road. The dirt road was near perfect condition, except for occasional small gullies that would have slammed your head on the roof of the Jeep if you didn't slow and didn't have your seatbelts on! It was about 8 miles to a locked gate, the road getting progressively worse as the peak became more and more impressive as it grew nearer! Really, only the last mile required 4WD in climbing out of a wash and a steep rocky hill beyond. Shortly after crossing a wash with actual standing water and deciduous trees showing some Fall colors, we came to the locked gate, the weeds growing on the route beyond indicating it is not open very often! But that is MUCH farther than Melinda let me go with her baby back in 2008! I took a photo of the Jeep and the gate with the peak in the background in celebration!

I didn't feel like hiking much beyond the gate and other than take a few stereo pairs didn't stay long. I had spotted a striking seed pod while climbing through the desert vegetation, the crimson seeds standing out against the browns and tans of late Fall. I took a photo of it against some striking pink metamorphic rock that I collected in a wash crossing.

I also collected a set of photos of the peak with the 300mm lens, zooming considerably into the slab, taking 13 frames to cover it down to the lower elevations. While the mosaic loses considerable power when reduced to the 1600 pixel wide limit of the blog, it still reveals lots of details in the sheer walls.

The return down the route seemed to go faster and the Jeep enjoyed returning to pavement in less than an hour. Like the trip in '08, returned via Arivaca and Amado to return to Tucson via I-19, arriving by sunset, making for a long, but memorable drive to some difficult-to-forget wilderness!

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Atwood Sphere!

While my last post stated that Adler Planetarium is America's oldest planetarium, there is an older device for visualizing the sky, if not an actual planetarium in the usual sense! Known as the Atwood Sphere, it is a 17 foot diameter sphere made out of thin gauge (1/64 inch thick) metal, made by a windmill company in 1913. Originally installed at the Chicago Academy of Science, it was carefully drilled indicating the positions of nearly 700 stars, and when viewed from the interior, provided a reasonable approximation of the night sky from light coming in the holes. Over the years the exterior was actually painted to resemble a globe of earth with continents, oceans and even the vertical relief of mountains pounded out from the interior. It fell into disuse after Adler came into being in the 1930s with it's state-of-the-art Zeiss projectors and massive dome, but the Adler acquired it in the mid 1990s, restoring the sphere to its original design, color, and construction with a motorized drive approximating the rotation of the stars overhead. The photo at left shows the "car" that will move up to 10 friendly people up into the viewing area of the sphere interior, at right, my finger points out one of the stars drilled into the surface...

The guides do a great job with a batch of visitors moving through the Sphere every 8-10 minutes. Besides the light coming into the holes from the upper illumination, there are constellation lines put on with luminous paint, kept bright with dim UV illumination. The image at left shows a view of the interior - if you know your way around the sky, you can see the late winter northwestern sky with the "W" of Cassiopeia at center, Andromeda at left, and Perseus on top. I thought the holes-in-steel worked remarkably well - well enough evidently that during WW2 they offered lessons in celestial navigation to flyers undergoing training at local bases!

At right is the drive mechanism that rotates the sphere around the viewers in the "car" to provide a leisurely tour of the entire sky in a few minutes...

Edge of Atwood Sphere - remind you of anything?
At left is a Gif of 6 frames that I took as the guide took a new group up into the sphere. As a joke, he stated that the short ride was the "world's slowest roller coaster"! Note the sphere starting its rotation in the last frame... It is a remarkable display of the ingenuity and inspiration of Wallace Atwood, who served on the board of directors of the Academy of Science. And it is remarkable today that Adler got it out of mothballs and made it into such a popular display!

At right is a view of the upper edge of the sphere against the illumination from above that provides light for the "stars" punched in the surface. Perhaps faintly you can still see some of the vertical relief they punched into the globe, or perhaps it is evidence instead of rough handling in the past. Regardless, it reminds me of an image taken a couple years ago as New Horizons looked back at Pluto. It is such a lovely and amazing image, show me the edge of a sphere and I'll think back to this image often:

Looking at edge of a sphere will always remind
me of New Horizon's look back on Pluto...

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Adler Planetarium

One of my obligations on this trip to "Ketelsen East" was that I had agreed to speak at the September meeting of the Chicago Astronomical Society - at Adler Planetarium! I think it was a big deal because Adler is a big deal! It is the oldest planetarium built in this country and is part of the lakeside museum complex where Chicago meets Lake Michigan. In fact, flying into O'Hare the day before speaking, we flew out over the Lake before turning and landing towards the west, and had a great view of the downtown area, including the shot at left of the museum complex. This is a full resolution (cropped from the full image) and labels added to identify some of the major structures. The planetarium is on a manmade island which also used to have a small plane airport (Meigs Field). The airport was demolished in 2003 and "North Island" is now entirely park land, as is much of the lakeside. From the base of the stairs at the entrance, mostly only the original marble building is visible with the projection dome at center.

The original building was a 12-sided structure, and perhaps you can make out in the wide shot above, that each corner of the building had one of the signs of the zodiac. Four of them are collected in the collage at left - I just love the art deco design of these! Unfortunately, most are hidden by building expansion and while some are visible inside the additions, I suspect not all 12 can be located (I didn't have the time!). If you get a little further from the structure, you can see some of the newer additions that wrap around the lakefront side of the original building, also, you can pick up the figure of Copernicus seated on a marble plinth in front of the planetarium! The photo at left was taken shortly before sunset...


And you can imagine that with Adler located on a spit of land so close to Chicago, that the view of the city is great - and you would be right! At left is a 2-frame panorama looking down Solidarity Drive towards the west. Not exactly looking towards the skyline, which is a little more to the north, that would be the image at right! The image needed someone in it and luckily these two girls served the purpose well! The skyline view is great and in fact, there is a webcam atop the Adler dome, but I've not found a public-available view of it! It is used for several of the local TV weathercasts as it is a good indicator of weather and cloud cover, so perhaps it is now a "pay for play" camera!

Fortunately, I had an escort to make sure I got to the Adler from "Ketelsen East" in the far-western suburbs! Mark met me at the Geneva, IL train station and guided me through the station downtown where we were picked up by Tony of the CAS for the drive to Adler. If not for all this, it would have been tough for me to make it on my own! Melinda and I made it to Adler once in the last 10 years, and it was a tough drive, needing a navigator, then paying $20 for parking once arrived. The train was a nice method, but introduced its own set of "need to know" facts!


Anaglyph - use red/blue glasses to see Gemini 12 in 3D!
We had a couple hours to go through some of the displays. One of my favorites was an entire gallery devoted to "local boy" astronaut Jim Lovell. There was quite a collection of his papers and artifacts of his growing up and time in NASA, including the Gemini 12 spacecraft on display! That is it on at left - amazingly small for 2 people to spend 4 days out in space! BTW, that is a 3D anaglyph at left, so get out your red/blue glasses to see it in 3D. For those of you without glasses or only one eye, check out the similar image at right...





At an institution like this, you expect a good collection of instruments both historical and more recent, and they had a very good collection. At right is a selfie image of me taken with a thermal IR camera demonstrating invisible wavelengths not visible to the eye. I was wearing glasses, and carrying my camera that took this photo of the monitor, so they are near room temperature, and it appears my cheeks are the hottest (brightest) exposed part of me... I was also wearing a hat, so the top of my head is clipped too... At right, Tony and Mark examine a collection of antique telescopes from the early 1800s...

Of particular interest to Tony and Mark was a large refractor (18.6" diameter) Clark refractor that was on display. There was some discussion whether it still belonged to the Chicago Astronomical Society as it once was. There was some uncertainty in that...


Adler officially closed at 4:30 until the evening programs started, but we had arranged a tour of the adjacent Doane Observatory which serves as a public telescope at the facility. Located on the lake side of Adler, it is blocked from direct lights of the city. Our tour was given by long-time employee Michelle Nichols who apparently wears many hats including director of public observing. That is her standing in front of the facility at left, and in front of the 20 inch telescope at right. We were debating the various effects on seeing of the building - Mark thought the concrete walls would heat up during the day, but my thought was that the ivy shaded much of that effect. The dome is a little unusual in that it is the truncated cylinder as shown in the image. Because one side of the "dome" is heavier, the wheels wear unevenly and require frequent inspections. There also seemed to be an ongoing issue with collimation of the telescope affecting the image quality, of which all three of us offered assistance to inspect and adjust. While my time in Chicago is limited, Tony and Mark may get put to work to try to improve the images.


After Michelle's tour, we had "dinner time" on the schedule and while we had talked about a ride over to Millennium Park to enjoy "The Bean" and get a snack, we stayed adjacent to the planetarium and talked about things over a couple chili dogs at the stand a few feet from the steps.

Eventually my time came and my talk about working on the GMT project at the Mirror Lab was very well received. It was under attended though - evidently the thinking was that with a local concert, the parking was enforced at $35, which might have turned off a lot of club members - a significant jump over the normal $4 for night time parking! And even with us amateur astronomers preaching against light pollution, I had to admit that the night time view of the Chicago skyline was quite striking! I've got more from this visit to post - stay tuned!