Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Back to normal


Fall has come with a vengeance, we're being "served" one atmospheric low after another. This means a continuously cloudy sky; for someone interested in astronomy, this is disappointing. However, there is nothing new in this. Our part of the world is subject to a lot of rain at this time of year. While the nights are getting rapidly longer, temperatures are still in the low and mid teens. This would make observing or photographing the night sky quite "comfortable" (albeit having to be warmly dressed), the clouds spoil the possibilities. There have been several occasions lately for which planned, and announced public astronomical activities (both by the RASC and SFU) have had to be cancelled. Occasionally, we luck out and have a (sometimes unpredicted) clear day, evening, or night.



























Here's a single image of the Milky Way taken from a particular corner in our back yard. It's the only area around our house not exposed to streetlights, or security lights on nearby houses. The Moon was at first quarter and the light pollution from Metrotown makes seeing the Milky Way with the naked eye impossible around here. The image is shown after a quick, basic adjustment in Photoshop. This is a 30 second exposure, using a 135mm lens, set to f3.5, ISO 800, camera: Canon 60Da, mounted on an iOptron Sky Tracker (to compensate for the Earth's rotation). The two black lines are the "shadows" of our clothesline. in the image above, you an begin to see the pinkish areas of hydrogen gas in our Milky way, particularly the outline of the "North America Nebula" to the left of the bright star (named Deneb) near the top centre.





























This is the original image as transferred from the camera and shows the light pollution in this city.

Under a dark sky, away from the city, you can take pictures like those made by Alan Dyer, master of night sky photography: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10207163781231735&set=picfp.1198676282.10207163777231635&type=3&size=960%2C960

You've got to drive at least a couple of hours to get away from the light-polluted Lower Mainland for views like that.

Perhaps one day our cities will wake up to the fact that we're paying a lot of money for light that never hits the road, but instead lights up the night sky. There also more insidious effects on our own lives, as well as other species. There are a number of solutions to this problem, but there is not much will to do anything about it. Find out more about the effects of light pollution here:

http://darksky.org/light-pollution/


This is our normal.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Summer's end is near

Here it is, September 1, and it seems that summer just started. We've had a number of very nice days, but right now the sky is cloudy and there have been periods of rain - nothing overwhelming, but enough to keep the garden watered. The gardening service we use has done the trimming of the hedges and trees. This is a once-a-year activity; it heralds the arrival of autumn.

My astronomical activities included participation in the Metro Vancouver Parks activities (Perseid meteor shower public night at the Aldergrove Park, Deas Island Island Regional Park, public and RASC activities at SFU's Trottier Observatory, etc.) I also did some solar observing, using my own H-alpha telescope. The sun never looks the same from one day to the next since this type of telescope shows the sun in hydrogen light (it looks red and shows the prominences, flares, sunspots in nice detail).

Perhaps there will be more sunny days as summer recedes.

I'm looking forward to next year's solar eclipse in Oregon. There will be discussions at the next RASC Vancouver council meeting for a member viewing trip to watch the eclipse. I mentioned the eclipse in my previous post.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Catch up

Since my last post in April, we spent almost the entire month of May in California. Before our trip there, my wife and I spent the day of May 3 in memory of our son Derek, who died on that day in 2011. That day will never be a happy one for us.

A couple of days later we took the car to get to San Diego, with a stop along the way to visit a good friend in Chico, California. We also happened to stay a couple of nights at a Hilton-Hotel-affiliated place called Homewood Suites. We found them to be very "user-friendly", with courteous and efficient staff, and breakfast and happy hour included in the very reasonable price of the rooms.

Our San Diego stay was with friends we've known for almost 40 years, and whose house is almost like a second home to us - we've stayed there so often. By chance, we arrived at the time when the host's nephew and a home-town friend (both of whom live in Germany and who are also our friends) were also staying at the house. These two left a couple of days after we arrived, but we had a chance to get up-to-date.

Our host is dealing with some age-related medical issues; we had come to help keep an eye on him during the time that his wife attended a family reunion in Germany. There are always local friends and neighbours dropping in too, so our time there was never boring; we've gotten to know most of these people during the years we have visited there.

On the way back, we stopped for the first night in Fresno, the next in Medford, and spent a couple of hours at Crater Lake, where we deposited a small part of our son's ashes two years ago, following the wishes he had first expressed in 2007 (http://www.penmachine.com/2007/07/my-favourite-places-and-when-to-take-me). The day was cold (4 degrees C), but sunny. There was still an appreciable amount of snow, and the road around Crater Lake was only partially open.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Crater Lake (taken from the air April 2016)


We dispersed some of Derek's ashes here in June 2014.


We left Crater Lake around noon and dove north on highway 97 to Madras, Oregon. This is one of the places almost exactly on the centre line of the path of the August 2017 total solar eclipse. It will be the first total solar eclipse in North America since 1979. As expected, all the hotels in Madras are already fully booked for the eclipse, but the area around the city is quite flat, so the eclipse path (which is a couple of hundred kilometres wide) is accessible in a wider area. Google "Solar eclipse 2017" and you'll get all kinds of information links.



The solar eclipse pictures I took on February 26, 1979 (in Winnipeg - the "diamond ring" picture was taken by Neil Laffra on Hecla Island in Lake Winnipeg). At the time I had a complete darkroom in our basement where I developed the film and prints, and mounted them as shown. They have been hanging on our wall since then.


We spent our last night in Portland, Oregon, and, after battling the always busy traffic in Seattle, got home at a reasonable hour.

Since then, I have been active with my astronomical endeavours, meetings, and Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Vancouver Centre public events. The most recent was the celebration of Canada Day in Haney (unfortunately, not a sunny day). However, our various telescopes served as exhibits for the several hundred people who stopped by for a look through some of the telescopes and the free informational handouts.


Canada Day with the RASC
(one of the rare instances when no people blocked the view)






Thursday, April 28, 2016

Two eventful months


My last post was written about two months ago. In the meantime, I've been busy with various astronomical activities. There have been public nights at Simon Fraser University to which the Vancouver Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada members set up telescopes at SFU's Trottier Observatory to help with the long lineup for the observatory's 0.7m PlaneWave telescope. This event (Starry Nights at SFU - organized by SFU Professor Howard Trottier) attracts hundreds of people.

When asked, the RASC Vancouver also sets up displays at Vancouver's Telus Science World, and telescopes at various schools around the Lower Mainland. The intent is to expose both students and teachers to the wonders of the night sky, and also use solar telescopes to observe the sun during the day. There is always a lot of interest and we are often asked to repeat these events. I enjoy taking part.

A week ago, we flew down to Los Angeles for a few days, to take part in an 80th birthday party for a our good friend Adolf Wegmann, whom I have known for almost 60 years. Unexpectedly,  and to everyone's shock, Adolf died three days before the party - it appears to have been a heart attack. He had organized this get-together to the smallest detail; so his wife Andreia decided to go ahead anyway. Instead of Adolf's birthday, we celebrated his life. He was an accomplished tool and die maker, travelled the world for the packaging company he worked for, operated a gun business for many years and was a true outdoors man; camping was his big joy. I have known his two daughters since they were born. Adolf had many friends around the world and lived a full life. All of us will miss him.




Sunday, February 28, 2016

10,000 miles


As I've blogged about previously, we usually go for a walk to do our exercise. On days when the weather is inclement, I use our exercise bike for about half an hour. Since we've had many weather-appropriate days for walking lately, I have used the bike only occasionally.

Today, I finally pedalled it to 10,000 miles, according to its odometer. We had this bike given to us about 10 years ago, when it had about 300 miles on it. It originally belonged to my sister's brother-in-law; he gave it to us when he upgraded his own exercise equipment.

As you can see, the bike is truly low tech. There are no fancy electronic displays, or computer controlled adjustments and "calorie calculations". I usually put a little over nine miles on the odometer each time I use the bike. It's never given a problem - the occasional drop of oil on the wheel bearing and chain is all it needs. No need for electricity either.

Here is a link to my earlier blog posts regarding the bike.



A few pictures:


 The "end of the count"

 "Turning the clock"

 Starting over

Old trusty (not rusty)

Monday, February 22, 2016

No snow this year.


So far this winter, we've had no snow to shovel. Yes, there has been the odd dusting, but judicious use of "presalting" kept the sidewalks clear and prevented "black ice". What little snow there was usually melted away by mid-day. Right now, as I type this, we've had a local shower, but the sun is  shining through the clouds with a nice rainbow visible right through our front window:



Usually, when snow is more plentiful, shoveling is required. On those occasions, I wish the snow would stay in the local mountains, where it belongs. Well, this year that's what seems to have happened. There is a lot of snow in the mountains; the local ski hills have been open since November and are going strong.

There have been few clear nights for astronomy. None-the-less, I have been involved in a couple of related activities. At Telus Science World, the RASC (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) Vancouver Centre sets up displays once a month for scheduled high school classes from various local and province-wide schools. We have videos, telescopes, handouts, and answer inquiries from teachers and students alike, which may result in setting up in-school astronomy events for those schools. We also give talks to a groups of girl scouts and boy scouts, again with telescope displays. If the weather permits, we use either one or more solar telescope or, after dark, regular telescopes to look at planets, the Moon, star clusters and nebulae.

Last Friday (unfortunately it rained again), I had made arrangements with Professor Trottier to show our two granddaughters the new Trottier Observatory at Simon Fraser University.  Howard Trottier is professor of physics at SFU, and the Trottier foundation donated the funds for the observatory and the Trottier Studio for innovative science education at SFU. Professor Trottier is also a past president of the RASC Vancouver Centre (as I am) and originated Starry Nights at SFU, in which the RASC participates with its support. Here are some pictures:




 As you can see, no snow (but plenty of rain).


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A generation passing


 In October of last year (http://www.penmachinedad.blogspot.ca/2015/10/back-to-reality.htm) I posted some comments about our trip to Germany. At the beginning I mentioned our visit to my mother's younger sister, 102 years old at the time, the only one of six siblings still alive.

She died a week ago of congestive heart failure (the same disease caused my mother's death fourteen years ago). Apparently, she contracted a severe case of pneumonia and developed a painful circulation blockage in her right arm. She also refused food and drink and died four days after admission to hospital.

From the odd comments my mother made over the years, we know that this sister and my mother were no wallflowers. In the early 1930s the two of them would often visit Berlin's cabarets, pubs and other entertainment venues and had a pretty active social life. They probably made Berlin unsafe for the men of their generation (my mother only chuckled when I once mentioned my thinking in that regard). It was likely the best time of their lives; this was all counterbalanced when they suffered great adversities during and after the second world war.

Both my mother and her sister had a full life. Most of their generation are now gone; it is a natural progression of life, but still sad.

Update: Just this morning, I received an email from my Austrian cousin that her mother (my father's sister) has also died (age 94) after having dealt with dementia for several years. We last saw her in 1983, when she came here for a visit. She was the last one of her generation in our family.

A sad start for this year...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Busy time



I just realized that it's been more than 2 months since I last posted anything. In the meantime, I've been busy with a number of meetings as a trustee of the Vancouver Centre of the RASC, participated in several public astronomy nights (both at SFU and the HRMacMillan space centre), attended a TEDx session, and reworked the computer network in our house. Since we are a close family, we also had get-togethers (dinners, mainly).

Christmas has crept up again, the tree is now up, and our granddaughters set up the "village" again. As always, we'll miss our son Derek at our family Christmas celebration. This will be the 5th Christmas since he died.

Since I probably won't blog again until next year, we wish everyone a "Very Merry Christmas" and a Happy, Healthy, and Successful New Year.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Back to reality.



This past month, we traveled to Germany for a reunion of cousins and a visit to one of my two living aunts, my mother's younger sister, who is now 102 years old. She is living in a care home, still sharp of mind, uses a walker to get around, but has been totally deaf for over 40 years. Nonetheless, she speaks normally, but we "talk" to her by writing down whatever we want to say to her. Fortunately, one of her two daughters lives nearby and visits her every couple of days. We had a great time together.

The cousins' get-together was arranged as a boat trip in an area southeast of Berlin, called the "Spreewald". This is a marshy area, drained by channels and canals amounting to a total of a couple of thousand kilometers. These channels are very shallow, if you fall out of the boat, you can walk out (waist-deep). The boat trips are a major income source for the people who live there. Our boat was equipped with tables and shelves which held a variety of alcoholic beverages - food can be purchased at "roadside" establishments.

Cousins in the boat

After the boat trip, we all gathered at a local restaurant and spent a couple of hours there, talking about things which you talk about at a family reunion, the good things, the sad things, possible future visits, etc.

We spent almost a week in Berlin - it is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. Museums, exhibitions, art and science venues, world class shopping, unique local and international food... one can spend many weeks there and still not see all. My sister and her husband (who also live in the Vancouver area) also came to the reunion separately from us, and we met and stayed at the same hotel in the centre of Berlin. It was great fun for my sister and me (our spouses tagged along) to visit our childhood haunts, schools, and other places we were once at home in, and which we left 60 years ago. We also enjoyed going out to local restaurants for some fine, local food and beer. We don't often do that here in Vancouver, usually we get together in our homes.

Our travel to Germany involved a hitch. We had booked the flight including a day-long layover in Toronto. The new Airport rail line to downtown Toronto recently opened there, a la Vancouver's airport line, but the fare is more than $40 per trip per person - outrageous! Therefore, we decided to stay at our hotel, and had a pleasant evening, with a very good dinner and drinks at the bar.

Next morning, we checked our flight time from Toronto to Frankfurt, and, much to our dismay, found it cancelled. The Lufthansa pilots were on a one-day strike (long distance flights only)!

Naturally, we made efforts to get information regarding alternatives. Lufthansa phone lines were not answered, and our hotel desk had no information either. We took the shuttle from the hotel to the airport to try our luck there. At the airport, the Lufthansa counters were eventually served by one lonely lady, whose job it was to re-book and re-arrange the flights for the affected passengers. After a one-hour wait in line we finally got to that lady (for whom we felt immensely sorry), and found out that we had already been re-booked on Air Canada to Zurich, and from there on Swiss Air to Berlin. I guess that, having booked the whole trip on business class, we had received preferential treatment.

The Air Canada flight to Zurich was the best flight experiences we've ever had. The passenger pods were roomy and comfortable, the service was excellent, and the plane was brand-new (it was on its 5th flight, we were told). We had 40 minutes in Zurich to get through customs and onto the Swiss Air flight. It all worked smoothly, and, surprise, we (and our luggage!) arrived in Berlin 3 hours ahead of the original schedule. The unseen airline people who work in the background deserve great credit for how all this was handled.

After our family reunion, we spent a couple more weeks in other parts of Germany, visiting friends, who had planned something for us on every one of those days. We get together quite often in other parts of the world, so we had much to talk about and, of course, lubricated these occasions with the appropriate amount of food and drinks. These get-togethers have become more sedate over the last few years - we're all getting older, and several of our friends have died. None-the-less, a great time was had by all.

Our trip back went without a hitch. We arrived on time - tried out skytrain to get home. It works quite well, but we arrived at rush hour, so the trains were crowded. Traveling with luggage on skytrain is a bit of a hassle; there is no provision to store luggage.

It was a great vacation. We are now getting over our jet lag; back to reality!



Saturday, August 22, 2015

A busy summer

Hard to believe that I last posted two months ago. Time flies.

This summer, considering the long dry spell and reasonably clear sky, I've been busy astronomically. The new Trottier observatory at SFU has taken some of my time, along with a number of public astronomy events organized by both SFU and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Vancouver centre. These events, for instance "Starry Night" at SFU, the Regional Parks' Perseid Meteor shower watch in Aldergrove, Deas Island Park, and other local activities all involved the RASC and it's various volunteers.

During the last couple of months, we set up our telescopes for the public to see objects such as the Moon, the planets Saturn, Venus, and Mars, open and globular star clusters, far-away galaxies, nebulae, and exploded stars. Many thousands of people took part in these activities. The Public has a deep interest in things astronomical. It is particularly gratifying to see so many young people show up at these gatherings. It is the first step to get involved in science, because astronomy involves many disciplines (physiscs, chemistry, biology, geology, for example).

Here is a link to an article, as it appeared on the website of the RASC (http://rasc-vancouver.com/) regarding the opening of Simon Fraser University’s Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard. It describes the manifold purposes of this great addtion to the university and the co-operation between SFU and the RASC, written by professor Howard Trottier:

http://rasc-vancouver.com/trottier-observatory-and-science-courtyard-at-sfu-wheels-up/

Many thanks are owed to the Trottier family, whose generous gift contributes so much to the scientific community.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Catch up

On June 20, the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus appeared in the evening sky as pictured. Venus has been chasing Earth since the beginning of the year and is slowly catching up. Jupiter has moved from the middle of the night into the evening sky (largely due to Earth's motion around the sun - it's an effect of perspective).

Venus is the closest planet to us and orbits the sun inside the Earth's orbit, and therefore moves faster. It is almost the same size  as Earth, but its surface is submerged in an atmosphere which is about 90 times denser then Earth's. It's surface temperature is about 450 degrees C (900 F). It's a true hell (lead melts).

Jupiter is our solar systems largest planet. You could put about 1500 planets of Venus size into Jupiter. That huge planet orbits 5 times as far from the sun as the Earth. In this image, Jupiter is positioned on the far side of its orbit, and will disappear behind the sun in a couple of months. At this point, it is about six-and-a-half times as far away from us as the sun.


In the spirit of catching up: On the third of May we commemorated the 4th anniversary of our son's death from colon cancer - always an occasion for some tears. 

On May 22nd, I turned 76. It's hard to believe, I still think that I'm in my prime. The little aches and pains accompanying old age say otherwise, however. So the truth is that I'm an old "fuddy-duddy". On May 29, I had a colonoscopy done, in view of our family history. Three polyps were found and removed. Fortunately, none of them showed any evidence of cancer.

Right now, both my wife and I are fighting a persistent cough; it makes sleeping restless. It's been making the rounds in our family - we're the last ones to "catch the bug".

At the moment, I'm involved in a process arranging the running of the new SFU astronomical observatory for it's portion of the Vancouver RASC's* time on the telescope. It's an observatory dedicated to both individual and public observing. More about this in a later post.

*Royal Astronomical Society of Canada


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Happy Travellers


This month, we spent three weeks in California, driving to see friends in various parts of the state. The main reason we went down was to celebrate our close friend Henry's eighty-fifth birthday in La Jolla. Over the years we have visited him and his wife, we've gotten to know many of their friends, and most of the family. We were one of four "international" couples; the others were from Sweden and Germany. There were about forty of us present. A great time was had by all - the festivity included a catered Mexican Lunch and a wonderful nine-person Mariachi band, which played for at least two hours.

Our fiftieth wedding anniversary occurred a week later. Seeing that so many of our friends had assembled, we arranged to celebrate that occasion after Henry's "big one". We had not announced this ahead of time, so it was a surprise to all. These anniversary celebrations took place in smaller groups at "Piatti's" Restaurant in La Jolla Shores, and at several "happy hours" at local friends' homes. Needless to say that the drinks flowed liberally, and food was equally plentiful (we have proof: our waistlines tell us so).

After about a week of this, we decided to wend our way home. We stayed with friends in Los Angeles and Chico and continued our anniversary entertainment in that fashion.

This car trip included (in chronological order) Medford, Oregon, and in Calfornia we stpped at Santa Nella, Solvang, La Jolla, Long Beach, Santa Nella again, Chico, Roseburg, Oregon, and Portland. We love travelling by car; you can be very flexible about your route. None of these stops were arranged in advance, we decided where to go while we were on the road.

It was a great trip.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A month later

Venus, Moon, Mars (faint dot at lower right of the Moon), Mar 21, 2015 evening

Moon, Mars (middle), Venus, on Feb 20, 2015 in the evening sky.

The top image shows Venus, Moon, and Mars yesterday evening. For comparison, the same three as they appeared exactly four weeks ago, shown above. The Moon has completed one orbit around the Earth, The Earth has moved about thirty degrees along its once-a-year orbit around the Sun. Venus, whose orbit is inside the Earths orbit and moves around the Sun more quickly, is starting to catch up to Earth. Mars, with its orbit outside the Earths orbit, moves more slowly than Earth. Mars, on the far side of its orbit (as seen from Earth) at this time, will disappear behind the Sun in a few weeks, and will then re-appear in the morning sky. This comparison is a good demonstration of the dynamic behaviour of the solar system.
Click on the images for a larger view, or use Zoom option.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A matter of perspective

There was a nice combination of the Moon, Mars, and Venus visible in the West last evening. This picture was cropped from original, taken with 200mm lens, ASA 800, 1/20 sec, handheld. Moon, Mars, and Venus aligned in evening sky. The Moon (top) is closest (360,000km), Venus (bottom) is about 213 million km away, and Mars (middle) 330 Million km.

The relative positions of the planets in February 2015 are shown in the scanned image at the bottom. The Earth is shown in green. Imagine yourself looking from the Earth towards Venus and Mars. Yesterday (February 20 around 7:30 pm) you would have seen the two planets aligned as shown below, located far beyond the Moon (the little black dot labelled "Moon"). The orbits are not to scale. If the picture were drawn to scale, Venus would be about 3 meters and Mars 4.6 meters from the Earth.
 



 
Orbit schematic scanned from Sky and Telescope magazine.




Saturday, January 24, 2015

Into the New Year

My wife and I hope that all of you had a great holiday season. We enjoyed our usual Christmas family get-together.  For once, the two of us had a "stay-at-home" New Year all by ourselves. After watching the New York time ball at 9pm, we raised a toast or two, reminisced about past riotous New Years' parties here at home, in California and Mexico, and family members and friends who have died, and went to bed around 10pm - getting old, I guess.

A number of astronomical events (including a relatively rare triple shadow transit on Jupiter) were rained/fogged out during this month. A clear sky break during last week made it possible for me to have a look at comet Lovejoy, though. This is a relatively bright comet, easily seen through binoculars. It's bright enough to be seen with the naked eye as a faint, fuzzy star, but not in the light-polluted Metro area.

The days are getting longer; we're looking forward to more sun.

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