Friday, May 19, 2017

A fragment from the solar system.

A couple of days ago (May 18) I set up my Canon 60Da camera to take a picture of one of the asteroids which orbit in the area between Mars and Jupiter. This is one of the first asteroids discovered (Vesta - by Heinrich Olbers on March 29, 1807). It is the first asteroid visited by the Dawn space probe and is around 500 km in diameter. You can find some details in Wikipedia,, and other websites.

I set the camera up on our back porch. The lens used was a 135mm Bushnell, which has an old Pentax mount. I have an adapter for the Canon digital camera, which makes the use of my old film camera lenses possible. The setting was at f2.8, ISO 800, exposure time 8 seconds, on an iOptron star tracking mount.

We live in a highly light-polluted area (near Metrotown) so some processing of the image was necessary. None-the-less, it's quite amazing what a digital camera can do under such poor conditions. Click on the top picture to enlarge it.

Asteroids are thought to be remnants of either an unformed planet or one that was broken up by some major collision during the planet-forming phase of our solar system. There are many thousands of such fragments. Some of them (not Vesta) occasionally impact Earth, with major consequences for life (it's happened before). Vesta is one of the largest. It looks tiny in the picture, because it was about 390,000,000 km distant from Earth at the time.

Here's a picture of Vesta taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April showers

This month has been a month of generally lousy weather but also one of a reunion with longtime friends.

We spent about 10 days on a trip to Europe. The main reason was the planting of an American Oak tree in memory of our almost life-long friend Henry, who died one day before this past Christmas (see "Into the New Year" post). The planting took place in the town in which Henry was born (his family roots are deep and long in the community) in the same location where he played when he was a child. The ceremony was at once dignified, solemn, and funny. Many people of similar histories related anecdotes about Henry - he was never just an ordinary personality.

We have visited this town many times over the years and have gotten to know most of Henry's friends and family there. The memorial dinner in his honour took place at the local historic "pub" which has been in existence for many years in a building that is several hundred years old. Each of us had Henry's favourite drink (rum and coke) to start, and had a typically extended local dinner. It was a great occasion to talk to the people in attendance (there were about sixty and we know just about all of them). This was a typical European "wake".

We stayed with good friends with whom we have stayed several times before. Our host couple's son flew in on a surprise visit, much to everyone's delight. He lives in California (we have visited him and his wife there a couple of times, too). The whole time we were there a dinner party was laid on every evening, and sumptuous European breakfasts were part of every morning. There was also no lack of champagne, wine, and beer.

Therefore, the cold, blustery weather which persisted through all this time did not diminish the good time we had. The only downside relates to the way we travelled. We had booked our flight in the economy section (which should really be called the "sardines" section). On the way there, we had an empty seat in our four-seat row, which made this tolerable; on the way back, the plane was absolutely packed - for a ten-hour flight, that is next to torture.

Always a new experience...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


This as been a somewhat unusual winter for our neck of the woods. While it has melted away now, snow stuck around for the better part of three months. The usual stretch is usually a few days, then it is replaced by rain. This month, after the melt, we have had only two sunny days so far, and temperatures have been below normal for almost the whole stretch.

You can see that this has put a severe damper (pun intended) on astronomical activities, and, at the moment, it looks as though this weather is going to continue for some time. In some way however, it has played into my personal plans anyway.

I've had, and have one more scheduled medical and dental routine appointments - none of which are debilitating in any particular way - the most unpleasant was the colonoscopy which I underwent a few days ago. This is a required routine check-up for me, in light of the death of our son Derek six years ago after dealing with colorectal cancer for more than four years. The routine itself requires a three hour hospital visit and is done under anaesthesia; you don't feel a thing, this is not the problem.  It is the preliminaries which are the unpleasant part. A day before the procedure you have to swallow some pills and two little bags of a powder which you mix into two litres of water. You cannot have any dairy products, solid food or red liquids, but are supposed to consume copious amounts of water, or bullion, clear soups, Jello, or other clear (non-alcoholic) liquids. By the end of the day, I felt thoroughly water-logged. All this in order to totally clean out your intestines, meaning that you are a constant visitor in the bathroom. There is no food or any liquid allowed on the day of the procedure until after it is done.

Today it's steadily raining again. At this time last year the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. This year, the trees are showing only a trace of pink. Some Spring.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Planetary Perspective

This month has been somewhat unusual for our area so far this year. The snow that started early in December has hung around until just a couple of days ago; there are still a few traces left. Yesterday and today have finally produced clear days. Last night a "cool" assembly of two planets and the Moon was visible in the evening sky (figuratively, and literally - temperature was near zero C at our place), and I took this picture:

Moon, Mars (above the Moon), and Venus - click on the picture to see a larger image.

You'll notice the "earthshine" outlining the part of the Moon which is not illuminated by the Sun. If you were on the Moon on the side which faces the Earth, the sun-lit Earth would have been a couple of days past "full Earth" in the Moon's sky, and would have been very bright. So we see that part of the Moon lit up by the sunlight which shines onto Earth, is partially reflected to the Moon, lights up the darker part of the Moon, and that reflected light is partially re-reflected back to Earth.

Earth passed Mars some months ago, so Mars is trailing, and will soon be on the other side of the Sun from the Earth's point of view, and Venus is moving faster than Earth towards its upcoming pass between the Earth and the Sun.

It's all a matter of perspective...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Into the New Year

Henry and Margarete, a couple who are our long-time friends of ours (they live in San Diego), some time ago invited us to spend New Year's Eve with them. We made the appropriate travel arrangements and looked forward to a sunny time away from the less than pleasant weather here (  - see December 2016 post). But instead of sunshine, we were presented with a rainy week. The weather and temperatures were like what we normally experiencing in winter here at home.

Unfortunately, the anticipated new year's party turned into a more somber affair. Henry died two days before Christmas and the party turned into a celebration of Henry's life. It was a bitter-sweet event, with about 90 people in attendance. We know most of them too, having visited our friends many times over the last 40 years or so. I had taken my wireless microphone kit with me to connect to the sound system in their house which I had modified for this purpose a couple of years ago. This turned out to be very useful for the reminiscences and anecdotes presented by many of his friends, along with singing and listening to some of Henry's favourite songs and music.

This turn of events happened twice to us last year. In April, instead of celebrating the 80th birthday of another close friend (whom I had known for 58 years) we also ended up celebrating his life - he died 3 days before his birthday ( - see April 28, 2016 post). This is not how we had planned to get together with friends last year.

We hope for a more joyful 2017.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

It's still autumn...

This year, October and November combined had only a total of six days without rain. Now, December has "time travelled"; we've had, and continue to have, snow dumped on us. To date, there is about a foot of it.

This is the beginning

The next morning

The snow has accumulated: 2:15pm today

Click on the pictures for a larger image.

So it looks like winter - officially not here for a week and a half. Perhaps we'll have a white Christmas - we haven't had one for some years.

Speaking of Christmas: our granddaughters have helped make our traditional pullaa, the Finnish version of bread which has come down from my wife's side of the family. They are now at a stage where they do most of the work involved. So today they did just that. Here are a few of pictures.

To a large degree, the weather has stalled my astronomical activities. The Royal Astronomical Society has even had to postpone its Annual General Meeting; we meet at SFU (which is located at a higher elevation). The weather forecasters have been vacillating wildly, and access to SFU has been sporadic. Fortunately, our older granddaughter managed to get there for her math exam on a day when access was open.

The weather forecast is for more snow down the line; at the moment snow is melting, though. Our downpipes are frozen solid, so water is coming out of some downpipe seams instead. Fortunately, we had no reason to go outside and the baking activities made for a cozy atmosphere.

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:

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:

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 had deposited a small part of our son's ashes two years ago, following the wishes he had first expressed in 2007 ( 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 drove 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 ( 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!