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.