Last night was beautifully clear. Was I out enjoying the evening, perhaps imaging a couple of astronomical delights? Hell, no! With the temperature bumping at the −6°C mark most of the night, I wimped out. Time was I would go out when it was ten degrees colder than that, but not any more.
I can claim some disincentive was operating, since for the past couple of months I’ve been dealing with a cut on my foot which refuses to heal, and yesterday I opened it up again climbing stairs at a local mall. The broken toenail which precipitated the thing is over, but the malady lingers on. Even a minor foot wound can discourage you from walking around, but hey! I still feel guilty about not going out to observe. Maybe it’s time to give more thought to an automated observatory – at least for winter….
I’ve been playing hide-and-seek with the clouds for the last little while, so I’ve spent a bit of time taking some old and damaged family photographs and restoring them in Photoshop. Here’s an example. First, the original:
It’s pretty beat up – both dusty and torn – but after several nights work, I managed to retrieve this:
The original was about 1 5/8 inches square (the old 127 film size) so this took a while…. but the finished output prints quite well at 6×6 inches.
One question remains – I had to guess at the number of buttons on the uniform, and though this image now shows three [an increase over the original guess of two visible], more are certainly possible. Suggestions are welcome….
And, since this is an update to a previous note, if you visited this page previously and don’t see three buttons on the uniform, try refreshing the page. I found on my home system it took a couple of refreshes before the cache was cleared and the new image (which uses the same name as the old — part of the problem) showed up.
My cell phone has a built-in camera, but it’s a little difficult to get the images out – the phone company would prefer that you send the pictures to someone instead of saving them on a hard drive someplace. After all, they make money when you send the pictures, but not otherwise. Still, there are tools to get pictures off the phone, and I managed to get some of them onto the hard drive after a very long delay.
Some of them bring back memories, some of them a little peculiar, such as this one of a drain in the middle of the company parking lot after a storm passed through on June 29 of this year:
The grate all that water is pouring into is probably 30 or 40 centimetres across, and at that time the water was at least 20 centimetres deep – there was a lot of rain in a short time!
I can also understand taking a picture of this little snack
but why take a picture of Daniella choosing vegetables?
The last couple of months of the year and the first four months of the new year are my busiest times at work, so it’s been a bit annoying having my ADSL modem fail every so often, requiring me to go into the office for even minor updates. It appears that my GNet BB0040 was unable to synch with the ADSL signals and whenever the noise level (due to ??) rose high enough, the connection would be dropped, often for several hours at a time. Thanks to an offer on Freecycle I obtained a SpeedStream 5200 as a replacement, and so far it has done an excellent job of staying ahead of the noisy line.
Something else which just came up recently was an update to the local Clear Sky Clock (see the top of the page) which now has a forecast history section (sponsored locations only). It’s based on the forecasts, not the actual weather, but gives an indication of the quality (or lack of it) of observing weather. It looks as though September is the best time to observe, and December is one of the worst. No surprise there, but at least I don’t feel quite so badly about missing observing during this, my busy time.
On Sunday my network was down for fifty five minutes. The ADSL light on the modem just blinked away irregularly. On Tuesday (yesterday) my network was down for seventy five minutes, with the same symptoms. Today my network was down for eight hours fifty minutes. This time around after a long conversation with the tech support person at Magma I got the ADSL light back on steadily, but still no connection with the internet From time to time I or my daughter would log in to the router and tell it to try reconnecting, but for many hours this had no effect. Cycled the power on the ADSL modem a few times, too, but zip. nothing. nada. Then just after six I cycled the power and the tx light flashed. I did it again and the TX and the RX lights flashed a couple of times. I told the router to reconnect, and bang! we were back up and running. Almost two and a half hours now, and so far, so good.
Since I don’t know what happened I have no way of telling whether this is going to happen again in the near future. I am not a happy camper, sitting here with my fingers crossed.
Yesterday I was considering that I had reached my present age (don’t ask) without ever having seen Mercury (well, except in silhouette against the sun). It was past time that I did something about that, so I set my alarm for 6 am and hoped for clear skies. I was inspired by the image in my web cam from yesterday at 6.30 am, which apparently showed Mercury (though I am no longer so certain). Anyway, since the Observer’s Handbook 2006 says this is the best morning apparition of the year for northern observers, it’s a good time to look. Greatest elongation west is on the 25th, so there’s a limited time for this.
At 6 am when the alarm sounded I got up immediately and hobbled (feet still in as bad shape as yesterday) to the back room where the webcam is set up. No sign of Mercury – not a good sign since the webcam supposedly saw Mercury yesterday at 6.30 and I thought the sky was about as clear today as then. I went downstairs, grabbed a pair of binoculars, and stepped outside (cold, 4 below zero Celsius). I had considerable trouble seeing any stars at all, let alone Mercury – by this point the twilight was more ‘light’ than ‘twi’ – but eventually I spotted Arcturus. The fact I had trouble even finding Arcturus is an indication of how bright the sky had become. From Arcturus I dropped down to the horizon and started scanning to the south – and there, barely visible, was Mercury, tough to make out even in the binoculars, and not an easy naked eye object at all – city skies are just too polluted for easy observing near the horizon.
I don’t see Mercury in today’s webcam image, though it should be in almost the same spot, and I suspect that yesterday’s capture was not of Mercury but of one of the planes which pollute the morning sky. The object I found (and tracked for a while to be certain it was astronomical) was further south than the webcam object would have been, even accounting for the difference between my ground-level observing spot and the upper-level placement of the webcam.
While my inspiration may not have been quite what I thought, I have finally added Mercury to my life list of objects observed.
I took a look outside a few minutes ago and saw stars. As mentioned in a previous post, the weather has been cloudy ’round here for quite some time. I’m having a bit of difficulty taking advantage of the situation though due to illness – a very unglamourous ingrown toenail is limiting my ability to move around. I take small steps and very careful ones at that.
My time outside was limited to checking the sky quality – 17.65 mag./sq.arc-sec, which is rather horrendous for a moonless night. I take consolation in the notion that though the sky is nominally clear it’s relatively hazy and so it’s actually a poor night. But that’s pure rationalization — I wish I was out there.
I woke up this morning to clear skies (I wasn’t sure why the ceiling outside was blue at first) after what seems like months of cloud. One of the things I hope to do is use the webcam which currently stares at the SkyShed to detect clear skies. That way I can set an alarm and get out whenever observing is possible. As I said, we’ve had months of cloudy skies, and I’m getting desperate. Anyway, because of that possible project I looked at the stored webcam images to see if it was possible to tell the difference between a cloudy sky and a clear sky in the image. The answer, at least at night, seems to be only a vague ‘maybe.’
What I did see was just before dawn the sky was a light shade of blue. Off to one side was a dot of light which seemed a little out of place – more than just noise. I fired up Starry Night to check, and for 6.30 am, Mercury was in the right position, just a few degrees above the horizon. I processed the image using the previous night images as a form of dark frame to reduce the noise, then ran the result through Noise Ninja with default settings, and this is the result:
Mercury was at -0.17 magnitude at the time, and is quite clear at the top right of the frame. The sensitivity is unknown (the camera has automatic gain control) but the image is probably based on a 4mm lens, 1/30 sec at f/2.
We left Camarillo for LAX at 8 am, but the forty minute trip stretched out to over two hours with rush hour traffic. That’s a little worse than TO on a bad day, but supposedly this wasn’t a bad day for LA. The flight back was uneventful, though I saw a couple of folks slipping a Gravol after we went through a little turbulence. Since the turbulence was no worse than driving a poorly-sprung truck over a bad road I didn’t experience any problems (‘Mind over matter,’ as my mother once said, just before losing to a bout of sea-sickness). Spiderweb cities of light glowed in the darkness – beautiful until you reflect that each such spiderweb represents a waste of energy and light which blots out the sight of the stars.
Shortly after arriving home I set up a security cam which now shows the observatory surroundings during the daytime. The nighttime images are still there but there’s almost nothing to see due to the low sensitivity of the web camera. I’d be pleased to hear from anyone who knows how to hack a D-Link G900 camera for better low light response.
Meanwhile, you can check the ‘observatory oversight’ link in the right hand panel for the latest view.
We’ve been in Camarillo for four days now. Most of our time has been spent shopping for household goods since we are completing my daughter’s setup, adding a dining room table to her furniture as well as a low bookcase to serve as a stand for her television (a very nice Westinghouse 42-inch 1080p model which is unfortunately not well served by the local cable service). I brought some tools with me, but had to pick up a rubber mallet to tap the front bar of a futon into place. ‘Tap’ being a relative term, with ‘wham’ being perhaps more appropriate. A local liquidation store, Big Lots, was the source of inexpensive tools to leave behind – screwdrivers, pliers and so on – for Katherine to use for later work.
We found a dining table at Pier 1, but getting it back to the apartment was a bit of a problem – it wouldn’t fit in the rental car, and definitely wouldn’t fit in my daughter’s runabout. We turned to Home Depot for their truck rental by the hour, and found my Canadian driver’s license (more particularly the postal code) wasn’t recognised by their computer, and so we had to fall back on my daughter’s license. In addition, the truck itself was pre-booked the first time we tried for it, and we had to come back the next day. Even with this inconvenience we we able to get everything back to her apartment within a day, so there was no major delay.
Mention of the Pier 1 and Home Depot brings home the fact that our economy is integrated across the continent – I could have purchased the same items in Toronto at the same stores. There is a sizable outlet mall here in Camarillo, but the stores are the same as in Toronto, and I could go to equivalent malls there. As we homogenise the retail base across the continent the shopping rationale sometimes offered for travel fades away, and we are left with the notion of travelling to see new sights and meet new people. What an odd concept!
The temperatures and weather in general in Camarillo have been little short of ideal for the last few days. Yesterday was perhaps a little too warm, but the evening soon cooled back down to a comfortable level, and the hazy skies cleared up to reveal the moon and stars. While I am close to the center of Camarillo (insofar as it has a center) visibility is good compared to suburban Woodbridge – magnitude 3 compared to magnitude 1 skies. Outside of Camarillo the sky is Bortle 5 at the most. On the other hand getting out of town is a little difficult – the area is only semi-rural, with many small towns within a few miles of each other.
As if to offset the great weather we’ve been having, the prediction is for increasing cloud cover, and the day of the Mercury transit itself is supposed to be partly cloudy. I will be setting up for visual observing only – I don’t expect to be ready to catch first contact (though I will be watching for it about 11.12 am) and while the sun will still be above the horizon at fourth contact, it will not be up by much. Sunset is at 4.58 pm local time, and fourth contact will be about 4.10 pm). My hope remains that I will be able to view the transit through gaps in the clouds.