Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Return of the Hawk

I posted some pics yesterday of a Harris's Hawk that came to visit our back yard. I ended the post by saying "Hopefully someday soon I will get the chance to catch it again." I didn't imagine that I would see it the very next day. I couldn't resist taking more shots last evening. Here are a few of them.
I took photos from inside looking through a window and then quietly stepped outside to take a few more. The bird was certainly aware of me being outside, as he was looking right at me.

I wasn't making any moves to approach it, so it could get back to its task of looking for its next meal and showing off the amazing range of motion in its neck.
I certainly hope that it finds good hunting and becomes a regular visitor in our area.
Here's a crop of the full frame shown above:
Beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, April 29, 2013

GLOBE at Night - Now Through May 8

The GLOBE at Night citizen science program is underway again. This is an easy way for people to go out and measure the brightness of the night sky. I did so myself earlier this evening:

This is their last campaign for the year, so if you are thinking of trying it out, don't wait to participate. It is really quite easy and the results are helpful. Go on over to their website http://www.globeatnight.org/ to see how to join in.

Soon I'll be blogging about how you can use your cell phone to make night sky brightness measurements. Look again later this week.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hanging with a Harris's Hawk

This morning a Harris's Hawk came calling in our yard. I took some pics through the window and then stepped outside. While I didn't approach it, it didn't mind me slipping out the sliding glass door to get a better views. Here are a couple of shots of it perched on our back wall:
And a crop of the full frame to get a closer look at the bird:
 and the same thing showing its talons:
Seeing the talons up close reminds me of the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park and makes me glad that I am not a lizard, ground squirrel or rabbit.

I unfortunately had to head out the door and couldn't stay to watch it take flight. It is a beautiful bird. Hopefully someday soon I will get the chance to catch it again.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spot the International Space Station

The International Space Station is certainly the largest and and most visible satellite to see in the night sky. Spotting it is easy when you know where and when to look for it - even from skies with lots of light pollution.

Want to know how to see the space station? There lots of helpers out there. My current favorite is CalSky.  I have set it up to give me email alerts for the space station, iridium flares and other cool things that are visible from my own back yard. Another site that you can configure for you own location is Heavens Above.  I know that there are apps for mobile devices that will also do the trick, but I haven't explored that too closely.

Here's how the station looked earlier this evening from Tucson, Arizona:
Canon T3i, 20 seconds, f/5.6, ISO 1600
The space station is the streak of light. The bright spot beneath it (and to the right) is Jupiter. The stars of Orion are in the lower left hand portion of the image.

This shot was taken just a bit earlier:

Star Trek: The Squire of Gothos

It has been a while since I managed to get through another episode of classic Star Trek, so without further ado here is episode # 18.
The Squire of Gothos - brought to you by Folgers.
The crew of the Enterprise is flying through a "star desert" when they are surprised to encounter a planet where there had been none before. They decide that they can't stay to investigate, when Sulu and then Kirk suddenly vanish from the bridge.

Yet a curious pair of messages arrives on one of Uhura's monitors:

Spock decides to send down a landing party, remarking "If those peculiar signals are coming from Captain Kirk or Lieutenant Sulu, their rationality is in question."

The planet is not a friendly place. It is described as being deadly to life forms and having an "extremely hot, toxic atmosphere swept by tornadic storms" with "continuous volcanic eruptions." It is a good thing that the landing party is wearing protection:
Of course they beam down into an area with a nice environment, where they soon discover a castle. Because I am such a geek, I created this panorama of the interior of the castle:
Inside they find the salt vampire from The Man Trap, now being used as set dressing:
They also find Kirk and Sulu, who were apparently frozen while doing The Robot:
And, of course, they encounter Trelane, the Squire of Gothos:
Trelane sort of has super powers and has made Earth his hobby. Although, he has apparently been looking in at Earth's past, seeing it as it was 900 years ago. As you can see from the panorama above Trelane is obsessed with war, military displays, etc. and expects that humans are as well.

Unwilling to entertain him, Kirk enters into a duel with Trelane and makes various attempts to flee - some of which are more successful than others. Eventually Trelane puts Kirk on trial for "the high crime of treason against a superior authority, conspiracy, and the attempt to foment insurrection."
To help the Enterprise to escape Kirk offers himself up as the target in a hunt. If Trelane frees the ship, he'll give him a contest to remember. Of course, Trelane catches Kirk and enjoyed the hunt so much that he wants to try this with the entire crew. Kirk remains defiant when two blinking lights appear - Trelane's parents!
They let Kirk go and punish Trelane. After Kirk returns to the ship, we are given a rather strange ending. Spock wants to know how to classify Trelane. Kirk first suggests "god of war" then offers instead that Trelane should be classified as "a small boy, and a very naughty one at that."

Spock says that will be a strange entry in the library banks and Kirk counters that Trelane "was a very strange small boy. One the other hand, he was probably doing things comparable to the same mischievous pranks you played when you were a boy."

Spock: "Mischievous pranks, Captain?"

Kirk: "Yes. Dipping little girls' curls in inkwells. Stealing apples from the neighbor's trees. Tying cans on..."

I know that Kirk is teasing Spock, but this seems really out of place. Did Kirk grow up in the time of The Little Rascals?

While I do enjoy this episode, there isn't really much to it. I will say though that Trelane was wonderfully played by actor William Campbell, who came back to Trek to play a Klingon in The Trouble With Tribbles and then again in an episode of Deep Space Nine

There is just a little bit of new music for this episode. It all comes from when Trelane and then Uhura play the harpsichord. Yes, all of that music is on La-La Land Records' complete release of music from Star Trek the Original Series.

Next up, Arena.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Restore the Clark!

There are a lot of crowdfunding campaigns out there. Lowell Observatory is currently running one to restore their magnificent 24-inch Alvan Clark telescope. The 117-year old telescope played an important role in both the history of astronomy and continues as a vital tool for the public education programs that Lowell runs from Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Percival Lowell looking through the Clark
I am a big fan of Lowell and as someone who likes both astronomy and the history of astronomy, it was an easy choice for me to decide to help support their Indiegogo campaign. They have some cool perks, but more importantly making a donation helps to extend the lifetime of their wonderful telescope - a Cadillac of the Skies.

If you are in the Tucson area, you should consider attending the Stars and Bar event tomorrow night (April 25). It is a chance to learn more about astronomy, light pollution, and Lowell Observatory. It looks to be a cool event.

"Restore The Clark" Campaign Launch Video from Lowell Observatory on Vimeo.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Raptors in the Hood

Back in February I posted about the wonderful Raptors Free Flight "show" at the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum (ASDM).  It really was a great experience to see so many magnificent birds up close.

Of course, I live in the desert and sometimes I don't have to make a visit to see them, they instead come to me.

Here's a Cooper's Hawk that was recently surveying the landscape from our back wall.
The Cooper's Hawk is not unique to the desert environment and is not a part of the experience at the ASDM. It is sometimes referred to as a "chicken hawk." Perhaps that is why I have never seen Foghorn Leghorn in these here parts.

Back to Raptors. Today we had a Ferruginous Hawk perched on our next door neighbor's roof. Thankfully it stayed long enough for me to grab my camera & zoom lens.
 Once it started leaning into the wind, I knew that it would soon be taking flight and I managed to catch it just after take off:
Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Star Trek: Shore Leave

This is one of those episodes that has everything that's been hanging around from the studio back lots: a Black Knight, a damsel in distress, stock footage, a guy in a Don Juan costume, show girls, a samurai, a tiger, and even Alice in Wonderland, with the white rabbit too.
It is also one of those episodes that I used to like a lot more than I do now. The premise is interesting enough. The crew is to beam down to this beautiful planet for shore leave. It is garden-like and has no animal life at all. McCoy's sighting of the rabbit and Alice is just the first of many events where people encounter things that they had been thinking about.

Part of what bothers me about the episode is that there is all kinds of evidence that the supposedly uninhabited planet that they are on is really just a park. You can see places where the grass was & wasn't cut. There are paths and walkways clearly visible - like in the shot below:
This sort of takes you out of illusion, doesn't it? Of course Star Trek was never intended to be watched on a big screen or on a device where you can do screen grabs, was it?
And the planet they are orbiting? It's Earth. They made it green and flipped it left-right so you likely wouldn't notice (I flipped it back for you here), but it is the same cloudless Earth that was used on Miri. Of course, up to this point the variety of planets portrayed has been pretty dismal. That's something I will follow up on in a future post.
There's a lot going on down on the surface and that makes the episode a bit scattered. Kirk meets an old love, Ruth, and an old foe, Finnegan. Finnegan was pretty much the only person ever to beat up Kirk and there's a lot of time in this episode spent with Kirk chasing and fighting him.
Spock calls down to say that there is a "highly sophisticated type of energy draining our power and increasing. Beginning to affect our communications." He asks to beam down and Kirk tells him not to do so. Yet soon he beams down anyway saying "the transporter is useless to us now. As I told you before, there's an unusual power field down here. It's soaking up all the energy at the source. I calculated the rate of its growth, and reasoned that I just might be able to transport one more person."

So there's an energy field draining the ship's power and Spock left his command? For some reason Kirk doesn't seem to mind. Kirk also didn't seem to care or do anything to investigate the power field.
McCoy is killed by the Black Knight (don't worry he comes back) and Sulu faces the worst samurai ever. 
At the end the planet's Caretaker reveals himself and explains what is going on - the planet is an amusement park. Think of something and it will appear for you. It is an amazing technology. Even more amazing to me is that Spock fails to ask a single question about how they are reading everyone's thoughts or how it is all manufactured. Perhaps he was distracted?
Maybe it is because the Caretaker explains "your race is not yet ready to understand us." Spock says "I tend to agree." And it is left at that.

In the end, they decide to control their thoughts and have that vacation after all.

Composer Gerald Fried wrote over 20 minutes of music for this episode. All of it is available on the awesome complete release of all the TOS music available from La-La Land Records. One of the tracks, of Kirk's full fight with Finnegan is available for preview here. While the score works well in the episode, it isn't among my favorites. It does have a lot of range though - romantic, comic and adventurous.

Five Year Mission covered the episode, their music video summarizes things nicely and is below:

Next up: The Squire of Gothos

Thursday, April 4, 2013

International Dark Sky Week

How is the night sky where you live? Can you see many stars? How about the Milky Way?

Most Americans, indeed most people all across the world can no longer see the Milky Way from where they live. It didn't used to be that way but, light pollution continues to be a problem in spite of the fact that the solutions are simple and generally cost effective.

Tomorrow begins International Dark Sky Week, a time to both celebrate the night sky and to reflect on how to try to restore it to some of its former glory. There are lots of great ways to celebrate and improve the night sky where you live, just check out the list over at the IDA's International Dark Sky Week webpage.

Which sky would you rather live under? This one:
Lots of skyglow, not many stars.
or this one?
Dark skies with Sirius, Orion, Taurus and Jupiter
Curiously enough, both of those photos were taken on the same night, from the same location with identical camera settings. The difference is the the direction of the view. I am fortunate to live near Tucson, Arizona which has outdoor lighting controls, but even with those the sky can still glow and mask out the night sky. Thankfully, from my location the sky is really only bright in one direction and much, much darker in all the others.

Unfortunately for far too many of us the view resembles the first photo in every direction. What can be done about it? Plenty. All we have to do is try.