Thursday, May 30, 2013

Planets. Bats.

Early evening is the time to head out to see the planetary conjunction. It is also the time to start feeding on insects, especially if you are a bat. We have seen a lot of them these evenings while looking at the conjunction. Tonight I actually grabbed some pics of the bats too.

Here's a wide shot of the three planets and a bat:
Canon 3Ti 1/40 Sec 55-250mm Zoom f/5.6 ISO 3200
And a couple more, cropped from the full frame showing just a bat and Venus:
For you planet purists out there here's a shot of the conjunction without any bats in it:
Canon 3Ti 1/25 Sec 55-250mm Zoom f/5.6 ISO 3200
The group of planets is pulling apart as Mercury ascends and Jupiter is sinking in the western sky. It should still be worth a look tomorrow night as May ends, but not for much longer.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tonight's View of the Conjunction

Here's how the planetary conjunction looked this evening:
Canon 3Ti 1/40 Sec 55-250mm Zoom f/5.6 ISO 3200
Canon 3Ti 1/25 Sec 55-250mm Zoom f/5.6 ISO 3200
Jupiter is rapidly sliding from view, presenting quite a different alignment relative to Venus and Mercury than it did just 2 nights ago. It is worth checking out while you still can.

Monday, May 27, 2013

There Are Four Planets!

The planetary conjunction continues to put on a nice show in the early evening sky. It is nice to get four planets in one view (Yes, I am counting Earth).

Here's how it looked from our driveway earlier this evening:
Canon 3Ti 0.3 Sec 55-250mm Zoom at 100mm f/5.6 ISO 1600
It is nice to see how much their positions have changed since two nights ago. Here's a closer view with the planets labeled:
Canon 3Ti 1/25 Sec 55-250mm Zoom at 250mm f/5.6 ISO 1600
I took far more shots than anyone would want to see, but this last one is unique in its own way. I caught Venus just as it was setting. Can you spot it?
Canon 3Ti 0.3 Sec 55-250mm Zoom at 250mm f/5.6 ISO 1600
Here is a cropped view of the full frame shot:
Notice how Venus is reddened, just like the Sun is at sunrise or sunset.

The title of this post is (naturally) a Star Trek reference. If you are wondering how to say it, let Jean-Luc Picard show you the way:

Star Trek: Tomorrow is Yesterday

Time travel. Stock footage. What's not to love in this episode of Star Trek? Unfortunately, there really isn't much to love at all here.

The Enterprise is accidentally thrown backward in time to 20th Century Earth, just days before the first mission to the Moon, where it is picked up and pursued by the Air Force as a UFO. Ironically, this episode first aired on January 26, 1967, just one day before the Apollo One fire, an event that took the lives of three astronauts and delayed the real missions to the Moon.
Struggling to regain power and fearful that the Air Force plane might be able to damage them, they try to hold the plane back with a tractor beam. When it begins to break apart Kirk has the pilot beamed aboard.
Alas, they how have someone from the past on board who has seen the future. Just as bad the pilot, Captain Christopher, reveals that he took footage of the Enterprise with his wing cameras. Once they find the wreckage and develop the film their presence here will be confirmed as a real alien threat. As Spock explains, "our tractor beam caught and crushed an Air Force plane. It'll be impossible to explain this as anything other than a genuine UFO. Possibly alien, definitely destructive."
So the crew must infiltrate an Air Force base and retrieve the film with Captain Christopher's help. Of course Christopher wants to escape so that complicates things. Mayhem ensues as another Air Force officer is beamed aboard and Kirk is taken prisoner.
The one key to possibly enjoying this episode is to not think about what is happening. At all.

We learn that, much to the annoyance of Kirk and Spock, the ship's computer has a female personality. This was part of an attempt to add some humor to the episode but it didn't work (It's really much more degrading to women). There's just one moment for me that was funny. Kirk is explaining the situation to Christopher after he beams aboard. Just as they walk onto the bridge Christopher says "I never have believed in little green men" as Spock is revealed saying "Nether have I." Unfortunately, this is the highlight of the episode.

Once they have recovered the films and realize that by not returning Captain Christopher they will be altering history, Spock and Scotty devise a plan to make everything right again. Spock explains it to Captain Christopher, "the only possible solution is the slingshot effect, like the one that put us here. My computations indicate that if we fly toward the sun, seek out its magnetic attraction, then pull away at full power, the whiplash will propel us into another time warp....Logically, as we move faster and faster toward the sun, we'll begin to move backward in time. We'll actually go back beyond yesterday, beyond the point when we first appeared in the sky. Then, breaking free will shoot us forward in time, and we'll transport you back before any of this happened."

Um, okay. Kirk adds, "You won't have anything to remember, because it never would have happened."
They then do their slingshot thing, beam people back into themselves--a maneuver that I still do not understand--and, by reversing the engines, fly forward in time to their present day. 
This one is best forgotten. Not terrible, but not worth your time either.

Next up, will be a classic Kirk vs. Computer episode - Return of the Archons.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Conjunction Junction, What's Your Function?

Until tonight I've been to crazy busy to even check out the nice conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mercury that is taking place in our evening skies. Have you seen it?

This evening's view from near Tucson, AZ began with a nice sunset. Wouldn't you agree?
Thankfully the cirrus clouds did not interfere with the view. Can you spot the three planets in the shot below?
It's a bit tough, so here's the same shot, but with the planets labeled.
 And another shot, this time taken with a zoom lens:
Any pairing or grouping of planets like this is called a conjunction (hence the title of this post). It might be surprising to think that we have the two inner planets (Venus and Mercury) grouped with one of the outer planets (Jupiter).

When we look at this conjunction of planets, are we essentially looking inward and outward at the same time?

Yes, we are.

Here's a screen shot grabbed from my iPad running Sky Safari Pro:
As you can see, from our vantage point on Earth Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter are all in the same general direction. You can almost draw a line from Earth to Mercury, Venus and Jupiter and that's the geometry that gives us our conjunction. For more details on the conjunction and how the view changes from night to night, check out this info from Sky&Telescope magazine.

And if you are looking for some Schoolhouse Rock, you'll find it here.

In Which I Blog about Meeting Authors at Cons and Star Trek Continues

Until recently it had been quite sometime since I had been to a science fiction convention. That has changed as I have now attended two of them in just the last couple of weeks.

In early May I attended the very small LepreCon in Mesa, AZ. I went specifically to meet the author guest of honor, Jack McDevitt. He's one of my favorite sci fi authors writing today. Jack was kind enough to sign a book and pose for a pic with me. He's one of the few authors where I pretty much want to read everything he is writing. His varied career has convinced me that it isn't too late for me to try my hand at writing. After starts and stops, he took up writing at age 45. So maybe it is okay for me to give writing fiction a shot at 50. (I'll let you know if things work out.)

This weekend I attended the much, much larger Phoenix Comic Con (PCC). I was part of one of their science panels--presenting with Lowell Observatory's Gerard van Belle and Ray Sanders of CosmoQuest. The session went very well (You should have been there!).

While at the con I had to do some geeky things. First up was to catch author John Scalzi. John signed a copy of his new novel, The Human Division and pose for pics with me.
I attended one of his sessions where he proved that he knows how to work a crowd and have a good time doing it.

As you can see I was wearing a Star Trek shirt. Speaking of Trek, PCC turned out to be a good con for those who like classic Trek, as it saw the debut of the first episode of Star Trek Continues.
Star Trek Continues debuted before a full house at Phoenix Comic Con
Their first episode is called Pilgrim of Eternity and it amazingly takes up right where TOS left off. In the guest role stars Michael Forest,  returning to the role of Apollo that he played all those years ago in Who Mourns for Adonais?
Michael Forest (right) is Apollo
Michael Forest owns the role of Apollo (even after all these years) and the new cast and crew has done and amazing job of making this new show look and feel like the Star Trek of old. It is an amateur project, done out of love for Trek, but there is nothing amateurish about it. I liked it much better than Into Darkness. You should watch it for yourself

Of course, being a comic con, there was lots and lots of cosplay on display. Lately, I have finally been watching Doctor Who (to slightly broaden my horizons). It is interesting that clean cut and well dressed counts as looking like the Doctor. There were many at the con dressed as the Doctor and as Companions. This was perhaps the youngest person at the con dressed as the Doctor:
It was nice to see so many people, young and old, having such a good time at the con.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek: The Alternative Factor

Everybody is talking about Star Trek Into Darkness. Me, I am still back in the original series. Today, here's what I have to say about:
Could this be the end of everything? As the episode begins the ship is rocked and Spock reports that "everything within range of our instruments seemed on the verge of winking out" and that "the entire magnetic field in this solar system simply blinked." Starfleet reports that the phenomenon was felt throughout the galaxy and that they believe that it may have been a prelude to invasion.

It sounds like an exciting episode, right? No, not really.
Shatner's reaction to having read this episode's script.

Conveniently, the Enterprise is at the center of the winking out effect. They head down to the surface of the planet below where they unfortunately encounter the show's central character - Lazarus.

As they eventually learn there are really two Lazaruses (Lazari?). One is crazy while the other is sane. Conveniently one has a cut on his forehead and the other does not.

The good and evil Lazarus switch places over and over and over, seemingly endlessly so with an effect that brings in a shot of the Trifid Nebula and a sort of a negative shot of the two of them fighting in slow motion.
I suppose it would have been cooler if you couldn't tell that they were clearly in a room. It is described later as a "negative magnetic corridor where the two parallel universes meet" and as a "safety valve that keeps eternity from blowing up." But, yeah. It's a room with a floor, walls and corners.

They bring Lazarus aboard the ship and, even though he is at the center of the winking out effect and that both Kirk and Starfleet think that this might signal an invasion, they let him wander about the ship unattended.
Later, after there's been trouble, McCoy complains about having a security guard in sick bay who is then dismissed so that Lazarus can steal some of the ship's dilithium crystals.

Then we find that there is a source of radiation on the planet below.
Well, not really as the scanners report that it isn't really there. How can that be? Spock explains, "It may be described, though loosely and inaccurately, as a rip in our universe."

As we eventually learn there are parallel, but opposite, universes that are threatening to annihilate each other. Cool, eh? Lazarus is the key to keeping the universes safe from annihilation.
Kirk eventually gets transported to the opposite universe which is made of antimatter. Apparently it is only if identical particles meet that we get "The end of everything. Civilization, existence, all gone." In reality, a Kirk made up of matter visiting an antimatter universe would indeed result in a big explosion, but not one to end 2 universes. Their implication is that this that both universes would end if Matter Kirk met Antimatter Kirk.

The solution is for the Enterprise to destroy Lazarus's space ship (which is also a time machine, but nothing is really made of that) while the two of them are in the magnetic corridor thing, fighting for all eternity. The sane Lazarus is cool with that. As he says "Is it such a large price to pay for the safety of two universes?"
This episode should have been much, much better than it was. The premise was there, but the execution was pretty poor.

This was my 20th of these. I hope that some people are enjoying them. Next up: Tomorrow is Yesterday.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

@Cmdr_Hadfield Covers Space Oddity

During his time aboard the International Space Station Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) has owned social media like no astronaut before. He has been tweeting and sharing photos and creating videos that have given thousands of people a glimpse of what it is like to live and work in space.

If you haven't been looking in, you should check out his gallery of pics & videos on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

He returns to Earth tomorrow. His final video from his voyage is his own cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity that was shot from on board the International Space Station. It's pretty good and worth watching.

Last of the Season

The desert heat has not yet come into its own for the season. Lately we have been having warm days but cool nights. In the evenings we open our windows and keep them open until the day starts to heat up.

The warm, soon to be hot, days mean the end of Tucson's hot air balloon season. I was surprised yesterday morning when, while inside, I heard the unmistakable sound of a hot air balloon. It certainly surprised me, almost to the point where I thought I had imagined it. I believed it was real when I heard it a second time.

 As I often do, I grabbed the camera, tossed on the zoom lens and stepped outside to grab a couple of shots.
Here's a second shot, cropped from the full frame:
It's all that combustion that makes the balloons so loud. In spite of the noise (and the occasional tragic accidents) I long to take a ride skyward and drift above the desert. I guess I'll have to wait. The desert heat is returning. Yesterday's balloon may be the last of the season.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Star Trek: Arena

It is time for another episode of Star Trek. Today we bring you one of my favorites:
 Yes, by today's standards Arena is pretty cheesy, but it contains many elements of what makes Star Trek so wonderful.

The Enterprise arrives at Cestus III to visit Commodore Travers only to find that it is a trap. The colony has been destroyed.
The landing party falls under attack from an unseen enemy while in orbit the Enterprise, with Sulu in command, also comes under fire. Eventually the alien ship beams up its forces on the ground and breaks orbit. The landing party returns to the Enterprise and begins pursuit.

In typical TOS Trek fashion the space battle and the chase through space takes place without showing even showing the alien vessel.

Kirk pushes his ship right to the edge. As Scotty says, "We'll either catch them or blow up."

Sensing that Kirk is looking for vengeance on the aliens, Spock questions if it is really necessary.
Spock: You mean to destroy the alien ship, Captain?
Kirk: Of course.
Spock: I thought perhaps the hot pursuit alone might be sufficient. Destruction might be unnecessary.
Kirk: Colony Cestus III has been obliterated, Mister Spock.
Spock: The destruction of the alien vessel will not help that colony, Jim.
Kirk: If the aliens go unpunished, they'll be back, attacking other Federation installations.
Spock: I merely suggested that a regard for sentient life...
Kirk: There's no time for that. It's a matter of policy. Out here, we're the only policemen around. And a crime has been committed. Do I make myself clear?
Spock: Very clear, Captain.
This is a much more mature Spock than we saw in The Man Trap.

As the chase progresses the alien vessel suddenly drops out of warp and comes to a complete stop. As Kirk moves in for the kill the same thing happens to the Enterprise. They are powerless and being held in place from a nearby solar system when the viewscreen delivers a message from the Metrons.

"You are one of two crafts which have come into our space on a mission of violence. This is not permissible. Yet we have analysed you and have learned that your violent tendencies are inherent. So be it. We will control them. We will resolve your conflict in the way most suited to your limited mentalities."

When Kirk tries to interject they continue:  "We have prepared a planet with a suitable atmosphere. You will be taken there, as will the Captain of the Gorn ship which you have been pursuing. There you will settle your will not be permitted to communicate with your ship. You will each be totally alone...The place we have prepared for you contains sufficient elements for either of you to construct weapons lethal enough to destroy the other, which seems to be your intention. The winner of the contest will be permitted to go his way unharmed. The loser, along with his ship, shall be destroyed in the interests of peace. The contest will be one of ingenuity against ingenuity, brute strength against brute strength. The results will be final."

Kirk vanishes from the bridge only to appear on the surface of a planet to face 
the Gorn

The Gorn is the reptilian captain of the alien ship. It very much represents the old school way of looking at reptiles--scarey, yes, but slow and clumsy. He's sort of how dinosaurs were envisioned to be pre-Jurassic Park, before we had an inkling that they might have been warm blooded.
The Gorn has a swing and a miss x 2
A lot was done to build up the end to the big fight. Kirk points out that the planet is a mineralogist's dream. I guess that's why there's aluminum foil on the rocks behind him.
The Gorn may be slow, but he's just a bit stronger.
The Gorn is also intelligent and sets a trap for Kirk that he falls for and becomes entangled in. But it was one of those "traps before the commercial break" traps, so Kirk easily escapes being killed after the commercial break.
This was one of several episodes that was filmed on location at the iconic Vasquez Rocks. There's lots of cool looking rock formations there giving the landscape an alien feel.
Yet they still managed to put the Gorn on a dirt road. 

As things progress, they aren't going so well for Kirk and the Metrons (doesn't that sound like the name of some mass transit system?) decide to let the crew of the Enterprise watch Kirk's demise.

I just love Uhura's reaction to seeing the Gorn. She doesn't often get much to do, but I must say that Nichelle Nichols was great at the reaction shot. Sometime here I'll post a retrospective of Uhura reaction shots.
As the crew watches, Kirk is working on a plan. Spock, being the astute observer that he is, notices the white powder behind him: "Unless I'm mistaken, it's potassium nitrate." I'm not sure how he was able to identify a white powder this way but, well, he's Spock so that must be enough.
Don't you just love this view of the Gorn? I do.

As the Gorn slowly chases Kirk he was busy collecting this and that to make gunpowder and building a canon to fire at the Gorn.
This moment in TV history became popular enough that the feasibility of Kirk's canon was tested in an episode of Mythbusters. Watch it here. In it Mythbuster Grant Imahara plays Spock. In addition to his Mythbusters gig Grant is now playing Sulu in the fan produced Star Trek Continues. They are picking up right where the first series left off. Their first full episode comes out late this month. They have done an amazing job recreating the sets of the original show and could be making some cool stuff. It is worth checking out.
Any way, Kirk's shot at the Gorn is successful but, he shows mercy by not killing the Gorn.
 A Metron appears and delivers the kind of thing that Gene Roddenberry loved to put into Star Trek: "By sparing your helpless enemy who surely would have destroyed you, you demonstrated the advanced trait of mercy, something we hardly expected. We feel there may be hope for your kind. Therefore, you will not be destroyed. It would not be civilized."

Kirk asks about the Gorn and says that they should try to talk and reach an agreement. The Metron continues, "There is hope for you. Perhaps in several thousand years, your people and mine shall meet to reach an agreement. You are still half savage, but there is hope. We will contact you when we are ready."
That message resonates with Kirk and at the end he tells Spock that "We're a most promising species, Mister Spock, as predators go. Did you know that?" Spock says that he has had is doubts. Kirk counters, "I don't. Not anymore."

Kirk's fight with the Gorn has come back in this this hilarious commercial for a new Star Trek video game. In it William Shatner battles the Gorn again:

Wasn't that awesome?

There was no new music written for this episode. It's all tracked from other episodes, but it works very well.

Want to watch Arena? Yes, you do and you can. It is online here.

What Trek is up next? The Alternative Factor.