Sunday, January 25, 2015

Awesome Sunset

Tonight's sunset was epic. I don't think words will do it justice, so I wont even try.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Nice Sunrise & A Gathering of Worlds

We had a pretty fantastic sunrise this morning. Alas, I had to drive to work during its peak. Still, it wasn't too bad beforehand.
The clouds were gone by sunset, opening up the sky for a nice gathering of Venus, Mercury and the Moon.
Alas, Mercury was lost in my neighbor's palm tree, but Venus (left) and the crescent moon looked pretty nice. Here's a closeup of the moon, with just a bit of earthshine visible.
Seeing them was a nice way to begin the evening.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Pair of Planets & a Comet are Rockin' the Winter Sky

If you've got clear skies, be sure to check out the continuing show that Venus & Mercury are putting on in the west just after sunset.  Here's a shot I took earlier this evening with my DSLR:
The crescent Moon will appear with these planets on January 21. The gathering of worlds should look pretty sweet.

Comet Lovejoy continues to slowly swing past the Pleiades (aka The Seven Sisters) star cluster. Here's how the looked just a short while ago:
Yeah, it's the blue-green dot under its name. It has changed it's position quite a bit since the photo I posted three nights ago. The comet is almost directly overhear now once the sky is fully dark in the evening. It has got a tail, but don't expect to see it visually. The Moon will start to ruin the view in about a week, so get out there and take a look.

Here's a link on how to spot if for yourself. You'll also see some spectacular images of the comet there this link has even more great comet pics.

Jupiter is in the sky too, being the brightest "star" in the eastern sky. This giant is best enjoyed when viewed through a telescope.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Comet Lovejoy!

The clouds in southern Arizona have finally cleared and this evening I got a nice look at Comet Lovejoy.
Here's a 10 second shot taken with a 55mm lens showing the Pleiades (aka the Seven Sisters) star cluster (upper left), Comet  Lovejoy (greenish blob just below center) and the streak of a faint satellite (lower middle).

The comet is bright enough to be seen without optical aide from moderately dark skies, but an easy target with binoculars. It's not spectacular, but very nice and well worth look at. 
Venus and Mercury are still together in the evening sky. This isn't the best shot, but here they are with the fainter star Theta Capricorni makiing a triangle between them.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dodging Clouds With Mercury & Venus

After more than a week of travel and clouds, this evening I finally got another look at the conjunction of Venus and Mercury.
Their closest approach was a few nights ago on Saturday, which I was sort of able to see while driving, but tonight was my first night at home with skies clear enough to see them. As you can see in the two photos I posted, there were clouds, but thankfully enough clear skies for the planets to be seen. 
No so for the comet. The weather hasn't given me a look at Comet Lovejoy since the moon was in the sky. If you've got clear skies you should make the effort to see it before the moon returns to the evening sky. Details are here.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Two Planets, the Moon and a Comet

There's a lot to see in the evening sky right now. Here are a few shots that I took this evening with my DSLR camera.
As long as your weather is clear you can't miss the nearly full moon, but the other objects are a bit harder to catch.
Venus and Mercury are making a nice pairing in the western sky. Look for them as soon as it gets dark. Venus is higher and brighter and is quite easy to see. Mercury is lower and dimmer. You'll need to look for it before it sets for the night. They'll be getting closer together over the course of the next week. Take a look from night to night and you'll be able to see them pull together.
We've also got a comet in the evening sky right now too. Can you spot it in the photo above? Yeah, it doesn't leap out at you, but it is there.
This shot is cropped from the one above and Comet Lovejoy is the fuzzy spot in the oval. Even with a bright moon in the sky it isn't too hard to catch. Binoculars will help, but so will waiting a few nights. By Wednesday the comet will be a bit brighter and the glow of the moon will be out of the early evening sky. Look mid to later this week and it will be easier to find. You can get more info on Comet Lovejoy and a finder chart here.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Star Trek: Bread and Circuses

It is time for another episode of Star Trek. Today I bring you:
The crew of the Enterprise is looking for a missing starship, the SS Beagle, when they encounter a trail of debris from a ship, but no sign of human remains.
The debris trail leads them to planet 892-IV, which is very Earthlike. Spock reports that "the proportion of land to water is exactly as on your Earth. Density five point five, diameter seven nine one seven at the equator, atmosphere seventy eight percent nitrogen, twenty one percent oxygen. Again, exactly like Earth."  Kirk is not impressed noting that the oceans and landmasses are "quite different."

I guess he knows what he talking about, as he's previously been to a planet that was an exact duplicate of Earth--back in the train wreck that was Miri. Still, 892-IV is too much like Earth to make this story work for me.
Uhura picks up a TV broadcast showing that the society on the planet below speaks English and appears to be a 20th Century Rome. Coo1, Romans in Space! No, not so much.

Later, Spock says that the world is a "complete Earth parallel" and Kirk cites "Hodgkins's law of Parallel Planet Development" to sort of explain it all away. Um, okay. I guess there are all kinds of worlds out there that have very nearly the same history with the same languages and cultural references too. I would have bought it if it had been a case of cultural contamination (as we see later on in A Piece of the Action), but that's not the case here at all.

The writers had an opportunity to make a commentary on slavery, but spent more time in the episode picking on network television. That's too bad.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to look for the missing crew of the Beagle and are promptly captured.
They quickly make friends with their captors, a group of runaway slaves, and Spock checks out their reading material. Yeah, their equivalent to LIFE or Look magazine is hawking cars like the Jupiter 8. Kirk explains that they are looking for missing friends and they learn of Merikus, the First Citizen. Interesting as the captain of Beagle was named Merik, a guy who didn't make the cut at Starfleet Academy.
We learn that the runaway slaves worship the Son, which of course sounds like Sun and director Ralph Senensky gives us the visual cue to intentionally throw us off.
They set off to find Merikus and are promptly captured and thrown in the slammer. Naturally, our heroes are able to break out, but not for long. They are re-captured but meet Merik and Procounsel Claudius Marcus who want nothing more than to have Kirk beam down his entire crew so that they can fight and die in the arena on TV.
In an effort to convince Kirk to capitulate Spock and McCoy are forced to fight on TV ("in color") while Kirk looks on. Are they watching aboard the Enterprise? Apparently not. Strange, isn't it?
Spock and McCoy surprise everyone by winning and are thrown back in the slammer, while Kirk is given his own beautiful slave for the night as an enticement into the Roman life. As they say, "when in Rome....."
The next morning Kirk still isn't willing to cooperate. Claudius (sitting) wants to talk to Kirk alone and gives Merik (in orange) a slam, asking him to leave, saying "The thoughts of one man to another cannot possibly interest you." Zing!

Kirk is to be executed on TV, but Scotty saves the day. He's arranged for a there to be a power outage, just 'cause, and it happens to be right when Kirk is to be executed. They'd know that if they were watching Roman TV, but they aren't. Instead he was just plain lucky that his actions allowed Kirk to escape.
Kirk breaks out Spock & McCoy and Merik helps too by signaling the ship. The landing party beams out just as the bad guys arrive to riddle their beaming bodies with machine gun bullets. Apparently to no affect.
Merik is dead, but everybody else is saved (Yay!) and apparently the Romans can all be saved too as Uhura give us the big reveal at the end. The slaves don't worship the sun in the sky, but instead the Sun of God -- making Bread and Circuses the Easter Episode* of Star Trek. Ugh.

The episode does have some great Spock & McCoy moments, but otherwise it doesn't do anything for me at all.

*There are other "holiday" Trek episodes too. Charlie X is great for Thanksgiving and Dagger of the Mind is perfect for Christmas, as these holidays are specifically mentioned in the episodes. I would add that The Omega Glory is the natural for Independence Day (or maybe Constitution Day, but nobody remembers when that is anymore) and that Journey to Babel is perfect for Father's Day.

EDIT: Thanks to a commenter for reminding me that I somehow left out Trek's Halloween episode, Catspaw

Speaking of Journey to Babel, that will be the next episode here.

2015: Starts With Snow

New Year's Eve was wet and cold in Tucson. Overnight the temperatures drop and snow fell in the local mountains and in the foothills. The snowline was higher than my home, which is at just over 2,100 feet of elevation. Nearby Sombrero Peak (officially called Safford Peak), which is often a backdrop to my hot air balloon shots, rises to an elevation of 3,563 feet.
As the morning grew brighter it was clear that there was a dusting of snow on the peak, perhaps down to about 3,000 feet or so. We haven't had snow this low since February 2013.
Looking in the other direction, we had a wonderful sunrise to start 2015: