Comet Neowise 2020

2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Universe. I work to keep that in mind as I live from day to day.

From my front porch every evening this summer Jupiter and Saturn have been some of the brightest objects in the sky. Using Gloria’s telescope I’ve been able to clearly see the rings of Saturn and the storms of Jupiter along with many of their moons.

Even with nothing than a regular set of binoculars Jupiter is so close to Earth that the moons are clearly visible without much aid. With a zoom lens, camera and tripod one can take a picture of them without much difficulty.

Then there is comet Neowise. This one snuck up on us. Somehow we can put landers on the moon but not know when a comet is orbiting the sun. Granted, the last time it was here was 6,766 years ago. And it won’t be back for another 6,766 years.

That being said, I wanted to find this comet and see if I could capture it from my own front yard. The biggest problem I have with some of the astronomy stuff is that it happens at like 5 in the morning. That’s not always appealing to me. I’ll do it but it would be way more convenient if it was like around midnight.

And, as it turns out, that was going to happen. All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks and I could get a view in the northwest sky as it set with the sun after 10pm.

The first time I saw it was with binoculars. It was so much larger than I was expecting that I had overlooked it for 30 minutes. And it was much more faint than I was expecting especially as it was dodging in and out of the clouds. With my older eyes and the less than ideal viewing conditions this was going to be challenging to take a clear photo of this thing at night.

With a 600mm lens I knew that I could only keep the shutter open for about 5 seconds to keep the blur at a minimum. That means the ISO has to be fast and the aperture wide open. This is going to produce a grainy/noisy photo and if it’s not tack sharp it not going to come out well.

Focusing in the night sky is not easy. Because my eyes are not the best at determining the focal distance like they were when I was 16 I have to use the camera to help me by focusing on stars in the sky and getting them sharp and then assuming that the comet will be sharp in that background. One tiny camera shake and the photo will be ruined.

300 images later, I picked the 3 I liked the best.

Color image of Comet Neowise.

The color image above shows the green core of the comet against some of the stars on a very cloudy night. I was never afforded a totally dark sky view of the comet while it could be seen from here.

Color image of Comet Neowise just above the horizon.

When the comet was behind the clouds I turned my camera around to see if I could take a decent photo of Jupiter and maybe some of it’s moon. Keep in mind I only have a Nikon camera and lens on a tripod so this is not a telescope or anything fancy.

Jupiter and 4 of its moons.

The picture of Jupiter doesn’t look like much at first glance. But I was shocked that I could get such a good photo of the planet and some of it’s moons. If you zoom into the photo you will see that one of the moons is blue. I think this is Europa which has high water content.

If you didn’t get to see it this trip around the sun unfortunately you are now going to have to take my word that it was there. Or use better camera gear than I have.

It was a fun evening I shared with my family. Interesting time in an interesting year looking at cool astronomy objects.

If you get bored, look up. The comet is about gone but many other object are up there. The sky can offer some interesting things to think about. Maybe give you break to think about other things for a while.

Making hay June 2020

This cathartic video from above shows 5 minutes of the process of making hay on our farm. There is no music or narrative. Just make it the size of your screen and enjoy the process.

We gathered 34 round bales of hay in this first cut of 2020.

Things generally slow down this time a year. With the virus things are REALLY slow right now. Everything I’d normally do in the spring, summer and fall is cancelled. There are no vacations planned or other distractions that would normally happen in a summer. This doesn’t look to change before the end of the year.

Health, Family, work and hobbies; I’m blessed to have all these near me.

After the hay bales are wrapped they have to be moved to a place they can be placed on a trailer and placed under a barn roof. This hay is for horses so it must be kept dry.

For some reason I am drawn to the engineering of making hay. There was a time when it would take 5-6 people to do this work and it would take 2-4 times to get the same amount of hay off the ground. Now 1-2 people can do it in a day.

Hopefully we’ll get 1-2 more cuttings this year. The air is cool and we are getting plenty of rain. The grasses love this grow environment. So if the trends of cooler summer and consistent rain continues the hay yield will be high this year.

Iceland Without Tourists

The last time we were in Iceland we took a tour that few people have done. We drove the “Ring Road” on our own in a camper staying in camp grounds each evening.

Even with other tourist in the county once you get past 1 hour outside of Reykjavík they would turn around and go back to Reykjavík at the end of the day. So just after Skogafoss waterfall we were mostly on our own. It was a fun and unique vacation we got to share together.

We wanted to get to the Western fjords but needed another full week to get through there. We decided to make a third trip and to do that by itself. We have yet to make it there a third time.

If you want to race to the end of the video to where they only talk about what it’s like to be in Iceland without tourists you can go here. I’ve been here and I can imagine exactly what it is like. It must be glorious.

If you want to see my notes on the last time we where there you can find them here. It’s hard to believe it was 2 years ago. It’s been a weird couple of years.

Iceland is a breathtaking place to be. If you can get there I highly recommend it.

Sunset surprise

After work yesterday I took my drone out for some practice run. It was foggy overcast and I thought the sun had already gone down because there were no sun rays on the ground. As I took off and got some altitude it was clear the sun had not set yet.

I’m always amazed at the photos that I can stitch together using the shitty little camera onboard a Mavic drone. I shoot them in raw so I can manipulate them on my computer to bring out the colors better. From the ground it was overcast and dark already. So it was fun to capture some of the last color and rays of the day.

You can create a ton of media very quickly. Over the last 10 or so years I’ve learned how to take that media, rename it, organize it into folders by date so it can all be cataloged properly. I don’t do that to make my life easier today. I do it so that when I go back and look at this 5-10 years later I know everything about the situation; where I was, what I was doing, notes about the day, my mood, etc. That takes a ton of practice and disipline.

Then as I was going to bed I looked out and the strawberry moon was hanging out in the fog. So I got a telescope out to peer at that for a while. It’s always amazing to see the moon through a nice telescope with all it’s mountains and other features. My iphone can take a decent picture thorough the same lens as I look with my eyes. It’s not the best, but it’s OK.

As seen from my iPhone looking through a telescope and some fog.

It’s incredibly bright even through the fog. It’s best to use a filter to tone down the brightness but I didn’t have that available to me when I took this. You get the idea.

Sheltering in place is still the norm around here. Working from home has been my modis operandi lately. It’s been that way for the better part of the last 25 years so not much has changed. I just don’t see many people I work with anymore except through the computer lens. That doesn’t look like it will change for the rest of 2020.

As of yesterday the remaining events that I would attend this year have been cancelled. That leaves my summer 100% available back to me to do with what I want. That hasn’t happened in so long I can’t remember. So I’ll spend it working around the farm, learning new things, working and hopefully a vacation or two if that is even possible.

I hope your skies are as pretty as mine.

Strap on a GoPro? Will it fly?

Today I was out flying my glider with air so laminar that it appeared from the ground that there was no turbulence. I though, “Hey, I should record this!”

So I land, go inside and get this GoPro Hero 3 sitting on my desk and put some Velcro on the bottom then attached it to my glider as near the CG as I could get it. I had no idea if it would fly well with the camera attached which will no doubt introduce a ton of drag because it is not small at all. Or light.

I was surprised how well it actually flew and even more surprised to see the footage from the GoPro when I got on the ground.

This plane has no FPV (First Person View) optics on it so I fly it 100% by hand and with only visual cues from the ground. From the ground you do not get a sense of how things are going on board the aircraft except from what you can see from the ground. I’ve always wondered what it was like up in the sky with this lumbering old bird.

I call it the pterodactyl because it looks like an old dinosaur. I recovered it from a box that was destined for the trash at the hands of others. I thought that I’d put it back together but it was low on my list of plane priorities. But one day I did put it back together, added a motor, motor controller, radios, servos and the like and got it back in the air. It’s one of my favorites now.

It’s a circa 1970 balsa glider that was designed to be launched with a rubber band from the ground then flown into the thermals from there. It was only designed to be turned with rudder and elevator. I added ailerons to the wings as well which gives me much more control of the large wing it has.

Will I crash?

This video is pieces of a 10 minute flight. I cut out a ton of it so it wasn’t so boring.

I hope you’re having a nice day!

Take care.

Well, hello there!

I would ask what you’ve been up to but I think I already know.

It’s been a while since I’ve published anything even though I’ve had plenty of time to do that. Things have been busy in the last couple of months in spite of the travel bans and lockdowns. I’ve spent most of my time around my farm doing all kinds of maintenance to vehicles, taking care of our bees, working from home, keeping up with the grounds, etc.

Lately the only thing different for me is I don’t travel for work. All our work is now restricted to online or over the phone. It might seem like a big change but really it’s not. I’m doing the same thing just doing it from home 100% of the time. It’s given me time to do extra stuff since I’m not spending any of my time on the road.

San Diego Coronado Beach at Sunset

Just prior to the lockdown I made many trips for work. One to the Denver area, one to San Francisco and another to San Diego. After return home from San Diego is when things got locked down. It was nice when I was there. The weather was perfect.

I shared dinner with a friend on the night the photo above was taken. People were out and about but in hushed tones. It was inevitable what was about to happen. Soon after I would be on a plane back home where I’ll remain for what looks like is going to be 4-5 months.

Ducati Multistrada 1200S

One of the machines I’ve been able to maintain is my Multistrada. It’s had a number of issues that I needed to repair which is now complete. But it’s fixed now and taking me to places that I like to go. Social distancing, of course. And just not this place:

Shenandoah National Park – Hogback Overlook

Because that place is CLOSED!

So many places around here are closed. All my favorite parks, some of the roads, all of the restaurants and the like. I’ve still managed to get some fun riding in even though I am not stopping anywhere along the way. That being said, I don’t have a ton of photos to share of my recent exploits into nature.

To keep people from gathering I’m also seeing various organizations blocking parking and otherwise making it very hard to really do anything including getting out for a walk or hike. This won’t last forever. One way or the other those barriers will be moved. There are simply not enough of “them” to keep “us” out. There are still other nice vistas around.

Kennedy Peak Trailhead – Luray, Virginia

Now that it’s warm I’ve been working more with the bees. I have 12 hives which have decided to split up on their own 5 times already this year. Of the 5 swarms I’ve managed to capture 4 of them. I’ve purchased two more hive boxes so if they swarm again I am hoping I can capture more of the bees. This should be a good year for honey production.

Of course, as much as I can I get out and fly my model aircraft of one type or another.

That’s always fun.

Then it’s spending time with the family I have close, eat, sleep and exercise beyond that.

The latest word on quarantine is that it’ll last through June. While other states (GA, TN) are opening up our states are much more conservative and likely will not. The virus is still taking its toll on people in the state so until that starts to go down I think this will continue.

Take care!

Oh, and wash your hands.

The Burn Pile.

Are you a member of “the burn pile”?

Left discarded, burned, frozen, trampled, ignored, then snowed and rained on over multiple seasons you can still produce perfect fruit.

There is a lesson to learn from this pumpkin who despite all the odds decided life was worth continuing, set down roots, leafed out, flowered and successfully made another pumpkin. It didn’t have to.

That’s the story of being a member of “the burn pile”.

In our lives it’s not easy to do things well but it can be done in spite of the people, places and things that tried to keep us from doing it so well.

We did it well anyway.

Welcome aboard the burn pile.

Shenandoah

I’m lucky to live so close to the Shenandoah Valley. From my house to the middle of Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park may be 45 minutes of driving.

Mostly I’m out there on the weekend when I have time to waste driving around Virginia without worrying about work. When I do get there the views and quiet of the mountain is quite therapeutic. Most everyone slows down and just enjoys being out there.

Looking north towards Front Royal, Virginia.

Every part of the day in every different season will produce a different feel of the mountain. Some days I get to go out during the week when there are very few people there. In the winter it can be lightly traveled where it feels like you are the only one there.

Low Gap

This old tree has been standing at Little Devils Stairs as long as I have lived in Virginia. This rest stop will be much different without the tree there once it finally gives in to gravity.

Little Devils Stairs

The sunsets can be quite a site to behold as well. Never disappointing even if it doesn’t show up from behind the clouds like you were expecting.

Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook
Looking west towards Luray, Virginia from Hogback overlook on a previous trip

It turns out I’m never the only person there at a sunset like this. It’s a busy time on the mountain as people take selfies and then go about their way. If you can wait 10 minutes after sunset you will be left on the mountain alone again.

It’s these times I enjoy most alone in this sacred place.

Cygnus Launch

On Saturday November 2, 2019 NASA launched an Antares Rocket as a resupply mission to the International Space Station from the Wallops flight facility in Wallops, Virginia. Wallops is about 160 miles from my home.

Wallops is fun because I can see the rockets as they start to enter orbit once they get pretty high in the sky (like 80,000 – 100,000 feet). In the evenings it is very easy to spot them but hard to photo. This is my first attempt to see if I can see them during the day.

Friday night I did the research on when the launch was going to be performed. They had a 5 minute launch window to complete the launch. I really wanted to drive to Wallops for the launch but knew I would not have the time due to my work schedule. I’ll save that trip for another time. My mission this time was to see if I could actually see the rocket from my home and do my best to photo the rocket on the horizon.

The morning was very clear and cold but hazy. The sun was very bright making the haze even worth. I didnt think I’d be able to get a decent photo of the rocket. During the event I am listening to an Internet stream from NASA giving me details of the launch in progress. So I had a decent idea of when I might see the rocket.

I decided to use my drone to photo my “process” before and during the launch. It would also serve as a queue on where to sync up the video after the event. I start the video about 2 minutes before launch. Here is that video:

Looking through a 600 mm lens is like looking through a very powerful telescope which makes it quite hard to find your subject “randomly” when you are holding it in your hand looking through a tiny view finder window. You really have to focus. And then focusing on such a faint subject so far away takes a little skill. Even so I was quite surprised that I could seen the rocket so clearly once I locked on the image through the long lens. It wouldn’t last long. Maybe 30 seconds.

The photo I took looked pretty good. Until I got it on the computer I didnt realize that it was in perfect focus and you could see the engine firing through the smoke of the contrail.

Cygnus NG-12

It turns out that I have to wait until the rocket is just about done with its first stage burn at an altitude of about 100,000 feet before it comes into view. For future launches this is helpful to know. And now that I’ve seen many of these launches I know exactly where to look on the horizon.

It was fun to participate in the event even if it was from afar. We’ll get out there soon during one of the launches in the future. Hopefully to get photos that are a little closer.

Fall Motorcycle riding.

For the next month I’ll be out on my motorcycle enjoying the early fall season, change of colors and cooler weather. This week I was able to meet up with friends and coworkers and ride a little in North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina.

My friend Joe took a photo of me taking a photo.
This was the photo I took. 50mm lens, bright light, underexposed then corrected for proper lighting.

The color and detail is just a tad different than an iPhone. No matter how the hype of the latest mobile phone cameras might be there will never match the clarity and color of a 50mm lens and some sort of professional camera behind it.

To get this shot I took 31 underexposed images in raw format. In post production I corrected for the low light and then stitched them together to make a single photo. Lately this is my go to panorama method. The 50mm lens has no round edges and the clarity is unbelievable.

An iPhone or similar lens can not “bokeh” an image by decreasing the f-stop which narrows the field of focus. They blur the background after the photo is taken but it look very fake and mechanical. Not smooth like only glass can do.

You can touch the images above to check out the detail.

John, Joe and the Three Amigos.
My Ducati could probably go forever. Me? I needed a break. This is at the end of our 370 mile day.
Picture in picture on a lunch break. 50mm, f2.8, 1/800th, ISO100.

I look forward the the trips coming up. It’s nice to ride this time of year.