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.

Sunrise June 11, 2020

We live in Narnia.

We have such interesting weather here in between the mountains. The original farm here was named “Crosswind Farm”. I didn’t think much about this until we moved in. The winds come from all directions all the time.

The Coriolis effect is very pronounced here. It’s very easy to see the cloud layers moving at right angles from each other.

It’s been very sunny and warm lately. Thankfully. I was pretty done with winter temperatures around here. It can get cold and stay cold here for half the year. So it’s nice to be in the 80º’s again.

A front came through and brought these clouds, some rain and lightening storms. The grass and trees are uber green. Summer is well on it’s way.

I hope you have a good day.

Aquifers in the USA

I thought this was interesting.

Water is going to be a very big problem at some point in our history as humans. If it’s not already.

I had not seen a map like this before. The USGS put out a cool map with data on the USA aquifers. Click on the map for the PDF file that explains what the map means.

Principal aquifers of the United States (modified from Principal Aquifers, U.S. Geological Survey, 2003).

The areal and vertical location of the major aquifers is fundamental to the determination of groundwater availability for the Nation. An aquifer is a geologic formation, a group of formations, or a part of a formation that contains sufficient saturated permeable material to yield significant quantities of water to wells and springs.

A two-dimensional map representation of the principal aquifers of the Nation is shown below. The map, which is derived from the Ground Water Atlas of the United States, indicates the areal extent of the uppermost principal aquifers on a national scale. In this map, a principal aquifer is defined as a regionally extensive aquifer or aquifer system that has the potential to be used as a source of potable water. (For study or mapping purposes, aquifers are often combined into aquifer systems.)

More information on the USGS web page here. The book Water 4.0 is a good read on this topic.

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.

Total Lunar Eclipse

Well, it took me 22 days to write my first post in 2019. Happy new year to you!

All this “Blood Moon” talk hyped up this event which is really just the earth passing in front of the sun casting it’s shadow on the moon (lunar eclipse). It does glow an odd color when in totality. That’s about it though. All the drama in the “news papers” made it more than it really was.

I did get a nice photo of the moon in totality.

The “Blood Moon”, January 21, 2019

At my home in Virginia the sky is always very clear if there are no clouds. This night happened to be one of those super clear nights so taking a picture of the moon would normally be a piece of cake. Enter the 40 mile an hour wind, 10º temperature and the location of the moon at 90º to the horizon.

The photo was taken with a 600mm lens which is not the smallest, lightest lens in the world. Attached to the camera and a tripod it’s steady but unwieldy. The wind was so strong that I had to use f-stops much higher than I normally would so the photo was not blurry. Had this been in the summer, for instance, I could have laid on my back and peered into the sky indefinitely. Not this night!

I did three sessions each about 5 minutes long. At the end of each session I could not feel my fingers! This photo came at the end of the last session after I dialed in the light and shutter speeds that I could use with a shaky camera(man). It wasn’t until I saw it on my computer that I knew I didn’t have to go out for a fourth session. Shew!

The camera was pointing straight up in the sky making it very difficult to focus on the moon and set the camera up to take the photo. But I finally managed to get a good one. It would have been fun to spend more time outside but it was just too uncomfortable.

Some astronomers have captured a meteor striking the moon during totality. That would have been cool to witness.  You can find that on the web if you are interested. I don’t think it was fake news. It’s always possible these days.

Lunar eclipse are fun but if you really want to see something cool make plans to see a total solar eclipse! That’s a sight to see for sure. The next one in the USA is on April 8, 2024. I’ll be there!

I hope you have had a nice day today.

Sunrise July 27, 2018

The sun (barely) poked through multiple layers of clouds this morning before the rain returned.

So far this week, in just the past 3 days, we have logged 6.5 inches of rain. We went from being pretty dry and things looking deep green again. I know all the plants are much happier with this water.

It’s too bad I didn’t’ think to get it on video but we also know that at least some of the animals are happy with the rain. With my girls as a witness we watched a fawn just go absolutely nuts in the water puddles two days ago. I don’t know if it was a boy or girl but it was driving the adults pretty crazy with its hyperactivity. It was the kind of unfettered happiness of seeing something new for the first time and being consumed by it all. It was fun to watch.

USGS Lovettsville Station Data

Above is the USGS station near my home. It’ hasn’t updated fully for today yet. You can see we went from essentially no precipitation lots of rainfall lately.  In particular was the 21st when the rain first started falling. It was “heavy at times”, as the weather man likes to explain.

Personally, I like the rain. And the snow. Since I no longer have to work in this stuff it’s nice to be able to get rain on my face again. If this were snow it would be SIX FEET deep. 1″ of rain is about 1 foot of snow equivalent. That would be interesting.

I hope at some point when we live here we get 6 feet of real snow. I just want to see what that would be like. I’ve seen almost 4 feet of snow a couple of times. But it always stopped there. It would not be easy to dig out but I’d eventually do that. It would make for some interesting photos for sure.

This is my current weather. The temperature is very nice and it’s a bit breezy with spitting rain. This beats 100º for sure! I made the graphs you see below and you might also notice that the “green zone” is between 60º and 80º. This is my favorite temperature range.

Weather telemetry at home

Here are a couple of random photos of what happens when the skies change around here. They are taken with my cell phone so the quality is not like my still cameras but you’ll get the idea.

Pastel sunsets.

We have the prettiest sunsets around here. From the pastel skies above to the most beautiful rainbows of anywhere I’ve ever lived.

Crazy skies – Double rainbow.

And this is very consistent weather. Anytime there is a storm come through in the evening where the sun pops out of the sky we get edge to edge rainbows. Super bright and very distinct colors.

And if there is a sunset with clouds in the sky they turn pastel as the sun angle dips below the cloud line like the picture above. I can take this same picture any given day of the week when there are clouds present. Deep pastel colors of deep blue, pink and purple are always present.

I hope it’s pretty where you live and that you love where you’ve hung your hat as much as I do here. Have a super day!

Sunset Panoramas July 15, 2018.

Most of the day was cloudy and spitting rain. That was good for me because I had a ton of work to do around the farm. From trimming trees to bush hogging our road it was a busy day on machines of various types.

We also sold our ping-pong table to someone who would provide it a good home. I hope his kids have fun playing on the board. The best part of the sale of this is that it’s taking up space in his garage now, not mine.

Tonight I was cooking a steak and out of nowhere a wasp landed and stung me on my nose. I used to think that getting stung on the temple was a bitch but now I think the nose is the worst. It’s been over an hour and my nose is still throbbing. I get stung a couple times a year so I’m becoming an expert on where being stung hurts the worst.

The day was pretty hazy and humid. I wear loose cotton clothes that cover all my skin. That makes working in the summer hot. When I got home I was soaked from head to toe with sweat. It was nice to take a shower and relax in the cool of the evening. It was 75º as the sun set tonight.

Speaking of sunset … here’s what it looked like:

Sunset July 15, 2018

At about the same time I turned the camera away from the sun to get the valley between the hills where we live. Looking to the left of the photo is Harpers Ferry where the gap in the mountain lets the Potomac river come through on it’s way to the ocean.

Looking towards Brunswick, Maryland.

There are lots of pastel colors this time of the day.

The moon and Venus are very close to each other today and tomorrow. I was too lazy/tired to go get my camera and take a picture of that. Hopefully they will be reasonably close tomorrow evening and I’ll get the photo then.

That is all …

Field Day 2018

This year’s “Field Day” was held Friday through Sunday, June 22, 23 and 24, 2018. The planning for the event was started in 2017 and continued right up to the days before.

We moved the event from where we’ve been having it in years past to Franklin Park, Purcellville, Virginia. This is a very public location inside the park grounds where anyone from anywhere could come and join us for the event.

… if it weren’t for the rain. Honestly, I don’t know when it started and when it stopped or even how much we got but it was a lot of rain. We set up the towers on Friday in torrential downpours which continued through the days. It did manage to clear up some on Saturday but it rained every day this year.

And when we were cleaning up a small storm came through with wind and more rain! Here’s what that looked like on radar:

Thunderstorm. Field Day 2018.

Man, did it rain. I sought refuge in my van but others didn’t make it out of the path in time. Some of the tents had to be held down manually and some did not make it from what I understand which exposed a lot of gear to the elements. Last report is that all electronic gear made it out OK with some drying effort.

Speaking of van. I don’t know how I was able to get all this gear from my home to the park and back but managed to do just that. It took a lot of help from others.

Van full of gear. Field Day 2018

The preliminary report has been published and from that information it looks like we did a fine job. It wasn’t a year where we blew out the numbers but we all did a good job making as many contacts as possible. That is what it is really all about.

One thing I set out to do this year was to learn more about satellite operations. Steve, KS1G was kind enough to walk me through some of what he was doing there. I took this short time lapse of his antennae at work:

When things are moving that fast you have to deal with all kinds of physics (like Doppler effect). It’s a little like patting your head and rubbing your belly while saying your ABCs backwards. I still have a lot to learn.

I didn’t take that many photos and the photos I did take I did so with my mobile phone. So the pictures are what they are. Being sleep deprived most of the weekend I don’t remember much of the detail I just remember that I needed to take some photos every once in a while. So this is what I got. For those photos go here.

If you want to know more about Field Day for our club or our club in general go here.

All the gear is back in it’s place, my station is back to normal at home. Another Field Day is behind me. Next up for the club, a 100+ mile bike ride. Stay tuned.

March 21, 2018 Snow Storm

It seems like I just posted a blog on a snow storm!

The last couple of days has been preparing for another n’easter to come in to the mid-atlantic area as two low pressure systems collide near my home. With the crazy weather brings some interesting photo opportunities; especially for black and white high contrast photography which I enjoy so much.

Doukénie Winery

The Doukénie’s are nice people. I got to know the owners of this winery with my previous work. I’ve since lost track of them but drive by their place all the time as it’s on a road less traveled.

Random corn farm

This corn field is on my regular running/walking route. I give them shit because they use harsh chemical to treat their land. You can’t see any of that under the blanket of snow today.

Fence line of trees in the snow.

Drone photography has really changed the way I look at the earth. The first time I saw my first photograph from the drone I knew it was going to be something that would take the world by storm.

Back then I had the DJI Phantom 1 which did not have a camera mounted to it. Instead, I mounted a then unknown camera to the bottom of the drone … my GoPro (the original).

I remember being in my living room seeing the picture for the first time and saying something like, “Oh My!” which got my entire family’s attention. They wanted to know what I was looking at. It was something like you see here.

Producing the photograph is skill. The equipment is pure science.

The lonely tree

My “new” drone is the DJI 2. Even the DJI 2 didn’t have a camera so I bought a third party gimbal, wired it into the GPS of the DJI as well as into an OSD module.

The OSD, short for On Screen Display, superimposes all of the flight data into the video transmitter which I also procured and wired into the drone. All of this runs on 5 volts of dc power that I get from the drone itself.

Then I put my “new” GoPro 4 in the gimbal and tie that into the entire system.

When I fly the drone I have my FPV, or First Person View, goggles on my eyes and it is as if I am hanging from the bottom of the drone. It is literally like flying an airplane. I have the exact same instrumentation as an aircraft all displayed in front of me.

I control the drone with 2.4ghz DSS. The video downlink is 5ghz analog. It’s worth noting that the use of 5ghz downlink video is not something normally approved without a license. But I do possess the FCC license to do this.

The “wet land” experiment

This camera system that I created is not as fancy as the stuff you can buy today. Since that stuff wasn’t available when I built this I did what I could. It takes a photograph every 5 seconds as well as shooting 1080p 30fps video at the same time. So I get a little of both vs one or the other. But I do have to stay on my target for 5-20 seconds to get the photo I want. That is if I want it in high resolution and not from the video grab.

The video is not the latest 4k with all the latest technology. But for what I am doing with it I don’t need that either. For me and this system anyway, that is just a camera change. Not a drone system change. I just haven’t gotten around to swapping out the camera mainly because I don’t prefer GoPro cameras any longer as they are too expensive compared to all the other technology out there that can do just as well for 25% of the cost.

This is me behind my “camera” this afternoon

I’ve thought about buying a new drone over the past several years and, so far, I haven’t seen anything I’d prefer. There are smaller ones that fit in your pocket but don’t take better video or photos.

I think the next drone I have will be much more sophisticated in the use of aerodynamics. Like quieter props. These are not quiet machines. But they take awesome photos!