New Year’s Resolution; Year TBD

Winter morning from January 14th, 2021. Click for full-sized image.

Hello, readers.  Feels like it’s been a while, but it has only been a tad over a month.  After the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, I have done no astronomy activities beyond a few glimpses of Orion when the weather permitted.  This is truly the dead of Winter.

The current season as well as the state of political affairs have offered a lot of time for thinking.  One of many questions I have pondered is what to do when (if) everything ever returns to normal?  It’s a good question that sparks regret.  For to ask the question of what you should do in the future is to, perhaps, insinuate what you should have done when you had the chance.

If there ever is a a true normal again (a real normal, not a fake “new normal”), I would like to plan my vacation time around travelling to dark sites across the United States.  It’s been a long time since I was in such locations, even fractionally of what would consider to have a dark sky.  Most such places are further out west.  It will make for interesting road trips, to pack up my telescope and camera equipment, and see what I can find.

So here is hoping to better days ahead.  I will try to keep my innate optimism up as much as possible.  But I will admit, in the dead of this Winter, it’s been tough.  20 years ago, I felt there would come a day when the travel we took for granted would no longer be possible without government sanction.  That day is here, or soon should be.  Once upon a time, beyond your reasonable (real reasonable, not politically reasonable) obligations to your family, property, and work, there was nothing stopping you from getting in your car, driving in whatever direction you’d like, for as long as you wished, then turning around when you wanted to go home.  In the near future, such a reckless disregard for planning, permits, and authorization could lead you into trouble, if the current trajectory does not change.

My greater worry is that what we take for granted today in regards to prosperity, opportunity, and decision privileges will be supplanted by the bureaucratic procedures of the emerging sudo-state.  It has gained great power during the pandemic.  If history is a guide, it will not give up that power by benevolent volition.

We shall see how the course of events unfold.  I would like to start visiting dark sites this year, but if not this year, I will hope for 2022.  If the pandemic continues, or is supplanted by a new crisis, I will plan for 2023, and continue planning and dreaming of those possibilities for the remainder of my days.  For regardless of how bleak things may look at any given point, always know that the trajectory of history is never a straight line.

Still-Early Fall Bicycling

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October 11th, 2020, ~9:30 a.m. local time

Weather has been steadily cooling but still very pleasant, pleasant enough to continuing biking on my local trails.  I’ve continued bicycling through the Summer and into the Fall, and thought these would be good point-in-time shots.  As you can see, many of the trees are still green.  This will likely change rapidly even over the next week.  Normally by early November, most trees will have lost their leaves or be in their advanced stages of Fall color.

Click for full-sized image.

On the astronomy front, tomorrow is Mars opposition 2020.  The forecast is cruel right now, with clouds scheduled to roll in early evening Tuesday.  As I write this on Monday, the skies are overcast with rain in the afternoon, followed by clearing early evening.  I may try to sneak in opposition eve viewing and photos late tonight.

Lazy Late Summer

Taken on an Illinois trail August 18th, 2020.

Greetings.  It’s been a while since I posted, so wanted to do a “check in” post.  I haven’t done much astronomy over the past month, for various reasons which could be considered excuses, but I won’t call them that.  I could itemize the various new light pollution issues in my area that have grated me, but the reality is I already lived in a one of worst polluted spots on Earth.  The residual haze from the western United States forest fires notwithstanding, I hope to get back to sky viewing soon, and certainly in time for the approaching Mars opposition.

The true limiting factor over the past month was some sort of injury to my wrist.  Around the time I took the above picture in August, I did something to my dominant left wrist and I couldn’t put even simple strains on it, let alone try lifting my Dobsonian to take it outside.  And so I restricted my activities to only those necessary.  Fortunately within the last week it seems to be back to normal, though I continue to remain careful and will give it another week-ish before I lift the big telescope again.

Part of me believes this is the “downer” time, after the mid-Summer Jupiter and Saturn oppositions plus the bonus of the Neowise comet.  But things are looking up, as they always do in time.

Bike Paths, Pandemic Traffic, Chipmunks and Squirrels

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August 16th, 2020, 9:30 a.m. local time

Haven’t done any real night sky viewing since the meteor shower last week.  The weather has been very pleasant and I’ve been exploring my local bike paths.  They are not too terribly exciting visually, but the paths make for relaxing treks through the Forest Preserves in the morning, before the August heat kicks in later in the day.

I biked four times this past week.  There was a very noticeable uptick today in path traffic, a combination of the nice weather and being a Sunday.  At times, it almost felt like a morning rush hour commute, with so many walkers, joggers, dogs, and cyclists to navigate around.  And it’s worth noting, vehicle traffic seems unabated by the pandemic, even more so on weekends.  Not sure where everyone goes.  Maybe business as usual?

Missing today on the paths that I saw many of mid-week: chipmunks.  I’m guessing they don’t like humans, and stay further in the forest when the paths are more heavily traveled.  Their larger cousins, squirrels, are always around, and for the most part, have a far better sense of when to get off the road.  Chipmunks are very fast by comparison, and just dart.  I almost ran over a few.  They don’t seem to know how to get out of the way.

When I lived in the city, there were squirrels everywhere, but no chipmunks.  I get the impression chipmunks need dense plant growth, so when urban development hits an area, they retreat to the forest.  Squirrels, however, can climb and burrow into buildings of any height, probably why they continue to thrive in cities.


Below is a typical Midwest marsh, as seen this morning.

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Pictures taken with my iPhone and briefly post-processed in PaintShop Pro.

Midday Bicycle Break

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July 23rd, 2020, 10:52 a.m. local time

With great weather and being off from work, I went for a bicycle ride.  Took a few pictures along the way.  These photos are more down-to-Earth than my normal postings, but they are still nice, I think.  A small break from the comet and stars and planets.

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Early Sunset, July 2020

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July 5th, 2020, 7:33 p.m. local time

The picture may fool a bit, as this scene of a descending Sun overshadowed by incoming Western clouds gives no indication of how hot the day was, even within hour prior to Sunset.  The sunbeams and their highlights within the clouds are almost good enough for an oil painting.

Taken with my iPhone with minor edits in PaintShop Pro.

Clouds vs. Early Crescent Moon

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June 24th, 2020, 8:45 p.m. local time

June 24th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Today’s story begins on the prior night, when the Moon was an even thinner crescent.  I saw the Moon shortly after Dusk and decided to fetch my camera.  By the time I had everything set up and returned outside, a batch of clouds had already covered the West sky.  I thought I had had some time, but the front that later brought showers moved faster than I had anticipated.

On the following night, there were only a few clouds in the West, but with storm clouds visible much farther away to the Northwest.  Around 8:30 p.m. I manage to get a few pictures in (above image).

An hour later, I took a few more of the Moon, now almost fully in dark.  It is worth nothing that, although it’s not visible in the final picture, there was clear atmospheric diffraction along the edges of the Moon’s outline.  This is where red, blue, and green start to separate due to a prism effect, common when trying to photograph, for example, Mercury, since it is always low towards the horizon.

I wanted to keep shooting, but the clouds finally arrived, again.  Below is the best focus from the session.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/60 sec exposure
  • ISO 200
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/125 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Daytime Waning Crescent Moon, June 14th, 2020

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June 14th, 2020, 11:03 a.m. local time

Still going backwards and catching up on items from the past weeks.  Last Sunday I took a walk and found the early Waning Crescent Moon.  It may be tough to see, but it is centered and just past the tree.  If you zoom in, you can make out the crescent better.

Taken with my iPhone with minor image adjustments and cropping in PaintShop Pro.

Morning Moon, June 2020

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June 12th, 2020, 9:20 a.m. local time

I have been guessing, and I think correctly, that most people do not realize the Moon is visible in morning daylight.  It is easiest to spot in the days/week after a Full Moon.  Each day, the Moon will “wane,” its reflection shrinking, as it moves closer to towards the Sun (from our vantage on Earth).

A sparkling clear late Spring day offered little reason to not get the camera out for some easy lunar photography.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro