Sunday, February 19, 2017

The delight of BackyardEOS, A rare night in February, and Trump is now a Wannabe Dictator.

Last Friday night was an exceptional evening in Minnesota.
  • The Moon was out of the sky from dusk to almost 1 A.M.
  • It was clear
  • The dark site observing field was essentially snowless
  • It was an incredibly warm evening--by 1 A.M. it had fallen only to around 40F.
  • The wind was for the most part very light to calm, so there was no real wind chill factor.
 Best of all my evening was free!

It's difficult to emphasize how rare that evening was. The February 17 average high and low for nearby Cannon Falls is 29 and 10, so it was a good 20 degrees warmer than average. Usually the warmer weather correlates positively with clouds, too.

I originally intended to image the Witch Head nebula because my previous image of it is rather poor; noisy and crossed by an amazing number of geosynchronous satellites. A slow start to the evening made me go with something a little easier--the far brighter M42 area. It turned out better than i expected for 2.1 hours of 5 minute exposures at f/5.6:

I was able to faintly capture some of the dimmer clouds in the outlying areas just to the left of M42. The red patch at the upper right of center edge is an extension of the Horsehead nebula area.

When M42 began to sink I went to comet 45P and got almost an hour and a half of that:

This wasn't deep enough to get even a hint of the fainter, bluer tail. Oh, well...I'll take it!

One of the best things of the night was using BackyardEOS for the first time. It's a joy to use, and despite its power it keeps things easy to use. Next time I'm going to use it to tackle the mystery dithering!

I also got a demonstration of PoleMaster, a hardware/software tandem that makes getting an excellent polar alignment easy, fast, and actually fun (well, compared to drift aligning, anyway). It's definitely on my to-buy list ($300 from OPT). I would really like to take some very long light frames this year in Nebraska, and this would help. Even though PHD2's polar alignment utility is slick and gives good results, I can see how much easier (and probably better) PoleMaster would make getting a good PA.


President Trump continues in his attempt to convince the nation that he's in need of psychiatric help. The recent lowlights include an other-worldly press conference in which he demonstrates his inability to grasp how many Electoral College votes he got and the fact that reporters aren't a part of government and can't set up meetings. (Apparently in his mind black reporters can do that with the Congressional Black Caucus because they're all, well, black.) He doesn't seem to be able to listen to questions (case in point, the one involving anti-Semitism) without the voices in his head taking over.

He's now off on his horse about how the press is the enemy of the American people. It's normal, if not expected, that those in power attack the press. A properly functioning press is the enemy of those who would abuse the power with which they've been entrusted. Isn't it funny how Trump was happy with the press's reporting of the DNC and Clinton leaks before the election, but now that he's in power, leaks are terrible. That's the double standard of power, I guess.

What's worst about this is that he seems to be moving in a direction of eventually taking action against a free press.  It's easy to see how he and sympathetic Republicans in Congress might begin to chip away at First Amendment rights by changing libel laws. Maybe the way some of the leaders Trump seems to admire (Putin, Erdogan) deal with their own opposition journalists is a telling sign. While it's possible the courts would block any serious changes, the censoring of the press has happened in other countries. It could happen here, changing the United states from a democracy to a dictatorship. I think Senator McCain has it right, and I'm glad he put the fears of a lot of people into words.

After about a month in office, Trump's mental constitution appears fragile at best. After yet another bad week in which his entanglement with Russia flared into a more serious issue, his badly flawed Labor Secretary nominee had to drop out, his National Security Advisor resigned (and the first choice to replace him basically threw the offer back into Trump's face), and there was that Twilight-Zone worthy press conference, the bewildered President had to stage a rally for his supporters so that he could heal his psychic wounds. And then we got a look into the bizarre reality of his mind when he started talking about the terrible recent events in Sweden. No one knows what he's referring to, including the Swedish government. Did he just make up the whole thing? Did he completely misunderstand something he'd been told? Did he read this on some fringe web site, or some other "alternative fact" media outlet? Was this classified information that he just blurted out recklessly?

Or is he on the verge of becoming unhinged?


Scientists are planning marches in various parts of the country to protest what is beginning to look like the rape of the EPA and the portion of NASA that does global warming research.  Even though I'm only a retired scientist, I'll be adding my support to the effort. More on that as we get closer to the planned date, April 22 (Earth Day). Want to get involved? More information is HERE.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Respect for the Office of the President

Everyone should respect the office of the President of the United States. Maybe I should add a qualifier to that: The person who is President is not the given that same respect if they choose to shower disgrace and disrespect on that office. Which brings us to the Clown in Charge, Donald Trump.  I don't use the word clown lightly; Donald Trump has earned the title. He's a laughingstock, as are so many of his ethics-challenged staff.

When he's not lying he's blundering around:

Calling heads of state without bothering to learn anything about the issues he might address with them. Mexico, Australia, Germany?  People around the world are wondering what sort of man we've elected. The answer is easy: a lazy, clownish child who happens to be old enough to be President.

Signing Executive orders that are ill-conceived, poorly executed and apparently without regard to the chaos they will create. He and his staff seem also have some sort of perverse notion of what's in the Constitution. I guess things are different in the alternative reality they occupy.

Health care reform? He's got a plan he keeps on promising to describe, but we're all still waiting. I suspect quite a few Republicans are waiting, too.

Going postal on judges. Remember the judge of Mexican heritage that Trump couldn't stop making bigoted attacks against?  Next up for the clown's pie in the face is Judge Robart and the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit for putting and maintaining a hold on the immigration ban. Recall that recent presidents of both parties have had their troubles with reversals in court.  George W. Bush (reviled by Democrats, liberals, and intellectual snobs) and Barack H. Obama (reviled by Republicans, conservatives, and bigots) both respected the separation of powers and managed not to launch into personal attacks after court setbacks. Pretty amazing, isn't it?

Setting up the economy for an epic collapse by threatening large tariffs. And for fun, also rescinding as many safeguards as possible that might have been keeping the investment community from repeating the same reckless behavior that gave us the Great Recession.  Thought your investments were safe? Sure they are... just relax and sit right here on Trump's whoopee cushion.

I will give him credit for what seems like a decent choice for Supreme Court. I would have much preferred a more moderate--perhaps even liberal--choice (Merrick Garland, maybe?), but he does seem like a thoughtful person of integrity and learning.  His conservatism is said to be well thought through, and I can't really ask for much more than that. Good luck to him in his service to the country, particularly if he happens to vote against something the Clown-in-Charge wants.


And back to Astronomy:

The topic at the recent workshop was guiding for astrophotography, and a club member sent me a link for a really good explanation of how to guide.

Here it is (It's for PHD 1.13, but although some things have changed with PHD 2, this remains a great read!

The folks working on PHD 2 have also prepared a guide for using it. It's not as comprehensive a treatment as the above source gives, but it's a fine explanation of PHD 2 usage.

Want to download PHD? Here's where you go:



I recommend PHD 2 because of its new features--I particularly like the drift polar alignment tool. If you have multiple guide scopes, guide cameras, or imaging mounts, you may like the ability to create profiles for different combinations of those. I've found version 2 to be more stable than version 1, but that may only be on the OS I use (Windows Vista) I hope to upgrade my imaging laptop this year to a Windows 10 model and will have more to say when that happens.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Trump ad nauseum, and some astronomy

The daily assault on America by Donald Trump: Attacking a federal judge who stayed his immigrant-blocking and very possibly unconstitutional executive order. The judge is James Robart; referring to him as a "so called" judge, calling his opinion "ridiculous," and having a lackey write a statement calling the ruling "outrageous" is just more of the immature nonsense we've all come to expect from the Child in Charge.

Robart was unanimously confirmed by the Senate after being nominated by George W. Bush in December, 2003. He's served from 2004 to present. You can read his condensed biography for yourself, or this CNN piece about him. He's a man of learning, integrity, and community service -- exactly the sort of person Trump isn't.


Last night was our club's second imaging workshop. The topics were guiding and focusing, and I can't say I did a good job as the sole presenter. The audience was amazingly diverse in interest and skill levels, and I had been given all of 24 hours to prepare. Regardless, it seemed as if most had a good time and there was a sense that we should meet more often.

After my presentation we went to the observatory and tried to do some guiding. The club scopes use ST-80/Starshoot Autoguider combos for guiding, and the software is good old PHD. At first we couldn't get the guiding working; the scope was wildly out of focus. Once past the focus issue, the mount simply refused to respond to movement commands from PHD during calibration.  As it turned out the SSAG to mount cable had gone missing; it may have been removed when the scope pier was replaced and never returned. A hunt failed to turn up the cable, but luckily I had one with me and we were finally able to get the mount guided. By this time most of the attendees had dispersed (it was 15F) so not much more happened.


Next weekend is a candlelight skiing event at a central Minnesota state park, and I'll be shooting some demonstration images to complement views through a friend's refractor. I really hope it won't be as cold as it was last night!