Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Summer winding down and heating up.

  This morning after work I photographed this Bonaparte's Gull enjoying breakfast in the warm water outflow of the Erie power plant.  

  When I got home I rescued this cicada that couldn't get out of the 5-gallon bucket that he landed in.  It was the classic story...guy finds cicada in distress, guy rescues cicada, guy throws cicada in the air to set it free,  House Sparrow watching from the wire grabs cicada in flight and disappears in the sycamore tree.

Getting misty-eyed
   The Imperial Moth caterpillars that I've been raising are progressing nicely. Most of them are bulking up on Sycamore leaves.

    Only one prefers Maple leaves.
The Maple kind?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Venus and Jupiter Conjunction 8/18/2014

  After predawn clouds thwarted my efforts to photograph Venus and Jupiter against a sunless sky, I had to go to plan B.  That plan, to photograph them through a telescope, had a much higher degree of difficulty.  It  would yield less aesthetically pleasing images and still require the clouds to part. 

  When I got off of work after sunrise the skies were still an impenetrable gray mass. But lighter skies in the direction of home gave me hope. 

  Finding the two planets during the day took some advance preparation.  I figured that the planets being just under 18 degrees from the Sun, would make them nearly impossible to spot through my telescope's low magnification finder scope.  So last night before work I aligned my scope's equatorial mount as close as I could with the Earth's axis of rotation.  That way I could zero in on the target by offsetting from an object that I could locate.  Luckily the Moon was in a much more favorable position for daylight observation and provided a reference point.  
   Through broken clouds I found the Moon just west of due south and 60 degrees above the horizon.  After finding it through the wide-field finder scope and the main telescope, I did some minor tweaking to the finder to ensure they were perfectly aligned.  Then I set the setting circles on the scope's mount to the Moon's coordinates, 4hrs 24mins of Right Ascension and verified declination of +17 degrees.  (Right Ascension is the angular distance measured eastward from the point where the Sun is at the Vernal Equinox, and Declination is the angular measure North (+) or South (-) of the celestial equator which is the projection of the Earth's equator onto the celestial sphere).  Then by swinging the telescope around to Right Ascension 8hr 40min and scanning up to +19 degrees declination I should have seen the planets through the eyepiece in the 1 degree field of view. That is if I had perfectly aligned the scope last night.  Miraculously I was only a little off but close enough that Venus appeared on the edge of the field of view.  A little fine tuning  brought both planets  into the field (Note: I never saw Jupiter but I knew where it was and aimed accordingly) and I was ready to remove the eyepiece and attach the camera.  Here are the results that illustrate the difficulty in finding the two brightest planets when they are in a less than perfect sky just 18 degrees away from the Sun. 
Only Venus is readily apparent 

Increasing contrast of the image makes Venus easier and Jupiter detectable

Inverted color image makes them a little easier to see.

Oddly passing clouds made them stand out more

    The modern equivalent of my 20 year old scope comes with automatic alignment  and a computer database with the positions of all the planets and thousands of stars, galaxies and nebulae.  All you would have to do after the alignment process would be to enter the object you want to observe and stand back as it scans right to it.  Funny thing is that the modern scope, with all that technology, cost the same as my analog telescope did two decades ago.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Astronomy Alert : Venus and Jupiter Close Conjunction Monday

  On Monday morning August 18, 2014, the two brightest planets, Jupiter and Venus will be just one third of a degree apart.  For reference the Moon is one half degree in diameter.  The photograph below was taken just before 6 AM this morning as they rose over Lake Erie, when they were 2 degrees apart. 

    The next image identifies the two planets

  The positions they'll assume at 6 AM  Monday are shown here.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Great Black-backed Gull in Erie

    Been working a lot of hours lately, so I haven't had a whole lot of spare time.  While doing an outside round at work the other day, I came across a Great Black-backed Gull  resting on a post.

  The same day I found three large bucks hanging out in the late afternoon.

same buck

Two 8-points and the nine
   Back at home, the eggs of the Imperial Moth that I found a few weeks ago started hatching on July 25.  The larvae are still in their first of five instars(stages).  Larvae from the same brood can come in a variety of colors including green, gray, green, brick red, orange and purplish.  It looks like I'm going to get a couple of those colors.

    The female Imperial Moth ended up laying nearly 100 eggs, I knew I wouldn't be able to raise that many larvae that grow to 4-6", so I contacted retired biology professor Don Sherwood who has experience with large quantities of moth larvae and gave him all but 10 of the eggs.  Of the 10 that I kept only 6 hatched.   In exchange for the eggs Don gave me a few Luna Moth and Polyphemus Moth cocoons.  In the past couple of days they started to eclose.  The Luna and the Polyphemus Moths are in the Saturniidae family, same as the Imperial.
Luna Moth

Polyphemus Moth