May 6, 2016

Waiting for Mercury: Tales of Transits

Our humble station.

There’s another insidious danger that awaits unwary solar astronomers.

This coming Monday on May 9th, the planet Mercury transits the fair face of our host star as seen from our Earthly vantage point. Unlike, Venus, Mercury is tiny, meaning amateurs everywhere will be scrambling to make solar filters for their telescopes this weekend. [Read more...]

Where We’re At: Updates From the Road

We can now see Gibraltar from our workspace…

Well, our time in Jimena de la Frontera is just about at an end. It has been a great stay in a tiny Andalusian white pueblo town, a foothill village topped with a stunning 9th century Moorish castle. We suspect you’ll be hearing more about Jimena soon, as recent archaeological finds date the roots of the town back even further, to Roman times. Stone Age art found along the river suggest that humans were here even earlier, plying the region for thousands of years. [Read more...]

Astro-Image Processing: How Far is Too Far?

NOT a fake…

Image credit: Dave Dickinson

Alright. We’re going to touch on a hot button issue in astrophotography on this week’s soapbox rant. After years of watching the discussion come ’round, we’re going to add our two cents. When it comes to post-processing, how far is too far? When is an image no longer an accurate rendition of reality? [Read more...]

Road Rules: Driving Internationally

Driving abroad… it’s not all ‘clouds and castles.’

(photo by the author)

Well, we finally picked up our rental steed at Seville airport in Spain this week. Driving and renting while traveling internationally has its pluses and minuses; it can give you the flexibility to really get out into the countryside on your own schedule… [Read more...]

Travel Old and New

A confirmed vertical sundial sighting in Seville, Spain…

(photo by the author)

The more things change, the more they stay the same… or do they?

This past week saw us change basecamp from Cadiz, Spain to Seville. No huge move, just a few train rides and a short hike with the luggage. We always love it when a moving day is shorter than six hours duration from door to door. [Read more...]

Tramping Around Old Cadiz

Not a bad way to spend winter…

All photos by the author.

Well, one week into country, and we’re settling in to our very first international Air BnB in Cadiz Spain. The oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, the old walled city of Cadiz is very walk-able. In fact, we’ve taken to jogging the perimeter around the old seawall nearly every morning, a route that covers a good five kilometer route.

A run in the morning, then write ’til noon, then off for lunch and adventure around the city seems to be the daily rhythm we’ve struck, not bad. We’re slowing down a bit, though we fully expect to be on the move again shortly.

Among the markets, museums and alleyways, we made a remarkable find yesterday: the oldest camera obscura in Spain, and a still functioning one at that. It resides atop the Torre Tavira along one of the longest streets in the old city, Calle Sacramento. Our Air BnB is just a few blocks away, and we’d walked right by the tower about a dozen times in the past week before deciding to go in yesterday afternoon.

And we’re glad we did. A camera obscura is a pinhole projection camera. Early man probably stumbled upon the idea way back when; you can imagine his amazement, as scenes from the outside world were projected onto the cave walls via pin hole cracks. These early types of projectors became quite advanced in medieval times, and the camera obscura atop the Torre Tavira is a remarkable device.

In fact, we’d recommend this as a first stop, to get your bearings and orientation around the city. The camera is a sort of periscope device, and has a rotate-able 360 degree view of the city. The projection is done on to a large parabolic dish about two meters across in the darkened room below. It’s magical to watch and a bit eerie, looking on as the ant-like citizens of Cadiz go on about their daily lives. You can see along the rooftops, alleyways, markets and far out to sea. Go on a clear day, as you can see all the way out to Morocco and the coast of northern Africa.

It’s definitely worth the six euros for the 30 minute demonstration of the camera, followed by the view from the top of the tower along the rooftops. Cadiz is a city of watchtowers with over a hundred, essential for merchants whose livelihood depended on knowing just who was coming in to harbor. Cadiz was a thriving port in the 19th century, as its position near the Straits of Gibraltar made it an enviable location for commerce.

And as mentioned, the old city is very runner-friendly as well. We’re a morning runner, and we like to get up early and knock out a good run before we immerse ourselves in the obligations of the day. The time zone challenge, however, serves to offset us a bit: though Spain is the same longitude as the United Kingdom and sits along the Greenwich Meridian, it seems to have opted for some reason to stay on Central European Time at UT+1… it would be interesting to know the exact history of why this is, while Portugal and Morocco opted for UT+0 time. This means that, in the winter months, sunrise doesn’t occur until past 8 AM local, and the offset back to summer time in late March only serves to nudge this back a bit farther.

But, as with our times living in Italy, all woes can be solved with good food and good wine.

What’s next? Well, we’ve got two major itineraries brewing in our brain: one is to head to Seville, rent a car and see Andalusia; the other is to bus it to Algeciras near Gibraltar, check off those sights, and take the ferry over to Morocco and the coast of North Africa…

More to come!

Getting There: Adventures in Space-A Travel, Part 2

Our ride to Spain!

Photo by Author.

We caught the flight! Last week, we discussed our adventures with Space Available military travel, and how we were stranded in a holding pattern at Norfolk, Naval Air Station awaiting a flight to Rota, Spain. Well, turns out the fifth time is the charm, and we now find ourselves in sunny southern Spain. We actually got to ride on a C-17, a first for us. [Read more...]

Adventures in Space A Travel

Eternally pack’d…

Photo by author.

Wanna travel the world for free? Well OK, it’s no big surprise that nothing in this reality is truly free, and what you save in money, you generally end up paying back in time and effort. Hungry? You can hunt (time) and scavenge (effort) to cook a meal from scratch (for less money). Or you can reverse the axiom and pop a five dollar 7/11 burrito in the microwave… [Read more...]

The Lions and Tigers of Spring Hill, Florida

Rajah the Siberian Tiger up close and personal.

(all photos by the author).

Ever wonder what’s in you very own back yard? We recently journeyed for months around Florida, bouncing from the Atlantic Space Coast back to the Gulf of Mexico side, only to discover that adventure was only ten miles down the road. [Read more...]

Exploring the Largest Telescope in Florida

An amazing scope! (all photos by author)

Florida isn’t known for ideal dark skies and astronomy. Humid bug-filled nights, coupled with hazy washed out skies make for less than optimal viewing conditions to say the least. The state does at least host warm temps, making the wintertime an ideal season for astronomy.

Along with a host of intrepid amateur astronomers, Florida does have a scattering of professional observatories, mostly run by universities. We recently had a chance to explore the largest observatory in the state: the new 1-meter telescope at the Embry-Riddle Campus in Daytona Beach, Florida. [Read more...]

The Flavors of the Days: Exploring St. Augustine, Florida

Vertical sundial sighting in St Augustine

(all photos by the author)

Wanna explore an East Coast city with a European feel? We had a chance to do just that yesterday, as we poked around and explored the streets of old Saint Augustine, Florida.

This was one of the first true ‘adventure days’ we’d had on our current sabbatical. Long term travel and working on the fly presents its particular challenges. Sure, it might feel like vacation, but somehow, the work (or in this case, the writing) needs to somehow get done. [Read more...]

Traveler’s Tales of Gravitational Waves

We brake for gravitational waves…

(all photos by author)

This past week the science community held its breath, as rumors swirled once again that researchers had accomplished direct detection of gravitational waves. Sure, we’ve been down this road before, but with Advanced LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) resuming operation in late 2015, there’s good reason to believe said detection could come at any time. [Read more...]

Dark Skies 2014: The End of the Road… for Now.

Life on the road…

(All photos by the author).

The time has come.

Every alpha must have an omega, and this week sees us bringing our 2014 expedition to a close. Since June 1st, we’ve hit 37 of the 50 states in the U.S., and toured the four corners of the lower 48 contiguous states in search of stories, curiosities and dark skies. [Read more...]

Week 27: Crossing Panhandles

Downtown Oklahoma City.

(All photos by the author).

If you’re like us, you’ve made that long drive across the state of Texas many, many times. The state is larger than many countries, and in fact was a nation long before joining the U.S of A. Anyone in the U.S. Air Force is familiar with Texas, as basic training starts off many a military career. [Read more...]

Week 24: Yearning for Yuma

A U.S. Army launch vehicle on display at

Yuma Proving Grounds.

(All photos by author).

You just never know what you might find in your own backyard. This past week saw us transit from our Arizona adventures in Tucson to the town of Yuma. Located far in the southwestern corner of the state, Yuma sits right on the border with San Luis in Mexico to its south, and the town of Winterhaven, California to its west. [Read more...]

Week 23: Return to Tucson 2014

Eclipse!

All photos by the author.

I remember well the first time we laid eyes on Tucson and the desert southwest of Arizona way back in late 2001. As we came up over Texas Canyon from New Mexico and the expansive basin ahead stretched out before us, we were greeted by a terrain that was both alien and bizarre, as cacti replaced trees, and road runners and rattlesnakes seemed to be the dominant life form. [Read more...]

Week 22: Back on the Road and into Arizona

Astro-sculpture sighting:

Urania, the Muse of Astronomy in Salt Lake City

(All photos by the author).

They say that you can never go home again, but sometimes, you can still visit those old stomping grounds. This past week we’ve been heading in just such a direction as we crossed the border from Utah back in to Arizona.

Not that our stay in Salt Lake City wasn’t a much needed respite from the road. We actually used our week of ‘down time’ to write like the wind and catch up on those essentials, such as laundry, oil changes and bill paying. Yeah, those sorts of glamorous things tend  to follow you, even on the road. [Read more...]

Week 21: Eclipse Chasing Across the Nevada Desert

Hanging with Astro-Lab at Cathedral Gorge!

(All photos by author)

You just never know where the next saros cycle will find you.

We managed to wrap up the Nevada leg of our current journey over the past week and have since stopped briefly in Utah for a minor rest cycle. Of course, when travelling, this merely means that we’re taking the opportunity to stop long enough to catch up on chores and errands such as laundry, bills, oil changes, etc. Life doesn’t stop, even on the road. But we did manage to cram in some exciting visits in the past week: [Read more...]