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Mirror Lab & Observing

February 23, 2017 Wednesday – Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Both Reg and I drive the group into Tucson to visit the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab, which is fascinating for all of us. This lab produces many of the world’s largest astronomical mirrors.

The Mirror Lab’s current multi-year project is to make the seven 8.4 metre mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which will be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Combined together, the seven mirrors will form a single parabolic surface some 24.5 metres (80’) across! GMT is scheduled to be operational in 2022 with four mirrors, and will be fully operational in 2024 with all seven mirrors. The first mirror is completed, and the second through fourth mirrors are currently in the process of being made.

After returning to the ranch, we find the weather is wonderfully clear this evening, so my friends and I use the 25” telescope for visual observing from the observatory. My observing report

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Kitt Peak

Feb 22, 2017 Tuesday – Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

We leave this morning around 10AM for the Kitt Peak National Observatory. We are driving from Dragoon Mountain Ranch to the observatories – a 2-hour trip each way through Tucson.

It takes about 30-45 minutes to drive SW to Kitt Peak from Tucson on the West Tucson Ajo Highway, and then up the access road. We pass the Border Patrol security check point on the way to Kitt Peak, and on the way back everyone is stopped for a dog inspection of the vehicle, and a personal ID check. When traveling in this region so close to the Mexican border, be prepared for security check points by carrying your ID with you. Non-US citizens should carry their passports.

We take the 4 metre Mayall optical telescope 2-hour tour at 1:30PM, which involves climbing the hill to the high point-of-land. It is exciting to hear from our guide that this venerable optical telescope has found new life and a new funding source, which will allow it to contribute to finding answers about dark energy in the Universe. The facility closes at 4PM, so we don’t have time to explore further. We head back down the mountain road, and east through Tucson, the way we came this morning.

We stop in Benson on the way back to stock up on a few food and drink items. Some of our group stayed home today, so they are ready with dinner upon our arrival. Everyone enjoys the meal and we are eager to get outside to do more observing. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t ideal this evening with cloud cover dampening our enthusiasm, so we have to entertain ourselves playing a new board game for many of us: Mexican Trains (a domino game).

Kitt Peak
29 photos
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Night sky imaging at Dragoon

Feb 21, 2017 Monday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch, St. David, Arizona

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Today is a “down day”, meaning we have no daytime activities planned, so the group can relax and do what they want. I catch up with my social media and email, and work on my journal entries. My blog is still behind – the last entry was for Victoria-Seattle – the first days of my travels, but at least I now have the material to write those blog posts.

It is my turn on the imaging telescope this evening, but when we try to take some flat frames before sunset, the sensor ices up. This means the desiccant inside the CCD camera is saturated with moisture, and needs to be baked so it dries out to make it effective again. Dealing with this issue delays my imaging session of M1 the Crab Nebula by an hour and a half, however I am imaging on the 20” Newtonian Astrograph by 9:20PM and wind up my run just after midnight. Without a doubt, this is my best image of the Crab Nebula. The detail within the object is fantastic, and this is the first time I’ve imaged the green fringe around the nebula! My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; M1 Crab Nebula
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Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

Feb 18, 2017 Saturday – Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch, near Benson and St. David, Arizona

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

After my arrival this morning in Tucson aboard the Amtrak Sunset Limited train from Los Angeles, I rent a car from Enterprise for the next two weeks and then drive to my friend’s ranch. I drive east out of Tucson on the I-10 freeway, stopping in Benson to pick up a few groceries before driving the rest of the way to the ranch. It takes me about a half hour driving on dirt & gravel roads through the Dragoon Mountain Ranch, which is 8,400 acres (13 sqmi) in total.

Cody's house in the early morning light
Luxury house in the early morning light

As I arrive, it is overcast and raining lightly, but I hope it will clear off for the coming week when my astronomy buddies will be here. We go over to his neighbour’s place, which is where I am staying along with some other friends, who are already settled in.

As it turns out, I have a bedroom in the adjacent garage, which is massive, and has an apartment with a kitchen, great room, bedroom and bathroom. I am quite comfortable once I turn up the heat to get the place warmed up. The temperatures in this part of the high range land plateau can get close to freezing at night, and daytime temperatures are not hot, although the Sun can be intense. The reason I’m here? The very dark skies, of course!

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Total Solar Eclipse 2016 from Indonesia

March 9, 2016 – Wed – Total Solar Eclipse in Makasar Strait, Indonesia aboard the Volendam cruise ship

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

I get up at 6:30AM to prepare for the solar eclipse this morning. Of course when I get up on deck, there are lots of people already setup, but the ship is big and has lots of open deck space. I find a nice spot near the stern on the Sport Deck 9 and drag a lounge chair to sit on and to park my gear on as I setup next to the rail. Totality doesn’t happen until 8:35AM, so I have over an hour to wait until things start to happen. The ship is slowly cruising at 3-5 knots perpendicular to the eclipse centreline off the coast of Sulawesi in the Makasar Strait. Conditions are excellent, with calm seas, light winds, and although a bit cloudy, there are huge gaps between the clouds.

Joe on deck for the solar eclipse
Joe on deck for the solar eclipse

Due to the track of the ship, everyone is setup on the starboard side facing east. I setup my tripod, tape my Kestrel portable weather station to a nearby bollard, and decide to just aim my video camera out to sea in the direction of the Sun. I mount my camera on the tripod with the solar filter in place, and adjust it so I can remain seated while operating the camera. I’m soon taking photos of the partial phases of the eclipse as the Moon slides in front of the Sun after First Contact.

Fully eclipsed Sun with Venus and Mercury above observed from in the Java Sea aboard the Volendam in Indonesia
Fully eclipsed Sun with Venus and Mercury above observed from in the Java Sea aboard the Volendam in Indonesia

Totality soon arrives at 8:34:39AM at Second Contact. Bailey’s Beads are visible all red and sparkly on the left side of the solar disk at the start. By midpoint in Totality, they are also visible on the other side of the solar disk…a beautiful display! Of course, plasma streamers are flowing away from the Sun, with a bit of a gap in the flow at the 4 o’clock position. Both Venus and Mercury are clearly visible above the Sun during Totality, and as it ends, a huge, bright Diamond Ring pops out – a real treat, and the brightest I’ve observed!

My weather station measures the temperature drop during the eclipse at only 1.5°C. I’m a bit surprised at how little the air cooled off, but I expect the air mixing at sea level reduced this effect similarly as it did with the 2012 Eclipse when I was aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea. I don’t stick around to watch the last partial phase of the eclipse, packing up my gear and leaving by 9AM. Once 4th Contact is over, the ship turns around and heads south through the Makassar Strait to the Java Sea, heading to Komodo Island, our next port-of-call the day after tomorrow. This is a 500 mile run for them to get us on position this morning.

The diamond ring and lots of plasma streamers as Totality ends
The diamond ring and lots of plasma streamers as Totality ends

The captain and the rest of the bridge crew did an outstanding job getting us to the centreline of the eclipse this morning. The captain made his decision last night on our final position based on meteorological reports, and it worked out beautifully. We had some clouds, but there were huge gaps, and Totality was observed under perfectly clear conditions.

My detailed eclipse observation log

After getting cleaned up, I go up to the Explorations Cafe to have a celebratory cappuccino, since I missed breakfast this morning. That keeps me going, so I can quickly extract three photos and post a brief message on Facebook to tell my friends I had success with the eclipse. They almost immediately respond, saying that they virtually observed the eclipse from a feed coming from somewhere in Micronesia. It is a connected world!

Map of ship's movement to and from eclipse centreline in the Makassar Strait
Map of ship’s movement to and from eclipse centreline in the Makassar Strait

Shortly after Noon, I go to the main dining room for some much-needed lunch, and compare notes about the eclipse with everyone around the table. We are all thrilled to have had the chance to observe the eclipse…both dedicated eclipse chasers and regular travellers alike.

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2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise in SE Asia

Feb/Mar 2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise map in SE Asia aboard the Volendam

2016 Solar Eclipse Cruise map in SE Asia aboard the Volendam

In March 2015, I booked a Holland America cruise in southeast Asia, which takes me to the southeast Asian countries of: Singapore, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The Volendam leaves Singapore on February 16, 2016 on the 30-DAY ASIAN ADVENTURE & INDONESIAN SOLAR ECLIPSE COLLECTOR cruise, sailing north to Malaysia, Burma/Myanmar and Thailand before returning 15 days later to Singapore. We spend two nights in Singapore, and then depart again on the Solar Eclipse portion of the cruise, which sails south to a variety of ports in Indonesia. We observe the solar eclipse on March 9th in the Makasar Strait, between the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi. Weather permitting, our ship will be positioned on the eclipse centreline, which will give us 2 minutes and 45.5 seconds of totality. The cruise terminates in Singapore with an overnight at the dock on March 16 & 17.

My booking is actually two back-to-back cruises, both departing from Singapore. I am paying the Single Supplement (150% of one fare) for a cabin on the Main Deck. As I write this in November 2015, Holland America indicates some classes of cabins on this cruise are Sold Out.

The Sun in eclipse totality - 3rd contact & diamond ring

The Sun in eclipse totality – 3rd contact & diamond ring

Sky and Telescope are running their solar eclipse tour aboard the same ship, however I did not book with them since I wanted a 30 day cruise, and their arrangements are for either 9 days or 15 days. I board the Volendam two weeks earlier in Singapore than the S&T tour’s departure date and visit three more SE Asian countries, which appeals to me. The downside to booking directly with Holland America instead of through S&T is that I won’t be able to attend their enrichment presentations while aboard the ship. To be honest, I don’t much care about this, since there are only two or three of their presentations I would want to attend. I don’t really need any coaching on the technical aspects of observing a solar eclipse while aboard a ship, since I have experience from the 2012 Solar Eclipse Cruise aboard the Paul Gauguin in the Coral Sea.

In May 2015 I booked my flights from Vancouver to Singapore through Cathay Pacific airline. This is optimum timing from the departure date to get the best fare possible. If I booked this fare today (some six months later), the airfare would cost many hundreds of dollars more, since it is closer to the departure date.

French Polynesia to San Diego – day 4

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

March 13, 2014 – Thursday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – Day 4 Sea Day

As expected, the last few days of this cruise are becoming a bit tedious. I don’t really participate in many of the activities that are listed in the newsletter each day. I attend about half the shows in the Showroom, which are generally well done, and sometimes exceptional. I attend all the enrichment lectures, and really appreciate the astronomy speaker Jonathan Nalley. I’m glad I have my MacBook Air notebook computer with me, since I spend about an hour each day working on my travel journal, and extracting material every few days to post on my JoeTourist blog.

Taking photographs is probably my main diversion on this trip. The subsequent task of filling in the metadata (title, keywords & location) for each photo takes considerable time and effort, but at least it keeps me busy while we are at sea, and it makes the job of updating my main JoeTourist.ca website much easier after I return home. I purchase another 100 minutes of Internet time this morning for $55, which will give me lots of online time until our arrival in San Diego. There is a bonus 20 minutes offered for this deal for today only. I decide this is better value than purchasing the ship’s DVD videos of the trip at $80 for the set of four. Last cruise I purchased the DVDs, and they just sit on the shelf at home after I watched them once.

9:30AM – To Pluto and Beyond – Jonathan Nally “details three space missions currently underway-one that’s heading for a landing on a comet (Rosetta), another that will investigate the giant planet Jupiter (Juno), and one that will give us our first close-up pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto and other icy worlds beyond (New Horizons). All three spacecraft have been zooming through space for years now, and excitement is mounting as they begin to close in on their destinations.” I enjoy this lecture very much, despite knowing a fair bit about all three missions previously.

Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations
Entrance to the Rotterdam dining room with Indonesian & Fillipino decorations

There is a great deal of hacking and coughing on the ship right now. I’m hoping to not catch a cold before I board my flight home, otherwise flying will be a painful experience. I give my two Indonesian cabin stewards their tips this morning, since they have worked so well to keep my cabin neat and tidy. Dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening has a Filipino and Indonesian theme. The waiters are in costume, the room is decorated, and the menu has both ethnic foods featured, making things very festive.

After dinner, I decide to skip the show and do laundry one more time, since I want to wear clean blue jeans on my flight home. The washer only takes 25 cents before starting, so that saves me from the usual $2 charge – bonus!

French Polynesia to San Diego – day 3

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

March 12, 2014 – Wednesday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – Day 3 Sea Day

I have breakfast this morning in the Rotterdam dining room, but keep it light. I have the Mariners Brunch to attend at 11AM, where virtually everyone aboard is recognized for our loyalty to Holland America with a gift of a Delft ceramic tile. The Captain and Hotel Manager are on hand to greet everyone, and the Cruise Director emcees the proceedings. We have a lunch menu to choose from, but we are out of there by noon.

I go to Jonathan Nalley’s presentation on Mars and the missions sent there. I spend a few minutes online this afternoon in order to finish what I was doing yesterday when the connection to the Internet broke. I had to ask for a credit, since I couldn’t log back on to log off properly yesterday. This morning the connection wasn’t solid, so I waited until this afternoon to complete my posting to Facebook, and download email.

2014 Marcus Terrell and the Serenades
Marcus Terrell and the Serenades

After dinner in the Rotterdam dining room this evening, I go to see the show Marcus Terrell & The Serenades, which is a Motown trio with some soul mixed in. I enjoyed their show a few nights ago, and this one is even better. They mix it up by adding in some pop/opera with “The Promise”, and pretty well nail it. They get a standing ovation and give the appreciative audience an encore. A concert reel video from 2015.

French Polynesia to San Diego – day 1

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

March 10, 2014 – Monday – Cruising from French Polynesia to San Diego aboard Statendam – Day 1 Sea Day

I wake up about 4AM and look out the window to see Venus drilling through the clouds, and then go back to sleep. This is our first full sea day of six enroute to San Diego and the end of the cruise. I have a full day planned, with enrichment talks and other activities. I received my Mariner Society Brunch invitation for the 12th, which I plan to attend, mainly so I can see the captain. I have yet to spot him on this long voyage!

  • 11:30AM – Discover SkyDrive Connect to SkyDrive.com – Digital Workshop – “Explore different ways to access, manage, and share your files on SkyDrive.” I use SkyDrive (now called OneDrive) and learned a few tips by attending this tech workshop.
  • 3PM – Hubble”s Greatest Hits – Showroom at Sea – Jonathan Nally – “It’s the most famous telescope in the world … or more accurately, in space! Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has produced many of the most amazing images of the cosmos ever taken. Jonathan Nally takes you on a colorful journey through more than 20 years of Hubble’s most incredible discoveries and awe-inspiring images.” This presentation is mostly astronomical eye candy, but it is an enjoyable way to pass an hour.
Ship's position - March 10, 2014
Ship’s position – March 10, 2014

I am the only person swimming in the Ocean View Pool just before noon. The water in the pool is sloshing around a great deal as the ship is buffeted by strong winds. By this afternoon, we are being hit with 35kt winds as we proceed on our NE course across the Equator. There are whitecaps out on the water as I negotiate the windy Promenade Deck for my usual walk I take each day.

It is formal night this evening, so I get into my dark jacket, pants and tie before going to the Rotterdam dining room for dinner. I have a seafood dinner, starting with cold Lobster with mayonnaise, then Manhattan clam chowder, and Alaska King Crab and drawn butter for an entrée. The lobster and crab were very good, but the chowder was not inspiring. I had a chocolate espresso soufflé with warm raspberry sauce for dessert, which was excellent!

Jonathan Nalley leads a stargazing session from the Sea View Pool stern deck again tonight, and points out the Southern Cross to the crowd of about 50 people. I enjoy looking at M42 the Orion Nebula and Jupiter and its moons. My observing log

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Hilo & Mauna Kea, Hawaii

2014 Hawai’i-French Polynesia cruise

February 23, 2014 – Sunday – Hilo and Mauna Kea, the Big Island of Hawai’i

The ms Statendam arrives early in Hilo, and docks at the pier in the harbour. I have some breakfast and gather up my cold weather gear for my big trip up to the summit of Mauna Kea. I disembark, find the shuttle to Harper’s Car & Truck Rental. and rent a 4×4 Ford Ranger truck, which Harper’s allow on the Mauna Kea access roads.

Hilo-Mauna Kea map
Hilo-Mauna Kea map

Once I’m off in my little truck, I work my way out of Hilo and drive up the Puainko Street Extension, which becomes the H200/H2000 Saddle Road. I stop to pick up some refreshments from a corner store, since I will skip lunch. I’m glad I brought along my vehicle GPS from home, which guides me through several complicated twists and turns until I get out of the city. The first half of the 45-mile drive to the summit takes me along the Saddle Road Highway (2000), a paved 3-lane road all the way to the Mauna Kea Access Road turn-off, and then up to the Visitors Information Station (VIS) on a good (but steep) 2-lane paved road all the way through ranch country.

Gravel access road to Mauna Kea above the VIS
Gravel access road to Mauna Kea above the VIS

I stay at the VIS for 45 minutes in order to acclimatize myself to the elevation change (sea level to 9,000′), and then put the vehicle into 4-wheel drive and start up the gravel road to the summit. The road surface is washboard, so having 4WD is great to keep traction and stability. A few miles before the summit, the road returns to a paved surface, since dust control is a big factor with these expensive observatories.

Canada-France-Hawaii & Gemini North observatories
Canada-France-Hawaii & Gemini North observatories

There is snow on top, and the air is clear and cold. I pull on my winter coat, which I have been dragging around with me on this trip just for today’s adventure. It is wonderful to finally see all these observatories in person, especially the ones Canada is involved with. The Canada-France-Hawaii (CFHT) observatory has a prime location on the end of the north ridge, and is a beautiful, brilliant white structure. The Gemini North observatory is next to CFHT, and is a silver structure with bulging air vents all around the lower part of the dome…again, a very beautiful design.

I drive around to see all the observatories up close, but unfortunately I can’t stay for the VIS’ tours inside some of the facilities. The sky is a deep blue and crystal clear, and the observatories are stark white or silver, so I use the High Dynamic Range feature of my Canon 6D dSLR. This allows me to capture the scenes much more successfully. I shoot lots of photos, since I probably won’t return to Mauna Kea again. I can see the summit of the mountain and the trail leading to it from Gemini North, but I have to be careful to not exert myself too much while at 4,205 metres (13,792′) elevation, since the amount of oxygen available up here is less than half than at sea level.

Looking back from CFHT at all the observatories
Looking back from CFHT at all the observatories

Reluctantly, I have to return to my cruise ship, so I start the drive down the mountain, with my vehicle in low range 4WD and in 2nd gear as well. I barely touch the brakes for the whole way down the mountain until I shift out of 4WD at the VIS before returning to paved roads. The return trip to Hilo and sea level goes without a hitch. I return the vehicle to the rental company, and I’m back on board the ship a couple of hours before departure time.