Monday, January 4, 2021

North Coast Night Lights: Conjunction - Saturn Overtakes Jupiter

Posted By on Mon, Jan 4, 2021 at 11:59 AM

Racing around the sun like slot cars on an elliptical track, Earth was on an inside line and coming around fast. Jupiter and Saturn were in view ahead. Jupiter was taking a much wider line and Saturn was lazily rounding the bend still farther out. Earth would overtake them. Again. The race has been on for billions of years, and Earth never tires of lapping her bigger sisters. This time it appeared she would lap them both at the same time and, for a moment Earth, Jupiter and Saturn would line up in cosmic formation.

The Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was … the day before and obscured by clouds. But the next evening was beautiful, and @morriganlynn and I celebrated the event in the moonlight with this image up on Bear River Ridge Road. Jupiter and Saturn are small on the horizon in front of her, almost touching each other. I could see that Saturn had finally overtaken and passed Jupiter and was now to Jupiter’s right. Humboldt County, California. Dec. 22, 2020. - PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
  • Photo by David Wilson
  • The Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was … the day before and obscured by clouds. But the next evening was beautiful, and @morriganlynn and I celebrated the event in the moonlight with this image up on Bear River Ridge Road. Jupiter and Saturn are small on the horizon in front of her, almost touching each other. I could see that Saturn had finally overtaken and passed Jupiter and was now to Jupiter’s right. Humboldt County, California. Dec. 22, 2020.

Or close enough. It is called a great conjunction when Jupiter and Saturn align closely as seen from Earth. This happens fairly frequently, about every 20 years. But rarely do the two great gas giants appear in such close proximity to each other as they did for us on Dec. 21, 2020: it had been almost 800 years since they last appeared this close together in the night sky. About 400 years ago, the two planets aligned this closely, but they were too near the sun to see. Chalk up something good for the year 2020.

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Monday, December 14, 2020

Over the Rainbow: A North Coast Fantasy

Posted By on Mon, Dec 14, 2020 at 12:22 PM

I’ve been tripping around in the night light of California’s far North Coast for some time now. A lot of nighttime visions have piled up from many late outings, cold nights and wee early mornings. Yet for all of that, this week I had nothing brand new. So the other night I found myself shuffling through the pile on the computer, sorting them, sticking both hands in and pushing them around like a pile of playing cards, trying to find something. I stacked them up, switched them around, built figurative little houses and structures of cards … Nothing, no visions formed. I went to bed.

Left panel of the panorama. Zoom in for a Humboldt skyline. - PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
  • Photo by David Wilson
  • Left panel of the panorama. Zoom in for a Humboldt skyline.

That night as I slept, I heard the soft slip-slap as my little village of card houses collapsed. No matter, nothing had come of it, and I slept on. But visions of the cards persisted, swirling in my head as I dreamed.

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

North Coast Night Lights: Ray of Beauty at Moonstone Beach

Posted By on Sun, Sep 27, 2020 at 6:00 PM

An odd thing happened while out sifting through the coastal night light for a compelling image. The waxing crescent moon had already set and the night was dark. My brother Seth and I walked without lights through the night along the beach, each step something of a leap of faith as only faint differences in the darkness revealed the sandy contours before us.

An evening shot of Moonstone Beach. - PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
  • Photo by David Wilson
  • An evening shot of Moonstone Beach.

Presently a lighter object emerged from the shadows on the ground ahead, its dim form sliding slowly toward us as we walked. It was probably trash, I thought, remnants of a sunny day’s activities thoughtlessly left behind. I nearly kicked at it to ascertain its composition, but was spared that folly as my brother flicked his light on to reveal the lifeless form of some kind of ray.

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Monday, September 21, 2020

North Coast Night Lights: Visualize the Stars

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2020 at 4:28 PM

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need — roads.” - Doc, Back to the Future II.

One of the more challenging visualizations for me is to imagine looking at the Solar System from a point above it in outer space, far enough out that the Sun is but a bright point of light below. With no inhibiting sunlight, the stars are bright all around us; we see deep into the Cosmos wherever we turn. The Milky Way’s misty path forms an incredible ring encircling us completely, from its thick, dense core region in one direction to the thinnest stretches on our opposite side.

One path leads to another … In late April, one must get up pretty early in the morning for a window like this one out into the Universe. Dawn is brightening the sky on the eastern horizon as the Galactic Core sweeps across the sky in a vain attempt to outrun the light of day in this view from a country road in Humboldt County, California. Photographed on April 24, 2020 at 04:55 a.m. - PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
  • Photo by David Wilson
  • One path leads to another … In late April, one must get up pretty early in the morning for a window like this one out into the Universe. Dawn is brightening the sky on the eastern horizon as the Galactic Core sweeps across the sky in a vain attempt to outrun the light of day in this view from a country road in Humboldt County, California. Photographed on April 24, 2020 at 04:55 a.m.
Suspended above the Solar System, there is no day or night for us, and time can almost stand still as we hang here in space. But there is movement around the little Sun below us, and where there is movement, there must be time.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Perseid Meteors 2020: A comet’s tale

Posted By on Tue, Aug 18, 2020 at 11:02 AM

Currently speeding out from the sun after its last visit to the solar system’s inner reaches in 1992, Comet Swift-Tuttle leaves a trail of debris in its path. Comets are made of frozen gasses, dust and rock; as the sun’s energy warms and sublimates the frozen gasses, some of its solids are blown off into space, leaving the trail of particles. (See the time-lapse video below.)

“Self Portrait with Perseid Meteors.” The lights of Eureka shine on the Pacific Coast beneath a pair of Perseid meteors in this composite of two images from a timelapse sequence taken during the Perseid meteor shower of 2020 from the hills of Humboldt County on Aug. 12. - PHOTO BY DAVID WILSON
  • Photo by David Wilson
  • “Self Portrait with Perseid Meteors.” The lights of Eureka shine on the Pacific Coast beneath a pair of Perseid meteors in this composite of two images from a timelapse sequence taken during the Perseid meteor shower of 2020 from the hills of Humboldt County on Aug. 12.

Every 133 years, Swift-Tuttle comes in from out beyond Pluto to swing by Earth’s neighborhood on its path around the sun, laying down another swath of dust and small particles before heading back out again. Earth passes through its stream of cometary dust every year in early to mid August. As we pass through the trail of dust and small chunks, we collect them in our atmosphere like bugs on a windshield. The particles, or meteoroids, enter the atmosphere at incredibly high speeds (over 100,000 miles per hour) and burn up quickly due to friction with the air. The meteors we see in the sky are their paths burning through the sky.

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