The Camelopardalid Meteor Shower

May 24, 2014 § 2 Comments


Faint Possible Camelopardalid Meteor above the southern Milky Way


I have been anticipating the Camelopardalid Meteor Shower for a couple of weeks.  Last evening, I set an alarm to wake me at 3:00 am so we could go out and see if they were anywhere close to the hype being advanced by the news media.  It was a beautiful early morning to step outside…the sky was not perfectly clear as it sometimes is but the Milky Way was clearly visible along with a lot of stars. The temperature was perhaps in the mid-40s (deg F).

We were out for about 45 minutes.  Leah saw one very nice meteor…I missed it.  I was never sure I really saw any.  After a while I got my camera out to see what I could find with it.  I took eighteen 30 second exposures.  Four of them had streaks of some sort in them.  The brightest of the streaks began and ended abruptly…most likely a distant jet.  One actually had three streaks, all in the same area of the sky.  I suspect those may have been satellites.  One of the three streaks had two bright dots on it…possibly a tumbling satellite?  The photograph above shows a very dim streak in the upper right side that might be a meteor.

So was it worth getting up at 3:00 am for?  Certainly not for the meteors.  It was a beautiful time to be outside. though,which made it worth going outside for a look.

A Winter Thing in the Midst of a Spring Fling

April 15, 2014 § 2 Comments


Two days ago we thought spring had finally arrived after this year’s long and cold winter.  The temperatures warmed to almost uncomfortable temperatures so we turned off the furnace and opened the windows.  This morning we were reminded that springtime in Ohio has many faces…today it looks a lot like winter.



Spring has finally arrived!


January 29, 2014 § 1 Comment



This was my seventh and final year of providing computer support for the North Central Ohio Dairy Grazing Conference.  Each year I have been intrigued by the way the Amish guys toss their hats on coat racks, tables, shelves…whatever, and apparently find theirs at the end of the day.  There always seems to be one item in the sea of black hats that just doesn’t fit.  One year it was a ball cap, another it was a single white hat.  This year it was this coffee mug.

Snow Rollers

January 27, 2014 § 3 Comments


As we headed up the hill on Killdeer Drive on our walk this morning, Leah noticed that the field was full of snow rollers.  She had read something about them in the last week or so.  Some of them were 12 inches or more perhaps a little more in diameter. According to a NOAA webpage they are rare and form under the following conditions:

  • The ground must be covered by a layer of ice that snow will not stick to.
  • The layer of ice must be covered by wet, loose snow with a temperature near the melting point of ice.
  • The wind must be strong enough to move the snow rollers, but not strong enough to blow them too fast.
  • The ground must have a slope, at least where the snow rollers start rolling.

We did have temperatures overnight that briefly rose above freezing and then plummeted  along with winds on the order of 8 to 10 miles per hour so the conditions were probably in line those listed and  just right for them to form.


Ice Mushroom

December 27, 2013 § 5 Comments


I took a walk around the farm Christmas morning and found all kinds of interesting things.  By far the one at the top of the list was this little ice mushroom.  It is a column of ice about 2 cm long with a little mushroom-like cap on top.  The ice at the base envelops a small stone.  I recalled reading about ice spikes several years ago and thought that this must be a similar phenomenon.  One of the references at the bottom of the Wikipedia article led to an article  by Dr. Jim Carter of Illinois State University that showed a similar but incomplete formation. Scroll down in the article to figures 7, 17, and 18.  (Postscript: Dr. Carter has a page on Pebble Ice, his term for this kind of ice formation)

We had unseasonably warm temperatures on the previous weekend and about two inches of rain. The soil was unfrozen and saturated.  By Christmas (Wednesday) morning the temperature had fallen to 11° F.  Ice needles were common in the silty soil.  I found the “mushroom” in a small depression near the intermittent stream that runs through our woods.

Here is another photograph of it after I removed it from its original setting for a closer look.   You can see remnants of some ice needles at the upper right and in the soil at the base of the mushroom.


A Little Christmas Story

December 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

Several years ago, a friend and former neighbor ran into my wife at the grocery store a week or two before Christmas.  He asked if she still had her sheep.  Yes, she did.  He wondered if he could bring their children over Sunday afternoon to have some pictures taken for a nativity activity their church was doing.  Sure they could and Sunday would be fine.

Sunday afternoon arrived.  We were just finishing our noon meal when we saw a half dozen mini-vans coming up our driveway.  What was this?!  They must be lost.  Then we saw our friend.  He apologized; he hadn’t realized the scope of the project.  They had the whole cast of characters…Mary and Joseph, of course, and three wise men, and lots of little shepherds.  And parents and a few other interested parties.  There might have even been a few angels.  My wife went up to the barn to try to calm the sheep and get things ready.  I stayed put in the house.  It was just a little too much activity for me on a Sunday afternoon.

A little while later, my wife came back to the house.  She said one of the adults had come up and quietly asked if she had a doll they could borrow.  It seems that no one had remembered to bring the baby Jesus…  I’m not sure how she handled the request since we never really had dolls in our household that I can remember.

Now I think of this story every year when Christmas rolls around…

Merry Christmas!                         (and don’t forget the baby Jesus.)


November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment


As I wrote last March, my 2013 Astronomical Calendar raised the hope of two great comets this year. While the first, PANSTARRS, was a beautiful little comet, it couldn’t be called great. The second even more exciting comet, C/2012 S1 ISON, is a sungrazer that held some promise of rivaling the Great Comet of 1680 that could be seen in broad daylight. As the months passed, that promise has faded as usually, but not always, happens with comet predictions.

Last week I wrote that there are four moderately bright comets in the morning sky right now and that we had located the easiest one named Lovejoy. ISON was one of the others. The best viewing window for ISON is now beginning to open. If ISON is to develop into a great comet it will do so in the next three weeks or so. This morning we got up to begin our pursuit of this comet.

As usual there was a veil of thin clouds toward the eastern horizon at 5:00 am local time. Also as usual for this time of year, my preference was to crawl back into bed. But I slipped into some shoes and pulled on my jacket and stepped outside still in my pajamas. The pajamas were an indicator of my low expectations. The temperature was around 22 deg F with a slight breeze. The sky overhead and to the west was beautifully clear and bright with some jet contrails near the moon. OK, I’ll take the next step.

I went inside, started a pot of coffee, and got dressed for a more serious attempt at this comet. I left the house a few minutes later armed with a cup of strong coffee, my binoculars, and a finder chart. I drove up on the hill to the west of the farm. From there I could see Spica, the star that ISON had passed a couple of days ago but not much else down toward the horizon. I leaned my back against the car and scanned the sky overhead to the south of The Big Dipper. There was Comet Lovejoy, easily found. It is relatively large and diffuse…a fuzzy spot. Back to the horizon… My locators were Spica and Saturn. The comet would be located almost halfway between them but a little to the southeast of the line connecting them. I couldn’t see Saturn yet but I started sweeping around under Spica looking for the comet. One of the problems with looking for comets when there is thin cloudiness is that everything has a fuzzy appearance if you can see anything at all. Shortly after I started sweeping I found a candidate and I watched it. Every so often I thought I could see a tail extending up and to the right. It didn’t change and I really could see a tail. This was ISON!

My low expectation of finding this comet was also indicated by my leaving my camera at home. Now I wanted it so I went back and got it. By the time I returned to the hill, Saturn had risen so I could see the three important items, each one exactly where the finder chart said they should be in relation to each other. I took several photographs.

ISON is a beautiful little comet. It is streaking toward perihelion on November 28 when it will be within one solar diameter of the sun’s surface and moving at nearly 400,000 miles per hour! If it survives that close approach it may still reach great comet status.

Postscript: Actually, WE SAW ISON; my wife Leah also saw it but I couldn’t resist using the title I did.


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