Tag Archives: night

Venus and Jupiter Conjunction: Three Views

Venus and Jupiter Conjunction June 30, 2015

On June 30, 2015, Venus and Jupiter lined up very closely in the night sky as seen from Earth, just 0.3 degrees apart — closer than the diameter of the full moon!

The day of the conjunction was muggy and cloudy, and I really didn’t expect to see them at all. To my surprise and relief, it cleared up and cooled off after nightfall.

You really don’t notice how much brighter Venus is than Jupiter until they’re right next to each other. Jupiter is much bigger, so it reflects a lot more sunlight, but it’s also a lot farther away.

Also, that conventional wisdom about how stars twinkle, but planets don’t? Not true. In turbulent air, planets absolutely twinkle.

Venus and Jupiter two days after the conjunction

Two nights later on July 2, I walked outside facing west. The sky near the horizon was still orange, but the two brightest planets were clearly visible against the deepening blue.

And just to show you how fast Venus moves across the sky, here’s the view 10 days before the conjunction, on June 20:

The moon, Venus and Jupiter over Mimi's Cafe

I didn’t have a tripod handy that night, so I used the top of the car, which conveniently lined up with Jupiter and the chimney.

Musings on LA, Light Pollution, and Water Management

The city of Los Angeles recently finished replacing all of its streetlights with high-efficiency LED lights. They use less power, last longer, and require less maintenance than even the sodium vapor lights — an all-around win. They also cast a slightly bluish light, eliminating the amber look of sodium. But my first thought was that with all that work, they could have taken the opportunity to combat light pollution. The night sky doesn’t seem any darker than it did when we moved up to this area.

Then I took a good look at these LED street lights near work. The new fixtures actually do aim all the light downward, shielding upward leakage. They’re plenty bright from the ground, but from a few stories up, I couldn’t tell which lights were on without looking below them to see whether there was a pool of light on the ground.

So if the streetlights really are leaking less light into the sky, why is it still so hard to see stars to the north? Seriously, I can see Orion clearly most nights, but the Big Dipper is practically impossible to pick out.

  • It was a city project, not a county one. There are plenty of other cities in the area that either haven’t been converting their lights, or have only converted a few.
  • They didn’t actually convert all the streetlights in town, just the standard, boring ones (141,089 of them). Phase 2 is converting decorative street lights.
  • There are lots of other lamps that leak light upward: Parking lots, building lights, private roads. LAX is to the north, and there’s a reason for the phrase “lit up light a landing strip.” There’s also a park nearby with a baseball field; those lights drown out quite a bit when they’re on.
  • The ongoing drought has caused smog levels to climb, making the skies hazier.

Light RainSpeaking of the drought, I found myself wondering: How much water would we save if the city did a similar project to replace all the grass along street medians, parking lot boundaries, etc. with drought tolerant native plants? A home lawn at least has a potential use as a gathering place, or a play area. But a little strip of lawn six feet across? What’s the point?

And what do they do with medians out in the high desert, anyway? I remember driving out to Joshua Tree once and noticing in one of the towns along the way that all the houses were built on a standard suburban lot plan with space for a lawn, but that they used it for rock gardens, or native plants, or just left it empty. But I can’t remember what they put along the sides and middles of city streets.

And that gets me to the other article: It was a summary of a study on the vulnerability to climate change in various parts of the region. Most of LA will handle a rise in sea level fine, except for the beaches, Marina del Rey, and San Pedro…but depending on how the climate changes, most of LA would be vulnerable to severe flooding.

In any given decade in California, you can expect at least one drought and at least one winter of heavy rains and flooding. And sometimes those floods can be spectacular. A flash flood in 1825 changed the course of the Los Angeles River (it used to flow into what’s now Marina del Rey). And then there’s the Great Flood of 1862, which covered huge swathes of California and Oregon with water, including all the lowlands of what are now Los Angeles and and Orange County.

So in addition to planning for drought, the region also plans for the occasional flood — unfortunately, by trying to channel all that water out of the way as quickly as possible, because, as the study pointed out, more than 80% of the ground in the area is covered with impermeable surfaces — you know, asphalt, concrete, buildings, etc.

They do have spreading ponds to replenish groundwater from at least part of the storm drain system, but a lot of that water just goes straight into the ocean, and in heavy rains, the ponds get overwhelmed anyway.

It just seems like there ought to be a better way to capture the rain we do get.

Venus and Mercury!?

Venus and Mercury

At the age of 34, I’ve finally seen the planet Mercury.* It’s notoriously difficult to spot, but when I read that it was going to be very close to Venus for the next few days, I had to try.

As it turns out, I was able to see it from a local grocery store parking lot. I left the car just as Venus was becoming visible, concerned by the clouds starting to drift past, and left the store to a clear twilight sky and a “star” below and to the right of Venus…exactly where Mercury should be!

*Of course I’ve seen photos, but I’d never seen the planet directly with my own eyes — or if I have, I didn’t recognize it.

Pillar Moon

Pillar Moon
Pillar Moon, originally uploaded by Kelson.

While driving from Newport Beach to Lake Forest, we watched the full moon rise through a layer of haze and clouds.

For much of the drive it was surrounded by a bright yellow glow, light reflecting off the haze. A few minutes in, we noticed a light pillar shooting straight up from the moon. I seriously considered pulling over to the side of the freeway to take a photo, and probably should have, because it was almost faded by the time we reached our destination. The moon may have risen too high, or the ice crystals drifted away or evaporated, or perhaps it was simply drowned out by the city lights. A lot of the 405 runs past residential areas with lots of trees, so there aren’t too many lights visible from the freeway. You can just barely see the remnant of it in this photo.

I did manage to get one picture of the moon rising behind a cloud layer at the beginning of the drive:

Yes, it’s digital zoom. On one hand, at times like this I wish I had a better camera. On the other hand, if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to capture this while sitting at an intersection waiting to turn!

Comic-Con Triathlon: Running Through Downtown San Diego at Night

Friday night at Comic-Con. After walking around all day in costumes, we returned to our hotel, got cleaned up, had dinner at the hotel restaurant and got in line for the shuttle back to the convention center to catch “The Worst Cartoons Ever” at 9:00.

Except only one of us made it onto the bus.

Missing the Bus

We’d thought about going back to the restaurant for dessert later (they had Bailey’s cheesecake), so I did something stupid and went back to check the hours. (If they were going to be closed, we’d go somewhere in the Gaslamp area like Ghirardelli.) This took longer than expected, and the shuttle arrived in the meantime.

The shuttles only run every 20-30 minutes at night, and we had barely 30 minutes to the screening. Chances were if I didn’t catch this one, I wasn’t going to make it.

I fought my way upstream through the crowd that had just gotten off the bus, saw that Katie wasn’t at the stop, and ran halfway down the block as the shuttle pulled away…and immediately stopped at a red light.

I ran to the front of the bus and knocked on the door. The driver gestured toward the back of the bus. I looked back to see if there was another door. Nothing. I knocked again. He glared at me and pointed toward the back of the bus again. It became clear he was not opening that door for anything.

Words Exchanged

So I pulled out my cell phone and called Katie, who was in the process of calling me to ask where the hell I was. Whichever call connected, I started out with something like “The &@^#*& driver wouldn’t let me on the bus!” We each fumed a bit, the light turned green, and the bus pulled away.

I wasted a precious minute trying to decide whether it was worth trying to catch a trolley or something. I figured their schedule was about as bad. Driving didn’t even cross my mind — it probably would have taken me long enough to park that it wouldn’t have helped anyway. If I’d really been thinking I would have walked around to the front of the hotel and hailed a taxi.

Maybe it was that I’d spent the day dressed as the Flash. I decided to run.

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