Thursday, February 28, 2008

Starry Starry Nights

It's that moonless time of the month and the stars are shining here on Bonaire. Pierre and I went down to the south end on Tuesday and saw lots of great Milky Way stars and star clusters between the clouds.

Sandra and I went south last night and had absolutely cloudless skies most of the time between 8pm and 11pm.Here is a picture of the Milky Way from last night. These represent three minute exposures at ISO 800 and F4.5. I accidentally shot one 5 min. exposure and it was way better. So we'll be back to take a bunch of longer exposures if we can sometime.
At the lower left corner of the picture is the eta Carina nebula and some open clusters around it.
To the upper right of that stuff, you can see the false cross and a couple open clusters near it.

Continuing to the right, about where the notches are is the area of Puppis, and a number of small clusters.
To the upper right of the middle is Sirius and the stars and star clusters around Canus Major.

Orion can be found at the upper right end of the photo.

I've posted a really large scale version of this picture so you can zoom in and see the details if you want to and if you don't mind a 1 meg file size.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Early Bird Specials

The International Space Station made a pass over Bonaire this morning at about six minutes after six. I missed it, yawn.
But I did get out by 6:20 to see Venus and Mercury close together in the south east. On Monday, Venus and Mercury were exactly sided by side in the sky. Today Venus was to the lower right of Mercury.

I had to use binoculars to sport Mercury. Once I knew where it was, I could then spot it without the optical aid. If I had been out a little earlier, like 6:06, heh heh, the sky would have been just that little bit darker and I probably could have easily seen Mercury.

So have a look soon while Venus is pointing the way to Mercury. One week from today, on the Morning of March 5, the Moon, Venus and Mercury will make a nice little triangle in the sky. They say that an hour before your sunrise is a good time to observe these planets. The further south you live, the higher in the sky they will appear.

Of course one doesn't have to be an early bird to enjoy the Bonaire Sky Park, as the Bonaire Reporter calls it. (by the way, this week's new issue is online as a free sample!) Sandra and I did some back yard observing on Monday evening. There was a high haze and there were lots of clouds scuttling by at great speed. But on the plus side, Monday is barbecue buffet night at the Golden Reef Inn right behind us, so we were serenaded by their live music as we gazed skyward. The picture of Orion's belt and sword is from Monday night. The haze makes the bright stars stand out, which I find technically frustrating, but aesthetically pleasing.

Pierre and I headed out to the desolate south end of the island last night and were treated to some awesome views of the Milky Way running from Orion all the way to the Eta Carina Nebula down by the horizon. We weren't all that sure how the sky would be, but decided to make the "long drive" south just in case. There were annoying fast moving clouds much of the time, and the stiff wind was chilly, but there was an hour and a half or so where the whole sky cleared up and the views in Pierre's 10x70 binos were truly awe inspiring.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

There were quite a few clouds here on Bonaire Wednesday night, so we didn't trek out to a dark corner of the island to view the Lunar eclipse. But it looked quite nice from our backyard. It sounded like some folks at the Golden Reef Inn were observing the eclipse as well. They even had their "killer flourescent lights of doom" turned off much of the time, which helped our views too. At first the eclipsed part of the moon was very dark and pretty much disappeared from view. Later as the sunlit part of the moon got small, the dark part of the moon seemed to get lighter.
This last shot is the totally eclipsed moon. I shot these pix through a Meade ETX 90 mounted on a Vixen Super Polaris german equatorial mount, and we observed the eclipse visually with a Meade LX50.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Science Renaissance on Bonaire

Some of you might remember when, way back in the 80's, the ruins at Karpata were restored and were being used as a center for science research. Does anyone else remember Jules VanRoy and the innovative underwater computer that he used for monitoring the activities of Parrot Fish? I'm sure our son, Richard, remembers when Denise Deering, aka the lizard lady, visited his kindergarten class. (A lizard bit one of his friends.) Sandra's science teacher cousin, Bud Gillan, has maintained contact with some of those bright young researchers over the years.

Well, the buildings at Karpata have fallen into ruins again, but science studies are enjoying something of a rebirth with a new generation of researchers. I think that the turning point may have come in 2005 when a research center with housing facilities for visiting scientists and interns was opened at the Washington Slagbaai Park.

One big success story arising out of this Stinapa/Washington Park initiative is the ongoing research of Sam, Rowan, and the "parrot people" as they study the Bonaire Lora. Like some of the projects in the 80's, the ParrotWatch project has received international media attention.

A giant leap forward for science on Bonaire came in 2006, when the CIEE launched a Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation study program here on Bonaire. CIEE, in existence for more than 60 years, has 97 study programs in 35 host countries, and summer seminars in 25 countries. A journal with the results of the 2006 studies can be downloaded from this link on the CIEE web site. It is a 50 something page pdf file full of interesting information.

Activities at the CIEE center on Bonaire are still going strong in 2008. A couple weeks ago I attended a presentation given by a team of researchers from NOAA. They spent five weeks on Bonaire mapping our reefs so they can be used as a baseline against which other coral reefs can be compared. According to NOAA: Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, is arguably the most pristine coral reef environment in the Caribbean. Percent coral cover is the highest and percent algal cover the lowest compared to other Caribbean reefs...

Regular readers of the blog will know that I'm a big Google Earth fan, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that lots of the data from the reef surveys is being plotted on Google Earth maps. This research project, titled "Bonaire 2008: Exploring Coral Reef Sustainability with New Technologies" has an extensive web site that is itself well worth exploring. Even if you don't click on any of the other links in this post, be sure to check out this one!

At the same time that the big guns from NOAA and other big institutions were here on Bonaire this past January, there were 16 students here from University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies. These lucky students were in the right place at the right time to get a chance to be involved in a cutting edge international research project. The students have written extensively about their experiences on Bonaire, and also posted some video reports. Bonaire lovers could spend some very enjoyable hours seeing their favorite island through the bright eyes of these students. Highly recommended as well.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

From Our Radio Audience - Past and Present

We have a pretty good theoretical and empirical handle on where the radio signal is going when it leaves our four towers down on the South end of Bonaire each night. But as I mentioned back in October, we don't always know exactly who is listening way out there, nor how the broadcasts are impacting their lives.

From time to time the curtain is pulled back, so to speak, and we do get an insight into the effectiveness of our TWR programming. Our daughter in law, Nancy, provided us one such glimpse this week. Here is a picture of Nurse Nancy, in her kid - friendly Pediatrics Nurse garb, proudly holding our first Grandkitten, Chloe. The following is an excerpt from an e-mail Nancy wrote us this week:

Today I had an adult patient who I was taking care of because she had surgery. (we have been getting more and more adult patients now a days on pediatrics ever since or new floor opened).
Anyway, I was talking to her and her husband and telling them how I decided to go into nursing, and then I was telling them how my dad is a pastor and what kind of church I go to. So then it ends up that both of them are pastor's kids as well!! So then I tell them that my husband is a missionary's kid, and that he grew up on Bonaire, and that my parents in law work for Trans World radio.
It ends up that my patient and her husband both grew up in Jamaica and their parents and them listened to Trans world radio from Bonaire!! They said that was the only AM radio station that came in clearly. Isn't that awesome!! So they both wanted me to send their regards and thank you all for what you do at Trans world radio. They appreciate it very much.

Nancy's email was a real encouragement to us and tells me that my 32 years on Bonaire have been worthwhile, as well as enjoyable. Of course, we don't always have to wait years and years to hear from our listeners. Here are some comments from a current Cuban listener to our Spanish broadcasts.

"I am 27 years old, a physics and philosophy professor. For a long time I criticized and made fun of Christians but after having read carefully the Bible to try to disprove it, I found the true meaning to life, a love and a light so pure and brighter than the light of the sun, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Today I am a layman in my church and I help other young people to avoid committing the same mistakes I made and be deceived by sin… I want you to know that I have told many people about your program and here in the area where I live many people have trusted the Lord thanks to your program."

Moon and Planets (Eclipse)

The moon was nearby Mars last night. Not so close as to send me running for my camera, but close enough that I could have told someone how to find Mars by looking near the moon. Tonight the Moon will be about seven degrees East of Mars.

Last Tuesday evening, Sandra and I were hanging out on the beach at the Plaza, enjoying the bargain barbeque and the music of the Silver Bullet Steel Band, when I saw an amazing low, slow, bright, lime greenish meteor. My first impression on catching sight of it out of the corner of my eye was that it was terrestial in origin, like a flare or a firework, but after observing it for a couple seconds, I concluded that it was really a meteor. There is no question that if one spends enough time outside on Bonaire; whether under the night sky, or wandering around Washington Park, or in the water; amazing things will happen from time to time.

One amazing thing that is predictible is this coming Wednesday's total Lunar eclipse. The good part starts at about 9:43 pm Bonaire time. Totality starts around 11 pm and lasts until about 11:52 pm. If you live on the East Coast of North America, subtract an hour from those times. If you're on the West Coast, subtract four hours. (Totality begins at 03:00 UTC on Thursday, for those of you in other time zones)

I sure hope the sky is clear Wednesday night. You never know this time of the year. Last March we had fun hanging out near Sorobon and watching the Milky Way come into view as the Moon dimmed to a red glow. I'd like to do something like that again this year.

Oh yes, that picture of the Silver Bullet Steel Band is from a slide I took a long loonnng time ago!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bigger and Brighter

I've had quite a bit of fun with my "new" 400mm f5.6 lens, and some bird pictures have appeared on the blog thanks to this great glass. In the near future, I also hope to image some of the beautiful pairs of star clusters that Pierre and I have been observing through his binoculars.

But sometimes 400mm just isn't enough. When I need more magnification, there is my trusty Meade ETX 90, which has a focal length of some 1250 mm. But it's pretty slow at f13.8 or so. The moon picture I posted a while back was made with a Meade LX 50, which can serve as a 2000mm, f10 lens. But what if you a want long lens and a fast f stop?

Well, have I got a deal for you. If you are into the "best and the brightest," then you've got to check out this article by BH Photo Video in New York about the Canon 1200mm f5.6 L USM lens that they have. The lead picture someone using the lens, apparently shot with a wide angle lens, is priceless.

The 1200/5.6 lens weighs 36 lbs, is 33 inches long and it's 9 inches wide at the front end. Oh and it is tack sharp, based on the sample pix I've seen. Canon will only say that between 12 and 20 of these lenses have ever been built, so if you buy this baby, you'll be in some seriously elite company.

No, I didn't bother to check the price. You know the saying, "if you have to ask the price..."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Antriol Catering

Here at TWR Bonaire, we've just concluded a great week of training and personal enrichment seminars with Colin and Lorna Buckland of Claybury International. Colin and Lorna are third and fourth from the left in this picture.

Sandra returned, from visiting Richard and Nancy in New Jersey, in time to join us for a great lunch at Antriol Catering on Friday. This unpretentious eatery is somewhat off the beaten path but well worth a visit if you'd like to sample some great tasting, honest to goodness Bonairian food.

This link to a story from the 2002 Bonaire Reporter might still work, give it a try.

Moon, Planets, and Galaxies

I've been watching Jupiter and Venus most mornings for the last couple weeks. I slept in today, and it looks like I really missed it. Pierre Schmidt was outside this morning and sent me this great picture of, from left to right, Venus, Jupiter, and the moon. The new moon will occur Wednesday night at 11:44 Bonaire time. That's Thursday at 03:44 UTC. If you live in Antartica, you can see a nice annular eclipse of the sun at that time. Residents of New Zealand and Southeastern Australia can see a partial solar eclipse.

Back here on Bonaire, there will be an nice total eclipse of the moon on Wednesday, Feb. 20. I hope it is clear that night.

Pierre and I were out viewing with his big binoculars Saturday evening, way down on the south end of Bonaire. We were set up somewhere between the kitesailing area and Red Slave. We took turns looking through the binos and just gazing at the Milky Way with our good old Mark 1 eyeballs.

I noticed a glow in the sky between Canopus and Achernar. Realizing that the Large Magellenic Cloud (LMC) was somewhere over there, I wondered if I might actually be seeing it. Neither Pierre nor I had ever seen it from Bonaire before. After consulting various star atlases, I decided that it must have been the LMC, so I went back Sunday night with my camera. Technical difficulties prevented me from taking any long time exposures, but I shot ten 10 second images at f2.8 and ISO 1600. I combined them with Deep Sky Stacker and then processed them like crazy in Photoshop and shure enough, there was the LMC lurking between Canopus and Achernar.

We are psyched to have seen it. Pierre reports that the top of the LMC never gets higher than 12 degrees above the horizon here on Bonaire and that the middle of it peaks at 8 degrees. So the sky has to be extra clear for it to be visible. I'm still hoping to get out there with a fully functioning mount and take some long time exposures. Tonight is too cloudy, and the moon will be back in the evening sky soon, so it might well have to wait 'till next year. Yikes!