Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
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Ichthys

Daily Notebook

Popular topics on this page:
When someone steals your research
Night-vision red for iPhone
Transparent red night-vision cap for penlight
Astrophotos:
Jupiter
Jupiter
Saturn
Omega Centauri
Centaurus A (NGC 5128)
Coma Berenices
Nu Scorpii nebula
Rho Ophiuchi region
Pipe Nebula (Ophiuchus)
Central Scorpius
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2018
July
17

Central Scorpius

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The Deerlick pictures continue. This is a field in central Scorpius (and part of Ophiuchus) that is not dominated by any single major object other than a bright star cloud. You can see the "stem" of the Pipe Nebula at the upper left, cluster NGC 6383 with some red nebulosity at the lower left, globular cluster M19 like a big slightly fuzzy star at the top right, and globular cluster M62 about halfway up the right side. At the lower right corner are the compact dark nebulae B50 and B53 and, between them, the star k Scorpii (not kappa — there's a kappa elsewhere — we're far enough south for Lacaille Roman letters here, and too far south for Flamsteed numbers). There are many other interesting objects in the picture.

To be pedantically correct, the designation "k Scorpii" is called a Bayer designation but is not one from the maps published by Johannes Bayer in 1604. As far as I can tell, this is one of many southern stars that were labeled by Lacaille, who extended Bayer's system in the 1700s.

Stack of thirteen 1-minute exposures, Canon 60Da, ISO 800, Sigma 105-mm f/2.8 lens, iOptron SkyTracker.

2018
July
16

The Pipe Nebula

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Yet another picture from the Deerlick expedition. This is the Pipe Nebula, a dark nebula (dust cloud) in front of clouds of stars in the Milky Way in the constellation Ophiuchus, just to the upper left of Scorpius in our southern sky. I photographed it well in 2010, but I think this picture is even better.

Stack of twenty 1-minute exposures, Canon 60Da, ISO 800, Sigma 105/2.8 lens, iOptron SkyTracker.

2018
July
15

(Extra)

Transparent red night-vision cap for penlight

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Picture

Yesterday I made a piece of apparatus that I needed, but didn't have, at Deerlick: a red night-vision cap for my excellent ThruNite penlight. I like the Thrunite because it is small, easy to handle, and very bright, has a beam width that is convenient for many kinds of work, and has three widely differing brightness settings — ideal for use on the field because the lowest is usually sufficient, but the highest might sometimes be needed to confront an animal or look for lost objects on the ground.

Thrunite does not made a red version of it. Anyhow, a removable cap is better because in a real emergency, I can take the cap off and get really bright white light.

I had previously used a translucent red vinyl cap, but it spreads the light out and dims it too much. I wanted something transparent.

Here's what I did:

(1) Looked around Home Depot for a plastic plumbing part that had the right inside diameter to fit the penlight snugly, and was dark colored (to avoid spreading white light out the sides). I settled on a black sprinkler riser that was threaded for 1/2" pipe on the outside; the inside is what matters.

(2) Cut off the end of the plastic pipe (I used a scroll saw) and squared it up by sanding.

(3) At this point I also put the piece of pipe on a metal rod that it fit snugly and turned it in my drill press. I sanded it more (to make the threads shallower) and then buffed it with a very old buffing wheel (possibly the last surviving accessory from my parents' 1964 Kirby). This step is optional.

(4) I cut a disk of red acrylic to the right diameter. This was done with a fly cutter (circle cutter) with the central drill bit omitted — which works if you are using a drill press with a drill press vise and proceed carefully. (To adjust diameter, make test cuts in a piece of scrap wood or plastic.) This is the main thing here that was new to me — I spent some time thinking about how to cut disks, and now that I can do it, quite a few flashlights are probably going to get red windows put on them.

I don't remember where I got the red acrylic. It is the same kind as people use in front of computer screens when doing astronomy. For years I've known of its usefulness and have saved scraps, including scratched and broken scraps. It used to be used for windows on digital devices with red LED displays, back when all LEDs were red.

(5) I glued them together with a thin coating of J-B Weld Plastic Bonder, which sets much more slowly than J-B says — mine took about two hours to reach full hardness.

2018
July
15

Rho Ophiuchi region

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Here are two different renderings of the same picture, differing only in the contrast adjustments at the last step. You're looking at the region of Antares and Rho Ophiuchi, one of the most dramatic parts of the Milky Way.

There's some of everything here. Clouds of stars, of course; some bright stars, of which the brightest is Antares, lower left corner of the dramatic pentagon; globular clusters, including M4, which is the lower right corner of the pentagon, and M80, inside it; and nebulosity. Emission nebulosity (fluorescent gas) is red; interstellar dust ranges from brownish (if the particles are large) to blue (if they are small); and some interstellar dust is not illuminated at all, showing up as dark clouds in front of stars.

Stack of twenty 1-minute exposures, Canon 60Da, ISO 800, Sigma 105-mm f/2.8 lens, iOptron SkyTracker, at Deerlick.

2018
July
14

Nu Scorpii nebula

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I've tried several times to photograph the faint cloud of gas and dust around the star Nu Scorpii, and this time I've done it moderately well. Stack of fifteen 1-minute exposures, Canon 60Da at ISO 800, Sigma 105-mm f/2.8 lens, iOptron SkyTracker, at Deerlick.

Nu is the star at upper right of center, immersed in a bluish cloud, the nebula IC 4592. The bright, cloudless stars at the right are Beta and Delta Scorpii; Delta is lower and brighter, but until a few years ago, it was not as bright as Beta; this is the only constellation whose visible appearance has changed noticeably in my lifetime.

To the lower left of Nu, just to the upper left of the center of the picture, is a pair of stars immersed in another bluish reflection nebula, IC 4601. To the left and lower left you can see thicker interstellar dust, sometimes reflecting light with a yellowish or brownish hue, and sometimes blocking it altogether and appearing black. At the bottom left is Rho Ophiuchi, whose thick complex of dark nebulae and reflection nebulae we shall see again tomorrow. And avid users of star maps can confirm that one star, halfway from the center of the picture to the bottom, is actually the globular cluster M80.

2018
July
13

The star cluster that is a constellation

[Revised.]

Time for me to start showing you the pictures I took at Deerlick, starting with the least impressive ones. Before the sky was completely dark, on each night I took a few pictures as tests of the equipment. You've already seen one, of Omega Centauri skimming the treetops (scroll down). Here's another.

Picture

To the northeast of the constellation Leo is a star cluster that has been designated since ancient times as the constellation Coma Berenices (the hair of Queen Berenice of Egypt, sacrificed to the gods; the only ancient constellation that commemorates a real event).

Here you see a stack of eight 1-minute exposures with a Canon 60Da at ISO 800 and a Sigma 105-mm f/2.8 lens. The slight diamond-shaped patterns on the brighter stars are produced by wire crosshairs in front of the lens, which I installed semi-permanently several years ago and have used ever since.

A distant galaxy is visible, halfway up, about 20% of the way from the left edge to the right. It is NGC 4565, thin and spindle-shaped. See also the enlargement below, which you can see this and another galaxy, NGC 4494, which looks like a fuzzy star, above the red marks.

Picture

I must emphasize that this is a poor image, taken with only one inch of aperture — my goal was to depict Coma Berenices as a whole, not to capture these galaxies. But there they are.



Do you recognize this galaxy?

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Another of my tests during twilight gave me a recognizable (not great!) picture of a galaxy that is normally considered too far south to photograph from Georgia. This is Centaurus A (NGC 5128), a round ball with a dark belt of dust across it. It is also faintly visible in the picture of Omega Centauri that I photographed a few days ago. This is a stack of 14 1-minute exposures; the galaxy was just above the treetops, and the sky wasn't completely dark. For a much better picture of it (not mine) click here.

2018
July
11

Sky and Telescope and Fernbank 50 years ago

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Every month, Sky and Telescope has a "75, 50, and 25 years ago" section. I wondered how soon I would start recognizing things in the 50-years-ago section. This month it happened.

The August 2018 issue has a tiny picture of the August 1968 front cover, which depicts Georgia's Fernbank Science Center. Opened in 1967 with a large donation of land and money, Fernbank is a part of the DeKalb County school system. It has a Zeiss planetarium, a 36-inch Tinsley telescope, an electron microscope, and a library, and is situated in a protected forest.

Melody went there regularly in elementary school, and particularly in seventh and eighth grades. I went there (from Valdosta) a couple of times: in the fall of 1968 (for a planetarium show given by someone with a German accent, presumably Dr. Staal) and, as best I recall, the fall of 1972 (with a Valwood biology class, to use the electron microscope).

It still operates, of course, and I've been there several times recently. It was obviously better funded in its early days than today, but it's still doing OK.

I saw this issue of Sky and Telescope when it was being circulated around the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Valdosta State College and I was hanging out there as a middle-schooler. It may have been the first issue of Sky and Telescope I ever saw.

Above you see the University of Georgia's copy. Curiously, it belonged to the Kennedy Space Center (whose name is stamped on it). At the time, Valdosta State had at least two subscriptions of its own; didn't UGA?

One other point of curiosity. Inside the issue, there's a picture of a long table in the Fernbank library with what appear to be ashtrays on it. Now, I know that was 1968, but even in those benighted times, it was not customary to permit smoking in libraries (because of the fire insurance costs) or K-12 schools (which Fernbank was). I wonder if someone who remembers Fernbank in the 1960s can let me know what those round things on the table were, if not ashtrays.

2018
July
10

News flash — Trips to Deerlick resume

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After a nearly two-year hiatus I am again able to go to Deerlick for dark-sky astronomy. On July 8th I had Grier's Field all to myself (and didn't even have to red-filter my camera and flashlight); on the 9th I shared it with about fifteen people. We had a rare break in our humid, cloudy July weather; it was clear and dry and got down to 68 F late at night.

Pictures are coming. I was glad to discover that my favorite location (at the northeast corner of the field) now sports three new concrete pads with electricity, as well as a proper driveway entrance (not just a place where we might or might not be allowed to drive onto the road).

Above you see my equipment on the field. What, no telescope? No; just a camera on an iOptron Skytracker. Light, simple, and it did the job, for what I wanted to do.

And Zeiss 10×42 binoculars, which I had never used on a field trip before. (I bought them for the eclipse and accidentally left them out of reach during totality!) They gave a great view. As I think I've mentioned, the newest Zeiss binoculars give a brighter image than earlier binoculars of similar design; some problem relating to polarization and partial reflection has been overcome. I was able to see M51, M81, M82, M27, and (more surprisingly) the Cat's Paw Nebula with binoculars the second night.



Northern-hemisphere frustration

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For the amusement of my friends in the Southern Hemisphere I present this example of what the great globular cluster Omega Centauri looks like from here.

It does rise a little higher, actually, but only for a few minutes out of every 24 hours, and those few minutes occur in darkness between dusk and midnight only in the late spring. They had occurred during twilight on this particular date, and by the time it was dark enough to take this picture, the cluster was disappearing into the trees.

Optimists will say this is proof that our sky at Deerlick was clear all the way down to the horizon. The cluster's calculated altitude at that moment was 3 degrees.

Single 1-minute exposure, Canon 60Da, Sigma 105-mm f/2.8 lens at f/4, iOptron SkyTracker, no calibration.



Red night-vision mode for the iPhone

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Thanks to Eric Teske's excellent blog entry (and Darrell Golliher, who pointed me to it) I no longer need red plastic over my iPhone screen during dark-sky observing sessions. The iPhone can turn its display red all by itself. And the display automatically goes to minimum brightness in dark surroundings.

What's more, I can turn red mode on and off by pressing the Home button 3 times quickly.

In brief, here's how it's done.

(1) Settings, General, Accessibility, Display Accommodations (On), Color Filters.

(2) Switch Color Filters on.

(3) Scroll all the way to the bottom. Choose Color Tint.

(4) Scroll even farther down and put the Hue and Intensity sliders and put them both all the way to the right. Now your display is red.

(5) Now back up to Settings, General, Accessibility. Scroll down to the very bottom and open Accessibility Shortcut. Check Color Filters. Now 3 quick presses of the Home button will turn the red mode on and off.

This worked with my iPhone SE. I do not know what models and iOS versions support it.

2018
July
8

Not all malls are dying

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Just six miles northeast of Gwinnett Place Mall, whose slow and sad decline I wrote about recently, is an even bigger shopping mall that looks as prosperous as can be. It is Mall of Georgia (shown above). My peregrinations took me there yesterday, and I was startled. Not only is the mall full of stores and people, it is surrounded by several thick, prosperous layers of outside shops.

What's the difference? I don't know. Were the two managed very differently? Did this one (opened 1999) simply take all the business away from several others, dating from the 1980s? If so, what made it better? Maybe a critical mass of high-end and specialized stores, so that it's not just 10 purveyors of athletic shoes and 30 of cheap clothes for teenagers, which is what other malls seem to be turning into?

Anyhow, this leads me to a theory: Malls were overbuilt in the 1980s. There were simply too many. When we get back down to the number of them that existed around 1975, all the remaining ones will be doing well.

It is fashionable nowadays to say you don't like malls. But I use them regularly as indoor exercise venues (for walking without getting out in the rain or the sun) and occasionally even shop there.

2018
July
6

Jupiter, infrared, 8-inch telescope

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I'm surprised at how much fine detail I captured in this very hasty shot of Jupiter. Celestron 8 EdgeHD, 3× extender, Baader IR-pass filter, ASI120MM-S camera, while dodging clouds and humidity on the evening of July 5th. Best 75% of about 5000 video frames.

2018
July
4

A day at the lake

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About once every ten years (well, nine) I actually get to take a day off. Today Melody and I went to a gathering of Melody's extended family at the home of her uncle, Warren Barnett, on Lake Oconee. Along the way, our GPS found us a useful shortcut via Salem Road, which is midway between Highway 441 (too far west) and 15 (too far east).

Seriously, with Melody's health improving and my big book project done, I'm starting to reach the point of not being overworked — for the first time in a very long time. I'm only working slightly more than one job (depending on how you count the consulting activity). How long it will last until the next calamity, I'm not sure. But I'm being very careful about not getting roped into things. "Retired" does not mean "works for free."

The picture above was taken with an iPhone and then given HDR processing in PixInsight to manage the overall tonal range.

2018
July
3

Jupiter and Saturn in infrared with a 5-inch telescope

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Finally, some pictures taken with my newest camera, an ASI120MM-S. These were taken in great haste with my 5-inch Celestron (vintage 1980) and a 3× extender, dodging clouds during a brief clear interval with unsteady air. I think they're quite creditable given the small size of the telescope and the poor conditions. They were taken with an infrared filter (IR-pass) because the air is steadier in infrared than in visible light, and I needed all the help I could get.

2018
July
2

When someone steals your research

I've just learned about a sad case of scientific misconduct that was reported in Annals of Internal Medicine, 2017. (If you have access to a medical library, search for "Scientific misconduct hurts," which is the title of an article and 2 responses.)

An American researcher did a study of diets and cholesterol and submitted an article about it to the Annals of Internal Medicine. It was a follow-up to an earlier report that had been published in another major journal.

The Annals did what every research journal does when an article is submitted: they sent it to several (probably 3) anonymous reviewers. These are other researchers who do not work for the Annals but are called on as volunteers. They are usually people whose other research has been published in the same journal, or who are reasonably well known in the field. I do about three anonymous reviews per year myself for various journals.

The reviewers' job is to rate the article to help the Annals decide whether to publish it. They are required to keep it confidential. They cannot use information from it, even to further their own research, until it is published or made public somewhere. And the person whose work they are reviewing is not told who they are.

In this case, the Annals turned down the article, and then, a few months later, the author found that it had been published under a different author's name in an European journal. (Other people's names and the location of the study had been altered.) He contacted the Annals and confirmed that the fake author of the European article was one of the anonymous reviewers. The reviewer had stolen it and passed it off as his own work.

Why he thought he would get away with that is unclear. Anyone seriously researching the subject would be sure to find not only the European article, but also the real author's earlier study, and see the uncanny similarity between the two research projects.

The European journal published a retraction. The Annals reported what had happened and published a statement by the victim.

At that point I was thinking that one more thing needs to happen. The Annals needs to publish the original paper, preferably after allowing the author to update it. The reason is that (1) the author deserves to have it published in a reputable journal under his own name, and (2) only the Annals can do that, since after all this, it isn't publishable anywhere else.

Around mid-year they got a letter to the editor from someone saying they should do exactly that. They declined, on the ground that the original paper did not meet their standards — it was not enough of an addition to the report that had been published earlier elsewhere.

I think they should reconsider. I understand that publication in the Annals is very competitive, but it may be time for them to eat some costs, so to speak. The harm was done by their anonymous reviewer, who, though not an employee, was acting on their behalf, and not at all under any control by the victim. That gives the Annals more responsibility than if this had all been done by a third party. The victim needs to be made whole.

I think it is better to err on the side of publishing a second-rate paper (which is not flawed or erroneous, just less important than most of their papers) than to leave the paper unpublished and unpublishable. It's like accidentally knocking over a statue in a museum: even if you think it is a second-rate or third-rate statue, when you break it, it's your problem.

In all of this I've been ignoring the co-authors. Both the real article and the fake one have co-authors. The co-authors of the real one are victims, alongside the main author. The co-authors of the fake one either share in the guilt or had their names used without their knowledge. Many journals require the signatures of all co-authors on the submission paperwork, but this is not yet universal practice, and in any case signatures can be faked. This should be looked into.


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