Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
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Daily Notebook

Popular topics on this page:
What is a conspiracy theory?
Is there any reason why I should agree with you?
Simplified setup instructions for iOptron GEM45 (CEM40?)
Turning the mounts around
Non-scents! Anosmia and parosmia
Field of M88
Moon (Straight Wall)
Moon (full face, old equipment)
Moon (total eclipse)
Many more...

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What I want is a COVID wave that doesn't get off the ground

Here are Georgia's COVID numbers, omitting a period in early April that was distorted by a reporting problem. As you can see, another wave seems to be starting.


What I am hoping for is a COVID wave that never rises very high. When we get one, I'll believe COVID is under control. Interestingly, IHME predicts that this wave in fact won't rise very high — that in fact it has already crested. We'll see if they're right. I'm not certain of it. Test positivity, a leading indicator, is sharply up, but on the other hand that may be because people no longer get official tests unless they're fairly sick or have already tested positive on a home test. Most testing is done at home and not reported.

The best statistic to follow, I think, is hospitalization, because severe disease is what we're wanting to prevent.


Total eclipse of the moon


Last night, just before the beginning of totality, the clouds cleared, and I was able to get some excellent pictures of the lunar eclipse — though I wish I had stayed up later and set up more equipment. Bear in mind that I didn't know I'd be able to get the telescope out until about 15 minutes before this picture was taken; there was a threat of rain.

This was done with the older equipment that I mentioned recently: my Celestron 5 (1980) on my pier (1994) with my Canon 40D camera (2007). I got very good pictures. This one was 4 seconds at f/10 and ISO 800.

Two things were noteworthy about this eclipse, and I wish I had stayed up later to observe them. The inner umbra (on the left) was very dark, much darker than the outer part of the umbra (on the right). And the moon was in front of a rich star field and, during the eclipse, passed in front of several fairly bright stars, including the double star that you see at its lower left, HIP 76033 (WDS J15317-2010). I wish I had stuck around (with a telescope set up) to see that happen.

Non-scents! Anosmia and parosmia

Something damaged my sense of smell back in October. My doctors now think I had COVID, even though I didn't test positive. Either that, or it was similar damage from another virus.

For a few days, I had almost no sense of smell. I noticed the problem when opening a jar of Mentholatum — I came and asked Melody if the menthol had evaporated out of it somehow. No; it was normal; I wasn't. Loss of the sense of smell is called anosmia.

During that episode, I had a false scent, similar to vanilla or butterscotch, almost constantly present (phantosmia). And I had a normal sense of taste, as far as I could tell.

Over the next few days, my sense of smell came back, at least partly, and most things smelled normal, if a bit weak. The vanilla-like false scent went away. However, some things smelled wrong (parosmia).

To be specific, various hydrocarbons, alcohols, and other substances that should have unpleasant odors triggered a very strong, incorrect smell rather resembling burnt Mexican cooking, or burnt Worcestershire sauce. Except for its great strength, this was actually not as unpleasant as the smells the triggering things should have had, and which, later on, I could sometimes smell, weakly, under the incorrect scent. When the symptom was at its worst, the incorrect scent was faintly present even with nothing (as far as I knew) to trigger it. It was (and is) always the same smell, with no variation, not perfectly matching anything I'm familiar with in the real world.

The problem has diminished but not gone away. My sense of smell seems weaker than it used to be, but most things do have the proper scents. However, the parosmia isn't gone; several things can still trigger it, and I experience it several times a day.

I'm going to try scent training, which is increasingly supported by medical evidence, although there is uncertainty about why it works. Apparently, the scent receptors in the nose need to be stimulated; they become more sensitive to smells to which they are exposed. That's the opposite of what I would have expected, but it makes sense — different smells are important in different environments, and the body needs to adapt to detect them. Receptors may particularly need this if they are newly regrown after damage. At least, that's one line of reasoning.

There are thought to be six primary smells (like primary colors): fruity, floral, resinous (minty), spicy, burnt, and foul. The training program leaves off the last two and has me sniff each of the first four for several seconds twice a day. I am also deliberately sniffing a few other things (rose, mint, etc.) to build sensitivity.

I can report one promising early result: sniffing a rose scent counteracts the parosmia. That is, it makes the false burnt spice smell go away, and apparently gives some relief lasting an hour or more


Turning the mounts around


An equatorial mount can be placed on its tripod either of two ways: (1) with the polar axis in the direction of one leg, or (2) with the polar axis pointing away from one leg, in a direction midway between the other two.

When I got my AVX almost exactly 8 years ago, I chose (2), not realizing that it was very much the minority preference.

It took me this long to realize that almost everyone prefers (1). And so did I when I was building tripods for fork-mounted Schmidt-Cassegrains in the 1980s.

So I've turned both my mounts around on their tripods. Here you see the GEM45 in orientation (1). It is a bit more convenient, I think; normally I'm standing north of the telescope, but not due north, and it's better to have one leg due north than one leg northwest and another northeast. There's less to get in my way.

More importantly, although I have had no problems, it makes sense to put one leg toward the pole because the load is itself offset toward the pole. The center of gravity of the load is halfway between the counterweight and the telescope. On a German-style equatorial mount (which both the GEM45 and the AVX are), that point is not centered on the tripod; it is a couple of inches closer to the pole. It is shifted even further when the counterweights are installed but the telescope is not. So the mount is appreciably harder to tip over if it has a leg directly toward the pole.


I'm back! And I have a lot of material queued to put into the Notebook today, so hang on to your hats! The 9-day hiatus doesn't reflect any kind of calamity; we've just been busy!

What is a conspiracy theory?

(Previously posted on Facebook.)

What is a conspiracy theory?

Not merely the theory that there is a conspiracy. Sometimes there really are conspiracies (e.g., the Watergate cover-up).

It is a way of demanding that people ignore evidence.

Specifically, a conspiracy theorist tells you to ignore any evidence against his or her claims, because they say that evidence is part of an impossibly large deception being practiced by somebody.

And if any evidence arises to challenge that, they say it, too, is part of the deception, which becomes bigger at every turn. The hallmark of conspiracy theories is the claim that people are being deceived on a grand scale.

I have had flat-earth conspiracy theorists claim that all the astronomers, professional and amateur, in all the countries of the world, are being paid off by some conspirator (NASA?) to keep them from revealing what they actually know. All of them. Everywhere. Even in hostile countries. That's what conspiracy theories are like.

Is there any reason why I should agree with you?

(Previously posted on Facebook.)

Have you noticed that when people post on social media about controversial issues, they often give you no reason at all why you should agree with them?

They just say something (often at great length) as if saying it made it true.

Or they say how strong their feelings are, as if strong feelings make it true.

Maybe they haven't thought it through themselves — don't actually know both sides of the controversy — and so aren't equipped to judge between them.

Or maybe they don't want you to think it through, because clear thought might keep you from taking their side.

Friends, if you have opinions to express, give reasons for them. If you can't do that, they are not opinions, they are random guesses, and nobody else needs to hear them.

Simplified setup instructions for iOptron GEM45
(probably also CEM40, maybe others)

The way I set up my iOptron GEM45 telescope mount is a little simpler than the instructions would lead you to expect. Click here for my instruction sheet.

Moon: the Straight Wall


On May 9 I got the telescope out to make sure the GEM45 was functioning well after I replaced its RA drive belt. Of course, I didn't want to come back empty-handed, so I put my ASI120MC-S camera at the f/10 focus of my Celestron 8 EdgeHD and recorded 3,147 frames of video, then stacked and sharpened the best 50%. As I've mentioned, this technique takes advantage of the fact that although each individual frame is blurred by the turbulence of the air, the sum of a large number of random blurs is a Gaussian blur, which can be undone mathematically.

A conspicuous feature in this picture is the Straight Wall (Rupes Recta), actually a cliff, not a wall.

Moon with old equipment


We have an eclipse of the moon coming up on Sunday, and I wanted to prepare to photograph it. I needed a telescope that would give a large image of the moon on a DSLR sensor without extending beyond it, and a camera with normal (unmodified) color sensitivity and some kind of electronic first-curtain shutter (Live View shooting, in Canon parlance).

What fills the bill is my vintage 1980 Celestron 5 telescope on my vintage 1994 pier, with my vintage 2007 Canon 40D camera. Here's a test shot. If weather cooperates, I'll use this equipment to photograph the eclipse.

Some interesting word origins

Hangar (for airplanes) is not related to hang. It is an old Germanic word, earlier perhaps haim-gard, cognate with "home yard" and referring to a farmer's barn. Apparently, until the rise of aviation, it was pronounced "hang-arr," not "hanger."

Before it came to mean an unexamined assumption about people, stereotype was a term in the printing industry. It's Greek for "solid type" and refers to several ways of delivering material to newspapers pre-typeset: first as actual metal sheets, then as fiber mats onto which molten metal could be poured, and eventually as camera-ready copy. Small-town newspapers often had lots of stereotyped content; you could tell that the style of the typesetting didn't quite match the paper's own, although it was close.

Naturally, such material wasn't altered or even reviewed by the local editor.

Interestingly, cliché, in French, referred to the same thing — it means "click" and refers to "clicking in" a pre-made metal sheet of type. Nowadays it refers to a phrase used without thinking. (It also means "snapshot," but that's a different kind of click.)


A field of galaxies


On Sunday night I continued trying out new software (specifically BackyardNIKON), still with the GEM45 mount and PH2 autoguiding software, but this time with a wide-field lens (Askar 200-mm f/4) and mini-guidescope (30×120).

The air was unsteady and guiding was poor, but you couldn't tell it from the pictures. Further, the mount ran into some kind of obstacle at the end of the session and strained its RA drive belt (which is much better than damaging any metal component). I have still not fully reconstructed the situation, but with iOptron's help, I replaced the belt, a tricky and slow process because it almost won't squeeze through the openings that it has to go through in order to be installed.

But there you have a fine field of galaxies, centered on M88. Stack of 18 2-minute exposures, 200-mm lens at f/4, Orion SkyGlow broadband filter, in town in Athens, Georgia, in air that was not particularly clear.

If what you are looking for is not here, please look at previous months .