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
The curse of the slow green bar
Field of M88
Field of 110 Vir with galaxies
Galaxy M90
Moon (Straight Wall)
Moon (full face, old equipment)
Moon (total eclipse)
Many more...

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Galaxy M90

Reprocessed 2022 June 7

This is last night's catch, from a surprisingly short observing session cut short by clouds. Using my C8 EdgeHD telescope at f/7 on my iOptron GEM45 mount in my driveway and my Nikon D5500(a) camera body, and controlling the system with BackyardNikon and PHD2 software, I took 17 2-minute exposures, and then combined them. I wanted to take 40, but clouds rolled in.

Here's the result — a spiral galaxy (M90) with elaborate, colorful structure, and a more distant irregular galaxy (IC 3583) above it. (I just noticed that Stellarium lists IC 3583 as 20th magnitude. That is a mistake. SIMBAD lists it as 13th, which is consistent with the picture.)


Field of 110 Virginis

Even when just trying out equipment and software, I don't like to come back empty-handed. So here is a stack of six 2-minute exposures of the field of the star 110 Virginis, showing part of the Virgo galaxy cluster. I took this picture to scout out the feasibility of taking a better picture of the same field later.


Askar 200-mm lens at f/4, Orion SkyGlow filter, Nikon D5500(A), GEM45 mount, controlled by PHD2 and BackyardNikon. The last of these is the new toy at the moment, and I'm gradually trying out its functions. It allows the computer to control the camera and immediately download the pictures, and also dither the guiding in between shots.

The curse of the slow green bar

This morning, while arranging files in folders, I was troubled by Windows slowing down and pausing for as much as a minute while a green progress bar slowly passed across the name field in File Explorer. This is a reconstruction, not a screen shot, but shows approximately what it looked like:


That was caused by some piece of software (whether Windows itself or an app, I don't know) trying to scan all the NEF (Nikon raw) files in the folder.

The cure, at least in my case, was to go up to the higher folder, right-click and choose Properties on the one I'm having trouble with, and set it to optimize for general files rather than pictures:


At least in my case, that took care of it. Telling Windows not to index the folder might also help.


Uvalde, Texas

Mass shootings have become America's national sport. I want to lament the latest one, the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, but at the same time I'm not just offering "thoughts and prayers." I want people to do something.

This incident seems to have unusual attributes that are just now coming out, so I'm saying nothing about it specifically. But there have been too many shootings.

What should people do?

One small thing is to replace the phrase "gun control" with "gun safety." Anybody who knows what a gun is has to acknowledge that it's very dangerous in the wrong hands. Anyone wanting to own a gun for legitimate use should expect some restrictions in the interest of public safety. These are not tyrannical oppression any more than automobile safety regulations are.

A bigger cultural change that we need is for responsible gun owners (whom I support) to distance themselves from dangerous people, and not let themselves be lumped together for the sake of political power or a larger market of gun buyers.

People who display threatening bumper stickers are not responsible gun owners.

People who think their gun gives them extra rights, somehow puts them above ordinary people's laws, are not responsible gun owners.

People who fantasize or talk about armed insurrection are not responsible gun owners.

People who engage in rhetoric about how "we need our guns to keep the 'antis' from coming and taking our guns" are not responsible gun owners.

The third thing I'll ask for is careful study of how people become school shooters. We can't do this by guesswork — we need facts. Right now the social media and news media are full of people just guessing. That's not what we need.

See also what I wrote 4 years ago. "School shootings have become part of the culture, a thing to do, almost a teenage fad. It reminds me of how, for a short time around 1970-72, hijacking airplanes was a thing to do, and a motley assortment of troubled people did it."

The Southern Baptist scandal


And I have another thing to grieve, too. It turns out that for twenty years or so, Southern Baptist leaders have been concealing cases of sexual abuse and making life hard for the victims.

This is not just scandalous, it's nauseating. These are people whose job is to know right from wrong and give godly advice. Many of them did fine jobs at other things — while tanged up in this.

Information is still coming out, but former Baptist leader Russell Moore (pushed out for his role in exposing this, and also for criticizing Trump) really gives them Gehenna. His comments will continue to be worth reading.

I belonged to Southern Baptist churches for most of my life. For the last few years, Melody and I have been in an ECO Presbyterian church, but that was because of local opportunities, not any falling out with the Southern Baptists. We had no encounter with sexual abuse while there.

I need to hammer home the point that the scandal involves maybe 1/10,000 of the Southern Baptist population. Most churchgoers and entire churches are untouched, and the bulk of the work done by the Convention is as valuable as ever. If you have been supporting it, please continue.

At the same time, the guilty are so numerous that we are definitely talking about a maleficent culture in a particular group of executives, not just one or two bad eggs.

I should also explain that the Convention has no actual control over the local churches; they can function without it; they can leave it, and the change is hardly visible to the public or even their own congregations.

So what should happen when the Convention receives a complaint about an employee of a church over which it has no actual control? Clearly, referral to someone with responsibility. Not a long-term systematic coverup with disparagement of the victims.

We need to pray for the victims. The amount of compensation that they might be owed boggles the mind. When people are victimized by people who are supposed to be qualified to give them authoritative moral advice, the opportunities for misleading them are frightening.

I do not yet know exactly what was covered up, and we have to remember that many of these accusations are unproven. But it does look as though the Baptists had a small group of leaders who conspired to conceal incidents and impose guilt on the wrong people. Aren't they criminally liable?

What would help? Two things. (1) An incident-reporting system that operates nationally, maybe even across denominations, so that victims aren't told to report the incident locally to the very people they are accusing. I have presided over an incident-handling system for computer security that worked very well. (2) Involving women in leadership at high levels. The experience of the business world is that the presence of even a few women in top management does a lot to deter abuse. This is completely separate from the theological question of whether women can be clergy.

Short notes

My day job and also the weather are interfering appreciably with my astronomy hobby, so there haven't been any pictures for a while. This summer's theme is "teaching new dogs old tricks" — doing what I've already been doing, but learning to use new software, and to some extent, new equipment. There's a significant new piece of equipment coming later this summer, and its name is Losmandy.


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

[UPDATE:] What I didn't expect from the scent-training kit was quick results, yet that's what I got. Even going through the set of primary scents once made a difference. The second time, all four of them smelled appreciably stronger than the first time, and after several sessions, the eucalyptus sample smelled appreciably more like mint (as it should) than it had initially.

Now, this may be artefactual. The inhalers may have been slightly dried out until handled to shake up the scent oils in them. The eucalyptus inhaler might have been delivering a stale scent from dried-up oil at first. I don't know.

What I know is that the parosmia (the incorrect scent from hydrocarbons, etc.) is greatly reduced, and a scent-training session largely keeps it away for hours.

The only one of the four that smells relatively weak is rose, so I'm concentrating on that one, but regularly using all four.


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 .