Occultation | Moon Hides Aldebaran Again

The Moon is in the midst of a series of 49 monthly occultations of the star Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull to the upper right of Orion the Hunter. The alignment of the axis of the lunar orbit with the location of Aldebaran is giving monthly occultations from January 2015. Most don’t occur many times in any one location for Earthling viewers. About half of them are daytime events. (I’ve seen them…very cool.) The last occultation of this series will occur September 2018. The next series is from 2033 to 2037.

As midnight approached on the evening of the 18th, I was thrilled to see clear skies overhead. With camera on the tripod, I set them on the front porch for this pairing at 11:15 pm CDT. All images can be embiggened for more detail.

11:15 pm CDT | Yellow line traces expected path of Aldebaran

11:15 pm CDT | Yellow line traces expected path of Aldebaran

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Scotland | Caledonian Canal Lock System

Our View From Iowa

Previous posts about our Scotland trip can be found here.

Our barge Fingal of Caledonia embarked from Inverness and traveled to Banavie near Fort William to the southwest. This video gives some perspective for that journey.

Lake | Loch | Lock

From Wikipedia:

Loch (/ˈlɒx/) is the Irish and Scottish Gaelic word for a lake or for a sea inlet. In English and Hiberno-English, the anglicised spelling lough is commonly found in place names, pronounced the same way as loch. In Scottish English, ‘loch’ is always used. Some lochs could also be called firths, fjords, estuaries, straits or bays.

A lock is a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways.

Caledonian Canal and Lock System

Three lochs are aligned end to end along the route. The largest and most well known is Loch Ness at…

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Jupiter and Mercury | Iridium 98 Flare

Mercury has been visible in the early morning twilight recently. Jupiter is on the opposite side of the Sun from our location. But, Earth is coming around in our orbit catching up to Jupiter. As a result, Jupiter is also a morning twilight object in the same vicinity as Mercury. They were to be very close to each other low in the eastern sky on 11 Oct 2016. Guess what. It was cloudy. But, I did go out on 10 Oct at 6:45 am when it was very clear to capture the view.

The first image is how it looked to my unaided eyes. The second image is zoomed into the center part of the first just above the tallest trees in the vicinity of a faint jet trail.

They are in there somewhere in the middle.

They are in there somewhere in the middle.



The evening on 9 Oct was also clear. An email notice told me about a bright reflection off of a communication satellite that was to pass right over my location. The satellites are part of the Iridium system consisting of 72 satellites in polar orbits that provide worldwide coverage for satellite phones. Their 3 antennae shown in the image below are flat and highly reflective of sunlight. The positions and angles of each antenna are known allowing predictions of those reflections across the surface of the Earth.

Iridium LLC

The email notice said the location in the sky was toward 148˚ in the southeast and 50˚elevation. It would last about 10 sec due to the 17,000 mph speed of the satellite.

The sky was dark. I set the camera using a protractor for elevation and Google Earth for direction over my neighbor’s house. I started recording a minute before the due time of 7:52 pm. Success. Here is the video trimmed for time to the actual event.

Scotland | Barge Trip Continuing To Banavie

Our View From Iowa

by Jim and Melanie


On September 3 we began our week-long trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. To read about our first few days, read here and here.

Loch Oich

On the fourth day we left Loch Ness at Fort Augustus, traveling through 4 or 5 miles of canal to Loch Oich, the smallest of the three lochs (lakes) in the glen. Some passengers including Jim biked to Cullochy Lock, which provides entry into Loch Oich. He was able to easily stay ahead of Fingal as evidenced in this video. On the way he encountered a startlingly large slug and a slow worm, which is not a worm or a snake, but a legless lizard.

A surprise treat was mooring up with the Fingal’s sister ship, the Ros…

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Scotland | Barge Trip on Loch Ness

Another part of our Scotland barge cruise…

Our View From Iowa

by Jim and Melanie


On September 3 we began our trip on the Fingal of Caledonia, one of two barges owned by Caledonian Discovery. Each day the barge averaged about 10 miles of progress. The first day it was about 6 miles. We moored that night north of the entrance into Loch Ness. Next morning we were underway before breakfast.

After dinner every evening, the activities director outlined the options for the next day. Our cruise was focused on hill hiking. Mountains rise up on either side of the lochs and canal, while foot paths line most of the way. Passengers could hike, bike, or walk, depending on the weather and their preferences. The activities director led the most challenging of those options, and those who chose otherwise were on their own.

Our intention when we booked the trip was to hike as much as possible. However Jim injured a…

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Moon Shots | With a Side of Mercury

Up at 6 am two days ago, I looked out the front window. The sky barely showed a glow from the Sun at the horizon. I looked up to see the thin crescent of the waning Moon.

Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

I wondered if the next morning would show a thinner crescent. It was not to be. The cut-off low over the Great Lakes dragged low clouds across our area. I hoped for clear skies the day after that.

This morning I went to the same window at 6 am. I could see the sky was very clear. Where was the Moon? Maybe it was behind that tree in the neighbor’s yard. I carried the camera and tripod to the driveway. There it was, very low, close to the horizon, peeking around that tree. And, there was Mercury near it. What a good way to start the day.


Wednesday 29 Sep 2016

A thin 2% illumination with a side of Mercury.

A thin 2% illumination with a side of Mercury


What does October have in store for sky viewing? Watch this video to find out.

Scotland | Barge Trip Coast to Coast

Part one of a great vacation in Scotland.

Our View From Iowa

by Jim and Melanie

Great Glen Fault

The city of Inverness opens to the North Sea via the Beauly and Moray Firths. The city of Fort William opens to the Atlantic Ocean via Loch Linnhe. Three inland lochs (lakes) Ness, Oich, and Lochy are aligned between the two cities along a geological fault called the Great Glen Fault. It was formed about 400 million years ago.

Navigation by ship between regions around Inverness and Fort William was a long and dangerous undertaking over 200 years ago. They had to go around the islands to the west, or around England to the south. Both journeys faced hazards of weather and piracy. The trips took a long time.

A canal was proposed to be built between Inverness and Fort William which would drastically shorten the journey. Much of the 60 miles would utilize the lochs. To raise and lower ships, a system of 29 locks were…

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