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Archive for March, 2013

Comet Spotting: Pan-STARRS

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Comet Pan-STARRS from Schaumburg IL
Comet Pan-STARRS as viewed from Schaumburg IL, 3/13/13

Last night I headed to an artificial hill constructed by the Schaumburg Park District that is probably the highest ground location relative to the surroundings within a 20 minute drive of my home. From that outdoor perch I had hopes of seeing Comet Pan-STARRS.

I was in place observing at about 20 minutes after sunset – about 7:20pm. Pan-STARRS would be setting at 8:18pm so I had one hour to hunt. I had not brought binoculars with me – only my camera. Almost as annoying as the bright sky was the cold. Standing in an exposed position on the top of a hill in 20 degree weather is not my cup of tea.

I looked to the horizon with some trepidation. The combination of haze and horizon glow made for a very bright sky. And street lights in the foreground didn’t help. The only celestial object I could see on the western horizon was the Moon. Below the Moon, nothing. No stars, no Mars – just glow. With a magnitude of 0.9 (the magnitude of Mars is a slightly dimmer 1.2) I has serious doubts as to whether or not I would see Pan-STARRS.

A couple times I thought I detected it using averted vision but in hindsight I think it was unlikely. Over the course of my observing I would periodically take a slightly overexposed photograph to see if I could find Pan-STARRS with my camera. I saw nothing.

Hands numb, I packed up my camera and tripod at 8:15pm and headed home. Popping my camera’s SD card into the computer I was elated to see Comet Pan-STARRS. Once I had the RAW file opened in Photoshop, I duplicated the background layer and set the duplicate layer’s blend mode to multiply. This darkened the sky significantly while leaving the comet’s brightness unchanged – thus greatly increasing the degree of contrast between the comet and the background sky.

A cropped full resolution section of the processed source photograph is used to illustrate this story. You can view the entire photograph here:
Full resolution processed source photograph of Comet Pan-STARRS
In the photo, taken at 7:58pm, you can see just how close Pan-STARRS was to the horizon. The fact that it was almost directly above a street light certainly made it more difficult for my eyes to see it. In the linked photograph, Pan-STARRS as well as a few of the brighter stars are identified with their name appearing slightly above and to the right of the associated object. Here is a link to the star chart I used for identifying the stars in the photograph:
Star chart showing Pan-STARRS on March 13 from Schaumburg IL

Hopefully there will be clear skies this Saturday at Yerkes Observatory and hopefully I’ll be able to find the time to observe Pan-STARRS from that location. The timing will be difficult as I am slated to give a presentation from 7:15 to 7:45pm – prime time for observing Pan-STARRS. Wish me luck.

Ad Astra, Jim

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A Day at Yerkes Observatory: Mars and Astronomical Art

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Yerkes Observatory
Yerkes Observatory,Williams Bay, WI

This Saturday March 16 I will be participating in both a teacher workshop and a public star party at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay WI. This will be my first time visiting Yerkes in a long time. Aside from my duties that day, I hope that I have sufficient time to explore and photograph this landmark observatory.

Packing for Mars Teacher Workshop

Packing for Mars
Packing for Mars

The theme for the teacher workshop I’m taking part in is "Packing for Mars" and uses as its focus the book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (W. W. Norton & Company; 2010). If you are a teacher it is not too late to register. Registration includes CPDUs and lunch. A fee of $25 for the workshop will be collected on the day of the workshop.

The segment that I will be leading, What Would You Bring?, actually deals with planning a human mission to Mars. Identifying the resources a mission would need to bring along is a subset of the overall mission planning. Other aspects of mission planning include mission objectives, mission duration, infrastructure, and strategic and tactical implementation issues.

The planned agenda for the day is:

8:30am Coffee and Registration
9:00am Book Discussion: Packing for Mars
10:00am What Would You Bring?
11:00am Discussion with Mary Roach, author of Packing for Mars
12:00pm Lunch provided by Stars at Yerkes
1:00pm Packing the Portable Life Support System (PLSS)
2:00pm Building Project
4:15pm Wrap up: final thoughts, additional resources, evaluations and CPDUs

To register, complete the Packing for Mars Teacher Workshop Registration Form.

Yerkes Observatory Public Star Party

In the evening there will be a public star party with, hopefully, clear skies. If you do not know what a star party is, it provides people with the opportunity to observe various astronomical wonders using a telescope. For more information, check out the Wikipedia entry for Star Party. As a part of the star party, I will be giving a highly condensed version of my presentation The Art of Astronomy which looks at the evolution of astronomical art over the years.

The star party begins at 7:00pm and ends at 9:00pm. My presentation is about 30 minutes long and will start at 7:15pm. If you plan on attending the Yerkes Observatory Public Star Party, there is a fee of $5 per person or $15 per family. To help the astronomers get an idea of how many people will be attending, please fill out the
Yerkes Observatory Public Star Party Registration Form.

Yerkes Observatory Information

Location: 373 West Geneva Street, Williams Bay WI 53191
Web Site: astro.uchicago.edu/yerkes
Location on Map: Google Maps

Ad Astra, Jim

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New Art and the Artsnova Web Site Redesign

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Web Site Redesign Before After
Artsnova Web Site Redesign Before (left) and After (right)

Finally after a couple months of somewhat intermittent work I have deployed the redesigned version of my Artsnova Digital Art Gallery web site. One big consequence of the redesign is that I now have a much larger portion of my art online. Prior to the redesign I had 79 artworks on the site. As a part of the redesign I added 117 additional works of art (creating the additional 117 web pages for the art involved more work than the actual redesign!). The art I’ve added spans a number of years – going all the way back to 2002. Much of this is art that I have not previously made available for sale.

I also took this opportunity to remove all the photography from my web site. My plan is to, at some time in the future, create a separate web site for my photography. One site dedicated to art and another site dedicated to photography is a much more appropriate approach from both a business perspective and a search engine optimization perspective. So now I have total of 188 works of art on my site – with yet more to add as I find the time.

Back on the subject of the redesign, my five objectives in redesigning my site were:

  1. to widen the content area to support larger images for the art gallery
  2. to simplify and streamline site navigation
  3. to reduce the number of art gallery subject categories
  4. to give the design a cleaner look primarily by eliminating the sidebar
  5. to prepare the site to be upgraded to a responsive design for mobile browsers.

Widening the Content Area

For me the most important part of the redesign was to widen the content area so that I could use larger images to display my art. In the figure below, you can see a before and after image of one of my artworks – Beyond the Mountains

Beyond the Mountains Gallery Art Before and After
Beyond the Mountains Gallery Art Before and After

The darkened, desaturated component shows the area of the original image and the larger, colored background image shows the new size. It may not look like much but going from 600 to 670 pixels wide makes for a large difference on smaller screens.

Streamline Site Navigation

The second most conceptually difficult part of the redesign was to simplify site navigation so that I could eliminate an entire category of links. This required a rethinking of how I would organize content – while keeping in mind that the critical factor was making it as easy as possible for visitors to find what they were looking for.

Reduce the Number of Art Galleries

The most difficult part of the redesign was figuring out how to reduce and organize the number of art galleries I had on my site. With the old design, art was organized into the following eight different categories:

  • Abstract Art
  • Astronomical Art
  • Computer Art
  • Moon Art
  • Nature Art
  • Portrait Art
  • Space Art
  • Technology Art

Combining the Moon and Astronomical galleries into a Space gallery was easy. How to handle the abstract, nature, and technology categories proved to be much more difficult. For information about the new galleries and an explanation as to the contents of each, see the Art Gallery Index

A Cleaner Look

Giving the site a cleaner look was easy. Shrink the masthead, eliminate the sidebar, reduce the number of top level site navigation categories from five to four, and reduce the overall page width. The serendipitous aspect of this was that by eliminating a navigation category and the sidebar, I was able to decrease my overall page width while simultaneously expanding the content area.

Responsive Design Preparation

One of my many objectives for the coming year is to create a mobile-friendly version of my web site using what is known as responsive web design. The redesign accomplished this by simplifying the html page structure. This should make it easier for me to code up a responsive design. Stay tuned.

Now for the Bad News

The bad news is that I have not yet modified the template files for this blog so my blog is now not one but two generations of redesign out of sync with my web site. One of these days hopefully I will find the time to go in and redesign my blog so that it matches my web site.

If You Find An Error

If you find an error or mistake on one of the Artsnova pages, please consider dropping me a line. You can use the Artsnova Blog Contact Form to reach me.

Thanks and happy surfing, Jim

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