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Comet Update 7/13/2020

Comet 2020 F3 is making the promised rise in the Northern sky. It shows no sign of breaking up. It is approaching its closest point to Earth and should hold its brightness until then.

Figure 1: Orbit of Comet 2020 F3 generated by JPL Small Body Database Orbit Diagram Widget. Augmented and annotated by your humble narrator.
Figure 2: The “standard” graphic for my updates

Now is your chance.

The comet is as bright as can be expected.  It is coming into a position where it should be visible in the early evening sometime in the next week or two.  Infra-red observations indicate that the nucleus of the comet is about five kilometers (three miles) across, so it is not likely to fall apart.  The brightness should be comparable to the stars of the Big Dipper, at least.

Sky Maps for July 13 through 17 (from SpaceWeather.com) are linked here: 

Morning sky maps: July 13, 14, 15, 16, 17; Evening sky maps: July 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Here is another SpaceWeather.com photo taken by Petr Horálek on July 12, 2020 @ Seč, Czech Republic

Figure 3: Petr is using time exposure here so this may be better than you might see. He claims that he rowed out while leaving his expensive camera taking photos automatically and didn’t realize he had drifted into the field of view. I think this was posed, since his oars were out of the water long enough for the ripples to have died down.

Clear Skies!


SpaceWeather.com https://spaceweathergallery.com/indiv_upload.php?upload_id=165446

COBS:  https://cobs.si/analysis

Uber Alley – Rusty Bird at 288

In Houston:

Go South on Texas288 just South of IH 610 and have your passengers (you are driving – on a freeway – after all) look off to the right with cameras ready.  There, you will find a compelling field of Artwork on a scale seldom seen.  Too big for any gallery or museum – it comes out of Nowhere and slaps you in the face. So, ignore it if you are driving.  (Okay…well…I did not)

A few weeks later, I asked a local passenger about this.  Apparently, it came out of the HUGE pipe storage yard at Texas Pipe and Supply, which stretched back forever toward the West behind this Park.  I reckon there is a lot of scrap available and a lot of art-minded welders around.  Further investigation is in order.

If you really want to see this place – which I find is called “Electric Menagerie Park” – take the Holmes road exit and continue south past West Belfort to the entrance ramp to 288 and then pull off on the diagonally painted zone – and maybe farther to the shoulder of same – before you get out to look around.

Figure 1: Center: The Volkswagen “Bug” – Yeah, we get it! 😉 Left: Armadillo – have to expect that in Texas! Right: Cows on a ship propeller? – this one needs more investigation, perhaps.
Figure 2: There is nothing to give scale in this photo, but I reckon that bird’s head feathers are well above 20 feet off the ground. The bird’s red color seems to be the rust on its unpainted steel.

There is far more to be seen, but a ride came in shortly after I snapped a few photos.

Figure 3: A satellite photo of the area involved. I would say this is the bird’s eye view, but you saw that bird. He won’t be up here, anytime soon.

There is a lot more to see, but this is Uber Alley – after all – where random sights just appear out of nowhere, from time to time.  Then a ride comes in.

Hasta Luego, Steve  

Comet Update 7/3/2020


Comet 2020 F3 is still in one piece and still brightening.  As in the previous update it is rounding the Sun in the fast, sharp curve that includes the Perihelion (closest approach to the Sun).

See Figure 1, below

C2020_F3_Orbit_July 2
Figure 1:  Orbit of Comet 2020 F3 generated by JPL Small Body Database Orbit Diagram Widget.  Augmented and annotated by your humble narrator.

Spaceweather.com features a four-day movie of the comet’s appearance in  the LASCO instrument onboard the Sun-watching SOHO probe.

There were at some observations, after the comet left SOHO’s field of view.  Seven are now documented in the COBS database as bright as magnitude 1.0  – comparable to the brightest stars in the sky.

See it also in the now “standard” graphic for my updates- below.

Figure 2:  The Standard Graphic.

After the SOHO data (red circle) are “conventional” telescope observations and you might think that a decline is happening.  Don’t take that to the bank, because these observations are from telescopes looking just above the horizon and just before dawn.  That is a lot of atmosphere to look through and a lot of twilight interfering.   Estimates of brightness of the comet might be inexact.

Note that:

The “Calibrated Prediction” (green dots) has about July 17th as the peak brightness.  That is based solely on the distances (Sun to Comet to Earth) and assumes that the comet reflection characteristics never change.  That is – of course – never true of comets when they warm up near the sun – emitting gas and dust chaotically.  So, why do the “prediction”?  Because then we know how much of the brightness variation may be attributed to distance alone.  We can take that effect out to study the changes in reflection characteristics…including periodic variations that must be due to rotation. 

If this sounds like an “inexact science” – good!  All Science is inexact!   However, a good Scientist can give you some idea of just how inexact his science is.   😉

Challenging the Dawn

Oscar Martín Mesonero of Salamanca, Spain, also saw the comet in morning twilight.  See his photo below (also from Spaceweather.com)

Figure 3:  Mesonero’s photo of C/2020 F3

The comet is here seen as more-or-less “head on” and seems to vaguely show a bifurcated (two part) tail.  That is not unusual as gas particles may be ionized and affected by the Sun’s magnetic fields and solar wind.  The dust particles tend to stream out behind the orbital direction of the comet’s path, while still blown around by solar wind.  Sometimes the two line up as viewed from Earth, other times, not so.

Hasta Luego,


Uber Alley – Camouflage

Foreword:  I am fully aware of the stereotypical reputation of posts about cats.  So, I promise not to post anything like this again for at least a year. 😉 Posted: 6/27/2020

Some pet owners attribute human-like characteristics to their animal friends. But, some alleged domesticated cats have unique dog-like traits and other qualities that defy description.  Locally, there is this dingy-gray cat named Pepper (but referred to as the Princess, for her attitude) who is the same color as some spots on the concrete driveway.  She frequently likes to play “chicken” with the multi-ton Ford Explorer I am backing out of the garage (as I set off to drive for Uber – that’s the connection, you see).  In the pre-dawn darkness, as imaged by the back-up camera, she appears as just another spot (albeit a moving one) on the driveway.  I take great care to not let her become a literal spot on the driveway.  This is the same cat who will jump into open cabinets despite the dishes there found and climb into empty boxes (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Pepper in a box

Unlike most sane cats, she loves to get in the car and we have to tell contractors and movers in the area to double check their trucks before they leave.  She would sit outside the neighbor’s window and torture the poor dogs in the house.  She hopped in the Ford while I was unloading from a One, Two, Three, Etc. road trip and I found her as I took the car to turn it around.  So I drove her around the block instead.  Far from cowering on the floorboards, this one. See figure 2 below  

Figure 2: Not cowering on the floor

This feline is watched over by a woman who calls the cat “Princess” while referring to herself as “Abuelita” (Grandmother).  Abuelita makes every effort to comfort the Princess – even to the point of providing her with a special chair, covered with the cat’s own blanket and a pillow included.  Please see figure 3, below.

Figure 3: Luxurious repose prepared for Pepper

The Princess, however, rejects the throne and prefers to spend her time in a more rustic location.  Please see figure 4, below.

Figure 4: This is where she really wants to be.

So, this is the lunacy that (to some degree) makes the rest of life bearable.  😉

Hasta Luego,


Comet Update – 6/26/2020

Comet C/20020 F3 (hereinafter mostly referred to simply as “F3”) is now very close to the Sun as viewed from Earth.  Pointing highly complicated and hideously expensive telescopes near the sun is a process to be avoided and so there have been few observations of F3 lately. 

Let me make this perfectly clear – do not try to see the comet at this time when it is near the Sun!

On the other hand, some instruments are specifically designed to look at the part of the sky around the Sun.  One is aboard a probe called Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO*) that orbits between Earth and Sun in what is called a “halo orbit” around a “Lagrange point” (which has nothing to do with any personal service establishments in the City of La Grange, Texas).

*Note that the acronym should be SHO or SAHO, but SOHO sounded cooler so they use that.

The short story is that SOHO studies the Sun and its atmosphere and comets appear in its field of view from time to time.  F3 has made an appearance there and somebody has measured the brightness about once per day and added that to the COBS (another fractured acronym) database. 

As the comet nears the Sun, it heats up, emits more gas and dust and brightens in excess of distance effect. In the figure below, you can see that the brightness has come close to second magnitude.  Nevertheless – do not try to see it!  SOHO is out in Space and has specially designed instruments – you aren’t and don’t. There will come a time when you can look at it safely and I will be glad to tell you when.

Figure 1: Predicted vs. observed magnitude for Comet C/2020 F3

Below is the SOHO image of the comet for today, June 26.    

Figure 2: SOHO image of Comet 2020 F3 (they call it NEOWISE)

NEOWISE is a project name associated with the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) which has discovered 28 comets and 313 Near Earth Objects.  That is why Your Humble Narrator does not use “NEOWISE” or any other project or imaging system name as the name of a comet (or other object), like the mundane press so often do.  Because…which one?!  You would think that the SOHO people would realize this…but NO! 😉

Update: I find that the text additions on this graphic are not from the SOHO folks, but added by a third party who shall remain nameless!

In the future, I will quote SOHO graphics myself and add any text for clarification – with attribution to myself alone.

Hasta Luego,


Uber Alley – Idle Airliners


IAH is the code for Houston Intercontinental Airport.  They tried to get the coveted HIC code (for Irony’s sake), but it was already taken by Iscor Heliport in Pretoria, South Africa.  Likewise, HIA was already taken by Lianshui Airport in Huai’an China.

During the Great Communist Chinese Virus Panic of 2020,  IAH was reduced from five operating terminals to two and a unique situation took place.  Since air traffic was cut to the bone – and some sawing of the bones was underway – there was a ridiculous excess of airplanes.  And, just what does one do with such an excess?  The first thing you might think of is to put them in hangers.  However, it should occur to alert readers (all y’all) that because an airline only makes money when they keep their planes busy, there is a ridiculous shortage of hangers in the current rigamarole.

Well, airplanes (especially the busy ones) are outside probably 98% of the time and they are designed to do just that – through rain or sleet or gloom of night.  So, what you do is park your airplanes where there is secure outdoor space.  Conveniently, airports are some of the most secure outdoor spaces around and what you can do is park those idle airplanes along the aprons that line the runways.

In my Transportation Business I have occasion to visit airports – in the current narrative, IAH.  What I noticed, repeatedly – as I drove the approach to the terminals – was a long chain of airplanes along a runway apron.  I estimated their number at about thirty – because counting airplane tails while driving a passenger to his flight is considered unprofessional.

But that does not mean that I cannot deliver the passenger to his terminal and then drive out to where I can find a fence along that particular stretch. Thinking of security, I decided not to tell where this is.  Anyway, I was able to count 26 parked planes and capture some photos of same.  The view is obstructed by the fence (Figure 1), but I managed to sneak a glimpse of a few planes through the spaces in the chain-link hurricane fence (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Airplanes with not much to do
Figure 2: A view through a space in the fence grid.

Hasta Luego,


Uber Alley – Introduction

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a sea-change is a change brought about by sea: Full fathom five thy father lies … / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change. This meaning is the original one, but it’s now archaic. Long after sea change had gained its figurative meaning, however, writers continued to allude to Shakespeare’s literal one; Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, and P.G. Wodehouse all used the term as an object of the verb suffer.

Merriam Webster

Having discovered that six decades of life “unqualifies” me – despite over four decades of experience – my life suffered a “sea change”.

 After Going Walkabout for about five years now, it becomes obvious that I need to be my own boss.  Mostly this is because I can count on me to give me a fair break.  I won’t reject me for being old.  I won’t coerce me to violate DOT guidelines.  I won’t resent me for having more technical knowledge than me or for speaking my own language better than I do.  I won’t assign myself menial tasks (which I would cheerfully carry out, anyway) in a forlorn attempt to convince me to quit and I won’t set myself up to fail.  Yup, that’s what I learned.

My Walkabout was the result of an early – and involuntary – retirement.  It was complicated by winding up as the sole survivor among my parents, dementia suffering stepmother and cardiac-failed 59-year old sister.  

That is what happens when you continue to survive because anybody can just up and die.  Life goes on and I hope that my wife and children will live long and prosper.  Make no mistake – I fully intend to do so myself for about five more decades.  I decided at age 15 to live 100 years more.  As I am now 65 and work about 35 hours a week, swim an average of a half-mile per day, have lost about 80 pounds and I still mow my own yard – I do not think that goal to be unreasonable.    

But the post is called Uber Alley for a reason.  I am now a humble Personal Transportation Contractor and I find that every day is a unique adventure.  In that sense, it is somewhat like over-the-road (OTR) trucking. I start out at five or six in the morning from the house or the gym.  I have wound up in places like Prairie View, Pasadena, The Woodlands, Rosenburg, Needville, Texas City, Seabrook and Galveston.  While I have had some repeat passengers, I can count them on two hands – out of 1348 trips in nine months.

There is enough to write about and it promises to be just as interesting as the Going Walkabout series that started this whole imbroglio.  I stumble across things that should serve to illustrate the stories with photos and I’ll include some here, just to get started.  I won’t be posting pictures of the passengers – for obvious reasons. 

Below is the Main Street Wharf, in downtown Houston.  I was just about to go see it up   close, when another ride came in and I had to leave.  That is a lot like OTR, as well.

Figure 1:  Just pulling into a parking spot to stop and sanitize the seatbelts, I found this.
Figure 2: About the closest I got to the Wharf before another trip called.

Hasta Luego,


Comet Update 6/16/20

Comet Update C/2020 F3

Yet another comet approaches and has already been promoted as an “eyes only” event.  Not by me, of course – because I have learned the hard way that comets almost always disappoint – mostly because astronomy nerds are too quick to get excited about such things.

It is called C/2020 F3 and is approaching from the southern part of the Solar System.  I include (figure 1 below) a diagram  (made with JPL’s Small Body Orbit Diagram Utility and appropriately annotated by your Humble Narrator.)

Figure 1. Comets can originate from most any part of the sky. Many orbit near the plane of the solar system. This one does not.

As before, I have calculated the expected change of brightness due to distance alone (green curve on the graph below) and plotted the observed brightness (blue dots) for the comet. See figure 2 below.

Figure 2. You can see why comet nerds are predicting this as a spectacular sight – it has far exceeded expectations already Remember Magnitude 6 is “eyes only” brightness. One prediction in “cometnerdland” is 2 to 3.

I will be watching this one as well.  Updates as they occur.

No, you can’t see it yet and neither can I.

Hasta Luego,


Comet Update 5/26/2020

Comet 2020 F8 has dimmed well below “eyes only” visibility and seems destined for obscurity.  Now that it has passed Perigee (closest distance to the Earth) and is passing Perihelion (closest distance to the sun), there can be no expectation of brightening, based on distance alone.  Another outburst of erupted gas and dust also seems unlikely, so this is probably the end of the story for C/2020 F8.

Figure 1. Predicted “distance only” brightness and actual observations
Figure 2: Comet’s path through the Solar System.

Next, I am thinking of a project to confirm the rotation period of a historical comet using the phase analysis as described in my  Comet Update of April 26 This will utilize that data at the Comet Observation database. It will serve as proof that I am doing this analysis correctly.

Comet Observation database (COBS) saw first light in 2010 and is maintained by Crni Vrh Observatory. It is a free and unique service for comet observers worldwide which allows submission, display and analysis of comet data in a single location.

Amateur astronomers can make valuable contributions to comet science by observing comets and submitting their observations to COBS as professional astronomers typically do not have telescope time required to acquire regular observations. We therefore encourage comet observers worldwide to submit their observations and contribute to the COBS database.”

COBS homepage

Orbit diagrams and distance info: https://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi#top

Comet Observation database: https://cobs.si/analysis

Hasta Luego – Steve