The night sky is pretty much a mystery to most City Dwellers. The glare of city light drowns out all but the brightest stars – and planets don’t do much better. If you are interested, I can tell you where to look to see these far-off worlds. If you were not interested, you would have stopped reading after the first sentence. So, at this point, I know my audience. 😉
The moon will be near full at the time. Mars happens to be near its closest to the Earth right now, as well. The sky map can be used by printing it out and holding it (or your phone, with the chart displayed) over your head. You need to orient the chart with the sky, of course. If you know where the North Star is, use that – or there are more than one compass apps for your phone to be downloaded for free.
When this reporter was young (an era also referred to as the Cretaceous Period), it was thought that Mars must certainly harbor life – at the very least, plant life – since it showed seasonal changes that were attributed to vegetation. After a fly-by passage of the space probe Mariner 4 past Mars, it became apparent that Mars more closely resembled the crater-covered surface of our own moon. Measurements of the atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet also made it quite unlikely that life as we know it – could survive on Mars. Subsequent orbiters and landers have all failed to produce evidence of life on Mars. The seasonal changes are now known to be dust patterns. While the seasonal ice caps at the poles do contain water ice, they also are composed of carbon dioxide ice frozen out from the mostly CO2 (and extremely low-pressure) atmosphere. Despite what many ill-informed Mars enthusiasts think, a human would need – for a walk on Mars – a space suit just like those used by Moonwalkers of the 1960’s/70’s. Still, Mars would be “A Nice Place to Visit”.
Mars is where the moon is and about as bright as it ever gets. Ya’ can’t miss it!
Notice that Jupiter and Saturn are still hanging around at 8 PM – both are not far from where they were previously. You should be able to spot them unaided, but use the skymap, if not.
Mars and the moon will be up all night, not just at 8 PM, so don’t try to use that as an excuse! 😉
Despite this reporter’s career as a Geophysicist, he was an Astronomer by education. These fields of study overlap when the Astronomy is “planetary”, since Geophysics involves the study of a particular planet to be found under the feet of a standing Astronomer.
Your Humble narrator also has the habit of swimming – the only form of exercise he can manage to “stick to”. If one can manage to show up at the pool early in the morning, a single-use swimming lane is to be obtained. Large swimmers are particularly disadvantaged when “sharing” lanes – and said narrator is large.
Reporters are often instructed – by Editors – to refer to themselves in the third person (as above). Since I am my own Editor here, I am now putting an end to that.
If I can snag a lane in the outdoor pool, I am able to swim alone and in relative darkness, but even so there is considerable urban lighting with which to contend – not to mention the glaring lamps in the sides of the pool. Nevertheless, the Astronomer/Swimmer takes note when there are visible stars and planets available for viewing.
A few months back, it happened that there were four planets visible from the outdoor swimming pool. My natural tendency is to point things like this out perfect strangers. However, some of the people around at this time of morning know me – by sight at least. And we are all eccentric individuals, or we would not be swimming at 5 AM. Since having four “Eyes Only” planets in the sky at once is a fairly rare thing, I pointed these out. The average reaction was one of surprise. They had no idea of what was over their heads.
The oldest Astronomer joke in the world is to promise to point out one more than the number of planets actually visible. So, I promised five and pointed out four. The punch line of this ancient bit of comedy relies on the audience to ask where the fifth one might be. Then the Astronomer replies, “You’re standing on it!”. Of course, no one asked about that fifth planet and the joke went flat. Don’t you people have any curiosity? Yes, it is an old joke, but none of them ever heard it before – because it is so old.
Now, the interesting part about that stale humor – if you think about it – is the point it makes. Specifically, that all those small round lights that this Swimmer is pointing out are actually massive worlds – a lot like the one we are standing on. Some of them are stunningly larger, some smaller than our own planet. Some are closer to – or farther from – the Sun. There are places where “the world” is profoundly different from the “world” we experience. With those thoughts, the human imagination is expanded beyond the mundane existence of day-to-day life.
The night sky is pretty much a mystery to most City Dwellers. The glare of city light drowns out all but the brightest stars – and planets don’t do much better. If you are interested, I can tell you where to look to see these far-off worlds. If you were not interested, you would have stopped reading after the first paragraph. So, at this point, I know my audience. 😉
Some description of how far apart objects in the sky is needed, and “degrees” are another unfamiliar subject for Urbanites. Extend your thumb and put it at arm’s-length and close one eye. Now your thumb covers one degree of sky. For Apollo 13 fans – this is why Jim Lovell was making the same weird gestures. He was, in fact measuring the sky in degrees.
Most Sophisticated Urbanites are also unfamiliar with compass directions. The moon shows up pretty well, however. So, I will use the moon to “landmark” where you Urbanites should look to find points of interest in the sky. Those will be planets mostly, since at least four of same are bright enough to be seen in the City Glare. The moon moves quickly across the starry sky, so pay attention to the dates and times. This first installment is for the night of October 22nd at 20:00 (8PM).
At that date and time the moon will be near Jupiter and Saturn in the South-Southwestern sky. Jupiter and Saturn are approaching a conjunction which will peak in December when the two planets will be within a tenth of one degree of each other – in the Earth’s sky, only. They will actual be separated by about five Astronomical Units. And – an AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun (about 93,000,000 miles).
All of my description, the thumb-and-one-eye-closed bit and the skychart are just illustrations. This is Urban Astronomy – just look where the moon is! 😉
Called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, this first indoor, air-conditioned sports stadium suitable for both baseball and football was opened in 1965. Your Humble Narrator was almost one of the first to see the new Wonder. As a Cub Scout, I sold tickets to the Scout Fair, where Scouts would demonstrate things like rope-lashed towers, camping and cooking skills, woodwork (axe handling – they were manly scouts, back then) and semaphore communication. Parents. Grandparents and Corporate Donors bought the tickets as donations, but few actually attended. But, this year, somehow, the newly completed, but as yet unvisited Astrodome was designated the site of the Scout Fair. And – not surprisingly – all the ticket holders suddenly wanted to attend the previously ignored Fair. This writer was taken to the Astrodome that opening night by his parents. Parking attendants – attired in spacesuit costumes – charged the unheard-of price of $5 and we walked toward the Dome – from far away since the lots were near-full – only to find that the Fire Marshall had forbidden more guests. We returned to the car and left. As Steve’s Mom observed, the parking attendants, in their space suits, had “Blasted Off” and were not available to refund the $5.
The dome was called “Astro…” for the astronauts who were to be trained at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston and the Baseball team name was changed from “Colt 45’s” to “Astros” to follow suit. I suspect the whole, new and exciting subject of space travel was more appealing to the “powers that be” than an Old West weapon name – even if it was “the gun that won the West.”
I saw Evel Knievel jump a motorcycle over 14 cars. He had to start outside and come roaring into the Dome through the big door at the endzone, where the Football teams run out – and behind the Baseball outfield. He appeared, hit the ramp, flew over the assembled cars, hit the landing ramp and went zooming out another door. Spectacular!
Once, I worked as a teenage first-aid volunteer for what was called the Thrill Show. There was a destruction derby and a World War II era “re-enactment” that included a “bunker” that was attacked with flame throwers. Suddenly, a man ran out of the “bunker” on fire! The ambulance was called into the Astrodome floor as was the Fire Truck. After the man (in the flame-retardant suit) was extinguished, the announcer revealed that this was all a part of the show. There had been only so much room on the floor-plate bumper of the ambulance for hangers-on (there was a handrail at the top) and I missed out on the bit. I was glad later when the ambulance refused to start as the crowd looked on and the announcer kept saying, “Please remove the ambulance from the arena!”.
After that, one of the Officers of the Houston Harris County Emergency Corps (Charlie Hocker, if I remember correctly) found me and said, “Steve, come with me.” We went up to the highest level of seats where Charlie greeted a security guard who allowed us to go and sit down in the back row of seats. “But, just be very quiet!,” he warned.
There I saw that a cable had been stretched across from the other side. The announcer said that Karl Wallenda would now walk this tightrope. Below us and in front of us we saw Wallenda’s entourage, including – I was told – his wife. All of us watched as Wallenda slowly and carefully approached us across that cable with one of those long poles he used to help with balance. Meanwhile, Hocker was snapping off pictures with an expensive-looking camera.
At last, Wallenda was approaching the end of his walk. He was now walking uphill on the sagging cable. The stadium was very quiet. We could hear Wallenda call out to the entourage.
His wife said, “Don’t fall now!” Just at that moment, Hocker’s walkie-talkie suddenly burst out – at extreme volume – with, “Say, Hank, I see a guy over there to the left of you that looks like he might have hurt his arm. Why don’t you go check him out?”.
Charlie was frantically reaching to turn off the radio and the Security guard was desperately making “shushing” signals and I was sweating bullets! A few of the entourage looked around for intruders but we were both in semi-official-looking uniform shirts and they couldn’t see the blue jeans we wore with ‘em.
Wallenda survived and Charlie got his pictures and the security guy hustled us out shortly after.
I was there for the Billie Jean King vs Bobbie Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” Tennis Match in 1973. Somebody gave me the tickets. They played the rivalry up as a big deal for “Women’s Liberation” and Riggs portrayed the perfect “Chauvinist Pig”. That was all showmanship. As someone pointed out to me, “Look at this crowd! If they split five percent, they’ve both made a fortune!”
Riggs (55) lost in three sets to King (29) and the former vaulted the net to congratulate the latter – his alleged “hated rival”. According to Riggs’ son, Billie Jean said, “Bobby, I want you to know that I love you, a lot.” And Riggs said, “Billie Jean, I love you, too. And we did something great together.”
I was in the stands with a college roommate on April 12, 1980 when this pitcher with an unprecedented 4-plus million-dollar contract (Nolan Ryan) got his Houston years started. We were sitting just in front of a pair of “mature” ladies who – as avid fans -expressed doubts the value of this guy. They also derided me for commenting that his batting average was listed as .000 – it was his first at-bat with the team, you see. Well, when Ryan hit a three-run homer, the Geritol Twins had to admit that Nolan might be worth it and Ryan’s average went to 1.000! I seem to remember that game went way into extra innings and Jim Clarke and I wound up moving down to the “good seats”.
After a long and varied career that saw Baseball, Football, Basketball (and Tennis), as well as Music, Daredevilry and Rodeo, the Harris County Domed Stadium (as it was originally named) has been “mothballed”. The place is in a weird “purgatory” state of existence. It will cost way too much to bring the structure up to modern building codes and to tear it down would also be quite expensive. So, it just sits there – a melancholy memory of Auld Lang Syne.
8/04/2020 The red Ford Explorer is back in service and driving near 200 miles per day. It had been 150 miles, but now we are struggling to make up for the time and expense involved with the previously discussed Imbecilic Designof the Ford engine that cost so dearly. Below are some points of interest around the city, captured in the last few weeks.
Art Car Museum
I pass a lot of places that stand out as quite unique. This one is the Art Car Museum at 140 Heights Boulevard (77007).
Signs of the Apoplexy
Public notices and labels or roads and structures can be quite mysterious and or/or amusing:
7/31/2020 Comet 2020 F3 is now receding back into the distant reaches of the Solar System. As yet, however, it is still closer to the Earth than the Sun and closer to the Sun than the Earth is. This should make one appreciate just how rare and fleeting is the opportunity to see these events with “Eyes Only”.
In point of fact, I – your humble narrator – did not actually see this comet without the use of binoculars. And even then, it was only a fleeting glimpse – out of the corner of my watering eye (1).
“Above the planet on a wing and a prayer My grubby halo, a vapour trail in the empty air Across the clouds I see my shadow fly Out of the corner of my watering eye A dream unthreatened by the morning light Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night”
That was on July 24th when a rare cloudless Northern sky presented itself and I was awake at the proper time. I attempted to show this to all the immediate family. For the record, it is painfully difficult to describe how to point the binoculars to another person, despite placing the student in the recently vacated footprints of the Astronomy Nerd and the use of tree branches as reference points. And even when it works, the family member is underwhelmed by the dim little streak that is seen.
In figure 2, below is seen the orbital configuration of the comet as of July 31st. The comet – known by the mundane press as ”NEOWISE” (which is the name of the space probe that discovered the comet, modified by its extended mission prefix) is actually named only “C/2020 F3”
A Norwedian collegue and reader was also able to spot the comet – despite being so far North that he had to wait until a half-hour before Midnight for the sky to be dark enough. As he pointed out, that left him with about one hour of observation time until the sky woould be brightening again.
Spotted it now with a Nikon 10-22×50
Still hard, but knowing where to look is key.
I have searched for a definition of “Wola” and can only come up with a Polish district:
Comet 2020 F3 is creeping up in the post-sunset sky. On July 14, I may have seen it dimly through the distant haze – in moments when the nearer and opaque clouds drifted out from in front. In those 20 seconds, I saw what could be the nucleus of the comet through a pair of binoculars. Any hint of a tail was not to be seen. But, the sky map doesn’t show anything else in that part of the sky that would be bright enough to show through the haze.
I don’t call out family or friends for these desperate attempts at observation. Mostly because – when asked to point out this astronomical wonder – I am forced to say,
“See that cloud over there?”
“Yes, I see it.”
“The comet is behind that cloud.”
“How do you know?”
“Because that’s where the sky map says it should be.”
“I mean, how do you know for sure?”
That’s why astronomers have been considered lunatics – for centuries. You may think I’m joking, so look up a Danish fellow named Tycho Brahe. (Teak – oh Bra-hay)
Figure 2: Sky map as found at the July 14 link on the previous update.
On the next day, July 15, the forecast was for clear skies after sunset, but I made the Rookie Mistake of not setting an alarm and slept through the opportunity. Astronomers have to set their schedule by when the observation presents itself.
As Shakespeare wrote, “It is the stars, the stars above us, govern our condition.”
Shakespeare also wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”.
So, I have no excuse for not setting the alarm.
July 16-19, 2020 9:00 PM See that cloud? The comet is behind it.
In a message from my long-time reader and cousin:
My friend is in OK right now. I gave her all the info last week. I just got this message:
“WE SAW NEOWISE!!!!!
It was so awesome!! I was so excited like a kid walking into Disney World!! It took us awhile to see it but it has to be very dark and we were out in the country.. The tail was very clear and all the stars around it just highlighted the beauty…”
I am happy to hear that someone has seen this comet. It is starting to dim now as it recedes from the Sun. It has yet to make its closest approach to the Earth, but any brightening by proximity is more than canceled by a more distant Sun and a calming of gas and dust emissions due to less Solar heat and radiation.
On July 13, I had to drop a passenger at a Timewise (or some other sort of convenience store/gas station) and refund her partial fare. I couldn’t very well charge her $4.80 for abandoning her to call another Uber – while still 12 miles from her destination.
I had somehow managed to vaporize most of the coolant and the remaining liquid boiled out the reservoir when I opened it. I had to buy and pour in a $14 jug of overpriced coolant. NOBODY has water at a gas station anymore – even for money. Unless you count the drinking water they sell in bottles. As it turns out, I should have bought that, because later, I managed to boil off the coolant again and be left dry and overheated. The Culligan water bottles would have worked out be to less of a loss.
The problem is not the thermostat – as I had imagined – but the water pump. Water pumps are typically mounted where they can be driven with a belt. They are normally a half-hour (and under $100) job to replace. But this particular water pump is driven by the timing chain – not by a belt. And the timing chain is sealed inside the lubrication system. So, when the water pump begins to leak, it spills coolant directly into the engine oil. That can quickly destroy an engine if not corrected.
You may also notice that to get this image, the author had to photograph an engine that has been removed from the automobile. I am told that it is possible to change the water pump without removing the engine – but that it might be easier to yank that sucker out! In either case, it is expensive – very expensive.
You might ask yourself (as I did) “What were they thinking?”
And see, now? You have – as I did – assumed that the jackass Ford engineers – who thought this up – were actually thinking.
This is an egregious imbecility that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to the vehicle owners. Ford was being sued in a class-action that is currently dismissed.
A quote from carcomplaints.com
February 15, 2020
— A Ford Duratec lawsuit has been dismissed, but the plaintiffs may have another shot to prove their allegations in court.
According to the Duratec engine lawsuit, millions of 2007-present Ford vehicles are equipped with the allegedly defective water pumps that cause engine damage.
The Duratec engines allegedly fail because coolant mixes with engine oil once the coolant leaks from the water pumps. The plaintiffs claim the engines may fail without drivers having any warning of the impending doom.
Judge Laurie J. Michelson says she still finds the plaintiffs haven’t shown she made a mistake by dismissing the lawsuit, but the judge says she will reconsider her decision to dismiss the case with prejudice. Once all parties have presented their arguments, the judge will decide if the plaintiffs can file a second amended lawsuit.
So, an expensive team of lawyers might be able to try again and see if they can come up with something the judge might like better. You gonna pay for that? Nope. Me, neither,
Please notice that they have been building engines this way since 2007. If you have ever in your life worked on a car engine, you know this is an irrational thing to do to an engine design and the fact that this happened in the first place is grievously irresponsible. The fact that – once discovered – it was not corrected is unacceptable.
The result is that the Explorer that I depend on for my livelihood seven days a week is now sidelined for at least three days – probably more. And the cost of replacing a water pump has gone from two figures to four. Tack on the lost Uber fairs and the cost will exceed a month’s revenue from the Ride-Sharing Business of which I am now the proprietor. Revenue – not profit. To clear enough profit to cover this setback will take so long that I prefer to drop the subject right now, rather than calculate same.
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.
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:
Comet 2020 F3 is now “eyes only” visible in the morning sky, low in the East, just before sunrise. I have not been able to see it because of persistent clouds in the Houston area. But, other, more fortunate readers may want to check Spaceweather.com for photosand finder charts. Clear Skys and Good Viewing! – Steve
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.
There is far more to be seen, but a ride came in shortly after I snapped a few photos.
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.