Sonoran Desert Sunset

Sonoran Desert Sunset

03 June 2016

OUR GARDEN PLANET - THE NEIGHBORHOOD

(NOTE:  this is a longer than usual post, with more than the usual number of illustrations.  Click on any image to enlarge it)

Imagine that you are suspended at a point in space, well protected from cosmic radiation, camera at hand.

93,000,000 miles behind you, the furnace that is our Solar System's Sun burns.  And burns.  Its surface temperature is about 10,000 degrees F (5500 degrees C).  At its core, 27,000,000 degrees F (15,000,000 degrees C).  Note: the three prevalent temperature scales used commonly in science ~ 


  • Farenheit (defined by two fixed points - the temperature at which water freezes into ice is defined as 32 dF (degrees Farenheit), and the boiling point of water is defined as 212 dF, with a 180-degree separation, as measured at sea level and at normal atmospheric pressure.
  • Celsius (once called Centigrade - commonly defined by two fixed points, with 0 dC (degrees Celcius) being the freezing point of water and 100 dC being the boiling point of water.  The 100-degree separation, being more easily, infinitely divisible by 10 than is the Farenheit 180 degree separation, makes the Celsius scale an measure of temperature in the Metric System with its standard set of interrelated base units and a standard set of prefixes in powers of ten.  
    • The Metric System is the official system of measurement in almost every country in the world.  The United States, Libya and Myanmar remain the only natons which cling to antiquated systems of measurement such as the Imperial system.
  • Kelvin  (defined as an absolute scale using as its null point being Absolute Zero, the temperature at which all thermal motion ceases in the classical description of thermodynamics.  One dK (degree Kelvin, or simply one Kelvin) is defined as the fraction 1/273.16 of the temperature of the triple point of water.  (The Triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases (solid, liquid, gas) coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium.  Note how closely water's Triple Point approximates its freezing point. The Kelvin is the primary unit of measurement of temperature in the physical sciences.
Confused?  Here's a comparison chart which should help your understanding of how the three scales relate to each other ~


In the visible light range of the electromagnetic spectrum (see below - click on any image to enlarge), the Sun emits about 3.4 billion lumens of light per square meter.  Each photon of light, traveling (how else?) at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), takes an average of about 8.3 minutes to reach tiny Earth in its distant orbit.



That still plenty of light for humans, with our Earth-evolved eyesight, to sense, and to make sense of the objects we see.

Speaking of objects, recall that you are suspended in space, the sun at your back.  Now imagine that before you, perhaps a million miles away, the Earth rotates about its axis (the velocity of rotation producing our familiar periods of day and night), and revolves in its orbit around the sun (one revolution defining our year).  Since you "stand" directly between Sun and Earth, the entire Earth surface facing toward you is illuminated for your viewing pleasure.

But wait.  What's this?  (See Image below, click to enlarge)  It looks a little like the 'Star Wars' Death Star.  In fact, it is our very only Luna, Earth's only moon.  And the size proportion between Moon and Earth is actually quite close to how both bodies compare in size to each other in real life.  No!  No?

Earth's diameter is about 7,917 miles.  The moon's diameter is about 2,159 miles.  Do the math ~ in diameter (not circumference, not volume, not mass) the moon has about 1/4 the diameter of the earth.



So why does the moon look so small in the night sky?  Easy ~ we don't see the Moon parked right next to the Earth.  The photo only appears that way because the camera was positioned on a satellite or space probe located much farther away from Earth than the Moon is in the image.  When you use a telephoto lens from such a distance, two objects which in reality are separated by a considerable distance (like the average of 238,900 miles separating Earth from our Moon's orbit (illustrated below), may appear to be much closer to each other.  




It is an illusion, a visual effect called foreshortening.  If you've ever photographed two objects (one large, one small) whose distance apart is a fraction of the distance between them and you, the image produced will depend upon the lens used ~ wide angle, normal, or telephoto.  With a telephoto lens the two objects may appear to be much closer to each other in size.  You've just witnessed foreshortening (see image below). 



Here's an example from Space ~ in the image, two of Saturn's moons, Epimetheus (left) and Janus (right), appear close because of foreshortening.  In reality, Janus is about 40,000 km farther from the observer than is Epimetheus. 



All the above is intended to provide the gentle reader with a different perspective from that presented in last Saturday's post.  That hypnotic image might leave one feeling humbled, insignificant, a mite in the starry immensity of cosmic space ~ a place where Earth's nearest neighboring star is our own Sun, 93 million miles away.  After that, it is a wee bit of a hike to the sun's nearest neighboring star, Alpha Centauri ~ actually a triple-star system, the stars bound together by gravity ~ 4.37 light years distant.  

Here is what the Alpha Centauri system looks like ~ and what our Sun looks like from AC ~



But I'm leaping ahead of myself.  Let's take a step back, and consider our Earth and our Solar System

  • the Outer Solar System containing the four giant outer planets (having a higher proportion of volatiles like water, ammonia and methane, and many more moons), and icy minor planets called Centaurs.
  • the Trans-Neptunian Region containing the Kuiper Belt (a great ring of icy debris, many dwarf planets like Pluto, some with multiple satellites and most having orbits which take them outside the plane of the ecliptic).
  • the Farthest Regions containing the Heliosphere (a Stellar Wind Bubble dominated by the Sun's gravity and stellar wind, acting in opposition to the the wind of the Interstellar Medium.  The outer boundary of the Heliosphere, the point at which the stellar wind terminates and is the beginning of interstellar space, is called the Heliopause.  Farther out are various detached objects and the Oort Cloud, a spherical cloud of up to a trillion icy objects and breeding ground for trans-solar-system comets.  The outer limit of the Oort cloud defines the cosmographical boundary of the Solar System.

So what does all this tell us about the size of the entire Solar System?  For starters, rather than measuring in miles or kilometers, which introduce many, many zeros into any distance figure, let's adopt a convenient encompassing unit of measure, the AU or Astronomical Unit.  One AU is simply the average distance from the Sun to the Earth (93,000,000 miles), a concept we can readily identify. (See below) 



  • Working outward, the distance from the Sun to the Asteroid Belt, the outer boundary of the Inner Solar System, is about 3.2 AU.
  • The distance from the Sun to Neptune, the outer boundary of the Outer Solar System, is about 30.1 AU.
  • The distance from the Sun to the Kuiper Belt extends from 30 to 50 AU.
  • The distance from the Sun to the heliopause, as reported by the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts, may range from 84 to 94 AU.
  • Finally, the distance from the Sun to the Oort Cloud ranges from 50,000 AU (cloud's inner limit) to 100,000 AU (cloud's outer limit). 

Here are several illustrations of scale.  The first simply compares the relative sizes of the sun and its planets.



The second portrays the sun and planets in order of orbit (this is what many of us were taught was the entire Solar System), with size proportional but not distance.


The third portrays the sun and planets in order of orbit, with distance proportional but size only approximately so.



And now we come full circle (as it were), to an image portraying the true entire solar system from Sun to Oort Cloud, and our nearest stellar neighbor Alpha Centauri included (with its distance massively foreshortened.  (remember foreshortening?)



Recall when I wrote that Alpha Centauri lies 4.37 light years away from our Sun?  Now we've transitioned from miles to AU to the light year (which is the distance which a photon of light traveling at 186,000 miles per second covers in one Earth year.  Doing the math, there are roughly 

  • 93,000,000 (93 million) miles in an AU,
  • and about 64,156 AU in a light year.
  • How many miles in a light year?  Oh, 6,000,000,000,000 or 6 trillion miles, give or take.

I know, the numbers become dizzying at times, don't they?  And just think, the incomprehensible distances we've described so far are only a drop in the ocean compared to the distances which measure the following:

  1.  our Milky Way Galaxy



2.  the Milky Way's local galactic group (a neighborhood made up of up to 54 entire galaxies) 



4.  and where our Milky way galaxy fits into the local galactic group)


5.  the Virgo Supercluster , a mass concentration of at least 100 local galaxies and clusters,



6.  the local group of galaxy superclusters (each "cloud" you see is not just a swarm of stars, but a swarm of galaxies!)


7.  and ultimately, the entire observable Universe, containing millions of galaxy superclusters - each image presents a progressive series of images, making it easier for the viewer to comprehend the progression of scales of size and stellar complexity.  The first is probably the easiest to grasp -



-  Finally, we would be remiss in not including the classic 1980's National Geographic universe map,, with each small-scale image projected into its position in the next-large scale image, from our Solar System up through the entire Universe -



My mind is spinning.  Or rotating.  Or revolving.  Or orbiting.  Or ... never mind.

So.  We started our journey with a simple, unassuming image of the Earth and Moon, and expanded our view ever-outward until we were seeing all that there is possible to see .... so far.  Imagery technology and advances in our understanding of the structure and physics of the Universe are constantly improving.  Who knows, someday soon you may be able to point your handheld camera set to super-zoom and get a clear shot of the license plate on hat unfamiliar maglev speeder that has been parked illegally, blocking the driveway to your summer home on Saturn's moon Titan.  Or simply check around for any nude sunbathers of the super-sized, submarine, tentacled, bioluminescent or hyper-intelligent variety.

Cheers,
Rys

28 May 2016

08 May 2016

TRAVELS WITH RYS

(click on image to enlarge)

Over the years I have lived in 9 U.S. states, and visited or traveled though 37 more.  This should be an easy test of your 5th grade geography classes.  Looking at the map, can you name the 4 states missing from my travel map?



This map does not include the foreign nations, commonwealths or far-flung U.S. possessions I've spent time in.  They include ~

  • Canada (Alberta)
  • Mexico (Sonora)
  • Guam
  • Philippine Islands
  • South Vietnam
  • Japan

So much of the world yet to discover.  So little time remaining.

15 April 2016

DAY FIVE ~ NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

(Click on any image to enlarge)

Today's post continues this past Monday's premise of introducing talented contemporary nature photographers through their work, in hopes of presenting the gentle reader with unexpected moments of beauty, and also in  hopes of expanding the awareness and support given by new viewers to our chosen artists.

After sweeping around the continent, we arrive at our last (but not final) locale ~ Tennessee.  It is here, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, that photographer Ken Jenkins grew up, and here that he began at an early age to develop his keen photographer's eye and sure command of both photographic technology and the elements of composing art.  

His work is marked by vivid color and light/dark contrasts, by both unfolding drama and quiet reflective moments, and by an appreciation for nature not only in his home region, but all across the country.  

Here's an example of striking drama ~ (click any image to enlarge) ~


Mountain Lion in mid-leap

And here's a haunting image for quiet reflection ~ one could only wish for the sounds of all that water ~

Numerous small mossy waterfalls suggest either
Spring runoff, or a very wet climate

Since I'm a sucker for wildlife, particularly for predators, here are two images in which Ken has somehow managed to capture both drama and reflection.  You'll find many more at Ken's website.  Enjoy.



Two Bobkittens eagerly waiting in their cottonwood bole 
den for Mama's return -- and with her, lunch !


Magnificent capture of
banking in flight

Cheers,
Rys

DAY FOUR ~ NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

(Click on any image to enlarge)

Orca in fluid movement

Today's post continues this past Monday's premise of introducing talented contemporary nature photographers through their work, in hopes of presenting the gentle reader with unexpected moments of beauty, and also in hopes of expanding the awareness and support given by new viewers to our chosen artists.

So far we've been state-hopping, from Arizona to Montana to South Carolina.  Now we take a giant step in more than one sense, wa-a-a-a-ay northwest to Alaska, which is so big that if we were to cut it in half, Texas would be forced from second-largest to third-largest state.

Alaska is also the birthplace and current home of John Hyde, whose stunning images of the natural world have been published globally.  When asked by 'American Forests' magazine what his preferred natural subjects are, John explained, "I tend to be more attracted to large predators and raw, aggressive landscapes.  But I find quiet beauty and tranquility irresistible as well.  The subject itself isn't as important to me as the sense of time and place portrayed in the image."


Bald Eagle cruising the Tongass

John finds abundant prospects for his photo captures in and around the Tongass Natonal Forest, an old-growth temperate rainforest community which resides on mainland, peninsula and on islands along the Alaska panhandle portion of the Inside Passage.  And yes, befitting the forest's location in the nation's largest state, the Tongass' 17,000,000 acres make it the largest national forest in the U.S.  It is also John's home.  

But enough narration.  Let John Hyde's striking images speak for themselves ~


Fireweed fronting Alaska's Mendenhall Glacier

I'd like to end with an iconic predator, one which sparks controversy in the lower 48 state (referred to by Alaskans as 'Outside'), but one which enjoys much more latitude (and longitude) in the far, far Pacific Northwest ~


Gray Wolf pack

Cheers,
Rys

13 April 2016

DAY THREE - NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

(Click on any image to enlarge)

The Carolina Low Country

Today's post carries on this past Monday's premise of introducing talented contemporary nature photographers through work, in hopes of presenting the gentle reader with unexpected moments of beauty, and also in hopes of expanding the awareness and support given by new viewers to our chosen artists.


Prepare for a radical geographic shift ~ we move from southern Arizona and western Montana to South Carolina's Low Country.  I love this part of the American South.  (In August 1989 my then-partner and I moved from Tucson to Charleston.  A month later Hurricane Hugo adjusted its trajectory to make landfall with the eye wall precisely centered on our suburb of Mount Pleasant. Imagine having to evacuate the city for three days by governor's decree, taking only what you could cram into two cars, not knowing what awful destruction or loss would await your return.  We were lucky ~ our house was spared, with the exception of a very tall, very old oak which fell across one corner of the roof.  Many others were not so fortunate.  And the surrounding Francis Marion National Forest was least fortunate of all.  Much of the forest looked like the trees after a nuclear explosion ~ all snapped off three feet above the ground, with the fallen trunks all pointing in the same direction, having no alternative in the face of peak sustained winds of 160 mph.  Wildlife and habitat were swept from existence, or scattered in disarray.  My year's work with the USFS doing habitat restoration for the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker had begun.  But that's a tale for another time.)

Today the Low Country is largely recovered, and its human and native plant and animal species have revived.  Evidence of this can be found in the work of expert nature photographer Eric Horan.  I first discovered him during a simple Google search, and later discovered his Facebook page.  This is one of those rare artists who somehow (pixie dust?  a deal with the devil?  too darn much talent for one individual?) captures the essence of his subjects, in stunning clarity and detail.  Witness ~




So much so that I had a hard time choosing only three images to showcase his work.  I hope my choices will encourage-jolt-invite the viewer to explore more at his website.

p.s. ~ I cannot resist adding an exquisite image taken in my native Montana ~ a propos, perhaps, since Eric himself grew up in Colorado.  Check out the eyes!


Montana Bighorn Sheep - adult ram

Cheers,
Rys

12 April 2016

DAY TWO ~ NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

(Click on any image to enlarge)



Old homestead along the Rocky Mountain Front

Today's post continues yesterday's premise of introducing talented contemporary nature photographers through their work, in hopes of presenting the gentle reader with unexpected moments of beauty, and also in hopes of expanding the awareness and support given by the new viewers of chosen artists.

This morning we shift from southern Arizona to western Montana.  I've been following Mark Mesenko on Facebook for several years ~ he and his friend and fellow outdoors photographer Patrick Clark formed a collaboration under the name (talk about coincidence) 'Western Montana'.  There, in addition to posting copywritten photos under their individual names, they joined forces to enhance their followers' awareness of the stunningly rugged and sometimes unforgiving beauty they've discovered in their travels through the region.

Mark is a master at capturing sweeping (yet detailed) landscapes and skyscapes.  His images often tell a more complete and intriguing story by what they imply, than many photographers can achieve by what they explicitly show.  This, to me, is the heart of great and compelling art ~ understanding what is happening in a scene, choosing the right moment, being so familiar with one's gear that adjusting it requires little if any attention, freeing the imagination to notice, to wait, to compose, and to capture excellence.

One frequent feature of Mark's landscapes is the inclusion of human structures ~ an old railroad bridge traversing a mountain stream ~ a weatherworn, abandoned church standing silent vigil, braced against the ubiquitous prairie wind ~ a  solitary homestead (even just a corral long out of use) nestled sited optimistically in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains' Front Range (east-facing edge), at that magical confluence of mountains and prairie and boundless sky (see image above).

Why human structures in nature photographs?  Perhaps because (a) we are undeniably a part of the natural world, in addition to being its biggest threat;  (b) the activities of ranchers, trappers, miners, farmers, lumberjacks, railroads, hunters, recreational hikers, all leave something behind which nature's creatures (more often than not) either reclaim for their own uses ~ such as string woven into a bird's nest or a mine shaft converted into a roosting spot for bats ~ or else discard to rust, rot, and eventually to become one with the habitat again;  and/or (c) our own history on the land deserves to be preserved, remembered for both its courage and its hard lessons from choices poorly made.

In addition, those human structures tell their own story of the lives of humans interwoven into the fabric of life in nature.  They provide a visual and a temporal reference point for our imaginations as we regard the natural world, for both comparison and contrast.

But don't be misled into thinking that all Marks photos include human artifacts.  His wildlife and mountain-prairie-sky moments can be breathtaking, and the best ones suggest a story.  Two of my favorites appears below.  


Male Trumpeter Swan on a moonlit swim


Western Meadowlark scolding the weather gods
for not realizing it is already Spring


You can find more of Mark's outstanding work here.
Cheers,
Rys



11 April 2016

DAY ONE - NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

(Click on any image to enlarge)

Early this morning on Facebook I discovered that a friend had nominated me to post  seven images of nature/landscapes over the next seven days.  I gathered that in addition I was invited to nominate a new friend with the task each day.  Unlike chain letters and similar schemes, this project posed no loss or risk, and guaranteed that someone's life would be brightened if I pitched in.

So I did, but with my own twist.  In addition to nominating a new FB friend each day, rather than participate as a competitor by posting photos I've taken myself (most of which are buried in storage), I decided to post images by contemporary nature photographers, including a photo credit.  Each image will be of a place or a creature with which I'm very familiar.  Thus I hope to expand everyone's awareness of these significant visual artists, creating a spreading-ripple effect which enriches us all.

My first image is by Rene Clark, whose Dancing Snake Nature Photography gallery is brimming with photos from southern Arizona.  This is a fellow I sorely miss.  When one says the word 'desert', most folks think of barren landscapes.  Not so.  The Sonoran Desert is its own Garden of Eden ~ you just have to understand the conditions which limit or encourage survival.

Take an early morning desert walk, away from people.  As the rising sun tops the horizon, several dozen bird species will begin tuning up to greet the day, proclaim their territory, attract a mate, or (anthropomorphizing like crazy here) join in the dawn symphony.  Among them may be this handsome lad, one which very few non-desert humans will ever see ~ a male Phainopepla who is most unusual among desert birds for his striking jet-black plumage and blood-red eye.  Though he may look like a Goth variant on a Cardinal, he's actually a northern outlier of the Central American flycatcher family Ptiliogonatidae, the silky flycatchers.

(Photo credit ~ male Phainopepla, by Rene Clark)

Enjoy, and stand by tomorrow, same time, over most of this same station .... 


(Phainopepla range map)



Two more by Rene ~ 




Northern Crested Caracara, a magnificent bird
caught in the undignified  position of biting off
more than he could swallow !

Cheers,
Rys

10 April 2016

IMAGINE



In 1969, after serving in the US Army in Vietnam, I returned home to MT for a few months, then moved down to Tucson, AZ.  After finding an apartment and a job, I knew it was time to follow a dream I'd long held ~ to own a motorcycle.  And not just any bike would do.

By pure chance, one day I was at a car wash and in the bay next to mine, a young man was carefully cleaning a motorcyce that caught my eye.  I struck up a conversation, and learned that he was actually looking for a buyer (ironically, in anticipation of being drafted).  He invited me to follow him to his place, to show me the magazine write-ups that had been done on his bike ~ a 1963 Triumph Bonneville 650, a classic street bike with a reputation for quick response to the throttle, safe cornering and easy manners.  Of course, its livery was British racing green.  I was hooked.

The next day I cashed all but one of the 25 US Savings Bonds my parents had set aside for me ever since I was an infant ~ just enough to pay the $600 asking price.  I was as green as a biker could be, but I sensed that this was a steal, and didn't haggle.  When I settled into the seat of my new 450 lb. ride, I felt its heft and bulk and knew I'd better take slow side streets home until I had the feel of its weight, its rhythms.  Where was the sweet spot where you're gradually twisting the throttle from idle into higher RPMs, and simultaneously easing off the clutch handle to engage the gears without grinding them?  How much was too little brake pressure, or too much?  How do I keep this much mass balanced on two wheels without falling over at a stop light?

Turned out I was a ready learner, and my Triumph a forgiving teacher.  So long as I kept within my own limitations, the ride was sweet and steady, conversing in an understated rumble at an easy lope.  That voice deepened and sent resonating vibrations into the bones of anyone near when we accelerated.  Still understated, but powerful.

I didn't learn until years later just how lucky I'd been to buy my '63 quickly.  There weren't that many made, and they were coveted by pro racers and amateur enthusiasts alike.  In fact, my bike's mirror twin sister, right down to the color, was a member of actor Steve  McQueen's motorcycle collection, and his favorite.  His was tricked out for desert racing.  If you've ever seen the famous motorcycle chase scene from the movie 'The Great Escape', you've seen McQueen's '63 Triumph ~ repainted and modified to resemble a WWII German military motorcycle.  Pretty cool.

Well, in time other bikes passed into and out of my life ~ a '71 Triumph Bonneville 650 (gold and black, bigger and bulkier, without the '63's clean lines, somehow it was never the same experience), and an '82 Honda Silver Wing Interstate (back when the Silver Wings were true motorcycles, not just souped-up Vespas.  '82 was the last year that SW came with 500 cc engines.  Mine was full-dress ~ fairing, windshield, hard-shell saddle bags, and a hard-shell trunk that was interchangeable with a rear passenger seat ~ with its own version of zip and a pleasure to ride at higher speeds or in the rain, since that full windshield kept me shielded nicely).

Alas, two successive traffic accidents (1985 and 1990), both on the Silver Wing and both featuring little old ladies in big old sedans failing to yield my right-of-way and crossing into my oncoming path, finally laid the Wing to permanent rest.  My then-partner said I had a choice:  motorcycles or her.  She could not bear to receive another phone call from an ER, and I don't blame her.

That was then.  Now it's been twelve years since we parted ways.  Now Spring is finally making its tentative way into the valleys and mountain slopes of western Montana.  And now I'm once again in lust with a particular motorcycle.

You'll see it in the image above ~ the 2016 Triumph Bonneville T120.  The designers sought to blend modern technology (ABS, ride by wire, traction control in turns, digital instrument readouts) with the clean, simple look of street bikes like my old '63 (no flash, no angular ninja lines, digital readouts discreetly hidden beneath two simple round analog gauges and available at the touch of a switch, even the rear view mirrors are round, stabilized atop metal stalks mounted to the handlebars).  Those design engineers succeeded in stellar fashion.

I came across the 2016 Bonnevllle in a 'Rider' magazine preview, and could not resist visiting the local Triumph dealership to see if their rave review is true.  It is.  The sales rep rolled out their only black T120 in stock, and I was stunned, in love at first sight.  This bike has nearly the same dimensions as my '63, but is more muscular without sacrificing its lean, loping image.  

If my health allowed me to ride on two wheels safely, I would face a number of contrasts between the '63 and the '16.  Such as ~ price, $650 and $11,500.  Engine, 650 cc and 1200 cc.  Cooling, air and liquid.  Transmission, 5-speed and 6-speed.  Weight, 450 lb. and 495 lb. (an astonishing accomplishment, keeping the newer model's weight so low).  Gas mileage, 40 mpg and 56 mpg.  Brakes, disk and ABS.  Et alia.

I.    Want.    One.

The reality of now being 69 years old, with Parkinson's Disease and two herniated lumbar disks along with a list of lesser afflictions, intrudes itself.  Not to mention financial reality.  I love I want, I realistically cannot have.  For now.

All my life I've been intellectually curious, physically adventurous, a dreamer of dreams.  And everyone, everyone needs a dream.


p.s. ~  Below you will find images of my former motorcycles, or their clones.  In order of both manufacture and ownership, they are:


1963 Triumph Bonneville - 650 cc -  street/sport



1971 Triumph Bonneville - 650 cc - street/sport



1982 Honda Silver Wing Interstate - 500 cc - street/touring



Some dreams fade.  Some remain ever alive.  Here's to your dreams, and mine.