Readers’ wildlife photos

June 2, 2020 • 7:45 am

We have two contributors today. First, Art Williams sent some photos and videos, which include a fawn. Remember, if you see a fawn by itself, especially a very young one, leave it alone, as it’s almost certain that it was been left to shelter place while Mom went off foraging. Only call for help if it stays in place and mom doesn’t return for a day or so. Art’s captions are indented.

Here are some photos and a video of the suburban wildlife around Loveland, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. The raptor is a juvenile red-tailed hawk, I think. He or she and mate have been very active, screeching their presence every morning, likely having a brood somewhere close by.

My wife noticed the fawn sunning itself in the yard and couldn’t have been more than a few hours old. Its mom had left to forage and he instinctively knew to head for the dappled shadowy cover of a nearby Hemlock tree. The link to the video shows just how wobbly the little guy is. It’s a little shaky and narrated by my over-concerned wife who fears the baby has been left by its mom. After several hours we were worried that it actually had been abandoned, but Mom came back eventually and the two scampered off into the woods.

JAC: Fawns are so beautiful! They’re the ducklings of mammals.

Art also sent a video he made:

And an astronomy photo by Tim Anderson in Australia:

This image shows NGC4956, a large barred spiral galaxy in the Centaurus constellation. It also shows a number of other, more distant galaxies dotted around the field of view. The galaxy was first observed by James Dunlap from Parramatta in NSW during 1826.

Star “outburst”

April 26, 2020 • 1:15 pm

I originally gave this timelapse series the title “star explosion,” but in fact it’s not clear what the deuce is going on here. What is clear is that it’s something spectacular.  The YouTube notes describe what we’re seeing and how the montage was made:

The unusual variable star V838 Monocerotis (V838 Mon) continues to puzzle astronomers. This previously inconspicuous star underwent an outburst early in 2002, during which it temporarily increased in brightness to become 600,000 times more luminous than our Sun. Light from this sudden eruption is illuminating the interstellar dust surrounding the star, producing the most spectacular “light echo” in the history of astronomy.

As light from the eruption propagates outward into the dust, it is scattered by the dust and travels to the Earth. The scattered light has travelled an extra distance in comparison to light that reaches Earth directly from the stellar outburst. Such a light echo is the optical analogue of the sound echo produced when an Alpine yodel is reflected from the surrounding mountainsides.

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been observing the V838 Mon light echo since 2002. Each new observation of the light echo reveals a new and unique “thin-section” through the interstellar dust around the star. This video morphs images of the light echo from the Hubble taken at multiple times between 2002 and 2006. The numerous whorls and eddies in the interstellar dust are particularly noticeable. Possibly they have been produced by the effects of magnetic fields in the space between the stars.

Anyway, the “event”, covering four years compressed into 49 seconds, is something to see:

But what is it?  Gizmodo gives several possibilities, which also appear in Wikipedia, but Gizmodo leaves out #6: a “common envelope event.

  • An atypical nova outbursts (this is very unlikely.)
  • A thermal pulse of a dying star (the new pulse illuminates the layers of star material previously ejected its previous outbursts.)
  • A thermonuclear event within a massive supergiant (in which the helium in one of the layers of the massive star ignites and starts a fusion process.)
  • A mergeburst (the burst caused by the merge of two main sequence stars.)
  • A planetary capture event (in which the star has swallowed one of its giant gas planets.)

If the last possibility is true, this star got the worst case of gas in the Universe, belching big time.  Actually, I have no idea what’s going on here, and even speculating is way about my pay grade. Readers with some astronomical/cosmological knowledge may wish to speculate.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 25, 2020 • 8:00 am

Actually, we have two disparate topics today: owls and astronomy. Is there a connection? You tell me.

The owls come from reader Gregoray, who lives in Austin, Texas. He has three young Eastern screech owls (Megascops asio) in his yard that fledged in the last week. His notes (sent on April 21):

We have had screech owls in our back yard for the past 5 years and they have bred and produced babies. We have 3 this year. Attached are some photos. We watched one fledge last night and 2 others this evening. Lat night one flew into our chicken coop and spent the night there.


And Tim Anderson in Australia has graced us with several astronomy photos. His notes, too, are indented:

Another clear night for a change, so here is Messier 104, the”Sombrero Galaxy”: an enormous lenticular galaxy noted for the prominent dust lane across its disk. This galaxy is a stretch target in the International Mexican Hat Dance Olympiad.

The Sombrero was first observed by Pierre Mechain in 1781 and later included by Charles Messier as object number 104 in his catalogue. This image was made from a stack of eighty 3-minute exposures using a 100mm refractor.

This is a group of galaxies lying in the Virgo Cluster. The group, “Markarian’s Chain,” is named for Benjamin Markarian, an Armenian astrophysicist, who discovered that the galaxies had a common motion. The image was formed from forty five-minute exposures using a colour camera and a 100mm refracting telescope

NGC4038 and 4039—the “Antennae Galaxies.” This is a pair of interacting galaxies – the two streamers are stars, gas and dust ejected from the galaxies when they passed through each other some 600 million years ago. Five supernovae have been discovered in NGC4038. This type of interaction will be the fate of the Milky Way when it encounters the Andromeda Galaxy.

The image was compiled from seventy 240-second exposures taken with a 100mm refracting telexcope and a colour camera.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 18, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have a mélange of photos from several contributors. Their own words are indented (and please send me good photos):

First, from reader David Fuqua, something we need: the bluebird of happiness.

Being housebound this spring has given me a chance to observe the Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) nesting. The mother and father are both very busy right now feeding the babies. They have been at it for about a week, and the chicks should be leaving the nesting box in a couple of weeks.

A sleepy possum in Brisbane, sent by reader Peter:

I thought you might enjoy this close up photo of a common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula, from the Greek for “furry tailed” and the Latin for “little fox”, previously in the genus Phalangista) who sometimes sleeps on our front deck. I think he is old for a possum as he doesn’t seem to care much when you get up close to take a photo. He is probably also half asleep when I took this photo on my phone, from about one foot away from him or her. Possums are both cute and annoying in that they can destroy your trees and garden but then they can also be adorable.

Some photos of an Honorary Cat from Garry VanGelderen in Ontario:

I went for a short walk yesterday afternoon [April 17]. Coming back, this red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was lying next to the driveway right in front of the house, taking a rest and grooming itself. It let me walk by without moving. So I took some pictures, then fed it some food scraps. My photos took about 10 minutes to snap [JAC: there were several more; I chose two]. It is the same fox that snatched a squirrel off my deck a few days ago.

And two astronomy photos from reader Tim Anderson in Australia:

Centaurus A is one of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way and is a very bright emitter in Xrays and radio frequencies, The black hole at the galaxy’s core sends out two jets of material that travel at half the speed of light and are thousands of light-years long. Cent A was discovered in 1826 by James Dunlop from his home in Parramatta NSW.
The image is a compilation of 180 60-second exposures from a 100mm refractor and an astronomical camera.

Messier 83 was first observed by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille from the Cape of Good Hope in 1781. It is a face-on barred spiral galaxy not unlike the Milky Way. Every object in the galaxy does a 200-million-year orbit around the galactic core. In our case, we have done twenty such orbits since the Solar System formed.


Readers’ wildlife photos

April 14, 2020 • 8:00 am

Bring out your photos! There’s always a need for more.

Today we have two contributors from different continents. First, Liz Strahle from the U.S. shows us some bird photos (all captions by readers are indented):

Attached are some wildlife photographs I took in the last month or so. These are all in New Jersey. I have seen a common merganser or two before. After some of the streets became quiet in the middle of March, I saw more common mergansers than I had ever seen before on a lake nearby. It was an incredible sight for me. It looks like there are 29 in the second to last photograph.

Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus):

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia):

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis):

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous):

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus):

Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser):

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura):

And we have an astronomy photo from Tim Anderson, who lives in Australia:

NGC3766 is an open star cluster deep in the southern skies (it isn’t visible at all until you are further south than 29 degrees North latitude). The cluster was discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751. It is a relatively young, with an age estimated at 14.4 million years, and is approaching the solar system at 14.8 kilometres per second. But since it’s 1745 parsecs away, we have more important things to worry about.

The image comprises 120 subframes taken using:

Skywatcher EQ8 mount
ASI071MC Pro camera
100mm Skywatcher Esprit refractor
Processed with Nebulosity and Photoshop

Hires version here. 

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 1, 2020 • 8:00 am

Remember, landscapes and astronomical bodies count as “wildlife” here. Please send in your good photos.

Today we have both birds and the cosmos. First, some birds from reader Garry VanGelderen, sent on March 5. All IDs and notes are indented. I’d call this “Five Ways of Looking At a Blue Jay”:

Since about a week or so ago I have a new camera, a bit of an upgrade of the one before. I also have now a resident Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) and I have some reasonably good pictures:

The first one was taken early in the morning when it was -20°C and the bird was sitting in my feeder all puffed up to stay warm.

The next few pictures were taken today… a sunny day with the temperature hovering around +3°C (by the way perfect weather for the maple sap harvest which has now started in my area):

And the cosmos from Tim Anderson in Australia:

Attached is an image of a globular star cluster, NGC3201, which is located in the Vela constellation close to the Southern Cross. The cluster has a radial velocity of 490 kilometres per second, which is unusually large, but not high enough to escape the gravitational attraction of the Milky Way.

The image was made by combining 120 separate photos taken with a 100mm refracting telescope and a monochrome camera fitted with a set of LRGB filters.

No viruses were harmed in the creation of this astrophotograph.

New telescope visualizes roiling cells of plasma at the Sun’s surface

February 5, 2020 • 1:30 pm

Reader Mark called my attention to these new videos from the Daniel K. Inouye solar telescope, a four-meter scope near the summit of Haleakala, Maui, in Hawai‘i (you can read about it at the National Science Foundation’s site here). It’s taken some stunning pictures of the Sun’s surface, including giant roiling cells of plasma shown in the “video” below, which appears to be time-lapse photography, but is no less impressive because of that. The NSF site notes this:

The first images from NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope show a close-up view of the Sun’s surface, which can provide important detail for scientists. The images show a pattern of turbulent “boiling” plasma that covers the entire Sun. The cell-like structures — each about the size of Texas — are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the Sun to its surface. That hot solar plasma rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection. (See video available with this news release.)

And the video, by SciNews, adds this:

The first movie covers an area of 36,500 x 36,500 km (22,600 x 22,600 miles, 51 x 51 arcseconds), while the second one covers an area of 19,000 x 10,700 km (11,800 x 6,700 miles or 27 x 15 arcseconds).

The diameter of the Earth is about 18,000 km, so the first “video” covers a square area that’s about two Earth diameters on each side. The Sun, in contrast, has a diameter of about 1,400,000 km—about 38 times larger than one side of this video.

History’s most amazing photo?

January 22, 2020 • 10:00 am

I almost never visit the My Modern Met site, but it must be good, as I often get suggestions from readers about articles there. I think I found this one on my own, but probably through Facebook. It’s the story of how an enterprising young photographer, Jon Carmichael, took a spectacular photo of a solar eclipse. Click on the screenshot to see the story.

The date was August 21, 2017, and you may remember that there was a total eclipse that day visible in much of the U.S. (I saw part of it, though it was overcast in Chicago). Carmichael decided to try to photograph the eclipse from in the air—on a commercial flight.

He chose a Southwest flight from Portland, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri, which would put him in the path of the eclipse when he was in the air. But he neglected to buy the early boarding option, which was only $15, so he wasn’t sure that, given Southwest’s seating policy, he’d get a window seat on the proper side of the plane to take his picture. The site above gives the rest of the story, which features Southwest’s trademark hospitality:

When he explained his mission to the Southwest flight crew, not only did they ensure he’d get a great seat, but the captain actually went outside the plane to clean the window for a crystal clear shot. During the flight itself, the pilots circled a few times to provide all passengers with a spectacular view.

When it came time for the moment of totality, Carmichael was ready. He shot over 1,200 photos in two minutes and managed to perfectly capture the total eclipse over Snake River. It’s an image that Inc.calls “history’s most amazing photo.” A 10-foot laser-crystal c-print of 108 now hangs in Twitter’s New York offices.

The photo below, the one under discussion, is apparently a mosaic of his images that took a year to create. You can buy a print on Carmichael’s website. It truly is a stunning photo, though it’s not really one picture but a montage.

Here’s a video of the episode made by Southwest Airlines, which even shows the pilot cleaning the window.

Carmichael and the pilots:

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 13, 2019 • 7:45 am

Don’t forget to send in your wildlife photos!

Today we have a mixture of wildlife and astronomy photos. The wildlife comes from Lynne Leblanc, and her notes are indented:

I’ve attached photos of my backyard wildlife near Ottawa Ontario, Canada.  Nothing too special, however, beautiful non the less.  I’m unsure if the quality will meet the minimum requirements.
The red fox: (Vulpes vulpes)  (V. vulpes species).  It’s silly to admit that I enjoy saying Vulpes vulpes!
Goldenrod Crab Spider: (Misumena vatia):
Cross Orb-weaver: (Araneus diadematus) Trivia: The cross orb-weaver spider (called the garden spider in Europe) was venerated in the Middle Ages due to the dotted cross on its back.

And an astronomy photo from Tim Anderson:

This image shows NGC300 – a spiral galaxy in the Sculptor constellation. It is approximately seven million light-years away and is slightly smaller than the Milky Way. It is regarded as “nearby” in cosmological terms. The image is a composite of one hundred three-minute exposures taken over two nights with a 100mm refracting telescope and an astronomical camera.

And for grins, here’s a photo I found in my files; it’s an abstract taken of Multnomah Falls in Oregon, which I visited in April of 2016:


Readers’ wildlife photos

September 24, 2019 • 7:45 am

Once again I importune you to send in your wildlife photos, as I’m running a bit low and may ultimately have to suspend this feature.  Thanks!

We have some diverse photos today. The first is from Gary Womble, who had an encounter of the Sandhill Crane kind:

These two dinosaurs (Antigone canadensis) walked right up to us at Tom Bennett Park in Bradenton, FL

From David Fuqua:

I recently encountered this rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) along the Arkansas River in Colorado.
 From David Fuqua:
American Bison (Bison bison) and Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). According to Wikipedia, the pronghorn is not an antelope and its closest relative is the giraffe.

From Ed Suominen (in northeast Washington state), whose website is here:

I took the Milky Way photo the night before last [on Sept. 6] using a Lumix pocket camera with a Leica lens, one of the better ones you can find that will actually fit in a pocket. I put a couch pillow on my driveway, propped the camera on it just so, and set the timer to open the shutter after 2 seconds for a 20-second exposure. The f/1.4 aperture pulls in a lot of light during that time.

I did a little bit of post-processing with Adobe Lightroom to maximize the contrast between light and dark parts of the sky, added just a modest increase in color saturation with a reduction of green and yellow luminance to reduce the effect of light pollution from Spokane, which is some fifty miles away behind a mountain but whose lights still keep my area from having what astronomers would consider a truly dark sky.

Here is a link to the full-resolution image from my website. Please feel free to download and use to your heart’s content:

JAC: Wouldn’t the high-res image make a nice backdrop photo for your computer? But if you post it, be sure to give proper credit to Ed.