Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Predicted Light Curve for Comet 46P/Wirtanen; Poor to fair weather limits night observing; Reading sort of history of quantum mechanics, "What is Real";Maybe just shut up and calculate and have a martini! Resident Astronomers celebrate thirty year anniversory

Greetings from Palmia Observatory

Well, we are still trying to fit in some observing of comet 46P and also report on coping with spooky action at a distance.  But first, we
should return to the calendar to remind everyone of the 2nd installment of the breakthroughs in science 2017 Friday lecture at OLLI and also the upcoming OCA general meeting on the astrophysics of gravitational waves.  See you all there!

Comet 46P has a period of 5.4 years, so if you don't take a peek at it now you will likely have to wait for its return.  The light curve for the comet 46P is shown below and you can see right away that when it closest to the sun and the Earth, i.e. its perihelion and perigee, is the easiest time to see it.  The comet's closest approach is now predicted for December 16, 2018, so you still have a chance to see it and if the most optimistic predictions pan out, the comet will be naked eye visible.  It is also neat to see that the projection has the maximum peak brightness decreasing after every orbit return.

Light Curve for comet 46P shows why this is the time for observations (Source: www.theskylive.com)
Light Curve for comet 46P shows why this is the time for observations (Source: www.theskylive.com)

Ok, we have already viewed the comet 46P a week ago with just a DSLR telephoto here in city lights, but if the weather cooperates we maybe can try again when the comet should be much brighter.  If you want to check out those early DSLR images go to December 5 at:

and December 8 blog post at:


Of course for other blogs or blog topics you can just go to the main blog page and use the search option to search for your topic of interest.

For observing this week, check out the weather forecast below.  It doesn't seem to be very promising with just fair weather and partly cloudy.

Weather observing forecast in Scope Nights screenshot (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Weather observing forecast in Scope Nights screenshot (Source: Palmia Observatory)

Ok, we will have to wait and see.  I am still planning on Monday, December 17, for my night out.  Now if you don't get outside, you can still count on other dedicated amateurs to be out in the cold and grab an image or two.  Check out the image below, taken by OCA Dave Kodama, who took some shots at the dark sky site in Anza:


That is a beautiful shot and the comet was not at its peak brightness.  Thanks for braving the old nights at Anza and all that, Dave!

So, if the weather is going to be a bit cloudy for the next few days we can fill in that time by trying to read a few more chapters in the many new books that have come out.  The book that reached the top of my pile this week was "What is Real" by Adam Becker.

This popular press book on physics and particularly the early history of quantum mechanics and the story behind the spooky action at a distance thinking and how the philosophy of science has adapted over the years.  Becker talks about the downfall of the positivist position and the uncomfortable tension between the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and Bohms's pilot wave theory other interpretations including many worlds models and instrumentation models that just describe the situation as being limited by our given knowledge at the time.  It is a good description of the philosophical position of many of the early and modern practictioners in the field.  Central to the discussion is of course, Niels Bohr, and the Copenhagen principle of complementarity and wave function collapse and the non-recognition of anything vaguely representing any kind of measurement problem.  Many discussions of this type nowadays at physics conferences are conveniently located under sections called "Foundations of Quantum Mechanics" or some such thing, which is one way of sort of including the topics in the main conference agenda, while at the same time downplaying its role as a respectable form of modern physics research.

Easy reading on the history and meaning and interpretation of quantum mechanics (Source: Adam Becker)
Easy reading on the history and meaning and interpretation of quantum mechanics (Source: Adam Becker)

Reading What is Real and going over the history of quantum mechanics reminded me of one of our previous cruises through the countries around the Baltic Sea, where we had one port of call in Copenhagen where I managed to find a statue of Niels Bohr even though we didn't have time to stop at his famous institute.

Niels Bohr statue in Copenhagen as seen on July 31, 2007  (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Niels Bohr statue in Copenhagen as seen on July 31, 2007  (Source: Palmia Observatory)

It was on that same cruise that I expanded my martini learning curve by sampling a whole flight of martinis.  I have found that for many physicists retiring to the bar is a safe place to discuss philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics.  Yes, we all just "shut up and calculate" when it comes to achieving real practical results using QM, but it  is at the bar where we all can release our wonder as to why nature behaves that way! This photo, from August 1, 2007, shows us with a dozen martinis, each of a different flavor.  Boy, Resident Astronomer Peggy was just her radiant self and I had forgotten that I used to clean up very well and could even show up in a tuxedo!  Watch out 007!

Resident Astronomers enjoying martini flight on Baltic cruise  August 1, 2007  (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Resident Astronomers enjoying martini flight on Baltic cruise  August 1, 2007  (Source: Palmia Observatory)

Separately and on a personal note, Resident Astronomer Peggy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  Yes, I had to have my martini and Peggy was on San Pelligrino.  I didn't clean up as well this time, but we did have a good time!.

Resident Astronomers celebrate 30th wedding anniversary (Source: Palmia Observatory)

Over the years, Peggy has caught me with a worried frown on my face and she was very concerned and worried and used to ask "what's wrong?"  I would be deep in thought, trying to resolve some technical issue, and after coming back to reality with her question, I would answer "Nothing.  It's just physics!"  Hmm, now she knows that my furrowed brow just means I can sill get caught up in just doing some sort of physics type calculation or more possibly the "spooky action at a distance" type stuff that has been pondered now for over 80 years.  So remember, at the end of the day, nothing to worry about; it's just physics!

Until next time,
Resident Astronomer George

If you are interested in things astronomical or in astrophysics and cosmology
Check out other postings on this blog at www.palmiaobservatory.com

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