Thank you, Caltrans

Forgot to post this when it happened, a few months ago…

Tuesday, when the “bomb cyclone” hit the Bay Area. We agreed to pick up my sister-in-law Diane at SFO on her return from China.

Bad driving conditions. Worn windshield wipers, intermittent rain and gusty wind, glaring headlights, almost invisible lane markers. Like driving through a Matisse. Fortunately, traffic was light, and we were all cautious.

We were on the road by 11 pm, CF and I and the little dog Cooper. The plane was delayed due to weather, and Diane didn’t clear customs and immigration until midnight.

Coming back across the San Mateo Bridge, the road noise got louder. Was it the truck following on the left? No, it passed. The volume increased. CF and Diane were chatting away in Chinese. The tire pressure light on the dashboard was on, and I had a sudden realization. Oh shit oh shit. A flat tier on the San Mateo bridge after midnight in a storm.

We pulled into one of those emergency pullouts. I got out and looked, in the wind and the drizzle — the left rear tire was mangled and flopping over the rim. CF called AAA and got through to one of the most unhelpful people you could imagine. Someone more interested in chewing gum than helping motorists stranded on a dark and stormy night…

After apparently rummaging around the cheat sheets on her desk for many minutes, and putting us on hold while she went and checked with her supervisor, the completely unsympathetic young woman finally came back and told us that Triple-A couldn’t help us — we needed to call Caltrans instead.

We called Caltrans. There a brisk woman told us that we shouldn’t call them directly, we should call our insurance company and they would call Caltrans.

Called AAA once again, and this time got someone who knew what to do. Half an hour later a giant Caltrans tow truck pulled up behind us, and an incredibly efficient and friendly driver in a yellow slicker soon had us on our way.

Witch Head Nebula, IC2118

I think most good astrophotographers plan their telescope runs in advance. I am not like that — I look at the objects that happen to be visible and take pictures to see what I get. I didn’t know that IC2118 was known as the Witch Head Nebula. Now I know that it is a famously dim, difficult-to-photograph object, and I will try again:

Witch Head Nebula

Do you see the witch? A profile view with a huge nose and an open mouth, eyes hidden in shadow. Facing right.

This was only five exposures; the individual exposures show absolutely nothing of the nebula — only through the magic of image stacking can anything be seen.

Comet Pix a failure

Comet C/2022 E3. Not a very good picture. Some faint star streaks and a stationary, vaguely comet-like blob.

Here’s an image of the comet moving against a stationary background of stars. Same data, just processed differently:

For the record, this is also comet C/2022 E3, not an exotic galaxy. The comet moves this much in about half an hour.

There are some tutorials on youtube about how to combine images like these into a composite with stationary stars and a stationary comet, but given the low-quality image of the comet, it probably isn’t worth it. Still, it would be educational. I have another run of exposures I may try to process. Best prepare for disappointment…

Mouth of the Kraken Nebula

The standard view of the Rosette Nebula

More commonly known as the Rosette Nebula, SH2-275. A quick snap as I waited for the comet to rise. The colors are a little weird, foreboding, almost.

Thor’s Helmet – SH2-298

Day before yesterday, I unpacked the telescope from its tiny rain shed and managed to snag a few frames of SH2-298.  Feast your eyes on the aptly named “Thor’s Helmet”! It is a new object for me, and I was happy to get this image.

Last night I had every intention of getting an image of comet C-2022-E3. Conditions were good, but sleep overtook me. (The comet doesn’t get above the trees until after midnight.) But tonight, sky willing, I will photograph C-2022-E3.

It won’t visit us again for 50000 years. If we get our shit together we might visit it before it visits us.

Dragonfly Cluster, aka the Owl Cluster

Dragonfly Cluster
Dragonfly Cluster

By the naked eye, the night sky is only tiny points of light, occasionally blotted out by the moon. The enormous clouds of gas and dust, the majestic galaxies, are mostly invisible. So sometimes it’s nice to just see stars.

While the cluster looks more like an owl, I can also see the two bulbous eyes of a dragonfly and maybe a hint of a slender body.

Reprocessing reprocessing…

I’ve purchased a new plugin for PixInsight, called “BlurXTerminator” (BXT). It uses AI trained on astronomical data to sharpen stars, and the edges of nebula.  It seems to work pretty well.

Here is a reprocessed version of the “Cygnus Wall” (part of NGC7000, the North American Nebula):

The "Cygnus Wall", an irregular band of nebulosity in the North American Nebula.

BXT actually works. This image is significantly sharper and more detailed than my previous version (though you have to look close). I worry if the new detail is “real” or manufactured? Is this picture a more accurate representation of reality?

Here is a reprocessed version of M81 and M82. The data for this image was collected back in February.

M81 and M82, neighboring galaxies

The major problem with this image is the overexposure of the central region of M81. One of these days I will work out the technique for fixing that, but for now, this isn’t bad. Once again, if you look closely, the enhanced fine delicate detail is apparent.

On a completely different topic, I started reading “A Tale of Two Cities” recently. Man, it’s so clear that Dickens was being paid by the word…


Callao, Lima is a very busy port, and since our ship didn’t move for two days, we had plenty of time to watch it. When we arrived, there were several hundred new cars parked, fresh off the boat; the next day, they were gone. My attention was drawn to these:

Giant grain hopper

Ports are full of exotic machinery…