Radar dome on top of Madeira
This is the nearly highest point on Madeira. It sports a radar dome.

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal.

You could teleport here from a street in Lisbon and not notice any change. Lisbon on an island. But we spent almost no time at Funchal, the main city and the main port, and instead, we boarded a bus for our package tour, “Scenic Madeira”. After a 45-minute harrowing bus ride over very narrow, very curvy mountain roads, we arrived at Pico do Arieiro, the highest point you can reach by car. The view was exquisitely scenic, but the wind was fierce and icy and more than I could bear — I stayed inside the coffee shop.

On the way back, we stopped at a wine shop to sample some Madeira. Very sweet.

Smallwine glasses

Endless Sea

In April 2022 we took a cruise, a highly privileged cruise. A mental health cruise. Ten choppy days, mostly island hopping, leaving from Lisbon. Then Madeira, three Canary Islands — La Palma, Tenerife, and Lanzarote — Gibraltar, Cadiz (Seville), and finishing at Barcelona.

Endless Sea out my Window
Endless Sea out my window

This is what I see out my window as I type this. The night before last we were in Lisbon, jet-lagged and exhausted.  Now we are roughly halfway to Madeira, and far from land. I slept ’til noon, and woke up groggy. Now, with three cups of coffee, I feel much better.

The internet access on the ship is fair — they block streaming video, but text and stills load OK. Sufficient to work on this blog, at least. I brought a couple of ebooks on WordPress, and I’ve been skimming them. I’ve learned that I’m doing it all wrong. I should pick a topic and stick to it instead of just rambling on with whatever interests me at the moment. That advice rings true — it describes the kind of blogs I follow, anyway. So I guess this blog is doomed to obscurity.

The ship is the venerable RSS Voyager — our fifth cruise on the Voyager. It’s our second cruise since the pandemic. Masks are required unless you are in your stateroom or eating or drinking. Most of what we do outside the stateroom is eating and drinking, so not a burden. Unlike in the yahoo areas in the States, compliance is near 100%, and it was nearly 100% in Lisbon. At lunch, somebody complained that they asked for a glass of water, and it took forever to arrive. White privilege vented at an Asian waitress, a jarring note.

There is a soft slow creaking sound as the ship rocks in the following swell. An almost unnoticed sound of waves and wind, and a quiet hum from the motors. It’s very quiet. Leaning forward with my elbows on the desk and my chin in my hands, I think I should take a nap.

M97 and M108

M97 and M108
M97 and M108

M97 is also known as “the Owl Nebula” — you can barely see the two eyes. M108 is known, for some reason, as the “Surfboard Galaxy”. North, by the way, is to the right.

M108 is also the galaxy on the left edge of the images I posted yesterday. The image yesterday was a failed attempt to integrate 14 separate exposures; the image above was a successful attempt to integrate 16 (different) exposures. Yesterday’s failure haunts me — I worked on it for hours. Here’s a cut from the above image of approximately the same aspect:

Edge of M108
Edge of M108

Striking, to me at least, is that there were two stars in this region in yesterday’s image, but only one here. I’m pretty sure that this image is a better reflection of reality…  Perhaps that is a clue about what I was doing wrong!


A colorful mosaic; an extreme magnification of an image of space at the edge of a galaxy. Two prominent stars, some bright spots that are probably just defects in the sensor, or maybe where a cosmic ray hit and produced a single bright flash. Mostly, this is just visual noise. Noise

Here’s a different version, where the individual pixels have been smoothed:


A prettified instantaneous snapshot of the quantum noise roiling across the sensor. Perhaps if I could make a movie, these would be tiny agitated multicolored ripples. But the two stars would remain, hard reminders of a real world, and the brightness at the right edge would also remain, testifying to that galaxy — M108, I’ve heard — off-screen to the right.

Edit: I’ve since discovered that one of those stars must be an image-processing artifact. So much for reality.

IC342, an invisible object

IC342 is a large, bright, nearby galaxy that would be “naked to the invisible eye” if it weren’t for the dust in the way.

Here’s a five-minute exposure, with a gratuitous satellite:

Single exposure of IC342
A single 5-minute exposure of IC342

Do you see a galaxy? Maybe if you squint and sacrifice a pint of Haagen-Dazs?

But curiosity — perhaps more exposures could tease out something?

Here are 41 images like the above, stacked up and combined:

Almost 4 hours on IC342
41 5-minute exposures of IC342, stacked and processed

It looks like a galaxy! I should note that these images were taken on a night with excess moonshine, in hazy suburban skies.

Three of the 41 exposures had satellite trails, but they disappeared in the average.

There is an overall red tint to the photo. It’s probably not natural, but rather an artifact of the anti-pollution filter I am using.