stratospheric balloon over iowa

I enjoy checking the air traffic over our area using a site called ADS-B Exchange. Their zoomable map shows all the flights anywhere in the world. We live under the flight paths of many planes crossing the country. That is why we are sometimes called a flyover state. Their map includes the smallest one-runway airstrips scattered around the country which support a lot of single engine planes. We also can watch the helicopter traffic over us carrying patients to the University of Iowa Hospital for care. By clicking on an aircraft symbol, it brings up windows with flight details about the aircraft, how high, direction, speed, etc.

Today, I noticed something unusual on the map. It was not a symbol showing an airplane or helicopter. It was a symbol shaped like a hot air balloon. I’ve seen that symbol only one time before on the map. The info window in the next image says the altitude was 64,700 ft and a speed of 28 knots. Most commercial planes are at altitudes between 30,000-40,000 ft. This balloon was twice as high as those planes and moving very slowly.

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Comet c/2022 e3 (ztf) | Fading fast

One more view…

How I See It

Discovered in March 2022, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) caused a stir in the astronomy community. In January and February of 2023, hailed in the news as the Green Comet, it was the subject of numerous media stories. The hype surrounding it’s appearance was rather intense. I looked for it on a few occasions when the weather cleared with hopes of seeing what was being described in articles. I was not impressed with it on either of the two times I saw it. I don’t have the equipment to take long exposures or stack multiple images such as those made by astronomers with better resources. I did enjoy their images and appreciate the skill and talent needed to make them.

Where is the comet now in mid-March? It is positioned to the right of the constellation Orion. It is labeled in green in this desktop planetarium simulation. Each day it moves…

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Venus-Jupiter conjunction progress

How I See It

I started imaging the evening pair of planets on 19 February when they were still quite far apart. My camera is a Canon Powershot SX60HS with a powerful zoom. It was mounted on a tripod. Settings of ISO 200, 0.5 sec, infinity focus, 2 sec delay timer, and medium zoom were saved for future exposures over the next days of the conjunction. I tried to time exposures between 6:30 and 6:45 pm. Lengthening daylight and weather conditions were challenges. Our region of the mid-United States is especially prone to clouds and wind this time of year. I felt lucky to get six images over twelve days.

Pixelmator Pro was used to layer the images and add text notations. I aligned each exposure on Jupiter as the frame of reference. Both planets moved from night to night. Jupiter moved down to toward the Sun a small amount each day. Venus moved…

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Venus-Jupiter Daylight view | 1 Mar 2023

How I See It

Like many others, I’ve been following the evening views of Jupiter and Venus. It has been a challenge to get clear skies in order to see their progress as they neared each other. Today started foggy. That moved out leaving clear skies. I set up my 102 mm Meade refractor on the go-to mount and asked it to find Venus. There it was, glowing bright in the eyepiece, with the much dimmer disc of Jupiter to the lower left. It was a rare sight. I’ve seen both of these planets separately several times before in the daytime with my naked eye, binoculars, and telescope. It is a fun challenge. This was special to see them both in the same view of the eyepiece.

I had an eyepiece camera mounted on the telescope part of the time hoping to get an image with it. I couldn’t find them. So, as a…

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Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2023

Looking for stuff in space this year?

How I See It

🔭 Updates anearlier post toinclude recent changes and new information.🔭

Desktop planetarium software helps plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. Many products are available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A browser search yields links to many sources. Open source and free Stellarium is one popular program. It can be customized to your location and has a nice look and feel. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like SkySafari. It isn’t free but is inexpensive.

Online planetariumsitesarepopular and offer many features. Below are highlights of a few I like. With multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail, they can help satisfy your curiosity aboutastronomical events. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.


Heavens Above

This popular site offers a wealth of sky viewing options. It is simple and very…

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Critter Cam | February

The trail camera was out for a couple of days between rain and snow events. There always seems to be plenty of traffic. The camera was set to take 3 images when it detected motion. One or two of the three were sometimes good for sharing here. Some critters move fast and are just a blur. Click on galleries for larger versions.

Raccoons are always making the rounds.

Deer are plentiful all over town and on this path.

Grey squirrels are everywhere.

Possums are plentiful. One image is enough.

Cardinals are a favorite with their red coats and black trim.

ISS Passes Orion’s Belt

Earlier in the day on 2 Feb, my phone notified me that the ISS would pass nearly overhead and go through Taurus and Orion a few minutes after 6:30 pm. I prepared my iPad with the NightCap app. I placed it on the sidewalk in front of the house and started the exposure.

Four minutes and sixteen seconds later I got this result. Not only the ISS, but three airplanes passed by as indicated by the blinking lights. One of them is hidden in the tree branches lower right. While I watched the ISS pass overhead, I noticed a very faint object moving a short distance ahead of it, in the same direction, and almost on the same line. It was barely visible and left a faint trace on the image. This version of the image might not show it. My original image does show it faintly.

NightCap ISS mode, 256 second exposure, 1/2s shutter speed

My photo compared well to the predicted path provided by

Critter Cam in Winter

Our trail camera was out for the past week behind our house. Because of rain and snow, I covered it with a clear plastic bag to keep it dry. The images are a bit out of focus. Lots of squirrel activity. A few possums and raccoons. Several deer passed by. One of them got in very close. A fox trotted by the camera. In 20 years, it is only the 2nd time I’ve ever seen one back there. I’ve never seen that black dog before. Dogs are supposed to be on leash. Lastly, one of the local black squirrels posed for a shot. Still no bobcats or cougars. Click for bigger images.

An Abject Reptile

A friend loaned this book to me. The title Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile got my attention so I started reading it right away. Only 180 pages, it was a quick read. Author Verlyn Klinkenborg used notes from Gilbert White in the 18th century. White constantly observed nature and recorded details in notebooks. He searched for keys to behavior and connections to the spiritual world of his profession as a pastor. The term physico-theology was used to describe him. Gilbert White’s notes described the people, their lives, nature, and their connections in the small town of Selborne England.

Timothy was a tortoise owned by White. He lived in the garden for a long time. Originally from the middle east, Timothy was not accustomed to the climate of England. But, Timothy was an astute observer of White and the other humans. Verlyn Klinenborg wrote this book from the viewpoint of Timothy using White’s notes about the town and its citizens.

I found it perceptive and captivating. If you are an observer of the natural world, I think you would enjoy this book.