Venus Dives Past Saturn

Twelve degrees Fahrenheit this morning as I setup the tripod and camera for the third pre-dawn photo shoot of Saturn and Venus.  Completely calm, unlike yesterday morning, so no jiggles to the camera, beyond my fumbling numb fingers.  I opted for longer exposures (three or four seconds), so I ended up with some trails, especially when using the telephoto lens.  Otherwise, much the same as before, with the exception of the planetary dance partners.

Venus slipping below Saturn pre-dawn Tuesday 11/27/2012 (click image for rest of album)

I don’t plan on repeating this for a fourth time tomorrow morning, but I do plan on trying to capture the full moon as it approaches Jupiter tomorrow night.  There also happens to be a penumbral lunar eclipse occurring Wednesday evening.

Wednesday, November 28
Full Moon arrives at 9:46 a.m. EST. It appears against the background stars of Taurus the Bull before dawn this morning, approximately midway between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters and below brilliant Jupiter. (The Moon will slide within 1° of the planet after sunset tonight.) But the Moon has a lot more going for it today. First, it passes through the outer part of Earth’s shadow. This penumbral lunar eclipse will slightly darken the Moon’s northern half. People in much of North America can see the eclipse’s early stages, which begin at 7:15 a.m. EST. (Those in Australia, eastern Asia, and the Pacific islands have the best views of the event.) Second, this Full Moon is the smallest (29.4′ in diameter) of 2012. Our satellite’s relatively diminutive size arises because it reaches the farthest point in its orbit around Earth at 2:37 p.m. EST today, when it lies 252,501 miles (406,362 kilometers) from Earth’s center. ( ‘The Sky This Week – November 23 – December 2, 2012’)

unHappy unHolidays

I walked into my building’s lobby yesterday morning, returning from more than a week of vacation in Texas, completely oblivious to the unHoliday decorations sprouting around me.  That is until I stood idly waiting for an elevator to arrive to whisk me vertically to my floor and found this assaulting my eyes:

unHoliday Decorations 2012

I must admit, compared to last year’s lobby largesse, this year’s decorations are a slight improvement, but seem to be a return to the first year (being 2010) metal montage. Then the building launched it’s crusade to snuff out any resemblance to traditional Christmas heraldry.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the last three years worth of unholiday spirit on display in the building lobby:

unHoliday Decorations 2010
unHoliday Decorations 2010
unHoliday Decorations 2012
unHoliday Decorations 2012
unHoliday Decorations 2011
unHoliday Decorations 2011

All I can say is at least this year’s metallic monstrosity matches the color scheme near the garage access elevators:

unHoliday Decorations 2012

Thank goodness for my two daily stops at Hallmark, where I can bask in the warmth of a more traditional Christmas spirit on display, spreading Peace, Love and Joy indiscriminately.

Saturn Squeezing Venus

I went to bed Sunday night lamenting the end of my longest vacation in over a decade.  I double-checked and triple-checked my return-to-work checklist (security badge, laptop, cell phone, sunglasses, lunch bag, work clothes and shoes, etc.) before nodding off.  I woke up fifteen minutes before my alarm went off at five o’clock.  I jumped out of bed and had myself dressed and ready to go before half past five.  I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss this morning’s Saturn-Venus photo opportunity.


I got everything, including the camera and tripod, packed into the back of the van and drove up the hill, squinting through the frosty windshield, to the library parking lot. I left the van running with the defroster on half-blast, but turned off the headlights. I setup the tripod and camera on the sidewalk, but quickly became concerned by the slight breeze from the north, which could (and did) jiggle the camera during the longer exposures necessitated by the pre-dawn darkness.

I changed lenses on the camera back to my normal lens and took a couple of wide angle shots to begin with:


I adjusted the brightness (something I rarely do since I don’t own Photoshop and need to learn how to use Gimp) to make the horizon a bit more visible.

Shortly after six o’clock, I observed Mercury and took a photo in portrait orientation (vertical) to include all three planets and the star Spica:


Because I needed to begin the commute to work at a quarter past six, I had to stop taking photos early. A good thing, too, since my batteries, which I had just put in before yesterday morning’s photo session, had already depleted due to the cold temperatures and long exposure times.  I did take the time to switch back to my telephoto lens to zoom in on several of the prime targets.

I managed to snatch a closeup of Venus and Saturn and of Mercury and Alpha Librae before I packed up the equipment and left for work:

Saturn squeezing closer to Venus (click image for rest of album)
Mercury just risen near Alpha Librae (adjusted brightness to improve visibility)

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting clear skies, I will attempt to capture Saturn as it slips past and above Venus.

Begining of the End

I learned last night at the November general meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City that we have just fifty days (forty-nine as I write this blog) until the end of a Mayan age (the 13th Bak’tun).  More commonly known to us as the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2012 (12/21/12 or 21/12/12 depending on your longitude).  I had a lot on my mind as I drifted off to sleep last night,  but when I woke to clear skies and a newly risen Venus blinking at me through the bare branches of trees along my eastern horizon, I shook off the last vestiges of ancient doom and gloom and braved the brisk late fall pre-dawn environs with my tripod and camera.

Armed with new tips and techniques garnered from Tom Martinez’s astrophotography presentation during the club’s Astro 101 session, I attempted a long exposure (ten seconds long) of the Big Dipper using my normal lens:


I was gratified to discover that my camera can take even longer exposures without the necessity of a handheld remote. Not that I don’t plan to purchase a remote for it soon though.

I didn’t attempt to capture Canis Major or Orion in a long exposure since I would have been shooting west over the well-lit parking lot of City Hall.  Instead, I turned my camera towards the southeast and bright shining Venus and the slightly dimmer Saturn.

Wide angle shot of Venus, Saturn and Mercury (click image for rest of album)

I knew Mercury had risen shortly after six o’clock, but I couldn’t see it clearly until about a quarter after.

Mercury & Alpha Librae in a four second long exposure.

Later, I accidentally captured not only Mercury, but a passing plane, as it took off from KCI (northeast of my location).

Passing Plane (the streak) approaching Mercury

When I got back to my laptop and downloaded the photos, I also double-checked and compared them to the alignment at the time they were taken using the Star Dome Plus java applet at
SoutheasternHorizon45degSun25Nov2012-0615A short successful photo shoot this morning.  I didn’t hang around for the sunrise, since I judged it wouldn’t be as pretty as the one I captured Saturday morning.

Venus-Saturn-Mercury Line-up Sunday morning 11/25/2012

Weather permitting, I’ll be repeating this activity for the next two or three mornings. I’m excited to see Venus and Saturn pass each other in the night (or very early morning).

And next week I’m going to wish I was visiting Egypt to witness a once in 2,737  years event involving these same three planets and the Great Pyramids at Giza.

Renovations Continue: The Kitchen Sink

I couldn’t sleep in on Tuesday, though I really could have used some extra downtime after two long days of driving following an exhilarating weekend at the Circuit of the Americas for the return of Formula One racing to the United States.   I had more excitement awaiting me in my own home.

A week ago, we had a contractor come in and refinish our kitchen counter tops and backsplash.  This process requires the kitchen remain undisturbed for at least a week.  We actually planned this refinishing to coincide with our vacation and roadtrip to Austin, Texas to attend the USGP.

Sink Hole
Sink Hole (click image for rest of album)

So, with less than two days to Thanksgiving, and an expected house full of family on their own two-day roadtrips to join us, I nervously watched Terry tackle multiple installations, starting with the sink.  Most of the afternoon was spent prepping the sink hole and the sink basin to seal it into place and get it squared up with the rest of the counter.  Then Terry installed the drains and we watched silicone set for a few minutes.  But not too long.  We needed to move on to the second project that had to be finished before the stove could be returned to its normal resting place:  Installing a new range hood.

Installing First Range HoodWe reviewed the installation instructions but could not locate the parts bag referenced therein.  We made one of many trips to Home Depot to inquire about the missing mounting hardware.  After looking in several other range hood boxes (also suspiciously already open), the Home Depot employee went to the hardware aisle and gave us the wood screws we needed.  Terry found a short 1″x2″ he needed to use as a shim.  We returned home and began mounting the shims, only to discover the wood screws were too long (by a quarter of an inch) and had punched through the shelf into the cabinet.

By this time, Terry and I were exhausted and frustrated.  Since it was nearly ten o’clock at night, we called it a night.


I woke up Wednesday early and reviewed the Thanksgiving edition of the Food Network Magazine.  I wanted to try at least three or four of the recipes featured and needed to make a grocery list to cover all the ingredients I might need.  Since Rachelle awoke before I left, she accompanied me to Dillons.  I wanted to hit the grocery store early to avoid all the people who would rush in after midday.  Most people would probably get off from work at noon, so my best shot at the best selection of produce and other products would occur in the early morning hours.  I remembered almost everything I needed.

Installing New FaucetOnce Terry woke up, he immediately got down (literally) to installing the drain plumbing.  This necessitated at least two more trips to Home Depot for replacement and new PVC piping.  He successfully (and almost two easily) got the garbage disposal side of the drain installed.  To give his back a break, he switched to the top side and began installing the new Moen faucet we purchased from Lowes on Tuesday afternoon.  I chose this particular model because the reviews stated it had an exceptionally easy installation.  The only drawback mentioned involved installing the weight to the pull-down faucet head hose.  This weight keeps the faucet head (not shown yet at right) snug against the tall faucet pipe.

We returned to the range hood to finish the install.  I went down to the electrical box and threw the breaker for the north side of the kitchen to the off position. While Rachelle and I held the hood into position, Terry secured it to the re-installed shims with the shorter length wood screws.  He hooked up the electrical and installed the halogen bulbs.  I returned to the basement and flipped the breaker back to the on position.  We tested the lights and they worked.  We tested the fan, and nothing happened.  We could still see into the fan compartment so Terry stuck his head and hands back up in there to determine what the problem was.  He discovered the spot welds that were meant to hold the fan housing in place had broken.  Needless to say, none of us were happy at this point.

Second Range Hood InstalledTerry began uninstalling the range hood while I went to find another, better range hood on the internet.  We had bought the best model that would fit in our space above the range and below the cabinets from Home Depot, so we were going to return the defective range hood and buy one from someone else.  We stopped at Kmart/Sears (right next door to Home Depot), but that particular Sears outlet does not maintain any stock.  All items had to be ordered.  This  necessitated that we drive south to the Legends shopping area and specifically Nebraska Furniture Mart, where we found a much nicer model, with more features and a better interior fan design, for only about $50-70 more.  We returned home and had the second range installed in less than fifteen minutes.  This time both the lights and the fan worked as expected.

Hooking Up Electrical for RangeTerry re-installed the range next.  The breaker for the 240 circuit had been left in the off position since we uninstalled the range over ten days before.  I double-checked it, though, when I flipped breakers on/off for the range hood installation.  I made sure Terry used his work gloves to avoid any threat of cuts from the sharp metal brackets and fixtures on the back of the stove.

With the range and range hood installed and functional, all that remained was the right-hand drain for the kitchen sink and the weight for the faucet pull-down.  Terry twisted and prodded the right-hand side pipes to curl almost back on themselves to reach the new sink’s drain hole.  However, despite various large plumbing pliers, Terry eventually resorted to a hose clamp and electrical tape to get the weight secured to the faucet hose.  As I mentioned above, many of the reviews for this particular model of Moen noted the weight install to be flawed (or nigh on impossible).

By four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, my kitchen was returned to me, ready to begin nearly non-stop cooking duties for the next twenty-four hours. I had to make one final trip to Dillons, though, to pick up the roasted turkey and other fixings I’d ordered earlier in November.  I decided weeks ago that I wouldn’t have time to thaw a turkey because of our trip to the Formula One race in Austin.  While on the way to the grocery store, I received a call from my uncle, telling me they had safely arrived in Leavenworth and were in the Price Chopper.  I directed them to Dillons, where I was headed (they preferred to shop there as well to accumulate fuel reward points).  I met Ron in the parking lot and we discussed the itinerary for Thanksgiving day.  I picked up my turkey and fixings and escaped the mad dash of people making their last minute shopping spree.  So many people in that store, you could hardly breathe.

MY First Pineapple Upside Down CakeI returned home and shoe-horned the turkey into the refrigerator.  I then proceed to bake my father’s requested birthday cake.  The very first thing I baked also happened to be a first attempt for me as a cook.  I baked a pineapple upside down cake in a cast iron skillet.  I also attempted to make one loaf of bread, my Honey Wheat Toasting Oat Bread, but when I pulled the baked loaf out of my bread machine after midnight, it almost resembled a brick.  Not an auspicious beginning to Thanksgiving day baking.

First Item Cooked in Updated Kitchen
Down to the Wire, but What a Beautiful Finish (click image for rest of album)

New Appliance ArrangementI decided not to return the microwave to the corner between the range and the sink.  Having the microwave in that space negates all the counter space available for baking or cooking.  I plan to purchase a microwave cart or some other piece of kitchen furniture to keep that appliance off my new counters.

Terry during F1 USGP at COTA in Austin, Texas, Sunday, 11/18/2012
Terry during F1 USGP at COTA in Austin, Texas, Sunday, 11/18/2012

I want to thank Terry for the incredible effort and skill he exerted during this kitchen remodel project.  Without his knowledge, dedication and attention to detail, none of these results would have been possible.

Thank you, dear husband.  You are amazing.

From Drab Beige and Brown to Eye-Pleasing Black and White

Just a quick post to bring you up-to-speed on the latest Moss Family home improvement projects.  Last week, we refreshed our bottom kitchen cabinets:

Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing
Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing (click photo for rest of album/slideshow)

This week we tackled refinishing the countertops and backsplash, which involved quite a bit more destruction of the kitchen (including the sink and stove) than refinishing cabinets:

Kitchen Countertop Refinishing
Kitchen Countertop Refinishing (click photo for before, during and after photo album/slideshow)

Now, the countertops need to cure for a week, which means we’ll be without a kitchen until next Tuesday. But in the meantime, I can enjoy the view.  The results are simply mind-blowing:

After Photos of Countertop

Besides curing for a week, the countertops also need about thirty days before they are completely impervious to damage. This was a bit of a drawback considering Thanksgiving is just eight days away. I’ll have to use placemats or a tablecloth to protect my beautiful new countertop next week.