Tag: astronomy

Astronomy: Venus is visible again

For my viewing, the early fall and even late winter astronomical items are more interesting. Right now I consider us to be very close to early fall. And that’s borne out by the fact that on my commute to the train station at 5:30AM I can clearly see Venus shining in the east/southeast direction, about 25 degrees up in the sky.

And pretty soon we get a bit of a lineup with Saturn, Mars and Venus. And then around January we get to see Jupiter again.

But then interesting stars will start showing up, E.g. Sirius, Procyon, and Rigel.

It’s tough being an amateur astronomer in a city. The light pollution not to mention weather conditions means we get a lot more cloudy nights than clear. But with a decent set of binoculars which I’ve had for a few years now you can pick out some of the lower order magnitude stars.

Astronomy: When clouds are the enemy

So this evening a dusk there’s supposed to be a nice conjunction of Mars and Venus just under the crescent moon.

And of course it’s cloudy where I am. So it’ll be completely invisible to me. That’s life when you love astronomy and live in the northeast.

That would be one nice thing about living in an arid region – clear skies. There have been a very few times in my life where I’ve been able to see some awe inspiring stuff in the sky. When I was a kid living in Providence before the advent of High Pressure Sodium lighting you could clearly lay in your back yard and look up. You’d see the big and little dippers, Orion, pretty much the whole sky.

But over time those view went away. Too much light pollution.

And there was one time a few years back I was traveling on U.S. 17 between Elizabeth City and Edenton North Carolina. Now driving around in the dense northeast you always have headlights in your rear view. But I noticed on this trip the mirrors were pitch black. So I pulled over on the side of the road and got out of the car.

And then I looked up – and of course no camera to record the event! What I saw was the band of the Milky Way – almost to the point where it felt like you could reach out and touch it.

And I’ve never seen it since as clouds have been the enemy. I’m reminded of the lorry driver in one of Douglas Adam’s works who had rain everywhere he went because the clouds loved him. I think I may have the same.

Our holiday trip to North Carolina

For the holidays we decided to travel to see Keyron’s family (My in-laws, not technically but as much as one can have such a thing.)

We flew down on U.S. Airways from Providence-PVD to Washington National-DCA (I refuse to call it by it’s given name since Reagan was a horrible president too.) and from there to Norfolk-ORF. The flight into ORF was a half hour late which meant we missed our
party there but we got the car rental and the GPS unit (Nicknamed Miss Navigator) and started out.

What we found out was that there has been a lot of construction both roadways and buildings along U.S. 17 through Virginia and North Carolina, so much so that Miss Navigator didn’t know very much about the new bypasses to U.S. 17. We muddled through though. The area is changing but not fast enough for my tastes. It’s funny, it’s taken Providence close to 25 years to get to the point it is at now, I suspect Elizabeth City (E-City) will go through the same thing.

Miss Navigator was able to find Keyron’s mom’s place though, in Edenton, NC. During our stay we went through Pasquotank (Pronounced as spelled), Perquimans (Which I pronounced Perkimans, not Per-kwimans.), and Chowan (Ch-ow-in was my pronunciation, but it’s actually Ch-oh-w-ah-n) counties, or from Elizabeth City to Gum Neck in Tyrrel County.

Elizabeth City is interesting. It’s experiencing some pretty heavy growth. It’s such a large land mass that there’s literally only one high rise (all of 10 floors) and that’s the old folks home in downtown E-City. But the downtown has promise, it’s very cute and reminds me of what Providence once was. The population of the city is a bit over 40,000 people, and the murder rate thus far this year was 4 people. If you extrapolate, it’s the same murder rate as Providence with 17 murders for 173,000 people.

Now there is one thing that made me absolutely fall in love with North Carolina. One night we’re returning from visiting Keyron’s brother Cory in E-City and we’re driving along U.S. 17 to Edenton. I noticed the view in my rear view was pitch black and the half-moon so big you could almost touch it. So I pulled over for a better look. Unfortunately I didn’t have the camera with me because that would have made the mother of all photos now that I’ve figured out how to keep the shutter open for more than a sixteenth of a second, granted it’s a max of 4 seconds but I can work with that.

What I saw left me stunned. I haven’t seen a night sky view like this in many years. You don’t even need any binoculars or telescopes to resolve so many stars, you can even see the thread of the Milky Way. Spent a good 30 or 40 minutes there without seeing any other cars and identifying as many constellations as I could. It gets better, I was able to take the clearest picture of the late afternoon moon that I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately that was the only clear night we had. I really want to go back during late spring. It’d be awesome, especially in Gum Neck because it’s so remote.

One foggy night as we were returning to Edenton, I caught site of a rather large deer in the middle of the road and stopped about 250 feet from the deer. It looked at me and then took off running. A few days later we saw the mangled carcass of a deer in the middle lane of U.S. 17. It took the highway patrol the better part of two days to move it off to the side of the road. And then every day we looked at that dead deer on our way to E-City. Of course our friend Gina did a road trip to North Carolina and counted 22 dead deer on the side of the road in a 20 mile stretch. Having grown up in New England I’d always heard stories of people hitting deer with their cars but as much as I have driven through New England I’ve never SEEN a deer in the road. In North Carolina you not only have deer but bears, wild turkeys, and a whole assortment of fauna that this city boy has never seen. The flora seems to consist mostly of pine trees.

It was really nice to meet all the people Keyron has always told me about. I’d never really understood how nice, welcoming and gracious they were.

Vandora was the first one I met Vandora and Keyron. That whole family is sweet as can be, they welcomed me into their home. I now understand why Keyron loves her so much. Vandora by the way is Michelle’s aunt. Michelle is Keyron’s brother Cory’s girlfriend. She’s also sister to Michelle’s mom Jean, someone whom I shall reserve my opinion about. I also met Peggy who I’m not clear but there’s a striking family resemblance to Van so I’m assuming its another sister. Then there was Sheree who’s got her M.D. and is doing her residency but still has a, how shall I put this gently, still believes in the Jesus thing. I’ve noted that many doctors have a firm belief which shocks me as their profession is steeped in science and empirical observation, the very things that would challenge faith.

The Jesus his sidekick God thing is big in North Carolina. Several gospel stations on the radio dial and the ubiquitous “I’m in the book. -God” billboards. And did I mention that there’s a church of some sort every mile or so. It’s about the only entertainment available in most counties. Keyron’s mom is a believer too, but I realized something. She and I came to the same basic conclusions about respect and love, hers from the Bible, mine from living life. Anyhow, I’ll write more on that subject later as this post is rapidly becoming my opus on North Carolina.

Back to people next up was Gail Ward. Gail was one the 4H people that Keyron ran across while he was there 15 years ago. She’s a very eclectic character and her husband has the most absolutely amazing collection of salt water tropical fish I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the fact that she lives right on the waterfront and the views from that side of her home are absolutely stunning.
Keyron and Gail

While at Gail’s place we got the 411 on all the people that Keyron knew in 4H, who turned out to be gay, who married who, etc.

Speaking of 4H, I got to meet Travis, the one Keyron always told me about. Travis is very enthusiastic about agriculture, so much to the point that one feels the immense need to get away from him within about five minutes of talking to him. In ohter words it’s either get away or kill and Keyron’s mom validated my assessment.

Then of course there’s Vera. Keyron, his mom and I went to visit her but she wasn’t home. As we’re getting ready to turn out the highway we see her pull in so we turned around and spent a couple of hours there. Vera is a salt of the earth type who loves everyone. Vera is also a riot but a very loving person I truly wish her the Keyron and Verabest.

While in E-City was visited the Museum of the Albermarle. It doesn’t have a whole lot of exhibits, the majority of what it does have can be seen on my flickr site. It does have a lot of promise though. I hope to check it out again in a few years, hopefully by then the squabbling over exhibits and acquisitions will have died down.

Also checked out a little restaurant and pub called Thumpers. Best damned crab cakes I’ve ever had and Keyron’s sea food platter was excellent too, again pix are on my flickr site.

By about the third day I didn’t need Miss Navigator as much. I was learning how to get onto U.S. 17 and around and about. The speed limits on 17 vary widely, from a low of 35MPH in E-City to twice that as you’re going from Chowan to Tyrrel county. The funny thing is I didn’t see many police from Wednesday to Sunday, and then Christmas day I saw Edenton PD, Chowan Sherrifs, E-City PD, and even NC Highway police. Otherwise people sped like demons, so did I.

The distances between points of interest are bewildering to this northern city boy, where everything I need is within a 15 minute WALKING distance. Down there it’s a minimum 30 miles between E-City and Edenton. And along the roadways there are North Carolina tourism signs that state “A million miles away is just down the road.” My response is that you have to DRIVE a million miles to get there. When we got the rental, a 2007 Dodge Caliber it had a bit under 200 miles on it. When we returned it, the car had close to 2,000 miles on it.

One highlight was hearing Keyron’s brothers hip-hop recordings. Cory is very good, and I’d like to see him promote his recordings because the guy has talent. One of his recordings is really catchy, now he just has to press it on cdbaby and get it into some clubs.

Overall it was a very pleasant trip. It let me see the people Keyron always talks about and get to know them a little bit. It also lead me to understand why Keyron left North Carolina.

Finally the trip home was a pain in the ass. It took 13 hours and 41 minutes to get from Norfolk, VA to Providence, RI and required some creative re-routing take place.

While driving to the airport I pretty much predicted what was going to happen and sure enough, Murphy was in full effect. It was very rainy and windy which meant not a lot would be flying in or out of Norfolk. Sure enough, air traffic control delayed a lot of flights.

Coming back we flew United. United is shit, plain and simple. The first flight from Norfolk to Dulles was delayed by close to an hour due to mechanical issues. This in turn caused us to miss our connecting flight to Providence. The weather wasn’t being very cooperative either. The issue with United is lack of maintenance personnel. I was chatting with a gentleman who also missed his connecting flight. Turns out he’d taught at Brown university during the time I was working there too. Both he and I agree that air travel is dying a slow painful death and that subsidies should be shifted away from air travel and into rail as has been done in Europe. Leave the airlines the international routes.

We finally get on stand-by for a Boston bound flight, I figure it’s a 9PM flight, we can take the MBTA commuter back to Providence since it’s last run is 11:59PM. The stand-by tickets say it’s gate C14. Around 8:45PM I ask the gate agent how it looks to get on th e flight and he tells me it isn’t good. By this time Keyron is getting very upset and so talks to another United rep who tells us they’ve been announcing the gate change which we NEVER heard and it’s now on D-18 and hurry, it’s about to leave and there are seats available. We get to D-18 and get our boarding passes at 9:15PM. I figured we were going to make it and jokingly said to Keyron that we wouldn’t get home until after midnight.

Turns out my prediction was right on the money. We were scheduled to go out on flight 898 to Boston and it was supposed to leave Dulles at 9:36PM. We began getting updates saying maintenance was being performed on the 737-300. After 10:30PM we found out that it was the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), the device that provides the power to spin up the jet engines on the aircraft. A part had to be flown in from Chicago to resolve the issue and we were finally allowed to board at 10:45PM. Didn’t take off until after 11:00PM.

Luckily were were able to get in touch with Gina and she picked us up at Logan and drove us down to Providence. As a nice gesture I filled the now empty tank on her car. Got home around 2:30 in the morning.

In order to get us on the Boston flight they had to fake route us through Manchester, NH. What that did was cause us to get to Boston and our luggage to get to Manchester. They say we’ll have it back tomorrow as it is in fact in Manchester and I sure hope our luggage had a nice trip.

Later this afternoon I called United’s baggage handling operation since their web site said it couldn’t find out luggage. Hmm, early Thursday morning their baggage agent at Logan (BOS) told us it was in Manchester, NH. Talking to a representative confirmed my thought that the luggage was on a truck heading down from Manchester and that it would be delivered between 6PM and 12AM tonight.

The luggage was delivered at precisely 12:00AM on Friday.