Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Three Views of the Milky Way

Three views of the Milky Way, shot over two nights in the Mojave Desert, California.

1. Still photo

Move your cursor over the image (or touch on mobile) to see labels: constellations are in blue and planets are in pink. Click on the image for a high-res version, where you can make out some of the amazing deep-sky objects in Sagittarius, including star clusters and nebulae (interstellar clouds of dust and gas hundreds of light years wide, where new stars are being born). Though it cannot be seen in the photo, the frame also includes the galactic centre – the theorised location of a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*.

2. Star trails

These star trails were shot over 65 minutes. I like how it really brings out the variation in star colours. The stars moved from left to right, and the brightest streak is Jupiter.

3. Timelapse

The video above opens in a new window (I recommend setting the quality to 1080p as YouTube sometimes picks a lower resolution). 2.5 hours of diurnal motion are compressed into 20 seconds: an effective speed of 450x. The "star" rising around 0:08 is Mars. The sky lighting up at the end of the video is not daybreak, but the Moon rising in the east.

+ Show tech info

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Seasons 8: San Francisco Bay Area

I was in the Bay Area for two months, which might seem like too little time for the kind of dramatic variation that makes for a good Seasons post. 'Precocious' plants, which flower before leaves appear, offer a way out.

I often used to sit and work under this wisteria. Sometimes I would go inside to make myself a cup of coffee, and when I came back there would be wisteria petals on my laptop. Move your cursor over the image (or touch on mobile) to see how it changed in little over a month.

Base photo:27 April 2018
Mouseover photo:31 May 2018
Approx. coordinates:37.90°N, 122.29°W

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Thursday, 17 May 2018


Anna's hummingbird ♀ on fuchsia
motion blur at 1/1000 sec

Saturday, 12 May 2018


My new hobby is nature-journalling, inspired by an online course I'm taking (free) and a book I bought this week (rather expensive). At present my kit contains only an HB pencil and an eraser, so the sketches are pretty bare-bones. But on the plus side, they only take a few minutes to complete.

Oliver Sacks offers three reasons to like horsetails: "their simplicity, their antiquity, and their mathematical elegance." It is said that the decreasing size of the segments inspired John Napier to invent logarithms.

Speaking of simplicity, the notebook pictured here – A6 recycled-paper from Muji – is an absolute joy to use.

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Thieving Carpenter

The cottage where I'm staying in California has Mexican bush sage in the garden. Like all salvias, the flowers have a 'staminal lever mechanism'. To get at the nectar, pollinators have to push against one arm of the stamen. This activates a lever mechanism; the other arm swings down and deposits pollen on the pollinator's body.*

But some animals cheat. Instead of entering through the front door, they bite a hole at the base of the flower and steal the nectar. Today I caught a carpenter bee in flagrante delicto.

And here is the hole, with my thumb for scale:

*To really appreciate this marvel, see Fig. 1 of Stöbbe et al and Fig. 2 of Claßen-Bockhoff et al.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Owl Haiku

Yesterday was Rabindranath Tagore's 157th birth anniversary. Of his 18 (!) volumes of collected works, the one I have read most often is probably volume 3 which contains কণিকা (Konika), a collection of proverbs, aphorisms and philosophical musings in verse.

Tagore visited Japan three times; he was fascinated by haiku and translated a few into Bengali. When I was a teenager, I tried translating some of his Konika couplets into English, in haiku form. There is only one for which I still know both the original and the translation by heart: Konika 65, titled শত্রুতাগৌরব (Feud-Pride):

পেঁচা রাষ্ট্র করি দেয় পেলে কোনো ছুতা,
জান না আমার সাথে সূর্যের শত্রুতা!
The Owl announces
Every chance he gets, "I have
A feud with the Sun."

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Unity, Equality, Love & Bicycles

My (borrowed) bike on the Ohlone Greenway, California