BAN #237: GO SEE NEOWISE, JWST delayed again, Vorticity 3 time-lapse

20 July 2020   Issue #237

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

Subscribers blaze across the sky.

What’s Up?

Look up! There’s stuff to see in the sky!

The comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE is blazing in the northwest after sunset now. I went out Friday night and saw it easily naked eye, and even the tail was visible. Through binoculars it’s simply jaw-dropping.

It will be up higher at sunset every day, and will be closest to Earth on Thursday 23 July. If you get a chance, go out and take a look! You don’t even need terribly dark skies for this; it’s visible even in twilight, when the sky is still not black. My blog post from last week has a map and tells you how to see it.

[Comet NEOWISE on 11 July, 2020 by the ever amazing Damian Peach.]

Also, you should go to Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, 500px, and whatever other site you can think of and search for pictures of the comet. They’re amazing. Some show a red ion tail, which may be due to water molecules getting zapped by the Sun’s ultraviolet light and energized into glowing. Incredible.

Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

ESA just announced that the James Webb Space Telescope launch been delayed again, this time until the end of October 2021.

From this official NASA photo, it looks like even JWST is screaming about it.

[The James Webb Space Telescope Credit: NASA]

When I tweeted about this news, I got a lot of responses. Here’s the best one:


If you want more info about JWST and why I’m so frustrated by its endless delays, here’s an eyeful for you.

Tip o’ the heat shield to Wallace McLean for the photo.

Pic o’ the Letter

A cool or lovely or mind-bending astronomical image/video with a short description so you can grok it

Stop whatever it is you’re doing — no, wait, you’re reading this newsletter, so keep doing that — and watch this absolutely soul-stirring time-lapse storm video by virtuoso photographer Mike Olbinski: Vorticity 3. One thing: Do NOT look at this on a phone or small screen. Find the biggest screen you can for it. Make sure you have the resolution set as high as your bandwidth can stand (it’s available up to 4K) and make it full screen, because WOW.

Holy convective motion! That’s just phenomenal.

I’ve written about his work many, many times, so take a look to see more of his videos and explanations of what you’re seeing, including mesocyclones, downbursts, that creepy hail-induced teal glow to the clouds, mammatus clouds, and more.

Besides the sheer gob-smacking beauty of these videos, I always think about the care that goes into making them. The endless chases, getting the footage, the choices of lens, exposure times, framing… and then knowing that getting the shots is only the first part of the work. Then comes cleaning the shots, processing them, turning them into videos… and then comes the real work of making the video, which means choosing which shots to use (imagine getting, oh, several hundred hours of footage and then having to edit them down to 9 minutes), what order to put them in… which also includes finding just the right music, which also affects which shots are employed and in which order.

One thing I want to note is Olbinski’s expert use of music to frame the setting. It would be easy (and perfectly fine) to choose thunderous drumbeats and heavy brass music to go with the enormous inertia of a rolling thunderstorm strobed with lightning bolts. Instead, in this one, he used more dramatic slow music, allowing the drama and intensity to build and release without a rapid chase-scene style soundtrack. It makes the storms that much more affective.

A perfect example of this is around the 5 minute mark, when the music swells as a storm builds, and then suddenly cuts out as we see a close-up view of a field of mammatus clouds, so bizarre and eerie. The soundtrack accentuates the cut beautifully.

I also like how the night shots have a slightly more stop-motion feel to them. That’s not so much an artistic choice as it is forced by physics; the lower light conditions mean longer exposures, so the motion isn’t as smooth. Still, Olbinki manages to make it feel smooth, which is lovely.

His YouTube channel is loaded with these sorts of videos, and I strongly urge you to take a look.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Shells of material surround the head of comet NEOWISE, ejected by vents on the surface and throw out as it rotates. From Monday’s post. Credit: Debra Ceravolo]

Monday 13 July, 2020: How to see NEOWISE, the best and brightest naked-eye comet in years

Tuesday 14 July, 2020: The spectacular ins and outs of starbirth

Wednesday 15 July, 2020: R I G E L

Thursday 16 July, 2020: The beautiful spiral galaxy IC 342 and the mysterious huge bubble

Friday 17 July, 2020: Solar Orbiter sees the Sun explode with tiny flashes of light

Et alia

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