A Darker View

Another experiment in growing tropical fruit… Deb had sprouted a pineapple using the top to one she had bought at the farmers market. With roots showing she asked me to set up a more appropriate home for the plant. That came in the form of a large pot on our front lanai. I was surprised when the pineapple not only survived but thrived. the plant is an attractive pot plant just outside our front door. I have shared some photos of the geckos and anoles that call the plant home.

Then the first signs of blooming appeared… In place of a new leaf a little spiky ball appeared at the center of the plant. This has developed into a very nice looking fruit, a recognizable pineapple covered with little purple blossoms. It is another tropical fruit I never imagined myself growing, one of the interesting things about living in Hawaii.

Now I just need to figure out when to harvest it!


A pineapple in fruit on our front lanai

Folks sometimes get a little perturbed when MKSS closes the Mauna Kea summit road. Everyone wants to go up and see the snow. Yes, the road is closed right now, for good reason, there really is no accessible road on the summit at the moment. Not taking my word for it? See for yourself…

Snow Drift

A MastCam image of the snowdrifts covering the road between Keck and IRTF

It has been raining all day in Waikoloa, a few tenths in the rain gauge as I left the house for work. In Waimea it is even worse, cool and damp, enough so that everyone is complaining about the cold. But then, island folks complain about anything under 80°.

Money Tree

Raindrops cover the leaves of the money tree

The weather was great for my mother’s visit two weeks ago. She was able to get some sun and beach before returning to the Northwest. Good thing she did not come this last week, nothing but grey skies and rain for the island. The storm is expected to last a few more days.

No progress on the lanai project this weekend, far too wet to paint. The trees in our landscape will like this rain, a steady soaking rain. Likewise the weeds will probably be doing all too well. I can turn off the watering system for a while. This morning’s shower was a tad cooler than I like, need to remember to turn on the electric backup in the solar hot water heater this evening.

The storm is raging at the summit. The wind is howling and freezing fog is coating everything with ice. The webcam images are mostly blocked as ice covers the camera windows, but I can still see out of one side of MastCam towards the Keck 2 dome.

Just received word that our day crew will not attempt the summit, they are leaving HP and headed home. The rangers report snow drifts on the road at fairly low elevations and the snow plow crews will not attempt to clear the roads until the storm abates. Looks like we will lose cooling on some of the instruments as the liquid nitrogen runs out.

Freezing Fog

Freezing fog forms ice on the weather mast on March 9th, 2015

For the first time in decades I have been playing a video game.

Growing up, we had a state of the art video game console in the house, an Atari 2600. This machine was impressive… For the late 1970’s. Specifications included color graphics, 160×192 pixel resolution, and monaural sound. My brother and I played for hours, eventually beating some of the joysticks to the point where they required replacement. I mastered Space Invaders, I could play through all of the levels, wrapping back to level 1 for as long as my stamina allowed.

Atari Tanks

Atari tanks game, circa 1978

One of the games bundled with the Atari was Combat, there were four games on the cartridge including a tank game. I look back on that first game, one of the first we played on that console, with a bit of nostalgia. Two tanks maneuvered around a simple obstacle course, with a point awarded for each shot that hit the opponent. The audio was similarly quite simple, a basic growling sound meant to sound like engines and a few sound effects for the shots.

In the intervening decades I have seldom played video games with any great intensity. There was an Apple II space adventure game called Elite that I did play for a while in the 1980’s, but little else.

Continue reading Video Games Then and Now…

Some great dive video from Mark, a fellow Keck engineer and dive buddy…

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

Astronomers have for the first time spotted four images of a distant exploding star, arranged in a cross-shape pattern by a powerful gravitational lens. In addition to being a unique sighting, the discovery will provide insight into the distribution of dark matter. The findings will appear March 6 in a special issue of the journal Science, celebrating the centenary of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.


This image shows the light of a supernova split into four images by a foreground elliptical galaxy embedded in a giant cluster of galaxies. The four images were spotted on Nov. 11, 2014. Credit: NASA/ESA

Two teams spent a week analyzing the object’s light, confirming it was the signature of a supernova, then turned to the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, to gather critical measurements including determining the distance to the supernova’s host galaxy 9.3 billion light-years from Earth.

To explain the unique, four-up projection, the scientists determined a galaxy cluster and one of its massive elliptical members are gravitationally bending and magnifying the light from the supernova behind it, through an effect called gravitational lensing. First predicted by Albert Einstein, this effect is similar to a glass lens bending light to magnify and distort the image of an object behind it. The multiple images, arranged around the massive elliptical galaxy, form an Einstein Cross, a name originally given to a multiple-lensed quasar that appear as a cross.

Although astronomers have discovered dozens of multiply imaged galaxies and quasars, they have never seen a stellar explosion resolved into several images. “It really threw me for a loop when I spotted the four images surrounding the galaxy – it was a complete surprise,” said Patrick Kelly of the University of California, Berkeley, lead author of the paper and a member of the Grism Lens Amplified Survey from Space (GLASS) collaboration. The GLASS group is working with the FrontierSN team to analyze the supernova.

Continue reading Supernova Split into Four Images by Cosmic Lens…

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

Scientists using the W. M. Keck Observatory and Pan-STARRS1 telescopes on Hawaii have discovered a star that breaks the galactic speed record, traveling with a velocity of about 1,200 kilometers per second or 2.7 million miles per hour. This velocity is so high, the star will escape the gravity of our galaxy. In contrast to the other known unbound stars, the team showed that this compact star was ejected from an extremely tight binary by a thermonuclear supernova explosion. These results will be published in the March 6 issue of Science.

US 708 Supernova Ejected Star

An artist impression of the mass-transfer phase followed by a double-detonation supernova that leads to the ejection of US 708. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, S. Geier

Stars like the Sun are bound to our Galaxy and orbit its center with moderate velocities. Only a few so-called hypervelocity stars are known to travel with velocities so high that they are unbound, meaning they will not orbit the galaxy, but instead will escape its gravity to wander intergalactic space.

A close encounter with the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way is typically presumed the most plausible mechanism for kicking these stars out of the galaxy.

A team of astronomers led by Stephan Geier (European Southern Observatory, Garching) observed the known high-velocity star know as US 708 with the Echellette Spectrograph and Imager instrument on the 10-meter, Keck II telescope to measure its distance and velocity along our line of sight. By carefully combining position measurements from digital archives with newer positions measured from images taken during the course of the Pan-STARRS1 survey, they were able to derive the tangential component of the star’s velocity (across our line of sight).

Putting the measurements together, the team determined the star is moving at about 1,200 kilometers per second – much higher than the velocities of previously known stars in the Milky Way galaxy. More importantly, the trajectory of US 708 means the supermassive black hole at the galactic center could not be the source of US 708’s extreme velocity.

Continue reading Supernova Ejects Galaxy’s Fastest Star…

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

A primitive ocean on Mars once held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean, according to NASA scientists who measured signatures of water in the planet’s atmosphere using the most powerful telescopes on Earth including the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The results are being published in the journal Science on March 6, 2015.

Mars with Oceans

NASA scientists have determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean and that the Red Planet has lost 87 percent of that water to space. Credit: NASA/GSFC

The young planet would have had enough water to cover the entire surface in a liquid layer about 450 feet (137 meters) deep. More likely, the water would have formed an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere, in some regions reaching depths greater than a mile (1.6 kilometers).

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, first author of the paper and scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

The new estimate is based on detailed observations of two slightly different forms of water in Mars’ atmosphere. One is the familiar H2O, made with two hydrogens and one oxygen. The other is HDO, a naturally occurring variation in which one hydrogen is replaced by a heavier form, called deuterium.

Continue reading ​Mars Lost an Ocean’s Worth of Water…

It snowed much of yesterday and well into the night. The result? Probably about a foot total at the summit, the Mauna Kea rangers report drifts of up to two feet in places. I am scheduled up top tomorrow, maybe some more photos?

Peeking Through the Ice

A MastCam view peeking through the ice at the Keck 1 dome