Today Mercury will be at maximum eastern elongation, as high in the evening sky as it will appear for this current apparition. After today the planet will slide back into the sunset, passing through inferior conjunction on April 19th to reappear in the morning sky around the end of the month.
Mercury typically completes three morning and three evening apparitions in each year. While the innermost planet never gets very far from the Sun, maximum elongation represents the best time to observe Mercury as high in the sky as possible.
There are no transits of Mercury in 2017, the next will be Nov 11, 2019.
Today Venus is at inferior conjunction, passing between the Earth and Sun. It will reappear in the dawn sky early next month to become the morning star for the remainder of 2017. The planet will reach maximum elongation on June 3rd at 46° from the Sun.
As Venus emerges from the Sun’s glare it will be a fine crescent, growing thicker each day as we see more of the sunlit side of the planet. While it is still low in the dawn it can be a fine telescopic target. It is these phases of Venus that Galileo noted 400 years ago, one more bit of evidence to the true, Sun centered, nature of our solar system.
Across the room from my desk is a large cabinet full of blueprints and sepia prints. Stacks of large prints that represent the original drawings from which the W. M. Keck Observatory was constructed. Floor plans, foundation plans, the structural steel of the telescope itself.
The prints are in many ways works of art. Often drawn by hand these old prints represent a lost skill, the art of the draughtsman from before computers irreversibly changed the profession. Impeccably neat lettering, an arcane menagerie of symbols, coded shading to represent different materials, it takes time just to learn to read these drawings properly.
Late last fall I put a new vegetable bed into use. After several years of accumulating compost and shoveling cinder soil I actually have something like real soil in a large enough quantity to call a vegetable garden.
One of the first things planted were sweet potatoes. Deb and I love the local purple sweet potatoes. The Okinawan variety is a favorite through the islands and has become a staple on our table as well, usually purchased from local growers at the farmers market.
Knowing that these are pretty easy to grow I gave it a try. I planted a ten by ten area with half a dozen slips and arranged a soaker hose that runs on the automatic drip system. It was not long before I had green foliage popping up. The potato patch certainly looks healthy enough, the plants thriving in the Waikoloa sunlight. The patch quickly became a heavy tangle of vines with pretty white and purple flowers.
This weekend I finally decided to do a trial run at digging up a plant to see what I have… To my stunned amazement I have not a pile of little tubers, but one giant tuber right underneath the main plant. What the heck is this?
This thing was huge, six inches long and five inches in diameter, weighing several pounds. There was enough in this single tuber for several meals!
Consider the usual Okinawan sweet potato is an inch or two in diameter and four or five inches long. Why is this so different? The starting stock for my potato patch was quite typical, just a few Okinawans I had bought at the farmers market and set aside for planting. I expected to get much the same out of the ground, not this giant.
The vernal or spring equinox occurs today at 00:29HST. Today there will be little difference between the length of the night when counted against the number of daylight hours. This is the first day of spring as marked by many cultures in the northern hemisphere.
When 700 tons of steel and aluminum just keeps going when it is commanded to stop people tend to notice. When you let up on the switch it is supposed to stop, when that something is the Keck 1 telescope dome it gets interesting.
The first I knew about it was from John, our summit supervisor on the phone. Actually he had several folks on his end using the speakerphone, never a good sign when a phone call from the summit starts this way.
Three people describing a problem on the phone is a bit confusing, it takes a few minutes, and a few questions before I have a clear idea of what happened. Basically the dome did not stop when commanded to while they were operating with the radio controller, a bit of kit we call Capt. Marvel.
Of course a few minutes later our safety officer walks into my office… I wonder what she wants to talk about?