An Adventure

Night Spring Sky, North America

Some nights I travel to the farthest reaches of the universe right from my backyard. Here is a guide to the spring night sky for those of you in the northern hemisphere. Even sunbathing we are time travelling, bathed in starlite over 8 minutes old. Time taken by sunlight to reach Earth = (150,000,000/3,00,000) seconds = 500 seconds = 8 minutes 20 seconds).

Click me for an Arizona Gallery of Fine Art prints by Michael Stephen Wills

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills, All Rights Reserved



Another Cayuga Waterfront Trail stop is this memorial. The plaque reads ” ‘Grandpa’ (Ironwood) Trees in memory of John A. ‘Jack’ Dougherty; June 15, 1927 – March 12, 1995; City of Ithaca 1949-1989, Retired as Superintendent of Public Works.” Located near the intersection of Pier Road and Willow Avenue, Newman Golf Course, Ithaca, Tompkins County, New York. That is an Ironwood tree, midgound center.

The American Hornbeam (scientific name: Carpinus caroliniana) is also known as Musclewood for the rippled surface of the mature trunk. Other names are blue-beech, ironwood and muscle beech.

Nestled on the trunk……

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Point Lookout at Dawn, Mesa Verde

Dramatic Entrance

This dramatic butte at the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, golden in the first light of a July morning.  My wife, Pam, and I were on this road in the pre-dawn hours.  Our delight with this surprise view was worth it.

Click me for more Mesa Verde works in my Fine Art Gallery

In this Point Lookout area, near the park’s entrance, the Mancos Shale is about 2,000 ft thick, and this is what this butte is composed of. Mancos Shale is the lowest formation of the park and is a thick sequence of gray to black marine shale containing minor tan siltstone and fine sandstone beds. On steep slopes, such as those near the northern and eastern boundaries of the park, this formation is prone to landslides and debris flows. This is the base of the butte. The lovely golden rock is Point Lookout Sandstone of the Mesaverde Group, a predominantly yellowish-gray or pale-orange, fine- to medium-grained marine sandstone, approximately 300-400 ft thick. The Point Lookout Sandstone forms much of the cap rock in the northern park area.

I reworked the above image into this Fine Art image of Point Lookout.


Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Sipapu Bridge Up Close

This post continues my story of Sipapu Bridge.

I created a series of fine art prints from a visit my wife Pam and I made to Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.  Here are a few of these prints which grace fine homes around the world.  Click any of the photographs to visit the gallery.

We walked a narrow cliff patch climbed a series of weathered pine ladders  to  achieve these views of Sipapu Bridges National Monument.

While the sky is unchanged, below the canyon rim is another world.  The black stripes of the cliffs is desert varnish, a thin deposit of clay, iron and manganese oxides.  The rock supporting the varnish is resistant to wear and protected from direct precipitation (in this case by the overhanging cliff).

Eventually we came to a ledge with a view of Sipapu Bridge.  Pam took the opportunity to capture this amazing experience.

Mike at Sipapu Bridge

A Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma). Historically, across the west, Native Americans used the wood in building their houses. They ate the berries; smoked the bark; made shoes, clothing, and rope from it.

Sipapu is a Hopi word for the small hole or indentation in the floor of kivas used by the Ancient Pueblo Peoples and modern-day Puebloans. It symbolizes the portal through which their ancient ancestors first emerged to enter the present world. A natural bridge is formed through erosion by water flowing in the stream bed of the canyon. Sipapu Bridge is 268 feet across and, standing in the stream bed, it is 220 feet above your head.

Here is a close up of the white Permian sandstone of the bridge arch.  The entire canyon is carved from this stone and named after it.


Pinelands Connections I

Geneology and DNA

“From the fire tower on Bear Swamp Hill, in Washington Township, Burlington County, New Jersey, the view usually extends about twelve miles. To the north, forest land reaches to the horizon. The trees are mainly oaks and pines, and the pine predominate. Occasionally, there are long, dark, serrated stands of Atlantic white cedars, so tall and so closely set that they seem spread against the sky on the ridges of hills, when in fact they grow along streams that flow through the forest. To the east, the view is similar, and few people who are not native to the region can discern essential differences from the high cabin of the fire tower, even though one difference is that huge areas out in this direction are covered with dwarf forests, where a man can stand among the trees and see for miles over their uppermost branches. To the south, the view is twice broken slightly — by a lake and by a cranberry bog — both otherwise it, too, goes to the horizon in forest. To the west, pines, oaks, and cedars continue all the way, and the western horizon includes the summit of another hill — Apple Pie Hill — and the outline of another fire tower, from which the view three hundred and sixty degrees around is virtually the same as the view from Bear Swamp Hill, where, in a moment’s sweeping glance, a person can see hundreds of square miles of wilderness. The picture of New Jersey that most people hold in their minds is so different from this one that, considered beside it, the Pine Barrens, as they are called, become as incongruous as they are beautiful.” From The New Yorker magazine, November 26, 1967, “Profiles, The Pine Barrens I” creative non-fiction by the great John McPhee.

This quote captures the contours of a place, now known as “The Pinelands,” a corner of Burlington County, New Jersey my English, Irish, Scottish ancestors settled from 1677 until my grandfather, James Edward Wills, left for northern New Jersey, Asbury Park, in the first years of the twentieth century. This past decade, more so since retirement 2017, I’ve explored these two hundred and twenty (220) or so years beginning with amorphous asides over the years from my father and second hand through my sisters then through online research via (Ancestry) and other searches.

From my father and sisters I knew to search southern New Jersey. The United States decennial census, “thank you Constitution,” listed a George and Margaret Wills with my grandfather among their children. Great Grandfather George Wills was listed as a 14 year old child of George and Mary Wills in the 1850 census. How could I be sure? DNA technology with internet based social interaction helped there. I was contacted by a Dellett descendant, identified by DNA as a fourth cousin, who claimed Mary Wills as a double great aunt, the daughter of James and Ann Dellett. Here is a screen capture of an Ancestry “ThruLines” analysis showing the six living ancestors of James and Ann in the database. I removed the names and photos of the other five to preserve privacy. The DNA fourth cousin relationship was an exact match to the family tree.

Cousin Delette provided antique photographs of George and Mary. I did a “FindAGrave” search, their final resting place is in a place named Tabernacle, Burlington County, New Jersey. September 2019 my wife Pam and I did a weekend tour with a bed and breakfast base in the city of Burlington, New Jersey. The rest of the photos in the following slideshow are from that weekend.

Here is the same Ancestry “ThruLines” analysis with the immediate family links exploded. through my “first cousin 1 time removed” I was able to communicate with a “lost” niece of my father who shared reminiscences of him from the time he was just released from World War II Naval Service, before meeting Mom.

….Click me for Pineland Connections II.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Parts of the Scorpion

Twenty million years ago a then nonexistent earth-bound human civilization could recognize none of the prominent stars of the constellation Scorpius (The Scorpion) as these, compared to our 4.6 billion year old star, lit up less than 12 million years ago. The brightest star, Alpha Scorpii AKA Antares, is a red giant destined to burst into a supernova bright as the full moon within two million years. Will the human race be around to witness it?

Such as it is, The Scorpion was traced out by the Babylonian astronomers around 8 BCE following even more ancient Sumerian traditions naming Alpha Scorpii “The Heart of the Scorpion.”

I first became aware of Antares March 2009 during a stay on Cocoa Beach. Setting the room clock to a 5 am alarm to view the sunrise. As I sat listening to the surf, Antares glowed dark red in the south. It is the reddish tint star in the following illustration.

Till Credner, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is a photograph of Antares, the reddish dot in center, along with the 6 of the 18 Scorpius bright stars. For this shot a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV dlsr had mounted a Canon lens EF 70-300 f4-5.6L IS USM set to 70 mm focal length, 1600 ISO. Exposure was “bulb,” meaning when the shutter button is pressed and held the shutter remains open: for this exposure this was for approximately 10 seconds. The equipment was held steady on a Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Fiber tripod. As the Earth continued to turn, the resulting star images are smeared a bit.

Bracketing Antares, the Scorpion Heart are “The Arteries” Theta and Tau. About those Greek letters, these designate relative brightness of each star respective of the others in the constellation. “Alpha” the first letter of the Greek alphabet is the brightest. Here are the other letters listed, with the alphabetic order in brackets Beta(2), Delta(4), Pi(16), Sigma(18), Tau(19). Ancient Greek built on the traditions of the Mesopotamians (Babylonian and Sumerian) and were in turn used for modern stellar nomenclature, including the tracings of sky images, the constellations.

The position of a relatively minor star, Tau, near Antares elevates it to the important function of an artery. The stars themselves run against their brightness hierarchy placement: The star Delta Scorpii, after having been a stable 2.3 magnitude star, flared in July 2000 to 1.9 in a matter of weeks. It has since become a variable star fluctuating between 2.0 and 1.6. This means that at its brightest it is the second brightest star in Scorpius.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

When Moon Dined from a Stellar Manger

Colored lights of our skies are a trigger for the imagination. The sky is a storybook to be written by the mind and passed along in language. The 3,000 observable stars and planets visible on any one moonless, clear night away from artificial lights draw on the human obsessional skill for pattern recognition. Over millennia, […]

Colored lights of our skies are a trigger for the imagination. The sky is a storybook to be written by the mind and passed along in language. The 3,000 observable stars and planets visible on any one moonless, clear night away from artificial lights draw on the human obsessional skill for pattern recognition.

Over millennia, stars along the path of the planets and sun through the sky held a special place for careful observers. Twelve patterns were imagined, each a named constellation. The word “constellation” means “to know from the stars.” Indeed, we can know much from the constellations. For example, it is winter in the northern hemisphere when the constellation “Cancer” (The Crab) is high in the night sky.

Click Photograph for my OnLine Galleries
Click photograph for my OnLine Galleries. Clicking the other photographs in this post will yield a larger image.

On the evening of January 20/21, 2019 the full moon climbed from the horizon (Click this link for the first post of this series “Total Lunar Eclipse of 2019…”) to a point high overhead were it appeared to float among the stars of Cancer, the crab. On the way, the disk darkened as its orbital path brought it into the earth’s shadow. The surrounding stars emerged from the darkening full moon glow. I captured the sight using a Canon dslr, the Canon EF 24 mm f/1.4L II USM lens mounted on a tripod by setting the ISO to 3200 to reduce the exposure to 1.3 second and placing the auto exposure area (a feature of the dslr/lens combination) away from the full moon.

Additionally, the moon is overexposed on the original image, for the following I used Photoshop to cut and paste the moon from the last photograph of this blog, reduced it to the approximate angular diameter of the moon and pasted it over the overexposed disk. There are better astrophotography images of this event, this image is mine to use and adequate for this purpose.

The Moon on the Crab’s back

Cancer is difficult to trace, the constituent stars are all dim. Hint: click on any of the following photographs and a new page will open with a larger resolution image. What is striking in the following photograph are the number of apparently paired stars. Our sun is an exception, it is not part of a star system; even so, most of these pairings are line of sight, not physical star systems. For example, starting from the “red” moon there is a faint star, “Delta” of Cancer. Trace an imaginary line between the moon and Delta, in your mind move the line down and a little to the right to a pair of dim stars, “Nu” and “Gamma” of Cancer (left to right). The two are not a system, being 390 and 181 light years away. Each is a multiple star system in itself as is Delta. The three are on the back of Cancer, with two stars on the upper right being “Alpha” and “Beta”.

A most interesting object of this photograph, well worth the price of binoculars, is between Nu and Gamma and a little higher, towards the moon. It was what I saw the first time viewing this photograph: a cluster of stars called “The Beehive.” This was how I identified the location of the moon on the back of this crab.

Click for more information about this view

Click photograph for a higher resolution version
Total Lunar Eclipse and Surrounding Sky with labels for primary element of the Cancer constellation

For the following photograph I cut/pasted/enlarged a square with the (enhanced) Moon, Delta. Nu and Gamma, below, with the Beehive between them. See that the stars, though “fuzzy”, have colors. Delta is a orange giant, also known as the “Southern Donkey”. Gamma, the “Northern Donkey,” and NU are white. The back of the Crab holds a two donkeys eating from a manger, a Galactic Stellar Cluster name “The Beehive.” This night the moon joined the feast.

Click photograph for a higher resolution image
“Beehive” with Total Lunar Eclipse with labels for primary elements of Cancer Constellation

The Beehive

With binoculars (or telescope with a wide field eyepiece), the Beehive is a glorious spectacle of 1,000 gravitationally bound stars, a mixture of colors from blue to red. It was one of the first objects Galileo viewed through the telescope, picking out 40 stars. In later years it was here we found the first planets orbiting sun-like (i.e. having the characteristics of our yellow star) stars within a stellar cluster. In spite of being 600+ light years distant the Beehive was known since ancient times, being visible without a telescope in clear, dark skies.

The Total Eclipse

A glorious moon at full totality is captured in the following two photographs. I used the dslr at 3200 ISO with the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L lens at 300 mm. Setting the exposure area to the Moon, the exposure was 3.2 seconds.

In the first photograph, I especially enjoy the effect modeling of the shadows does to make the disk appear round. The field of view does not include Delta, Gamma, Nu or the Beehive. At this time I was not aware how close the Beehive was, or even that the Moon was in Cancer. The beauty of the moon floating among the stars is apparent.

Click photograph for larger image
Click photograph for larger image

Click link for the first post of this series 

Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Fall Creek View

from abandoned railroad bridge

Fall Creek meanders through the esker fields of the Malloryville Preserve. Here is the view from an abandoned railroad bridge. A major watercourse of the Finger Lakes, throughout the 19th century Fall Creek provided water power for local industry: grain grinding mills, cooperage and furniture. Here the stream bed is wide, flow slow and pacific for a mirrored surface, the effect broken by a single drop from an overhanging tree or, maybe, a fin’s flash.

Pam and I visited Malloryville last weekend to enjoy a “socially distanced” walk with family.

Click image for a larger version.

Click Me for another Malloryville post, “Formed By Water.”

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope – 3

Adaptive optics

These views within the McMath–Pierce solar telescope enclosure were captured during a guided tour of the instrument, April 20, 2005. By way of orientation, the observation room we visited is near the location labeled “4” on the model of the following photograph or the “Observation Room” of the drawing.

We learned each of the sets of mirrors is considered a separate telescope. The first step in designing the new solar telescope was to determine the optimal image scale. Working on the spectra of the solar granules, on the physical structure of the sunspots and their associated magnetic fields, requires a considerable image size. Past experience has shown that the optimal image of the sun should be approximately 0.91 meters. The highlight of our visit to the Main Observation room was meeting with the technician operating the recently developed low-cost adaptive optics system.

Tip-tilt correction and low order wavefront correction is available with a number of portable optical benches.  These are primarily used with the Main spectrograph and the Solar Stellar spectrograph on the Main telescope, but due to their compact mounting they could be used with other telescopes and instruments in the facility.

This configuration uses a rapidly deformable mirror to correct distortions introduced by the turbulent atmosphere. Using sensors to measure the degree of image distortion, the adaptive optics system adjusts the shape of the mirror accordingly and converts a blurred image into a clear one. The following image demonstrates the correction. “Low-cost” = $25,000 in 2003 US dollars. Under references is a link to a full description of the device by the creator.

A main area of ​​study in the observatory is the structure of sunspots, which are relatively cold, dark spots on the surface of the Sun created by intense magnetic activity.

Some of the most important discoveries made at McMath-Pierce include the detection of water vapor in the Sun, the measurement of kilogauss magnetic fields (thousands of times stronger than those on Earth) outside sunspots and the detection of a natural maser (like a laser, but with a microwave instead of visible light) in the Martian atmosphere.

Over the years and technological advances, the National Solar Observatory has moved its headquarters from Tucson to Boulder, Colorado. The organization abandoned its solar telescopes at Kitt Peak and in New Mexico for a larger instrument in Hawaii, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on the island of Maui, which began operating in 1919.

Wikipedia “McMath–Pierce solar telescope”

“Low Cost Adaptive Solar Optics” by Christopoher Kellar

Insights into the architectural design.

National Solar Observatory website..

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope – 2

The Mirrors

These views within the McMath–Pierce solar telescope enclosure were captured during a guided tour of the instrument, April 20, 2005. By way of orientation, think of yourself at the location labeled “4” on this model. This is the only large telescope where humans can view the interior and visually experience the light paths “bouncing” between the mirrors.

McMath–Pierce solar telescope has three heliostats mounted on a 110-foot tower adjacent to a slanted enclosure. The 2.03-meter heliostat feeds a 1.61-meter primary mirror, there are 1.07-meter and 0.91-meter primary mirrors fed by a pair of 0.81-meter heliostats. Here we are inside the slanted enclosure, looking up the shaft to the tower mounted heliostats, readily identified as the three circles, the largest at center (3.51 feet in diameter). The smaller (2.66 feet) heliostats named “East” (on left) and “West.”

Built in 1962, the building was designed by American architect Myron Goldsmith and Bangladeshi-American structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan. It was the largest solar telescope and the largest unobstructed aperture telescope in the world. It is named after the astronomers Robert Raynolds McMath and Keith Pierce. Painted white to reflect sunlight to reduce heat accumulation, the enclosure is water cooled to prevent convection currents through the column of air within the slanted enclosure, keeping the air as still as possible along the light path between the mirrors.

In the three photographs following, we face the underground portion of the slanted shaft and (what looks to be) the 0.91 meter (2.99 feet) primary concave mirror. I say that because in some of the photographs a beam of light, to the left of the mirror, can be seen travelling further underground, presumably to the largest primary mirror. As there is only one such light beam, I conclude the west heliostat is inactive.

Here we looking up the slanted enclosure. Look carefully at the first photograph, below, to see reflections on the glass partition. The observation platform was separated from the light paths to maintain the stillness of the air column. The two mirrors of the first photograph are the third mirror, reflecting concentrated sunlight from the 0.91 and 1.61-meter primary mirrors into the observatory rooms. The mirror for the 1.07-meter primary is out of sight in foreground, I believe this set of three mirrors (West heliostats, primary and third) was out of service.

The second photograph, on right, is a close up of the third mirror for the largest primary. A foreshortened, perfectly round light disk is clearly visible.

Here we are inside the slanted enclosure, facing the underground portion of the slanted shaft and (what looks to be) the 0.91-meter primary concave mirror. In the lower right corner is the reverse side of the third mirror for the largest primary mirror, the 1.61-meter.

Reference: Wikipedia “McMath–Pierce solar telescope”
Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved