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Monday 28 September 2015

The weather in Chicago cleared up enough that we got a great view of the total lunar eclipse last night:

For comparison, here is the full moon when Earth doesn't get in the way:

Note that it's a lot harder to photograph the moon when it's eclipsed. The full moon reflects 9% of the light falling on it, or about half as much as a standard gray card or green grass. So when shooting the moon, the correct exposure is surprisingly fast: about 1/250 at f/5.6 at ISO 100. Shooting the eclipse last night, I used 1/10 at f/5.6 at ISO-25600. And a tripod.

Monday 28 September 2015 13:48:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#

OK, so, astronomers predicted tonight's lunar eclipse about 6,000 years ago, but it was still bloody cool. I'll have photos tomorrow. Meanwhile, I am happy the clouds over Chicago parted long enough that I could see one great rock cast a shadow on another. It happens every six months, I realize, but it won't be visible again in Chicago for many years.

Sunday 27 September 2015 21:57:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Wednesday 23 September 2015

WGN's Tom Skilling is optimistic about seeing Sunday night's eclipse:

While the first vestiges of Sunday evening’s full moon will begin at 7:40pm, the partial eclipse stage is to be reached at 8:07 pm Chicago time moving toward the “total eclipse” phase at 9:11pm. The disc of the moon will take on a dim rusty-red cast in the total eclipse phase for 1 hour and 12 minutes (through 10:23pm Sunday evening). The partial eclipse phase is to be reached at 11:27 pm and the eclipse ends at 11:55 pm.

The early read is that the weather is going to cooperate in viewing the event from Chicago and the Midwest. Here, from the National Weather Service’s GFS forecast model is a forecast of the likely location of cloud cover at differing heights–and, finally, a composite of potential total cloud cover at 7pm CDT Sunday.

Here is the GFS model’s total cloud cover prediction. Sunday is likely to be an unseasonably mild late September day with brisk southerly winds likely to boost daytime temps across the VChicago area to around 80-degrees and to limit nighttime lows to the 60s.

Here's hoping. It should be an epic eclipse.

Wednesday 23 September 2015 09:47:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Thursday 17 September 2015

I hope Chicago has decent weather for the full moon 11 days from now:

It's coming Sept. 27 at 9:47 p.m. CDT.

For starters, it is what some astronomy enthusiasts call a "super" moon because it will occur when the moon is close to perigee, its nearest point to Earth in its elliptical orbit.

The moon reaches perigee Sept. 28, and it will be just more than 222,000 miles away at the time of the full moon. That is about 31,000 miles closer than lunar apogee, the moon's farthest point in its orbit.

The moon appears about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter at perigee than it does at apogee, according to NASA. But it doesn't look dramatically different to the naked eye.

The full moon also comes with a full lunar eclipse, all of which will be visible from the eastern half of the United States, including Chicago. Such eclipses can give the moon a reddish tint, caused by light bending through Earth's atmosphere.

Here's the official NASA page showing just how disappointed we'll be if it's cloudy in Chicago.

Wednesday 16 September 2015 17:12:59 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Monday 31 August 2015

Today is the Summer Bank Holiday in the UK, which has the same cultural resonance to the British that Labor Day has to us. It marks the psychological end of summer over. August 31st also marks the end of meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere. Over the next month in Chicago we'll see days shrink by almost two hours and temperatures fall by almost 6°C.

I hope, also, that by the beginning of winter, The Daily Parker will have a new home and infrastructure, and the ENSO will have pushed the storm track north of us to ensure a warmer-than-average winter.

Monday 31 August 2015 10:49:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Friday 14 August 2015

Via IFLS, the Independent reported yesterday that the Prime Meridian is not at 0°W:

Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world descend on the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to pose for a photograph astride the Prime Meridian, the famous line which divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth.

There is just one problem: according to modern GPS systems, the line actually lies more than 100 metres to the east, cutting across a nondescript footpath in Greenwich Park near a litter bin. Now scientists have explained why – and it all comes down to advances in technology.

According to a newly published paper on the discrepancy, which has existed for many years, tourists who visit the observatory at Greenwich often discover that they “must walk east approximately 102 meters before their satellite navigation receivers indicate zero longitude”.

I've visited the Royal Greenwich Observatory a couple of times, first in 2001. This sign was inaccurate then, but most people didn't realize it:

If you look at that photo's metadata, you can see the GPS location that I added using the mapping feature of Adobe Lightroom. According to Google Maps, the monument is actually at 0°0'5"W.

But the Prime Meridian was always primarily a reference point for time, not space, and therefore is exactly in the right place. As a commenter on the IFLS post pointed out:

The article uses the term "wrong" when in actuality Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is still based on the Prime Meridian, though with the network of atomic clocks it isn't used much anymore, however the marker itself is very much in the right place. It is just when you use the coordinates on a GPS you end up at a different location. This is because GPS doesn't use the Prime Meridian as a starting point. GPS uses multiple locations all across the globe as anchor points in which to triangulate a location from called the geodetic system. The system does not rely on fixed straight lines as we see on a map but rather contours to the physical and gravitational shape of the Earth. So in essence just as the gig line (navy term) of my shirt doesn't lie straight and flat across by oversized 50 year old belly neither does the imaginary geodetic lines. These imaginary lines if drawn on a map would deviate east and west and would appear wavy. In the end, it is not about being wrong (as the article implies) but rather why do the two systems not match up.

(See? Sometimes comments on the Internet are reasoned and mostly correct.)

And this is science, too. As the Royal Observatory's public astronomer Dr Marek Kukula told the Independent, “We’re forever telling this story, making the point that as we refine our measurements and get better technology of course these things change, because we want to have the best possible data."

As a bonus, here's a photo from my most recent visit, in 2009. Look at all the tourists lining up on the 5-seconds-west line:

Friday 14 August 2015 16:27:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | London | Travel | Astronomy#
Thursday 6 August 2015

NASA released a really cool video yesterday:

The agency explains:

The images were captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

EPIC maintains a constant view of the fully illuminated Earth as it rotates, providing scientific observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in the atmosphere. Once EPIC begins regular observations next month, the camera will provide a series of Earth images allowing study of daily variations over the entire globe. About twice a year the camera will capture the moon and Earth together as the orbit of DSCOVR crosses the orbital plane of the moon.

These images were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, showing the moon moving over the Pacific Ocean near North America. The North Pole is in the upper left corner of the image, reflecting the orbital tilt of Earth from the vantage point of the spacecraft.

I love living in the future; don't you?

Thursday 6 August 2015 08:17:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Tuesday 14 July 2015

Meanwhile, this:

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Tuesday 14 July 2015 10:16:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Monday 13 July 2015

New Horizons zips past Pluto in the early hours of the morning U.S. time tomorrow:

Last night at 11:23 p.m. EDT (this morning at 4:23 a.m. BST), New Horizons moved within one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) of Pluto, speeding towards the dwarf planet and its five moons at 30,800 mph (49,600 km/h). It will arrive tomorrow at 7:49 a.m. EDT (12:49 pm BST), although owing to the vast distances involved and a one-way communications time of 4.5 hours, we won’t know if it has been successful until the end of the day. The first signals and data are expected back at 8:53 p.m. EDT Tuesday (1:53 a.m. BST Wednesday).

Despite the long journey time, the flyby will last just over two hours. The best images can be expected on Wednesday, but it will take 16 months for all of the data taken by the spacecraft to be sent back to Earth. This is due to both the distance and the low bit rate of the spacecraft, which has the ashes of its discoverer Clyde Tombaugh on board.

The spacecraft is the fastest-moving human-made object in the universe. This is how it got to Pluto in only 9 years, with the trade-off that its visit will be so short.

Monday 13 July 2015 12:24:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Monday 6 July 2015

Astronomers have discovered compelling evidence of alien life on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko:

Evidence of alien life is "unequivocal" on the comet carrying the Philae probe through space, two leading astronomers have said.

[Astrobiologist] Chandra Wickramasinghe said: "What we're saying is that data coming from the comet seems to unequivocally, in my opinion, point to micro-organisms being involved in the formation of the icy structures, the preponderance of aromatic hydrocarbons, and the very dark surface.

"These are not easily explained in terms of pre-biotic chemistry.

"The dark material is being constantly replenished as it is boiled off by heat from the Sun. Something must be doing that at a fairly prolific rate."

Welcome to the future.

Monday 6 July 2015 10:27:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Thursday 2 July 2015

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart . (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx .)

Thursday 2 July 2015 12:22:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Wednesday 1 July 2015

For no reason other than it was out last night:

Wednesday 1 July 2015 10:56:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Astronomy#
Tuesday 30 June 2015

No, really. Today will have 86,401 seconds in it, as opposed to the usual 86,400 seconds that every day for the last 18 years has had.

Because the earth interacts with lots of other gravity sources in the universe—most notably the moon—its rotation sometimes speeds up and sometimes slows down. Over the last 18 years or so, the planet has lost an entire second because of these perturbations, requiring us to update our most accurate clocks to compensate. Of course, when those clocks get updated, there's a trickle-down effect, because so much of what we do in the 21st Century requires really, really accurate timekeeping.

So, this evening in Chicago, the 6pm hour will have 3,601 seconds in it as the master clocks all over the planet add their leap second at 23:59:60 UTC.

Enjoy your extra second.

Tuesday 30 June 2015 09:11:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Cool links | Security | Astronomy#
Monday 22 June 2015

Between unpacking, preparing for a party (which encourages the unpacking), and the regular business of working, I didn't have time to write this weekend. I still don't, but I did want to catch up on a couple of things.

First, a coronal mass ejection over the weekend is producing large aurorae today, which could be visible in Chicago, New York, Dublin, and Seattle—way farther south than usual.

Second, Rhianna Pratchett, Sir Terry's daughter, says the next Discworld novel will be the last:

The author, videogame and comics writer told a fan last week that her late father’s forthcoming novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, featuring teenage witch Tiffany Aching, would be the final Discworld book. And asked by a fan if she would be continuing the series herself, she ruled out the possibility.

“No. I’ll work on adaptations, spin-offs, maybe tie-ins, but the books are sacred to dad,” she wrote on Twitter. “That’s it. Discworld is his legacy. I shall make my own.”

She added: “To reiterate – no I don’t intend on writing more Discworld novels, or giving anyone else permission to do so.”

Good for her. As blogger A.J. O'Connell wrote today, "Forty-one stand-alone novels are an amazing gift to give a fanbase, and I feel like it would be greedy to ask for more."

More later. Back to a deck that's due this afternoon.

Monday 22 June 2015 13:36:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Astronomy#
Tuesday 12 May 2015

First, because NASA's reputation is such that climate-change deniers have difficulty refuting the agency, Republicans in Congress are trying to get NASA out of the discussion:

As has been widely reported, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee recently approved a bill that would cut at least $300 million from NASA's earth-science budget. This comes after the head of the Senate committee overseeing NASA claimed the agency should stop doing earth-science and focus only on space exploration.

Honestly, when it comes to getting the science of climate change right, who are you going to believe? A radio talk show host or NASA? The angry denialists in the comments section of this blog or NASA? The politician who says, "Well, I am not a scientist" or the scientists at NASA?

Then, closer to home, a group of residents in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood really don't want a Whole Foods Market in their back yards:

The grocery giant's current Lakeview store, at 3300 N. Ashland Ave. opened in 1996 and is 31,500 square-foot—a speck compared to the labyrinthine, 79,000 square-foot Whole Foods located near North Avenue. That is why the company plans on opening up a 75,000 square-foot store one block away, at 3201 N. Ashland Ave. The building will feature 300 parking spots on the first floor and the basement, and a full store on the second story.

Speaking for the Melrose Street Concerned Residents, Tricey Morelli summed up the fears of the locals:

"Subconsciously, you see a big building like this and there's no windows into the building, so it makes you think, like, 'Why aren't there windows on the main floor? Are they fearful that someone's going to bash the windows? Is there going to be crime?' It kind of almost makes it look a little bit like a mean street."

This woman is speaking about a Whole Foods store in Lakeview, which has us confused. Are there roving bands of recent college graduates and moms with strollers running around, smashing windows and defacing property? We certainly can't discount the possibility.

I really don't understand what it's like going through life afraid of fantasies...

Tuesday 12 May 2015 14:21:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Weather | Astronomy#
Sunday 22 March 2015

The French abbey Mont-Saint-Michel was completely cut off from land yesterday as once-in-a-century tides flowed into the English Channel:

Tens of thousands of curious visitors have crowded historic Mont Saint-Michel and other beauty spots along the French coastline with the promise of a ‘tide of the century’, but it may not have lived up to everyone's expectations.

Anticipating a wall of water that could equal the height of a four-storey building, tourists and locals staked out positions around the picturesque landmark last night and again today, including the partially-washed out causeway as the tide retreated.

They travelled to France’s northern coast for the first giant tide of the millennium, with experts predicting that it could reach as high as 14 m - 5½ m above normal - thanks to the effects from yesterday’s spectacular solar eclipse.

And once the tide flowed out, people had the rare opportunity to walk across the salt flat to the Mont. The tides were so high that UK authorities closed the Thames barrier for the 175th time in its 30-year history.

According to the Daily Mail, "the last 'tide of the century' occurred on March 10, 1997 and the next will take place in March 2033."

Sunday 22 March 2015 08:24:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Astronomy#
Tuesday 3 February 2015

This happens all the time, so to speak, but every winter there are proposals to scrap daylight saving time in various state legislatures. The latest one that passes the laugh test is Oregon's, especially since it wouldn't take effect until 2021.

It probably won't go anywhere. Once people start thinking about 4:30am sunrises in June with 7:30pm sunsets, daylight saving time makes more sense. But we'll keep watching.

Tuesday 3 February 2015 11:48:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Astronomy#
Tuesday 27 January 2015

January is long, cold, and dark in Chicago. We've got no more holidays, we've got much more snow, and we hardly see the sun.

So January 28th always makes me a little happy, because it's (usually) the first day in almost four months that the sun sets after 5pm. (The last time was November 1st.) It marks the log-jam of dark and cold nights breaking up. Sunset will slide to 5:30 in only three weeks and, thanks to Daylight Saving Time, blast almost to 7pm two weeks after that.

Of course, it's still another week and a half until the sun rises before 7am...

Tuesday 27 January 2015 15:28:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Saturday 3 January 2015

Simple: Go down to Amundsen-Scott Station and walk around the pole.

But if you don't want to cheat, get a very fast airplane:

Jeremy Newton is an Air Force veteran who flew F-18s, but, when contacted by e-mail, suggested the F-22 for a variety of reasons. First, it can fly at 1.5 Mach (about 1,000 mph) without using its afterburner, meaning it burns much less fuel. It tops out at 2 Mach, though that burns more fuel. Second, it can refuel in 10 minutes -- in mid-air while traveling at 400 mph. And third, as the video shows, it can go from full speed to full stop in under four minutes, and to top speed at 30,000 feet in under 5 minutes.

If you don't have access to military hardware, you can still probably hit the four time zones in the United States in that Gulfstream, although you'd be touching down in less exciting locales. (Unless you love the Upper Plains, in which case: go for it.)

The maximum number of time zones you can hit by plane depends on the plane, of course, and on how much you're willing to push it. It seems as though the Gulfstream could get you from GMT+11 to Greenwich Mean Time -- on one tank of gas. The Raptor can do a little better, from GMT+12 to GMT-1, as on the map below.

This is, of course, silly. But it's close to a plan I have on my bucket list: on the June solstice, see the sun rise over Passamaquoddy Bay near Lubec, Maine, and see it set over the Pacific Ocean near the Makah Indian Reservation in Washington. I'd bet you can even do that taking commercial flights.

Saturday 3 January 2015 12:55:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Travel | Astronomy#
Wednesday 31 December 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Wednesday 31 December 2014 09:34:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Tuesday 16 December 2014

Very busy today; less so the rest of the week. So after I'm done with this deliverable today I'll read these:

Back to the mines...

Tuesday 16 December 2014 11:15:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Astronomy#
Tuesday 9 December 2014

It's 7:35, and pitch black outside. When people talk about permanent daylight saving time, because they don't want to switch clocks twice a year, they should consider that France is an hour ahead of the "correct" time zone for its longitude and therefore has sunrises at 8:30 in the morning this time of year.

If there were daylight right now, I'd upload a photo of all the airplanes taxiing past my hotel window. It's kind of cool. Tomorrow, when I can sleep in.

Tuesday 9 December 2014 07:37:50 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Travel | Astronomy | Work#
Wednesday 19 November 2014

Since we can't really see it in the middle of November in Chicago, here's what we're missing, sped up 58 times:

Wednesday 19 November 2014 06:56:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Astronomy#
Thursday 23 October 2014

The total lunar eclipse two weeks ago required getting up early in the morning and trying to find the moon through trees and Chicago street lights. Late this afternoon, Chicago (and most of North America to the west) will get a much better show from the moon as it partially obscures the sun.

Starting around 16:35 CDT this afternoon, the moon will creep in front of the sun, reaching maximum eclipse right at sunset (17:59 CDT).

Of course, this being Chicago, and despite the crystal-clear blue skies above the city right now, the forecast for this afternoon calls for increasing clouds and showers. Because we won't actually see the eclipse, that just means it will get dark and gloomy an hour before sunset.

And look at that sunset time. That's right, last night was the first sunset since March 8th to occur before 6pm.

Ah, well. If you live west of Chicago, you'll get a good show from the moon this afternoon, with less gloom and more astronomical coolness. Enjoy.

Thursday 23 October 2014 08:33:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Thursday 9 October 2014

Vox's Sarah Cliff reports some data from health gadget maker Jawbone about when we go to sleep, and for how long:

Jawbone's data shows that, on average, no major American city gets the National Institute of Health recommended seven hours of nightly sleep. You see that in the light green areas [on the interactive map], which tend to surround large populations.

Jawbone also put together a map of when people go to sleep. And there you see mostly people who live in large cities and college towns staying up later. That shows that people in Brooklyn, NY tend to have the latest bed time in the United States (they turn down, on average, at 12:07 a.m.) where as people living in Maui, Hawaii get to bed the earliest at 10:31 p.m.

In a similar vein, people in Massachusetts are grumbling about their time zone again, thinking that year-round daylight saving time (or year-round observance of Atlantic Standard Time) will somehow make life better:

As sunset creeps earlier—it’s down to 6:19 p.m. today in Boston—we’re already dreading what happens a month from now: Clocks turn back. The first Sunday morning, it’s fantastic. An extra hour of sleep! Later that day, though, the honeymoon ends. Why is it pitch black before dinner?

The same weekend we experience these conflicting emotions, Americans in Arizona and Hawaii will do something foreign to most of us: They won’t change their clocks.

More evening daylight could be part of a broader solution to retain the bright young people who come to New England from afar to our world-class colleges and universities. Retaining college graduates is so important to our region that the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is studying the issue. But consider the actual experience of students who come to Boston for their education: On the shortest evening of the year, the sun sets here at 4:11. When they graduate, they might find themselves with options in New York, where the shortest day extends to 4:28, or Palo Alto, where it’s 4:50! Shifting one time zone would give us a 5:11 sunset—a small but meaningful competitive change.

Well, sure, but the sun would rise as late as 8:15 am in December, which would cause parents to complain. (For an excellent takedown of the Globe's argument, check out Michael Downing's Spring Forward.)

Thursday 9 October 2014 16:20:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Astronomy#
Wednesday 8 October 2014

Last night's lunar eclipse had reached totality when I dragged Parker and myself out of the house around 5:30 this morning. Eclipses are always worth seeing, especially on a perfectly clear morning like today.

Now if I could just do something about the streetlights next time...

Wednesday 8 October 2014 09:29:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Weather | Astronomy#
Tuesday 7 October 2014

The earth will blot out the sun tonight, if you're standing on the moon, but the earth's atmosphere will bend red light just enough to put on a great show:

Much of North America will have front-row seats for this special sky show, which will particularly favor the western part of the continent. Sky-watchers there will be able to see the entire eclipse unfold high in the western skies; East Coast observers will see much of the first half of the eclipse. For early risers in the East, the full moon will be sinking below the western horizon around sunrise, just as the total eclipse is getting under way.

The eclipse begins with the partial phase, when the moon enters Earth's dark shadow (also called the umbra shadow). That begins at 2:15 a.m. PDT (5:15 a.m. EDT). Then the umbral shadow will spread across the moon's disk, moving from left to right.

At 3:25 a.m. PDT (6:25 a.m. EDT) totality begins, when the moon is fully engulfed in the umbral shadow and turns a shade of orange red. The deepest or midpoint of the eclipse will be at 3:55 a.m. PDT, and totality continues until 4:24 a.m. PDT. The last phase of the partial eclipse ends at 5:34 a.m. PDT.

I'll at least get up to check the weather on my mobile around 5:30am tomorrow, and if it's clear, Parker might get a really-freaking-early walk. In Chicago, the moon will be close to the western horizon, but it should still be visible.

Then, on the 23rd, a partial solar eclipse will be visible throughout most of the United States and Canada from 16:43 Chicago time until sunset. Peak eclipse occurs at 17:43 Chicago time as the sun is close to the western horizon.

And for those of you who thought of it immediately, turn around, bright eyes.

Tuesday 7 October 2014 16:58:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Astronomy#
Thursday 2 October 2014

There are so many things in life we know intellectually but forget in reality before getting an unhappy reminder. The ever-later sunrises in October, for example, just suck, but we forget.

Since the end of daylight saving time moved from early October to early November in 1986 and 2007, October mornings are just grim, especially when it's overcast and gloomy, like today. The sun rises in Chicago before 7am until October 12th, but even at 6:45 (like today) many people still wake up before dawn.

My second-favorite city in the world has it worse, though. London sees the sun come up around the same time as Chicago in the middle of September, but today the sun came up there well after 7a. The day before the UK goes back to GMT at the end of October, London's sunrise is a depressing 7:43a on the 25th, but it gets worse for them. Boxing Day (December 26th) doesn't see the sun until 8:07a.

Chicago's latest sunrise this year is 7:24a on November 1st. Because Chicago isn't as far north as London, our midwinter sun comes up a few minutes earlier, at 7:19a on January 4th.

So much for quantifying misery. It's all cyclical. October mornings can just be depressing, though.

Thursday 2 October 2014 09:23:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | London | Astronomy#
Monday 22 September 2014

Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel explains, it depends:

No doubt today (September 22) will be announced as the “first day of fall” because of the fall or autumnal equinox. However, that concept refers to the date when we get equal amounts of daylight and dark.

Climatologists and meteorologists prefer to use calendar months to define the four seasons in the US. For example, fall would start September 1 and end on November 30. Not only is this more convenient, because you can use monthly data, but it lines up better with the typical or average temperature pattern for Illinois. Unfortunately, the meteorologists would describe this three-month period as “meteorological fall”. However, I would argue it is “climatological fall” since we are looking at long-term average to determine the season.

In summary, while the four equinox and solstice events are interesting, they are not really the best way to define the start of seasons in Illinois. Starting dates of March 1 for spring, June 1 for summer, September 1 for fall, and December 1 for winter are better aligned with the climatological data.

But if you prefer to use the September equinox as your official beginning of fall, that event will take place at 21:29 CDT (02:29 UTC) tonight.

And for you pagans out there, may you have a balanced and warm equinox.

Monday 22 September 2014 17:09:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Monday 1 September 2014

Good morning. It's the 1st day of September, 2014, and meteorological summer is over. School is back, Labor Day is upon us (but only in the U.S., where it doesn't remind anyone of actual labor struggles), and I've had Parker for 8 full years. (The annual Parker Day photo will have to wait until he and I are both back home. I know, this is the second year running that I've missed the day itself. I hope he forgives me.)

On the whole, summer wasn't bad. Autumn should be fine as well: I'm attending a dear friend's wedding this month, going to London next month, and in between, aiming to walk Parker as much as our legs can carry us. Cleveland will be involved as well, though to what extent, I don't yet know.

Still, I'm not sure where summer actually went. May doesn't seem that long ago.

Monday 1 September 2014 07:20:28 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Parker | Travel | Weather | Astronomy#
Sunday 31 August 2014

When I visit my folks in northern California for short visits, I use the same trick to ward off jet lag that I use in London: I stay on Chicago time. This means, however, that I get up around 5:30 and hike over to the Peet's to work until everyone else wakes up.

Combine that with this being the end of August and it really brings home how short the days are getting. At home I've already noticed how gloomy it is at 6:30; here, I'm leaving the house at 5:45, almost an hour before sunrise. The last time I visited California, in May, I walked to the coffee shop at dawn. Today I thought it prudent to bring a flashlight.

Chicago has lost 74 minutes of daylight since August 1st, and will lose another 100 minutes by the end of September.

We'll also get cooler weather, changing leaves, sweaters, and longer walks with Parker, so it's not all bad.

Sunday 31 August 2014 07:45:38 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Chicago | San Francisco | Astronomy#
Thursday 7 August 2014

He thinks we should all use GMT instead:

[W]ithin a given time zone, the point of a common time is not to force everyone to do everything at the same time. It's to allow us to communicate unambiguously with each other about when we are doing things.

If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it's dark out and work when it's light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. But of course London's bartenders would probably be at work while some shift workers in LA would be grabbing a nap. The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there'd be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don't need to remember that it's in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.


It's even easier to get people to use International System measurements than to get them to understand the arbitrariness of the clock, but let's unpack just one thing Yglesias seems to have missed: the date.

Imagine you actually can get people in Los Angeles to use UTC. Working hours are 16:00 to 24:00. School starts at 15:45 (instead of ending then). In the summer, the sun rises at 12:30 and sets at 02:00.

Wait, what? The sun sets at 2am? So...you come home on a different day? That makes no sense to most people.

Yes, in a world where people are unwilling to give up their 128-ounce gallons and 36-inch yards in favor of 1000-milliliter liters and 100-centimeter meters, a world where ice freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 makes more sense than freezing at 0 and boiling at 100, a world where Paul Ryan is thought to be a serious person, we're not moving away from the day changing while most people are asleep.

And don't even get me started on the difference between GMT and UTC.

Thursday 7 August 2014 09:35:35 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US | World | Travel | Astronomy#
Thursday 10 July 2014

Imagine you're sitting on your front stoop, strumming your guitar, and Eric Clapton comes out of nowhere to give you some pointers.

That's about what happened to me today. Earlier this week, Jon Skeet (described by Scott Hanselman as "the world's greatest living programmer) noticed something I posted on the IANA Time Zone list, and asked me about the Inner Drive Time Zone library.

So I sent him the package.

And this afternoon, he sent me a benchmark that he wrote for it. Just like that.

Of course, the benchmark showed that my stuff was about 10% as fast as the Noda Time library, an open-source project he curates. So, having a couple of hours for "personal development time" available, I optimized it.

The specific details of the optimization are not that interesting, but I managed to more than double the library's performance by changing about ten lines of code. (It's now 20% as fast as Noda.) Along the way I exchanged about 10 emails with Skeet, because he kept making really crack suggestions and giving me valuable feedback about both my design and his.

That was cool.

Thursday 10 July 2014 17:52:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Astronomy#
Sunday 6 July 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart . (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx .)

In the early part of July, we hardly notice sunrises and sunsets. Days are long, it's still light out at 9pm (in Chicago), and we commute to work in broad sunlight. About a month from now we'll get a twinge when the sun sets at 8pm, and then, faster and faster, we'll notice the days getting shorter and our morning commutes getting darker.

Meh. That's in a month. Let's just enjoy the daylight we have now.

Date Significance Sunrise Sunset Daylight
2 Jul 8:30pm sunset 05:20 20:30 15:10
16 Jul 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:24 14:54
9 Aug 8pm sunset 05:53 19:59 14:06
16 Aug 6am sunrise 06:00 19:50 13:50
29 Aug 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
14 Sep 6:30am sunrise 06:30 19:02 12:32
15 Sep 7pm sunset 06:31 19:00 12:22
22 Sep Equinox , 21:29 CDT 06:38 18:48 12:10
25 Sep 12-hour day 06:42 18:43 12:01
3 Oct 6:30pm sunset 06:50 18:29 11:39
12 Oct 7am sunrise 07:00 18:14 11:14
21 Oct 6pm sunset 07:10 18:00 10:50
1 Nov Latest sunrise until 1 Nov 2016
Latest sunset until Mar 5th
07:24 17:45 10:21
2 Nov Standard time returns
Earliest sunrise until Mar 2nd
06:25 16:44 10:19
6 Nov 6:30 sunrise 06:30 16:39 10:09
15 Nov 4:30pm sunset 06:41 16:30 9:49
2 Dec 7am sunrise 07:00 16:21 9:20
8 Dec Earliest sunset of the year 07:06 16:20 9:13
21 Dec Solstice , 17:03 CST 07:15 16:23 9:07
4 Jan Latest sunrise until Oct 29th 07:19 16:33 9:14
28 Jan 5pm sunset 07:08 17:00 9:53
5 Feb 7am sunrise 07:00 17:11 10:11
20 Feb 5:30pm sunset 06:40 17:30 10:50
27 Feb 6:30am sunrise 06:29 17:39 11:09
7 Mar Earliest sunrise until Apr 12th
Earliest sunset until Oct 30th
06:17 17:48 11:31
8 Mar Daylight savings time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct 25th
Earliest sunset until Sep 22nd
07:15 18:49 11:34
17 Mar 7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
12-hour day
06:59 19:00 12:00
20 Mar Equinox 17:45 CDT 06:54 19:03 12:08
4 Apr 6:30am sunrise (again) 06:29 19:20 12:50
13 Apr 7:30pm sunset 06:14 19:30 13:15
22 Apr 6am sunrise 06:00 19:40 13:39
11 May 8pm sunset 05:35 20:00 14:25
16 May 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:05 14:35
14 Jun Earliest sunrise of the year 05:15 20:28 15:12
20 Jun Solstice 11:38 CDT
8:30pm sunset
05:16 20:30 15:14
27 Jun Latest sunset of the year 05:18 20:31 15:12

You can get sunrise information for your location at wx-now.com.

Sunday 6 July 2014 08:55:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Sunday 25 May 2014

When I go anywhere for only a couple of days, I try not to shift my body clock. It prevents jet lag, mostly.

This weekend I'm at my folks' house outside San Francisco, which has a two-hour time difference from Chicago. That is why I woke up at 5am and walked to the local Peet's Coffee, as I usually do.

This trip I may allow my clock to drift westward, though. I'm going to Tuesday night's Cubs game at AT&T Park at 7:05pm—9:05pm Central time—and would like to see the whole game. The Cubs might even win. I mean, they have a 1-in-3 shot, right?

I do like getting to the Peet's this early, though. First, the just-before-dawn walk is quiet and even a little spooky down the local bike trail, but today I got a tremendous view of the crescent Moon and Venus, which are passing just 2° from each other this morning. I'm never up this early at home unless I'm still up, which hasn't happened in years anyway.

Second, the Peet's is quiet right now. In two hours it'll be packed with families and locals (the fishermen who stay here for hours at a time most mornings are more colorful than any of the characters at the Alibi Room). Time to write for a bit, and wait for the rest of my family to wake up.

Sunday 25 May 2014 05:57:25 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Cubs | San Francisco | Travel | Astronomy#
Wednesday 7 May 2014

Actually, it's a live feed from the ISS:

Live streaming video by Ustream

IFLS explains:

One of the latest missions from the ISS is kind of amazing. The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment consists of four cameras that have been attached outside of the ISS. Though temperature is controlled, the cameras are exposed to the radiation from the sun, which will allow astronauts to understand how radiation affects the instruments.

The cameras point down at Earth at all times, which makes for some breathtaking images. The feed will sometimes go down as the signal switches between the cameras, and it is hard to see when the ISS is on the dark side of the planet. If the cameras are down, the screen will be grey.

As I'm posting this, the ISS was just past the morning terminator, near the Philippines. It should fly almost directly over Chicago in 20 minutes or so. (The ISS orbits once every 92 minutes.)

Wednesday 7 May 2014 14:26:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links | Astronomy#
Sunday 2 February 2014

Via the IANA Time Zone Database mailing list, through Randy Olson, comes this map showing the difference between local solar time and what wall clocks show throughout the world:

At the time I’m writing, near the winter solstice, Madrid’s sunset is around 17:55, more than an hour later than the sunset in, for example, Naples, which is at a similar latitude. The same difference holds at the summer solstice and around the year. Just because it applies to most places I’ve been, a time like that in Naples feels more natural to me, and probably to most non-Spanish people. But is it?

Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01.

If you live in the green areas of the map, the sun tends to rise and set earlier than in the red zones. Not coincidentally, the places that set time policy tend to be neutral: London, Washington, Sydney, Beijing, Ottawa...they're all nearly dead-center in their respective zones. The notable exception is Moscow, where time policy goes back and forth and may even change once more this year.

Finally, a commenter on the Reddit MapPorn post where this also appeared points out: "Fun fact: The small Afghan-Chinese border is the largest jump in timezone in the world. (3 and a half hour difference on each side) You'd get jet lag crossing that border."

Sunday 2 February 2014 10:05:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Astronomy#
Thursday 9 January 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart . (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx .)

Sunrises are just starting to get earlier, but today's (7:18 CST) is only a few seconds earlier than the latest sunrise of the year on January 3rd. Even though the sunrise times creep earlier by seconds every day, sunsets start to get noticeably later: 16:39 today, 7 minutes later in a week, 25 minutes later in three weeks. January is cold and dark, but (on average) a few degrees warmer and 48 minutes longer when it ends than when it begins.

Click through to see a full chart of Chicago sunrise and sunset times.

Thursday 9 January 2014 08:38:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 9 December 2013

It's cold in Chicago right now: -7°C with a wind chill of -13°C and gradual cooling predicted towards a low of -16°C Wednesday night. This is only the second time in 30 years it's been so cold, so early.

Two things: first, though I don't have time to link to anything right now, it turns out this cold in Chicago is caused by abnormally warm temperatures in the North Pacific. So, yeah, aggregate global warming causes localized cold snaps.

Second, thanks to celestial mechanics, tonight's sunset will be later than last night's for every point on earth that has a sunset. (Inside the Arctic and Antarctic circles, there are no sunsets today.) Sunsets continue to get later everywhere until well past the March equinox, even though sunrises in the Northern Hemisphere will also get later until January 6th. (See the Chicago sunrise chart for details.)

So, despite this really unpleasant weather, there are definite signs it will get warmer soon. Relatively soon, anyway.

Monday 9 December 2013 13:26:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Sunday 3 November 2013

Since we moved the end of Daylight Saving Time to the first week of November, sunrises at the end of October are later than those in mid-December. Yesterday's sunrise was the latest sunrise in a year, and will be the latest until 2016. (The sunrise on 6 November 2010 was the latest until 2021, so it really could be worse.)

In Chicago this morning, the sun rose at 6:26, the same time it rose on September 12th. It won't rise this early again until March 3rd—but then a week later we shift the clocks again so we get another 6:26 sunrise on April 6th.

National Geographic had not one but two articles on DST this weekend. Any conclusions? Some people don't like it and others do. The only conclusion I draw from reading both is whether DST benefits you depends on a lot of factors, geography preponderating.

I still don't know why we moved the fall switch from end of October to beginning of November in 2007. We want daylight for Hallowe'en? I really, really hate getting up before dawn, which wouldn't happen before Thanksgiving if we still used the pre-1986 (1st Sunday in October) rules; even the 1986-2006 regime (4th Sunday in October) would minimize it. Europe, including the UK, change their clocks the last Sunday in September and the last Sunday in March. That seems to work best for northern, cool climates—like Chicago. Maybe Illinois should go its own way, then?

Sunday 3 November 2013 09:40:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 28 October 2013

The week between when we used to switch back to Standard Time and when we do so now (since 2007) makes me want to stay in bed.

This morning sunrise happened at 7:18 and will slouch out to 7:25 on Saturday morning. It's the latest sunrise we'll have for three years, and it's 45 minutes after I usually get up in the morning.

I know a lot of people prefer more light in the afternoon. I don't care, really. Sunday the sun sets at 16:42; but it rises at 6:26, and gives me another month before the sun rises after 7 again. Then, of course, there's the slog from December 2nd to February 4th...but what can you do?

Just having a moan. You can ignore this post.

Monday 28 October 2013 08:49:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Sunday 7 July 2013

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Sunday 7 July 2013 09:57:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Sunday 27 January 2013

Even though we've just gotten our first snowfall, and today has started giving us snow, freezing rain, sleet, and icy roads, there is good news.

January 27th is when things officially start looking brighter in Chicago every year. Tonight, for the first time in almost two months, the sun sets at 5pm. Then things start to become noticeably brighter: a 7am sunrise next Monday, a 5:30pm sunset two weeks after that, then a 6:30am sunrise less than a week later.

Yes, this is dorky, but trust me: you'll notice it now.

Sunday 27 January 2013 13:52:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Saturday 5 January 2013

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Saturday 5 January 2013 10:50:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Saturday 29 December 2012

Late next year, Earth could get the best show from a comet in decades:

By the end of summer [Comet Ison] will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.

Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun. Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.

By late November it will be visible to the unaided eye just after dark in the same direction as the setting Sun.

I expect we'll hear more about this as it gets closer.

Saturday 29 December 2012 10:40:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Thursday 19 July 2012
Thursday 19 July 2012 09:54:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Saturday 14 July 2012

The aurora borealis could be visible as far south as Chicago, Belfast, and Seattle tonight and tomorrow:

A significant event located on the Sun facing Earth took place on July 12. The effects of this event will begin to reach Earth early on the 14th of July GMT.

Observers in North America should watch for aurora on the nights of the 14th and 15th local time. Depending on the configuration of the disturbance, auroras may be visible as far south as the middle tier of states.

Activity may remain high also on the 16th. Auroras should be visible Southern New Zealand, Tasmania, and of course, Antarctica.

I've only seen aurorae from airplanes in flight over the polar regions. Obviously they're invisible from within the city of Chicago, but if I had a boat, tonight would be great for going out on the lake and looking for them.

Saturday 14 July 2012 11:48:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 21 May 2012

This evening's eclipse, through clouds:

Also visible in the shadows:

An hour later, it's a lot brighter out.

Sunday 20 May 2012 19:29:33 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | San Francisco | Astronomy#
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The Prime Meridian isn't where you think
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Chicago sunrise chart, 2015-2016
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Today is the longest day of the year
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Two unrelated stories about ostriches
Marée du siècle
Oregon considering year-round standard time...eventually
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How to celebrate New Year's Eve 24 times in one night
Chicago sunrises, 2015
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Here comes the sun
Partial solar eclipse this evening
Light and dark
Got up early, took a look, went back to bed
Lunar eclipse tonight will be creepy
When does autumn begin?
September already?
Dark when I get up
Matthew Yglesias trolls the IANA Time Zone list
Unexpected master class
Chicago sunrises, 2014-2015
Early-morning walks
This is video of me and President Obama
How far off from sun time are you?
Chicago sunrises, 2014
Winter is here
Favorite morning of the year
Dark mornings
Chicago sunrise chart, 2013-2014
Nerdy but possibly welcome update
Chicago sunrise chart, 2013
Mark your calendars
Chicago sunrise chart, 2012-13
Major solar event leads to aurorae tonight
A dragon is eating the sun
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David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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