A triple planetary conjunction!!!


Greetings readers,

Though I’ve been thoroughly busy with dissertation activities while still attempting to stay sane living far away from home and everything I know in an impossibly small town in Middle Tennessee I have been able to take a few hours of my morning and practice some landscape astrophotography. For those who aren’t aware, 2015 has been an incredible year for night sky astronomy. There were two lunar eclipses this year (completing a tetrad of lunar eclipses starting with two in 2014), the Jupiter-Venus evening conjunction which occurred in June of this year, several meteor showers and now a morning triple conjunction of the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter which has graced the October and early November skies this fall.

Astrophotography is a great, expensive but rewarding hobby if you’re into that sort of thing. I don’t think there are many things which capture the imagination like heavenly bodies coupled with foreground objects. I don’t have much in terms of equipment, just an old Canon Rebel T2i DSLR with a shutter release cable and a tripod, but in the two years since I’ve saved up and purchased this camera I’ve been pleased with my results so far. I was very fortunate to have awaken on the morning of October 22, 2015. It was truly beautiful to see Venus, Mars and Jupiter so close together that you could cover all three words with your closed fist while projecting your hand at arms length against the dome of the night sky. Fortunately, my equipment is decent enough to capture the amazing image (seen at the top of this post).

No bragging here! It was a remarkable scene that I really can’t take credit for. It really is amazing how much a decent DSLR can capture with a little luck, some research/knowledge about how the camera works and a little more knowledge about celestial mechanics. Curiosity and experimentation also help. I’ll add that persistence is also key to success in astrophotography. One thing that I’ve learned is that for every amazing photo which makes it to magazine pages and in science books there’s probably a hundred or so bad images. When I shot the above image, I took about 30 images and maybe 5 came out well. I liked this one the best.

I’ll share with the world what I did to make this shot: the bulb setting was used, an ISO of 1600, the white balance was set to Tungsten, an f-stop of f/5.6 and an 18-25 mm lens. The exposure was about 18 seconds. No serious photo editing was used either. I think I did minor color adjustments in Photoshop but much the raw image (yes, I shot in RAW) appeared as it does in the photo. The labels of the planets were added too 🙂

I’ll add a few of my other favorite images which I’ve taken over the few years I’ve practiced landscape astrophotography. I’m getting my blogging time in also since I don’t get to blog often. Enjoy!!

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913782_10101517307500483_12492195_o MJV



Research and Blogging Updates

20151021_164134I started the journey of blogging quite a while ago, thinking that it would be a good way to get the creative writing juices flowing as I progressed toward writing my dissertation and eventually defending it. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of blogging (and writing a dissertation!) is a simple thing called motivation. In both instances I’ve struggled to maintain consistency in getting thoughts down on paper. In the dissertation, the general discouragement of consistent head banging and the iterative process of ‘try, fail, try again, fail again’ really creates a set of emotions which limit one’s ability to stay focused and maintain a desire to continue updating the blogosphere about the process.

I write this post in an attempt to rebound from a really discouraging year of research (head banging) to put forth a better effort in both blogging with some consistency and also to become more active and articulate with where I am in my dissertation process. I hope that this attempt will be the start of something which will encourage not only myself to continue but also anyone who’s actively working in a research related field and perhaps struggling to articulate what they are going through as well.

For those of my audience who are thoroughly interested, I am finishing up my second (or third) annual ‘final year’ of PhD school. 😀 This is in response to everyone who’s asked me every PhD dissertation student’s favorite question ‘So when are you going to graduate?’ From what I’ve gathered in conversations with professors, friends and colleagues each PhD student has a slightly different journey but many parts of the story are the same. The similar parts of the story include selecting a ‘narrow’ topic to study related to your/your professor’s/your favorite funding institution’s area of interest and hitting the journals, realizing the ‘narrow’ topic is actually too broad, focusing the scope, presenting to the dissertation committee the ‘more focused topic’ and then beginning to understand both the state of the body of knowledge and then your specific contribution to said area of interest.


Large Eddy Simulation results of hydrogen injection into a supersonic crossflow at various grid densities. Contours are of Mach number.

I’ve honestly spent the past year using a commercial code to create 2D and 3D models of the research problem thinking that it would be easier to learn an existing code than developing one independently. Of course this is a matter of preference. I’ve really been testing myself to see how well I can pick up a computational tool and learn it thoroughly without a priori knowledge with the intent of using it to study a specific research problem. I’ve had limited success and many failures!!

The ultimate goal in all of my labor under the sun during this dissertation process is essentially to demonstrate to the research community an ability to learn independently at the highest level of academics and to perform original research, making a (somewhat small) contribution to the general body of knowledge in ones field. It does take a while to achieve something that few people ever are brave (or foolish) to accomplish, all for three letters behind one’s own name! I’m still working at this goal, but I’m making strides towards it every day (and night)!

For now, I’ll just have to be content with spending hours at coffee shops reviewing grid generation techniques in literature, monitoring CFD simulations, making sure the residuals continue to drop while praying that the computer servers don’t crash while simulations are running. I was able to present initial research findings at a conference this past June; the results had mixed reviews. I anticipate more results to come through in the next few months. Happy researching!!!!



Why you should create your own thesis writing retreat (or reasons to travel)

The Thesis Whisperer

Suffice to say I only had one emotion when Kylie Budge, PhD student at the University of Melbourne and academic at RMIT, sent me this post.


Let Kylie give you a justification for planning that thesis writing retreat you have always wanted…

Ever considered the idea of taking yourself away for a self-imposed thesis writing retreat? Would it be helpful? No doubt, like me, you’ve harboured fantasies of doing just this. Taking yourself out of your usual environment and the usual distractions so you can put your head down and tail up to finish a big chunk of writing.

financial_distrcit_ManhattanWell now there’s research to back up your fantasy thesis-writing-retreat idea. @jasondowns tossed me this little piece of scientific evidence gold from Scientific American via twitter recently. Take a long hard look at that fellow thesis retreat writing fantasizers. It’s indeed evidence to support your argument to go off somewhere…

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6 ideas from creative thinkers to shake up your work routine

6 ideas from creative thinkers to shake up your work routine


To improve your ability to think creatively, try one of these changes to your work routine.

Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister (TED Talk: The power of time off) closes his New York design studio for a year-long sabbatical. During each sabbatical, he pursues “little experiments, things that are always difficult to accomplish during the regular working year.” The effect on Sagmeister’s studio has been profound. “Basically everything we’ve done in the seven years following the first sabbatical came out of the thinking of that one single year,” he says.

Don’t think you can take a year-long sabbatical? Below, 6 easier ways to recharge the creative spirit.

Keep to a schedule.

Willa Cather wrote for three hours a day. “I don’t hold myself to longer hours; if I did, I wouldn’t gain by it,” Cather once said. You might need to put in 8 hours a day at the office (who doesn’t?), but it helps to think…

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10 Common Problems Old Souls Experience At Least Once In Their Life

Thought Catalog

intrepidation intrepidation

1. The inexperience of feeling truly understood.

Old souls can be seen as strange people because they often hold unconventional ideals and standards of living. They often feel a sense of separation from themselves and the “real world” because things like obtaining great wealth, owning a lot of expensive possessions, and other traits of living a materialistic lifestyle aren’t really an interest to them. In a world fueled by consumerism this can seem kind of weird to most people. Having a different set of expectations and ideas about living can make it hard to feel like anyone truly understands you and what drives you in life.

2. People don’t understand how easygoing and forgiving you can be at times.

Old souls tend to have a philosophical viewpoint about life and look at things on a larger spectrum. What does this mean? When problems arise and old souls are forced…

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Accuracy, Convergence and Mesh Quality

Here’s a good blog post for all those CFD modelling experts out there 😉

Another Fine Mesh

[This article was first published in the May/June 2012 issue of The Connector. It was so popular there it’s reposted here to reach a broader audience.]

“We know embarrassingly little about how the mesh affects the CFD solution,” said Prof. Carl Ollivier-Gooch of the University of British Columbia.

That statement is counter to what we all know to be true in practice, that a good mesh helps the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) solver converge to the correct answer while minimizing the computer resources expended. Stated differently, most every decent solver will yield an accurate answer with a good mesh, but it takes the most robust of solvers to get an answer on a bad mesh.

The crux of the issue is what precisely is meant by “a good mesh.” Syracuse University’s Prof. John Dannenhoffer points out that we are much better at identifying a bad mesh than we…

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