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!!
I 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!!!!