Saturday, January 16, 2010


This evening, as every evening, around 6:30 pm I walked outside to take the dogs for the just-before-bedtime walk.  This is something they look forward to with great anticipation, and I find it very relaxing.  This time of year it's dark at evening walk time, and tonight it was very dark; no moon in the sky at all.

As we walked, I glanced over at my old friend Orion, low in the eastern sky.  Just above the horizon (in the direction pointed to by Orion's belt), I spotted Sirius – it's the brightest star in the sky, so spotting it isn't hard to do.

But then I did a double-take, 'cause I could swear I saw Sirius moving around.  Even if you're not an astronomy buff, you probably realize that the distant stars like Sirius simply don't move around in any visible way.  Before you ask, no, I had not had any alcohol (or other mind-altering substance) this evening.  With some careful observation, I could see that Sirius was moving against the background stars – and of course this is simply not possible.

What on earth could be going on?  It would have to be one really weird atmospheric effect if Sirius was moving and neighboring stars weren't!

I ran into the house and grabbed a pair of binoculars.  When I got back outside, Sirius wasn't moving.  On the off chance that position mattered, I ran back down the driveway to the exact spot where I'd seen Sirius moving before.  Still no motion.  Now I was beginning to think hallucinations, or micro-stroke, or something along those lines.

I trudged back up toward the house along the driveway, keeping an eye on Sirius.  About 25 feet further toward the house, it moved again!  I got the binoculars on it, and I saw Sirius moving relative even to its nearest dim neighboring stars.  But then I noticed another star moving – a dim star just to the right and above Sirius from my current perspective.  And it was moving synchronously with Sirius.  I watched closely for about 30 seconds, and noted that there was both motion and blinking, which acted to accent the motion.

Then it dawned on me what was going on.  As I look to the east from my driveway, I see the profile of the hill I live on about 300 feet away.  That profile is a slope, rising into the south; lower to my left and higher to my right.  The Barnicks, my friends and neighbors, live at the top of that hill.  Their power line follows the same path, but higher because it's elevated on power poles.  From my perspective, at that moment, their power lines crossed the point in the sky where Sirius was.  I'm hypothesizing that the power lines were moving in the gentle breeze, and that their motion was causing the effects that I saw.

The proof was easy.  I just waited a couple of minutes, and sure enough, Sirius stopped moving (because it had risen just enough to clear the power lines).  And if I moved a few feet further along my driveway, Sirius started moving again, because once again the power lines were intersecting it.

I can't tell you how much better I feel, now that I can explain why Sirius was dancing around in the sky!

Haiti, From the Air...

The photo at right (click to enlarge) was taken from a U.S. Air Force UAV.  It shows the Haitian National Cathedral, almost entirely in ruins.

The Air Force has a Flickr page, where you can see more such photos as they come in.  There were three UAV photos posted at the time I wrote this.

Despite the subject matter and the emotions it evokes, I can't help but marvel at the simple fact that the U.S. Air Force has a Flickr page.  The world changes in most unexpected ways...


No matter what your take on Brown vs. Coakley, you've got to admit that this is one hell of a campaign ad:

Lots of dollars are being spent on this local race with national implications, all because the Democrats have just a single vote super-majority in the Senate – and if Scott Brown wins on Tuesday, they'll lose it...

The Meaning of “Thunk”...

Via my mom:


It's Not Just Me...

...who thinks the ISS is a multi-billion dollar waste of money, waiting to rain down junk upon our heads.  Michael Benson has a proposal: send it to Mars.  Not very practical, I'm afraid, and certainly not doable politically – but he certainly shares my opinion of the ISS's current value.


Martha Coakley's Shame...

Dorothy Rabinowitz has covered the horrendous Amirault case (prosecuted by Coakley) more thoroughly than any other reporter.  Read her impressions of Coakley.