LtE in CMO #241


@. . . . . . The national news still mentions almost every day the disastrous encounter of the US submarine and the Japanese fishing boat. That it was the fault of the submariners seems obvious. We are assured that the Navy will study the event and try to place blame exactly where it belongs. One cannot help feeling sympathy for the victims and their families.  I would be sorry for such a terrible thing to happen to anyone, but it is especially regrettable that it happened to civilians and to our friends in the Pacific.

 This morning I went again to the observatory, and again the seeing was terrible. Not even a polar cap could be distinguished. Tomorrow, perhaps the seeing will be better.


We had snow last week. In spite of that, my earliest daffodils, the little trumpet ones that I like to think are Narcissus lobularis, bloomed right on time. Crocuses and grape hyacinths are also blooming.


Between Richmond and Washington, on the day that the snow was falling, there was a wreck that involved close to 120 vehicles, with at least one fatality and many injuries. Several trucks or cars caught fire and burned. As cars slid into each other, people ran from their damaged vehicles, taking action which is said to have saved many people from being hurt or killed.

  The day after the snow fell, one of my most dangerous "cadets" at work noticed that the shadows on the white snow were blue when the sky was clear and blue. I was a grown and seasoned observer who noticed blue shadows on snow only after reading Minnaert's The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air. I wonder if there are pink shadows on the Martian polar caps. With best wishes,

(27 February 2001 email)


@. . . . . . Thank you for forwarding the attached message.

 ....By the way, CMO 240 arrived today. Thank you for sending it. Your colleague's drawing of the Galanthus nivalis is a nice touch.


(14 March 2001 email)


@. . . . . . Perhaps you will be interested in some comments regarding the Venus images that were recently emailed by our friend Frank Melillo. I have already sent similar comments to him.

Although I agree that real atmospheric features were recorded, I do not believe that the markings are Lowell's spoke system, for several reasons. Lowell observed in white light, not in ultraviolet, as did Boyer and the Mariners (and Melillo). Lowell, unless there was some unlikely abnormality of his vision, could not have seen the same markings that were recorded in by the Mariners. Also, Lowell's spoke system indicated a long rotation period, not the approximately four day atmospheric rotation period indicated by observations of ultraviolet features. Lowell claimed that his markings were so definite and unchanging that one could measure position angles. Lowell drew narrow and linear markings, but the markings recorded on ultraviolet images are broad and diffuse, and they change quickly with the rapid rotation rate. Lowell found similarly narrow and linear markings on Mercury and the Galilean satellites, which, to put the matter kindly, have not been confirmed. He also drew numerous non-existent canals on Mars. Lowell had a tendency to represent broad features as narrow and linear. That some of them -Deuteronilus, for example-have some basis as albedo features, does not change the fact that he saw many things that just were not there. To sum it up, I do not believe that Lowell recorded something that was real, and I do not believe that he saw the markings recorded by the Mariners.

I cannot help having ambivalent feelings about Percival Lowell. On the one hand, his books did encourage many people to take an interest in the planets. Speculation about life on Mars did add to the interest of this writer. On the other, perhaps more cruel side, one could say that Lowell did for visual observation what Timothy Leary did for psycho-pharmocology. In case one stumbles on the metaphor, I mean that he stirred up interest, but the interest went the wrong way and had untoward effects. Lowell's example is no doubt one reason why visual observers are sometimes held in low regard. Lowell is, perhaps, closer to ET and Star Trek than he is to Galileo or Hubble.

I did tell Frank that I hoped that he would continue to do CCD imagery of Mercury and Venus. His observations fill a gap in coverage and are valuable. It's the interpretation that is open to dispute.

Changing topics abruptly, I will mention that spring seems to be arriving with the calendar, much to our joy and relief. The daffodils are blooming. Buds are coming onto the trees. Soon we will resume the ritual of cutting grass. Sincerely,

(20 March 2001 email)


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