Origin of the name Tinyblue
In 1999, after retiring from Microsoft, I decided to take up amateur astronomy again. I knew that I wanted my own website for sharing my observations. What name should I use?
I had always been a fan of Carl Sagan and I was inspired by his efforts in 1977 to encourage NASA engineers operating the Voyager 1 spacecraft to turn its camera back towards the Earth to photograph our planet. NASA agreed, and when the spacecraft was 3.7 billion miles away it took a photo which became the iconic “pale blue dot”.
In his book Pale Blue Dot: A vision of the human future in space, Sagan wrote:
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
As a riff on his word choice, I thought “tinyblue dot com” would make a good domain name for my astronomy website.
Construction of the Tinyblue Observatory
We broke ground for the observatory in February 2003. Our opening ceremony was on July 26. A slideshow of 36 slides documents construction progress.
On the rewards of mentoring
In 2004, our daughter (18) was taking harp lessons from her teacher Alison Austin. Alison had another student, Becky, about the same age as our daughter. At that time, Becky seemed to have quite a passion for astronomy as well. So one day, when Alison was trying to think of a way to motivate Becky to practice, she told her, “I know someone who has his own observatory. If you do well with the exercises I’ve given you, I will give you his phone number.”
Apparently, Becky did very well at her next harp lesson, because a few days later, I got a call, asking whether she might be able to come and visit. We set up a time and Becky came up with her mother to visit the observatory. Subsequently, Becky took the bus and ferry from Seattle to Whidbey Island on a regular basis. By 2006, we completed a project together where we conducted a search for variable stars in NGC 6811, an open star cluster in the constellation Cygnus. We submitted our data to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO).
Next, Becky wanted to search for exoplanets. I was somewhat skeptical, as I was not convinced that my hardware would be up to the task. But I could tell–Becky was super passionate about finding planets around other stars.
Now, eighteen years later, I see that Rebecca Jensen-Clem (Becky) is an Associate Professor in the Astronomy & Astrophysics Department of the University of California Santa Cruz. Her research projects include exoplanet observations using the large telescopes like Keck, Gemini, and the VLT. I am delighted that I was able to play a small part in her education.
The first time I saw a total solar eclipse was in February 1979 near Goldendale, Washington. Since then our family has traveled to five other places around the world to immerse ourselves in the culture, the climate, and the camaraderie of people who happened to be living along the path of totality. From the perspective of popular travel destinations, these were just random places on the globe. As it turned out, each and every one gave us a fascinating and unique experience.
This 9-minute video describes our trips around the world to witness solar eclipses, culminating with the August 21st, 2017 eclipse that ran from coast to coast across the United States. We saw it in Prairie City, a small town in eastern Oregon.
The next total eclipse will occur on April 8 of this year (2024). I reserved a house to rent in Mazatlán, Mexico, large enough to accommodate our children, their spouses and our grandchildren.
The map below shows the path of the eclipse, from Mexico to Maine. It was generated by Xavier M. Jubier using Interactive Google Maps.
The moon’s shadow makes landfall near Mazatlán, where the average cloud cover is relatively low. This chart is from the website Eclipsophile.
Grand Canyon Sky
On a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon in March-April 2016, I captured images of the sky that I assembled into time-lapse videos. On clear nights, I set up my camera on a tripod and recorded two photographs each minute for several hours through the night. Audio was added later.
Canyon walls were illuminated by moonlight when the moon was up. The rapid streaks you see are airplanes flying over the canyon.
See the Equipment for Time-lapse Imaging page to see details about the camera and power supply.
For highlights of our rafting trip, check out the video Running the Colorado on YouTube.