Some Early Piano Music by Robert Schumann

Naïve V 5364

I discovered the music of Johannes Brahms before that of Robert Schumann, but I revere the latter composer now as well. Knowing much of the music of both, there is no question that Robert Schumann had a huge influence on Brahms. Both wrote four symphonies, all eight of which are favorites of mine.

But here we turn our attention to some of the early piano music of Robert Schumann, completed when Schumann was in his 20s, before he was finally able to marry Clara Wieck, and before his first symphony.

These are performances of considerable beauty, passion, and sensitivity by French pianist Lise de la Salle. I highly recommend this CD (Naïve V 5364). The recording is excellent, and De la Salle seems to have an innate understanding of this music and its often rapidly changing moods, a delight throughout.

The works performed are Scenes from Childhood, op. 15; Abegg Variations, op. 1; and Fantasie in C Major, op. 17.

There are thirteen pieces in Scenes from Childhood. The most famous of these is No. 7 Träumerei (Dreaming), but I also especially like No. 1 (Of foreign lands and peoples) and No. 2 (A curious story).

  1. Of foreign lands and peoples
  2. A curious story
  3. Blind man’s buff
  4. Pleading child
  5. Happy enough
  6. An important event
  7. Dreaming
  8. At the fireside
  9. Knight of the hobby-horse
  10. Almost too serious
  11. Frightening
  12. Child falling asleep
  13. The poet speaks

This is followed by the Schumann’s first published work, the Abegg Variations, op. 1.

The disc concludes with the three-movement work, Fantasie in C Major, op. 17, arguably Schumann’s piano masterpiece, and a real tour de force in this performance by Lise de la Salle. When he wrote this piece, Schumann was already beginning to suffer from a mental disorder that would tragically claim his life only 20 years later—an illness with a physical origin that no doubt today could be easily cured.

For an excellent introduction to Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara Wieck Schumann—a piano virtuoso, composer, and teacher of considerable talent—I wholeheartedly recommend the eight-part video course from Robert Greenberg, “Great Masters: Robert and Clara Schumann – Their Lives and Music” (The Great Courses, Course No. 759).

Even though it is a highly fictionalized account, I would also recommend the 1947 movie Song of Love, starring the incomparable Katharine Hepburn as Clara Wieck Schumann, Paul Henreid as Robert Schumann, and Robert Walker as Johannes Brahms.

Zodiacal Light 2021

In 2021, the best dates and times for observing the zodiacal light are listed in the calendar below. The sky must be very clear with little or no light pollution. The specific times listed are for Dodgeville, Wisconsin (42° 58′ N, 90° 08′ W).

Here’s a nicely-formatted printable PDF file of the zodiacal light calendar:

January 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Zodiacal Light 6:49 – 7:26 p.m. West
31
Zodiacal Light 6:50 – 7:50 p.m. West
           

February 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
Zodiacal Light 6:51 – 7:51 p.m. West
2
Zodiacal Light 6:52 – 7:52 p.m. West
3
Zodiacal Light 6:53 – 7:53 p.m. West
4
Zodiacal Light 6:54 – 7:54 p.m. West
5
Zodiacal Light 6:56 – 7:56 p.m. West
6
Zodiacal Light 6:57 – 7:57 p.m. West
7
Zodiacal Light 6:58 – 7:58 p.m. West
8
Zodiacal Light 6:59 – 7:59 p.m. West
9
Zodiacal Light 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. West
10
Zodiacal Light 7:02 – 8:02 p.m. West
11
Zodiacal Light 7:03 – 8:03 p.m. West
12
Zodiacal Light 7:04 – 8:04 p.m. West
13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28
Zodiacal Light 7:23 – 7:36 p.m. West
           

March 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
Zodiacal Light 7:25 – 8:25 p.m. West
2
Zodiacal Light 7:26 – 8:26 p.m. West
3
Zodiacal Light 7:27 – 8:27 p.m. West
4
Zodiacal Light 7:28 – 8:28 p.m. West
5
Zodiacal Light 7:29 – 8:29 p.m. West
6
Zodiacal Light 7:31 – 8:31 p.m. West
7
Zodiacal Light 7:32 – 8:32 p.m. West
8
Zodiacal Light 7:33 – 8:33 p.m. West
9
Zodiacal Light 7:34 – 8:34 p.m. West
10
Zodiacal Light 7:36 – 8:36 p.m. West
11
Zodiacal Light 7:37 – 8:37 p.m. West
12
Zodiacal Light 7:38 – 8:38 p.m. West
13
Zodiacal Light 7:40 – 8:40 p.m. West
14
Zodiacal Light 8:41 – 9:41 p.m. West
15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30
Zodiacal Light 9:03 – 10:03 p.m. West
31
Zodiacal Light 9:04 – 10:04 p.m. West
     

April 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1
Zodiacal Light 9:05 – 10:05 p.m. West
2
Zodiacal Light 9:07 – 10:07 p.m. West
3
Zodiacal Light 9:08 – 10:08 p.m. West
4
Zodiacal Light 9:10 – 10:10 p.m. West
5
Zodiacal Light 9:11 – 10:11 p.m. West
6
Zodiacal Light 9:13 – 10:13 p.m. West
7
Zodiacal Light 9:14 – 10:14 p.m. West
8
Zodiacal Light 9:16 – 10:16 p.m. West
9
Zodiacal Light 9:17 – 10:17 p.m. West
10
Zodiacal Light 9:19 – 10:19 p.m. West
11
Zodiacal Light 9:20 – 10:20 p.m. West
12
Zodiacal Light 9:22 – 10:22 p.m. West
13
Zodiacal Light 9:24 – 10:24 p.m. West
14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

May 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          

June 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      

July 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

August 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        

September 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1 2 3 4
5 6
Zodiacal Light 3:52 – 4:52 a.m. East
7
Zodiacal Light 3:53 – 4:53 a.m. East
8
Zodiacal Light 3:54 – 4:54 a.m. East
9
Zodiacal Light 3:56 – 4:56 a.m. East
10
Zodiacal Light 3:57 – 4:57 a.m. East
11
Zodiacal Light 3:58 – 4:58 a.m. East
12
Zodiacal Light 4:00 – 5:00 a.m. East
13
Zodiacal Light 4:01 – 5:01 a.m. East
14
Zodiacal Light 4:02 – 5:02 a.m. East
15
Zodiacal Light 4:04 – 5:04 a.m. East
16
Zodiacal Light 4:05 – 5:05 a.m. East
17
Zodiacal Light 4:06 – 5:06 a.m. East
18
Zodiacal Light 4:08 – 5:08 a.m. East
19
Zodiacal Light 4:59 – 5:09 a.m. East
20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    

October 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1 2
3 4 5
Zodiacal Light 4:28 – 5:28 a.m. East
6
Zodiacal Light 4:30 – 5:30 a.m. East
7
Zodiacal Light 4:31 – 5:31 a.m. East
8
Zodiacal Light 4:32 – 5:32 a.m. East
9
Zodiacal Light 4:33 – 5:33 a.m. East
10
Zodiacal Light 4:34 – 5:34 a.m. East
11
Zodiacal Light 4:35 – 5:35 a.m. East
12
Zodiacal Light 4:37 – 5:37 a.m. East
13
Zodiacal Light 4:38 – 5:38 a.m. East
14
Zodiacal Light 4:39 – 5:39 a.m. East
15
Zodiacal Light 4:40 – 5:40 a.m. East
16
Zodiacal Light 4:41 – 5:41 a.m. East
17
Zodiacal Light 4:42 – 5:42 a.m. East
18
Zodiacal Light 5:03 – 5:43 a.m. East
19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            

November 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1 2 3 4
Zodiacal Light 5:03 – 6:03 a.m. East
5
Zodiacal Light 5:04 – 6:04 a.m. East
6
Zodiacal Light 5:05 – 6:05 a.m. East
7
Zodiacal Light 4:06 – 5:06 a.m. East
8
Zodiacal Light 4:07 – 5:07 a.m. East
9
Zodiacal Light 4:08 – 5:08 a.m. East
10
Zodiacal Light 4:09 – 5:09 a.m. East
11
Zodiacal Light 4:10 – 5:10 a.m. East
12
Zodiacal Light 4:12 – 5:12 a.m. East
13
Zodiacal Light 4:13 – 5:13 a.m. East
14
Zodiacal Light 4:14 – 5:14 a.m. East
15
Zodiacal Light 4:15 – 5:15 a.m. East
16
Zodiacal Light 4:16 – 5:16 a.m. East
17
Zodiacal Light 5:06 – 5:17 a.m. East
18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        

December 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

The best nights to observe the zodiacal light at mid-northern latitudes occur when the ecliptic plane intersects the horizon at an angle of 60° or steeper. The dates above were chosen on that basis, with the Sun at least 18° below the horizon and the Moon below the horizon being used to calculate the times. An interval of time of one hour either before morning twilight or after evening twilight was chosen arbitrarily because it is the “best one hour” for observing the zodiacal light. The zodiacal light cone will be brightest and will reach highest above the horizon when the Sun is 18° below the horizon (astronomical twilight), but no less.

If you are interested in calculating the angle the ecliptic makes with your horizon for any date and time, you can use the following formula:

\cos I = \cos \varepsilon \sin \phi-\sin \varepsilon \cos \phi \sin \theta

where I is the angle between the ecliptic and the horizon, ε is  the obliquity of the ecliptic, φ is the latitude of the observer, and θ is the local sidereal time (the right ascension of objects on the observer's meridian at the time of observation).

Here’s a SAS program I wrote to do these calculations:

References
Meeus, J. Astronomical Algorithms. 2nd ed., Willmann-Bell, 1998, p. 99.

Meteor Shower Calendar 2021

Here’s our meteor shower calendar for 2021.  It is sourced from the IMO’s Working List of Visual Meteor Showers (https://www.imo.net/files/meteor-shower/cal2021.pdf, Table 5, p. 25).

Each meteor shower is identified using its three-character IAU meteor shower code.  Codes are bold on the date of maximum, and one day either side of maximum.

Here’s a printable PDF file of the meteor shower calendar shown below:

Happy meteor watching!

January 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1
DLM QUA
2
DLM QUA
3
DLM QUA
4
DLM QUA
5
DLM QUA
6
DLM QUA
7
DLM QUA
8
DLM QUA
9
DLM QUA
10
DLM QUA GUM
11
DLM QUA GUM
12
DLM QUA GUM
13
DLM GUM
14
DLM GUM
15
DLM GUM
16
DLM GUM
17
DLM GUM
18
DLM GUM
19
DLM GUM
20
DLM GUM
21
DLM GUM
22
DLM GUM
23
DLM
24
DLM
25
DLM
26
DLM
27
DLM
28
DLM
29
DLM
30
DLM
31
DLM ACE
           
February 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
DLM ACE
2
DLM ACE
3
DLM ACE
4
DLM ACE
5
ACE
6
ACE
7
ACE
8
ACE
9
ACE
10
ACE
11
ACE
12
ACE
13
ACE
14
ACE
15
ACE
16
ACE
17
ACE
18
ACE
19
ACE
20
ACE
21 22 23 24 25
GNO
26
GNO
27
GNO
28
GNO
           
March 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
GNO
2
GNO
3
GNO
4
GNO
5
GNO
6
GNO
7
GNO
8
GNO
9
GNO
10
GNO
11
GNO
12
GNO
13
GNO
14
GNO
15
GNO
16
GNO
17
GNO
18
GNO
19
GNO
20
GNO
21
GNO
22
GNO
23
GNO
24
GNO
25
GNO
26
GNO
27
GNO
28
GNO
29 30 31      
April 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14
LYR
15
PPU LYR
16
PPU LYR
17
PPU LYR
18
PPU LYR
19
ETA PPU LYR
20
ETA PPU LYR
21
ETA PPU LYR
22
ETA PPU LYR
23
ETA PPU LYR
24
ETA PPU LYR
25
ETA PPU LYR
26
ETA PPU LYR
27
ETA PPU LYR
28
ETA PPU LYR
29
ETA LYR
30
ETA LYR
 
May 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
            1
ETA
2
ETA
3
ELY ETA
4
ELY ETA
5
ELY ETA
6
ELY ETA
7
ELY ETA
8
ELY ETA
9
ELY ETA
10
ELY ETA
11
ELY ETA
12
ELY ETA
13
ELY ETA
14
ARI ELY ETA
15
ARI ETA
16
ARI ETA
17
ARI ETA
18
ARI ETA
19
ARI ETA
20
ARI ETA
21
ARI ETA
22
ARI ETA
23
ARI ETA
24
ARI ETA
25
ARI ETA
26
ARI ETA
27
ARI ETA
28
ARI ETA
29
ARI
30
ARI
31
ARI
         
June 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
    1
ARI
2
ARI
3
ARI
4
ARI
5
ARI
6
ARI
7
ARI
8
ARI
9
ARI
10
ARI
11
ARI
12
ARI
13
ARI
14
ARI
15
ARI
16
ARI
17
ARI
18
ARI
19
ARI
20
ARI
21
ARI
22
JBO ARI
23
JBO ARI
24
JBO ARI
25
JBO
26
JBO
27
JBO
28
JBO
29
JBO
30
JBO
     
July 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
        1
JBO
2
JBO
3
CAP
4
CAP
5
CAP
6
CAP
7
CAP
8
CAP
9
CAP
10
CAP
11
CAP
12
CAP SDA
13
CAP SDA
14
CAP SDA
15
CAP SDA PAU
16
CAP SDA PAU
17
PER CAP SDA PAU
18
PER CAP SDA PAU
19
PER CAP SDA PAU
20
PER CAP SDA PAU
21
PER CAP SDA PAU
22
PER CAP SDA PAU
23
PER CAP SDA PAU
24
PER CAP SDA PAU
25
PER CAP SDA PAU
26
PER CAP SDA PAU
27
PER CAP SDA PAU
28
PER CAP SDA PAU
29
PER CAP SDA PAU
30
PER CAP SDA PAU
31
PER CAP SDA PAU
August 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
1
PER CAP SDA PAU
2
PER CAP SDA PAU
3
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
4
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
5
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
6
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
7
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
8
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
9
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
10
KCG PER CAP SDA PAU
11
KCG PER CAP SDA
12
KCG PER CAP SDA
13
KCG PER CAP SDA
14
KCG PER CAP SDA
15
KCG PER CAP SDA
16
KCG PER SDA
17
KCG PER SDA
18
KCG PER SDA
19
KCG PER SDA
20
KCG PER SDA
21
KCG PER SDA
22
KCG PER SDA
23
KCG PER SDA
24
KCG PER
25
KCG
26 27 28
AUR
29
AUR
30
AUR
31
AUR
       
September 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1
AUR
2
AUR
3
AUR
4
AUR
5
SPE AUR
6
SPE
7
SPE
8
SPE
9
DSX SPE
10
STA DSX SPE
11
STA DSX SPE
12
STA DSX SPE
13
STA DSX SPE
14
STA DSX SPE
15
STA DSX SPE
16
STA DSX SPE
17
STA DSX SPE
18
STA DSX SPE
19
STA DSX SPE
20
STA DSX SPE
21
STA DSX SPE
22
STA DSX
23
STA DSX
24
STA DSX
25
STA DSX
26
STA DSX
27
STA DSX
28
STA DSX
29
STA DSX
30
STA DSX
   
October 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
          1
STA DSX
2
ORI STA DSX
3
ORI STA DSX
4
ORI STA OCT DSX
5
ORI STA OCT DSX
6
ORI STA DRA OCT DSX
7
ORI STA DRA DSX
8
ORI STA DRA DSX
9
ORI STA DRA DSX
10
ORI DAU STA DRA
11
ORI DAU STA
12
ORI DAU STA
13
ORI DAU STA
14
ORI EGE DAU STA
15
ORI EGE DAU STA
16
ORI EGE DAU STA
17
ORI EGE DAU STA
18
ORI EGE DAU STA
19
LMI ORI EGE STA
20
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
21
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
22
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
23
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
24
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
25
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
26
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
27
NTA LMI ORI EGE STA
28
NTA ORI STA
29
NTA ORI STA
30
NTA ORI STA
31
NTA ORI STA
           
November 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
  1
NTA ORI STA
2
NTA ORI STA
3
NTA ORI STA
4
NTA ORI STA
5
NTA ORI STA
6
LEO NTA ORI STA
7
LEO NTA ORI STA
8
LEO NTA STA
9
LEO NTA STA
10
LEO NTA STA
11
LEO NTA STA
12
LEO NTA STA
13
NOO LEO NTA STA
14
NOO LEO NTA STA
15
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
16
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
17
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
18
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
19
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
20
NOO AMO LEO NTA STA
21
NOO AMO LEO NTA
22
NOO AMO LEO NTA
23
NOO AMO LEO NTA
24
NOO AMO LEO NTA
25
NOO AMO LEO NTA
26
NOO LEO NTA
27
NOO LEO NTA
28
PHO NOO LEO NTA
29
PHO NOO LEO NTA
30
PHO NOO LEO NTA
       
December 2021
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
      1
PUP PHO NOO NTA
2
PUP PHO NOO NTA
3
HYD PUP PHO NOO NTA
4
GEM HYD PUP PHO NOO NTA
5
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NOO NTA
6
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NOO NTA
7
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NTA
8
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NTA
9
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP PHO NTA
10
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP NTA
11
DLM GEM HYD MON PUP
12
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
13
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
14
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
15
DLM COM GEM HYD MON PUP
16
DLM COM GEM HYD MON
17
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
18
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
19
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
20
DLM URS COM GEM HYD MON
21
DLM URS COM
22
DLM URS COM
23
DLM URS COM
24
DLM URS
25
DLM URS
26
DLM URS
27
DLM
28
DLM QUA
29
DLM QUA
30
DLM QUA
31
DLM QUA
 

Earliest Sunset, Latest Sunrise

Why does the Earliest Sunset come before the Winter Solstice and the Latest Sunrise after?


Why does the Earliest Sunrise come before the Summer Solstice and the Latest Sunset after?

Ever wonder? I have. And aside from some hand-wavy explanations, I’ve never been able to explain this very well. Here’s the best explanation I have seen yet, provided in the December 2007 issue of Sky & Telescope, p. 55:

You’d think the earliest sunset would come on the shortest day (or longest night) of the year, at the winter solstice. But in fact, the day-night cycle shifts back and forth a little with the seasons, due to the tilt of Earth’s axis and the ellipticity of Earth’s orbit. At the beginning of December, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little earlier than they “should”, and in January they run a little late. So the earliest sunset ends up being two or three weeks before the solstice, and the latest sunrise is two or three weeks afterward. The exact dates depend on your latitude.

Continuing along that same line of thought…

At the beginning of June, sunrise, midday, and sunset all happen a little later than they “should” and in July they run a little earlier. So the earliest sunrise ends up being about a week before the solstice, and the latest sunset is about a week afterwards. The exact dates depend on your latitude.

I know, I know. You still have a question. “Why are the dates of earliest sunrise and latest sunset closer to the summer solstice than the dates of earliest sunset and latest sunrise to the winter solstice?” Good question. I think it has everything to do with the fact that the Earth is near aphelion at the time of the summer solstice, and thus moving most slowly in its orbit around the Sun (the Earth’s orbit is slightly elliptical and not circular). That means that the Sun is moving slowest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is the smallest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunrise and latest sunset is less. Conversely, at the winter solstice, Earth is near perihelion, and therefore it is moving most quickly in its orbit around the Sun. That means that the Sun is moving fastest against the background stars and thus the accumulated difference between the sidereal day and solar day is largest at that time of year. That means the spread of days between earliest sunset and latest sunrise is more.

Here in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, where the latitude is just shy of 43˚ N and the longitude is just a tad over 90˚ W, the earliest sunset this year is today, Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at 4:25:49 p.m.

Latest sunrise in 2021 will be on both Saturday, January 2 and Sunday, January 3 at 7:31:51 a.m.

Pause to consider that if we were on year-round daylight saving time, latest sunrise wouldn’t be until 8:31:51 a.m.

My preference would be to stay on standard time year-round, as Arizona does.

Why Did It Take a Telescope to Discover the Orion Nebula?

Using the newly-invented telescope, French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) discovered the now-famous Orion Nebula (M42) when he was 29 years old, 410 years ago on this day.

November 26, 1610.

But wait a minute. You and I can see a nebulous “star” below the belt of Orion with our unaided eyes under a reasonably dark sky. Why wasn’t this object discovered long before the invention of the telescope?

Apparently, there is no known report of a “nebulous star” in the sword of Orion prior to Peiresc’s discovery. Is the Orion nebula brighter now than it was a few centuries ago? Is it possible an earlier observational report somehow got missed or was not properly interpreted?

There is speculation that the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica recognized the Orion Nebula long before Peiresc’s discovery, describing it as smoke from the smoldering embers of creation.

One can only stand in wonderment at the knowledge and experiences of hundreds of generations of men, women, and children who are utterly unknown to us today. Passed from person to person and generation to generation through oral tradition, never written down and eventually lost. Or written down on documents that later disintegrated or were purposefully destroyed.

Who hasn’t wished that they could could time travel back to the past? Have you ever wondered what your current location looked like a hundred years ago? A thousand years ago? Ten thousand or more years ago? Though sending humans into the past will probably never be possible, who’s to say that we won’t eventually figure out a way to view and perhaps even hear the past, without actually being there or having the ability to change it?

John Brashear: A Man Who Loved the Stars

Pittsburgh telescope maker, optician, and educator John Alfred Brashear (1840-1920) was born 180 years ago this day. His world-renowned optical company made much of the astronomical equipment in use in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His works included a 30-inch refractor for Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, a 15-inch refractor for the Dominion Observatory in Canada, and the 8-inch refractor at the Drake University Municipal Observatory in Des Moines, Iowa.

My good friend, telescope maker Drew Sorenson in Jefferson, Iowa, has been a fan of John Brashear for many years. Not only does Drew make fine refractors as did Brashear, but there is more than a little resemblance between the two men. Drew introduced me to a delightful book entitled John A. Brashear: The Autobiography of A Man who Loved the Stars, which was first published posthumously in 1924. For anyone interested in the history of astronomy and the life of a scientist and humanitarian who struggled from near-obscurity to great success with only an elementary school education, this book is a must-read.

Here are three of my favorite passages from the book.

Somewhere beneath the stars is work which you alone were meant to do. Never rest until you have found it.


There is another yarn I cannot resist telling. The young farmer who had been bringing Mrs. Brashear her supply of vegetables asked her one day if I would let him look in the big telescope if he came up some clear evening. She encouraged him to do so, and I found him waiting one night to see the sights. I did not know whether or not he had any knowledge of astronomy, but I asked him what he would like to look at. He replied, “Juniper.” I told him that unfortunately that planet was not visible in the sky at the time. Then he expressed a desire to see “Satan.” But his Satanic Majesty was not around either. The climax came when he asked if I could show him the “Star of Jerusalem!” I ended it by showing him the moon and some clusters, and he went home very happy.


I remember, too, an old gentleman over eighty years of age who climbed the hill one moonlight night for a look in the telescope. The good man was utterly exhausted when he reached the house, and Ma and I had him lie down on the lounge to rest before climbing the stairs to the telescope. The views that night were fine, and I can hear the soliloquy yet of the dear fellow as he said, “For many years I have desired to see the beauties of the heavens in a telescope. I have read about them and heard lectures about them, but I never dreamed they were so beautiful.” We invited him to stay all night; but as it was moonlight, and much easier for him to go down the hill than to come up, he insisted on going home. I went part of the way with him to see that he got along all right; and all the way he expressed his delight at having the wish of a lifetime gratified that night.

Three weeks later the funeral cortège of that old man passed along the road on the opposite hillside that led to the cemetery, and it has always been a pleasure to remember that I was able to be of some service in gratifying one of his desires of a lifetime.

I think that all my life I have been partial to old people and children, and it has always been a source of genuine pleasure to contribute to their happiness.

John A. Brashear: The Autobiography of A Man who Loved the Stars (1924)

Where Voters Rejected Trump – II

Though Trump lost his 2020 re-election bid, the fact that he polled so well throughout the anything-but-United States clearly shows the “Party of Trump”—today’s Republican Party—is leading us towards something far more sinister. The Republican Party of our parents’ generation would never have elected such a damaged person to the highest office in our land. Trump’s narcissism, ineptitude, lying, corruption, nepotism, divisiveness, etc. has been an unmitigated nightmare these past four long years. If you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you take the time to view the three-part documentary series Rise of the Nazis airing this month on PBS Wisconsin. There are parallels to what is happening in the U.S. today, and it is chilling.

As for the voters who continue to support this charade, we are witnessing in living color government by people who don’t believe in government—or good governance. The landscape looks pretty bleak in this country for progressives and intellectuals for the foreseeable future. Might want to leave while you still can.

Has the whole country gone mad? Well, not all of it. Here are the ten states where Trump and Trumpism were most soundly rejected in the 2020 election.

RankState% Voting for Trump
0.District of Columbia5.40%
1.Vermont30.67%
2.Maryland32.44%
3.Massachusetts32.49%
4.California34.24%
5.Hawaii34.27%
6.Rhode Island38.70%
7.Washington38.76%
8.Connecticut39.21%
9.Delaware39.78%
10.Illinois40.14%
States where Voters Most Rejected Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election

And here are the ten states you’ll probably want to think twice about moving to if you’re a progressive.

RankState% Voting for Trump
1.Wyoming69.94%
2.West Virginia68.63%
3.Oklahoma65.37%
4.North Dakota65.11%
5.Idaho63.81%
6.Arkansas62.39%
7.Alabama62.15%
8.Kentucky62.13%
9.South Dakota61.77%
10.Tennessee60.73%
States where Voters Most Supported Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election

Now, let’s return to the ten states that most soundly rejected Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Which county in each of these states had the smallest percentage voting for Trump?

State RankStateCounty% Voting for Trump
1.VermontChittenden County21.25%
2.MarylandPrince George’s County8.77%
3.MassachusettsSuffolk County17.8%
4.CaliforniaSan Francisco County12.72%
5.HawaiiHawaii County30.63%
6.Rhode IslandNewport County34.07%
7.WashingtonKing County22.22%
8.ConnecticutHartford County35.39%
9.DelawareNew Castle County30.72%
10.IllinoisCook County24.03%
Most Trump-Unfavorable Counties in States where Voters Most Rejected Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election

Polarization is tearing this country apart, but the blame does not equally fall on both sides. How do you talk with someone who all-too-willingly embraces conspiracy theories rather than reason, who derides science and scholars, who mistrusts or worse yet hates anyone who has a different spiritual viewpoint, let alone is a humanist, agnostic, or atheist? Who shows little or no interest in understanding perspectives other than their own?

May I submit for your consideration, the March 4, 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.

The Monsters are Due on Maple Street

Figure One

Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers…throw them into darkness for a few hours and then you just sit back and watch the pattern.

Figure Two

And this pattern is always the same?

Figure One

With few variations. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find…and it’s themselves. And all we need do is sit back…and watch.

Figure Two

Then I take it this place…this Maple Street…is not unique.

Figure One

[Shaking his head.] By no means. Their world is full of Maple Streets. And we’ll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves. One to the other…one to the other…one to the other—

Narrator’s Voice

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices—to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children and the children yet unborn. [A pause.] And the pity of it is…that these things cannot be confined to…The Twilight Zone…

Written by Rod Serling

Why No New Einstein?

In the June 2005 issue of Physics Today there is an article by Lee Smolin with the provocative (or evocative) title, Why No ‘New Einstein’? That year marked the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein‘s annus mirabilis (year of wonders), in which the 26-year-old Swiss patent examiner submitted and had published revolutionary papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and matter-energy equivalence in a prominent German physics journal, Annalen der Physik. These papers were so important that they completely changed the course of physics and led to great opportunities for Einstein to further develop his career as a physicist.

Here are some excerpts from Smolin’s article.

“Many of Einstein’s contemporaries testified that he was not unusually talented mathematically. Instead, what enabled him to make such tremendous advances was a driving need to understand the logic of nature, tied to a breathtaking creativity and a fierce intellectual independence.”

“Perhaps a lesson might be learned from the fact that this one person, who was initially unable to find an academic job, did more to advance physics than most of the rest of us [physicists] put together have since.”

“It follows that new Einsteins are unlikely to be easily characterized in terms of research programs that have been well explored for decades. Instead, a new Einstein will be developing his or her own research program that, by definition, will be one that no senior person works on.”

“Are our universities, institutes, and foundations doing all they can to identify and promote individuals who have the creativity and intellectual independence that characterize those who contribute most to physics? I say that they are not.”

“People with the uncanny ability to ask new questions or recognize unexamined assumptions, or who are able to take ideas from one field and apply them to another, are often at a disadvantage when the goal is to hire the best person in a given well-established area.”

“It is easy to write many papers when you continue to apply well-understood techniques. People who develop their own ideas have to work harder for each result, because they are simultaneously developing new ideas and the techniques to explore them. Hence they often publish fewer papers, and their papers are cited less frequently than those that contribute to something hundreds of people are doing.”

Prokofiev’s Last Symphony

Photograph of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Dated 1950.

Sergei Prokofiev was truly one of the most remarkable composers of the 20th century. His signature disjunct melodies and quirky, perky compositional style is so interesting and unique that his music is instantly recognizable, even today. When critics complain that the wellspring of current musical idioms has become exhausted or derivative, along comes a composer like Prokofiev who surprises everyone and does something completely different. That is why I believe that even within established musical forms it is possible to invent something completely new and exciting—it just doesn’t happen very often.

Regrettably, no English-language documentary about the life and music of Prokofiev has ever been produced. While we wait for someone to do that, perhaps Robert Greenberg might add another excellent installment to his “Great Masters” series for The Great Courses by profiling Sergei Prokofiev in eight 30-minute episodes as he did for Shostakovich, Brahms, and others.

Sergei Prokofiev composed his last completed work, the Symphony No. 7, between December 1951 and July 1952 at the age of 60-61. Its first public performance in Moscow on October 11, 1952 would be the last public performance Prokofiev would attend. He died less than five months later.

Dmitri Shostakovich attended the premiere, and quickly sent a letter of congratulations to Prokofiev, “I wish you at least another hundred years to live and create. Listening to such works as your Seventh Symphony makes it much easier and more joyful to live.” Shostakovich would attend Prokofiev’s funeral in March 1953.

Iconic photo of the three greatest 20th-century Soviet composers, together. Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), and Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). Dated 1940.

The most inspired recording I have ever heard of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony is by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra with Andrew Litton conducting. Even though I was already familiar with this work, listening to this performance was like hearing the work for the first time. This interpretation is intimate and compelling.

BIS-2134

The last years of Prokofiev’s life were difficult ones. His health was deteriorating and Stalin’s terrible regime was a constant threat and source of anxiety. Official disapproval had led to a life of poverty for Prokofiev.

With that as a backdrop, Prokofiev was eager that his new symphony would be well received by the authorities as well as the public, hoping that it would earn him a First Class Stalin Prize—he needed the money. But like Shostakovich, Prokofiev took his symphonies seriously, pouring his heart and soul into them while cleverly embedding what he wanted to say musically in a way that would elude the authorities with their limited musical sophistication and intelligence.

Prokofiev even wrote two endings for the symphony. The “real” ending and a contrived ending to please the authorities and help him win the prize. (He did not win the hoped for Stalin Prize, but he was posthumously awarded the Lenin Prize for this symphony in 1957.)

Prokofiev told his friend, the young cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, “Slava, you will live much longer than me, and you must take care that this new ending never exists after me.” As Andrew Huth writes in the liner notes, “Both versions of the ending are included on this disc so that listeners can judge the very different effect each makes.” Track 9 is the final movement of Symphony No. 7 played again with the alternative ending that Prokofiev wrote to please the authorities.

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) with Sergei Prokofiev

Satellites and More – 2020 #1

Edmund Weiss (1837-1917) and many astronomers since have called asteroids “vermin of the sky”, but on October 4, 1957 another “species” of sky vermin made its debut: artificial satellites.  In the process of video recording stars for possible asteroid occultations, I frequently see satellites passing through my 17 × 11 arcminute field of view.

I’ve put together a video montage of satellites I serendipitously recorded during the first half of 2020.  Many of the satellites move across the field as “dashes” because of the longer integration times I need to use for some of my asteroid occultation work. A table of these events is shown below the video. The range is the distance between observer and satellite at the time of observation. North is up and east is to the left.

North is up and east is to the left; field size 17′ x 11′

Interestingly, three of the above satellites (7,9,18) are in retrograde orbits, that is their orbital inclination is > 90˚ and their east-west component of motion is towards the west instead of the east. However, I was surprised to find that two of the prograde orbiting satellites (5,6) appear to be orbiting retrograde! Both have orbital inclinations close to 90˚ (82.6˚ and 87.5˚, respectively), and both were in the western sky at northern declinations at the time of observation. But another satellite (8) with an orbital inclination of 82.5˚ at a southern declination in the southern sky at the time of observation exhibited the expected “barely” prograde motion. I suspect the ~0.5 km/s rotation of the Earth towards the east might have something to do with this “apparent retrograde” motion, but I was unable to find any reference that describes this situation.

Satellite #12 has an interesting story. It is the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) used to launch USA-48 (Magnum), a classified DoD payload, from the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-33).

In addition to these 18 satellites, I observed 7 geosynchronous satellites, shown below.

This non-operational Soviet communications satellite is a “tumbler”, meaning its changing orientation causes variation in its brightness, as shown below.

This non-operational communications satellite is also a tumbler, as seen in this light curve from a portion of the video.

SGDC-1 is a Brazilian geostationary communications satellite stationed over longitude 75˚ W, and in this video is followed by Star One C3 which will replace Brasilsat B3, also located over longitude 75˚ W.
Star One C3, a geostationary television satellite led by SGDC-1 and followed by GOES-16.
GOES-16, a geostationary weather satellite that is the primary weather satellite for the U.S., is stationed over longitude 75.2˚ W. Star One C3 precedes it in this video.
Intelsat 16 is a geostationary television satellite stationed over longitude 76˚ W currently.

There were four satellites I was unable to identify, shown in the video below. They were either classified satellites or, more likely, small pieces of space debris that only government agencies or contractors are keeping track of.

Unidentifiable satellites

Occasionally, I record other phenomena of interest. Meteors during this period are described here, and you will find a couple of other curiosities below.

An aircraft with flashing lights passed near the field containing UCAC4 376-101735 between 10:06:44 and 10:06:47 UT on 16 Apr 2020.
High energy particles zap the imaging chip from time to time, and here is one of the more interesting ones during the period, recorded on 9 May 2020 from 9:09:18 – 9:09:20 UT in the field of UCAC4 397-127754.

References
Hughes, D. W. & Marsden, B. G. 2007, J. Astron. Hist. Heritage, 10, 21