Television à la carte

I don’t have much time for television. Seldom more than 2-3 hours per week, most or all of it on PBS Wisconsin. I usually watch Washington Week, Here and Now (Wisconsin news), and Amanpour & Company each Friday evening, and quite a few of the Nova episodes.

Once or twice most Friday and Saturday evenings, we’ll flip through the broadcast television channels we are able to receive from Madison some 39 miles to the east, and if we’re unusually lucky we’ll happen upon something worth watching. Usually not. And then there’s the damned commercials. I’m sure wherever you are you’ll find as I do that at any given moment, most of the television stations (except for PBS) are airing commercials. Ugh!

When we travel and stay at a motel, we often flip through the cable channels they offer, and once again seldom find anything worth watching (except, perhaps, for PBS and C-SPAN), even though there are dozens and dozens of channels. Here, too, at any given moment, most of the cable channels (except for PBS and C-SPAN) are airing commercials.

I have an aversion to advertising of any kind, and will go to great lengths to avoid watching anything that is interrupted by commercials during the program. Some of you might not be old enough to remember that when cable television first came out, a big selling point was that by abandoning free broadcast television and paying for cable TV, you could watch programs free of advertising. Well, we know how long that lasted. The number of commercials we have to endure has increased dramatically since the “golden age of television” in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

In my opinion, almost all of the television stations offered on both broadcast TV and cable are garbage. I have not subscribed to cable TV since the early 1980s, and have never been a satellite TV subscriber.

The only way I would ever subscribe to any kind of television service (cable, satellite, or internet) is if I they gave customers the ability to pick and pay for only the channels you want. Television à la carte, in other words. And the list to choose from should be huge, including multiple PBS channels, documentary film channels, reputable news channels, foreign English-language channels (or at least with English subtitles), classic movie channels, and, yes, NASA TV. And, please get rid of the advertising except—if need be—in between programs. I would pay extra for this option.

I am also frustrated by not being able to watch many newly-released documentaries (or documentary series) without subscribing to a service. Why should I subscribe to a service when all I want to do is watch one program? Why not charge $12 (or whatever) for each program a person wants to watch?

There is a case to be made for “flipping through the channels” and happening upon a documentary, movie, or television program of interest that you might not discover otherwise, but until some company offers television à la carte with a wide selection, my local PBS station is going to get all of my television dollars. I am delighted that—with the advent of digital television—we now have four PBS Wisconsin television stations to choose from!

Satellites and More – 2021 #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 2021.  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, four of the satellites above (2, 9, 12 & 13) 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, one of these retrograde satellites (#12) appears to be orbiting prograde. This is Japan’s GCOM W1 environmental satellite, which is in a sun-synchronous orbit. Now, if you look at the very next satellite in the list (#13) you’ll see that it has very similar orbital elements (retrograde, sun-synchronous), I observed it just 5 days later, and it appears to be orbiting retrograde as you would expect (unlike GCOM W1). This is NASA’s Aqua environmental satellite. GCOM W1 and Aqua have orbital inclinations of 98.2082˚ and 98.2090˚, respectively.

There is also a prograde-orbiting satellite (#5) that appears to be orbiting retrograde. This is OneWeb-0056, a broadband internet satellite that is part of the OneWeb constellation, a competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Last summer, I saw this same behavior with OneWeb-0047 which has a very similar orbital inclination to OneWeb-0056 (87.5188˚ and 87.8802˚, respectively).

Apparently, satellites with orbital inclinations within a few degrees of 90˚ (polar orbit) can sometimes appear to move in the opposite sense than their orbital inclination would indicate, when seen from the ground. I suspect that it must have something to do with where the satellite is in the sky and the vector sum of the line-of-sight motion of the satellite and the Earth’s rotation, but I have not yet found an expert who can confirm this or provide another explanation.

Satellite #11 is faint and makes a brief appearance in the extreme lower right corner of the frame. If you don’t look there you’ll miss it!

There were two satellites I was unable to identify, shown in the video below. They are either classified satellites or, more likely, small pieces of space debris that only government agencies are keeping track of. Note that the first unidentifiable satellite was moving in a retrograde (westward) orbit. The second satellite could be CZ-3A satellite debris (2007-003Q), but I think it was moving too fast to be that satellite (range 3,018.9 km, perigee 511.7 km, apogee 37,523.8 km, period 671.13 minutes, inclination 24.9940˚, eccentricity 0.7287013).

Unidentifiable satellites

During this period, I recorded one geosynchronous satellite, JCSAT-3. It is no longer operational. Here is the video, followed by the satellite information, followed by the light curve. As you can see when you watch the video and look at the accompanying light curve, this satellite gradually got brighter as it crossed the tiny 17′ x 11′ field of view of the video camera. Amazing!

Geosynchronous satellite JCSAT-3 moves slowly across the field and slowly brightens
JCSAT-3 brightens as it crosses the field

Occasionally, I record other phenomena of interest. Meteors during this period are described here, and you will find a high energy particle that “zapped” the CCD chip in the middle of the following three consecutive video frames. The red circles identify a spot and a pair of spots located some distance away that “lit up” when the high energy particle hit the chip. Events like this are fairly common, but what’s unusual here is the wide separation of the two regions that lit up.

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

Classics by Request

One of the joys of my life right now is tuning in to “Classics by Request” on Wisconsin Public Radio each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. This program has been on the air at WPR since 1980, and Ruthanne Bessman has been superbly hosting the program since 1999. When Ruthanne is away, Anders Yocom fills in and he is outstanding as well.

What makes this program work is that it occurs at a convenient time for most people, is a live call-in request program, offers a web form for your request with an area for a short narrative that can be read on air, and allows you to use the web form or call in at any time in advance of the program. And, importantly, the host reads your first name and city immediately before and after each request is played.

During a lifetime of listening to classical music, I’m bursting at the seams with great music I’d like to share with others, so I’m a regular contributor to “Classics by Request” and identified on air as “David in Dodgeville”.

We should never take for granted our classical music stations. During my years in central Iowa 1970-2005, WOI-FM 90.1 in Ames was one of the best classical stations in the country. I will never forget Doug Brown, Jake Graves, Mike Gowdy, Karen Bryan, Curt Snook, Hollis Monroe, and Rachel Jeffries, and the profoundly positive effect they had on my life and my love of classical music. I fondly remember the live request program on WOI-FM where they devoted an entire evening each week (7-11 p.m.) to classical music requests and played entire works and not just excerpts. Tragically, the WOI-FM I knew and loved is no more. It was absorbed a few years ago into Iowa Public Radio and the special magic is gone. A few listeners have tried to pick up the pieces and recreate some of the magic of the original WOI-FM on KHOI-FM Community Radio 89.1.

In my opinion, every metropolitan area and geographic region should have a radio station that primarily plays classical music and has at least one “local” on-air classical music host. (Depending on a national feed for all of your music depersonalizes the experience for me and many other listeners.) Each of these stations should have a “Classics by Request” program.

To be most effective and enjoyable, a “Classics by Request” program should have the following features:

  • Air at one or more convenient times for most people (Saturday or Sunday mid-morning to early afternoon, or Monday-Thursday evenings)
  • Be long enough so that an entire work can be played in addition to movements or sections of a work
  • Web request form that includes a section for notes about the work being requested (WPR has a great example of this)
  • Offer both phone-in and web-form options during a live call-in program, and at any time before the program
  • Play any particular work no more often than once per month
  • Identify the requester on air before and after the work is played, by first name and city, unless the requester wishes to remain anonymous
  • Include relevant and accurate information about the work and composer that the requester provides, on-air
  • The requester should know when their requested work will be played (date and program)

As I prepare to move to Tucson, Arizona to be closer to family and an active classical music scene with volunteer music education and symphony support opportunities, I am disappointed to see that Arizona Public Media Classical 90.5 FM does not appear to have a call-in request program. Hopefully, I can successfully encourage them to add such a program. If not, I’d be interested in working with others to create a listener-supported classical music station in Tucson that frequently features requests, including recordings provided by listeners. I’d also like to host an on-air program each week, and I have a large classical music library to draw upon for that program.

Here is a list of U.S. classical stations that have request programs.

WFMT • Chicago, IL
Saturdays 8-9 a.m.

Interlochen Public Radio • Interlochen, MI
Saturdays 9 a.m. – noon

Illinois Public Media
Saturdays 9-11 a.m.

Wisconsin Public Radio
Saturdays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. (noon during Metropolitan Opera season)
Plays shorter works or portions of longer works
Host: Ruthanne Bessman (sometimes Anders Yocom)

WFYI, HD2 • Indianapolis, IN
Sundays 6-7 p.m.

KHOI • Ames, IA
Mondays 8-10 a.m.
Rebroadcast Sundays 6-8 a.m.
“Paul is the one Morning Masterpieces host who will take music requests during live shows. He likes to play music by living composers, obscure works of classical music, and works that push the boundaries of ‘classical music’.”

WRTI • Philadelphia, PA
Wednesdays 12-3 p.m.

Radio Kansas • Hutchinson, KS
Fridays 9 a.m. – noon

Nebraska Public Media
Fridays 1-4 p.m.

KVNO • Omaha, NE
Fridays 2-4 p.m.

Minnesota Public Radio
Fridays 3-7 p.m.

WWNO • New Orleans, LA
Weekdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

WSMC • Collegedale, TN
Southern Adventist University
Weekdays 12-1 p.m.

KUSC • Los Angeles, CA
Weekdays 3-5 p.m.

KFMA • Austin, TX
Weekdays 6-7 p.m.

WCPE • Wake Forest, NC
Fridays 9-10 p.m.
Saturdays 6 p.m. – midnight

WNED Classical • Buffalo, NY
Weekdays 7:30 a.m. – one “Off to School” request
Weekdays 5 p.m. – one “Oasis of Sanity” request

Iowa Public Radio
“On the last Friday of the month IPR Classical plays requests”
1-5 p.m.

KDFC • San Francisco, CA
“Due to the volume of requests, unfortunately, we won’t be able to let you know when your request will be played.”

Interior Asteroids

139 asteroids have orbits that lie entirely within Earth’s aphelion distance from the Sun (1.016725 AU). That number reduces to 50 inside Earth’s semimajor axis distance (1.000001 AU). That number further reduces to 26 inside Earth’s perihelion distance (0.983277 AU). Those 26 asteroids are listed below.

Only one asteroid lies entirely within Venus’s orbit (2020 AV2), and none are known inside Mercury’s orbit…so far. Asteroids inside of the Earth’s orbit are extremely difficult to detect since their angular distance from the Sun is never very large, and the glare of the Sun interferes. This is especially true for any asteroids that might exist inside of Mercury’s orbit.

An asteroid is given a provisional designation when it is discovered that begins with the year of discovery. After the orbit of the asteroid has been sufficiently well-determined, it is given a number. Then, eventually, the numbered asteroid is given a name.

Only 6 of the 26 asteroids entirely within Earth’s perihelion distance have received numbers, and only one of these has been given a name: Atira.

Interestingly, 12 of these 26 asteroids have been discovered since 2017, including 4 so far this year.

In the table below, i is the orbital inclination relative to the ecliptic plane, e is the orbital eccentricity, q is the perihelion distance, a is the semimajor axis distance, Q is the aphelion distance, and P is the orbital period. The table is listed in order of aphelion distance, smallest to largest.


Brahms – Symphony No. 3

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

If I had to choose a single favorite composer, it would have to be Johannes Brahms. Among his many works, he wrote four symphonies, and every one of them is an absolute treasure. The only other composer that wrote at least four symphonies that shares that distinction, in my opinion, is Robert Schumann. Every one of Robert Schumann’s four symphonies is also a treasure. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to listen carefully to all eight of these symphonies. Robert Schumann’s profound musical influence on Brahms is frequently evident.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 1 in B♭ Major (1841)
Symphony No. 2 in C Major (1846)
Symphony No. 3 in E♭ Major (1850)
Symphony No. 4 in D minor (1841; 1851)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1855-1876)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major (1877)
Symphony No. 3 in F Major (1883)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor (1884)

One of the joys of collecting classical CDs for many years is going back to some of the older recordings in the music library and falling in love with them all over again. This week, it was a 1983 Deutsche Grammophon disc (410 083-2) of Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic performing the Brahms Third Symphony, and the Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn. The premiere of the Brahms Symphony No. 3 was 100 years earlier by this same orchestra, on 2 December 1883. The conductor was Hans Richter.

The Brahms Third Symphony is a masterful work by a mature and confident composer, full of interesting musical ideas and—if you listen carefully—some adventuresome idiosyncrasies.

In the first bars of the first movement, the symphony’s noble main theme is introduced, profound and inspired.

Brahms – Symphony No. 3: I. Allegro con brio (beginning)

Ambivalence resolves to tenderness at the conclusion of the second movement.

Brahms – Symphony No. 3: II. Andante (ending)

This excerpt from the third movement shows how Brahms moves gracefully from one musical idea to the next, propelling us forward to unexpected places and always holding our interest. It has been suggested that the rhythmic dissonance of the “bouncy” passages was inspired by Brahms’ fondness for Romani (gypsy) music.

Brahms – Symphony No. 3: III. Poco Allegretto (excerpt)

At the end of the symphony we return to the theme introduced at its beginning, now gloriously transformed, and surely transformative for the listener.

Brahms – Symphony No. 3: IV. Allegro (ending)

This fine CD by Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic concludes with the Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, written ten years earlier, in 1873. Notably, this work also received its premiere by the Vienna Philharmonic, on 2 November 1873, conducted by Johannes Brahms himself.

Unknown to Brahms (or anyone at the time), the “Chorale St. Antoni” theme upon which this work was based was probably not written by Joseph Haydn. Its origins remain a mystery.

The “Chorale St. Antoni” theme is followed by eight variations, and then a finale. The sixth variation is my favorite:

Brahms – Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, op. 56a, Variation VI: Vivace

Video Meteors 2021 – I

During the first half of 2021, I serendipitously captured six meteors on my telescope’s 17 x 11 arcminute video field of view while observing potential asteroid occultation events. I used the method described in There’s a Meteor in My Image to determine the radiant for each meteor. Here they are.

Sporadic meteor 13 Jan 2021 UT; Field location UCAC4 608-039379 in Gemini
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s

A sporadic meteor is any meteor that does not come from a known radiant.

Possible Gamma Normid 7 Mar 2021 UT; Field location UCAC4 500-006926 in Taurus
Each frame is an exposure of 0.27s
Sporadic meteor 2 Apr 2021 UT; Field location UCAC4 567-009871 in Taurus; bright!
Each frame is an exposure of 0.27s
Sporadic meteor 2 Apr 2021 UT; Field location UCAC4 427-054880 in Virgo
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s (meteor is fast and in upper right of field)
Sporadic meteor 3 Jun 2021 UT; Field location UCAC4 362-184510 in Sagittarius
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s
Sporadic meteor 16 Jun 2021 UT; Field location UCAC4 339-117085 in Sagittarius
Each frame is an exposure of 0.27s

If you have trouble seeing any of these meteors, you may want to use the full-screen button at the lower-right-hand corner of each video.


International Meteor Organization, 2o21 Meteor Shower Calendar, Jürgen Rendtel, ed.