Brahms – Symphony No. 1

If I had to pick a favorite symphony—and that would be difficult to do as I love so many—then it would have to be Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms.  Though he completed it in 1876 at the age of 43, he had been working on it for something like 21 years.  He was a consummate perfectionist, and it shows.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra performed this extraordinary work this past weekend as the second half of a really fine program featuring Alban Gerhardt  playing the Walton Cello Concerto, and Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.  We are so very fortunate to have an orchestra of this caliber in southern Wisconsin, and music director John DeMain is a treasure.  I am a season subscriber, of course, and attend all the concerts except for the Christmas program in December.

Johannes Brahms in 1876

I cannot get through a performance of the Brahms First Symphony without being moved to tears, and Sunday’s excellent performance by the MSO was no exception.  The final section of the second movement (Andante sostenuto) features an incredibly beautiful violin solo, gorgeously played by concertmaster Naha Greenholtz.  The fourth and final movement (Adagio — Più andante — Allegro non troppo, ma con brio — Più allegro) is pure ecstasy.  Just when you think the symphony is drawing to a conclusion, it launches into another, even more remarkable, section.  And that happens more than once.  The modulating transition to the coda in measures 367-390 (about 15:42 to 16:24 into the movement, two minutes before the end) for me is one of the most exciting sections of the entire work.

I once asked my friend and accomplished horn player John Wunderlin—who is similarly deeply moved by orchestral music—how he keeps from choking up during the most moving passages he plays.  “Fear of messing up” he said, half jokingly and half serious.  Part of the discipline that any professional musician must have is maintaining composure  during even the most moving and beautiful sections.  I don’t think I could do it.  But I did once see a teary-eyed violinist in the orchestra at the conclusion of a work.  Want to know what that work was?  It was the Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms.

Shostakovich – Symphony No. 4

The Fourth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was completed in May 1936, but had to be withdrawn before it was performed due to the withering criticism and scrutiny Shostakovich was at the time receiving from Joseph Stalin and his increasingly repressive government.  This symphony did not receive its first public performance until 1961.  To get a sense of the enormous difficulties Shostakovich had to endure under the Soviet regime—and the extraordinary music of one of the 20th century’s most gifted composers, and indeed the last great symphonist—I highly recommend Robert Greenberg’s eight-part video course, Great Masters: Shostakovich – His Life and Music.

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

The Fourth Symphony is certainly not one of Shostakovich’s more accessible works, but I want to draw your attention to the remarkable, ethereal conclusion of this symphony that few have ever heard.

My entire Shostakovich collection was lost in the Memorial Day weekend 2015 Houston flood, and I’m gradually trying to replace it.  I am currently listening to all fifteen Shostakovich symphonies in an excellent box set, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007).  Rostropovich was a close friend of Shostakovich.

Here is the final 4m45s of the third and final movement (Largo — Allegro) of the Symphony No. 4 in C minor, op. 43, by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich.  Turn up the volume—after the first couple of seconds, it is all very quiet.  Enjoy!

Scott of the Antarctic

I highly recommend the 1948 British film, Scott of the Antarctic.  It tells the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated attempt to lead the first team of explorers to the South Pole.  Once again, Amazon has bested Netflix in making fine historical movies like this one available.

The film score was written by the esteemed British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).  This project served as a springboard for his remarkable and otherworldly Symphony No. 7, Sinfonia Antartica, completed in 1952.  It is a favorite of mine.

As I have written here before, it is good to see a film that communicates effectively without the need to resort to graphic violence, foul language, etc.  You can feel the dreadful cold viscerally watching this film.  Near the end of their journey, Scott and his team in March 1912 regularly experienced high temperatures no better than -30°F during the day and low temperatures around -47°F at night.  And then there was the wind.  It would have been horrible.

One question I had while watching the movie and thinking about the real-life expedition: how did they navigate across an endless terrain of snow and ice?  It appears they primarily relied upon a theodolite which was used to measure accurate horizontal and vertical positions of the Sun and Moon.  Knowing the position of the Sun or the Moon at a particular time allowed Scott and his fellow explorers to determine their geographic latitude and longitude by using a book of navigation tables.

Theodolite used by Lt. Edward Evans

Understanding Space and Time

Have you ever noticed how it is almost impossible to find documentaries made more than a few years ago?  I was doing some reading on the Casimir effect this evening and came across the name of Julian Schwinger (1918-1994), the American theoretical physicist who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics with Richard Feynman (1918-1988) and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga (1906-1979).  I remember, after all these years, that I had enjoyed watching a BBC documentary series that featured Schwinger (as well as George Abell) called Understanding Space and Time.  It was broadcast in 1979 or 1980 and featured thirteen 28-minute episodes.

  1. Ground control to Mr. Galileo
  2. As Surely as Columbus Saw America
  3. Pushed to the Limit
  4. Conflict Brought to Light
  5. Marking Time
  6. E = mc2
  7. An Isolated Fact
  8. The Royal Road
  9. At the Frontier
  10. Shades of Black
  11. Measuring Shadows: The Universe Today
  12. A Note of Uncertainty: The Universe Tomorrow
  13. Vanished Brilliance: The Universe Yesterday

Granted, some of this material is now dated, but much of it is still relevant and certainly of historical interest.  Why is it (and a host of other documentaries) not available on DVD or for downloading?

We really need a company to fill a different niche alongside The Great Courses, Curiosity Stream, and Netflix.  That niche would be to uncover and rerelease past documentaries of merit1, often hosted or presented by historically important individuals.  Documentaries such as Understanding Space and Time would be nice to own and watch again.

1One must certainly include many PBS documentaries and older episodes of documentary series—NOVA, for example—that are no longer available.

Dodgeville Street Project Proposals

As illustrated below, a lot of drivers in Dodgeville take a dubious “short cut” from King St. to Iowa/Bequette by way of W. Leffler instead of taking King St. all the way to Iowa/Bequette.  Most of the people taking this short cut are leaving Lands’ End and heading to their homes in the Madison metro area.  These folks are not Dodgeville / Iowa County taxpayers.  Here’s the problem.  W. Leffler has been beat all to hell and is badly in need of resurfacing.  All that Lands’ End traffic has contributed mightily to the degradation of W. Leffler.  Now, as a bicycle commuter trying to get from Lands’ End to most of the rest of Dodgeville (always a dangerous proposition), it makes sense to use W. Leffler to minimize the amount of time I have to ride my bike on busy King St. and very busy Iowa/Bequette.  But W. Leffler is so broken up that for safety reasons I need to ride near the middle of the road—but a steady stream of vehicles takes the short cut down W. Leffler instead of staying on King St. up to convenient entrance ramp to Iowa/Bequette.  It is a no-win situation for Dodgeville bicyclists.  One solution would be to have W. Leffler dead end at King St. with only a bike-path connector between King St. and W. Leffler, though I suspect that would be quite unpopular in our auto-centric community.  Another solution would be to resurface W. Leffler and never let it degrade this much again.  Is that too much to ask?  It is a short street, after all.

The Lands’ End Shortcut to the Madison Metro Area

I’m not a big fan of roundabouts, but if ever there was a case for one it would be at the intersections of Iowa/Bequette, N. Main, E. Spring, and W. Spring.  In my crude map overlay below, it looks like one building would probably have to be removed.  The roundabout would need to be designed to easily accommodate the comings and goings of fire trucks from the nearby fire station.  Presently, this “octopus” of an intersection is dangerous, and I completely avoid ever making a left turn there.  Why not prohibit all dangerous left turns at these intersections by installing a roundabout where every turn will be a right turn?

Where a roundabout is needed in Dodgeville

Dateline 2024: Total Solar Eclipse

In little more than six years, another total solar eclipse across the continental U.S. will pass as close as Southern Illinois and Indiana.  Like our recent eclipse of August 21, 2017, the next total solar eclipse will also take place on a Monday and, remarkably, just a few minutes earlier in the day.  Save the date: April 8, 2024.   Actually, not long to wait.  Think about what you were doing around December 7, 2011.  Can you remember?  No question about it, the next six years will go faster than the previous six did.  Seems that as we age our sense of time changes, and time seems to go faster and faster.

The point of maximum length of totality for the 2017 eclipse was 12 miles NW of the center of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where totality lasted 2m40s and the path of totality was 71 miles wide.

The point of maximum length of totality for the 2024 eclipse will be near Nazas, Mexico (in the state of Durango), where totality will last 4m28s and the path of totality will be 123 miles wide.  Yes, this will be a longer eclipse!

Remarkably, there is a location in southern Illinois that is on the centerline of both the 2017 and 2024 eclipses!  That location is 37°38’32” N, 89°15’55” W, SW of Carbondale, Illinois, near Cedar Lake and the Midland Hills Country Club.

When did a total solar eclipse last grace Dodgeville, Wisconsin?  Nearly 639 years ago, on May 16, 1379.  The duration of totality was 3m48s.  Perhaps the Oneota people then living in this area witnessed the event.

The next total solar eclipse visible from Dodgeville won’t happen for another 654 years.  There’ll be annular eclipses in 2048, 2213, 2410, 2421, and 2614.  Then, finally, on June 17, 2672, the totally-eclipsed Sun will once again grace the skies of Dodgeville—weather permitting, of course.  The duration of the eclipse at Dodgeville will be 2m47s.  There will be another annular eclipse in 2678, followed by another total eclipse (duration 3m01s) on June 8, 2681.  Then, just two years later there’ll be another total eclipse at Dodgeville: on November 10, 2683 (0m49s).  That’s three total eclipses and one annular eclipse visible at Dodgeville in just 11 years!

Faintest Constellations

There are a dozen constellations with no star brighter than +4.0 magnitude.  Many of them are deep in the southern sky.  They are:

ANTLIA, the Air Pump
Brightest Star: Alpha Antliae, apparent visual magnitude +4.25


CAELUM, the Engraving Tool
Brightest Star: Alpha Caeli, apparent visual magnitude +4.45


Brightest Star: Beta Camelopardalis, apparent visual magnitude +4.02

cuh-MEL-oh- PAR-duh-liss

CHAMAELEON, the Chameleon
Brightest Star: Alpha Chamaeleontis, apparent visual magnitude +4.047

cuh-MEAL-yun, or cuh-MEAL-ee-un

COMA BERENICES, Berenice’s Hair
Brightest Star: Beta Comae Berenices, apparent visual magnitude +4.25

COE-muh BER-uh-NICE-eez

CORONA AUSTRALIS, the Southern Crown
Brightest Star: Meridiana, apparent visual magnitude +4.087

cuh-ROE-nuh aw-STRAL-iss

MENSA, the Table Mountain
Brightest Star: Alpha Mensae, apparent visual magnitude +5.09


MICROSCOPIUM, the Microscope
Brightest Star: Gamma Microscopii, apparent visual magnitude +4.654


NORMA, the Carpenter’s Square
Brightest Star: Gamma2 Normae, apparent visual magnitude +4.02


SCULPTOR, the Sculptor
Brightest Star: Alpha Sculptoris, apparent visual magnitude +4.27


SEXTANS, the Sextant
Brightest Star: Alpha Sextantis, apparent visual magnitude +4.49


Brightest Star: Anser, apparent visual magnitude +4.45


Falling Ice Chunks

There are a number of documented cases of large chunks of ice falling out of a clear blue sky.  After we eliminate ice falling from airplanes or nearby thunderstorms, there still appear to be some events that remain unexplained.

I first heard of this phenomenon over ten years ago, when a 50-pound chunk of ice fell through Jan Kenkel‘s roof in Dubuque, Iowa on Thursday morning, July 26, 2007.

These unexplained falling ice chunks are been given a rather inappropriate name: megacryometeor.  Why don’t we just call them “falling ice chunks”  or FICs for short, at least until they receive an explanation?

It almost certainly is some sort of unusual atmospheric phenomenon, as ice balls from space would vaporize before they reach the ground.

An unknown blogger (in Spain?) has been documenting news articles about all manner of falling ice chunks since the Dubuque event.  The blog is called HALS, which is the plural abbreviation for hydroaerolite—certainly a better name than “megacryometeor”—though this perhaps is also a geological term used to describe “silty sediments transported by the wind and deposited on a temporarily wet surface”.

Obviously, more peer-reviewed scientific research needs to be done on these falling ice chunks, megacryometeors, hydroaerolites, or what have you.

The LED Lighting Revolution

Solid state lighting, namely light-emitting diodes (LEDs), are completely revolutionizing indoor and outdoor lighting.  Here’s why:

  1. White LEDs on the market today have a system luminous efficacy ranging from 50 (least efficient) to 80 (average) to 140 (most efficient) lumens per watt.  This far exceeds the luminous efficacy of incandescent (5-35 lumens/watt), and generally exceeds compact fluorescents (45-60 lumens/watt).  Prototypes of the next generation of white LEDs have luminous efficacies up to 150 lumens/watt, and theoretically 200-250 lumens per watt may someday be achievable.  Since the traditional white light source of choice for outdoor lighting has been metal halide with a luminous efficacy of 65-115 lumens/watt, white LEDs are well on the way towards replacing metal halide.  Even the more efficient orange high pressure sodium (HPS) lights, with an efficacy of 150 lumens/watt, are nearly matched by the best white LEDs.  Only monochromatic low-pressure sodium (LPS) with an efficacy of 183-200 lumens/watt will give more lumens per watt than the best white LEDs.
  2. White LEDs last much longer than other light sources: 50,000 to 100,000 hours (between 12 and 24 years, operating dusk-to-dawn 365 days a year).  In comparison, high pressure sodium typically lasts about 5 years, and metal halide a little less at 4 years.
  3. Unlike high-intensity discharge (HID) sources such as metal halide, HPS, LPS, and mercury vapor, white LEDs are “instant on / instant off” with no warmup time to full brightness, so they can be switched on and off as often as you like with no shortening of bulb life; and they are easily dimmable. LEDs will render dusk-to-dawn lighting a questionable option rather than an operational necessity.

My only concern is that we finally “get it right” with LEDs instead of blindly following the “more is better” philosophy as we have with every lighting efficiency improvement in the past.  Low levels of white light (fully shielded to minimize direct source glare) is the most effective and efficient way to provide adequate illumination.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise, however.  Think of the light provided by a full moon as we have this week.

Unfortunately, most places that is not what is happening.  Light levels are increasing, as is the amount of lighting.  We seem well on the way towards eliminating anything resembling a natural nighttime environment for most people.  I don’t know about you, but that is not a world I want to live in.

DIAL (15 June 2016). Efficiency of LEDs: The highest luminous efficacy of a white LED.  Retrieved from

Kyba, C., Kuester, T., et al. 2017, Science Advances, 3, 11, e1701528

Planets Without Satellites

It may be rare for terrestrial planets to be accompanied by satellites, especially large ones.  It is far too early for us to draw any conclusions about terrestrial exoplanets (as no terrestrial exoplanet exomoons have yet been detectable), but in our own solar system, only two planets have no satellites, and they are both terrestrial planets: Mercury and Venus.  Mars has two small satellites that are almost certainly captured asteroids from the adjacent asteroid belt rather than primordial moons, and that leaves only the Earth among the terrestrial planets to host a large satellite, though it, too, is almost certainly not primordial.  Only the giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) have large systems of satellites, at least some of which may have formed while the planet itself was forming.

Though neither Mercury nor Venus has any natural satellites, Venus is known to have at least four transient quasi-satellites, more generally referred to as co-orbitals.  They are:

322756 (2001 CK32)
Comes close to both Earth and Mercury in its eccentric orbit (e=0.38).
Wiki  JPL  Orrery

2002 VE68
Comes close to both Earth and Mercury in its eccentric orbit (e=0.41).
Wiki  JPL  Orrery

2012 XE133
Comes close to both Earth and Mercury in its eccentric orbit (e=0.43).
Wiki JPL Orrery

2013 ND15
Comes close to both Earth and Mercury in its very eccentric orbit (e=0.61), and is the only known trojan of Venus, currently residing near its L4 Lagrangian point.
Wiki JPL Orrery

2015 WZ12 is a possible fifth Venus co-orbital candidate.  Observations during the next favorable observing opportunity in November of this year will hopefully better determine its orbit and nature.

2015 WZ12
Possible Venus co-orbital.
Wiki JPL Orrery

There is concern that there may be many more Venus co-orbitals, as yet undiscovered (and challenging to discover) that pose risks as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) to our planet.

There are no known Mercury co-orbitals.  If any do exist, they will be exceedingly difficult to detect since they will always be in the glare of the Sun as seen from Earth.

Asteroids orbiting interior to Mercury’s orbit (a < 0.387 AU) would be called vulcanoids.  I say “would be” because none have been discovered yet, though in all fairness, they will be extremely difficult to detect.

A spacecraft orbiting interior to Mercury’s orbit looking outward would be an ideal platform for detecting, inventorying, and characterizing all potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) that exist in the inner solar system. A surveillance telescope in a circular orbit 0.30 AU from the Sun would orbit the Sun every 60 days.

The Parker Solar Probe, scheduled to launch later this year, will orbit the Sun between 0.73 AU and an extraordinarily close 0.04 AU, though it will be looking towards the Sun, not away from it.  The Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) is a proposed mission to look specifically for PHAs using an infrared telescope from a vantage point at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point.

de la Fuente Marcos, C., & de la Fuente Marcos, R. 2014, MNRAS, 439, 2970
de la Fuente Marcos, C., & de la Fuente Marcos, R. 2017, RNAAS, 1, 3
Sheppard, S., & Trujillo, C. 2009, Icarus, 202, 12