The Invaders

Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent

The Quinn Martin television series The Invaders premiered on January 10, 1967 and ran for two seasons, the forty-third and final 51-minute episode airing March 26, 1968. If I ever saw an episode of this series at the time it was aired, I sure don’t remember it. What I do remember watching at the time was Lost in Space (which ran for three seasons from September 5, 1965 through March 6, 1968) and Star Trek (which also ran for three seasons from September 8, 1966 through June 3, 1969).

Obviously, the target audience for Lost in Space was kids, and being ages 9-11 during its run, I regularly watched it. Looking back on it now, I see the show could have been so much better than it was. The Robinsons, Major Don West, the Robot, the Jupiter 2 spacecraft were all really cool (I still think so!). But as fine an actor as Jonathan Harris was, the Dr. Zachary Smith character just ruined the show. And I could have done without the (often) unbelievably cheesy aliens and bad science.

When Star Trek launched on September 8, 1966 (when I was 10), I am embarrassed to admit I didn’t like it as much as Lost in Space and missed most of the episodes. Boy, did that ever change! Once Star Trek went into syndication in the early 1970s, I saw all the episodes and became a lifelong fan, and it remains today my favorite science fiction television series.

Somehow, I totally missed The Invaders at the time, but having just finished watching the series on DVD (without ads!) from beginning to end, I am amazed at how good of a show it was. First of all, Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent is truly outstanding. He makes the show a success, no question about it. Next, the scripts are phenomenal. Exceptional stories that keep you on the edge of your seat more often than not. And a fabulous array of guest stars further strengthen the show. Let’s not forget to mention the remarkable photography by Andrew J. McIntyre.

If you are unfamiliar with The Invaders, the basic premise is that alien beings from a dying world come to Earth with the goal of eradicating humanity and making it their new world. On Earth, they can assume human form, and infiltrate society in their quest for domination. David Vincent learns of their plans and embarks on a lonely and dangerous quest to convince those in power that their threat is real and must be stopped.

All of the episodes are worth watching, but here are my favorites:

  • Doomsday Minus One [Season 1, Episode 8]
  • Moonshot [Season 1, Episode 15]
  • Wall of Crystal [Season 1, Episode 16]
  • The Ransom [Season 2, Episode 15]
  • The Vise [Season 2, Episode 22]

Satellites and More – 2020 #2

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 second 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, two of the satellites above (7 & 22) 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 the prograde-orbiting satellites (11) appears to be orbiting retrograde. It has an orbital inclination close to 90˚ (87.5˚), and must appear retrograde because of the vector sum of the line-of-sight motion of the satellite plus the Earth’s rotation, but I have not yet found an expert who can confirm this.

Satellite #12 has an interesting story. It is piece of debris from the Iridium 33 satellite after the 10 Feb 2009 collision between Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251. A cautionary tale as now thousands of internet satellites are being launched into orbit.

Because of the long integration time, satellite #14 was only captured on a single frame, but the satellite trail clearly shows this piece of Fregat debris is tumbling and leading to rapid and no doubt periodic changes in brightness.

The satellite trail of #17 looks funky because wind was shaking the telescope as the satellite crossed the field.

There were four 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. Interestingly, three of the four unidentifiable satellites were moving in retrograde (westward) orbits.

Unidentifiable satellites

I recorded a non-operational geostationary satellite, Intelsat 5, now in a “graveyard” orbit, on 30 Aug 2020.

Intelsat 5

On 29 Nov 2020, I recorded a rapidly tumbling Briz-M rocket body. Below the video you’ll find the light curve showing the large amplitude of its reflected light variation.

Briz-M rocket body, rapidly tumbling
Briz-M rocket body, high-amplitude light curve

The NOAA-13 environmental satellite failed shortly after launch, and as you can see from the light curve below the video, it got dimmer as it crossed the field—probably indicating that this retrograde, non-operational satellite is slowly tumbling.

NOAA-13, in a retrograde orbit
NOAA-13 dimmed as it crossed the field

Occasionally, I record other phenomena of interest. Meteors during this period are described here, and you will find a couple of jet contrails in the video below.

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

Classical Music Little-Known Favorites

I’ve been seriously listening to classical music—both through live performance and recordings—for nearly 50 years, and am always surprised to find that I still discover or am introduced to works that are new to me and extraordinarily moving. “How can I have gone so many years without discovering this?” I often ask myself when I hear such a piece. Often, these “new” works are by well-known composers, but sometimes they are by composers I have never heard of. And, of course, some of them are new works by living composers.

For example, in 2017, I created a continuously-updated blog entry for “Symphonies by Women” because I was embarrassed to admit I couldn’t name a single one off the top of my head. Well, as you can see there are hundreds, and some of the few I have had the privilege to hear are really good.

There is an enormous amount of unknown music out there, and if only 1% of this unknown music is first-rate, then there must be hundreds of composers and thousands of works that deserve more attention. In France, Thanh-Tâm Le, who has recently helped me so much with this list of symphonies by women, has compiled a larger list of almost 18,000 symphonies by both men and women, and that is only symphonies!

Do you have some favorite classical works (both new and old) that you only know through a live performance or a non-commercial recording? Do you have some favorite works on vinyl or CD that are not currently available on CD? I know I do.

I’ve created a discussion group on groups.io called Classical Music Little-Known Favorites where I hope you and others will post audio files, YouTube videos, etc., of little-known works that you are enamored of. My hope for this group is that music lovers all around the world will join and present new and neglected works for us to enjoy and champion. Please join and spread the word!

The Early Radio Universe

As the expanding universe cooled, the first neutral1 hydrogen atoms formed about 380,000 years after the Big Bang (ABB), and most of the hydrogen in the universe remained neutral until the first stars began forming at least 65 million years ABB.

The period of time from 380,000 to 65 million years or so ABB is referred to as the “dark ages” since at the beginning of this period the cosmic background radiation from the Big Bang had redshifted from visible light to infrared so the universe was truly dark (in visible light) until the first stars began to form at the end of this period.

All the while, neutral hydrogen atoms occasionally undergo a “spin-flip” transition where the electron transitions from the higher-energy hyperfine level of the ground state to the lower-energy hyperfine level, and a microwave photon of wavelength 21.1061140542 cm and frequency 1420.4057517667 MHz is emitted.

Throughout the dark ages, the 21 cm emission line was being emitted by the abundant neutral hydrogen throughout the universe, but as the universe continued to expand the amount of cosmological redshift between the time of emission and the present day has been constantly changing. The longer ago the 21 cm emission occurred, the greater the redshift to longer wavelengths. We thus have a great way to map the universe during this entire epoch by looking at the “spectrum” of redshifts of this particular spectral line.

380,000 and 65 million years ABB correspond to a cosmological redshift (z) of 1,081 and 40, respectively. We can calculate what the observed wavelength and frequency of the 21 cm line would be for the beginning and end of the dark ages.

\lambda _{obs} = (z+1)\cdot \lambda_{emit}


The observed wavelength (λobs) for the 21 cm line (λemit) at redshift (z) of 1,081 using the above equation gives us 22,836.8 cm or 228.4 meters.

\nu = \frac{c}{\lambda }


That gives us a frequency (ν) of 1.3 MHz (using the equation above), where the speed of light c = 299,792,458 meters per second.

So a 21 cm line emitted 380,000 years ABB will be observed to have a wavelength of 228.4 m and a frequency of 1.3 MHz.

Using the same equations, we find that a 21 cm line emitted 65 Myr ABB will be observed to have a wavelength of 8.7 m and a frequency of 34.7 MHz.

We thus will be quite interested in taking a detailed look at radio waves in the entire frequency range 1.3 – 34.7 MHz, with corresponding wavelengths from 228.4 m down to 8.7 m.2

The interference from the Earth’s ionosphere and the ever-increasing cacophony of humanity’s radio transmissions makes observing these faint radio signals all but impossible from anywhere on or near the Earth. Radio astronomers and observational cosmologists are planning to locate radio telescopes on the far side of the Moon—both on the surface and in orbit above it—where the entire mass of the Moon will effectively block all terrestrial radio interference. There we will finally hear the radio whispers of matter before the first stars formed.

1 By “neutral” we mean hydrogen atoms where the electron has not been ionized and resides in the ground state—not an excited state.

2 Incidentally, the 2.7 K cosmic microwave background radiation which is the “afterglow” of the Big Bang itself at the beginning of the dark ages (380,000 years ABB), peaks at a frequency between 160 and 280 GHz and a wavelength around 1 – 2 mm. So this is a much higher frequency and shorter wavelength than the redshifted 21 cm emissions we are proposing to observe here.

References

Ananthaswamy, Anil, “The View from the Far Side of the Moon”, Scientific American, April 2021, pp. 60-63

Burns, Jack O., et al., “Global 21-cm Cosmology from the Farside of the Moon”, https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/2103/2103.05085.pdf

Koopmans, Léon, et al., “Peering into the Dark (Ages) with Low-Frequency Space Interferometers”, https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1908/1908.04296.pdf

Ned Wright’s Javascript Cosmology Calculator, http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/CosmoCalc.html

Classical Music Link List – Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas

Here is a list of all things classical-music-related in Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas. If you have additional links to add or see an existing link that needs to be changed or removed, please post a comment!

The two abiding interests in my life have been astronomy and classical music. I guess you could call me a professional listener, although I do have a pretty decent tenor voice and would love to sing in a secular mixed choir again. I have aspirations of hosting my own classical music program at a public radio station, or at least providing recordings and commentary. I served several years on the board of the Ames International Orchestra Festival Association (AIOFA), including two terms as board president. It was a great experience bringing fine orchestras from all over the world to C.Y. Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa and hosting them during their stay. I love symphony orchestras (chamber music, too!), and would be very happy to serve in a similar capacity during my active retirement years. Or volunteering at a university music department that has a symphony orchestra. While living in Ames, I had the opportunity to attend many wonderful faculty and student recitals.

I have family in West Texas, so am looking to relocate to be closer to them. Would love to connect with the classical music scene somewhere in this tri-state area, so if you know of any good volunteer opportunities, please let me know!

Video Meteors 2020 – II

During the second half of 2020, 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 8 Jul 2020 UT; Field location TYC 7379-00569-1 in Scorpius
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s (meteor is at left side of field)

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

Probable sporadic meteor 22 Aug 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 394-071682 in Serpens
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s ; possibly a Perseid (meteor from upper right to lower left)
Probable sporadic meteor 29 Aug 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 601-019523 in Auriga
Each frame is an exposure of 0.27s ; possibly a Perseid (meteor from upper right to lower left)
Orionid 11 Oct 2020 UT; Field location TYC 1337-01489-1 in Gemini; very fast!
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s ; (meteor at upper right)
Sporadic meteor 14 Nov 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 559-043312 in Gemini
Each frame is an exposure of 0.27s (meteor at upper right)
Probable Leonid 5 Dec 2020 UT; Field location UCAC4 410-001419 in Cetus
Each frame is an exposure of 0.13s ; (meteor along upper part of field)

None of these meteors were particularly bright, unfortunately, so you may want to use the full-screen button at the lower-right-hand corner of each video to see them well.

References

International Meteor Organization, 2o2o Meteor Shower Calendar, Jürgen Rendtel, ed. https://www.imo.net/files/meteor-shower/cal2020.pdf.

Space Records

Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, M.D. (1942-) holds the record for the longest spaceflight duration. During 1994-1995, he spent 437.8 contiguous days in orbit, almost all of them aboard the Mir space station.

The largest number of people in space at the same time was thirteen, and this has happened four times.

The fastest humans have ever traveled (relative to Earth) occurred on May 26, 1969 when the Apollo 10 crew (Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan) reached a speed of 24,791 mph—just 0.0037% the speed of light.

Both Jerry Ross and Franklin Chang Díaz hold the record for the most spaceflights. Both astronauts have gone into space seven times. Jerry Ross (STS-61-B, STS-27, STS-37, STS-55, STS-74, STS-88, STS-110) between November 26, 1985 and April 19, 2002 (Space Shuttle Atlantis: 5, Columbia: 1, Endeavour: 1), and Franklin Chang Díaz (STS-61-C, STS-34, STS-46, STS-60, STS-75, STS-91, STS-111) between January 12, 1986 and June 19, 2002 (Space Shuttle Columbia: 2, Atlantis: 2, Discovery: 2, Endeavour: 1). Both astronauts were mission specialists in the NASA Astronaut Group 9, announced May 29, 1980.

The farthest humans have ever been from Earth occurred at 0:21 UT on April 15, 1970 when the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft (Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert) executed a free-return trajectory to Earth. They were furthest from Earth above the lunar farside, 158 miles above the surface and 248,655 miles from Earth.

The youngest person ever to fly in space was Gherman Titov who was 25 years old during his solo Vostok 2 spaceflight on August 6, 1961. He was the second person to orbit the Earth.

The oldest person ever to fly in space was John Glenn who was 77 years old during his second spaceflight aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-95 from October 29, 1998 to November 7, 1998. He was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

The longest spacewalk occurred on March 11, 2001 when James Voss and Susan Helms were outside the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-102) and the International Space Station for 8 hours and 56 minutes.

The longest moonwalk occurred on December 12-13, 1972 when Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent 7 hours and 37 minutes outside the lunar module on their second of three lunar excursions. All were longer than 7 hours. This was the final Apollo mission, and Gene Cernan, who died in 2017, is still the last person to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Shostakovich Piano Concertos

I’d like to introduce you to another fine classical music recording I’ve recently discovered, but first a little editorializing about classical recordings in general.

I hope the day never comes when physical media in the form of compact discs (or something similar) is completely replaced by digital downloads or streaming. The booklet enclosed with physical media always provides useful and often enlightening information about the music, and there’s artistry on the front and back covers. Having been in COVID-19 lockdown for nearly a year now, I yearn for real human interaction without technology instead of “virtual everything”. And I say that as a person who has made his career as a computer programmer. What does that have to do with music on a CD? Well, perhaps I’ve digressed, but let me just say a recording is a poor substitute for a live performance, and a digital file is a poor substitute for a CD. Happily, I have read recently that classical music is keeping the CD alive as popular music largely goes the way of the computer file. As for CD packaging, I much prefer a well-made jewel case (with a hub whose teeth don’t break off easily) over the cardboard digipak that is seeing more frequent use, including the Shostakovich disc I will be briefly discussing here.

I much prefer discs that feature works of just one composer. Not only are they more easily filed and retrieved, but, more importantly, they often introduce you to some lesser-known works of a composer. Something I have learned over my many years of listening to classical music recordings is that there are many first-rate lesser-known works of composers, both famous and not-so-famous. There is a lot of great music out there, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, even after a lifetime of listening!

This disc featuring Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya (who now lives in Germany) is one such happy occasion. It features the two piano concertos of Dmitri Shostakovich (himself a fine pianist), plus two of his lesser-known works for two pianos (joined here by Ivan Rudin), Concertino for Two Pianos, op. 94, and Tarantella for Two Pianos, both of which were unknown to me. An all-Shostakovich disc!

Alpha Classics 203

This disc is a delight from beginning to end. Anna Vinnitskaya plays Shostakovich as well as anyone I have heard, with great intensity, energy, and precision during the rhythmic passages, and with great beauty and sensitivity during the legato passages. The Kremerata Baltica is really outstanding in the two piano concertos, as is the quality of the recording. The latter is much above average, I would say, perfectly balanced and articulated. Vinnitskaya herself conducts the orchestra from the piano in the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, op. 35, where she is joined by a fine trumpet soloist, Tobias Willmer. Omer Meir Wellber skillfully conducts the orchestra in the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, op. 102, and the Kremerata Baltica is joined by the Winds of the Staatskapelle Dresden in a perfect union and performance.

Anna Vinnitskaya grew up with the music of Shostakovich in her household, and developed an early and deep appreciation of his music and it shows throughout this recording. She performed his Second Piano Concerto for the first time at the age of eleven, and now at age 37, I have no doubt she is one of the finest performers of the piano music of Shostakovich in the world today. I hope I will have the opportunity to hear her play either of the Shostakovich piano concertos in the concert hall one day soon. Or any other piano works by Shostakovich, for that matter!


One thing I have become acutely aware of after decades of listening to classical music is the enormous difference there can be between live performances or recordings of the same work. Tempo can be one obvious difference. I tend not to like music that is on the fast end of the tempo continuum for a given work—I like to “savor” the notes. But anything as complex and nuanced as an orchestral palette can lend itself to many different interpretations. Yes, the notes are the same, but how a piece is played can make the difference between enthusiasm for the work or complete indifference.

Supernovae in the Milky Way

The first recorded supernova in our Milky Way galaxy (or anywhere else, for that matter) was seen to blaze forth in the constellation Centaurus by astute Chinese astronomers in 185 AD. Including that one, only seven confirmed supernovae have been observed in our Milky Way galaxy, though thousands are discovered each year in other galaxies.

Supernova light reached Earth in AD 185, 393, 1006, 1054, 1181, 1572, and 1604. All seven of these events occurred before the invention of the telescope. Are we overdue for another supernova? Well, given this ridiculously small sample, we can endeavor to do some simple “statistics”. The shortest recorded interval between two Milky Way supernovae was 32 years between 1572 and 1604. The longest interval has been 613 years, between the supernovae of 393 and 1006 (assuming none went unnoticed). On average then (such as it is), we “should” have seen a Milky Way supernova around 1841, and using the longest interval of 613 years, we might be expecting one by the year 2217. Undoubtedly, some supernovae in the Milky Way have escaped detection because they lay behind thick interstellar clouds.

The big mystery to me is why are there no recorded supernova events prior to 185 AD? The earliest extant records of astronomical events go back at least as far as 2316 BC (a comet in the constellation Crater was recorded by Chinese astronomers), but in the intervening 2,500 years there has been no mention of anything that could be attributed to a supernova. Or has there? Some writings before and after 185 AD suggest possible supernovae, but until a supernova remnant is identified, we need to look for other explanations.

Here follows a table of the known observed Milky Way supernovae. Of course, other supernova remnants have been discovered in our Milky Way galaxy, but no record has yet been discovered describing these events. Many of them predate recorded history.

In the table below, you’ll note that these supernovae tend to lie close to the galactic plane (galactic latitude b = 0°)—not at all surprising considering that’s where most of the stars are.

Milky Way Supernovae confirmed to have been observed

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.