A work commenced November 11, Anno Domini 2019.
Subject to Copyright. Completed text will cite references & bibliography .
Taming a Flame
The second week of February 2020 brought cold and tempestuous weather to Britain, with the arrival of Storm Ciara. Just as we were preparing our family evening meal on Sunday February 9, the storm caused a power cut which left us and our fellow villagers without electricity for a few hours. So out came the candles and on went the coal fire to keep us out of total darkness and comfortably warm. I have always been somewhat in awe of fire and fetched my pocket glass to observe the cadence of its flames as they rose upwards into the chimney column. Because of their excellent close focus, my pocket glasses can entertain me as much indoors as they can out of doors!
As I drank up the wondrous display of light and colour of the coal fire from the comfort of my couch just a few metres away, my mind reflected on the importance of fire to the progress of humanity over the milennia. Nature not only produced the fuels but also the reactive gas(oxygen) needed for fires to occur. They are thus vital components of a life-bearing planet. With an atmosphere of 21 per cent oxygen, it is just right to allow fuels(reduced carbon substrates) to ignite and generate heat and light. If the percentage of oxygen in our atmopshere were only a little higher, spontaneous combustion would be much more common and many areas of the world would experience the devastating effects recently suffered by the people and biota of Australia. If the oxygen levels were lower, we would be unable to extract enough chemical energy from food to allow us to do much in the way of higher cognitive activities such as talking, calculating and praying.
The unique ability of humans to create and control fire is probably the single most important activity that launched the high technology societies in which we now live. In its basic form, it provided our hunter-gatherer ancestors with warmth and light on cold winter nights, which allowed us to work for longer and so boosting human productivity. Its intense heat protected us from hungry predators stalking us out in the dead of night. By cooking food, it killed germs that might have made us sick. The intense heat of the fire also helped break down hard-to-digest foods, enabling us to extract their nutrients more effectively. With fire, humans could greatly expand the varieties of territories we could eke out a living in. No longer were mountains and frozen northern wastelands verboten. Fire must have triggered the largest exodus of humans from the warm grasslands of East Africa/Middle East, where we probably first emerged from after our forced expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
Our innate capacity to experiment led to further discoveries allied to fire. We learned to ‘cook’ wood, yielding the amazing substance we now call charcoal, and with that we could generate temperatures far in excess of any normal fire(up to a 1000C in fact!). Charcoal is a wonderful reducing agent, empowering our distant ancestors with the ability to ‘pull’ metals from ores; copper, tin, lead and the creation of alloys like bronze. Once we understood how to use air to increase the temperature of furnaces, the extraction of iron finally became possible. The age of metallurgy was born and with it the great transformation of our lives. Without a knowledge of combustion, we would have no ceramics, no cars, buses or trains, no computers, iphones or tablets; no skyrockets to scale heaven.
And no glass to peer through!
My binoculars would not exist were it not for fire!
And yet there are still deeper things to ponder. Why, for instance, doesn’t the coal I fetch from our bunker not react with the oxygen that surrounds it? Why, as creatures who ‘slow burn’ our food, do we not burst into flames? The answer is not all obvious, but pertains to the stability of both oxygen and coal at ordinary terrestrial temperatures. To burn coal, I must elevate its energy enough to initate the reaction, that is, by igniting the coal with a spark. And deep inside the countless trillions of cells that comprise the human body, enzymes(biological catalysts) lower the activation energy enough for our reduced foodstuffs to react with the molecular oxygen delivered to our body cells via myriad haemoglobin molecules.
But our ability to tame a flame is also related to our physical size. Think on it: if we were as small as a mouse say, we would be unable to get close enough to a fire to keep it fuelled without getting seriously injured. We’d also lack the muscle power to bring enough fuel in the form of chopped wood or dry brush to sustain the same fire. But humans are large enough(1.5 to 2m), and endowed with long enough arms with an ingenious manipulative tool at their ends(fingers with an opposable thumb), and with muscles powerful enough to chop and carry wood and lay it on a fire with outstreched arms, so keeping a safe distance from its desctructive flames.
And if we were significantly larger, gravitational forces would put much higher strains on our limbs. Carrying anything would much more difficult. Biophysicists have long known that simple power laws govern how body weight and limb strength scale with increasing height. Weight scales as the cube of height, but limb strength only scales with the square of height. That means that if we were much taller, strenuous physical activities would become far more challenging and even downright dangerous. Our limbs would shatter under their own weight and fumbling Prometheus falling into a fire would be a distinct possibility. The same principles explain why, upon faltering in a similar situation, a little child would emerge unscathed.
Can our physical size and the chemical and physical properties of our atmosphere that allow fires to be tamed and pressed into service by our kind be just coincidence? Is this just another serendipitous chain of events that happened to occur on our planet? Most certainly not! The godless naturalists can provide no credible answers to these questions.
They are, quite literally, left in the dark!
On the otherhand, a Creator God – an Unquenchable Fire – who designed this world for His human imagers to transform its natural resources seems far more probable to my mind.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
A Worthy Upgrade
During the first two weeks of January 2020, I had the opportunity to test drive a Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 pocket glass kindly lent to me by a fellow villager. You can read about my opinions of that instrument here. As that report shows, I was very impressed with its wonderful optical and mechanical quality, but still a little concerned about how much use I would realsitically get out of a glass with very small, 20mm objective lenses. After some cogitation and deliberation, I decided that having two 8 x 25 units(the Opticron Aspheric LE WP and the Zeiss Terra ED) could not be justified, and so I gifted my Opticron to my next-door neighbour and invested in what is arguably one the highest quality achromatic(read non-ED) pocket glasses money can buy. Conducting some price comparisons across the internet, I managed to track down a UK-based seller offering the Trinovid for a very good price and I pulled the trigger.
The package arrived in perfect nick. What I received(see photo above) was a small box (actually double-boxed) with the Leica binocular safely packed inside a soft but rather oversized carry case, a small neckstrap, a comprehensive user manual, a test certificate and a booklet containing details of its 10-year warranty. The binocular had no eyepiece or objective lens caps though, and not even so much as a lens cloth thrown in for good measure!
My neighbour was thrilled to bits to accept the Opticron – a high quality pocket glass – but I was equally thrilled to finally own arguably one the smallest, useful pocket glasses in existence. And, as my subsequent tests showed, the little Leica proved to be every bit as good as the unit I tested a few short weeks ago.
The little 8 x 20 Leica passed my flashflight tests with flying colours; it was just as clean and devoid of internal reflections as the earlier unit I investigated and delivered pin sharp images rich in contrast almost from edge to edge. There is no question that the quality control on these high-end pocket glasses is remarkably consistent. Optically, the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 is unquestionably a step up from the Opticron in terms of sharpness and contrast. Indeed, it is right up there with the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25, but in smaller, more elegant frame.
Once I had done my testing, I registered the instrument on Leica’s sports optics website(the serial number being printed under the right eyecup).
As much of my work on telescopes over the last decade has involved raising amateur awareness of the wonderful properties of well-made achromatic refractors, I was thrilled to see that a top company like Leica was creating state-of-the-art miniature binoculars using traditional crown and flint glass. It showed me once and for all that excellent binocular optics doesn’t necessarily require the use of low dispersion lenses. Rather, it’s more to do with the precise figuring of the glass, as well as the application of state-of-the-art coatings to all optical surfaces that delivers this degree of excellence.
Both the Zeiss and the Leica are endowed with similar, high-quality optics, but one has ED Schott glass (the Zeiss) comprising one or more of its objective elements, while the Leica does not. But if I were to make an aperture stop for the Zeiss, reducing its effective aperture to 20mm, I would in effect have two instruments operating at 8 x 20 and with the same exit pupil(2.5mm). So the biggest difference between them would be the ED component and that would allow me to investigate claims made by a number of individuals over the years; specifically in relation to the brightness of the images served up by ED and non-ED optics. Is there any or much truth in this claim?
So I set to work performing some experiments in low light conditions, carefully comparing the images served up by both pocket glasses. I hope to report back on this in a later post.
A Better Case for a New Pocket Glass
The Leica binocular came with a soft padded case that was too large to fit it well. As you can see from the image below, the binocular has quite a bit of wiggle room inside the case and even when it’s closed, dust can easily enter and accumulate over time. This is especially the case(lol) as the instrument was not supplied with endcaps to cover the ocular and objective lenses.
I felt that there must be a better solution to this storage problem. So, after taking into account the dimensions of the Leica glass, I searched online for a suitable replacement. Eventually, I came across a tiny clamshell case, similar to the one I received with the Zeiss Terra but smaller again. Here is what it looks like:
Here is another photo of the clamshell case compared with the original case for reference:
Costing just £6.99 inclusive of delivery, the clamshell case is shockproof and can be zip-closed.
To my relief the Leica binocular fitted the hard clamshell case perfectly and can even accommodate the binocular with the eyecups kept up for quicker deployment.
I was delighted with the new case as it affords far better protection of the optics and is even easier to store away owing to its very small dimensions. The image below shows its size in comparison to the Zeiss Terra case.
This should serve as an excellent storage case for the Leica pocket glass, protecting it from dust and moisture; an important issue since the instrument is splashproof but not waterproof.
Maybe I should contact Leica Sports Optics with this suggestion?
A Triumph for Aperture & Ergonomics!
Both the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 and the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 are top-notch optical performers. But while the Leica is significantly more expensive than the Zeiss, it is the latter instrument that will prove to be the more versatile. Let’s compare some of the specifications to see why this is the case.
The Zeiss has a larger aperture and bigger exit pupil, making it significantly more effective in low light conditions and for observing the night sky. The larger exit pupil (3.125mm) also makes it considerably easier to line up your eye pupils rendering the views more immersive and comfortable. The Zeiss has a much larger focus wheel making it the easy choice in cold weather where gloves are worn. In addition, the Zeiss Terra is more pleasant to hold in cold weather since the thermal conduction of its polymer frame is much lower than the aluminium frame of the Leica, which always feels very cold to touch in cold winter conditions.
The Zeiss has better eye relief than the Leica(16mm and 14mm, respectively) making it easier for eye glass wearers to engage with the entire field of view. What is more, the Zeiss Terra has a considerably larger frame than the Leica pocket glass rendering it much more stable to hold steady during prolonged field use. It also has a noticeably wider field of view than the Leica(6.8 degrees as opposed to 6.3 degrees). And while the build quality is definitely better in the little Leica pocket glass, the Zeiss is really not that far behind it.
I like to think that the ethos behind the design of the Zeiss Terra pocket glass is different to that of the Leica. The frame of the Zeiss is constructed from modern, strong but lightweight materials (fibreglass-reinforced polyamide). Indeed, it only weighs about 75 grams more than the Leica glass. In addition, the Zeiss is fully fogproof and waterproof, whilst the Leica is merely splashproof and so the former has a distinct edge over the latter when moving from cold, damp conditions to a wam, interior environment. One other issue is worth mentioning; the Leica Trinovid BCA is much more fiddly to deploy than the Zeiss. Have you ever tried getting your optimal interpupillary distance with the Leica when attempting to view the night sky in the dark? It can be downright frustrating to say the least! Not so with the Zeiss Terra!
Seen in this light, it’s relatively easy to see why the Zeiss would be my first choice for standard field use. It just ticks so many more boxes than the Leica. Instead of feeling slightly anxious about using a small, ornate pocket glass, that anxiety all but disappears while using the Zeiss. That said, I can see where the Leica might be better suited than the Zeiss. Because the Leica is smaller and has less garish external colours than the Zeiss, it would probably be suited that little bit better to watching sports events from a distance or during an evening at the theatre. Its superior control of glare, internal reflections and less intense diffraction spikes when looking at bright artificial light sources also makes it eminently qualified for observing urban nightscapes and the occasional bout of ‘take anywhere’ tomfoolery.
All of this resonates well with experiences I have had when comparing smaller grab ‘n’ go refractors to my upgraded 130mm Newtonian reflector. Despite being less expensive than the refractors, the larger Newtonian proved the better choice time and time again, showing that you don’t always get what you pay for! Just like the Zeiss Terra, the 130mm Newtonian simply represents more bang for your buck!
Does ED glass in a binocular result in brighter images?
Anyone who has followed my blogs over the years will know that I am sceptical of the claims made by fanatics of ED glass. I found much of their claims somewhat pretentious, including statements like, ” Apos resolve binary stars better than traditional achromats and Newtonian reflectors.” My own tests conducted both in the field and backed up by numerous historical references showed otherwise, which is one of the reasons I got rid of a whole raft of refractors with ED glass and replaced them with much more economical and powerful Newtonian reflectors. It’s relatively easy to find comments about small, low- power ED binoculars where the following claim is often made, “Binoculars containing ED glass give brighter images than those using traditional traditional crown and flint glass.”
Now, I can certainly see why binocular objectives containing ED glass might focus the visible wavelengths of light they collect that little bit more tightly than those without such elements, which might give them an edge in terms of producing a slightly brighter image, but not so much to make the difference ‘obvious’ or ‘immediately apparent.’ What I did discover is that it is often the quality of coatings applied to the lenses and prisms that result in noticeable differences in image brightness, since more efficient coatings result in a greater light transmission to the eyes. My curiosity was further piqued when I came across this short youtube review, where the presenter noted that a binocular with so-called ‘HD coatings'(read dielectric) produced a much more dramatic effect on image brightness than ED glass-containing instruments with the same specifications utilising non-dielectric(lower reflectivity) coatings.
So I wanted to test the claim that ED glass containing binoculars result in brighter images by conducting a series of observations using three binoculars; my Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25(containing Schott ED glass and retailing for £270), my Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20(bought for £319) and my Celestron Trailseeker 8x 32 binocular(a £126 purchase). The latter instruments have high quality coatings but do not include ED glass containing objectives. The Celestron Trailseeker, in particular, has dielectric coatings applied to the roof prisms, creating the same ‘HD images’ to the Hawke Frontier X 8 x 32 model featured in the youtube clip linked to above. Surprisingly, Leica do not appear to publish details of the coatings they apply to their optical components and no data on its light transmission. The Zeiss Terra ED has a published light transmission of 88 per cent, which you can find on the Zeiss sports optics website.
In order to make the comparison as fair as possible, I made a 20mm aperture stop for the Terra, cutting its effective aperture from 25mm to 20mm but still retaining a magnification of 8x. I then compared the performance of this stopped down binocular to the Leica 8 x 20 (at full aperture) under low light conditions at dusk, when the light was rapidly fading in the evening. I conducted such tests on three separate occasions and, in each case, I elicited the opinions of a number of other individuals, my wife and a few of my students, to ensure that the results were consistent with my own. The target was a tree branch located about 50 yards in the distance. Consensus was reached. The stopped down Terra ED yielded a very slightly brighter image than the Leica 8 x 20.
But then I set up a similar set of experiments comparing a stopped down Celestron Trailseeker 8 x 32 with an effective aperture of 25mm with the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25 at full aperture(so also at 25mm). As with the first experiment, I canvassed the opinions of a couple of my students and my wife on the same target and under late, dusky lighting conditions. The results were very surprising! 3 out of four of us(including yours truly) reported the Celestron to have an edge in brightness over the Zeiss, while a fourth observer reported essentially equal brightnesses in both the stopped down Celestron and the Zeiss at full aperture.
Conclusions: The presence of ED glass did not result in any dramatic increases in brightness in both tests and when compared against the non-ED Celestron, the results seemed to indicate that it had, in fact, a slight edge over the ED containing Zeiss Terra. This further suggested that the Celestron Trailseeker had a light transmission of at least 88 per cent (and possibly a little bit higher), indicating that (as I suspected from other tests) it is indeed a highly efficient light gathering instrument. The results for the Leica Trinovid might also suggest that it may actually have a slightly lower transmission than the Zeiss(88 per cent), although I was unable to verify this in practice owing to the lack of published data on this Leica binocular.
I would warmly encourage other binocular enthusiasts to conduct similar experiments if they have the means.
These experiments deepen my conviction that the marketing of ED glass in small, low-power binoculars like these, is yet another clever ploy to lure unsuspecting consumers to choose ED-containing binoculars over their non-ED counterparts based on misleading, if not false, claims. Don’t be gulible; never buy a binocular based solely on the presence or absence of low dispersion (ED glass). Check out the other specifications that an instrument offers before parting with your hard earned cash, or try before you buy.
A Vibrant Star Cluster in Coma Berenices
February has proven to be a very unsettled month weatherwise. The UK has endured not one, but two big storms; Ciara and Denis, causing widespread flooding and general havoc with many communities across the country. But even amidst this grotty weather, the night sky still presents opportunities to observe it, if only for a few minutes at a time. And small binoculars are the ideal instrument to use in these very unsettled conditions, as they require no set up time. If a clear spell presents itself, I’m away out to have a gander.
By mid-February, the constellation of Leo approaches the meridian around local midnight; a sure sign that Spring is on the way. And over in the east, other signs of vernality present themselves, particularly brilliant orange Arcturus, which has cleared the murky horizon and is rising ever higher in the sky, together with the many interesting stars that collectively inhabit the constellation of Bootes. Looking over to the northeast, the bright summer star, Vega, is reassertting itself, while setting in the west, Orion and Taurus are now past their glory days.
This time of year, I like to visit a conspicuous patch of sky just east of the hind legs of the celestial Lion. Easy to pick up in the pocket glass, the famous Coma Cluster( Melotte 111) is no trouble to track down in a dark, moonless sky as a smattering of 4th and 5th magnitude stars concentrated into an area spanning some 5 degrees. Light pollution in towns and cities often drowns out even its brightest members, but from a dark country sky, the Coma Cluster is a fine naked eye sight, with at least half a dozen members being clearly visible to my unaided eyes. But the view greatly grows in majesty when examined with a small binocular. The 8 x 25 Terra frames the cluster very well, where the characteristic ‘V’ shaped stellar configuration makes it child’s play to identify. Several dozen suns are easily discerned in this cluster in a pocket glass and up to 80 members can be pulled out of the dark with larger glasses.
Our guidebook on page 124 informs us that the centre of the cluster is estimated to be about 285 light years away, with its many main sequence stars estimated to have an age of approximately half a billion years. Such a vast amount of time is more than sufficient to prize its stars apart, which goes a long way to explaining why the cluster is so large and sprawling as seen in the pocket glass. I made a sketch of the Coma Cluster last season using a larger binocular, which is reproduced below for interest.
Insights from an Old Book
My two pocket glasses serve up breathtaking images of the creation. In terms of absolute optical quality, millimetre for millimetre, I would give the edge to the Leica 8 x 20. Yet, in comparing and constrasting it to the Zeiss Terra, I have noted a couple of other ways in which the latter instrument pulls ahead of the smaller glass. The first thing is close focus distance; the Zeiss pocket binocular can focus on objects as close as 1.4m away, while the Leica fares considerable worse in this regard, at about 1.8m. This will likely prove important going forward, as I am fond of observing insects, rock formations, colourful mushrooms and other fungi, as well as flowers at very close range. The Zeiss’ wider field of view will also make those close up views more compelling.
The second thing I have noticed is that, with the exception of strongly illuminated(read sunny) daylight scenes, the Zeiss pocket glass serves up noticeably brighter images. And this is true whether fooling around indoors, glassing out of doors on overcast days and in shaded areas like woods and glades. That the Zeiss was producing brighter images under a wide range of conditions surprised me a little until I happened to pick up an old book from my library, written by the late Leif J. Robinson, former editor of Sky & Telescope Magazine, entitled Outdoor Optics. On page 15 of that text, there is a graph(shown below) of pupil diameter versus age for dark-adapted eyes, as well as how the exit pupil behaves under so-called ‘office illumination.’
The ambient brightness (luminance) is measured in units called Lux, where 1 Lux is 1 lumen per square metre. In this wikilink, it gives the luminance values for various illuminated conditions, including office lighting, which can be anywhere from 300 to 500 Lux. Heavily overcast days can have Lux values as low as 100 though, while observing under the canopy of trees in wooded environments might be expected to be even lower. Looking at the size of the exit pupil under office illumination for my age(51) gives a value of ~3.5mm. Although the particular details of how my own pupil behaves is still unknown to me, these results go some way to explaining why the Zeiss Terra(with an exit pupil of 3.13mm) pulls ahead of the Leica (with a smaller exit puipl of 2.5mm)under these conditions. And gathering more light means that I can discern finer details in many dull or dimly lit scenes of extended objects using the larger 8 x 25 glass.
I intend to investigate this phenomenon further by taking measurements of the luminance under differing lighting conditions and relating this to what my eyes discern using these small pocket glasses. Accordingly, I have ordered up a luminance meter to perform these experiments, and will report back on this matter at a later date.
A New Colour Variant of the Zeiss Terra Pocket Now Available!
Remember how I described the Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 as having rather garish colours that might attract unwanted attention from the members of a crowd at sporting events? Well, I just recently discovered that Zeiss are now offering the Terra in not one, but two colour schemes. As well as the black, blue and grey livery on the original Terra, they now offer it in black, white and blue. And here’s what it looks like:
Maybe someone from Zeiss was reading my blogs lol?
I think it’s rather handsome; don’t you? Source here.
Hooking up with the Leica Sports Optics Group
I had a few questions about the Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20 and decided to contact the sports optics group in the UK with a couple of questions that I was unclear about. The first question I asked them was whether or not the outer lenses of the Trinovid were treated with AquaDura coating. This nanotechnology changes the surface tension of water and oily dirt that happens to form on the glass, causing smaller droplets to coallesce into larger drops, which in turn are much more easily discarded from the lens surface under gravity. It also acts as protective barrier against abrasive forces such as scratching. The reason I enquired about this coating was that the user manual I received did not explicitly state that it had been applied but the online PDF of the binocular’s technical data did state that AquaDura was indeed applied to the outer lenses. In addition, I asked them to clarify what ‘splashproof’ meant.
Well within 24 hours, I heard back from Leica, who were able to confirm that AquaDura was indeed applied to the outer lenses. They also suggested a way I could test this by breathing heavily on either the ocular or objective lenses to create a temporary fog and watching how this would disappear within seconds. Sure enough, that fog disappeared rapidly. Indeed, I performed the fog test on both the Leica and my Celestron 8 x 32 and was able to verify that the condensed moisture disappeared within seconds on the Leica but lingered far longer on the Celestron ocular lens. To illustrate this, I took a photograph of both ocular lenses just after I fogged them up and again 10 seconds later. You can see that the Leica lens was free of moisture but the Celestron had not yet de-misted.
They were also able to clarify that ‘splashproof’ meant that they would hold up fine in light rain but were not advisable to use in heavy rain or on a boat.
I later contacted Leica UK to tell them about the alternative carry case I acquired to better protect the little Trinovid against the elements. Indeed, I dispatched the same sequence of images I presented earlier in this blog to them. I wasn’t really expecting a reply but within hours I got a very nice e-mail from one of the group members (Tizia). Here is what she had to say:
|Leica Camera Onlinestore UK Onlinestore.email@example.com|
|to:||Neil English <firstname.lastname@example.org>
|date:||24 Feb 2020, 16:15|
|subject:||Re: Hardcase for Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x20|
Thanks for sharing! That’s brilliant. What brand is this case? I will make a note of it to let future customers know in case they are looking for a case as well.
I think they liked the idea. And after my teaching this evening, I sent her on the amazon link to the clamshell.
Who knows, maybe Leica might bring out their own version of this nifty little carry case in the near future?
Rise of the Daffodils
On the last day of February, my eldest son and I took off for a walk around the grounds of Culcreuch Castle Estate. Though the weather for most of the month has been downright horrid, no snow has settled in the valley this winter, but it seems to come and go on the hilltops. During our walk I was delighted to see that the first daffodils had begun to flower. Unlike the south of Britain, where daffodils spring up a few weeks earlier owing to its milder climate, nature seems altogether more pedestrian this far north. Still, the days have lengtened considerably by now, with sunset occurring near 6pm local time. And with longer days, the intensity of sunlight grows noticeably stronger, its rays beginning to bring some warmth to an upturned face, and making observing with the pocket binocular ever more worthwhile.
Nature seems to have been stirred into action in other ways though. I’ve been glassing the corbies, mostly of the carrion variety, that roost in the conifer trees to the west of the house, where I have observed them carrying nest-building materials; twigs, mosses and the like, in their sturdy beaks in preparation for the arrival of the next generation. Their deep and resonant ‘kaaring’ has become noticeably louder and they seem more anxious than they’ve been earlier in the winter. My neighbours seem to consider them as nothing more than noisy nuisances, but I have always had a soft spot for them.
And there’s also been an unexpected return of one of the Magpies to the Rowan tree in my garden. The original family are still around but on one Sunday afternoon a few weeks back, my wife and I witnessed at first hand some very vicious behaviour within their ranks. One of the group seemed to have been singled out as weaker or less desirable than the others and was attacked by two other Magpies in the group. They forced it to the ground and were pecking and kicking at it, with the obvious intention to injure or even kill it. Were it not for the intervention of my wife, the poor creature might have died. Fast forward a week or so and lo and behold, a solitary Magpie returned in the evening, resting near the centre of the tree which afforded it more protection on all sides by its wiry branches. It looked lonely; almost forlorn. Alas, I have ventured out to see if it returned on other nights since then, but thus far, there has been no sign of it. I do hope it has survived.
Further Experiments on Light
I ordered up a light meter in order to conduct some more experiments on the relationship between light intensity and the perecived brightness of the images served up by the Zeiss Terra and the Leica. It’s easy to use and has been very educational. On bright days, in a clear, blue sky and in direct sunlight, light intensity can reach 50kiloLux. But as soon as a cloud covers the Sun, the intensity falls to half that level. Dull overcast days (for late February) in the open air yield values of the order of 6-7 kiloLux. Indoors is another matter though. For example, the brightness in my living room under regular illumination falls to just 50 Lux and under these conditions, the larger exit pupil of the Zeiss pocket glass clearly show brighter images. The same is true when viewing objects under brighter indoor lighting levels, such as my kitchen (300 Lux). What is more, observing through a window or from an open door during most any daylight conditions registers values of the order 400 to 500 Lux. My son and I both confirmed that the Zeiss clearly shows a brighter image than the Leica when observing under these conditions, and the readings I have thus far obtained deep inside a forested canopy under the shade of conifer trees show values of about 1.2 and 1.0 kiloLux in strong (overcast) afternoon illumination. Here again, the Zeiss pulls noticeeably ahead in terms of serving up brighter images. My preliminary results with the light meter suggest that at luminance levels less than a few kiloLux, the Zeiss will serve up brighter images under pretty much any conditions.
I am satisfied that these results are real and repeatable and, furthermore, have implications for birders and other nature observers observing wildlife from hides or simple observing stations, where substantial light shade is provided by the structure. Under these conditions, a larger aperture binocular should have a noticeable advantage over smaller instruments, no matter how well made it is.
A Delicate Flower
Owing to its diminutive size, the Leica must be handled with considerably more care than the larger Zeiss. No less than four times in as many weeks I have almost dropped the instrument while taking it out of its case! As you can imagine, these incidents were the cause of considerable anxiety on my part and is due to the extremely small size of the folded instrument in my hands. As a result, I have to take extra care removing it and will now only do so at a table or on a couch. Whenever I deploy it, I immediately put the strap round by neck and keep it there until I’m done with it.
That said, I continue to be deeply impressed with the Trinovid’s excellent optical quality. This binocular has truly exceptional control of internal reflections and glare; better than any of my other instruments. Indeed, I have since learned that Leica is a world leader in suppressing unwanted light. After dark on March 1 2020, immediately after a heavy shower of sleet, hail and high winds, the sky cleared briefly in the mid-evening, when a beautiful crescent Moon hung majestically, low in the western sky and just above the tops of the conifer trees where the corbies roost. The Pleiades was located nearby, up and to the right of the crescent, making the apparition a particularly memorable one. I took the opportunity to compare and contrast the images seen through the Zeiss Terra and the Leica Trinovid, noting contrast, stray light levels and image sharpness. Though both instruments served up excellent results with wonderful earthshine on display from its dark hemisphere, the clear winner on this target was the Leica. The bright crescent Moon was more starkly presented in the Leica with almost zero evidence of internal reflections and nary a sign of even the weakest diffraction spike across the field(a common phenomenon in roof prism binos). The Zeiss showed a stronger diffraction spike, made more obvious only by the sheer perfection of the Leica, and a tad lower contrast in comparison; certainly never enough to induce alarm by my standards, but enough to show that it was nonetheless superior to the Zeiss in this regard.
Contemplating a March Supermoon
The full Moon of March 8 2020 rose early in the evening, and as blue sky gave way to twilight, proper darkness finally set in after 7pm local time. I ventured out with my 8 x 25 pocket glass to observe its steely grey countenance. On this evening, where clear spells were interspersed with frequent heavy wintry showers, the brilliant Moon looked stunning in the little pocket binocular, navigating its way through patchy clouds and creating spectacular light shows as it did.
Presenting itself a little bigger and brighter than normal, this so-called Supermoon arises from its slightly elliptical orbit, which, every now and then, carries it closer to our planet than normal. With such a big, bright orb as this, it’s easy for the imagination to run amok. Tonight I saw it as one enormous canvass of sorts, or maybe some gigantic work of plaster of Paris adorned with God’s footprints!
As I relaxed to take in the naked eye view for a few moments, I noted that not so far away from big, bright Luna, there appeared a few faint stars, perhaps of the third magnitude, winking in and out of view as the rainclouds marched their way eastward across the sky. Now the Moon, I thought, is usally about magnitude -12.7 and with its closer approach it might well have reached -13 or thereabouts. So, my average eyes could make out stars that were about 16 magnitudes fainter than the Supermoon. A little math shows that the brightness differential between these faint naked eye stars and the Moon is of the order of 2.5^16 which is ~2,300,000.
Wow! What an amazing dynamic range the human eye possesses!
Recalling some technical details from my amateur photography days, that amounts to about 21 photographic stops! Then I found out that the dynamic range of the best digital cameras was only about 15 stops or so!
And did you know that the human eye can detect a single photon of visible light with an energy of the order of 10^-19 Joules. That’s 10 bilion billionths of a Joule!
“We may be small and insignificant in the scheme of things,” I thought, as I continued to admire a few minutes of a bright Moonlit sky, but, nevertheless, our Creator packed us full of technological wonders!
Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Drawn to the Light of the Great Outdoors
With the days lengthening rapidly in March, the quality of light upon the landscape continues to improve, making glassing with the pocket binocular more productive and worthwhile. The strengthening sunlight illumines the hills, the fields, the trees, the rivers and streams, making anything with colour stand out with greater urgency. The trees are well on their way to shooting new leaves and the thorny gorse bushes have already begun to flower in their radiant yellow hues. With the improving strength and quality of sunlight, the performance of good quality pocket glasses become ever more apparent, allowing one to image targets in the field with breathtaking clarity. And what a beautiful world our Lord created for us, with its mindboggling complexity that just cries out to be explored by the naked eye and with quality tools that greatly extend our vision.
Fear of the COVID-19 virus pandemic seems to be spreading faster than the virus itself. But I refuse to be inhibited by it. The human body is well designed to cope with viral infections but there are ways to boost the immune system by simple lifestyle changes. Walking in the great outdoors provides the necessary exercise to keep your cardiovascular system in tip-top condition. The virus can only survive a few hours in the open air, making it very unlikely to cause infection in this environment, especially if you keep away from crowds.
Sunlight too helps de-activate this pathogen by denaturing its protein coat, as well as having a proven ability to stumulate the human immune system. Drinking plenty of pure, fresh water and including a wide variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables in your regular diet also helps your body fight infection. Some dietary supplements, including sulphur-rich garlic and N-Acetyl Cysteine(NAC) will also help your body cope better should you become infected. Temperance in alcohol consumption is always advisable too. Having said all that, few people appreciate the power of prayer to positively impact the immune system. Pray for strength, for endurance and for wisdom. As the Psalmist declared long ago:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
Bidding Farewell to Old Friends
The evening of March 15 2020 proved to be cool, calm and mostly clear, so wrapping up warm after supper, I ventured out with my trusty 8 x 25 pocket glass, when I was immediately greeted by a sky full of stars! Brilliant Venus shone in the west with an intensity I had not encountered in many years. Like some great lighthouse in the heavens, it was bright enough to cast shadows of some of the more delicate tree branches on my backgarden lawn! Needless to say that the apparition was quite surreal!
By now, mighty Orion had past the meridian and was sinking towards the western horizon. But I was glad to see that big, orange Betelgeuse, which had spent a few months diminishing in brightness had, by now, regained much of its former glory. The little binocular beautifully framed the pure white stars of the Hunter’s belt, as well as showing up many fainter members of Collinder 70. And lower down, the Great Nebula in the Swordhandle was still presenting its visual magic with wonderful clarity. Ahead of Orion and even lower down in the western sky lay Taurus, with the refulgent stars of the Pleiades and Hyades still presenting well in the pocket glass. High above them I saw Auriga the Charioteer, also remaining well placed to glass its trio of ghostly Messier open clusters – M37, M38 and M36 – arranged nearly in a line from east to west, respectively, and almost fitting in the same binocular field. You can find them for yourself by taking a look at the star chart on page 89 of our guide book.
By this time of year, brilliant Perseus and Cassiopeia had wheeled their way far off to the north. But I was still able to get a reasonable view of the Double Cluster, though it couldn’t hold a candle to its glory days during the height of winter, when it was much higher in the sky. The exceedingly rich constellation of Gemini lay on the meridian, with myriad faint Milky Way stars coursing through its confines, and followed fast on its heels by the large and domineering Leo. It was clear to me that the sky was announcing the imminent arrival of spring!
Although glassing the night sky with a small binocular always upwells deep feelings of joy, I felt somewhat melancholic on this occasion, as I knew that the brilliant stars of winter would gradually be lost in the strengthening twilight that attends the unstoppable march of the seasons. But as the old adage proclaims, “abscence makes the heart grow fonder.”
I will see them again next season, God willing.
Oot ‘n’ Aboot
The coronavirus pandemic has gripped the nations with fear. But unlike COVID-19, the fear virus is far more contagious. It fills the godless with dread, bringing their mortality and materialism into sharp focus. And while anyone can catch the coronavirus, most Bible-believing Christians across the globe are entirely immune to the fear virus. You see, we’re sealed by the Holy Spirit(the third person of the Trinity) and so do not let such issues worry or control us.
The boys are off school but their education must continue; indeed, the same is true for many of their peers, and so my days are now occupied offering free online tuition to many of my former students to keep them focused. Truth be told, I’ve never been busier! I still take time to enjoy the beauty of God’s created order, whether it be the rural landscape around me or the strarry heaven above. Heeding the guidelines issued by the government, our movements are more restricted than in normal life, but thankfully we can still go for walks once a day. And there’s always the back garden to enjoy.
On the afternoon of Friday, March 27, my eldest son and I decided to go on a different amble from the route we normally take. Called the Lade, after the old mill lade that once stood on the site, it runs parallel to the Endrick River, and provides many opportunities for glassing. As we walked along the narrow, muddy path, under woody glades, I remembered the many occasions I used to take my boys along its winding track, when they were much younger and much more naieve. We chuckled amongst ourselves as I pointed out the old disused barn where ‘Wee Willy Winky’ lived, or the scary looking tree trunk shaped like a monster. The barn remains but the ‘monster’ tree trunk had all but been reclaimed by nature. My son carried his 8 x 32 and I brought along my versatile 8 x 25. Even in heavily overcast skies, the light is now good and strong making a pocket binocular a great choice to bring along to enhance the naked eye experience.
The Lade walk eventually brings us to Craigton Pond, providing a natural fresh-water habitat for wading birds and a good spot to spend an afternoon fishing for Roach, Perch, Carp and other bony fish during spring and late autumn. In summer, the entire pond becomes choked up with water lillies which renders fishing all but impossible. We found the pond to be a hive of activity for various species of duck, and being a novice birder, I always delight in being able to identify new varieties with my pocket glass. On this afternoon, I was able to positively identify the female Goosander(mergus mergander), with its fetching grey plumage covering much of her body, white neck, chocolate-brown crown and nape, and a very long and slender hook-tipped sawbill in striking vermillion. When I first glassed the bird, I was sure it wasn’t a duck, but as soon as we got home, my good old RSPB guidebook informed me otherwise.
Nature is such a treasure to be revered certainly; an endless wellspring of divine revelation, but it is not be worshipped like the New Agers and Extinction Rebellion fraternity seem to do. I suppose this modern nature worship got a big boost from the influential writings of the Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza(1632-77), who conceived the Godhead as the entire material cosmos with its physical laws comprising the Divine essence. But though a Jew, Spinoza was barely a Jew at all. He completely rejected the Judeo-Christian concept of God as existing eternally beyond nature. Had he spent more time studying the printed words of the Torah – rather than the white spaces surrounding them, Spinoza might well have formed an alternate opinion. In fact, the gods of all the eastern religions hold to something similar to Spinoza’s pantheism. To the Biblical God, pantheism is a fabrication; an idea of purely human construction; just another idol, if you will.
An Encounter with a Crescent Moon & Venus
Around 8pm on the evening of Saturday March 28 2020, on the eve of the return of British Summer Time(BST), I ventured outside to examine the progress of a clearing sky, and though some large cloud banks were still present, I spied a beautiful crescent Moon and a brilliant planet Venus less than seven degrees apart, low down in the western sky. How did I come on seven degrees you might legitimately ask? I was just able to image both objects in the same portal served up by my Zeiss Terra pocket glass, which offers up a true field of 6.8 angular degrees. The crescent Moon in March is one of the best times of the year to witness earthshine, where the lunar darkside is easily made out and breathtaking to behold in the pocket glass. I was struck by its haunting serenity, faithfully beaming its silvery rays upon us; a reminder that nature in all its grandeur dances to a different drum to anything in the human world; a temporary panacea from the trouble of our times.
A Gorgeous Sunset & Splendid Binocular Vignette
Amid all the chaos wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are splendid moments of calm.
The evening of Monday March 30 2020 proved to be especially lovely in this regard. There was a gorgeous sunset this evening, with nary a trace of wind. It was more ruddy than usual owing to a greater amount of dust in the air from the prolonged dry spell we are currently experiencing in Scotland. An acquaintance of mine, Gavin, based on the picturesque Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, captured a beautiful sunset(see above) and kindly shared it with me. Coincidentally, I was also outside enjoying the same sunset but was even more captivated by the sight of a late crescent Moon and Venus(below) shining brightly in a clear, tranquil sky.
On such an occasion I thought it fitting to bring out my little Leica Trinovid BCA 8 x 20, which produces especially beautiful images of the Moon, owing to its razor sharp optics and superlative suppression of glare. I was not disappointed! While it did show the Moon in all its glory with its prominent earthshine, I was even more thrilled to discover that the planet Venus was enjoying a close encounter with the Pleiades. Indeed, the Leica pocket glass captured both objects easily within the same field of view. I made a little sketch in my notebook to commemorate the apparition.
The tiny, precision pocket glass that is the Leica Trinovid would make an excellent optical tool for keen photographers and portrait painters alike, as it produces exquisitely fine vignettes of the Creation. What it lacks in sheer aperture, it more than makes up for in the stunning clarity of its state-of-the-art optics.
Tonight’s apparition in the western sky can be enjoyed by anyone, whether they live in the city or the country. So if you’ve got a clear sky, why not go out and have a look. It is sure to lift your spirits!
Showing the fruits of the Spirit during Lockdown
April is a month when the Creation goes into over-drive, especially if the Sun comes out to play, and, in this capacity, we have been blessed with a good run of fair and warm weather. Suddenly, the buds on the trees mature and young leaves appear. Early spring flowers burst into bloom, the grass is growing in the fields and the newly arrived lambs in the farmsteads ’round the estate are thriving. But there are always dangers posed to these young creatures. On one afternoon, I glassed a curious adult buzzard that had landed in just a few yards away from a resting lamb, hoping that its mother would make a mistake and move too far away. Luckily, the buzzard got spooked and flew off, perching in a strong branch of an old oak tree, where it kept a keen eye on its potential prey. Losing a few lambs to raptors each year is the rule rather than the exception ’round these parts. I suppose all of God’s creatures need to eat.
While we are still in the grip of this viral pandemic, there are still many things to put a spring in our steps. When I see so many individuals confined to apartments around the world, especially in big towns and cities, with no gardens to roam in, I count my lucky stars that I have such a space to make the most of the lockdown. And there’s always plenty to see and do; the vegetables have been planted, a new fence has been laid, and another one painted. The trees around its border have been trimmed to let in as much light in the evenings. My neighbours are busy doing up their own gardens, and though we still have to practice social distancing to curb the spread of the pathogen, we nonetheless enjoy some lively banter across fences.
The great reduction in human nocturnal activity has paid unexpected dividends for stargazing too. ‘Glasglow’ is now much less conspicuous looking southward after dark, and moonless nights become even more spectacular to explore with a pocket binocular. Venus and the Pleiades have almost locked horns now for some days, but as we approach the Easter weekend, they are slowly inching apart.
Because of their close proximity, the corbies that roost in the conifer trees to the west of the house are fascinating to watch with my little 8 x 20 and 8 x 25 glasses. Though they make an awful racket flying to and fro from their nests, I enjoy watching their antics as their chicks hatch.
Much to my surprise- remember I’m not much of a birder – my pocket glass focused in on some high-flying birds in the sky above the house on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, April 9. Though it can prove difficult to identify species at distances of a few hundred yards, I was amazed to discover that they were most likely swallows that had returned from southerly climes to spend the summer in Britain. The pocket glass allowed me to see their forked tail and a lucky glimpse of one such bird that came closer than the rest revealed its black and white plumage. But what really gave them away was their very distinctive high-pitched ‘tswit,’ which fired off a very old memory trace in my mind hearkening back to my youth.
Unfortunately, there will be no worship in our local church this Easter Day because of the government-imposed shutdowns, but we can still link up via social media like Zoom, Facetime etc. And while our civic freedoms are still greatly restricted, we still have great freedom in Christ, who continues to shower us with the wholesome fruits of a believing heart:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Things to be Grateful For
I find it ironic in the extreme that ever since the lock down began some five weeks back, the weather here in central Scotland has been very pleasant, with long sunny days, hardly a drop of rain and clear skies almost every night. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time we’ve enjoyed such a long run of fair weather. The Creator remains gracious even in these troubling times!
Indeed, I have managed to observe my tally of spring double stars and deep sky objects much earlier in the season than usual and all my Newtonian reflecting telescopes have been employed to the full. The trees are now covered in fresh young leaves that are a delight to glass with my pocket binoculars. The evening sky just after sunset in these last days of April 2020 have been particularly awe-inspiring with Venus now at its brightest and a crescent Moon nearby in the western sky. On the evenings of April 25 and April 26, I took a few photos of the apparition with my iphone. And while Venus and the Moon were much too far apart to capture in my Zeiss Terra pocket with its 6.8 degree field, on the evening of April 25 they were just close enough to sight in the same field of view at ’round about the same time(see below) on the following evening( April 26).
Such lunar and planetary conjunctions are rare but they certainly help raise the spirits in these troubling times.
When proper darkness falls on the landscape, I’ve been visiting a few optical double stars around the night sky that are well seen in the pocket binocular, and I intend to present a list of such objects in a later episode of this blog. So stay tuned!
The Terra Pocket Now Moved to China?
I recently received a message from a chap named Olly, in which he stated that his newly acquired Zeiss Terra pocket glass now had ‘China’ printed both on the binocular and on the box it came with. From their launch several years back, I understood that these pocket glasses were the exception to the rest of the Terra line, where all of the larger models were being manufactured in China. I asked him if he would send me on a photo of his new binos showing the Chinese origin, but he didn’t respond. Thus, I contacted Zeiss sports optics directly to find out if in fact it was true. Alas I have yet to receive a reply! My next line of investigation took me to two UK suppliers of these pocket binoculars and thankfully, they were quick to reply. I can confirm that Olly’s news is true; the Zeiss Terra pocket glasses, like the larger Terrra models, are now manufactured in China, but still carry that valuable Zeiss design. I also note that the retail price for these units remains unchanged.
What will the change of country of manufacture do to these superlative little pocket glasses? Realistically, probably nothing, save perhaps for slightly inferior quality control. Would I personally be worried about that? Honestly, no! I have several binos that offer excellent performance and all are assembled in China, so I’m guessing that the consumer will not notice the slightest bit of difference between the Japan-made model and its newer Chinese made counterpart. Of course, I would love to hear from anyone who has experienced anything out of the ordinary with respect to these newer Terra pockets, or if they have had a chance to test the older and newer models in a side-by-side comparison.
For journalistic purposes, I’ve made a note of this change in a new postscriptum on my original review of the Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 25, which you can see here.
May has arrived at last, and the idyllic weather continues apace. The landscape is bathed in life-giving sunshine, and the wildlife is thriving. A couple of days of rain has soaked the ground, helping to keep the gardens looking vibrant and there is plenty of fresh green grass for the lambs and calves coming into the world. Conditions are also perfect for taking a pocket binocular along for a good walk. As I’ve touched on earlier, Fintry is blessed by having a number of great walks and the most recent one created is Cicely’s Way, named in honour of an elderly lady in our village, who has dedicated much of her free time over the years to planting flowers on the main road of our village and decorating the window ledges of our village hall, keeping it looking beautiful. Indeed, Fintry has won many prizes over the years for its outstanding natural beauty and on one occasion it even won first place the prestigious Britain in Bloom award.
Cicely’s Way has extensive hedgerows, which is great for glassing small birds that frequent the branches; robins, finches, chaffinches and even the odd song thrush hunting for worms and insects.
The river walkway has now become crowded with bunny rabbits which are excellent binocular targets. But what I most enjoy is the vibrant colours of young, tender leaves that have a beautiful translucent quality during Spring. In the evenings, as the Sun loses altitude, it shines its golden rays right through them and I enjoy glassing their intricate structures as they thrive in the warm weather. Slowly they will become darker in tone and that magic light green hue will disappear as they mature and darken as summer arrives.
With the days growing ever longer, the nights become progressively shorter and soon the summer twilight will succeed in banishing true darkness for a season. But what is lost in night time observing is more than made up for in daytime glassing activities. This year, we have booked a lovely cottage on the outside of Gairloch, a small picturesque village way up in the northwest Scottish Highlands on the shores of Loch Gairloch, Wester Ross. Hopefully, we will get to enjoy that holiday which will occur in early July, when the days will be very long and I can glass to my heart’s content!
The new origin of the Zeiss Terra pocket glasses is now being debated. Zeiss did finally get back to me, stating that these binoculars are still being manufactured in Japan, although a number of individuals have now come forward claiming that they are now being made in China – and with photographic evidence to boot. Such a question doesn’t really bother me but I guess it’s important to establish the truth in any matter. Time will tell!
That having been said, I am using the little 8 x 25 Terra more than ever. Its super light weight, good ergonomic design and excellent weatherproof optics makes me reach for it time and time again. And I look forward to bringing it to other wild places once the COVID-19 lockdown measures have been relaxed.
Cruising the Early Summer Milky Way
From mid-May onwards into the summer, the nights grow painfully short, making astronomy more and more challenging as the solstice approaches. But that being said, in the wee small hours after midnight, the majestic constellation of Cygnus reaches a good height over the eastern hills across the Endrick Valley from our home. And even with a low lying waning Gibbous Moon in the sky, that part of the sky remains quite dark, making it worthwhile to scan with a small pocket glass. Although I have by now completed nearly all my telescopic deep sky observing until the return of dark skies again in August, and while Cygnus is much better positioned in the later months of the year, it is still a joyous experience to explore the rich bounty of Milky Way stars coursing through this great northern constellation.
Brilliant white Deneb, creamy white Sadr and the lovely orange Albireo trace out a great line through which the pocket glass can soak up hundreds of fainter stars. Moving the glass between Deneb and Delta Cygni, the little Zeiss 8 x 25 does a sterling job of resolving the much celebrated o^1 Cygni, with its beautiful colour contrast pairing of stars; orange & turquoise. Even with such a small instrument, it is possible to gain a sense of the immensity of the stellar Universe beyond our solar system with many of the stars visible in the generous 6.8 degree field being located hundreds or even thousands of light years away.
So numerous are the stars, so magnificently they shine through the darkness
Faithful comforters, fountains of radiant beauty,
How great is our God who fashioned them all with His hands!
And though uncountable by mortal human minds, each one is intimately known to Him who gives them light and life.
The Psalmist of old declares it:
He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.
Long Range Microscope
With daylight now being strong and long-lived, the pocket binocular comes into its own as a long-range microscope, allowing one to study close-up views of the creation in extraordinary detail. And though I am possession of two fine pocket glasses, it is the larger Zeiss Terra 8 x 25 that is now pulling well ahead in terms of frequency of use. Because it is larger and easier to use than the Leica Trinovid, and owing to its rugged, fully waterproof casing, it’s simply the best choice in most situations. This is particularly the case when close-up views of nature are required. The Zeiss has a much shorter close focus and wider field of view than the Trinovid, making observations of rocks, insects, flowers, tree bark and leaves that little bit more engaging.
Close-up glassing of nature is not for everyone however. This is because zooming in at something at such close range( two metres and under) can be a bit discombobulating for some observers who struggle to get their eyes comfortably placed behind the eyepieces. What happens here is that your eye pupils have to move together more in order to properly image the target, but the situation is considerably improved by pushing the barrels of the binocular closer together to reduce the IPD. I discovered this trick quite quickly and naturally in the field, and it works well for many roof prism binoculars. Of course, there are other types of binocular that are even better suited to close up viewing of nature, particularly the economically-priced reverse porro prism models being offered by a number of optical firms. But what you gain in close focus with these binoculars, you lose in portability, especially pocket portability.
God continues to bless our weather during the continued lock-down here in Scotland. The brilliant Sun at the centre of our solar system provides the light and warmth that makes succulent strawberries grow in our greenhouse and fresh rocket for our salads. The apple blossoms are ablaze with colour and the mild winter we have come out of will ensure an abundant harvest in the autumn.
How much we take for granted the life-giving rays of the Sun! Indeed, as astrophysical science progresses, we are learning that it’s not only the most stable star yet identified in the starry heaven, it is also peculiarly quiescent compared with other sun-like stars in the solar neighbourhood. Indeed a recent survey of 369 sun-like stars showed that their activity is considerably higher(about five fold on average) than our own Sun, which is quite unexpected given what we currently understand about stellar astrophysics. If this is generally true then it might spell more bad news for those who continue to hold out for finding another habitable planet out there in deep space. Indeed, our Sun varies its luminosity by only 0.07 per cent in any one twenty four hour period!
For over a year now, I’ve been monitoring the Sun with a few of my binoculars, but most especially my trusty Pentax PCF 20 x 60, which produces a decent image scale to monitor sunspot activity, but I have also constructed neat little white-light solar filters for my 8 x 25 pocket glass, which I also find fun to use on occasion. And though I certainly have not monitored the Sun every day because of other commitments, my log books show that it has been over a year since I recorded my last sunspot on the solar photosphere. But recent professional studies show that the Sun in 2019, and thus far in 2020, has shown no sunspots, however small, for most of this time, which has prompted some astronomers to think that it may be entering an unusually deep minimum and could even be commencing a lockdown of its own. If that’s the case, past history suggests it may not bode well for planet Earth, since prolonged periods of solar inactivity has been linked to higher cosmic ray fluxes in Earth’s upper atmosphere which triggers more electrical storms, as well as significant global cooling. Maybe this is another sign in the heavens, just like mighty Betelgeuse exhibited just a few short months ago? Let us pray that the Sun will soon be roused from its unusually long slumber!
Exploring the Twilight
As May comes to an end, so too does the summer twilight grow ever longer. I like to take the time to venture out after sunset and watch the first appearing of the stars, as our great solar furnace makes its way further below the northwestern horizon. Twilight can be a magical time for quiet contemplation and prayer. The noisy Corbies settle down to sleep, and the gentle evening winds peter out, leaving only the faint, babbling sound of the nearby river to fill the air.
Brilliant Vega is invariably the first to appear to the naked eye high up in the east, while yellow-orange Arcturus can be spotted just a few minutes later, rapidly approaching the meridian. Low in the north the lovely yellow light of Capella can be made out and waiting a little while longer, the soft white light of Deneb over in Cygnus peeps out to say hello. By then the sky has become sufficiently dark to reveal the magnificent asterism of the Ploughshare dominating the zenith.
During these times, I can enjoy prolonged periods with the pocket glass, capturing picturesque scenes of faint starlight winking into view over the silhouetted branches of trees. More often than not, those same scenes are temporarily interrupted by the appearance of hunting bats, frantically flitting through the field of view, as they hone in on their insect prey. Many a late evening during June and July can be enjoyed in much the same way. Still, no two twilit nights are ever quite the same. This evening, for example, I was lucky enough to spy a beautiful, slender lunar crescent very close to the northwest horizon and almost hidden by a thin veil of wispy cloud at 10.15 pm. And if that were not exciting enough, I was also most fortunate to witness a bright fireball rushing across the sky overhead, moving roughly from north to south at five minutes to 11. Indeed, it was probably one the brightest fireballs I have ever witnessed in such strong twilight!
Such are the surprises that attend an evening out with a pocket glass. And who knows how another day in May will end?
To be Continued………………………….