night

Posted by Ellen

Happily, it's a big year for weddings in this branch of the human family. And one of the best things about weddings is that the pictures are so many and so various and so thick with kisses and flowers and hopefulness. Indeed, every morning could be a Wonderfully Good Wedding Morning in this blog . . . if only Facebook didn't always have the jump on us.

Here today, however, are a couple of shots from Maggie and Colin's wedding back in June on Peaks Island, in Maine's Casco Bay. Above, the newlyweds focused on a joint engineering venture that went off almost without a hitch: as the sun went down, illuminated hot-air balloons soared up and away, floating into the future.

The first one rose and floated perfectly, above the island and out over the sea. The second one plopped down into the harbor. As did the third. The fourth balloon also looked doomed at first, but it somehow fought hard against gravity and wobbled skyward and . . . fell flaming into a patch of brush next to the island gas station.

Nothing bad came of it. The day and the night were far too gentle and elegant.

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The top of One Liberty Place, way above the setting sun, as viewed from about 500 feet up in Two Liberty Place, a block away.

The spire of One Liberty Place is said to top out 945 feet above the ground.

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Looking out over Philadelphia through the window of a restaurant on the 37th floor of 2 Liberty Place, a downtown skyscraper.

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New York and New Jersey are mostly back on the grid, we hear, though there are stories, still, of people stranded in the cold and dark ever since that storm called Sandy. But last weekend, these electric Stein women–Amelia, Maggie, and their mother Sue–lit up Manhattan as they swept into town with glowing high spirits. 

On the lightship Nantucket, we're told, docked at Pier 24 in TriBeCa, something was going on that involved wineglasses. Maggie, the daughter described by her mother as a "crafty sailor," apparently did a creditable turn at the ship's wheel without even setting down her glass. "Bet they don't teach that at Annapolis," observed Sue. 

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London at night.

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At the world's tallest office building, they had fireworks for New Year's.

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At about one o'clock in the morning of July 1, 2011, Manuel Claro pointed his camera up at the night sky above Alentejo, Portugal, and opened the shutter for 30 seconds. Then he did the same thing again and again and again, 430 exposures over the next four hours, and combined all the images to create this picture.

During each 30-second exposure, the earth rotated a little, while the stars pretty much stood still (by comparison). So the image of each star is smudged as the camera moves a bit; when all 430 of the smudges are shown together in a single image, we see what looks like startracks but is actually a single earthtrack, circling Polaris, the North Star.

The different colors of the different startracks reflect differences in temperature of the various stars.

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Way, way out in the country, a million miles away from city lights, on a clear night the sky is lit by stars, as we see above at left, in a photo taken in Glacier National Park in Montana. The few small clouds in this starlit sky show up as black blotches that block some of the stars; a completely cloudy night in remote parts of the world is a very, very dark night, too dark to photograph at all.

In the megalopolis, however, clouds actually light up the sky by reflecting urban light pollution to brighten the night dramatically; an overcast night in a big city like Berlin, shown above at right, can be up to ten times brighter than a clear night.

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In hopes of maintaining secure communication with its ships and submarines at sea, no matter what, the U.S. Navy maintains arrays of thousand-foot-high Very Low Frequency transmitter towers at three locations around the world. This is the Navy's Cutler array, the largest and most powerful radio installation in the world, with 26 towers located on a peninsula at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in downeast Maine, near Machias.

Cutler, constructed in 1961, is 100 percent Cold War technology: no GPS, no internet, no cellphone network. The biggest towers in the world were built here because this station services vessels in the Arctic Ocean as well as the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and naturally occuring electromagnetic pulses in the Arctic–the Aurora Borealis–can interfere with all but the most powerful radio signals.

The transmitters here run on power generated on-site and distributed to the towers by underground wiring. Underground wires also extend far offshore under the ocean, to maximize communication with submarines. There are no naval personnel working in Cutler; a civilian crew maintains the site, which sends out encrypted signals generated at a base in Norfolk, Virginia.

Although this shaky picture, which was taken with a handheld camera on a dark and cloudy night, suggests a somewhat haphazard string of towers, they are actually arranged in two identical clusters, which can operate separately or together. Each cluster can be shut down as necessary for maintenance. There's a problem, however, in the part of the installation around the power plant, where the two clusters are so close to one another that the electromagnetic field can be hazardous to humans, even when one of the clusters is shut down.

This area of the installation is called the Bowtie. People doing maintenance try to work as little as possible in the Bowtie, because even if they are working on towers that have been shut down they may still be exposed to dangerous electrical radiation from nearby still-active towers.

Because the Navy requires that at least one of the Cutler clusters must be functioning at all times,  the towers in the Bowtie area of the installation have seen little maintenance over the years. In particular, they have never been painted, and they are now fifty years old. The civilians onsite requested a four-month shutdown of the entire array to complete the painting, but the Navy said no.

I predict one of two probable resolutions: either they'll run out of money for the paint job and just let the salt and snow do their thing on the thousand-foot towers, or else they'll redefine the safety standard for electromagnetic radiation so that working in the Bowtie magically becomes safe.

Can you get cellphone service on submarines?

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We knew Washington, D.C., was full of vultures and chickens and screaming cuckoo mockingbirds; this winter, also ducks.