The Way We Watch Now

The Hollywood-based entertainment industry appears to have written off most of America in Flyoverlandia (according to this post) as hopelessly unwoke, racist and dumber than dirt, in their untiring efforts to embody the soul of Woke in their various offerings. Apparently, they believe in an audience just waiting uncritically out here; An audience intellectually gape-mouthed like baby birds just waiting to swallow whatever gets dropped into them. In pursuit of that goal, according to the same article, they have made their own professional hellscape, what with the growing fear that one wrong word, tweet or visual will make them the unemployable target of their peers, in the grand scramble for achieving ultimate wokery by scapegoating each other. Couldn’t happen to a nicer lot of vicious, vacuous, jerks, hypocrites, and pedophiles … even as the audience for movies released in theaters drops through the floor, and the most-watched continuing streaming video drama is one which has done so practically unnoticed by the mainstream news and entertainment media.

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Not Humanity’s Last View …

This is being described as “humanity’s last view of the JWST.”

6:50 AM CST, Christmas Morning

I expect imaging, and even direct viewing, of the James Webb Space Telescope from terrestrial telescopes to become a popular amateur astronomical activity in the summer of 2022. Here is why:

A full Moon has apparent magnitude -12.7. This is the result of its distance of ≈380,000 kilometers, its effective area (a circle of radius ≈1,700 kilometers) of ≈9.1 million km², and its albedo of ≈0.12.

The JWST will be at ~4 LD, the effective area of its sunshield will be ≈830 m², and its albedo will be very close to 1.

Its distance makes it 16 times as faint, its effective area makes it 11 billion times as faint, and its albedo makes it 8.3 times as bright. Multiplying all these together yields a factor of 21 billion.

The magnitude scale is measured in increments of ⁵√100 ≈ 2.5, such that each 5 steps downward is 100 times brighter. Venus, which can reach an apparent magnitude of -4.7, is nearly 100 times brighter than Arcturus (α Boötis), at -0.05. The stars in the Big Dipper and in Orion’s Belt are around magnitude +2.

The limits of my experience are the Sun, apparent magnitude -26.7, and some of the fainter Pleiades, magnitude +6.5 or even fainter—note that this takes not only very clear, dark, moonless skies, but also an hour and a half or more of no artificial light whatsoever for excellent dark adaptation, and probably eyes younger than mine are now (I am recalling an incident from my 30s). That’s a factor of almost 20 trillion.

Anyway, doing the math, something 21 billion times fainter than a full Moon has an apparent magnitude of +13.1.

Every amateur astronomer reading this just went huh. Easy.

Taking the usual limiting magnitude of the unaided eye to be exactly +6 and the effective aperture of the human pupil to be 7mm, less than 200mm of primary lens or mirror diameter would be enough. In the real world, it’s going to be harder than that … but I found Pluto in my 333mm f/4.5 Newtonian at magnitude +13.8 or thereabouts during a Texas Star Party in the 1990s.

The challenge will be figuring out which thirteenth-magnitude speck in the field of view is actually the JWST, but one thing’s going to make it a lot easier: it won’t be moving with the starry background. Its motion will essentially be at the solar rate, ~1°/day. That’s 2½ arc-minutes per hour, or 2½ arc-seconds per minute. A pair of images taken even a few minutes apart will pop it out, much like the discovery images of Pluto in 1930.

 

UPDATE (12/31): en route

For Christmas

(A relevant seasonal excerpt from my World War II novel, My Dear Cousin, which was completed and released last year at about this time. Part of the narrative is in letters, between two cousins; Vennie is an Army nurse serving in North Africa and Europe, Peg the wife of a Far East POW, waiting out the war in Australia, wondering for years if her husband is still alive.) The details of this 1942 Christmas holiday celebration in a military hospital was taken from this book.

Letter from Vennie to Peg, dated 26 December 1942, Postmarked APO NY, headed Arzew, Algiers

My dear Cuz:

We had our Christmas here in Algeria at the hospital and it was more beautiful and moving than I can describe.

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On the Edge

My daughter and I have just finished making the various kinds of fudge that we distribute to neighbors, friends, and various workers and employees of places that we do business with. We hit upon this seasonal gift a good few years ago, after a visit to a very nice shop in Fredericksburg in the Hill Country, which featured infinite varieties of fudge. Those that we tasted were excellent, and my daughter was inspired to replicate the variety. We had previously done cookies and other home-made treats, but when it came around the next year and neighbors began asking us, with wistful hope, “Are you going to make fudge again, this year? We really liked it …” we realized that we were onto a winning strategy for holiday gifting.

The assortment – packaged in little tins from the Dollar Tree

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