Hubble Space Telescope

Stephan’s Quintet, interacting galaxies. Courtesy Hubble.

When life on earth gets impossibly complicated, I often look to the skies for solace. On clear nights, I have a galaxy of stars above to embrace me. At other times, it’s Hubble’s photographs.

 

The Hubble Space Telescope (“Hubble”)  is situated above Earth’s atmosphere–340 miles (540 km) up. At this altitude, it is able to avoid the atmospheric distortion that terrestrial-bound telescopes and observatories encounter, resulting in pristine images.

 

Pillars of Creation, interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.

 

The information gathered from Hubble’s 30 years of images have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics.

 

With a very large mirror (see photo at end) and four main instruments, Hubble can observe in ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

 

“If your eye were as sensitive as Hubble’s, you could look from New York City and see the glow of a pair of fireflies in Tokyo.”

(Hubble’s Universe, Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images [2014] by Terence Dickinson.)

 

Hubble Space Telescope in space being serviced by Astronauts Smith and Grunsfeld (center), Dec. 1999. Courtesy NASA.

 

The only telescope designed to be maintained in space by astronauts, Hubble was launched into space in 1990. Since then it has been serviced, repaired and upgraded by NASA space shuttle missions in 1993, 1997, 1999, 2002, and 2009.

NASA:  Hubble Servicing Missions

 

Inside the Orion Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.

 

Due to these upgrades, Hubble is equipped with cutting-edge mirrors, computers and navigational equipment. It remains in space to this day, fully functioning.

 

Multi-layered insulation on the outside protects it from the harsh environment of space. Large solar panels turn the sun’s light into usable energy.

 

The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit

Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Over the years, space shuttle missions to Hubble have been cancelled and re-scheduled due to funding and safety issues.

 

The fifth and final upgrade mission was serviced by the space shuttle Atlantis crew in 2009. Upgrades and servicing are over now, but Hubble could last until 2030-2040.

 

This is the Atlantis shuttle craft, below, now displayed in Kennedy Space Center.

 

Atlantis Space Shuttle on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

 

Engineering support for Hubble is provided by NASA and personnel at Goddard Flight Center in Maryland. Four teams of flight controllers monitor Hubble 24 hours a day.

 

Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is currently being developed by NASA with significant contributions from European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency.

 

NASA is generous with sharing data and Hubble images, and also provides numerous websites for anyone to visit, here are a few:

Online brochure:  Highlights of Hubble’s Explorations of the Universe.

NASA Website:  Hubble Space Telescope

This NASA link invites you to enter your birthday to see the photo Hubble took on your birthday. What Did Hubble See on Your Birthday.

Wikipedia Hubble Space Telescope

 

Crab Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.

 

Horsehead Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.

 

Carina Nebula. Courtesy Hubble.

 

 

Jupiter. Courtesy Hubble.

 

The triumphs and discoveries gleaned from Hubble are a testament to the profound abilities of humans from all over the world.

 

While we work on sorting through problems on our planet, we have the skies and space to dazzle our imagination, and open the universe to future generations.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Hubble photos courtesy NASA.

Atlantis Space Shuttle photo by Athena Alexander.

Hubble’s primary mirror measuring 7.9 feet (2.4 m), March 1979. Courtesy Wikipedia

Whirlpool Galaxy. Courtesy Hubble.

 

Kennedy Space Center — Part 2 of 2

Atlantis Space Shuttle on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

As we continue our virtual space voyage with Part 2, please join me for a look inside the expansive Atlantis Space Shuttle building, located in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. Part 1 can be viewed here.

 

All 135 Space Shuttle missions were launched from the U.S. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) between 1981 and 2011. These were crewed spacecraft that launched into space, orbited Earth, and returned to Earth. Each Space Shuttle flight performed a specified space mission, and most have returned to space numerous times. There were 133 successes and 2 failures.

 

NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis was first launched in 1985 and completed its final space mission in 2011. In all, it orbited the Earth 4,848 times.

 

The building where the Atlantis now lives is 64,000 square foot  (5,900 m2) and showcases the spacecraft on three different levels. It opened in 2013.

Atlantis from underneath

 

The spacecraft is raised 30 feet (9 m) off the ground and rotated 43 degrees, displayed as if it were in space. The many burn marks and marrings are visual proof of its many orbits into space.

 

Close-up of underside

 

It has over 2.5 million parts.

 

Visitors can see Atlantis’ opened payload bay doors and the robotic arm.

Open payload door

 

Atlantis’ robotic arm

This space shuttle charged in and out of space for 26 years, completing 33 missions. It transported 207 astronauts, flew 126 million miles, and spent 307 days in space.

 

It has three types of engines and an impressive array of rocket thrusters.

Atlantis’ rocket thrusters

Here is a photo of Atlantis leaving Earth. For the initial thrust into orbit, it is attached to an external fuel tank (orange) and twin solid rocket boosters (white).

Atlantis leaving Earth. Courtesy Wikipedia.

This is Atlantis as it transits the sun (small black dot near center of photo).

Courtesy Wikipedia

For more in-flight photos of the Atlantis, click on Space Shuttle Atlantis Wikipedia.

 

Atlantis Logo

 

The Atlantis building, one of many at the KSC, has over 60 interactive exhibits. In addition to Atlantis, which dominates, there is a full-size replica of the Hubble Space Telescope, the original still being in space.

 

There are displays highlighting the mission of each of the space shuttles. Most of them did work on the International Space Station and/or the Hubble Telescope.

Display of the Discovery Shuttle’s Mission

 

This is a walkway highlighting each of the 33 missions of Atlantis.

 

 

There are also many displays of the International Space Station (ISS), including an active countdown of how long it has been in space (over 20 years).

Countdown of the ISS days in orbit

Film delineating each part of the ISS

 

Kids can climb in tunnels that lead to spacecraft; many people were stimulated by several different simulators. The space toilet display was also popular.

Space Shuttle Toilet

There were other space shuttles in the American space program. Out of the five fully functional orbiters, three remain on display, open to the public. Aside from Atlantis, the other two are: Discovery in Washington D.C. and Endeavour in Los Angeles.

 

The Atlantis performed NASA’s last Space Shuttle mission.

 

Space Shuttle program Wikipedia

 

Thanks for launching into space with us.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

Dear friends, I am taking a break for the rest of December,  will resume posting in January. Wishing you happy holidays, and many thanks for another sweet and adventurous year together.

Astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Stn, 2016

 

Kennedy Space Center–Part 1 of 2

Entrance Gate to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Visitors first entering Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex are greeted by several authentic rockets towering above. Heads looking up to the sky, each person is handed a brochure with a map and exhibit information, and off we go, launched into the world of space.

 

This rocket below, the Atlas-Agena, was launched 109 times between 1960 and 1978.

 

Atlas-Agena Rocket

NASA Kennedy Space Center entrance

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is comprised of 700 facilities on 144,000 acres (580 km2); and has the distinction of being the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968.

 

This shuttle stack is a 184-foot (56 m) full-scale replica of what is needed for a space shuttle to be shot into space: external fuel tank (orange) with twin solid rocket boosters (white).

Shuttle “stack”

Kennedy Space Center Wikipedia

kennedyspacecenter.com for visitor information

 

Historic space programs like Apollo, Skylab, and the Space Shuttles were carried out here at KSC, while other space programs, like Gemini flights, were launched from adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

 

Today this area, on the Atlantic coast of Florida, is bustling with robotic and commercial crew missions, and other missions dedicated to future off-Earth exploration. Launches occur regularly.

 

Much of it is a restricted area, but there is a large Visitor Complex open to the public.

 

The KSC Visitor Complex has numerous large buildings filled with exhibits and displays featuring the activities of the Hubble Telescope, International Space Station, Space Shuttle voyages, and more. Visitors can walk the grounds, or take a bus tour.

 

Mural of International Space Station and flags of all the countries who participate in the program

 

They also have space-ride simulators and other simulator rides, interactive exhibits, and daily presentations with veteran NASA astronauts. Numerous multimedia cinematic productions give in-depth information on various space projects from visiting Mars to how the Atlantis Space Shuttle was built.

 

Films can be seen in several different theaters, two of which are IMAX, as well as stand-alone videos, like this one below.

Photo of Earth with ISS in center

 

This Saturn 1B rocket made nine launches between 1966 and 1975.

Saturn 1B Rocket

 

Inspiration is the word that came to me most often on the day we visited the KSC. All the courage and genius of thousands of men and women, some who gave their lives, is embodied in this Complex.

 

This building, below, recently opened in 2016, has the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Heroes and Legends Exhibit

My favorite exhibit houses the entire space shuttle Atlantis, a retired space orbiter that made 33 space missions in the course of 26 years, before it was retired in 2011.

 

Countdown for that: seven days.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Bigfin Reef Squid

There are about 200 exhibits at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

 

Designed to delight and educate visitors, the exhibits attract visitors of all ages. Here are a few photos from last month.

Purple-striped Jelly

Black Sea Nettles

 

I shared the Sea Jelly Exhibit in a previous post, and enjoyed hearing from readers about their underwater and aquarium experiences.

Sea Otter

The sea jellies were a popular exhibit, and so were the sea otters.

 

Sea Otter viewers

 

They have five otters: Abby, Ivy, Kit, Rosa, Selka. Each one arrived as a rescue animal, cannot survive in the wild. They have their own two-storied tank, and can be seen submerged, or frolicking above water.

 

Sea otters were heavily hunted for their fur in earlier centuries and remain an endangered species today. They have the densest fur of any animal.

 

You can see here how the outer layer of thick fur repels water, keeping the inner fur layer dry.

Sea Otter

 

The Tentacles Exhibit had numerous tanks, artfully lit and emulating underwater scenes. Squid and cuttlefishes could be found here, along with octopuses, nautiluses and other tentacled creatures.

Kisslip Cuttlefish

 

Visitors walk through dark rooms lit by tanks of colorful sea urchins, anemones, shrimp, crabs, clams and seahorses.

Seahorses

 

There are daily feedings, auditorium programs, behind-the-scene tours, and numerous videos offered throughout the facility. Some exhibits are interactive, visitors are invited to touch the creatures; while other exhibits are simply for observing. Free live cams entertain visitors from afar.

 

The largest exhibit, the Open Sea, features a giant tank with sea turtles, rays, giant tuna, all kinds of fish, and sardine swarms.

Sardine swarm in center

 

Many of the sea creatures are residents of California’s coast, but there are additional animals from other parts of the world as well.

 

African Penguins

 

Kelp is an algae seaweed that lives in cold, nutrient-dense waters and is prevalent along the west coast of North America. In California’s Monterey Bay area, where kelp is protected, large kelp canopies flourish, providing food and shelter to hundreds of species of birds and mammals.

 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, in recognizing and promoting the ecological importance of kelp forests, features a permanent Kelp Forest Exhibit. Their 28-foot (8.5 m) exhibit hosts swaying fronds of kelp and millions of fish.

Leopard Shark in kelp forest

 

Kelp Forest

About 20 minutes south of the Monterey Bay Aquarium off Highway 1 is a splendid array of many of these same sea creatures in their natural habitats. The Monterey Bay sea canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon.

 

A visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve yields protected tide pools, kelp forests, and marine mammals. Whenever I am in the Monterey area, I never miss a visit to Point Lobos. I’ll share this wonderland with you another time.

Point Lobos, California

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a non-profit organization, and their research and advocacy is ongoing.

 

In today’s times when our planet’s seas are showing signs of deep distress, spending time and money exploring and supporting the health of the oceans is not only beneficial to future generations, but it is also great fun.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Harbor Seal, Pt. Lobos

 

Sea Jellies

Purple-striped Jelly

Jellyfish, or sea jellies, can be found in waters all around the world, but they are primarily translucent and difficult to see. For a good look at them, a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is rewarding.

 

Highly regarded around the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium houses 35,000 animals of over 550 species. The Aquarium is also prominent in research and commitment toward ocean protection and public awareness.

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium Wikipedia

 

Spotted Comb Jelly

 

Black Sea Nettles

 

They have many exhibits with sea creatures, and about a dozen tanks filled with different kinds of sea jellies. (The term “jellyfish” has officially been replaced by “sea jellies” because jellies do not have spines and are therefore not fish. I use the terms interchangeably here.)

 

Sea jellies are gelatinous invertebrates and 95% water, and appear almost invisible in the underwater world. To aid with viewing, the aquarium tank backgrounds are blue and illuminated by side lights.

 

You can see in this photo what a sea jelly (center) in the San Francisco Bay really looks like — ghostly and almost imperceptible.

Sea Jelly in San Francisco Bay, Tiburon Harbor

 

Sea jellies require currents for locomotion. In public aquariums,  there is a complex system for water flow, with precise inflow and outflow.

 

Sea Gooseberry Jelly

 

According to World Atlas, there are more than 2,000 species of jellyfish in the world, and it is thought that there are over 300,000 species yet to be discovered.

 

The sea nettles and purple-striped jellies photographed here are found along California’s Pacific coast. They are highly efficient in their movement, using muscles in their umbrella-shaped bell to propel; this is also where the mouth and digestive system exist.

Purple-striped Jelly pair

Tentacles are the long stringy body parts, and have stinging cells, or nematocysts, that sting their prey. The “arms” are frilly extensions, and move the prey to the mouth.

 

Jellyfish anatomy. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

It is a marvelous experience to observe this exhibit…mesmerizing. A dark room with colorful, glowing cases filled with exotic sea jellies. Soft music accompanies as we watch the jellies rhythmically pulse and propel throughout the illuminated tanks.

 

Jelly Live Web Cam at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

 

But . . . if you have ever been stung by a jellyfish, and I have, you don’t forget the sting, no matter how attractive and enticing the jellies appear.

 

The first time, Athena and I were snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef when we came upon eight or ten sea turtles in one small area. Usually you see one or two turtles, but here we were thrilled to find so many.

 

When we swam respectfully near, we found ourselves in massive clouds of sea jellies. Each jellyfish was the size of a large coin, and there were thousands. The turtles, we realized too late, were there to eat the jellyfish.

 

Stung instantly and by the dozens, we shot out of that cloud like rockets. Came to the surface, stunned. Even so, we both laughed then and there, because the experience was so atrociously the opposite of what we had expected.

 

Within 24 hours the bites had disappeared; and thereafter underwater garments were purchased.

 

Most jellyfish stings are not deadly, but a few species can produce stings fatal to humans.

 

Usually I prefer seeing creatures in the wild, over observing them in an exhibit. But in the case of sea jellies, I think these other-worldly and sting-free exhibits are just the ticket.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Black Sea Nettles

 

Camera Obscura on Wheels

Camera Obscura Front View

I found another Camera Obscura this past summer. We were driving down Highway 1 and happened to see it beside the road. Stopped the car immediately. I never miss an opportunity to steal away from the real world and escape into a Camera Obscura.

 

This one is a mobile unit, and was parked at Russian House #1, a restaurant where the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River meet in Jenner, California.

 

From the outside it looks like a psychedelic tool-shed. The inside is small, but has all the essential ingredients: completely dark with a parabolic screen, a tiny ray of light, and the rotating lens and mirror on top. I found it charming and curious, and appreciated the ingenuity it took to build it. It rests sturdily on a small flatbed trailer, with steps built for visitors.

 

Camera Obscura Side View

 

Camera Obscura Lens

 

Camera Obscura means “dark chamber” in Latin. They date back centuries; and are the original idea behind the pinhole camera, where light passes through a pinhole and provides an inverted image in a dark chamber.

 

The oval photos are what we saw from the inside of the unit. These are real time images, as reflected by the lens onto the oval concave screen.

Camera Obscura Screen Photo of Russian River and Bridge

 

And this is the wheel, inside, that you turn, moving the lens for 360 degree views.

Crank for Turning Outside Lens

 

As we hand-cranked the lens, the Russian River, bridge with passing cars, and restaurant appeared on the screen.

 

There are 23 public Camera Obscuras listed as existing in the world today. In addition, there are private ones. This one we came upon is both. The owner, Chris de Monterey, built it and owns it; he transports it and shares it with the public.

 

Camera Obscuras date back to the 5th Century, B.C. Over the centuries, scientists, scholars, and artists studied the phenomenon. By the 18th century, it had become a resource for education and entertainment. Then photography pioneers built portable Camera Obscuras, and the camera was born.

 

As portable cameras became popular, the Camera Obscuras fell out of fashion, and most were demolished. Fortunately there are still some in the world.

 

Camera Obscura Wikipedia — including the list of Camera Obscuras with public access.

 

In San Francisco there is a Camera Obscura: The Giant Camera, on Ocean Beach behind the Cliff House. It was built in 1946 and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

 

I’ve been here dozens of times, and taken many loved ones here as well.

 

I wrote about it in a previous post:  Camera Obscura San Francisco.

 

San Francisco Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura, San Francisco

Camera Obscura, San Francisco

 

I have seen another one at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, but it’s always been closed when I’ve gone there. The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles also has one; there are about two dozen open to the public around the world. A list of their locations is provided in the Wikipedia link above.

 

Today we all walk around, rather cavalierly, with a telephone/computer/camera in our back pocket.

 

I suppose one day our back-pocket-phone devices will become quaint antiques, too.

 

But for now, we can take pleasure in all the different versions of any sized device that records the beauty and magic of our surroundings.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexanader.

More info:

The Magic Mirror of Life, a website about the world’s Camera Obscuras by Jack and Beverly Wilgus.

 

 

The Remarkable Fresnel Lens

Fresnel Lens, Vashon Island, WA, 5th Order

A modern invention of the 1820s that revolutionized the science of light and shipping was the Fresnel lens. This invention, created by Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788-1827), is a lens with an array of prisms capturing light and extending its reach. Today we are still influenced by these lenses around the world.

 

Fresnel (pronounced fray-NEL) lenses were originally created as a solution for the tragic ship wrecks that were prevalent in the 1800s. Ship captains, sometimes unable to see coastal waters due to low light, crashed their vessels into the reef with disastrous results.

 

Light naturally diffuses in all directions. Finding a way to cut down on this diffusion was the challenge for many years. At the time, shiny metal reflectors around the light source (oil lamps) were used to enhance the light, but this only gave about 50% reflection.

 

French physicist Augustin Fresnel’s skill and brilliance in interpreting the mechanics of light led to innovative lens inventions. Lighthouse visibility improved tremendously, and consequently made shipping safer.

 

Although I have been to many lighthouses, I never regarded the light as anything special. Then last year I was in the Visitor Center at a California State Park, Angel Island, and became instantly dazzled by a waist-high glass piece mounted on the floor. It had once been used in the lighthouse on Angel Island, and was on display.

 

It captured the light of the room in the most extraordinary, and beautiful, way. I’ve been a fan ever since.

 

Vashon Island, WA Lighthouse. You can see the Fresnel lens in the tower through the windows.

There are numerous aspects that make the Fresnel lens unique and effective:

  • the beehive-shaped design to capture multiple levels of light
  • it is constructed with concentric grooves that act as individual refracting surfaces.
  • the center is shaped like a magnifying glass, concentrating the beam

 

The first lens was installed in 1823 off the west coast of Fresnel’s home country, France, near Brittany, a land long-known for its rugged coasts. Here there were treacherous reefs that tragically and repeatedly snagged and destroyed ships. The new lens was a success.

 

Thereafter the French coast was lit up by Fresnel lenses. More info: Cordouan Lighthouse.

 

Early innovations began in France and Scotland, with America and other countries following. Chronology of Fresnel Lens Development.

 

Fresnel lens, Vashon Island, WA. Mt. Rainier in distance

Each lens was produced in brass-framed sections and could be shipped unassembled from the factory.

 

They were made in six different classifications, or orders. A 1st order lens is the largest size, at approximately 12 feet high (3.7 m), lengthening the light beam 26 miles.

 

Wikipedia Fresnel Lens

 

Here is a cross section of the Fresnel lens (on left) compared to a conventional lens of equivalent power (on right).

1 Cross section of a spherical Fresnel len, 2 Cross section of a conventional spherical lens

Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Article:  “The Fresnel Lens” written by Thomas Tag

 

Lighthouse Science: Why the Fresnel Lens Costs a Million Dollars

Fresnel Lens classifications. Courtesy partsolutions.com

 

Lighthouse beacons have been  significantly modernized since the 1800s, but there are still lighthouses with Fresnel lenses–some in working order, some just on display. There are also many Fresnel light-refracting techniques in use today: spotlights, floodlights, railroad and traffic signals, camera and projector lenses and screens, and emergency vehicle lights.

 

List of U.S. lighthouses with Fresnel lenses

 

Many photographers and artists, including myself, hold a deep fascination and reverence for the miracle of light. How fortunate for us to have had Fresnel’s engineering skills to brighten this further.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

 

Rotating Fresnel lens, 1st order, dated 1870, displayed at the Musée national de la Marine, Paris. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

1st Order Fresnel lens, Cape Meares Lighthouse, Tillamook, OR, USA. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

Cable Cars – A San Francisco Treat

Hyde-Powell Cable Car track

Beneath the streets of San Francisco are underground cables that run all day long. If you can catch a quiet moment on one of the cable car streets, you will hear the high-pitched hum of the constantly running cable.

 

Originally invented by Andrew Smith Hallidie, cable cars have been carrying commuters and tourists through San Francisco since 1873. Designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark, it is the only true cable car system left in the world.

San Francisco cable car, California Line

Cable Car Wikipedia

 

This network of cables and pulleys originates from one powerhouse located at Washington and Jackson Streets, and it runs the whole city’s cable car system. Here there is also the Cable Car Museum, which I recommend; it’s free.

Cable Car Museum. Underground cables operating in powerhouse

Each cable car has two operators: the conductor, who takes tickets ($7.00); and the grip person, who runs the car and grips the brakes.

 

With the underground cable running, the grip person starts and stops the cable car by attaching to or releasing from the cable. This takes great strength; the car has a passenger capacity of 60-68 people. So one Herculean person operates the grip that brakes the car carrying 60+ people.

 

Cable car grip man

 

 

Cable car stop

 

San Francisco Hyde Street cable car

The history and facts are interesting…but it’s the ride that is the thrill.

 

I have lived in or around San Francisco for 30 years, and I never ever tire of riding the cable cars.

San Francisco cable car

The wind is blowing through your hair, the car is rocking slightly, and creaking. The car is sandwiched between UPS delivery trucks, other double-parked work trucks, and speedy cars as we trundle up and down the precipitous hills.

 

Street scenes abound as we cruise by apartment buildings, houses, corner stores, and schools.

 

The clanking of the bell, the dampness of the fog.

 

From a few of the hilltops you can see Alcatraz Island in the distance, anchored in the Bay; and the Golden Gate Bridge. The aroma of savory foods waft out of Chinatown.

 

A quintessential San Francisco experience…not to be missed.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Cable car riders. From R Athena, Jet, Jet’s sister, and brother-in-law. July 2018.

Check out this old cable car commercial from 1962, pretty fun.

 

Camera Obscura, San Francisco

Camera Obscura, San Francisco

Of all the beautiful spots to visit in San Francisco, this is one of my favorites. A giant walk-in camera taking 360-degree real-time images of the sea. For a $2.00 entry fee, we are given the gifts of seaside panorama and peace.

 

Named Camera Obscura, for the Latin translation “dark room,” it operates on the photographic “pinhole image” concept that dates back centuries, based on a natural optical phenomenon.

 

Rays of light travel in a straight line, a law of optics. When rays of bright light pass through a small opening, like a pinhole, they reappear reversed and inverted. By using a dark room, two lenses, a mirror, and a surface, the images turn right-side up and appear before you.

 

The small building is perched above Ocean Beach in San Francisco, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is on the register of National Historic Places.

Front view.

The mirror is in the triangle at the top, lenses below it, and the turret rotates.

 

San Francisco’s Camera Obscura website:  giantcamera.com

Wikipedia Camera Obscura information

 

 

Image on screen inside the Camera Obscura

The concept of capturing light into images, like the Camera Obscura, is similar to the human eye. From Wiki: “The human eye … works much like a camera obscura with an opening (pupil), a biconvex lens and a surface where the image is formed (retina).”

 

The oldest mention of this phenomenon dates back to 5th Century China.

Pinhole-camera.svg

Camera Obscura Effect. Courtesy Wikipedia

In the 16th century, philosophers, scientists, astronomers, and artists used the light tool for viewing eclipses, studying light, and even drawing. Before mirrors and lenses, they simply used the light and the pinhole. It was a fascinating topic of interest for scholars, and interpreted as an invention of the devil for others.

Diagram courtesy Camera Obscura, San Franciso

By the 18th century, the Camera Obscura had gained popularity for education and entertainment. Often parks or scenic spots had one, like New York City’s Central Park, and also Coney Island. Old Camera Obscuras that no longer exist. Just as it was used for science, art, and entertainment; it was also used for training in wars.

 

Camera Obscuras are the first cameras. Photography pioneers like Fox Talbot, Niepce, and Daguerre created cameras by modifying Camera Obscuras. Soon after, when light-sensitive plates and film were invented, the Camera Obscura was no longer necessary.

Ocean Beach

Ocean waves on screen

 

Today there are Camera Obscuras in the U.S., England, Scotland, Wales, and other countries. Some are old, some are new. There are private Camera Obscuras and public ones; less than ten public ones exist in the U.S. The Wikipedia link provides all locations.

 

This one in San Francisco was built by Floyd Jennings in 1946 for a popular amusement park in the 1900s, Playland at the Beach. When Playland closed in 1972, the structure was relocated to its present location, behind the Cliff House at Ocean Beach.

 

For those of us who can never get enough of Camera Obscuras, a good website to feed your fix is brought to us by Jack and Beverly Wilgus, scholars of this phenomenon:  Magic Mirror of Life

 

You might wonder, why would this be anything great these days when you have a phone in your pocket that takes excellent photos? Or easy-access live cams? Or why would you go inside a building when you have the whole outdoor image in full view?

 

Because with the Camera Obscura, you are in the camera. Inside the camera.

Outside it is noisy from the wind and the crashing waves, and sometimes blindingly bright from the vast, open sea.

 

You walk through the curious saloon-style doors and enter a world of magic. At first you can’t see anything, going from the brightness of day to darkness.

 

But then your eyes quickly adjust, and your body relaxes in the darkness and peace. You’re in a special little cocoon.

 

On the screen before you are the ocean waves silently lapping against the beach. Surfers in wet suits, dogs and dog owners walking the beach, cars moving down the Great Highway. The image slowly rotates, constantly changing, just like life…only softer and gentler.

 

Way out in the distance are ships sailing the sea. Closer in are large boulders covered with cormorants and gulls.

 

In that dark and hushed room you enjoy a few magical moments of gentle light and silence, and see the profoundness of life as it is unfolds.

 

Photo credit: As indicated

Video clip on San Francisco’s Camera Obscura

 

Camera Obscura, San Francisco

 

Visiting Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is the most visited attraction in San Francisco, entertaining over 1.3 million visitors every year. The Los Angeles Times declared it the seventh most popular landmark in the world (06.16.15).

 

Every day one boat after another leaves Pier 33 loaded with Alcatraz-bound tourists who are curious to visit the famous prison, learn the notorious history. As a San Francisco resident I had already visited here, then returned one day in 2014 to study the setting for a scene in my novel.

 

How Alcatraz began. After gold was discovered in California in 1848, prospectors, businessmen, and families arrived here in droves. It was determined then that the increased value–millions of dollars worth of mined gold–created a need for defense and protection.

Alcatraz dock

Alcatraz dock

Thereafter it became a:

  1. Fortress and military installation (1853-1933) ;
  2. Federal Penitentiary (1933-1963)
  3. Native American protest occupation (1964, 1969-1971)
  4. U.S. National Park (1972-present)
Alcatraz cell block

Alcatraz cell block

Read more history, overview here.

 

Touring “The Rock” requires  reservations and involves a fun ten-minute boat ride on the San Francisco Bay.

 

More about touring here.

 

 

Visitors take a self-guided tour with audio tapes narrated by prison guards. You can stay at the island all day until the last boat departure, but most people stay a few hours.

 

Alcatraz cell

Alcatraz cell

In addition to being a tourist prison island, Alcatraz (the Spanish word for “pelican”) is also a prominent site for nesting birds; and has tide pools, sea mammals and other wildlife, even glowing millipedes.

 

The day we were there we saw Anna’s hummingbirds, a variety of sparrows, plenty of gulls and cormorants.

 

National Park Service nature info here.

Glowing millipedes on Alcatraz here.

 

The boat drops you off at the dock, a ranger gives you an overview of the facility and the rules. There’s a steep walk up to the prison, passing by old military gunnery, the water tower and guard towers, other old buildings, and gardens.

 

Alcatraz scaled model at Pier 33, Jet (in pink)scoping it out

Alcatraz scaled model at Pier 33. Jet (in sunglasses) scoping it out.

All the photos here are from that October day when I went to observe and take notes. Golden Gate Graveyard readers will recognize some of these sights from the Alcatraz scene.

 

Once you get up to the cell blocks, you can walk around inside the prison, see where prisoners showered, slept, and ate. Outside you view the warden’s half-burned house, the lighthouse, beautiful views of San Francisco and other sites.

 

Angel Island from Alcatraz

Angel Island from Alcatraz

Having written and researched a lot of history about San Francisco for this novel, I find two things especially fascinating:  over the years once-serious facilities, like Alcatraz, have turned into frolicking tourist attractions. And how curious it is to witness visitors’ intrigue and animation at this decrepit and defunct old prison.

 

The prison has been extensively featured in books (ahem), films, video games, TV series, and more. A popular new Alcatraz-related attraction is the Escape Alcatraz Drop Ride at the San Francisco Dungeon. It is a stomach-dropping ride simulating an attempted escape.

 

Alcatraz Control Room

Alcatraz Control Room

All modern-day Alcatraz folklore stems from the inescapability of this maximum security prison. It was long touted as the place from which no man ever left alive.

 

But is that true? Over 50 years after three prisoners escaped and their bodies were never found, there is still speculation and “Search for the Truth” documentaries. I recently watched a 1979 film starring Clint Eastwood called “Escape from Alcatraz.” It’s pretty good, shows life on The Rock and is based on the actual escape.

 

For an old prison that hasn’t seen a prisoner in over half a century, Alcatraz sure is a lively place. I’m happy it makes for good fiction.

 

Alcatraz view of San Francisco

Alcatraz view of San Francisco

 

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

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