Venus and Mercury

At the age of 34, I’ve finally seen the planet Mercury.* It’s notoriously difficult to spot, but when I read that it was going to be very close to Venus for the next few days, I had to try.

As it turns out, I was able to see it from a local grocery store parking lot. I left the car just as Venus was becoming visible, concerned by the clouds starting to drift past, and left the store to a clear twilight sky and a “star” below and to the right of Venus…exactly where Mercury should be!

*Of course I’ve seen photos, but I’d never seen the planet directly with my own eyes — or if I have, I didn’t recognize it.

While driving from Newport Beach to Lake Forest, we watched the full moon rise through a layer of haze and clouds.

For much of the drive it was surrounded by a bright yellow glow, light reflecting off the haze. A few minutes in, we noticed a light pillar shooting straight up from the moon. I seriously considered pulling over to the side of the freeway to take a photo, and probably should have, because it was almost faded by the time we reached our destination. The moon may have risen too high, or the ice crystals drifted away or evaporated, or perhaps it was simply drowned out by the city lights. A lot of the 405 runs past residential areas with lots of trees, so there aren’t too many lights visible from the freeway. You can just barely see the remnant of it in this photo.

I did manage to get one picture of the moon rising behind a cloud layer at the beginning of the drive:

Yes, it’s digital zoom. On one hand, at times like this I wish I had a better camera. On the other hand, if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to capture this while sitting at an intersection waiting to turn!

Friday night at Comic-Con. After walking around all day in costumes, we returned to our hotel, got cleaned up, had dinner at the hotel restaurant and got in line for the shuttle back to the convention center to catch “The Worst Cartoons Ever” at 9:00.

Except only one of us made it onto the bus.

Missing the Bus

We’d thought about going back to the restaurant for dessert later (they had Bailey’s cheesecake), so I did something stupid and went back to check the hours. (If they were going to be closed, we’d go somewhere in the Gaslamp area like Ghirardelli.) This took longer than expected, and the shuttle arrived in the meantime.

The shuttles only run every 20-30 minutes at night, and we had barely 30 minutes to the screening. Chances were if I didn’t catch this one, I wasn’t going to make it.

I fought my way upstream through the crowd that had just gotten off the bus, saw that Katie wasn’t at the stop, and ran halfway down the block as the shuttle pulled away…and immediately stopped at a red light.

I ran to the front of the bus and knocked on the door. The driver gestured toward the back of the bus. I looked back to see if there was another door. Nothing. I knocked again. He glared at me and pointed toward the back of the bus again. It became clear he was not opening that door for anything.

Words Exchanged

So I pulled out my cell phone and called Katie, who was in the process of calling me to ask where the hell I was. Whichever call connected, I started out with something like “The &@^#*& driver wouldn’t let me on the bus!” We each fumed a bit, the light turned green, and the bus pulled away.

I wasted a precious minute trying to decide whether it was worth trying to catch a trolley or something. I figured their schedule was about as bad. Driving didn’t even cross my mind — it probably would have taken me long enough to park that it wouldn’t have helped anyway. If I’d really been thinking I would have walked around to the front of the hotel and hailed a taxi.

Maybe it was that I’d spent the day dressed as the Flash. I decided to run.

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I had hoped that the darker skies near San Simeon on the central California coast would have made it easier to spot Comet Lulin, but no such luck. First the clouds rolled in around sunset. I checked around 9:45 and they’d cleared enough to see very clearly out toward the ocean, but the lights of town were directly below Leo, so I drove down the highway a few miles to a scenic viewpoint with a wide parking area, stopped the car, and tried not to let passing traffic ruin my dark adaptation.

Once again, no luck spotting the comet (though I’ve at least determined that the bright spot next to Saturn was just a star), but an excellent view of the stars. And I spotted 4 or 5 meteors during the ~30 minutes I was out there, all in the direction of Orion and Canis Major. (One of them, maddeningly, flashed by just moments before one of my photos started.)

I did manage to catch an airplane as it transited in front of Canis Major and Orion, shown in this photo. (I should have called it a UFO.) And the view was far better than any night sky in suburbia, so the side trip was absolutely worth it!