Fourmilab Photo Album

This is a collection of “incidental photography” posted on Fourmilog and Twitter. Each photo in this graphical index is linked to a full-scale enlargement, and images from Fourmilog have captions which link to the original articles.

Animal Magnetism

I seem to have a kind of animal magnetism: I attract unusual animals (flies too, but I'm so not going there). Over the years I've managed to capture some of the curious critters which crossed my path on film and silicon, and here are some of their photos. These are all accidental encounters with wildlife around the house, office, and garden. Please don't use the creepy giant spider photo to scare small children!

ANTarctica—Fourmilab South Pole Expedition 2013

We decided to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary by going South for the winter in January 2013. This being Fourmilab, no half measures would suffice short of going all the way—to the South Pole. We'd already been to the North Pole so, hey, we could become officially bipolar! This photo essay chronicles the expedition.

Comet C/1995 O1

Images of Comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp), the Great Comet of 1997.

Comet C/1996 B2

Images of Comet C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) from its 1996 close encounter with Earth.

Eclipse 1999

Images and movies of the total solar eclipse of August 11th, 1999, which I observed from Esfahan, in central Iran.

In Darkness: Africa—Eclipse 2001

Images of the total solar eclipse of June 21st, 2001, observed near Lusaka, Zambia, plus wildlife and scenery from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa.

Nuclear Ninety North—Eclipse 2008

Between July 19th and August 6th, 2008 I was off to the North Pole—no, really—and thereafter to observe the total eclipse of the Sun on August 1st. So how do you get to the North Pole? Well, there's always the tedious dogsled method, but if you're in a hurry, nothing beats a Russian nuclear powered icebreaker. Here is a collection of images from the expedition, including the ship, landscapes, wildlife, and the eclipse.

Aku Aku Eclipse—Eclipse 2010

The total solar eclipse of July 11th, 2010 made a landfall in Easter Island, one of the most remote inhabited places on the Earth, and Fourmilab was there to observe and photograph the eclipse and explore the enigmatic artefacts of the island. This photo gallery chronicles the expedition and includes telephoto imagery of the eclipsed Sun.

My Trip to CERN

In April 2013 I had the privilege of visiting CERN: the premier particle physics laboratory in the world. This photo essay shows some of the underground wonders of the largest and most complicated machine ever built by our species.

Fractal Food

Fractal, or self-similar, structures are commonplace in nature, extending from the fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation to the blood vessels in the human lung, but rarely do you encounter such perfection in structure as in Romanesco, a member of the plant species which includes broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. This document is a photo gallery of the amazing hierarchical structure of Romanesco, along with a discussion of how such patterns can arise from the very simplest of computer programs, suggesting that nature is, in some sense, performing a computation.

Glass in the Garden

I've been a fan of alien flora even before I read Parallel Botany back in 1977, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit an exhibition of Dale Chihuly's glass sculptures at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis in May 2006. Glass in the Garden is a collection of photographs of the exhibition along with a few obligatory shots of the Gateway Arch.

Inconstant Moon

Inconstant Moon explores a universally seen but seldom observed phenomenon: the different appearance of the Moon at perigee and apogee.

Kerbal Space Program Screenshot Gallery

Kerbal Space Program is a computer game in which the player builds spacecraft, aircraft, and spaceplanes and sends them on various missions. Not only is the game a great deal of fun, playing it helps develop an intuitive sense for rocket design and engineering and orbital mechanics, even among people who already understand these topics at the mathematical level. The graphics in the game are superb. This document is a collection of screen captures from missions I've flown.

Lignières and the Alps

A twenty-four megapixel digitally assembled panorama shows Fourmilab's home village with the majestic Alps in the background. Images with and without legends identifying Alpine peaks are available, as well as a one-third scale reduction which can either be scrolled or browsed in panels. A complete description of the process by which the panorama was produced is included, with links to the (exclusively) free software tools used to create it.

Lignières: Then and Now

Comparing images, some taken more than a century ago, of Fourmilab's home in Switzerland with contemporary photos from the same viewpoints provides a transtemporal perspective of the evolution of a rural village in Western Switzerland. You can start with the introduction to the project, embark upon a walking tour of the village, or pick a viewpoint from the graphical index based on a map of the village. Those interested in embarking upon such a project themselves may wish to read the tips on the craft of “then and now” photography gleaned during the production of these pages.

Total Lunar Eclipse: November 2003

In November 2003 an unusually bright total lunar eclipse was visible from all continents except Australia. At my observing site in western Switzerland, the Moon was high in the sky throughout the eclipse and, astonishingly for November, the sky was clear for the entire immersion phase and almost all of totality. This page describes the eclipse and presents images captured with a telescope and digital camera, including an animation which shows the Moon's encounter with the Earth's shadow.

Transit of Mercury: May 2003

Only fourteen times in the twenty-first century will astronomers be treated to the spectacle of Mercury's silhouette majestically traversing the Sun. This century's first transit of Mercury occurred on May 7th, 2003, and was the first I ever managed to observe and photograph. Information and images of 2003's transit are presented, along with previews of coming attractions including the spectacular and extraordinarily rare transits of Venus in 2004 and 2012.

Transit of Venus: June 2004

On June 8th, 2004, for the first time since 1882, the planet Venus passed in front of the Sun as seen from Earth. This spectacle is not only rare, it's about the only opportunity one ever gets to see another planet with the unaided eye as a spot, not a dot. Fourmilab was blessed with almost equally rare cloudless skies for this event, which permitted capturing the images presented on this page.

Moon near Perigee, Earth near Aphelion

In the first few days of July 2004, three unrelated celestial phenomena happened to coincide: full Moon, lunar perigee, and Earth's passage through aphelion. This permitted photographing the full Moon and Sun within one day, showing the difference in their apparent size. The effect of the Sun and Moon's orbits on the appearance and duration of solar eclipses is discussed, and an estimate is made of when the last-ever total solar eclipse will be visible from Earth. New: January 26th, 2005 update adds photos of the apogean full Moon of January 2005 compared to the Sun with the Earth near perihelion.

Les Quatre Saisons

This time-lapse movie shows a year in the life of a Swiss village at the rate of one day every second. A hay-mow to the east of Fourmilab, agricultural land since the time of the Roman Empire, sprouts three houses as the year elapses. Complete photographic and movie production details are included, as well as an interactive frame-by-frame image browser. New February 2016 update includes an embedded YouTube video, directly viewable from most browsers.

Ski Marin

It never snows in San Francisco. Well, almost never. After moving to Marin County, north of San Francisco in the mid-1970's, imagine my surprise to wake up one fine February morning and find 10 cm of snow on the ground. A photo dating from twenty-plus years ago and a little embellishment with a modern day paint program results in a curious poster.

Switzerland from Space

Space Shuttle imagery and interactive Web navigation combine to allow you to explore Switzerland, home of, from orbit.

Naked Eye Sun-Spotting

On rare occasions around peaks in the 11 year solar activity cycle, a sunspot group may appear which is sufficiently large to be observed without any optical aid other than a filter for safely viewing the Sun. If observing this phenomenon interests you, don't count on quick success; it took me thirty-five years from the time I started looking until I observed my first naked-eye sunspot on September 23rd, 2000. This document contains photos of that enormous sunspot, both my own and high resolution images from spacecraft and a solar observatory, and provides tips and resources to assist in your own quest to view the next “big one”.

The Three Inner Planets

Have you ever seen Mercury? A portrait of the three inner planets of our solar system serves as the point of departure for a discussion of when and how you can best observe this bright but elusive planet. The companion Mercury Chaser's Calculator provides (for JavaScript-enabled browsers), custom predictions for viewing Mercury, including finder charts for your observing site and Orrery views of the inner solar system at maximum elongations of Mercury.

UNIVAC Memories

UNIVAC Memories returns to the 1960s and early '70s to explore the room-sized UNIVAC mainframe computers I programmed in those days. Discover million-dollar memory, two and a quarter ton 100 megabyte hard drives, minus zero, and other curiosities from the brash adolescence of the second generation of computers.

Update: November 2017 update adds a Univac Document Archive with hardware and software manuals, product brochures, and related documents from the 1107–1100/80 era.

Viewing Venus in Broad Daylight

Did you know that when the planet Venus is bright and far from the Sun it can be glimpsed with the unaided eye in broad daylight? This page provides tips for viewing Venus in the daytime, plus a calculator which shows the best opportunities for any year and produces finder charts for your observing site. Here's an opportunity to see something that's up in the sky for anybody to spot but which few ever do: a planet shining in the blue sky at midday.

White Easter 2008

The combination of an early Easter and a late snowstorm brought a White Easter to Lignières in March 2008. It started snowing on Good Friday, and continued to snow through the following Wednesday. If you didn't dye the Easter eggs, they were exceptionally easy to hide in the snowdrifts! Maybe we'll eventually find them when spring arrives. I put it down to ManBearPig.


Passport Photo Maker

Perl script for Unix systems which uses Netpbm utilities to create a ready to print page of passport (or other) photos of a specified size, adjusted for the page size and resolution of a printer, with as many copies of the original photo as will fit on the page.

pnmctrfilt: Centre filter for the Netpbm Image Toolkit

Wide angle lenses for large- and medium-format cameras often vignette the image—the film is not uniformly exposed, but instead illumination falls off away from the optical axis of the lens, underexposing the edges and corners. Traditionally, optical “centre filters” have been used to compensate for vignetting, but they require additional exposure time which may be impractical. Pnmctrfilt is an addition to the Netpbm image processing toolkit which simulates the effect of a centre filter in an image exposed without one. Options allow emulating a wide variety of optical filters.

A Radioactive Lens

Between 1940 and 1970, many camera manufacturers used thoriated glass for high-quality lenses. Thorium is radioactive, and so were these lenses. Explore a Leica lens, made in 1952, with a Geiger counter to recall that epoch.

How to Mount a Lens on a Linhof Technika Recessed Lensboard

All right, I'll admit it: this document is a little specialised. A recessed lensboard allows a large format camera to use short focal length lenses which would otherwise not be able to focus at infinity due to the minimum extension of the bellows. The Linhof Technika recessed lensboard is supplied with a mechanism to permit a cable release to operate the shutter, whose own cable socket is buried within the recess, but with no instructions on how to install it. This document walks you step by step through the installation of a Schneider Super Angulon 47mm lens on the recessed lensboard, and explains how the curious collection of parts supplied with the lensboard are assembled to operate the shutter.

Shadow Server

In the 1990s, “drop shadows”—simulated shadows which make it appear an image is “floating” above the page—were a popular feature in Web page design, but making such images often required expensive, proprietary software. Our pnmshadow utility for the Netpbm image processing toolkit provided an open source alternative, but wasn't available to users of non-Unix-like systems. The Shadow Server allows any user with a Web browser to upload images in PNG, JPEG, GIF, or a variety of other formats and receive an image with a custom drop shadow added.

Slide Show Screen Saver

The Slide Show Screen Saver shows images (in JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP format) and plays sound files (MP3, WAV, and MIDI) from a designated directory, either in random order or alphabetically by file name. A variety of options allow scripting slide shows and an accompanying sound track. Both a ready-to-install 32-bit screen saver for Windows 95/98/Me and NT/2000/XP and source code are available. New release 2.0 allows Internet shortcuts (.url files) to be included in slide directories, permitting the inclusion of dynamic images and sounds from the Web in slide shows, improves randomisation when in “shuffle play” mode, and saves preferences in the registry individually for each user.