I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the archive of The Infinite Monkey Cage Podcast – a very scientific and nerdy podcast about astrophysics among other things. It stars Brian Cox of the Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of the Solar System series – which I adore.
A rather rare celestial phenomenon is about to happen. To describe just how rare this event is I’ll let Wikipedia explain.
Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena. They occur in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years.
A transit of Venus took place on 8 June 2004 and the next will be on 6 June 2012. The previous pair of transits were in December 1874 and December 1882. After 2012, the next transits of Venus will be in December 2117 and December 2125.
Suffice to say you’ll be alive for the next transit – in June – but you may not be alive for the next one.
I know where I’ll be in June. Watching Venus move across the Sun.
For more information take a look at TransitOfVenus.org
AKA – August 10, 1972 Bolide.
During a recent trip to a nearby observatory the presentation highlighted this little number, a comet that streaked across the sky in early August 1972 over the Tetons.
Notice the trajectory. They don’t call this thing an earthgrazer for nothing. This small bit of space rock (about 9′ in diameter or so) actually flew through the Earth’s atmosphere for about thirty seconds before heading back out into space! Impressive rock.
What’s more is that before the days of pocket-sized cameras and phones with built-in high definition video recorders the wife of the guy that took the above, stunning photograph – Linda Baker – managed to capture most of the earthgrazing on video.
Photo credit: James M. Baker. Also featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day in March 2009.
For the last few nights I’ve been playing around with The Night Sky on iOS. It is really fun to use and a wee bit magical. If you want an app on your iPhone that has some wow-factor – this is it. Everyone I’ve showed this app has purchased it immediately after seeing it.
I’ll be in my mid-50s when Apophis becomes a really, really important page on Wikipedia.
On 1 September the featured photo was of M27 a nebula first cataloged simply as being ‘not a comet’ by Charles Messier in 18th century France in his catalog of things that definitely were not comets.
This sort of thing astounds me. Some guy in the 18th century was able to create a catalog of celestial objects when I, in this century, have a hard time using my telescope to focus on the moon!
Easily the most impressive photo of Hurricane Irene and it was taken by NASA’s NOAA GOES-13 satellite.
Titles this cool don’t come around too often.
I’ve been subscribed to NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day for years. I’ve linked to both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial shots that have been featured from this very blog many times though nearly all of them are fantastic.
It is sort of like an art blog where the featured painter everyday is God.
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I’ve shared the video here because I think this is an incredible video. The visuals that we are getting back from the space program lately are incredible. And now that they are taking photos in a time-lapsed fashion, stitching them together and sharing them in HD video format – we’re able to see celestial events in ways no other age of mankind has been able to. This is a trend NASA has set over nearly the last half-century.
Here is the description of the video from the HubbleSite Web site:
“This movie shows Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, as it ducks behind the giant planet. Astronomers combined a series of images taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to make the 18-second movie. The 540 movie frames were created from Hubble images taken over a two-hour period on April 9, 2007.”
Source:Â Hubble Catches Jupiter’s Largest Moon Going to the ‘Dark Side’.
Credits:Â NASA,Â ESA, E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona), and G. Bacon (STScI)
I was able to write a guest post on Waking Ideas, a site run by two of my friends Daniel Nicolas and Jake Dahn. I thought it’d be fun to write about the recent event in our Solar System where Jupiter, Venus, and our Earth’s Moon had a little party.
Talk about a photographic trifecta. Â The Astronomy Picture Of The Day, from July 5th, is a photo taken in January 2007 in Perth, Australia wherein a group of people watching the Australia DayÂ celebratoryÂ fireworks catch a glimpse of Comet McNaught and a lightning storm.
You might be wondering what the Aussies are doing on the beach in January, wearing shorts no less. Â Let us not forget our solstices.
The photo is amazing, stunning, and extremely well captured. Â The editor for APOD hits the nail right on the head when they wrote: “Sometimes the sky itself is the best show in town.”
Yesterday, via Hahlo on my iPhone, I saw @MarsPhoenix twitter this:
“Are you ready to celebrate? Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!”
I was happy that they’ve been able to confirm what they thought all along and accomplish what the main purpose of the mission was. Â They should definitely figure out a way to bring some of it back here though.
Imagine the drinks? Â Mars on the rocks? Â Martian lemonade? Â What else?
Date taken: May 18, 2008 – 10:24pm EST – The moon, as seen from northeastern Pennsylvania.
I found this as I was rifling through a few of my photos that I haven’t yet imported into my photo library. Â Getting a photo of the moon without the proper equipment is extremely frustrating. Â The awe-inspiring view of the moon on this night, led me to run back upstairs after taking out the garbage to get my camera and tripod, and this photo does not do that view any justice.
One day, you will visit this site and see a photo of the moon that will take your breath away. Â I promise.
Have you checked the weather today? Â Oh, but have you checked the weather on SaturnÂ today? Â Neither did I. Â But it seems, according to yesterday’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, courtesy of NASA, that there is an electrical storm on Saturn that has lasted at least 3 months.
Extraterrestrial storms are not uncommon. Â And it isn’t uncommon for these storms to last a long time. Â According to the post, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, featured as the picture of the day on July 18, 1999Â (which was a picture from Voyager 1 taken circa 1979), has been studied for at least 150 years and has been observed from Earth for over 300!
Another point of interest, about the electrical storm on Saturn, is that the “…Â storm has roughly the width of planet Earth.”. Â I’m interested to see how long this storm lasts. Â Aren’t you?
“That’s no moon.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope. Â But wait, yes it is. Â If you look closely at the image of Saturn’s electrical storm, which has been color shifted to better allow us humans to see some of the spectrum that we couldn’t otherwise, you will see Saturn’s rings. Â Just below the rings you will see a faint “dot”, which to the untrained (read: mine) eye, appears to bit a fleck of dust on the lens. Â This is Saturn’s small moon Janus.
Side note: We had an excellent view of Saturn when we attended Public Night at the Astronomical Observatory. But it wasn’t anywhere near as good as this shot and we certainly didn’t see the electrical storm.
But wait, there’s a lot more…
After writing this morning, I’ve since read another article on NASA.gov about Cassini tracking the “raging storm” on Saturn. Â There are quite a few tidbits of interest.
- “The new storm is located in Saturn’s southern hemisphere–in a region nicknamed “Storm Alley” by mission scientists–where the previous lightning storms were observed by Cassini.”
- “Amateur astronomers have kept track of the storm over its five-month lifetime. “Since Cassini’s camera cannot track the storm every day, the amateur data are invaluable,” said Fischer. “I am in continuous contact with astronomers from around the world.”"
- “Cassini’s radio plasma wave instrument detects the storm every time it rotates into view, which happens every 10 hours and 40 minutes, the approximate length of a Saturn day. Every few seconds the storm gives off a radio pulse lasting for about a tenth of a second, which is typical of lightning bolts and other electrical discharges. These radio waves are detected even when the storm is over the horizon as viewed from Cassini, a result of the bending of radio waves by the planet’s atmosphere.Â ”
The radio waves they are referring to are actually recorded by Cassini. Â You can listen to, and look at the statisticalÂ data for, that audio here. Â The audio is only 28 seconds long but represents two hours of audio on Saturn.
Last night Keystone College’s Thomas G. Cupillari Astronomical Observatory was open to the public, and so Eliza, Chris, Andrew, and I took the short ride out to take advantage of the exceptionally clear skies. I could not be happier with my decision to go. We had a great time learning about, and gazing at, our solar system’s planets, stars much larger than our own sun, and distant galaxies.
Every Wednesday and Friday from March 12th until May 30th, of this year, the observatory is open to public lectures and viewing sessions. While we were there we were given a ~30-minute lecture about the viewable sky in our hemisphere, the constellations, and some of the quirkiness of star gazing. The lecture was jammed packed with information and I look forward to one day listening to it again, just so I get it all. Â After the lecture you are free to use, under the careful observation and help from the staff and volunteers there, the telescopes that the Observatory has in place. Â We primarily used four main telescopes while we were there.
The planet Mercury at sunset (just left of center).
Before the lecture, and before we even peered through any telescope, we were able to get a clear glimpse of Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun and only visible during the morning and evening. Â An object so clearly visible, yet often overlooked as probably being the first star you can see as the sun sets, yet is actually an entire planet.
After the lecuture, the first telescope we used in the circle-shaped building with a rotating roof, is a telescope built byÂ the firm of Alvan Clark & Sons of Cambridgeport, MA in the late 19th Century. Â In 1971Â Thomas G. Cupillari bought the telescope from an ex-host of the Today Show on NBC,Â Dave Garroway, and with a contribution of $5,000 from the Scranton Area Foundation – built the building in which it now sits and is operated. Â Focused onÂ MercuryÂ we were able to get a much better look of theÂ atmosphere’sÂ affects on how we see objects in the sky. Â Mercury appeared to be a giant rainbow, really a neat looking site. Â With a rather swift movement, the gentlemanÂ maneuveringÂ the telescope for us, pointed the telescope nearly straight up in the sky. Â After adjusting the rotating roof into position, making slight adjustments to the telescope through the finder, he said “Ok, this next thing is a fake.”. Â I was the first to look through eyepiece when I saw Saturn, complete with its many rings, being displayed as vividly as a photograph in a science book. Â With black space and only a few stars surrounding it, it really did look fake. Â I was amazed.
The second telescope we used to focus in onÂ BetelgeuseÂ and Mars. Â The woman handling this telescope, who also gave the lecture, put me to the task of finding some of these objects. Â The telescope were were using was “thrown together” by one of the volunteers using a few old parts of a Meade telescope he had. Â I am not sure which parts were original, which parts were modified, but the telescope performed wonderfully. Â The view finder (not sure of the technical term) was equipped with an infraredÂ bulls-eye. Â Lining it up to an object in the sky could not have been easier. Â Mars shown like a jewel in the sky. Â It looked like a woman’s ring; diamonds surroundingÂ sapphire. Â I can’t describe it any other way. Â Saturn appeared much more far away but still just as crisp.
The third and fourth telescopes were in a building with a fully retractable roof. Â The one we used most was, I think, a Meade LX200 on some sort of custom fixed mount (here is a photo of its lens). Â It was operated by remote control and held hundreds of thousands of astronomical objects in its database. Â Type in a number, hit enter, and the thing lined itself right up with what you wanted to see. Â Using this telescope we focused on entire galaxies, appearing like nothing more than dust in space, which contain billions of stars. Â We were also able to see a planetary nebula (described as such because of the relative shape of the nebula, not because the nebula produces planets rather than stars) which had a bright center and a fuzzy aura.
The fourth telescope was fixed towards the southern sky and, using it, we were able to see a few stars that were “nearing the end of their lives”. Â The star was bright red, like a distant break light, and was clearly distinguishable from its neighbors (yet you’d never see it with the naked eye). Â We used this telescope the least of all.
Being clothed in only sweatshirts as the temperature dipped into the low 30s, we had to leave before the sky truly got pitch-black, but I’m looking forward to a return visit in less than two weeks, were we’re encouraged to bring our own telescopes (I have one that I want to learn how to use better). Â I can’t tell you how anxious I am to get back out there, prepared with tools and proper clothing, to be up all night and gaze at the stars once again.
GGW! Normally that accronym would be reserved for late-night commercials about incredibly inexpensive DVD-sets with future women that will sue Joe Francis.
But not this time.
This time GGW refers to NASA’s celebration of the Hubble Telescope being launched 18 years ago! Â And so they’ve put together a site of awe-inspiring images that Hubble has captured of galaxies that are “merging”. Â They wanted to put up photographs of galaxies that were “in love” since they are “in love” with Hubble. Â Truly touching, isn’t it?
“As this astonishing Hubble atlas of interacting galaxies illustrates, galaxy collisions produce a remarkable variety of intricate structures.”
Source: Merging Galaxies.
So glad I took my telescope out for a few minutes. Really nice weather and a clear sky for a good look at the moon.
Last night the moon was nearly full and the sky was crystal clear. So I decided to take my Meade 114 eq-asb telescope that Eliza bought me for our seventh wedding anniversary out for a spin to do something relatively simple; look at the surface of the moon.
At least I thought it would be easy. The moon being the nearest celestial object to Earth one would think it would be easy to zone in on it, look at its surface, and get back inside. Not when you have no idea how to properly use your telescope it would seem.
I did manage to see a little bit of what I wanted but I really need to start taking this telescope thing much more seriously. Here is a photo I took of the moon last night that really does not do any justice for the brilliance of the moon. As with all good things in life, using a telescope takes time and effort to master – and I look forward to trying again on the next clear night.
Oh, on a somewhat related note I read over on Wil Wheaton’s blog today that a free eBook is available called What’s Up – 365 Days of Skywatching which gives you a quick, easy, and printable reference of the night sky for each day of the year for 2007. Brilliant.
If you have any other tips, tricks, or resources that you’ve found useful – please feel free to pass them along. I’d love to get better at using my telescope so that it is much more enjoyable and less frustrating next time.