Tag - astronomy

Ethan, genius

My 7-year old son Ethan is continually amazing me with his insights, thoughts, and questions. He’s not the most verbal or social of kids, but he is a (young) man of ideas.

Today, entirely unprompted, he came up with the idea of intergenerational starships.

After all, he figured, you can’t get to the nearest stars (he started with Pluto, but that’s almost correct as well) in one lifetime. So you’d have to have multiple families on a starship – and the people who started the voyage would never live to see the destination.

He also wondered how they would be able to take enough food along, and I explained that they couldn’t: in fact, they’d have to take entire farms along instead.

Wow. I’m impressed.

[tags] ethan, starship, inter-generational, john koetsier [/tags]

Pluto: we still love you

Hrm … sorry, but I don’t really care what astronomers say. I still think Pluto is a planet.

Some astronomers are still sane:

Although yesterday’s decision was reached by a majority vote, some of the most senior scientists involved are dismayed. “We now have dwarf planets which are in fact not planets. I consider this a linguistic catastrophe. I think the union is going to get a lot of flak for this, in doing it in such a muddy way,” said Owen Gingerich, chairman of the IAU’s official planet definition committee.

“It’ll cause a rewrite of the textbooks. I think a lot of the astronomers at the meeting were really just trying to correct the mistake made in 1930,” he added.

Others, however, are saying things like don’t worry, be happy, Pluto is still “interesting to study.”

But Iwan Williams, president of the IAU’s planetary systems sciences and an astronomer at Queen Mary, University of London, was happy with the decision. “It was a clear majority and Pluto is still an interesting body to study,” he said.

The current silliness is just a continuation … a few short days ago, they were going to call Pluto and Charon, its moon, both planets. Ah well.

Don’t worry Pluto. We still love you.

[tags] pluto, astronomy, astronomers, charon, planet, IAU [/tags]

Borg me baby

How would you like to see Mare Imbrium in high def … just by looking up into the night sky?

You get a telescope in your eye, of course. I want one.

There are some problems, of course. I don’t think the focus or magnifying power is adjustable at this point, and I’m sure your field of view narrows as the magnification increases.

But still: very cool!


I hadn’t been keeping up too intensely on matters astronomical the past month or so, so late last week when I went for a night run and saw an unusually bright “star” in an odd location, I assumed it was Venus.

It was intensely bright and yellowish-hued – I could barely help seeing it even during my run. As soon as I got home, I quickly got out my Sony DSC W1 and a tripod and snapped a couple of pix. None turned out too well, but I was happy to capture the sight.

And, of course, when I checked up on it, I realized that Mars is now very, very close to Earth and hence very visible. Without further ado, the ‘god’ of war:

mars in the night sky

And here’s another, with some post-processing to make it ugly. I was trying to capture the trees in the foreground as I shot east and up towards the top of Glen Mountain. But they were so dark I had to resort to some extreme Photoshop tricks to bring them out … hence the massive amount of noise in the shot. There are probably ways to reduce that noise selectively, but I’m neither a Photoshop expert nor in possession of vast amounts of unencumbered time …

mars silouetted by trees

Ummm … Mars is the bright speck near the trees …

Conjuction photos

The moon, Venus, and Jupiter were in stunning conjunction tonight, so I grabbed the camera, tripod, and binoculars and drove fairly close to the top of the nearest mountain.

That was fairly easy, as I live on Glenn Mountain in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

The conjunction was beautiful but fleeting … it was near the horizon when the sun was setting, and there was really only maybe 30 minutes of good viewing between too bright and too close to the smoggy haze.

Here’s a couple of the shots I took:

venus, moon, & jupiter

and a little later in the evening …

venus, moon, & jupiter

(I guessed I could have straightened that one – it was tough getting the right angles with the tripod.)

In case you’re wondering, the moon is obvious, Venus is the bright dot, and Jupiter is the faint I’m-934-million-kilometres-away-from-you dot.

Starseeker chair

Whoa. Very, very, very cool – a rotating chair that holds your binoculars and tilts back so you can stargaze in comfort.

I saw it first here, and there’s more info at the manufacturer’s site.

From that site:

  • Comfortable: A reclining chair supports your entire body
  • Fun: Counterweighted mounting bar holds your choice of binoculars
  • Simple: Convenient joystick gives instant control of speed and direction
  • Precise: Built-in green laser lets you quickly select and view any object
  • Rugged: Base is made of case aluminum and rotates on Teflon® bearings
  • Portable: Carry it anywhere — Covenient setup requires no tools

(By the way, I noticed that the company that makes this also makes a very cool laser that would be great as a star-pointer.)

Backyard astronomy: Venus & the Moon

I went for another night-time walk today and was rewarded by a wonderful conjunction of Venus and the Moon.

Of course, upon leaving the house and seeing how beautiful it was nothing would do but to haul out the digital camera, tripod, and set up on a nearby street to try to capture the scene. Here’s one of my better attempts:

venus moon conjunction

That’s with the shutter open for about 3 seconds – I’d try longer but my current camera, a Sony DSC-W1, lacks very much in the way of manual controls. By the way, for more details on the conjunction, check out Sky & Telescope (scroll down on that page).

After I took the equipment back in, I rebooted the walk, which was great. Cassiopeia, the big ‘W’ in the sky, was clear and bright, but there was too much ambient light to see the Milky Way.

After I got home however, I called Teresa out into the front lawn, and we were rewarded with the sight of no fewer than 5 satellites whizzing by over our heads. Awesome.

A little urban astronomy

I just came back from an exhilarating night-time walk.

The night is the best time to walk: cool, quiet, and, if the sky is clear, there’s a vast celestial show playing on the biggest screen you’re ever gonna see.

Even in my rather light-polluted environs, the Milky Way was clearly visible. The familiar Big Dipper was huge and obvious; other constellations known, guessed, and imagined were bright and glorious.

To put the icing on the cake, I saw a a shooting star – a meteor. Wow! I have to say I feel really blessed whenever I see a meteor because so many of them are so incredibly brief … a few seconds and that’s it. Turn your head and you’ve missed it. This one was bright, but lasted only about 2-3 seconds before it burned down to nothing.

Perhaps it’s a percursor of the Perseids, which are due to peak in just a few days.

My only problem tonight is that I’m now too invigorated to go to bed!

Star-gazing (the old-fashioned kind)

I went out star-gazing last night with some astronomical binoculars I purchased a month and a half ago.

We’ve been having the most incredible beautiful clear sunny days here … and clear sunny days mean clear night skies – an amateur astronomer’s delight. I made my way down to McDonald Park, a nice reasonably-dark-sky site near Abbotsford that the Fraser Valley Astronomy society has worked to keep dark.

I’m just starting out in amateur astronomy, so I made a classic rookie mistake: not checking or remembering the position and phase of the moon. It was almost full, and VERY bright. Seriously, it was bright enough to cast high-contrast shadows. It was bright enought to read by.

Still, I had some fun scanning the brigher objects in the night sky, such as Orion. It always amazes me that so many people have no clue where the Orion constellation is or what it looks like. It’s so clear, so bright, and so obvious, that if it is once pointed out to you, you will recognize it for the rest of your life.

Look for this pattern in the night sky:

Three bright stars make up Orion’s belt. He’s a hunter, and his left shoulder is Betelgeuse, a red giant star that is the 12th brightest in Earth’s night sky. His right leg is Rigel, even brighter. And to the right an arc of stars shows the position of his bow.

Once you see this pattern, you’ll never forget it. But you’ll only see it in winter, at least if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, since that’s when our part of the planet points in his part of the Milky Way galaxy.

I also looked for a time to the north, trying to pick out comet Macholz, but with no success. I’m not sure if that was due to a mountain range between me and the northern horizon, or just my inability to pick it up.

And, of couse, I had to spend some time just ogling the moon – so bright in my binoculars that my eyes almost started watering. The huge rayed crater Tycho was spell-binding. (Go to this picture, look at the bottom part of the moon, and see the large impact crater with rays springing up across a quarter of the moon’s surface: that’s Tycho.)

It was short but sweet … next time I’ll have to time it better and get a darker sky.