Monday, January 29, 2007

Twelve Commandments for Amateur Astronomers

  1. Thou shalt have no white light before thee, behind thee, or to the side of thee whilst sharing the night sky with thy fellow stargazers.
  2. Thou shalt not love thy telescope more than thy spouse or thy children; as much as, maybe, but not more.
  3. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's telescope, unless it exceeds in aperture or electronics twice that of thy wildest dreams.
  4. Thou shalt not read Astronomy or Sky & Telescope on company time, for thine employer makes it possible to continue thine astronomical hobby.
  5. Thou shalt have at least two telescopes so as to keep thy spouse interested when the same accompanies thee under the night sky or on eclipse expeditions to strange lands where exotic wild animals doth roam freely.
  6. Thou shalt not allow either thy sons or thy daughters to get married during the Holy Days of Starfest.
  7. Thou shalt not reveal to thy spouse the true cost of thy telescope collection; only the individual components and that shall be done with great infrequency.
  8. Thou shalt not buy thy spouse any lenses, filters, dew shields, maps, charts, or any other necessities for holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays unless thy spouse needs them for their own telescope.
  9. Thou shalt not deceive thy spouse into thinking that ye are taking them for a romantic Saturday night drive when indeed thou art heading for a dark sky site.
  10. Thou shalt not store thy telescope in thy living room, dining room, or bedroom, lest thou be sleeping with it full time.
  11. Verily, observe not through thy neighbor's Astro-Physics or Takahashi, lest thee be utterly consumed by the lust of apo-fever, and thy brain and thy bank account shall shrivel and wither like branches in a flame.
  12. Verily, observe not through thy neighbor's Dob of Goliath, lest thee be lain bare to the fires of aperture-fever, and thy sanity, thy sacroiliac and thy life savings be crushed as ye grapes of wrath.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

STS-51L (Challenger)

All was fine for the space program, until a cold, clear morning in Florida on January 28, 1986. That day, the space shuttle Challenger was scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral on a (much delayed) mission, carrying the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. It was a perfect morning, but it would not stay that way.

When Challenger launched at 11.38 am, everything appeared a-okay. But only for 73 seconds...

...when there was an enormous ball of fire which engulfed the shuttle, and seven astronauts lost their lives, with the whole world watching.

Francis R. Scobee
Michael J. Smith
Judith A. Resnik
Ellison S. Onizuka
Ronald E. McNair
Gregory B. Jarvis
Christa McAuliffe

And all because of people being sloppy, being careless, wanting to push on regardless of the data, of hubris.

The world was in a state of shock. Investigations were conducted; promises made. And we got back into space in nearly three years later.

And again, as with Apollo 1, we celebrated the successes in space, and forgot some of the lessons learned. For seventeen years and four days...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Apollo 1

40 years ago today, tragedy struck the space program, as fire engulfed the Apollo 1 capsule where the astronauts were in a final practice mission for their upcoming space shot.

The three astronauts who lost their lives in a short few seconds were..

Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom
Edward H. White, II
Roger B. Chaffee

It set the space program back a bit, but we persevered. And a short two years six months later, we walked on the moon.

And triumphs and applause reigned supreme over all until the next day, nineteen years later....

Saturday, January 20, 2007

State of the "Art"?

For those of you who read this, please excuse this rant, but I have to get it off my chest.

In today's issue of the local newspaper, there is an image by a local photographer of the flyover for President Ford's internment a few weeks ago.

Here is a link to the image

It shows the 21 planes during the flyby up the Grand River. Looks good, doesn't it?

Except it's fake.

The photographer - who shall remain unnamed in case he somehow finds this (and me) and wants to sue - was quoted as saying "that's the photo that I had in my head. I think it's much more powerful that way." Well, to this photographer, that statement is bullsh*t.

I've been a photographer for over 25 years. In that time, I've shot my fair share of formal and informal events: from weddings, portraits, social gatherings, sports, etc. I've also done quote a bit of nature and specialized photography. And what you see is basically what I've shot.

Now, I'm not against working on the print to get the best available product from the negative. Heck, even Ansel Adams, perhaps the greatest American photographer who ever lived, considered (in musical composer terms) the negative "just the notes" and his finished print "the performed works." I've done my share of dodging, burning, and spotting in the darkroom to make a final print. And yes, in this age of digital imaging, I've used the computer to "fix" little things (a hair out of place, a straggling thread on a sleeve, etc.)

But I have never... NEVER... manipulated an image because what I saw in the "real world" wasn't what I saw "in my mind." To be, it's utter fabrication; it's blatant prevarication. You are, in essence, saying "that's not really how it happened, I know better."

This photographer is proud that he has manipulated his image to fit what he "thinks it should have been." In doing so, he's lowered himself to be as bad - if not worse - than someone who has stolen works and paraded them as their own (copyright infringement).

Thank you for letting me vent.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Comet Mc (Not) For Me... Again!

Comet McNaught. The brightest comet in the past three decades. And I have been unsuccessful in seeing it. And apparently it's visible in the daytime. So...

I tried around 1.30 this afternoon with no luck whatsoever. And I didn't just go out and hide the sun with a building and use binoculars.

I went out to our observatory, plugged up the optics, and used the shadows of the tubes to center the scopes on the sun. Then, using a white-light filter in our 4-inch TAK, I got the sun perfectly centered, then synced up in The Sky.

I slewed over to where the comet was, took off the filter, and saw.... nothing. Just to make sure everything was okay, I did another slew -- to Venus. Whammo! Venus was dead-center in the eyepiece. So back to where the comet was, and again... nothing.

I even tried our filters: OIII, UHC, and even a polarizer. Nada... nothing. Strike three.

So I packed up and went home to warm up.:)

Dunno if I will get to see it. I might cry.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Rising Moon

Well, I started last night, and just finished, the porting over of my friend Bruce's astronomy program and website. The new URL is

Bruce is the friend of mine who unexpectedly passed away last September, and it was the wish of his family that the program stayed available. So they gave the program to the astronomy club, and any of the profits from the program (it's shareware, and a great little thing for $25.) go to his kids.

I got a domain for it, and ported over the website and all the program files. I'm keeping it basically the same as it was, but I'm going to make a few changes to it (the website, not the program).

There are a couple of things that should be done with the program to update some information, but I don't know anything about the programming language it was made in (Delphi).

I just hope I can do it justice.

Comet (Not) For Me

Well, I tried to observe comet McNaught this morning, and I busted. It was sort of clear, so I bundled up and got out around 7.15am to make a short trip east of town to a nice, flat horizon.

When I got to my destination (where I shot the conjunction last month), I noticed - in the brightening morning twilight - that there were some high clouds on the eastern horizon. But since the comet was supposed to be -2 mag., I thought I still had a shot. I mean, heck... there were pictures on of the comet through clouds, so I figured I had a chance.

I searched the horizon for a while, until about 5 minutes before sunrise, and never saw it. Figures. I have seen dozens of faint, fuzzball-type comets, but the brightest one in over 30 years? Nope.

And I froze out there as well. Even by the time I got all the way home, my fingers were still cold. But it was worth it, on the off chance I did get to see the comet.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hail to the (Astro) Chief

I'm President again. Of my astronomy club.

Oh well.

I do think my musical accompaniment should be The Imperial March from Empire Strikes Back.

Obviously they've never heard of term limits.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New Member to the Blogosphere

I just ran across a new blog by Pamela Gay, Astronomer. Pamela used to be part of Slacker Astronomy, but has moved on to new things. She still does podcasts, though, with Fraser Cain of Universe Today. It's called AstronomyCast, and it's listed in my podcasting links.

(I knew she had a website up, but I hadn't checked it in a few months I guess. Oops. Sorry about that Pamela.)

Check our Pam's thoughts by hitting the Star Stryder link on the right side.

Comet Dust

I tried to observe a new comet that's out there - Comet MacNaught - but I was thwarted by fog and some clouds on the horizon. I got outside before dawn, to find there was no way I could see it that time.

This comet might be a great show when it comes back from its loop around the sun next week or so. I've got to see this, and add it to my ever-growing list of comets I have observed in my lifetime. I'm closing in on fifty.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

President Ford Lying in State

As of midnight last night, there are nearly 60,000 people downtown waiting in line for up to eight hours to pay their respects, as President Ford lies in repose.

The line starts on the other side of the Public Museum on the foot bridge over the river, down Monroe to Pearl St. Down Pearl Street over the bridge to just at the front of the museum, then doubles back to Monroe.

Then the line goes down Monroe past DeVos Place, and turns right onto Bridge St. It goes down Bridge past the Post Office to Scribner, then doubles back AGAIN to DeVos Place. There, you go inside and wind your way around like you're in line at Disneyland/Cedar Point (serpentine-like), then you walk across another footbridge across the river to the Ford Museum.

They estimate the line, if people were single file, would stretch over 5 miles long.

I went down there this morning, and the line at 8.30 was only about 1/2 hour long. When I left, it was up to 2 hours long.

It was something to see. More when words can be written clearly.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

President Ford's Homecoming

We welcome President Gerald Ford home to his final rest...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Dave Barry's Year in Review

Even though he doesn't write on a regular basis - column-wise - anymore, Dave Barry still stays abreast of current events. His annual "Year in Review is always a hoot, and for 2006 he had some science goodies...
...In other science news, thrilled NASA astronomers, in what they describe as a "smashing, surprising" discovery, announce that they have found evidence of pockets of water beneath the surface of Enceladus, one of the moons of Saturn, which strongly suggests -- as has long been suspected -- that astronomers do not get out much.

...the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a budget of over $3 billion, predicts that the 2006 hurricane season will be worse than usual. This item will seem funnier later in the year. In related news, the voters of New Orleans re-elect Ray Nagin as mayor, proving that Hurricane Katrina killed far more brain cells than was previously believed.

...In other rocket news, the troubled U.S. space program suffers yet another setback when the launch of the shuttle Discovery is delayed for several days by Transportation Security Administration screeners, who insist that the astronauts remove their shoes before they go through the metal detector. Finally, however, Discovery blasts off and flies a flawless mission, highlighted by scientific experiments proving when you let go of things in space, they float around, same as last year.

Outer space remains in the news in...

...when the International Astronomical Union rules that Pluto will no longer be classified as a major planet, on the grounds that it is "less than half the size of James Gandolfini." A top U.S. law firm immediately files a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Pluto, as well as "anybody else who has been hurt by this ruling, or has ever experienced neck pain."

On the weather front, the until-now quiet hurricane season erupts in fearsome fury in the form of Tropical Storm Ernesto, which hurricane experts, using scientific computer models, predict could become a major storm and inflict devastation upon Texas, or possibly Florida, or Connecticut. A state of near-panic sets in as millions of coastal residents jam gas stations, hardware stores and supermarkets, while many schools and businesses close. Tension mounts for days, until finally Ernesto slams into Florida with all the fury of a diseased fruit fly. Life slowly returns to normal for everyone except the ever-vigilant hurricane experts, who immediately begin scanning their scientific computer simulations for the next potentially deadly threat.

...In other good news, with four days left in the virtually storm-free 2006 hurricane season and still no storms in sight, U.S. weather experts, citing new data, predict that the season will end up having been very mild. This forecast turns out to be right on the money, but the experts waste no time on self-congratulation, as they immediately begin making scientific predictions for next year's hurricane season, which, they warn, could be a bad one.

Like I said, he's always hilarious.

The Year of Bond... James Bond

Well, it's 2007. Or for Bond fans, 007.

And in Australia, they rang in the new year with the Bond theme song.

Very cool.

Now let's see if 007 will be better than 2006.