Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Is "Romantic" Astronomy Dead?

On CNN's site today is a link which says "Technology is taking romance out of astronomy." It's about Geoff Marcy and his search for planets outside of our solar system. In the article, Marcy is quoted as saying...
"There are no eyepieces anywhere. In fact, we don't have an eyepiece for the Keck telescope... Some of the romance of astronomy is gone."
He's absolutely correct, in my opinion.

Now, I'm not a Luddite. I know that the advances in technology are allowing us to peer farther into space than we have ever done before, opening up new vistas of wonder to the scientific community. But it is impersonal.

I remember having a conversation with a colleague a few years ago as we were sitting in one of the domes of our observatory doing some imaging. We were using a Paramount system, with the latest and greatest CCD cameras and filters. Sure, we were getting tremendous results, but it was antiseptic; there was no real work involved.

The telescope guided itself, the dome moved by itself, the filters changed automatically for each of the exposures. We just sat there in the dark and talked, looking out of the dome opening. Heck, we didn't even really need to be in the dome.

Our conversation was about the so-called progression of the art of astrophotography over the years. As we sat there letting the computers do all the work, I complained that the image would be good, but there's just something about putting a film camera to a telescope, meticulously focusing the image, and then being extra-extremely meticulous is keeping a star in the crosshairs of a guiding eyepiece for up to an hour at a time (in all kinds of temperatures) that gives a person more of a sense of accomplishment than just letting the scope and computer do all the work.

To take a photo with a film camera takes time, patience, and experience. The person earns the resulting photograph. With electronic imaging, you get a pretty picture by sitting around doing nothing. It takes no expertise at all to make a couple of mouse clicks and sit back in a lounge chair for a while.

(I'm not going to talk about the time it takes to manipulate the image in Photoshop or something like that. This has nothing to do with processing of images).

Technology is wonderful, but we are losing something in the transition. Wonderment is being supplanted by instant discoveries. The search is what is important to learning, in my opinion.

And it's not just the high-tech imaging that is ruining astronomy: it's other technology as well. Just try to get someone to go out and look up at the night sky; to put an eye to an eyepiece. Especially today's youth. Why would they want to, when they can sit in their homes and look at "pretty pictures" on the internet? Why take the time to learn the beauty of the night sky and take your own photographs when you can download a great Hubble shot? In this "age of the internet" people "want it now" without any exertion. Click and download, don't do it yourself. Sure, I think the work by Hubble and other instruments are glorious, and they serve a purpose. But photographs that I have taken personally mean more to me than anything I can download. They are personal; it was my knowledge and expertise that brought the image to life.

And this extends to astronomy and science in general. I said above that it's hard to get people to look up. Just try to get those same people to name constellations, or to point out a specific star or planet? Well, I can. I can go out and travel throughout the cosmos because I am familiar with the night sky. (Sometimes I think the people who swear they see "UFOs" wouldn't see them if they knew the night sky).

Some people say "I don't have time for stuff like that" but they can spend their time on frivolous things without thinking twice about it. I say if you have an interest in something, you make the time for it. You don't make excuses.

For me, my relationship with the cosmos is a personal one. It allows me a deeper understanding of the Universe because I take the time to learn. I don't "want it now." And so I pity those who don't spend time out under the stars.

Take the time. Gaze upwards. Experience the wonder of the Universe above you.

And bring a friend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Saving the Night Sky!

I have been an astronomer for most of my life, and even after all these years I love "looking up." It never gets old. I can observe the moon, the planets, nebulae, galaxies, and everything else in the cosmos time and time again without losing my sense of awe, amazement, and interest. I want to know more.

But one of the things that screws up the view of the night sky is light pollution. It gets worse every year, and not much is done about it. The public is misinformed by the companies that make lighting fixtures, and even the power companies. But there have been studies and studies that show that many lights to not a secure place make.

Soon it will be impossible to see the night sky from even the suburbs. Forget about the cities already. But things are being done, thankfully.

I just ran across this link, and it piqued my interest. It's a "Declaration in Defence of the Night Sky."

From the site.... This initiative is designed as an international campaign in defence of the quality of the night skies and the general right to observe the stars, open to the participation of all scientific, cultural and citizens' associations and institutions related to the defence of the firmament.

We definitely need to save the night skies for the generations to come.

Please do your part.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Channeling the New Astronomers

Last night was the inaugural edition of International Sidewalk Astronomy Night where amateur astronomers the world over set up and bring the wonders of the night sky to the public.

Dr. Pamela Gay has written a great article about this on Sky & Telescope's website, so go check it out.

Unfortunately for my area we were cloudy, so nothing could be celebrated. But it's sure to go against next year.

And also unfortunately, since it was cloudy I missed out on taking some photos of the Moon/Venus apparition. It' snot that I don't have dozens of images like that already; it's just a chance to taken more. And as a photographer and an astronomer, who can pass up the chance if it's available.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Evil Media

I’m going to vent here for a bit, because things like this tick me off.

There’s a local television station here – WOOD-TV – and they are about the worst example of a “news organization” that I have seen (although my friends in Los Angeles tell me that WOOD is tame compared to the stations out there). They (WOOD TV8) are the epitome of “If it Bleeds, it Leads.”

It seems like if there is something shocking, horrendous, or scandalous, it will be a Top Story on their station. They ignore “normal” things; nice things.

Case in point: Our astronomy club tries to get some publicity from local media for when we have open houses at our observatory, and other events. The other two main stations in town – WZZM and WXMI – have no problem giving us a plug on their newscasts and weathercasts. But WOOD? No way. We have tried and tried and tried, but they just won’t give us the time of day. A former high-up employee at WOOD told me last month that “if you don’t kill, rape, assault, or molest anyone, WOOD TV isn’t interested.” And this guy was a very popular personality on there, until they let him go, and kept some stupid air-head bitch who tries to pass herself off as a “kids reporter.”

In fact, it’s so bad that last year, when asked by WOOD to provide a graphic for them to use to promote us, they – after it was painstakingly made and submitted – never bothered to use it and, never gave us any publicity at all. The image was of a young lady using one of our large telescopes, and it showed that not only are kids interested in astronomy, girls are as well. Their excuses are “we don’t have any time to devote to that,” and then emailed about it, they don’t even bother to respond to the emails. The one time I called them, one of their head weather people said “I can’t tell what is email from people and what is from our blogs and forums, so I just don’t read them.” That’s a terrible thing to say: it just is proof that they have no respect or interest in the common people of the area. They believe they are better than the public. Well, they’re not. Not by a long shot.

They never know what they are doing, truthfully. Last spring there was a bright meteor observed in the sky, and did they call any of the experts of the local astronomy club? No, they got a hold of someone about 50 miles away, who – on the air – said it was probably a UFO. Oh My God.

Right now as I type this, there’s a possible tornado about 100 miles south of us. Out of their broadcast area. But is that stopping them? Heck no. They are live giving “breaking reports” about something that they know nothing about.

If you are a normal, law-abiding person, who never gets into trouble, you will never be on WOOD TV8 or have a story about you. But if you are a suspected murderer, rapist, molester, or abuser, they will make you a star. The have no morals, no honor, and no integrity. They are the scum of the earth.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Life is a Dark Room

But not a Darkroom. I'm selling it. "Everything Must Go!" "Best Offer!!"

Here's a list of what I have...
1 – Beseler 67C Enlarger w/B&W Head
1 – Beseler Dichro 67 Color Head
1 – Beseler pm2L Color Analyzer
1 – Omega Color Analyzer
1 – Beseler 2.25x2.25 Negative Carrier
1 – Beseler 35mm Slide Carrier
1 – Beseler 110mm Negative Carrier
1 – Beseler 126mm Negative Carrier
1 – Beseler 35mm Negative Transport
1 – Beseler Analite 300
1 – Patterson Negative Focuser
1 – Negative Focuser (needs mirror)
1 – 11x14 Speed Easel
1 - 8x10 Speed Easel
1 – 5x7 Speed Easel
1 – 3.5x5 Speed Easel
1 – 8x10 Combo Easel

1 – GraLab Timer
2 – Unicolor Uniroller Base Units
1 – Unicolor 8x10 Paper Drum
1 – Unicolor 11x14 Paper Drum
1 – Unicolor Film Roller w/4 Negative Reels
1 – Omega Stainless 2-Reel Negative Tank w/2 Reels
1 – Omega Stainless 1-Reel Negative Tank w/1 Reel
1 – Stainless Film Tank w/2 Reels
1 – 110mm Plastic Negative Reel
3 – 11x14 Plastic Paper Trays
2 – 8x10 Plastic Paper Trays
3 – Cesco-Lite 8x10 Plastic Paper Trays
1 – 8x10 Paper Safe
6 – 16oz Chemical Bottles
4 – 96oz Chemical Bottles
6 – Negative/Paper Clips
1 – Kodak Color Print Filter Viewing Kit
1 – 8x10 Paper Squeegee
1 – Yankee Safe-lite SL-2
1 – Kodak 32oz Beaker
1 – 16oz Beaker

How much, you ask? As much as you're willing to spend. The two Color analyzers were originally over $500 each.

I'll take $800 OBO for the set.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Faint, Fuzzy Comets

Earlier this evening I managed to observe two of the comets that happen to be zooming around the solar system - C/2007 E1 Garradd and C/2007 E2 Lovejoy. We had a visitors' night at our observatory, and after the public left we got down to the business of looking at faint fuzzies.

I had the charts for the comets, and they were pretty easy to spot, as long as one was dark adapted. Garradd was low in the southwestern sky, but was visible as a smudge in the eyepiece of the 16-inch SCT. Lovejoy, hanging around in Draco, was a might easier, and stood out among the background stars.

All I need to do is observe two more comets, and I'll have reached the big 5-0. Yep, I have seen forty-eight comets as of tonight.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Really Big Bang

About the largest thing in the Universe is a supernova. There are a couple of different types, and they all have different levels of energy, but the Chandra Observatory may have discovered a brand new classification.

This supernova was over one hundred times more powerful than any witnessed before and, according to the press release...
"That means the star that exploded might have been as massive as a star can get, about 150 times that of our sun. We've never seen that before."
-- Nathan Smith, UC Berkeley
They believe that what happened with this star is the same thing that could happen to the massive star Eta Carina, which is light years closer to us here on earth. This supernovas, cataloged as SN2006gy, was 240 million light years away in the galaxy NGC 1260. Eta Carina is only ~7500 light years away, and if - well, when - it blows, it could conceivably effect life here on earth.

You can read more about this in the Chandra Press Release.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The "Wally Show" Closes

I just found out that Wally Schirra, one of the Original Seven Mercury Astronauts, passed away today in California.

Yahoo News about it

I titled this "The Wally Show" because when he flew on Apollo 7 with Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham, their antics caused some at NASA to call the mission the Wally, Walt & Donn Show."

Of the Original Seven, Only Scott Carpenter and John Glenn are left.

Godspeed Wally.

Wally's Website

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Snakes & Arrows

That's the title of the new Rush CD, out in stores today.

I've heard the whole thing a few times, and I can definitely say this....


That's right, I don't like it that much. Oh, it's not their worst album, but it sure isn't the best. Scale of 1 - 5, I give it a 2.

Sorry guys.