Friday, August 31, 2007

Eclipse Observing

I know this is a few days late, but what the heck.

Tuesday morning's eclipse is now a few days past. It was a really great show, especially out over Lake Michigan.

My brother and I left around 4.30am to get to Grand Haven pier, in order to have a nice, flat horizon in which to see the eclipse. Plus, I had a thought about some great photo opportunities.

We had to walk about a half-mile from where we parked to the pier (because there are closed gates all over the place at night - you would think they were trying to keep people out), and just as we got to the beach the moon because fully immersed in the umbra of the Earth's shadow. It was a darker eclipse than I had seen in previous years, and the cameras came out. While we were shooting, there were some interesting side notes.

We weren't the only ones there. There were other people on the pier to see the eclipse, and some of them had cameras. We talked with one woman for quite a while, and she was hoping to get some nice images. She was from the Grand Rapids area, and had been to the observatory years ago, and promised she would be going out there again.

I also ran into Steve, who has been a frequent visitor to the observatory in the past few months. He had thought the pier would be an excellent place to see the eclipse, so he came out to hang out on the beach. I spent a little time explaining eclipse physics to him, and hopefully he came away with some good information.

As it got lighter I wanted an image of the moon next to the lighthouse, so I left my brother and walked out past the one lighthouse to the end of the pier. There, I was able to get a shot of the fully-eclipsed moon - which was dimming in the rising light of morning twilight - next to the lighthouse. I then turned around and shot the bigger lighthouse bathed in the glow of said twilight. I could even see Venus low in the eastern sky through the thin clouds.

We ended up leaving around 7.15, since the sun was up and the moon was down. As we walked back to our car, the woman we had been talking to drove by and waved. Hours later, my brother actually ran into her at Meijer, as she was shopping with her kids.

All in all it was a good morning, except I was dog tired all day, and even on Wednesday. Now to hope that the next eclipse, in February, will be clear. But it's Michigan, so...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

WOOD TV - Evil Weather

Okay, this is an outright rant against local television meteorologists. I'll warn you right now.

I've raged against the evil media a few times before, and I'm going to do it again.

Today we had some severe weather in the area. There was a possible tornado just to the northeast of my location. It was a TVS (tornadic votex signature) on the National Weather Service radar. Now, that happens a lot of times. Most of the time it's nothing. But a warning was issued for the area, and the meteorologists at WOOD TV went into full "storm attack panic mode."

They went on the air with the warning, and didn't get off for over three hours. Other stations did what they were supposed to: report, show the radar, and get back to regular programming. Oh, but not WOOD TV. They have to waste everyone's time, and possibly creating a panic, by "beating the horse to death" (incessantly talking and not having information). They bothered people up in the affected area with phone calls (at one point talking to the sheriff up there, who said "we have seen nothing that you are talking about").

That's the funny thing: they ask people to call in, and then when they do, the meteorologists ask them questions they couldn't possibly know, and also feed their fears. They are asking pointed questions, and people are scared. How low can a person go? Oh yeah, it's all for ratings.

At one point one of the meteorologists said "The NWS radar is tripping," which is usually that another TVS alarm went off. But the other meteorologist said "oh no! What that happens, it's catastrophic!!" What!??

And then, when there wasn't much happening from the tornado area, they started in on some storms down by Chicago. "This is going be a derecho, and I don't know why the NWS doesn't call it that." Once again, they were sensationalizing the facts. There was no derecho, just a standard MCS (mesoscale convective system), and it was over 100 miles away. But they turned their full attention to it, going as far as calling one of their daughters in Chicago to get her "take" on the storm. She's not a meteorologist!!!

I think they finally got off the air for the evening news. It was about damned time.

I hate WOOD TV Channel 8 and all they stand for. They are nothing but bottom feeders, leaching off the publics fears and frustrations. They are the "National Enquirer" of local news. They are beneath contempt.

And for the meteorologists, who are supposed to be scientists, I loath even more. As a scientist, you are supposed to remain calm, in control. You are supposed to observe the data, record the data, and formulate your results. You use the scientific method. You don't sensationalize the information.

Yes, you have to make the information palatable for the viewers, the public. But give them the information - don't inflate it!

To the Weather Department at WOOD TV: You have no honor. You have no integrity. You have sold yourselves and your souls. You are beneath contempt. You can scum. The dregs of humanity. And I will tell everyone I can how terrible you are, and what a disservice you do to the public and media at large.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Google Astronomy

I don't know if you heard about this yet - I just did a few hours ago -

It's part of the latest Google Earth, and you can check out the sky from wherever you are on earth.

You can zoom, pan, etc. I have not yet played with it yet, but will soon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Endeavour Lands Safely

The space shuttle Endeavour landed safely a few minutes ago at Kennedy Space Center.

Thank God I was wrong.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Changes - Birth and Death

The week that was saw the announcement of the new, and the departure of the old.

A friend of mine from Hollyweird called me last Wednesday night, and announced that he and his wife were expecting their first child. Great news.

Then, about an hour later, storms rolled through the area where I used to hang out in the summers when I was a kid, the small town were my Dad grew up. There were two EF1 tornadoes, plus a wider microburst that destroyed my grandfather's barn.

That barn was easily 120 years old. My cousins and I used to play around in that barn all the time, despite our mothers' cautions that "it was dangerous." Heck, I think the cause of my first tetanus shot was messing around in that barn and cutting my arm on a rusty nail. But it was a fun place to hang out for a bunch of young boys.

And now it's gone. Just the memories remain.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Shuttle NOT to be fixed

Right now on NASA TV the Mission Status Briefing they are stating that there will be no spacewalk to fix the tiles on the underside of the orbiter. There is "no danger to the crew." "I am 100% confident that there will be no problems."

Famous last worlds.

I'm sorry, but in the immortal words of Han Solo: "I've got a bad feeling about this."

I don't know, and I'm the first to admit I don't have all the data, but my gut tells me that this decision could be trouble. And the time is 9.47 PM EDT on August 16, 2007.

If - God Forbid - something happens, it will spell the end of the shuttle mission right away. There will be no more ISS contruction missions, no vitally important mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. We will not have the capabilities to launch people into orbit until 2014 with Orion.

Please God, let me be wrong.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Random Synapse Firing - Part 34b

Last night at our observatory, the subject of photography came up. We spent time talking about CCD photography, and shooting with regular cameras. We imparted some knowledge to the public who were in attendance for the observatory's open night, and I didn't think anything more about it.

Until about a half hour ago.

Mind you, until I can find the money (or a benefactor - anyone out there?) for a digital SLR and equipment, I'm working with film. And there are times when i just want to go out and shoot photos for the heck of it. When i do that, my standard statement is:

"I'm going out to waste film."

Now here's the dilemma. If I ever go digital, what happens to my quote? You can't really "waste" a digital image. Can I really say "I"m going out to waste pixels?"

Now you see the conundrum I am in.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What's up with Birthdays?

Disclaimer: I am neither confirming nor denying that today is my birthday. That really doesn't matter (trust me, the number of people who actually know can be counted on less than one hand) but I just don't "get" birthdays.

Maybe I'm getting old, but I don't see the big deal. It's kind of embarrassing, all the attention. People that really know me understand that I vehemently avoid attracting attention to myself. I don't talk about myself, I don't flaunt what I do, I try to remain in the background. I just think it's wrong to boast about your accomplishments. Isn't it like a sin? You know... Pride? Vanity?

So when people (mainly my folks) try to wish me a happy birthday, I get mad. I usually spend the day away from everyone, don't answer the phone, etc. I guess I don't see the big deal about birthdays. I don't know what I would do if there was a party. Good thing that it won't be happening before we are hit by the rogue asteroid. :)

Other people celebrate their birthdays. Heck, they throw their own parties. But I've never thought that was a good idea. It's very self-centered, I think. Oh well, I guess I'm the weird one.

I did have this kind of wistful, hopeful feeling that I would find that , as a present, I was given a new camera, but I know that my folks can't afford it. And it's kind of a matter of personal pride (I hope it's not the wrong kind of pride) that I've bought all my own photography equipment over the years. I would love to buy my own digital SLR. Here's the one I would love to have:

And of course a couple of great lenses, ones that I can use for astronomy, plus portraits and weddings.

But that stuff costs money. Money I don't have, because I don't have a job. And at my age, it's an embarrassment (especially to my folks, who I can't help but think I'm a disappointment to them) not to have a job. I need to work on that. But I know that if I had the digital equipment, I'd be more motivated to go out there and do photography.

Oh well. rant/musing over. Back to science later.

Godspeed Endeavour

The space shuttle Endeavour has successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, and is now on orbit. Head over to SpaceWatch Michigan for a post about the launch.

This launch is cool for me personally, but I can't tell you why. :)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Phoenix Has Risen

At 5.26am EDT, the Phoenix spacecraft sat atop a fiery tail as it ascended into the early morning skies over Cape Canaveral, beginning its journey to the Red Planet.

Next stop - Mars in May of 2008. Phoenix will land near the North Pole region of Mars, and will study water in the Martian soil, as well as take other measurements.

Follow the mission from the websites at NASA and Arizona University.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fresh Apollo Images!!

This I am really excited about.

I read the enws release this mroning that NASA amd Arizona State University have hooked up to present pristine digital images of the Apollo missions. This is so cool! Here's part of the press release...
Nearly 40 years after man first walked on the moon, the complete lunar photographic record from the Apollo project will be accessible to both researchers and the general public on the Internet. A new digital archive -- created through a collaboration between Arizona State University and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston -- is making available high-resolution scans of original Apollo flight films. They are available to browse or download at
Any fan of the space program is going to be bombarding that site to grab these images. What a great way to start of the morning (in fact, I can see the waning gibbous moon out my window as I write this).

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Happy Cross Quarter Day!!

Isn't it wonderful?

Plus, last night the harvest began, as I was able to pick the first tomato of the year. Ah, such sweet, bountiful goodness.

Ini other news, we still have idiots - er, people - who think that Mars is going to be something really great to look at this month. Silly people. There have been many hits on the page I put up on the astronomy club's blog, and I have no idea how many hits have been on sites like Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy. But there's probably more than a few.

The one thing that sucks about August (there's more than one, and friends of mine know that big "suckage one") is that this is the month where we lose daylight like it's running down a drain. Now, as an astronomer, I like the darkness as much (if not more) than the next person (as long as they're an astronomer), but I love the long days of summer.

Case in point. Today, the sun will set here at 9.04pm EDT. On August 31st, the sun will set at 8.19pm! We'll lose 45 minutes of sunlight in the evening. Sunrise today was 6.33am, sunrise on the 31st? 7.05am. Another 1/2 hour lost. So in the month of August, we lost 1.25 hours of sunlight. Bleagghh.

But the good side to that is more darkness in which to observe. Which is always good.

As long as there are clear skies.

Finally, a shout out to AstroGeek, who I found added this site and my astronomy club's blog to his blogroll. I have since reciprocated.