Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Comets and more comets

Tonight was a milestone for me. I saw another comet. Now, that might not be big news for some, but it is for me.

Tonight I observed the comet 17P/Holmes, a small comet located in the constellation Perseus. This was an unplanned observation, but one I couldn't turn down. See, normally this comet is way below "normal" visibility. It takes a large telescope to see it. However, yesterday the comet brightened unexpectedly by a factor of 500,000 times! It went from "need a big scope" to "naked eye" visibility in a super outburst rarely seen. Sure, comets have outbursts, but nothing like this.

So I went out and was able to see it easily in the northeastern sky. It looked starlike, and to the uninformed they wouldn't notice anything different, but I had a sky chart for the comet, and it was easy to see that the constellation Perseus had an "extra" star.

So I got to see it, and I took a few photos. And the big news for me - it was the fiftieth (50th) comet I've seen in my years as an astronomer.

Cool, eh?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Feelings About Space

(Note: Over on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy site, some people responded to Phil's blog post about NASA mission and the shuttle. On the whole I tend to agree with Phil, but this time I have to take my own stand on the feelings about NASA, the shuttle, ISS, etc. So I posted this over there, and - since I wrote it - I am putting it here on my blog as well)...

Say what you will, but from a standpoint of “showing off” the wonders of the space program (and astronomy), there’s nothing like pointing out ISS (and the shuttle at times) going overhead to the public, especially at star parties. They are just amazed that you can see things like that.

And truthfully, no matter now many times I’ve seen ISS and the shuttles pass overhead in the night sky, I go out and look every time (unless it’s cloudy).

Some might think it’s “fluff,” but it’s also a teaching experience for the public. And any way that we can educate the public as to the wonders of science (instead of that other crap) — well, it’s a benefit.

I can tell you, in all the times we (in our astronomy club) talk about the shuttle and the station, not one individual is bored. They hang on our every word. The public is fascinated, no matter what the media says.

And personally, I feel just like a little kid again every time I see a launch, landing, docking, or even the shuttle and/or ISS going over my head. And if, after all these years, I don’t lose the excitement and wonderment, why should be be anything if not proactive in sharing it with the public?

Last week I saw the film In the Shadow of the Moon, and saw images of kids lying on the floor in front of the television watching Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface. It brought to my mind that I was doing the exact same thing at the same time as those kids on the screen - I was lying on the floor of my uncle’s house with my cousins watching the drama unfold from 240,000 miles away.

And even though it’s been nearly forty years, I haven’t lost the interest, wonderment, and amazement of space and astronomy.

So remember, no matter what you think about a certain part of the space program personally, don’t forget the underlying love you have for it in general.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

To the Moon

I just got back from watching the documentary film "In the Shadow of the Moon" about the Apollo program to send humans to the lunar surface.

It... was... excellent.

It makes a fine companion piece to the Al Reinart film "For All Mankind."

I'm going to see about sending an email to the people who made the movie, telling them how much I loved it, and hoping that there will be a multi-disc DVD of the film soon.

Go out and see it if you can.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It was 60 Years Ago Today....

The clear skies over southern California was ripped by a small, orange machine, and a sound never heard before issued forth from the cerulean skies... Boom!!!

The Sound Barrier was exceeded.

Congratulations to Chuck Yeager, the first. And just to prove he's still got it, just last month he went Mach 1 in an F-16.

(Tip of the supersonic hat to Phil Plait, who mentioned it at his Bad Astronomy site.)