Friday, June 29, 2007

Planetary Sunsets

Look at the image below....

Is it...
  1. The view from a planet around the star Gliese 581?

  2. The star of the doomed planet Krypton? See the stellar material being blown off the upper left? Soon it will explode, but not before a young Kal-El is sent to Earth, to his destiny?
Or is it just an ordinary summer sunset here on earth; the haze and humidity and rayleigh scattering turning the sun red.

Nevertheless, it was a great evening to photograph sunsets. No matter what planet you were on.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Carnival of Space #9

The ninth edition of Carnival of Space is ready for your reading enjoyment. This week it is being hosted by The Planetary Society's weblog.

Carnival of Space - 9th Edition

Tip of the hat to Pamela Gay. If I hadn't been reading her blog (which you can access in the menu at right) I would have forgotten all about it. I've been working on some photographs I shot a few days ago, and another post to the SpaceWatch astronomy blog.

So head on over and read this weeks' CoS (I should remember to submit stuff to it each week), and also check out Pamela's site along with SpaceWatch.

Someday I might get my act together. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Space on the Interweb

Well, as if I didn't have enough to do, I've started a blog for my local astronomy club. It won't go live until tomorrow (I'm rolling it out at the Summer Solstice), but you can go and take a look if you wish.

I'm trying the free version of Wordpress, just because I don't want to clutter up the club's domain at this time. If, in the future, it would be better to host it ourselves, I'll get the full version.

Meanwhile, check out Spacewatch

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Let's go to the Carnival (of Space)!

(I should have posted this Thursday morning, but was no where near a computer with internet access for a few days. Sorry all.)

The latest Carnival of Space (#7) is up and being hosted by Dr. Pamela Gay at her Star Stryder site. Head on over there and read the Carnival blogs.

And while you're there, read what Pamela has to say. There's a reason I have a link to her site on this one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Public Perception and the Night Sky

It's interesting to note that with today's hectic world where most of the people don't bother do go out and "hang out" in nature, that sometimes - being unfamiliar with the surroundings - they "see things." Something that might be "ordinary" to astronomers might lead to an "oh wow, what's that?" moment to someone who is not knowledgeable of the night sky.

Case in point: it's been beautifully clear here for a week now, and with the warm evenings people have actually ventured outside, casting aside the computers and the television. Perhaps its to work in the yard; perhaps to take a stroll around the neighborhood. And as the daylight dims through twilight into darkness, the stars come out. Now, if you live in, or close to, a city, you don't get to see many stars, so if something in the sky catches your eye, especially something bright, it piques the interest.

So I receive an forwarded email from a local meteorologist, asking me if I had any clue to what this guy saw. Apparently the person was outside and saw a "real bright light in the southeast sky, and a 'much larger' one in the west. If you are an astronomy geek, you already know what this person had seen.

Yes, someone had stepped outside and saw Jupiter hanging low in the southeast, and when they turned around, there was Venus glowing like a beacon in the western sky. And since these two objects are the brightest things out at night currently (since the moon is nearly new) they "pop out" of the twilight sky much earlier than the stars. And they get the attention of the public.

But why did this person see Venus has "much larger?" It's all in the eyes and the brain. In the same vein as the "moon illusion" but with a twist.

Especially in the night sky, a person's eyes and brain work together to fool each other into thinking that "brighter is bigger." This phenomenon is not type-specific to the general public, but also includes members of the astronomical (and other scientific) community.

All you have to do is go out and look at the night sky some evening. You will see a smattering of stars across the canopy of the sky, and you will notice one thing right away: some stars are brighter than others. And even though they are all point light sources, your brain is fooled into thinking that the brighter ones are larger (and sometimes closer). But that is not always the case, especially with stars.

Basically all the stars we see in the night sky are so far away from Earth, they appear as points of light. But stars are not equal: some are brighter than others, and some are closer to earth than others. But they are all far enough away to present a pinpoint of light to the human eye. But a combination of distance and brightness lead our brains to think that if a star is brighter, it's bigger.

So what does that have to do with Jupiter and Venus? Everything. Although Jupiter is much larger than Venus (142,984 km vs. 12,103.6 km), it is much further away from the sun (778,000 km vs. 108,200 km). This also means two other things - Venus is closer to the Earth, and - because it's closer to the sun - receives a greater intensity of the sunlight. This, combined with the makeup of the Venusian atmosphere, means that more light is reflected from the planet than from Jupiter.

Visually, the apparent diameter of both planets at the current time gives the size advantage (almost double) to Jupiter. So in this case, "size doesn't matter." It all has to do wither perception. Because Venus is the brightest object in the night sky - apart from the moon - our brain sees it as being larger than anything else up there. Eyes+brain -- brighter=larger. We have been fooled.

Hopefully my explanation to this person (via the meteorologist) will cause them to look up and the night sky more, and even perhaps begin a wondrous astronomical journey through the universe.

Or the next time they will think it's a UFO.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Out into the Black

Last evening, the space shuttle Atlantis leapt off the launch pad, setting a course to the International Space Station. They are bringing new truss segments, solar wings, swapping out crew members, and delivering supplies.

One of the items that is on the manifest, which was requested, is the DVD set of Firefly. It's funny. A television show that was canceled due to ineptness by narrow-minded corporate executives continues to live on, and is now going to be watched by people not living on the planet.

It goes to show that you can't stop the signal. There are Browncoats everywhere.

That is shiny!

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Curse of Perfection

"Well let me enlighten you people! This baby has satellite comlink. We've got on-board pulse Doppler, we've got NEXRAD real time. Today, we're gonna make history. So stick around. Cuz' the days of sniffin' the dirt are over." - Jonas Miller, Twister

And so goes the battle between technology and instinct.

Yesterday the word got out that there was a chance of some really severe weather in our area. All the signs looked right for a few days, and the media weather-panic machine was going into full "storm alert" mode. The one local station (which I've written about before, because they are evil) even has their meteorologists doing blogs on their websites, which the public can lave comments on.

Well, starting Wednesday the comments really began about the possibility of severe weather for Thursday. And yesterday morning they really ramped up, with some of the public comments bordering on really scared and frightened individuals.

So I got on there around 10.30 in the morning and tried to be the voice of calm and reason. That went over sort of okay, but there were some people on there - and I don't know their credentials - who were going on about how bad it was going to be in the area later in the evening and overnight. I kept up with the "everything's going to be fine," and at one point I basically said that there wasn't going to be any severe weather. Well, one voice in a choir isn't heard. And I said it more than once.


So I continue to make little comments there throughout the day, and in the meantime I'm on a weather forum talking about how I don't think we're going to get much. oh sure, there's tornado watches/warnings to the west in Wisconsin, but we have big old Lake Michigan between us, and it's water is still pretty cold. Storms that attempt to cross the lake don't usually make it, especially those that try it overnight when there's no heating from the sun. So despite what the meteorologists and the computers were saying, I didn't think we would get anything. Heck, I didn't even get out my chaser/spotter stuff.

In fact, at the 6pm news, the "evil media" station's meteorologist was still talking big, severe storms late at night, but the other station (which is not as evil) had their meteorologist talking about the storms moving to the south of us, and perhaps the local area getting nothing.

Well, just after 11pm the SPC (Storm Prediction Center) posted a tornado watch for our area until 6am. I thought it was a waste of a watch, and didn't pay any attention to it, and went to bed at my regular time.

Cut to 7.00am. I get out of bed, and look out the window. The pavement was wet (well, damp) but not soaked. The rain gauge said .02 inches of rain. Our patio, which floods when we get downpours, was dry. So there were no storms overnight, and especially no severe ones.

Once again, the media was crying wolf, and I was the voice of "reason." But since "Wolf!!" was being sounded so loud, I wasn't being heard.

So all these people yesterday were panicking for nothing.


I hate being right all the time. People just don’t understand what a burden it really is. :)