Friday, July 18, 2014

Sunrise on Crater Ptolemaeus, July 4, 2014

As you may or may not know, I love lunar observing. I can't seem to resist staring at Luna whenever she is up, and if I have the chance to get my telescope out, I can explore the lunar surface for hours. On the evening of July 4, I skipped attending Independence Day fireworks shows, and went down to Conway Observatory, to see the close apparent conjunction of asteroids 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta, and other observations. Of course, the not quite first quarter Moon sent plenty of photons to my telescope's primary mirror.

Early in the evening, I noticed that the "Snowman" of Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus, and Arzachel, were right along the terminator.

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As Luna continued through her orbit, I compared views through two 5" refractors that my friend Bill was testing, and he had the power cranked. I noticed a streak of daylight starting to fall across Ptolemaeus, then went back to my 6" Dobsonian to photograph it.

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After that, I kept checking periodically to see how the light and shadows were falling on the crater floor of Ptolemaeus.

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Finally, just before 11:00 PM, only a couple long shadows from the eastern rim of Ptolemaeus were falling across the crater floor.

By that time, I had found the space rocks in conjunction in Virgo, and was observing them, looking for proper motion, and helping my friend Javier find them, so that he could image the asteroid pair. My lunar observing was pretty much over for the night, and Luna was already low, seen through turbulent atmosphere, where observing is worst, and imaging is nearly useless.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

2014's "Super Moons"

When I got into the hobby of astronomy six years ago, I had never heard of a "Super Moon." In the last few years, though, it seems that at least one full Moon each year has been called a "Super Moon" by the media. This year we have a whopping three "Super Moons." As an avid lunar observer, I absolutely detest this term. It's misleading. Naked eye, I cannot tell a difference in the size of the full Moon from month to month.

Michael Bakich has a great article on "Super Moons" in the August 2014 issue of Astronomy magazine. While Bakich states that the term "Super Moon" "beats the astronomical term, perigee syzygy Moon," I disagree. Give me the geeky name, and let folks use their Google skills.

The first of these three 2014 "Super Moons" will be Saturday, July 12. Here in Northwest Indiana, the Moon will reach the moment of "full" at 7:04 AM CDST according to Arlington Heights astronomer Curt Renz, not long after the Moon sets. Of course, seeing it close to the horizon, just before it reaches full, it will no doubt look bigger because of the Moon Illusion. From North America, you could justifiably call either Friday or Saturday night's Moon "full," although Friday the Moon will be more fully illuminated.

Curt Renz has nice graphics showing the relative distances of the full Moons for 2014, seen below.

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For full resolution, and other Moon related graphics, go to

It just so happens that I observed both the June 2013 perigee (closest) full Moon and the January 2014 apogee (farthest) full Moon. While I can tell that the June Moon appears slightly larger in my images, keep in mind these were taken at 60x magnification. With the naked eye, the difference is rather negligible. 

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June 2013 perigee Moon observation at Valparaiso's Central Park Plaza.

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January 2014 apogee Moon observation in front of the Porter County Courthouse, in the extreme polar vortex cold.

For more on this year's "Super Moons," try the following articles.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Close Conjunction of Ceres & Vesta Observed, July 4, 2014

This weekend, asteroids 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta made a close conjunction, only 10' apart. I observed this at Conway Observatory in Lowell, Indiana on the night of July 4, 2014.

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For full details of the observation, and a GIF of the asteroids by my friend Javier, check here.

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Javier's first image of the asteroids.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Discovering Your Universe: The World of Public Astronomy

My Astronomy Talk at Valparaiso University

April 4, 2014

In 2008, I was taking classes at Purdue University's North Central campus. For the spring semester, I took an introductory astronomy class. I was just beginning to watch the night sky on my own, and it seemed like the perfect time to take the class. It was great learning the science of astronomy at the same time I was learning my way around the sky. Our first class observation was cancelled due to weather. Since a visual observation was required for the class, and because it gave me projects to work on to learn the sky, I started doing some of the alternate observing projects, just in case our second observation session was also cancelled. One of those alternate observations was to attend an observatory open house at Valparaiso University.

On April 4, 2008, I made my first visit to Valparaiso University's observatory for an open house. I saw Saturn, the Orion Nebula, Mars, and globular cluster M3 for the first time in a big telescope. I've been back for observatory open houses when I can ever since.

In 2009, the astronomical community celebrated 400 years of telescopic astronomy with the International Year of Astronomy. The Valpo University physics & astronomy department incorporated the spirit of IYA's emphasis on public outreach by having public lectures before each observatory open house. They were enjoyed so much by the public, faculty, and students that the department continued holding public talks before observatory open houses, though scaled back to only one or two talks per semester. Professors Dr. Bruce Hrivnak and Dr. Todd Hillwig have given some of the talks, and hosted visiting lecturers from other universities and institutions. I've attended quite a few of these talks, though not all of them, unfortunately.

Earlier this year, Calumet Astronomical Society contacted Valpo University's Dr. Bruce Hrivnak about speaking at one of our monthly meetings. He graciously agreed, but also asked if some of our CAS members could give a talk about amateur and public astronomy before their observatory open house on April 4. I was asked soon after to participate in the talk. I couldn't resist.

I had about five weeks to create a presentation, and worked on it in most of my free time. I worked on it almost right up until the moment of presentation. I had no chance to rehearse the talk, but being focused on my own experiences in astronomy, I was familiar enough with the material that practice wasn't absolutely necessary.

On April 4, 2014, exactly six years after my first visit to V.U's observatory, I had dinner with Dr. Hrivnak and his wife Lucy before the presentation. During dinner, we discussed our different paths to astronomy, and our different methods of observing the sky. Though I only understand the basics, I'm fascinated by the work of astrophysicists. Never before have I such an opportunity to ask questions of an astrophysicist, or had one ask so many questions of me. It was both flattering and humbling.

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Richard Loslo of Calumet Astronomical Society was also speaking, though for some reason, his name wasn't included on the promotional flyer. I had no idea what Richard was going to talk about, and he had no idea what I was going to talk about, but as I watched his presentation, I knew that it would complement mine well. I finalized my PowerPoint slides on my lunch break at work earlier in the day, and had not rehearsed at all. I really didn't know how long my talk was going to be. Between the two of us we had fifty minutes. I nervously checked my watch while Richard was speaking, wondering if I would have enough time for my presentation. Through dumb luck, our timing was perfect.

My friend Chris from my atheist social group had offered to record the presentation, and did a great job producing this video of the talk. Eleven members of the atheist group came to support me, Steve from CAS, and my friend Jayde who teaches STEM on mock space missions at the Challenger Learning Center in Hammond. Jayde captured the picture below.

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I hope you enjoy the video. Thanks to Chris for donating his time and equipment. Thanks to Dr. Hrivnak for inviting Calumet Astronomical Society to speak at their astronomy open house, and thanks to all my friends who came out to see our presentation. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy night, so there was no observing afterward.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I Love My Long Distance Observing Partner

See this beautiful woman? Her name is Nancy, and she is a Scorpion. Also, I'm in love with her. I think about her constantly, and have for months. I wish I had known her back when I used to write all the time. I want the world to know I love her, but I will settle for the few who stumble to my blog. I don't know what I would do if she never talked to me again. She kept me company from afar through the Geminid meteor shower last year, and other observing sessions. Those pretty blue eyes have not yet looked through any of my telescopes yet, but they will. Someday. But not soon enough.

I love you, Nancy.