Friday, December 24, 2010

Comic Relief from Snow and Clouds

Just a quick post today. I saw this in Wednesday's paper and thought I would share it, with a short commentary.

Hi & Lois Comic Strip, 12-22-2010
Credit: Brian Walker, Greg Walker, Chance Browne.

First and foremost, use due caution when observing visually with the Sun up. I don't know if snowflakes are "really cool" or not through a telescope, but I know that accidentally viewing the Sun without a filter, even for a second or two, can cause permanent eye damage. Second, of course you can see a star during the day; there is one in plain sight in this strip! The Sun! But again, and this is vitally important so I don't mind repeating it, use proper filters or the projection method to observe the Sun. Finally, Ditto and Dot might enjoy watching the snow fall, but I'm getting sick of seeing it.Sure, it's still fun to play in when I can, but nowadays snow causes more problems for me than it's worth. Snow means clouds, and clouds mean no astronomy for Paulie.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tomorrow's Total Lunar Eclipse

I have been looking forward to tomorrow's total lunar eclipse, but the forecast for the Chicago region is not looking good. It is clear at the moment, but we are still about 30 hours until totality. As we say in the region though, if you don't like the weather, wait 10 minutes: it will change. And change it most likely will. Snow is expected tomorrow night. If you have clear skies tomorrow, though, here are some things to look forward to for this eclipse.

Credit: Larry Koehn.

Check out Lisa Beightol's Astronomy video.

With the winter solstice occurring later in the afternoon Tuesday, this is the first winter solstice eclipse since 1638. During the eclipse, the Moon will also occult the asteroid 348 May

Predictions for Chicago area observers by Curt Renz.

Curt also informs us that an hour after the eclipse, the Moon will conjunct with open star cluster NGC 2129.

I am still uncertain where I will attempt to observe the eclipse from, but Adler Planetarium is hosting an eclipse viewing party, and I may wind up there.

Of course, there are citizen science projects collecting data. John Westfall is collecting naked eye contact times. There are also crater timing projects. However you observe tomorrow's events, enjoy the rarity of this solstice eclipse and hopefully we will all enjoy a clear sky. Good luck!

Quick weather update: snow is on the way.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Morning Venus- WOW!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

As an amateur astronomer, I've had people ask me lately what is the bright "star" in the early morning. Of course I tell them that their "star" is actually planet Venus, although I've only seen it under good conditions once since it reappeared in the morning sky. I know it recently peaked at a maximum brightness of magnitude -4.7, but knowing it's magnitude is no substitute for observation. I went out to look Wednesday morning, and even I couldn't believe how bright Venus shined! I can't print here the words I said when, but you can probably guess. Wow. Seriously, wow! Wow. Wow! WOW. WOW! WOW!!! No wonder she gets mistaken for a UFO!

Venus, about 6:15 Wednesday morning.

It was still visible just before sunrise at 7:06 AM.

If you haven't seen Venus in the morning sky yet, it's worth getting up early to see it. Even without a telescope, this is an impressive sight, and the last two mornings of 2010 will be even more spectacular. Venus will be dimming slightly, but on December 30th and 31st will be joined by a waning crescent Moon. And be sure while you're out to look for the brownish colored "star" to the upper right of Venus, Saturn! On December 29th, Saturn will make almost a right triangle with the Moon and Venus.

Venus is the most brilliant planet in our night sky. Please make a point to brave the early morning cold to see why the ancients equated this planet to the goddess of beauty and love.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wisconsin Man's Awesome Planetarium Project

I checked the private Calumet Astronomical Society’s group discussion board earlier this week, and saw a post from a former member who has relocated to Texas. He’d seen a story on CBS News (be sure to watch the video, too) about a Wisconsin man, Frank Kovac, who loves astronomy, but couldn’t pursue a career as a professional astronomer. Kovac harnessed his passion for the night sky by building a planetarium in his backyard. He built the largest moving globe planetarium in the world; pretty impressive for an amateur astronomer.

Winters here in Northwest Indiana are harsh enough, so I’m not going to drive to northern Wisconsin to see Kovac’s planetarium for awhile, but I’d like to see it next spring. Admission for adults is $12, and reservations are required, but Kovac personally delivers the presentations. I admire Kovac’s dedication, and really hope that this turns into a success, attracting amateur astronomers from around the country, and anybody else curious about astronomy. I feel that it’s important to get word out to support Frank’s efforts, especially because they are so closely related to what I do with People’s Astronomy. Check out the Kovac Planetarium website, and if you get a chance, make a trip to Wisconsin to say hi to Frank, and thank him for his hard work. Hopefully in the coming months I will be reporting my experience at Kovac Planetarium. Good luck Frank!

Follow these threads on Chicago Astronomer and