Sunday, June 27, 2010

Third Time's a Charm in Valparaiso

Saturday night was just what I needed! It seems like we’ve had nothing but rain and clouds for weeks. I still haven’t had any serious observing time alone, but that had to wait this week, since the Moon and planets made for great public viewing. My two attempts at sidewalk astronomy in Valparaiso during the week didn’t go over well, but for some reason people were in the mood to check things out Saturday.

Something was going on in front of the courthouse when I drove into town around 6 o’clock, but I didn’t check it out. Instead I went to Blackbird Café for iced coffee (of course, my readers should know that by now) and free wi-fi. I also took along my go-to optical tube assembly to try to get the secondary mirror re-aligned and collimated. Sarah, the girl I talk astronomy with there, came in, so I told her I was going to get out on the street when I was done and have a look at the Moon and Saturn.


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It was still early with plenty of daylight when I first hit the street, using just the Dobsonian for lunar viewing. Walking down the street with it, a nice older milf asked if I was using it to, um, check out women’s breasts. I said no, that’s what my binoculars are for! Seriously, she was flirting hard, and I should have tried to get her name and number (no ring on her hand), but when I went back to try to talk to her later she was gone.

All along the Lincolnway sidewalk were chalk murals, apparently part of a children’s art contest earlier in the day. Here are some of the ones I liked best.


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The last one is my favorite, even though the Moon phase is wrong. Something I can try to point out in the future!


Anyway, it was time to start lunar observations, in full daylight, yes, but the crowd was already dispersing, and I wanted to get some attention before dark. The corner of Lincolnway and Franklin had good pedestrian traffic still, and more importantly, a good view if the Moon.


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Quite a few people stopped by to take a look.


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Sarah, the girl I talk astronomy with at Blackbird Café, in the white dress, brought her friends down to see the Moon. They never came back to see Saturn though.


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A look at our Moon in the daylight.


It was a good spot to be seen early, but my car (with my other telescope in it) was parked a block west on Washington, and I knew that to see Saturn, I would need to be down that way. The Moon was just about to clear the trees at that corner, so I carried the big Dob back to what’s becoming my usual spot. Being closer to my car, I could keep an eye on it while trying to set up the go-to. As soon as I came down to Lincolnway & Washington, a group of unsupervised kids aged between 8-11 years old, I’m guessing, wanted to have a look. At first they were cool, but before long they were acting like smartass little brats, testing my patience. I was trying to set up the go-to, not even sure if it would be usable after my collimation attempt, and two of the boys were sticking their faces in everything I was doing. I kept asking them to back up, please don’t mess with that, but they wanted to push limits. I was almost done, and about to turn into a real jerk to keep these kids in line when they calmed down a little, had some last looks at the Moon, and left. I seriously need a rule about no unsupervised kids!



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Back to the corner of Lincolnway & Washington, where the Moon and Venus were waiting to be viewed.



After the kids left me alone, things slowed down some, but it was getting dark now. I was still busy with quite a few people, but I still had lulls when I could get more pictures of the sky.

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Mmm... These ladies smelled as wonderful as they looked.


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Troy and Maria, with their kids. Troy said, "Paulie, this is a good thing you're doing." The little girl also knew it was a waxing gibbous Moon, which brought a smile to my face.


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Just before 10 o'clock things slowed down, so I took some lunar shots and packed up.


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My set up at Lincolnway & Washington.


Wow, what a night. It was just what I needed after staring at clouds for what seemed like weeks. I'm still looking for a serious solo session soon, but in the meantime a good night of sidewalk astronomy always makes for an interesting night.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Miscellaneous Astronomy June 20-22

How did I get so far behind on posting? Even worse, I haven’t been keeping up on other bloggers and posts on the Chicago Astronomer boards, so I don’t know what my online astro friends have been up to. Time to catch up now.

I had been on a roll with sidewalk events, and some miscellaneous astronomy. Early Sunday morning, June 20, I snuck out of work with a couple coworkers (I’m not naming them, just in case) to try to catch Comet McNaught. Jupiter was up, so I let the guys check it out while I searched for the comet with my binoculars. Unfortunately, I didn’t know exactly where it was, so I found out later I was looking in the wrong place. It didn’t matter to them too much, not with the Galilean Moons getting some attention, and I pointed out that a cloud band went missing recently. I showed them the Andromeda Galaxy, which went over pretty well, but the Ring Nebula was a little too faint for them to pick up. Oh well, I guess my eyes are accustomed to it. The highlight though was a surprise visit from International Space Station. It doesn’t catch me by surprise very often; I think this was just my third unexpected ISS sighting. In most of Porter County, the majority of air traffic is heading west-northwest to Chicago, so anything going east-to-west really stands out, if you pay attention. Plus I remembered that the last time I checked heavens-above.com there were a lot of early morning ISS passes, so I was almost dead certain, but looked it up afterward to double check. By the time we went back inside, the Expedition 24 crew was already off the coast of Africa. Very cool.

Monday night, June 21, I went to see my friend Jim’s son play his last Little League game of the season, and brought out the go-to scope, but impending storm clouds and the Moon low in the winter ecliptic, behind the treeline, kept me from holding any observations. Just having the scope present though brought a few questions from spectators, which was cool.

Tuesday night I went back out to Westchester public Library in Chesterton, mostly because I needed to post some pictures on Photobucket, but decided to take advantage of the clear night and public setting. I hurried down to my car about 8 o’clock, an hour before closing time, to grab my scopes. Right away I had a couple of young twenty-something girls stop to have a look at the Moon, but I was still getting situated with the go-to when they went inside. They must have come back out when I was busy with something else, so no pictures with the cuties. :-(


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Two other women stopped by, and we chatted it up for a bit before getting a picture.


I was right in front of the main entrance, so the employees at the desk came out to have a look, and thought it was pretty cool. A few other people stopped either on their way in or out, so it took me awhile to get completely set up, but I ran an extension cord to a power inverter in my car so I could use my computer. I ran the Virtual Moon Atlas program, but didn’t use it much. I also hooked up my Meade Lunar & Planetary Imager from my Dobsonian telescope, showing the lunar surface on the laptop screen, which seemed to be a hit with the few people who saw it. Running from the Dob rather than the go-to meant it wasn’t tracking, but gave a better image, and I think attracted more attention as the lunar surface rolled by on the screen. I reminded me of watching old Apollo videos looking down as they were in lunar orbit. It’s something I’d like to try again, maybe once I have the go-to in perfect collimation (I still have a slight problem there).


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My set up, with my computer in the background.


Just before closing time at 9 o’clock, a couple of guys came out, Dave and Jeff, and wanted to talk about what I call junk science. Nibiru, alien bases on the far side of the Moon, and that sort of thing. Taking a cue from some of my online friends, mostly I just listened, and when I could, pointed out some good science. They threw out the theory that an early wayward planet came crashing into a planet that was forming between Mars & Jupiter, creating the both the asteroid belt and Planet Earth. I pointed out that the conventional theory of solar system formation says that planetesimals, basically asteroids, were common in the early solar system, but Jupiter’s immense gravity prevented a planet from forming at the distance of the asteroid belt.

I didn’t try to shoot down the theory that aliens have a base on the far side of the Moon because I’ve never seen the far side of the Moon. I did however tell them that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been taking high resolution images and suggested that they check out images on NASA’s website. We stayed out until nearly 9:30, and I let them have a look at Saturn before we left. Leave them wanting more, right?


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Parting shots, after everybody had left.

June Full Moon

With the Taste of Chicago starting Friday, June 25th, I decided I was going to skip June’s full Moon session with the Chicago Astronomers to avoid the crazy lakefront traffic and the outrageous fees the parking lot by the Adler charges during the Taste. That Friday I planned to document the Moon rise, stay up all night observing, and see if I could discern any darkening of the northern lunar limb during the penumbral phase of the eclipse. Valparaiso was too far east to see the umbral eclipse, but it would have been my first eclipse at all as an astronomer.

The Post-Tribune gave 8:09 PM CDST for Friday’s Moon rise, but with trees to the southeast, I knew I wouldn’t see it until a little later. The forecast in the paper called for partly cloudy skies overnight, with no mention of rain. I went outside and started setting up about 8:10, keeping an eye out for the Moon coming up behind the trees. I spotted the orange Moon at 8:29 through the trees, but it didn’t clear them until 21 minutes later, at 8:50.


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Where I expected to see the Moon come up. My notes say "not a cloud in the sky."


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First look at the Moon.

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I messed around a little while the Moon was behind the trees, taking pictures of the horizon, and through the Dob and it’s spotting scope.


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Of course I got some shots of the brightly lit lunar surface.


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I also first observed Venus at 8:33, getting some pictures of it as well. Once the Moon was above the trees I turned my attention to Saturn briefly.


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Venus when I first noticed it.

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Double Saturn. I probably moved the camera during the exposure. Cool.


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My only decent Saturn image of the night.

I noticed clouds moving in from the northwest, so I went to get a picture, and when I was heading back to the telescopes, I saw ISS coming up from the southwest! It was the third time in the week that it had snuck up on me, and it was a nice long 4 minute pass, high overhead.

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Venus, with the clouds moving in.


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I'm not sure if you can make it out in this picture, but ISS is passing to east-northeast, to the upper right of the neighbor's house.


After Station disappeared to the northeast the clouds became a problem, covering most of the sky, but they were moving, and weren’t threatening to obliterate the Moon, so I stayed outside, looking through magazines and books for interesting objects to observe if and when the clouds cleared. I had my computer set up too, going online every now and then. I caught Station again at 10:37, just long enough to know it was moving, before it disappeared behind the clouds.

With the clouds leaving me only the full Moon to observe, things got really boring for a few hours. I would get sucker holes through the clouds, but never long enough to track down anything.


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The Moon, not much higher than the trees.

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So I viewed the Moon occasionally, flipped through books and magazines, and surfed the net until about 1:30. The Moon, at very nearly it’s lowest point along the ecliptic for the year, was going to pass behind a tall tree, and I wanted to get pictures.


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Looking through the trees, with the leaves in focus.

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Neither Moon nor trees in focus.

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Moon in focus through the tree.

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View through the finder scope.

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There were clouds to the left of the Moon and tree which looked like the Milky Way. I wish my camera could have captured it better.


At 2 AM, though, the clouds finally engulfed the Moon too. I should have called it a night, and ordinarily, I probably would have. The forecast, as I said, hadn’t called for rain until Saturday afternoon, so I was determined to stay out to try to catch any possible evidence of the mornings partial eclipse. For two hours I messed around online, and never saw the Moon.


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Clouds finally taking the Moon from me.


At 4:05 I heard a strange sound, and quickly determined it was raindrops hitting the roof! I had both scopes out, my computer, observing magazines and books, and my binder of observation notes scattered all about, and it was a mad scramble to get everything protected. The computer immediately went in my book bag, dust caps went on the scopes, and then I started hauling everything to my car, the quickest and easiest safe storage for the moment. Wow, that was a close call. It really started coming down once everything was put away.

In hind sight, I dismissed what could have been a low distant rumble of thunder beforehand as trains, highway traffic, fireworks, anything but thunder. Needless to say, a storm rolled in, and killed all hope of catching any part of the eclipse, so I went to bed. What had started as a promising night of astronomy despite, and in fact because of, the full Moon ended abruptly in disappointment. Next time I’ll pay better attention to what the sky is trying to tell me…