Venus and Regulus Are ‘Tight’ With ISS

Animation Set to 1-Day Intervals (Oct. 1 to 6)

Estimated Local Time

    For the past few weeks the planet Venus has been steadily moving eastward toward the Sun. It is now closing in on the star Regulus in Leo the Lion. This coming Wednesday, the 3rd, Venus will be about 0.15o from Regulus – so close that to the naked-eye they may seem as one star. Venus is very bright at a magnitude of -4.0 compared to a magnitude od 1.3 for Regulus. At the least the brightness of Venus will ‘overshadow’ Regulus.
    ISS Watch: This week there will be several opportunities for catching a look at the International Space Station. And on the morning of the 3rd there will be two opportunities about 90 minutes or onnce around the Earth at Space Station speeds!

ISS- Venus – Regulus

    The first pass, for my area, at around 0512 am CDT, will only be about 1 minute but it will take the ISS across the horizon past the stars of the Big Dipper and coming very close to Venus and Regulus.
    Ninety-four (94) minutes later, at 0646 am CDT, the ISS will again be visible, this time for around 5 minutes. However the sky will be considerably brighter but the ISS is very bright and should still be visible.
    I use the NASA web site, ISS Sightings, to get the times when the ISS as well as the supply vessels will be visible from my home. The web site calculates for many countries, states, and cities, and the times are very accurate. It is easy to find your home city or town, or the nearest one.
    I then use the Starry Night Astronomy program to get visual information as well as the graphics I use for the pictures and animations.
    A fun thing to do is take someone who has never seen the ISS outside and at the right moment say look there as you point to where the ISS first becomes visible above the horizon.
    An alternate to the NASA web site is the Heavans Above web site.
    Here is a short video clip showing the two ISS passes for my area.
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Streaming Geology Style

Martian Stream Deposits

    NASA Scientists with the Curiosity Rover mission have announced seeing water carried deposits in the form of an outcrop they have named “Hottah”. The outcrop is named after a large lake in the Canadian Northwest Territories.
    The image to the right has been cropped from the larger image but nonetheless shows that the small outcrop is a conglomerate, a sedimentary rock that is a mixture of rounded and smoothed rocks held together with natural cements. The shape of the rocks is an indication of the stream or river action that moved them along as they gradually became more rounded and smoothed by the tumbling action of the moving water.

    This is a particularly exciting discovery in that there is considerable evidence for flowing water on the surface of Mars in formations we know as channels. However this is the first time we have actually seen stream bed sedimentary deposits on the Martian surface.

    Click here to read the NASA press release

OWN Your Own Astrophotos

    Last night’s class was a lab using images the students had requested last week from an automated-telescope located at the Whipple Observatory in Amado Arizona. The telescope we used is part of a network of 6-inch reflector telescopes equipped with a CCD camera that are accessible via the web site. The web site, OWN, Observing With NASA, is maintained through a joint venture between NASA and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Unprocessed Image

    From the OWN web site you will be able to request images of a variety of objects including the Sun, our Moon, planets, galaxies, nebula, and even asteroids. Allowing a couple of days for your image(s) to be taken you will then receive an e-mail notification that your images are ready for download. Once downloaded the images, in the FITS image format, are then loaded into the MicroObservatory Image Processing software and processed. The FITS, Flexible Image Transport System, is not the typical GIF or JPEG type of image file as the FITS image contains all of the data collected by the CCD. By having all data within the file allows it to be processed more so than how a graphic editing program would.

Processed Image

    Images may be taken as a single black/white image, or with one of three color filters – red, blue, or green. The most popular selection seems to be the request for 3 images using each of the three color filters. Once the three images are downloaded and processed the result is an RGB, or color, image.

    There is no fee for using the OWN system, and the MicroObservatory software is free and is available in PC, Mac, and Linux versions. On a PC the software is extracted from the downloaded file into a folder. Since the software is not actually installed on the computer that means it can run from a Flash Drive or from a CD – which usually makes the IT folks happy!

    If you are close by and would like a workshop for teachers or for a classroom get in touch and we will work out the particulars. No charge but I may ask for lunch!

    Click here to go to the OWN web site.

A ‘New’ Comet

Animated Image Showing Comet Motion

    The Astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy have just announced the discovery of a comet, C/2012 S1 (ISON), that has the potential for putting on a spectacular display between November 2013 and January 2014 for observers in the northern hemisphere. Currently the comet is beyond the orbit of Jupiter at approximately 6.25 au from the Sun, and is extremely dim with an apparent magnitude of around 18. Based on pre-discovery data from the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Tucson Arizona, the Pan-STARRS Survey in Hawaii as well as with imagery from the Remanzacco Observatory, current predictions call for the comet to pass very close to the Sun, 0.012 au, during November 2013, and then passing within 0.4 au from the Earth in January 2014. If predictions hold up the comet could become naked-eye visible reaching negative magnitude values.
    Magnitude values for celestial objects are given as either positive or negative values with brightness increasing with negative values. For example the planet Venus is currently shining at around -4, Jupiter is about -2.5, and the stars of the Big Dipper are around +2 to +3.
    Click here to go to the Remanzacco Observatory blog to read more about this discovery and see images and orbital predictions, as well as about other small solar system bodies observed by the Astronomers there.
    And as always when making predictions about comets – “Comets are like cats – they both have tails and both do what they want to do.

Are We Curious?

    In a recent Letter to the Editor in the Kansas City Star newspaper a reader sort of went off about and against the current mission to Mars. “‘Curiosity’ space waste’“. The current mission to Mars is described as a waste of money and the letter writer questions “who cares”, except “those making billions of dollars.”
    Consider the name of the Rover – Curiosity. That is an apt description of who we are.
We are curious

    Without that curiosity the computer I am typing this on, the Internet it will travel on, even the machinery at the newspaper building, are just some examples of what curiosity is capable of doing. Not to mention learning more about ourselves and our planet.
    As an educator and parent (the same thing) I cannot imagine a world without curiosity – for myself as a life-long learner, or for those I am teaching. If we do not instill and nourish curiosity, encourage asking questions and seeking answers we will continue to fall further behind many other countries who apparently value education more than we do. Our great country currently has fallen to 14th in Science Education and 18th in Math Education. There is certainly something wrong about that.
    As for the “billions of dollars”, that was money spent for jobs in our country. What’s wrong with that?
    I care, and I’m sure I am not the only one.

New National Monument – Chimney Rock

    This past week President Obama designated Chimney Rock, a rock formation in southern Colorado, as a national monument.
    Chimney Rock is a sandstone formation consisting of two side-by-side pillars or towers that are coincidentally arranged such that at certain times the rising Moon is framed by the two towers. These certain times occur for a 2-3 year period centered on an 18.61 year cycle that is called the ‘Major Lunar Standstill‘. The Moon, like the Sun, rises and sets at different positions along the horizon throughout the year. For the Moon this repetitive cycle culminates with the Moon rising at its furthest north position which places it between the two Chimney Rock towers for a couple of days each month. The most recent cycle of lunar standstills ended in 2007 meaning that the next cycle of lunar standstills will not be until 2022.

Interestingly there are other chimney rocks:
Chimney Rock Park, North Carolina
Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Nebraska

Cavities of the Solar Kind

    A recent visit to the dentist now has me scheduled for another visit this week to take care of a cavity so this Press Release about coronal cavities from NASA caught my eye (teeth).
    A coronal cavity is thought to be the precursor of a CME, or coronal mass ejection – extremely large and massive amounts of Sun stuff ejected into space. Sometimes the area of a CME is on the Earth side of the Sun resulting in the solar particles traveling across space and colliding with the Earth’s magnetic field. The result is seen as Aurora Borealis and Australis, northern and southern lights respectively, and often as interference with radio communications.
    Astronomers hope that from studying the shape, density, and temperatures of these coronal cavities they will better understand CMEs, how they develop and importantly their effects on our planet.
    Links from the press release to the ‘solar fleet’ of spacecraft observing the Sun.

It’s Equinox Day!

    Today is an equinox day meaning that for us in the northern hemisphere summer is ending and fall begins, while for our counterparts south of the equator winter is ending and spring has sprung. And as the graphic shows there is an equal amount of daylight and night on our planet.
    At the equator the sun is directly overhead and from that latitude you have no shadow, just a ‘blob-like’ shadow at your feet.
    Regardless of your hemispheric preference get outside and cast a shadow!

    Click here to see an online world sunlight map.

When Day = Night

    The spring season for the Northern Hemisphere starts around March 20th.
    What does it mean when we say that a season starts? The answer to this question, in part, is based on a system of grid lines that, while similar to latitude and longitude, are not on the surface of the Earth. These lines are the celestial, or sky, grid and are literally an extension of the Earth-surface grid system into the sky. When we can extend the Earth’s equator skyward, it becomes the sky equator, dividing the sky around us into a northern and southern half. Further divisions of the sky north and south of the sky equator are known as lines of declination, whereas on Earth these are parallels of latitude. The celestial sphere is also divided into 24 sections similar to meridians of longitude. However, these lines are known as hour circles of right ascension, or hour circles. Hour circles are numbered from 0 to 23. The intersection of these hour circles and lines of declination determines a celestial object’s coordinates on the celestial sphere.
mar-equinox   For example, (using the northern hemisphere) the Sun passes through the 0-hour circle at the start of spring, and it passes through the 12-hour circle at the start of fall. Additionally the Sun’s position relative to the sky equator at this time, its declination, is 0-degrees – the Sun is ‘on’ the equator. This information, the object’s hour circle and declination, are enough to locate its position on the celestial sphere. However, an additional line can be added to the celestial sphere to show the daily changes in the Sun’s position in the sky throughout the year. This line, known as the ecliptic, represents the path the Sun seems to follow throughout a year. The Sun seems to move eastward along the ecliptic, with respect to the stars in the background, because of the Earth’s orbital motion about the Sun.
   This graphic shows a portion of the celestial sphere and grid system of hour circles and lines of declination. The Sun is located at the point where the ecliptic crosses the sky equator. At this intersection, the Sun has coordinates of 12 hours, 0 degrees. This, then, is when northern hemisphere fall starts. While these figures give its coordinate position, the Sun can also be described in terms of the constellation it is in (actually in front of), as viewed from Earth. Thus, at the start of northern hemisphere spring (March) the Sun is in Pisces the fishes, while in the fall (September), we would say the Sun is within the boundaries of Virgo.
   “Equinox” is derived from the Latin, meaning equal night, and when it occurs, the Sun rises due east and sets due west everywhere on Earth except near the poles, giving us 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime. During the summer, the Sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest, and during the winter, the Sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest in the Northern Hemisphere.

Earth, Space, and Life

   Earth: What is it like in a volcano crater during an eruption? Go to Geoff Mackley’s web site for some incredible videos and pictures from his project to get inside an active volcano on a volcanic island off of the Australian east coast.
   Space: From Kevin Margo is a short (8 minute) video, Grounded, about an astronaut stranded on an alien planet.
“One astronaut’s journey through space and life ends on a hostile exosolar planet. Grounded is a metaphorical account of the experience, inviting unique interpretation and reflection by the viewer. Themes of aging, inheritance, paternal approval, cyclic trajectories, and behaviors passed on through generations are explored against an ethereal backdrop.”
   Life: I first saw this animated short video several years ago and considering the content of the Grounded video I thought this would sort of compliment Grounded. The Beauty of Life is done by Moritz Bunk.
Get some tissues ready!