Happy New Year

Home and a Snow Storm

Home and a Snow Storm

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. Since July this blog received about 9,200 views. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 15 years to get that many views!

   To all of my friends and acquaintances – both real and electronic

Happy New Year
Gëzuar Vitin e Ri
سنة جديدة سعيدة
З Новым годам
Sretna Nova godina
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
Bonne année
Glückliches neues Jahr
Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος
שנה טובה
Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh
Buon anno
Felix Novus Annus
Feliz Ano Novo
С Новым годом
Feliz Año Nuevo
Heri ya Mwaka Mpya
Gott Nytt År
Yeni Yılınız Kutlu Olsun
מזל ניו יאָר

Thank you for your support.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

ISS and Uranus

29 December - 6:42 pm CST

29 December – 6:42 pm CST

   After complaining about cloudy skies the other day I got a break last night and had very clear skies. As a result I was able to capture a sequence of images of the ISS flying over my part of the world. I use the Starry Night Pro program to simulate the flight path of the ISS so I can determine where best to aim my camera. My technique is basically to use a wide angle (18 mm) lens and once I determine the appropriate F-stop and shutter speeds I lock the tripod and wait until the ISS appears. Then I take pictures either manually from the laptop or with a digital cable release set to take a sequence of pictures. My preference, however, is to use the utility program that came with the camera. I connect the camera with a USB cable to the laptop and this gives me a real-time view on my laptop computer screen as well as remote control of the camera settings and picture taking. The camera is on a tripod several feet away to reduce any camera jitters.
ISS in Motion

click on the image to see it full size and animated

   During the fly-over the ISS was traveling toward the southeast and crossed the ‘Square of Pegasus’ asterism, and then past the ‘Circlet’ asterism in Pisces coming within a few degrees from the planet Uranus. The images are each 3.2 second time exposures – long enough to capture the dim stars making up the ‘Circlet’ – but also so long in the sense that in 3.2 seconds the ISS has moved enough to show up as a streak of light, like star trails in longer time exposures. This animated graphic is slightly faster than the actual event but I have set it to give a sense of how quickly the ISS moves and how its brightness increase, peaks, then fades.
Click to see this image larger   Looking toward the east were the stars of the Pleiades and, lower toward the horizon were Jupiter and the Hyades. Obviously I couldn’t resist!
   And then this morning there was a neat contrast between the reds and pinks toward the west, the setting waning gibbous Moon, and some high thin cirrus clouds.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

On Top of the World

No, It's Not upside Down!

No, It’s Not upside Down!

   For the past week we have not seen the Sun much – even nights have been cloudy, and the temperature has been below freezing for more than a week. So combining those conditions with thoughts of warmer climes, and recent correspondence (aka e-mail) with a long-time friend living in New Zealand brought back memories of a trip I took with my wife, Sue, to New Zealand to attend an Astronomical Conference in New Zealand.
   Remember the 80’s song by Men at Work that asked the musical question “Do you come from a land down under?” That lyric gained new meaning for me while at that conference. I was politely corrected when I said that I came down to New Zealand. “No, no,” my hosts said, “You came up to New Zealand.”
   Have you ever wondered why we refer to folks from Australia and New Zealand as being from down under? How did their neck of the woods become down under and ours, conversely, up top? How is it that north is assumed to be at the top of the Earth and south at the bottom of the Earth? For that matter, is there really a top or bottom to the Earth?
   Try this: Hold a ball in one hand. Touch the top of the ball with your other hand. Directly opposite this point is the bottom of the ball. Turn the ball around in random directions a few times and again touch the top of the ball. Turn the ball around in random directions a second time and again touch the top of it. Did you touch the same spot on the ball each time? Was the bottom the same each time? So where would the top or the bottom of the ball be? Think of the ball as the Earth and each of the spots that were the ‘tops’ as different places on the surface of the Earth.
Nosotros casa es su casa

Nosotros casa es su casa

   Now try this: Take either a reticulated Earth globe or a globe that can be taken off of its mounting and set it in a large cup or bowl that will serve as the base. Adjust the globe so that your location on Earth is at the top. Mark this location on the globe with a straight pin or matchstick held with putty. Next, rotate the base so that globe’s north pole is aligned with true north and it’s south pole with true south. The Earth globe is now positioned with respect to the Sun exactly as the Earth is positioned in space with respect to the Sun. (Note that the shadow of your marker will mirror the shadows of all other objects cast on Earth with regards to compass direction.) From this ‘space’ perspective, you are clearly at the top of the Earth. Notice what point on the surface of the Earth is directly opposite your location, or at the bottom of the globe.
   If there is land at that location, imagine your counterpart doing this same activity. Who do you think your counterpart would consider to be at the bottom?    Imagine doing this for other locations around the Earth. What does this tell you about where the top and bottom of the Earth is?
   Your answer would have to be based on your frame of reference (you are on top wherever you are). This, unfortunately, is not the traditional way of looking at things around the globe.
"Be Careful Opening the Overhead Bins"

“Be Careful Opening the Overhead Bins”

   It has been a common and accepted convention to think of north as being at the top and south at the bottom. This thinking has established our perceived understanding of our place on the Earth and the vocabulary associated with this line of thinking.
This Northern Hemisphere–bias has even influenced how many astronomy books depict the Moon and constellation patterns. To someone from south of the equator, constellations and Moon phases are upside down according to the Northern Hemisphere–based star maps.
   So, is there actually a top or a bottom to the Earth? It’s up (or down) for you to decide.

   Thanks to Eric Jackson for planting these ideas in my head!
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Full Moon and January Qué tal

Full Moonrise and a Star Party

Full Moonrise and a Star Party

   This evening the full Moon, or near full Moon depending on your time zone, rises around the time of local sunset. As shown in this graphic the Moon is near the waistlines of the Gemini Twins and is following the ‘Winter Circle’, or ‘Winter Hexagon’ asterism from east to west.

   The January issue of Qué tal in the Current Skies is now online. This issue features an article about Stars, brightness, temperature, and distance. In the ‘theater’ are two videos – about galaxies and the telescope.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Uranus at East Quadrature

Uranus at East Quadrature

Uranus at East Quadrature

   Ok- as having once taught middle school grades 6 through 8 I have always enjoyed this part of the lessons about the solar system. That is, when I can explain to students about a debate over the pronunciation of this particular planet. Of course saying ‘Your Uh Nuss’ is not as humorous as the kids preferred ‘Your Anus’! I like to describe this debate (with tongue in cheek), that there are two sides to the pronunciation debate – sort of split down the middle if you will. Eventually we get to the planet and its characteristics. Eventually.
Uranus in the Evening Sky

Uranus in the Evening Sky

   So what about this East Quadrature? This is a position of an outer planet with respect to the location of the Earth and the Sun. Outer planets at eastern quadrature are located at a 90o angle from the Earth and the Sun as shown in the first graphic above. This is one of the three positions that are used to describe an outer planet location during the Earth’s orbit around the Sun — not the outer planet’s orbit. An outer planet will be at eastern quadrature, then approximately 3 months later at opposition (Uranus-Earth-Sun), 3 months later at western quadrature, 3 months later at superior conjunction (Earth-Sun-Uranus), then the pattern repeats.
Uranus in Motion

Uranus in Motion

   So where exactly is Uranus (the correct answer is not behind you!!)? This outer planet currently rises before sunset local time and is over the southern horizon as shown in the second graphic above. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye, or at least right at the fringes of what we can see – so if your skies are really dark then you may be able to discern the faint glow of reflected sunlight from Uranus.
   With binoculars it will become, in a sense, one of the stars in your binocular field of view. In this simulated 7×50 binocular view Uranus is slightly brighter that the 6th magnitude stars nearby. To verify that you are actually viewing Uranus use this animated graphic as a star field guide. Wait a couple of weeks to allow the slower moving planet to move in its orbit. Then observe this same area to see if there have been any changes. This graphic starts with the Uranus near a pair of equal in brightness stars on 26 November. The graphic dissolves into showing the position of Neptune today, and then dissolves one last time to show where Uranus is with respect to the pair of stars.

   Here is a couple minute long clip from a video I produced that was used during a live music performance by the group Dark Matter under a 60-foot diameter planetarium dome.

This video doesn’t exist

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Luna, by Jove!

December 25th - 7 p.m. Local Time

December 25th – 7 p.m. Local Time

   Happy Holidays to all of my friends and readers of my humble attempts at writing interesting blogs about our place in space. Here is to a prosperous and healthy new year.

   This evening watch for the waxing gibbous Moon to be within a few degrees of the planet Jupiter. Within the field of view in binoculars you will be able to see Jupiter, Aldebaran, and the stars of the Hyades open star cluster, the v-shaped face of Taurus the Bull.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Luna and the Sisters

Click on this image to see it full size   The waxing gibbous Moon will be within a few degrees of the open star cluster the Pleiades as they rise in the east at around sunset local time. With binoculars you are able to see the two in the same field of view, however the bright reflected light from the Moon will dim out all but the brightest stars of the Pleiades. This evening with the Moon near the Pleiades starts another cycle of several evenings where the Moon repeats the same pattern from last month of passing through this region of Taurus the Bull, and the planet Jupiter. Use the link to my Qué tal web site at the bottom of the page for more observing information and graphics.

   Click here to preview the January 2013 issue.

phone-button   Bobs-Spaces is now Mobile for SmartPhones by way of a small icon/link that you install by using your smartphone web browser and this address: http://mobile.dudamobile.com/site/bobs-spaces
Mobile Bobs-Spaces   Here is what the Mobile Bobs-Spaces looks like on my aging ITouch after clicking on the icon graphic, which in reality is not an installed App or program. Clicking on the icon just connects you with the main page of my blogs. If you want to see Bobs-Spaces as a web page with all of the pages that are on the web site there is a link to switch to the ‘classic’ view.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Hanging from the Tropic of Capricorn

Hanging from the Tropic of Capricorn!

Hanging from the Tropic of Capricorn!

   With the recent change of seasons on the December Solstice I was reminded of a favorite teaching tool of mine. Developed in New Zealand, what may appear to be a unique design for a climbing frame is in reality a ‘unique design for a climbing frame’. However it is not just the design as this climbing frame is also an outdoor Planetarium of sorts. This is Pipehenge, and it is a climbing frame that is made specifically for the latitude where it will be installed. And when set up the Pipehenge is positioned to be aligned with local compass directions. PipehengeThere is a circumpolar ring centered on the North Pole star, or the South Celestial Point, a horizon bar, and bars representing the celestial equator, both ‘Tropic’ parallels, and several bars for Hour Circles. The structure of the Pipehenge is such that when seated on a stool in the center you could imagine sitting inside a Celestial Sphere.
   Update: Pipehenge and the desktop Earth-Space Simulator may no longer be available. An Internet search shows that the two web sites for Pipehenge and the ‘ESS’ are no longer available, aka no longer in use. The best references for the Pipehenge are on a web page written by one of the developers, John Dunlop of New Zealand. Also, click here to go to the Pipehenge YouTube web page to see a collection of short video clips featuring Eric Jackson explaining and demonstrating the Pipehenge model.solar_noon1
   Watch a short demonstration of the Portable Pipehenge by Steve Bevan.
This video doesn’t exist

ess   Bring the Pipehenge indoors with a desktop model called the Earth Space Simulator. This arrives in kit form and takes a short while to assemble into a hands-on model that simulates the apparent motions of the sky for any time of the year and for any latitude. It is an ideal teaching tool, for example, the effect latitude has on the Sun’s daily and seasonal apparent motion from sunrise to sunset.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

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Watch This If You Are Still Here

   Well, assuming that the world has not ended you may be interested in watching a video produced by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. 2012: Mayan Prophecies discusses the Mayan calendar and the real reason we should learn from the Mayans.
   Click here to learn about other videos and educational products.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

The End is Near, Here, or Not


This gallery contains 19 photos.

   This picture album is dedicated to the paranoia, gullibility in all of us, plus our ability to laugh at ourselves once in a while!! Enjoy!             Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies … Continue reading