In Space No One Hears You Scream!

the martian   Some time ago I read a novel by Andy Weir called “The Martian” and wow, I haven’t read such an enjoyable and engaging story in a long time – and I read a lot of books. In this story one member of a 6 person crew exploring Mars is left behind through a series of circumstances where the other crew members thought he had died. Well, he did not die but he was stranded on the planet by himself with no hope of rescue unless he could survive for the next few years until the next crewed mission to Mars arrives. Part of his survival involved being able to traverse nearly 3000 km of Martian terrain to where the next mission would be landing.
The book is written as if you are reading the near daily journal written by the main character Mark Whatney. The journal entries follows his adventures and misadventures as he struggles with coping with the extreme Martian environment, loneliness, Disco music, 70’s TV shows, and various mechanical mishaps. Fortunately Mark is a mechanical engineer and a botanist, and with that sort of background he is able to jury-rig equipment to suit his needs and also to grow the first crops on Mars. There is much humor in the story due to Mark’s personality, as well as some use of the ‘F’ word, but, WTF, nothing that is out of the ordinary given the prevalent use of the word nowadays.

map   From a classroom perspective I could see this book being read by students (High School or above) and having the students use a topographic map of Mars to follow the story and perhaps learn something about the geology of the ‘Red Planet’.
Click here to download a topographic map of Mars from the USGS web site.

On a related literary note click here to download and read one of my Scope on the Skies columns which in part describes a ‘road trip’ on Mars.

Here is a PDF version of the ‘Mars road trip’ idea that I expanded into a classroom activity from a recent workshop. Red Planet Road Trip

Use this link to go to the NASA Mars Trek web site. At this website you use a map of Mars and use images and data from several lander, rover, and orbiter missions to explore Mars.

Use this link to go to the NASA Mars Education web site by Arizona State University to downlaod a fun and very educational board game about mission planning for a trip to Mars called Mars Bound.

Here is a NASA web site about the future of Mars exploration: Journey to Mars There is a lot of good information about Mars that would serve well as resource information to use before or after reading the book or watching the movie.

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

A Comet and A Galaxy


   Comet PanSTAARS is steadily moving outbound from the inner solar system and its flyby of the Earth and the Sun earlier this month. The comet is still visible to the naked eye but is more of a challenge to see given that it is getting dimmer each day as well as competing with the later time for the sky to darken. Here in the mid-west we have not had more than 1 or 2 evenings with a good clear sky since I returned from Arizona two weeks ago so that further compounds the viewing problem. However forecasts are calling for clear skies for a few days next week – which is encouraging as I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to see more of the comet before it is too distant and becomes too dim to see easily.

   This series of graphics below simulating the field of view through binoculars, follows the comet as it passes some of the stars of the constellation Andromeda the Princess and then the Andromeda Galaxy, M-31. The slide sequence ends on April 16th when, according to the software I use, the comet dims below 6th or 7th magnitude thus becoming to dim to see with the naked eye. Over the evenings of the 3rd and 4th Comet PanSTAARS will be within a few degrees from the Andromeda Galaxy offering an interesting photo opportunity.

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

Preview Issue of April Qué tal

wordpress-voki   As the subject line states, the April preview issue of Qué tal in the Current Skies is now online and available at this temporary web address:
   It will be at its regular web address in a few days.

   Thank you for your support and encouragement.
   Clear Skies…
   Bob Riddle

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

Jupiter Rising with the Moon

March 23 - 7 p.m. CDT

March 23 – 7 p.m. CDT

   This evening, 23 March, the waxing gibbous Moon rises around 4 pm local time and by 9 pm local time the sky has darkened enough to make the bright Moon really hard to miss. (Now if I had said this to my grand daughter she would probably reply in her 6 year old voice, “Seriously…, grandpa?”).
   Seriously, the bright star that rises after the Moon and, as the Earth rotates, follows the Moon across the sky toward the west is the heart of Leo the Lion, the star Regulus. The animated graphic below shows the stars of Leo and the waxing gibbous Moon at 9 pm local time. All of the stars forming the asterism shape for Leo, the backward question mark and triangle, are labeled, and the stars are connected with lines to show the constellation pattern.
dogs   In the third image of the 3-picture sequence the triangle forming the lion’s tail is not drawn but the star Denebola, making the triangle’s point, is used as one of the four corners for the ‘Diamond of Virgo’ asterism. The opposite corner of the ‘diamond’ is the reddish star Arcturus belonging to the constellation Bootes the Herdsman. The upper star of the diamond is Cor Caroli, on of the stars belonging to the constellation Canes Venatici, the ‘Hunting Dogs’ used by Bootes to drive off a bear according to one sky story. And off to the left are the seven stars making the asterism the Big Dipper, part of Ursa Major ‘the Great Bear’.

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

March 2013 Equinox

   Today is an equinox day meaning that for us in the northern hemisphere winter is ending and spring has sprung. For our counterparts south of the equator summer is ending and fall is beginning. From a geographical perspective we would describe the Sun as being over the Earth’s equator, and as this graphic shows there would be an equal amount of daylight and night on our planet as a result.
    At the equator the sun is directly overhead and from that latitude you have no shadow, just a ‘blob-like’ shadow at your feet as this picture of my feet taken at mid-day in Quito Ecuador shows.

    Regardless of your hemispheric preference get outside and cast a shadow!

  Northern hemisphere spring begins at 6:02 am CDT when the Sun reaches the celestial coordinates of 0 hours and 0 degrees as it moves northward along the ecliptic crossing the celestial equator. To learn more about the celestial coordinates click here to read a previous post about seasons and the equinox.

   Click here to see the online world sunlight map used to make the day/night graphic above.

   Click here to go to the NASA Sun-Earth Days web site.

   Here is a short series of hourly pictures taken during the day on the September equinox on the equator in Quito Ecuador at Collegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, a private school that I visited and did the SunShIP project with (Sun Shadow Investigation Project).

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

Comet PanSTAARS Is Still Visible

comet-students    Comet PanSTAARS seems to have brightened since my last observation from Tucson last Thursday evening. It was cloudy last Friday and I was traveling back to Missouri over the weekend so last night after class was my first opportunity since I got back home. This is a picture of the comet taken from the Longview College campus with parking lot lights behind us. we were looking across the Kansas City metropolitan area so in addition to the parking lot lights we were dealing with the sky glow from the city lights. Nonetheless the comet was easily seen in binoculars and with the naked eye. Picture was taken at 8:30 pm CDT.

   Here is a short slideshow of pictures of the comet.

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

Jupiter Meets the Moon

mar17   This evening as the Sun sets look southwest above the horizon for the waxing crescent Moon. It will be within a couple of degrees from the stars of the Hyades, a v-shaped open star cluster that forms the face of Taurus the Bull. This graphic is set for 10:30 pm while the banner is set for 8:25 pm because at that time Comet PanSTAARS will still be above the horizon.
   Click here to see the banner full-size showing the location of the comet. (This is a graphic simulation and the tail is really not that long nor is the comet that bright as the banner graphic shows.)

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

Star Party

   My daughter, granddaughter, sister-in-law, and I went to a star party held at the Canyon View School yesterday evening. This was also a chance to say hi to Larry Lebofsky, an astronomer educator I met sometime in the past. This was a very well attended event with the active part of the event in the school’s multi-purpose room. There were several tables set up with activities and displays of everything from a lunar rock sample disc, to meteorites (Hi Larry), The IDA (International Dark Sky Association) explaining the importance of dark skies and proper outdoor lighting, a NASA mission (OSIRIS-REX), and other activity tables. My grand daughter got to make an alien, design some space jewelry, learned about meteorites and even got a small piece of a meteorite. Outside telescopes were set up by the Tucson Amateur Astronomers for viewing the waxing crescent Moon, Jupiter, Comet PanSTAARS, and whatever else time would allow for.
   When we went outside the lines for viewing through a telescope were longer than the line to a ladies rest room! However the crescent Moon was shining brightly but did not diminish the comet’s visibility that much. And since we all had been viewing the comet the last several evenings we passed the lines and walked further out into a field where I took the silhouette pictures.
   This brief slideshow is from the star party.

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

ISS, A Crown, and A Tree

Corona Borealis

Corona Borealis

   This morning, 13 March, the ISS (International Space Station) flew over the Tucson area. The ISS reached an altitude of 85 degrees during its 5 minute fly over from the southwest to the northeast. corona2 I was able to easily follow it as it tracked across the stars of the ‘Northern Crown, Corona Borealis as this cropped portion from one of the pictures shows, and then ‘set’ through the branches of a tree in the northeast corner of the yard as the slideshow below shows.
   The brightest star in this small u-shaped curve of stars forming this constellation is Gemma, or Alphecca
   For those that want to know, this picture and the pictures in the slideshow below were all taken with the following lens settings: Focal length – 18mm; Aperture – F3.5; Shutter Speed – 1.5 seconds. The length of each streak represents how much distance the ISS covered each 1-2 seconds.

   Click here to learn more about the International Space Station at the NASA web site.

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


12 March: Scroll Down for Updates

comet-close up   This evening, 11 March, I drove to a favorite scenic view point of mine at an elevation of 6000 feet on the Catalina Highway heading toward Mt. Lemmon and the small town of Summerhaven, AZ. This scenic view point was the same location I viewed a partial lunar eclipse last year from. And from this vantage point there is a good view toward the western horizon. The comet was bright enough to be seen with 10×50 binoculars and just barely without them.
group   While waiting for the Sun to set and the sky to darken enough I took several pictures of a group of folks who had hiked out on a ridge for a rocky but spectacular view of the sunset. This picture shows one of the group taking a picture of the others. Click on the graphic to see a full-size picture.

   Here is a short sequence of images of the comet as it was setting.

12 March:moon-comet-close
   This evening comet and Moon viewing was from Gates Pass, a mountain pass west of Tucson. The comet was easily seen with binoculars and once the sky darkened enough the comet was fairly easy to see with the naked eye. Having the thin crescent Moon nearby helped with seeing the comet. Click on the picture to see it full size.

   Here are some additional pictures of the comet and Moon.

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