We Are Here!

   I just had to share this! Be advised that there are some ‘F-bombs’ and other lesser swear words.

“We live in the cosmic equivalent of an f***ing cul-de-sac.”

                                (from the Onion — of course)

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

A Snake, Bird, and a Cup

Click on this graphic to see it animated

Click on this graphic to see it animated

   Above the southern horizon during the northern hemisphere mid-winter pre-dawn hours is an interesting grouping of four constellations of which three are centuries old classical constellations linked together in mythologies, while the fourth constellation, Sextans the sextant, is a ‘modern’ constellation.
   As perhaps the longest constellation the stars of Hydra the Watersnake, known in mythology as the many-headed snake that Hercules battled, meanders across the sky from east to west.
   According to mythology the constellation’s great length represents the long time it took for Hercules to defeat Hydra. Hydra had nine heads, and as Hercules found out, simply cutting off each of its heads was not sufficient to slay the snake. For as soon as one head was cut off, two more would grow back in its place. So, in order to defeat Hydra, Hercules had to burn each decapitated stump. The Sun’s progression in the skies down the length of the constellation Hydra represents Hercules’ progress in killing the snake.
   During northern hemisphere summer, the Sun is in Cancer the Crab as Hydra’s head rises in the East. Both Leo and Virgo stretch end to end, parallel to the snake’s body. So as the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Sun appears to move from Cancer eastward into Leo, and then into Virgo. Throughout this period, the Sun’s light drowns out more and more of the stars in Hydra and the ‘fire’ from the Sun sears the stumps as Hercules continues to successfully cut off additional heads.
corvus-crater   Riding on the back of Hydra are two inconspicuous constellations, Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup . These two constellations have been associated with the god Apollo. Crater has been known as Apollo’s goblet, and Corvus has been known as the bird of Apollo that sometimes performed special deeds for him.
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.

NetworKing with NASA

   How difficult is it to maintain contact with the many satellites in space near and far from the Earth? Quite a challenge but yet manageable. And now thanks to the folks at the NASA Ames Research Center they have developed and released a mobile and online version of a simulation called Space Communications and Navigation: NetworKing .
   As a player you will be working on developing networking systems that grow increasingly more complex as missions and their needs increases. Beginning with a near-Earth network system you will gradually grow that into the Deep Space Network while along the way you will be managing the system, making repairs and upgrades, and also unlocking ‘special’ missions.

   Click here to go to the simulation web site to either download the PC, MAC, or iOS version, or play the simulation online.

   Click here to read the NASA press release.

Hurricane Issac From Space

Hurricane Isaac: 2 Views

Here are two contrasting views of Hurricane Isaac as it approaches the Louisiana Gulf Coast, and New Orleans.
One view is of the hurricane taken by NASA’s AQUA satellite yesterday afternoon (28 August).
The second picture is a night view of the gulf coast as seen through the lens of the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi-NPP satellite, (Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership). “Suomi NPP is NASA’s next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth.”

Click here to see a night image of the hurricane taken early this morning (29 August)

Tracking Hurricanes

Watching the weather news coverage of Hurricane Isaac had me go off in search of software or online resources for tracking this hurricane as well as past hurricanes. There are computer programs, and apps for smartphones however I decided to stick with online resources. So with that in mind here a few of the many web sites that will allow for observing hurricanes whether it is for home/personal use or for use with students in the classroom.

Screen Shot

TV Station WRAL in Raleigh NC maintains an interactive hurricane tracking and modeling web site as shown in the graphic.
On NASA’s Hurricane resource web site there are many links under the Educator’s page leading to videos, podcasts,posters, and other resources relating to hurricane study as conducted by NASA.
Faculty at Pennsylvania State University have developed a hurricane tracking web site, the Real-time Atlantic Hurricane Forecast, where a variety of maps and graphics are displayed showing location and path of each hurricane selected.
The National Hurricane Center, of the National Weather Service, is probably the ‘goto’ web site for things relating to hurricanes, or weather in general.