Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’

Next total solar eclipse in Atlanta

Posted: 4 August 2009 in Uncategorized
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I already knew Wolfram|Alpha could do some cool astronomy calculations, like comparing the escape velocities of the Galilean moons.  A recent W|A blog post also pointed out that you can calculate the next lunar eclipse.  So I tried to see when the next solar eclipse would be for my area and it came up with a partial solar eclipse in 2014.  Skip that and go to the next and it turns out there’s going to be a decent one in 2017.  As a reminder, I sent an email to myself via FutureMe.  It’ll be interesting to see if a) I’m still using gmail in 8 years, b) if FutureMe is still around sending emails, and c) if we can still see the sun.  Man, I love W|A.

Total solar eclipse in 2017

Total solar eclipse in 2017

Lunar Eclipse February 20, 2008

Posted: 21 February 2008 in Uncategorized
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Last night was the last total lunar eclipse for two years and it was quite good. Pittsburgh weather cleared long enough for me to snap a couple shots of the unobstructed moon with Regulus (the brightest star in the constellation Leo) bright above it and Saturn even brighter to the bottom left. There was still a light haze that I think made it difficult for me to get the focus right. I was able to capture the rich, red color while the moon was still exposing a sliver of sun-drenched rock. Then the clouds came in earnest and I was getting tired, so I went to bed, missing the full umbra. But at least I got to see some of it this time. Last time there was a lunar eclipse, I was completely out of luck.

Total lunar eclipse from February 20, 2008.  A sliver is still exposed to the sun. (more…)

Rumors are brewing that Microsoft is going to announce the release of a new product called Worldwide Telescope later this month. WT should allow users to zoom in on parts of the sky for which data exists. Data will be drawn from a number of ground-based telescopes as well as Hubble. Google Sky does this already in a nauseatingly ugly way. It’s bad. Epic fail there. Stellarium, on the other hand, is an open source star charting program that blows Google Sky away. I’ve been using it for a few years now and have been very happy with it. From the sound of the TechCrunch article, though, Worldwide Telescope could blow Stellarium away. I really hope so. And if it’s free, I’ll be forced to give Microsoft props for doing something right for a change.

Moon in the Clouds

Posted: 28 January 2008 in Uncategorized
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I can stare at the moon on a clear night for quite a while. When I was very young, I felt like I could reach out and touch it. When I first got into model rockets (around 8 years old), I thought I could build one big enough one day to send it to the moon. My stepfather at the time (Greg) dispelled that notion, but not unkindly. Anyhow, I was looking at the moon tonight and thought it looked cool through the clouds. I took this picture with the flash on, so the shutter speed was fast. I tried taking several other shots with very slow shutter speeds, but the clouds blurred and the moon was overexposed. I used a tripod, but unfortunately when I snap the shot I cause a slight jitter. You can see there is a double-image effect going on here, which is the result of my movement after clicking the button.

The moon in the clouds

Galactic Attactic

Posted: 18 December 2007 in Uncategorized
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When you subscribe to a crapload of feeds that have overlapping subject matter, you see interesting themes emerge. In the astronomy subblogosphere, the recent news about the double galaxy 3c321 has sparked yet another competition over who can come up with the coolest headline. In case you haven’t heard about it, 3c321 consists of two galaxies, one of which is shooting a jet of particles at the other (via its black hole) which could strip the atmosphere off any planets in that galaxy. Here are the headlines I have collected in the wild:

  1. Bad Astronomy: Taste my death ray, 3c321!
  2. Galaxy blasts neighbor with deadly jet
  3. NASA: ‘Death Star’ galaxy black hole fires at neighboring galaxy
  4. NASA Image of the Day: Black Hole Bully
  5. Discovery News: Galaxy zapping neighbor with deadly beam
  6. National Geographic: ‘Death Star’ galaxy found blasting smaller neighbor
  7. Celebritycraps: Black Hole ‘Owns’ Galaxy!!!
  8. Cumbrian Sky: ‘Death Star’ galaxy lets rip…
  9. BBC: Black Hole ‘bully’ blasts galaxy
  10. ArsGeek: I swear, some peoples galaxies…

And the list goes on with variations on the theme. Almost as shocking as the campy puns are the multitude of posts that just regurgitate titles from the major news outlets.

Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battlestation!

This phenomenon is not limited to the domestic abuse in double galaxy 3c321. I have observed it occur again and again. I suppose it comes from probably three different causes: catchy headlines attract readers, blogs are supposed to be creative outlets and so bloggers try to be creative (and I guess newspaper editors as well), and a natural desire by people to show off their wit. I decided to combine all three by going over the top and using a fake word just to make it rhyme. The result attracts readers, is creative, shows off my prodigious wit, and thumbs a cynical nose at the blagoblag for its absurdity while ironically increasing said absurdity. Insert arrogant, fake, British-gentleman laugh here.

As a side note, wouldn’t be interesting if we’re actually witnessing a galactic war between two ridiculously advanced civilizations who don’t mind taking millions of years to kill each other?

Phaethon Cometh

Posted: 7 December 2007 in Uncategorized
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One of the dark horses of the inner solar system makes its closest approach to Earth since it was discovered in 1983 soon.  Phaethon is an asteroid (perhaps the burnt out core of a comet).  We pass through its debris trail every December, resulting in the Geminid meteor shower.  This year, the Geminids will peak on December 13-14th.  Bonus:  the Geminids are likely to be even better than the Perseids this year.  Unfortunately, it’s cold out.  Plus I have an exam on the 14th.  This meteor shower didn’t get the memo I sent out that it had to fall on a weekend.

So what’s special about the Geminids?  Phaethon is a source of denser meteors than are found in most other meteor showers.  This results in meteor paths that can be jagged and more meteors that break apart and split.  According to, the Geminids have a history of slow, bright meteors and faint meteors, but few medium-brightness ones.  The moon will be a faint crescent and peak times will see 60-120 meteors per hour.

For more on the discussion of whether Phaethon is a burnt out comet or an asteroid, check out Astroprof’s page on the topic.  If you happened to download Celestia when I talked about it before, you can also download an add-on that includes a few thousand near-Earth objects.  Phaethon is included in that pack (it doesn’t come with Celestia by default, or at least I couldn’t find it).  That site (the Celestia Motherlode) has a number of very awesome additions to Celestia, so I recommend checking it out.


Posted: 1 December 2007 in Uncategorized
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When I was around 12 or 13, I first got a hold of my stepfather’s physics text book. It was magic. The rules that governed the physical world were right there in the form of equations on a page. I was totally captivated. Newton’s laws of motion, gravity, angular momentum, and the theory of relativity. When I first learned about relativistic time dilation, it was life-changing. I resolved to become an astrophysicist. A lot of changes happened in my life that turned that dream into my current one. But, like all first loves, it never went away.

When I got my first computer, I had hopes of writing a program that would plot the positions of the stars as they were in space (3-D) versus how they appeared in the Earth’s sky (2-D). I achieved a little bit of success getting the vectors worked out from the distance, right ascension, declination and so on. I had no easy way of visualizing it though. Doing 3-D plots in BASIC back in 1990 wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. So that project died.

Then like a ghost, Celestia came to me last night. Wrapped up in her open source glory, I dared not even dream that she could perform what I had so long abandoned all hope of. But she did my friend, she did. (My wife won’t like this imagery :))