Sunday, December 19, 2010

Care to dance?

In just about 36 hours, we will be treated to a rare spectacle when the full moon is totally eclipsed from the Sun, by the Earth's shadow.  These events are quite spectacular and I will be observing this celestial dance from the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter where we will be hosting approximately 30 guests for a special lunar eclipse program.  For information on this and other eclipses, I highly recommend NASA's Eclipse Web site.  I took the picture to the left with a handheld point and shoot camera near maximum of the October 27th 2004 Lunar eclipse.  The color and darkness of the moon varies from eclipse to eclipse and is affected by the amount and types of dust, volcanic ash and other pollutants in the atmosphere.  The diagram below can be found on Fred Espinak's 2010 lunar eclipse page and shows the path of travel the moon will take through Earth's shadow, as well as the various timings of the event.

Penumbral Eclipse Begins:          05:29:17 UT
Partial Eclipse Begins:                06:32:37 UT
Total Eclipse Begins:                  07:40:47 UT
Greatest Eclipse:                        08:16:57 UT
Total Eclipse Ends:                    08:53:08 UT
Partial Eclipse Ends:                  10:01:20 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:            11:04:31 UT

While all the talk is of the moon this week, I did manage to get out this morning and observe the Sun through my Hydrogen Alpha Solar Telescope.  There is not a tremendous amount of activity, with only one active region (AR 11135) near the central meridian in the northern hemisphere.  There are some small plage areas in the east, yet none are remarkable.  Perhaps the most interesting features were the striking dark filaments along the northeastern limb, as well as the broad filament dominating the southern polar region.  The sketch was completed at 1658 UT (9:58 AM MST) under slightly hazy skies.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Celestial Poetry

In addition to astronomy, I have always enjoyed poetry- it is a little known fact that back in the late 20th century, I studied English literature on the way to my bachelors be specific, I studied Shakespeare extensively, as well as a few other Renaissance era poets.  Shakespeare's plays and poems are filled with celestial imagery and metaphor, and perhaps in future posts I will share some.

Today, my good friend Laura sent me a poem that resonated with me instantly.  She found it on the website of American Public Media's The Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor. If you enjoy it, google the author and buy his books!
Flying at Night
By Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's time for a revival!

On Jupiter that is!  Typically, the king of planets sports two distinct cloud belts, creatively referred to as the north and south equatorial bands (NEB and SEB respectively).  This year has been an interesting one on Jupiter as the SEB had disappeared!  To the left is an image from Mr. Anthony Wesley in Australia that provides a comparison of Jupiter's appearance from 2010 to 2009.  North is up in these images and you can clearly see the missing SEB, leaving the Great Red Spot (GRS) all alone.

In mid November, observers around the world began to take note of what has been termed the SEB Revival.  There is an interesting article on NASA's webpage that details much of what has taken place since the SEB's disappearance in the spring, including many spectacular infrared images.  Two nights ago I opened up the Lost Pleiad Observatory just at sundown to begin to let the telescope acclimate to ambient temperature.  There was a bit of high level cirrus hanging around and I noticed that Jupiter was blazing through the thin cloud layer.  Visual observers know that often a slight bit of haze can actually improve views of Jupiter by cutting down on the brilliance and allowing for greater contrast- so I decided to put dinner on hold and take a peek at the king...and I was not disappointed!  I was treated to a steady view of the SEB revival.  While the sketch to the right does not do the eyepiece view justice, you can see that there was a distinct dark band in the south, that included a bright knot on the central meridian.  The band appeared to curve up toward the equator on the proceeding limb (left in the sketch).  Utilizing my TEC 140 refractor at 196x, the sketch was completed at 0043 UT on December 9th (5:43 PM local time on December 8th).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mount Lemmon SkyCenter

Just a quick post to encourage you to check out the new blog for the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter (MLSC).  It may look a bit familiar in design, if you read this blog with any frequency...but you get what you pay for!  Please visit the blog, send me your feedback if you are inclined, and once you are there click on the link to be a follower!

It will be a great blog to follow as we will post news and happenings from the MLSC, as well as recent images taken with the 32 inch Schulman telescope, and occasional content from guest writers.

The image to the left is NGC 2359, known commonly as Thor's Helmet.  Image is Copyright Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sunrise spectacular

Here in the "Naked Pueblo" we are somewhat famous for our beautiful sunsets...head pretty much anywhere with a view of the western horizon, on pretty much any day of the year, and chances are you will be treated to picture postcard view.  This morning as I headed out to work I was treated to an absolutely fantastic sunrise.  A heavy dose of cirrus clouds were illuminated beautifully, along with an old waning crescent moon.

Click on and look carefully at the picture below, you will notice Venus above the moon- it is labelled in the second picture in case you missed it...