Saturday, November 25, 2006
We collected tokens from the Advertiser for 3 weeks, which involved some trauma on days were were camping, or when tokens went mysteriously missing. Then the assembly instructions. If anyone has read the Issac Asimov story "Insert Tab A in Slot B" then they know how I feel. We weneded my construction the robot sitting at the computer, watching the step by step videos.
Then the LED screen wouldn't work. The helpful suuport people sorted that out, then the motors wouldn't work. The trouble shooting guide helped there. Finally, snappy runs. And spins, and dances and "talks". This is a great little robot, the kids love it, and I am going to have to learn the programming language to write new progrmas for it. Yay!
Talk amongst yourselves (yet again)
A Partial Lunar Eclipse for the past
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Leonid Videos and Radio Echos and some Final Transit Images
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Save the Lungfish
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Leonid Roundup Redux
Everything you wanted to know about ORFans
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The Day After the Leonids
There is nothing like having breakfast on the veranda of the Mount Lofty Youth Hostel as the rising Sun makes the valley below all golden. One of the few better things would be to have breakfast at Mount Lofty Youth Hostel after a successful Leonids campaign. Sadly, that was not the case (or rather semi- the case).
Although the predictions for Australia were rather low rates, there was always the chance of something nice happening. Despite a full day of walking, and carrying both SmallestOne and EldestOne up hill, and staying up to midnight carousing and eating chocolate cake, I actually got up at 3:00 am an made my way outside. The cloud that had hung around during the day had gone, the sky was clear and sparkling, Orion and Canis Major dominated my view. The air was mild and balmy,perfect meteor spotting conditions. Mt. Lofty being a, well, mountain, I didn't have a perfect field of view, the edges of my left and right visual field were cut off by trees, and the hills obscured the radiant proper, but I still had a wide swathe of clear sky in the right direction to observe. I saw 2 satellites, 5 sporadic meteors and ... one Leonid.
But what a Leonid, a bright fireball it shot across the sky, past procyon, threading between Orion and Canis Major leaving a persistent train to fade slowly away. It reminded me of the best Leonid of 1999, and some of the great ones from 2002.
High altitude winds twist an aircraft contrail into cabalistic signs.
I think this was the fireball Belatrix saw a bit further up the road from me (He doesn't mention it in this report here, but did in his meteorobs report). Most Aussies seem to have had a very poor time, rates of between 1-5 per hour were common. Internationally, even those who could have expected a peak (like DaveP) didn't see much (excluding those who had lousy weather). However, some stations reported ZHR's in the order of magnitude of the predicted peak at the predicted time. It looks like the peak was very narrow. Keep an eye on Spaceweather, they have one Leonid image up, and usually set up a Leonid Gallery.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Don't Forget the Leonids!
Thursday, November 16, 2006
ISS and Orion
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Leonids, Sunday 19 November
The Leonids are the iconic meteor shower due to spectacular displays in 1833, 1966, 2001 and 2002. They are due to dusty debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle slamming into Earth's atmosphere. While occasional Leonid meteors can be seen most of November, the rate rises to a peak in mid-November.
This year the peak is on Sunday, 19th November, with estimates of between 100-120 ZHR (Zenithal Hourly Rate - the number of meteors you could expect to see if the radiant was at the Zenith under dark skies). Unfortunately, the peak occurs between 3:00 and 6:00 pm in Australia, when the Sun is high in sky. That combined with the fact that the radiant never climbs very high in Australian (and New Zealand) skies, means we could expect to see far fewer meteors. Somewhere in the range of one meteor every 4-5 minutes is likely. Also, this year the meteors are expected to be relatively faint, so dark skies are best.
However, despite the relatively low rates Australians can expect to see, there is the chance of seeing some outbursts. And the Leonids themselves are lovely, even with the very low rates seen in the 1999 shower in Australia (we saw 5 in one hour), those meteors were fantastic, bright fireballs stretching from horizon to horizon. Even though the average will be fainter this year, still expect to see some very nice meteors. Also, with Saturn glimmering near the Sickle of Leo, Orion the Hunter stretched out overhead, and the Pleiades nearby, the morning will be a beautiful sight anyway, without meteors. You might even see a satellite or two (but not the ISS or iridium flares). To check the weather forecast, go to the Meterology Departments forecast site, or alternately the Weather Channel.
When to look: The best time is between 3:00 am to 5:00 am daylight saving time (2-4 am standard time) on the morning of the 19th. It could also be worthwhile watching on the morning of the 20th.
Where to look: Face north-east. About five hand spans above the horizon you should see bright Saturn. A hand span to the right brings you to the bright white star Alpha Leonis, Regulus. Following down and to the left from Regulus you will see a number of fainter stars which form a sickle shape, the head of the lion. The radiant of the Leonid shower will be roughly in the center of the curve of the sickle, about one finger width up (see image above). However, the meteors can turn up almost anywhere in the eastern half of the sky, so make sure you have a spot with a fairly clear field of view, without any bright streetlights in the way. Use common sense in choosing a viewing site. Lone persons should not choose dark parks in the seedy part of town to watch the Leonids, as a mugging can ruin your entire day.
What do you need: For meteor watching, very little is needed. Basically, all you need is you. If you want to try and count the meteors, you will need a couple of sheets of paper, a pencil and a good watch. Bundle up against the predawn cold, warns shoes, thick socks, sensible pants and a good jumper and possibly a blanket to wrap yourself in (I really mean this, last time I had a jumper and a windproof and I was seriously cold). Bring a reclining chair if you have one, or just a picnic chair or a good picnic blanket, and find a dark site with a wide-open view of the sky. Then just lie back, relax, and look up at the stars. Optional extras are a torch with red cellophane over the business end (otherwise you ruin your night vision everytime you turn it on), and a thermos of something warm to drink. Mosquito repellent is also a very good idea.
Give it some time: Many people wander out, look around for five minutes, see nothing and wander back in. It will take about five minutes for your eyes to become accustomed to the dark. Also, meteors tend to come in bursts, and if you wander out in a lull, you may miss lots. As well, our time perception sucks. You may think you have been watching for 10 minutes, but in reality only about 2 minutes has passed. Give it time, watch the stars, and enjoy.
Useful links: David Ashers Leonid prediction site, the NASA Leonid pages, the NASA Leonid rate estimator, the IMO meteor page, listening to Leonids on your car radio.
Meanwhile, over at the Pandas Thumb (reprise)
Monday, November 13, 2006
Mercury Transit Roundup.
Okay, here it is, the promised transit roundup. I still don't have my other shots developed, but here is an animation of the first stages of the transit (0.9Mb 8:00 am-10:00 am). Mercury blobbles around a bit as I tried desperately to improve the focus. My elderly Pentax has a weird stipple screen focus, unlike the split screen I'm used to, and focusing on the Sun is a right pain. But enough about me, lets move on to some other images from around Australia and the World.
Tony Travaglia of Oamaru, New Zealand sent me these images of the transit at about 40 mins into the event.
He used a 6 inch refractor (1200mm focal length), photographed with ISO 100 film, exposure 1/125 sec (what I should have used instead of 1/250) with a Canon 300D, the bottom image is enlarged shot that had a 10mm eyepiece attached. Aren't they just briliant shots? Many thanks to Tony for sharing these.
While we are on New Zealand, the the Wellington Astronomical Society has a number of rather cool images.
In Australia, we seem to have done very well with good weather in most places (except Sydney, sorry folks). The Ice In Space Solar System Forum was humming with activity. The Mercury Transit thread has some good pictures, as does this one, and here is a great Hydrogen Alpha image. Here is a great series of egress images from SA, and a heroic story with great pics from Brisbane. This post has a great series of animations in it. There are many more, so check the forums out.
Astronomy WA has a good transit roundup site as well. The CSU remote telescope, about the only webcasting site that didn't crash, has a best of the Transit page.
What about the usual weblog suspects? Stuart in the UK couldn't see the transit, but posted a nice Mercury-Venus transit comparison, Tom was dudded by the weather, but caught a working webcast. Dirty Skies got some great shots under less than ideal cirumstances. A Voyage to Arcturus got some really nice ones as well. This is my favorite, just at ingress. The Bad Astronomer caught the transit, but his imaging system didn't work.
Elsewhere, in the Phillipines, this group caught egress with millisecond accurate timing. Ed Morana's Transit page is pretty spectacular too.
NASA/SOHO also have a Mercury Transit page. It is a little hard to find the MIDI pictures though. Try the SOHO Hot Shots version though. It has some great animations on it. Don't miss the EIT animation, where you can see Mercury outlined against the Solar corona. The Hinode transit page is pretty spectacular too. Also, Space Weather has a rather good transit photo gallery.
Sunspot 923 is BIG
Here I'm using my telescope projection system. Even though the autofocus of the digital camera doesn't like focusing on projected images, you can clearly see the spot and penumbra around it. (see the shot below from SOHO for comparison). Live it was much more like the SOHO image, you could even see the spot outliers.
This baby was firing off flares like crazy before it rotated onto the near side of the Sun. Aurora watchers are waiting with bated breath to see if it performs while facing us.
(Image Credit, NASA/SOHO) MiddleOne and SmallestOne came out to watch me. "SPOT SPOT" yells smallest one. "Dad", says MiddleOne, "if the Sun wasn't burning hot, and was made of rock, could we live on it?"
So simple a question, but how to answer. I chose to point out that gravity would be much, much stronger on a Sun sized rock, let alone all the other complications. So we had a "heavy gravity" walk back to the house to demonstrate.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Saturn, the Moon and the ISS, Monday and Tuesday Morning
On Monday The Moon will be to the left of Saturn, (as above) on Tuesday to the right.
As an added bonus, some of you may even see the ISS pass close to the Moon and Saturn.
In Adelaide, on Wednesday morning the ISS passes the Southern Cross at 4:30 am, and tails off not far from Leo, where our trio lie, on Tuesday, the ISS passes through Orion at 4:51 am and then comes close to the Moon and Saturn.
In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the ISS comes close to the Moon and Saturn on Monday morning, and on Tuesday they pass a bit further away from the Moon and Saturn, but still close enough for a pleasing view. ISS maximum altitude times are given below, but it is best to check your local circumstances with Heavens Above. The ISS also passes close to the Southern Cross and the Hyades (Brisbane only).
A party was had which was great fun for all. Trains featured heavily, including this beautiful train cake made with the Bettdeckererschnappender Weisles loving hands. My only contrinution was to accidentally break the original cake into 4 unequal peices when asked to remove it from the oven. She is speaking to me again.
EldestOne and Limit organised games, there were balloon animals, musical stautes and huge bubbles.
As the party was winding down there was a great lightning and thunderstorm, great flashes illuminating the sky. I didn't get any photos of this though, too busy bringing things inside and getting guests off home before the storm hit. Which it did, we finally got the rain we were wishing for.
Astronomy content? I handed around my images of the transit, to much Ohhing and Ahhing (except from Eldest One, who meerly rolled his eyes).
Four planets gather
The spikes through Jupiter and Venus are instrument artefacts. Mercury appears about 3/4's of the way through the video as it starts to show more of its bright side. To give you an idea of what you are seeing, consult the annotated image below.
Image Credit NASA/SOHO
You can check out the individual images themselves at the Near Realtime Image page, and the videos and video archives are here.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Shooting the Moon
I'll do a Transit roundup in a couple of days, but first I have Smallest Ones Birthday to take care of.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Transit of Mercury Pictures
Well, I got my first pictures back of the transit. They came out reasonably well, but the scans to JPG didn't work so well. in this composite image you can see Mercury go from the centre of the Sum (it was nearly mid transit when the Sun got high enough over the roofs to image) to near the edge, about 40 minutes from egress. I'll have to wait before I develop the rest of my images, as I have about 10 shots left on the film.
On this film I discovered some Iridium flarres, a partial Lunar eclipse and an ISS transit. If I hadn't misplaced my astrodiary, I would know a lot more abourt these shots. Anyway, I'll share those images with you later.
Semi-live Transit blogging
It's just before sunrise here, I've tried to get some webcasts up and running, but the US ones seem to be oversubscribed. The big scope is up, I'm setting up the projection scope now.There is some smattering of high, light could. But that is in the opposite direction to the Sun. Could be a good one.
6:56 So far only Paul Floyd's site is not swamped. Sun still not over the houses yet.
7:08 Sun's just above the houses. Mercury is clearly visible, as is the Monster Sunspot, in the projection scope. Have to set up the refractor now.
8:58 This is why its is semi-live. Got some shots off while I gave the boys breakfast and helped the Bettdeckererschanppender Weisle get them off to School. The Twins Brother came over and had a look too. The other locals I invited were probably too busy getting off to work. There is some high, thin cloud at the moment, but it is not interfering.
Image from 9:30 am
9:36 Ron has pointed out that the CSU remote telescope webcast is working. The Exploratorium webcast works sporadically for me. I've added a couple of pictures taken of the projection system. The focus in the cmaera is pretty awful, I can see both Mercury and the Sunspot a lot clearer than the images. Mercury is fairly hooting along. Third contact is just ovet half an hour away!
10:10 am Thin cloud is getting in the way. You can still see Mercury, but the image is hard to photograph due to fuzzyness.
10:29 am 9 minutes to final conatct, and the cloud is getting thicker, but Mercury still visible.
10:43 am WAHOO!!! Saw the contact. I was firing off shots like crazy on the film camera. Don't know how much of egress I caught. Egress was very clear on the projection setup, but I could only sneak glances as I was photographing on the refractor. Wow, that was fantastic!!!
Time to pack up, drop the film off at the shops, and go to work. Whee!! That was fun.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
All go for Transit of Mercury Tomorrow Morning.
All looks good for tomorrows Tranist of Mercury
The weather forecast is fine for most of Australia. Also, there looks to be a humungous Sunspot that will rotate onto the face of the Sun tomorrow which should also make observing interesting. In the case that tou are clouded out, or can't get a telescope or binoculars set up, thy the list of webcasts in my page above, or those from Stuart or the Bad Astronomer.
In the image below from the LASCO C3 you can see a flare billowing up from the Sunspot that soon will be on the face of the Sun. Mercury is in there, but it is too faint to see in the camera. In this video (1Mb) you can see faint Mercury enter stage left then rapidly fade out just before the flare erupts.
I'll be setting up both my refractor, with my pentax camera, and my reflector, with projection. If I have a chance I will do "semi-live" blogging, small children permitting.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Last week in Astronomy (2)
Next up in popularity is the upcoming Transit of Mercury on November 8/9 (depending on where in the world you are). There is of course my page for Southern Hemisphereians, Tom, A Voyage to Arcturus and Top of The Lawn all discussing this event.
The antics of the expanding gas shell of V838 Monocerotis was discussed in New Scientist, but Stuart went one better and made a truly amazing animation.
Not content with this, Stuart also released Astronomy Media Player, a fantastic one stop shop for audio and video astronomy podcasting. Use it to look up the latest Jodcast, with and interview with on of Astronomy Picture of the Days main men.
In the "teaching old dogs new tricks" department, Deep Impacts fuzzy camera may be used to study Exoplanets. Emily Lakdawalla blogs this in some detail.
Remember Brian May? The ex-Queen guitarist is an Astronomer, and has written a new popular science book on space, time, and the history of the universe with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott. Brian has also recorded a guitar solo promotional track for it featuring Patrick Moore on drums. Hat tip to Bad Science.
In other news, the surface of Venus may be older than we thought, and gas clouds slamming into galaxies at thousands of kilometers per second act as giant particle accelerators. See the stories at ScienceNow and New Scientist.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Registax 4 is out!!!
The thing I wanted to try was the new multipoint alignment. This is supposed to give better images than the old single point alignment. The result of my testing is in the image. Left hand side single point, right hand side, multipoint. Both images are stacks of 30 images from the same AVI. The multipoint had five points of alignment. Both images were scaled to 200% and adjusted to 9.6 on the first wavelet transform. All other adjustments were the defaults for the program.
As you can see, there was not much difference (if any). Then again, I am using an elderly QuickCam, and doing unguided exposures, so I'm not surprised that I didn't get much benefit. So do try it yourself. It ran very nicely, and the controls were a joy to use, once you get used to the slightly different layout. If you are not using Registax, give it a go today. If you are a dedicated Registrax 3 user, give a whirl!
2009 is the International Year of Astronomy
SOHO Catches Comet Death Dive
On the 3rd of November, the SOHO solar observatory watched a comet apprache the Sun. The comet dissapeared behind the occulting disk of the C3 camera, but didn't reappear on the other side.
The comet evaporated during its close encounter with the Sun. The comet was a member of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a class of comet which is thought to have originated from the breakup of a much larger comet that approached the Sun.
You can download a big (1.3Mb) or small (0.2 Mb) movie of the event. The movie from the C2 camera (0.2Mb) is pretty spectacular too. (Hat tip to Spaceweather for the initial report)
Transit of Mercury, Thursday November 9.
Visibility times for Austalia and New Zealand, safe observing tip and tricks and webcam sites can be found at my Transit of Mercury site. It will be 32 years before the next one visible in Australia, so have a go. Remember NEVER to observe the sun directly, or sever eye damage will result.
Currently there are some nice sunspots about, which you can use to practice your projection methods and image photography on before the main event.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Why Halloween Doesn't Work in Australia
Here in Australia, well, as the late evening photo shows, the days are lengthening, the sun shining brightly until nearly 7:00 pm (that's 8:00 pm actually, as we are on daylight saving time, but I still think in Real Time). Even when it does get dark, that warm night and the bright expanse of sky with the nearly full moon silvering the Norfolk Island pines just isn't creepy at all.
In my childhood, celebrating All Hallows Eve was unknown, but increasingly now the American version, with trick or treating, has been promoted here. The kids decided, with some friends, that they wanted to go "trick or treating". As no one in this neighborhood does, that caused some logistical problems. The Bettdeckererschnappender Wiesle had to word up some selected neighbours and give them lollies to hand out when the kids came around. Otherwise it would be a very limited trick or treat, fortunately the Twins Next Door got really into it and helped out with hand drwan lollie bags.
On the "night" all the "ToT" families gathered at HouseA for home made Pizza, apple bobbing and making spooky decorations, then various partners had to rush home to set up lolly Stations. I wanted to dress up as the Research Quality Framework . But my beloved thought that a bunch of paper tied in red tape wasn't spooky enough. Then I wanted to go as the Frankenvirus, but again, an icosohedron wasn't seen as spooky. In the end the kids demanded that I be a Mad Scientist.
So I dressed up in my labcoat (with a toy Beaker in the pocket), got some disposable plastic test tubes, some pH indicators and bicarbonate of Soda. I greeted the Trick or treaters at the door clutching brightly coloured test tubes that were changing colour just as I arrived. After that I did some more colourful pH tricks, did some foam experiments. With small kids present, I used weak acids and bases, so there was minimal risk, as a result, the foaming was unspectacular. However, when adding a cresyl violet to bicarb you get a nice vigorous foaming with an interesting colour change.
Then after handing out lollies, it was back to HouseA for sparklers, my Beloved's Redback Spider chocolates (at least there was some Australian content) and some quite reflection over cups of tea while the kids played on the swings.
A good night, but definitely not spooky.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Conjunction of Mars and Venus, 25 Oct.
Mars (the dot near the top lefthand side of the occultation disk) and Venus (the REALLY bright dot) were in conjunction on the 25th. Unfortunately, the only way to see them was via the SOHO LASCO C2 camera (they were covered by the occulation disk of the C3 camera) as imaged here.
Here is an animation of Venus and Mars (0.5 Mb) drawing away from each other as seen through the LASCO C2 camera.
Venus was at opposition on the 28th, the image below is the latest on the site, and Venus is not quite at opposition. Venus will reappear in the evening sky in late November.
Nice Picture Site
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Still more Comet M4 SWAN
Podscast on APod
Update: I've added the button for Astronomy Media Player to the Podcast section of the Blogmenu on the left. This collates all the astronomy Podcasts into one handy window. Try it out, you will like it.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Hubble to be repaired
November Southern Skywatch now up.
The November edition of Southern Skywatch is now up. Highlights this month are the transit of Mercury, the Leonids and a nice lineup of Saturn, Regulus and the Moon. Maps, descriptions,observing hints, you know the drill.