Comet Lovejoy – Check It Out!

At our astronomy club’s last gathering, someone mentioned that comet Lovejoy was both visible and within reach of a good pair of binoculars. Well, as you can tell, I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell as far as observing is concerned so I thought maybe I should try it.

Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy

I have a thing about being cold. I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. I’d much rather curl up on the couch under a blanket and watch I.Q. (one of my favorite movies that has a comet in it) than go out in the cold and try to find one.

I just couldn’t turn my back on this one though.  After all, it was up early, relatively bright and should be easy to spot in my backyard. All the requirements of a quick observing session have been met.

Thursday night I looked up the position of the comet on my Sky Safari. The comet made a triangle with Rigel in Orion and Aldebaran in Taurus. No problem!

I put on my snow pants, boots, jacket and scarf and headed outside with my trusty 10 x 50 Nikon binoculars. I kept them inside my jacket so the lenses wouldn’t fog up on me right away.

When I got outside I realized that it wasn’t so bad! Cold, yes, but not too bad at all. The view from my backyard was actually pretty good! I could see Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades against a fairly dark sky. I eyeballed where I thought the comet should be. I had to sweep a little back and forth but within minutes I found it!

It was a fuzzball, no tail. Apparently the tail is pointing towards us at this time. I was really thrilled! I went inside to make sure I was seeing the right object. I checked the star pattern around the comet on my software. Yep, I saw it alright!

It’s still visible in the Northern latitudes so get out there and check it out! Here’s some info on where to find it – Comet Lovejoy

I officially logged my first observation of 2015. So far so good!


Orion – America’s Spacecraft

Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls
Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls

After the sad story of the failed Antares spacecraft launch, I thought I would share some good news! On Friday December 5th, NASA launched the Orion spacecraft, also known as ‘America’s Spacecraft‘. The success of this quick mission is the first step in the long range goal of putting boots on Mars.

Our first goal was to develop a spacecraft that will take us out further than any human being has traveled so far, out past the moon. The Orion spacecraft will do just that.

Artist concept of Orion capture mission courtesy of NASA.
Artist concept of Orion capture mission courtesy of NASA.

The next step is to use the spacecraft in the Asteroid Redirect Mission. This mission is both exciting and, for me, a bit scary! It involves capturing a small asteroid and putting it in orbit around the moon in order to study it. Imagine, our own moon could have a small moon of it’s own! I say scary only because I just have this thing about the moon. I just don’t like the idea of messing with it. That’s a topic for another post.

NASA Photo
Orion Re-entry. NASA photo

As I watched the capsule descend to earth, it sent shivers down my spine. I knew that this was a huge step. One that will end with another “small step for a man”, our first step on Mars.

Congratulations NASA and thank you!


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Meteor Shower? More Like a Drizzle

Random Meteor

What do Twizzlers and meteors have in common? While you ponder that let me tell you about our night of meteor watching.

Friday night Lynn and I ventured out in the wee hours of the morning to join our fellow meteor shower hopefuls.  Most of them had been there awhile, taking in the beautiful dark sky with their telescopes and SLR cameras.   We showed up around midnight with lounge chairs, blankets and high hopes for a great show.

We both decided to use this time to log a few hours of observing for the A.L. Meteor Observing club. So, pencil and paper in hand we settled in and waited, and waited.

We had a show alright – but it wasn’t from the Camelopardalids. Thank goodness for the sense of humor that seems to have a common thread in all of us. The night was filled with quick bursts of Star Wars lines “just fly casual”, and streaks of running jokes from “Airplane” – “and stop calling me Shirley”.

Finally boredom led to eating (doesn’t it always) and the giant box of Twizzlers made the rounds. So here’s what Twizzlers and meteors have in common – two. I ate two Twizzlers and saw exactly two Camelopardalids.

Not a great show, but as Wayne says “no observations is still data”! So we’ll record our two hours of meteor watching and count it as time well spent under a beautiful night sky with fellow astronomy geeks.



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Mars at Opposition

Last night was the big night to see Mars up close. Ok – relatively close anyway. What is opposition you ask? When Mars is at opposition it means that it is directly opposite the sun relative to us. As you can see here, on April 8th the sun is directly opposite Mars from our perspective. It’s about 57 million miles away, not the closest it can get, but not too bad.

Mars at Opposition
Mars at Opposition

As you can see, in 2003 Mars was very close, at 35 million miles. What this means for us observers is that Mars is bigger! We’re able to see more surface features and polar ice caps. Some may even be able to see clouds!

Mars at Opposition
Mars at Opposition

I went out tonight with my 90mm refractor. Unfortunately I didn’t bring a powerful enough eyepiece outside with me and by the time I went back in to get one the clouds rolled in. Such is observing in Wisconsin.

Try observing Mars this week – do some sketching at the eyepiece! Try adding a filter, green to bring out the polar ice caps. You could get out your smart phone and try some through the eyepiece photography! If you’re really busy you could spot Mars over the trees on your way home and take a moment to smile at our planetary neighbor.

It’s all good.


Cosmos Remake Didn’t Let Us Down

Cosmos party at Amy’s house.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this blog, you’re the type that thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of Cosmos last night. (If you missed it, watch it here). It had an estimated 5.8 million viewers. How cool is that??!?

The show opened with Neil deGrasse Tyson taking us on a tour of the solar system in an updated version of the Ship of the Imagination (much cooler than the 1980 version). The show also included the story of Giordano Bruno, the first man to see a vision of a limitless universe. The Cosmic Calendar followed, which started with the big bang and put the timeline of our universe into perspective.

Needless to say, Amy and I really enjoyed the show. To commemorate the event, we threw a Cosmos Party that included our respective spouses. Chocolate wine, strawberries, cheese, homemade cookies, chips – all on a table that usually holds our star charts and binoculars. Who says astronomy is boring??

It turned out that Cosmos wasn’t the only spacey thing going on last night, either. As soon as Cosmos ended, the local PBS station aired Apollo 17: The Untold Story of the Last Men on the Moon.

We also peeked in on a live web cast from, who was tracking asteroid 2014 CU13 from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. This asteroid, approximately 623 feet wide, whizzed by us today about 1.9 million miles (a mere eight times the distance between the Earth and the moon). Slooh hoped to draw attention to the asteroid so amateur astronomers will help efforts to pinpoint its orbit.

A good time was had by all, and it was nice to do some indoor astronomy for a change. Hope you got all of Amy’s tweet’s during the show!