Transit of Venus Award!

This past June gave us a rare opportunity to see the beautiful transit of Venus.  In order to commemorate the event, the Astronomical League put together a special observing award just for the transit.

Well, when we heard about that we just had to do it. After all, how many people can say they’ve received the Transit of Venus observing award? How many people can say they have two awards? Wait – what?

I know we keep saying that this is a rare event, but there was one in 2004. These rare events come in pairs! The first transit was in 2004, the next in 2012 then nothing until December 2117, which is, according to, 38,328 days and 10 hours (at the time of this writing) away.

2004 Transit of VenusIn 2004, we also had a great observing event overlooking Lake Michigan. We were able to see the whole event that day because it started early in the morning! The Astronomical League had an observing program back then too, and guess who did that one? Me! So not to boast or anything – but I’ll have them both!

So – what does it take to complete this type of award? Well they both involved the timing of the contacts, sketching the event and making a calculation of 1 au (astronomical unit, the distance between the earth and the sun) which is roughly 93 million miles.

I’m very happy that I’ve received both certificates – they will be proudly displayed side by side!



Are you kidding me?

So – I took today off of work for two reasons. One – it’s my daughter’s 23rd  birthday and I wanted to spend the day with her. And second -I needed to dot that analemma.  (Yes in that order!) I’ve spent the last nine months working on the Analemma program, diligently observing and marking the length of the shadow of the sun. My figure 8 is nearly complete.

Today was a must have on the chart because this observation is used in some of the calculations. So yesterday we get snowstorm Brianna! We’re talking white out conditions and wind gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Schools close, buses don’t run, no tow trucks venture out.

This was not the first time the weather hasn’t cooperated with an observing session. Wisconsin weather has a habit of doing that, but no worries, tomorrow’s another day – um, maybe I should check the forecast!

On the up side – I got some Christmas shopping done and had a great day with my daughter!


New Nebula Found!!

I’ve discovered a nebula! A bright, annoying glow that obscures the night sky in the fall. It’s magnitude varies, with the brightest nights coinciding with – football.

Yes, it’s the Lambeau nebula. It’s always been there, but lately it has increased in annoyance. To help all those fans in the nosebleed section see the game, they’ve installed a new scoreboard in the south end zone that looms above the stadium. The thing is that it has a jumbo-tron on it that the astronauts on the ISS must be able to see. I mean really, does the entire northern hemisphere need to see the play by play?

Geeeesh, it’s a good thing I actually like football. I am a Packer fan after all, so I’ll have to learn to live with the minor inconveniences that go along with living near the stadium.

Maybe I can get them to schedule their night games when there’s a full moon. The night sky’s already lit up then.

I’ll bring it up at the next shareholders meeting. I’m sure they’ll listen to me!

What do you think?


Going high tech

Asteroid Vesta

Last week, One-Minute Astronomer  alerted us to the fact that an asteroid would be easily visible in binoculars, easy to locate in Taurus, and bright enough at a 6.4 magnitude to reach near naked-eye visibility. That’s all it took for the Astro Babes to grab our binoculars and drive out to a dark spot this weekend.

Amy and I went in search of Vesta, first found by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994. It’s a little smaller than the state of Arizona, is the second largest known asteroid in the asteroid belt, and is big enough to be considered a protoplanet. It reached its opposition on Dec. 8 and was very bright.

And, as usual, the hilarity ensued. After all these years of observing you’d think it would come a little easier, but somehow we always manage to turn it into a slapstick comedy routine. To make a long story short, we printed out some star charts and drove to and observed from two dark spots east of Green Bay, only to find when we got back to my place that we’d been looking at the wrong object. We did, however, make our final (and correct) observations right here from my driveway, but this time, we used technology.

When you observe with binoculars (which is primarily what Amy and I do) you lose your target every time you look away to study a star chart. There’s a lot of potential to lose your way, accompanied with a twinge of doubt that you actually saw your target.

But this time we started with a laptop and the free Stellarium program to get our bearings. Then, in the driveway, we used my new tablet and the Sky Safari Plus program, and adjusted its Finder Circle to 7° to match the field of view in our binoculars. We were able to zoom in and out on the neighboring star patterns until there was no doubt that we were observing our target

After struggling all these years with books and star charts, it’s so nice to have such powerful astronomy tools available that weigh just a few ounces and don’t require a marine battery to make them run. Makes you wonder what’s in store for the next 20 years.


Starting simple

Meade DS-114AT

Last week, a dear friend offered me her husband’s 4.5” Meade motorized reflector. I didn’t ask, but I think it’s one of those gifts that she bought one Christmas at Sam’s Club thinking that it would be a great new hobby for them to share.

It reminded me of what a huge proponent I’ve been of starting this hobby armed with only a humble pair of binoculars – and not some hugely expensive and heavy 25×100’s, but a decent pair of 10×50’s that you can pick up for less than $100. Fortunately, my friend probably only dropped a few hundred on this scope, but I think they would have been better served using that money for a decent pair of binoculars and a parallel tripod.

Standing in awe beneath the stars with your trusty telescope sounds romantic, but there is this reality of battling the mosquitoes and the elements, the primal fear of the dark, and the frustration of not finding or seeing objects, that makes amateur astronomy a hobby not for the faint of heart.

Before you drop a couple grand on a telescope, you first need to really know how you feel about:

• Frozen fingers verses happy, toasty fingers
• Watching the celestial heaven verses watching television
• Bundling up into six layers of clothes verses sweat pants and a tee
• 22°F verses 68°F
• Getting spooked alone in the backyard in the middle of the night verses turning over and snuggling next to your warm, snoring sweetie
• The frustration of finding a distant planetary nebula verses the frustration of finding the book that you’re in the middle of reading
• A restful eight hours of uninterrupted sleep verses sleep deprivation that lingers for days

I think that everyone should be required to show proof of binocular purchase before they’re allowed to buy a telescope. That way, they’ll find out if they’re cut out for observational astronomy.

I purchased these binoculars a few years ago from Orion, and I absolutely love them.

The optics are great and they’re light enough that I use them without a tripod. Amy and I have completed a number of Astronomical League awards armed with only our 10×50’s and a star map, often with our elbows propped up by some part of a car. Sure, it’d be great to have a descent setup, but finding things on our own is how we’ve become familiar with the night sky, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Time to get off my soap box. Amy’s coming over tonight and we’re going to drag the new scope into the living room and see what it can do. Hopefully the Autostar works without a hitch and we’ll have a new toy to play with.


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