A Long Road to Divorce Court

If you haven’t had your head stuck in the sand lately, you’ve heard about the marsInspiration Mars Foundation’s recent proposal to send an older, “tested” couple to Mars in 2018. Dennis Tito, former space tourist on a 2001 Russian Souyez mission, is leading the foundation’s efforts to raise the $1 billion needed to make this journey a reality.

Because of my own first reaction to the idea of spending 501 straight days in outer space in a rocket-fueled closet with my husband, I decided to ask spouses of my friends how they think the trip would work out for them. Not surprisingly, it was universally considered a very bad idea.

Here is a general gist of their comments:

  • We might as well get divorced right now and get it over with.
  • No way. I’d murder him within the first two weeks.
  • She’d probably break something before we even left the atmosphere.
  • At least they’d have a flight plan so we wouldn’t have to stop and ask for directions.
  • We’d never make it back because when stuff started breaking, he’d never get around to fixing it.
  • After about three weeks of non-stop whining, I’d open the hatch and walk home by myself.
  • Could I just send my husband?
  • We should put some cameras in there and make it a reality show!
  • If she drives, we’ll end up at Venus.

I will leave it to your imagination to guess which one was my reaction.

I’ve given this a lot of thought since it was announced, and the only way that Tito can think this is a good idea is because he only spent seven days up there with a bunch of strangers with limited English skills. His wife was no where in sight.

I say, c’mon Tito, lead the way! Why don’t you and Liz be the first couple to step up and apply for the job. And don’t forget the cameras – that is one reality show I wouldn’t want to miss.

In the past 40 years, over 600,000 people have applied to be astronauts, so I’m sure there will be plenty of couples who will volunteer. And yes, some lucky couple will get the opportunity to pass within 100 miles of the surface of Mars – but I know for sure that it won’t be me and Joe!


The Clock is Ticking

Following its launch on April 24, 1990, the Hubblehubble Space Telescope (HST) got off to a shaky start. But after the 1993 repair mission and four more house calls by Space Shuttle astronauts, the Hubble went on to observe more than 30,000 celestial targets and amass more than half a million pictures of our universe.

The Hubble was designed to be deployed, captured, and serviced by Space Shuttles, and now that the Shuttle program has ended, it’s just a matter of time before the Hubble goes dark. That time is sooner than we realize.

The HST is only expected to remain operational until some time next year, with scientists squeezing out every last possible photograph.

In the meantime, NASA is working on the Hubble’s replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to launch in 2018. Technology has moved forward since the launch pillars-of-creationof the Hubble in 1990, and the new $5 billion telescope will carry technology that is much more sophisticated. Slated to launch in 2014, JWST will orbit much higher than the Hubble (1 million miles from the Earth’s surface verses 347 miles) and will use infrared technology to peer much deeper into our universe.

The original plan was to recapture the dying Hubble with a Space Shuttle and house it in the Smithsonian as a national treasure. However, without the Shuttle program, there is no way to bring it safely back to Earth.

Hubble could remain in a decaying orbit until sometime between 2019 and 2032 but it weighs 24,500 pounds (as much as two full-grown elephants) and is as long as a large school bus. If it were to decay and then descend on its own, parts of the Hubble’s main mirror and support structure will most likely survive. Guess we can’t have that big mirror landing in downtown Chicago during rush hour. Carina Nebula

The last visit to the Hubble by mankind will be by a robotic spacecraft that will attach itself to the telescope and guide it safely back to Earth in a fiery reentry. Until then, let’s enjoy it while we can, and keep our fingers crossed that the Energizer Bunny keeps it going and going and going…


Earth’s Shadow

Crescent Moon with Earthshine
Photo by Tony Kroes at the Cedar Drive
Observatory near Pulaski, WI.

Just a couple of quick thoughts to share – While out comet watching, I turned to face the east. I wanted to see how many stars were out. I noticed a dark arc in the sky just above the east horizon. I thought it was my eyes adjusting to shifting from looking at the brighter part of the sky to the darker part.

It turns out, the arc was really the earth’s shadow! I had never stopped to think about that before. I’m sure you’ve all seen it and may not have know what it was. Next time your out see if you can spot the earth’s shadow.

The other thing I want to mention is earth shine. This great picture of the moon, taken by Tony Kroes shows the crescent moon. But we can still see the rest of the moon too! Why is that? Well the earth is reflecting sunlight onto the moon, or what we call earth shine! Very beautiful. I know you’ve all seen that too, but maybe never really thought about it.

Watch for it the next few nights while the moon is still a crescent!


Comet Panstarrs!

Photo by Tony Kroes on 3/13/13 at the Cedar Drive Observatory near Pulaski, WI.

Yay!! Woo Hoo!!! Wooot woooot! After three days of snow and clouds, Wednesday night turned out to be our best bet for seeing comet Panstarrs. We finally had sunshine all day!  I bee-lined it over to Lynn’s house right after work. She gathered up her warm clothes, grabbed a bite to eat and looked up the directions to Tony’s. 

Do we feel guilty about missing a club meeting? Naah, we just HAD to see this comet! As we drove in rush hour traffic we could see the sun slowly sinking in the western sky. As each turn took us closer to our comet encounter, we got more and more excited. We knew this could be our only chance of seeing it! It seemed like we hit every red light on the way out of town. We were sure we’d get there too late. Lynn kept watch on the GPS’s estimated time of arrival. We were making good time.

Photo by Tony Kroes
Photo by Tony Kroes at the Cedar Drive Observatory near Pulaski, WI.

We met Tony outside his house and we trekked out past the barn, winding up a path to the observatory, then through the snow and up a hill to a flattened out spot in the snow. We all had our binoculars and Tony and his wife Tara brought out their cameras.  The crescent moon hung about 40 degrees up, a guidepost for finding the comet.  Soon the sun sank below the horizon and we scanned the sky.  Using an outstretched arm with our hand in a fist to measure 10 degrees, we estimated the height of the comet. It should have been 10 degrees below the moon, roughly halfway between the horizon and the moon.

Now’s it’s around 7:20, our feet are frozen bricks, cameras are seizing up and we’re not sure we can make it back to the car in the dark without taking a tumble. No comet yet, but we’re not giving up.  Around 7:40 Tony’s phone rang – a fellow club member called, they had spotted it! A brief moment of disappointment that we didn’t find it first gave way to a frantic search. We all had our binocs carefully scanning, straight down from the moon and slightly to the right until – there it was! I was so amazed by the beauty of it, the bright nucleus and the hazy tail behind it. I couldn’t see it naked eye, (that whole visual contrast thing)  but Lynn was able to.

The picture above was taken by Tony. After a few seconds of exposure the comet seems to pop in the picture! It looks like it was just blazing in the sky but it was really more of a fuzzy without binoculars. When we first spotted Panstarrs it was about 5 degrees above those trees on the left of the photo. It didn’t take long for it to set, maybe 20 minutes or so. We kept watching it until the photo ops were gone and our feet just couldn’t take it any longer. It  was a beautiful sight, well worth the trek and cold!

We made it back to town in time to meet up with our club members at the pizza joint we frequent after our meetings. A hot cup of coffee warmed my hands and a bar-b-que pizza warmed my tummy. We exchanged stories of our adventure and they caught us up with club news and the upcoming Messier Marathon! Watch for that adventure in April.

Not a bad night!

Another successful observing session: great fun, great people, great viewing!


Who Owns A Meteorite?

MeteoriteIf you’ve read our Hunting for Meteorites adventure (if you haven’t you should!) you know that we did our best to have a successful meteorite hunting trip.  Lynn downloaded a map of the strewn field and researched which tools would be most useful.  I – well I think I just booked the hotel, but somebody had to do it!

With GPS in hand we ventured down to the Madison area and proceeded to spend hours and hours dragging rare earth magnets around behind us, looking at anything that resembled a meteorite. We left no stone unturned at parks, along roadsides and even in cemeteries with no luck.

After the meteorite exploded over Russia, I read stories about people collecting pockets full of meteorites hoping to sell them. One woman made the comment, though, that the Russian police would just come and take them away anyway. It made me wonder, what if Lynn and I had found that elusive rock we know is still down there some where? Who would own it?

It seems that, in Russia, the government determines who can sell a meteorite. Here in the U.S., a meteorite belongs to whoever owns the land it falls on. That means that if  a meteorite lands in the middle of a city park, the city would own it. So after all of our trudging down county roads and through parking lots and parks, if we had come up with a piece of space rock it technically wouldn’t belong to us anyway!

That won’t stop me from looking. I still want to make that find. But it would be so much easier if one just fell through my roof, or on top of my car!

The odds of that are – well – astronomical!

(Sorry about that)


Crossing Our Fingers for Wednesday

We’ve made two attempts to see

Photo taken last week from New South Wales, Australia
Photo taken last week from New South Wales, Australia

Pan-STARRS (Comet C/2011 L4), and both times, we encountered a low cloudbank in the western sky that prevented us from seeing it. All other evenings, it’s been cloudy or snowing.

Although not yet confirmed as an object for the Wild Goose Chase Observing Club, its potential is growing by the day.

Next window of opportunity for us is Wednesday, March 13 at sunset. Wish us luck!!


Wild Goose Chase Observing Club

Zodiacal LightsIf you belong to the Astronomical League you may be familiar with the variety of observing programs available. They range in complexity from major eyestrain faint fuzzy hide and seek, to simply looking up and saying “oh, there it is!” But there is one club missing from the mix. Lynn and I have been working on creating this one for the last ten years. The working title is “The Wild Goose Chase” observing club.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a beginners club. This is for the seasoned observer, those of us who, putting the need for sleep aside, faithfully trudge out of our warm homes into the night with great expectations of seeing something unique and spectacular. We drag out our maps and lists of objects carefully planning where to start, and where to go next. Then, after scanning the sky for the elusive object, we realize that we had the date wrong on the star chart app, or the one clump of clouds that has appeared out of nowhere has decided to stay put right in front of the target.

One of the first wild goose chases we had was a few years ago when we decided to look for the Zodiacal Lights, or as we prefer to call them the ‘alleged’ zodiacal lights.

This was the time of year when they were supposed to be visible in the early evening. We thought this would be easy, so we jumped in the car and headed west. All we needed was a view of the western horizon, clear skies and our eyes. We drove out to the country and found a spot at the side of a quiet country road, away from any street lights or blazing yard lights.  We watched, our eyes glued to the horizon, waiting until…….there it was – sky glow from a neighboring community. Sigh – Oh well, another wild goose chase observing session! Better log the date, time and seeing conditions!

Have any of you had a wild goose chase you’d like to share?


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