Dark Matter

Slide from astro.unl.edu
Slide from astro.unl.edu

Some of my favorite talks at our monthly astronomy club meetings are the ones that really stretch my imagination. The kind that twist my brain into a knot and send me straight to the computer to find out more. This month’s presentation did just that.

One of our favorite presenters, Jim, gave a great talk on dark matter (dark energy to follow sometime next year). Here’s the one thing that I know for sure about dark matter. No one really knows what it is or how to explain it’s existence.  Dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of our universe, leaving only 5% as visible matter.


So far one of  the best candidate for dark matter are particles called “weekly interacting massive particles” or WIMPS. On October 30th the Large Underground Xenon dark matter detector (LUX) proudly announced that they found…..nothing. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just one step in finding the elusive particles. While we live in a world of  fast moving technology and instant access to just about everything, it may be hard for us to wrap our brains around the fact that these things just take time.

“This all-sky image shows the distribution of dark matter across the entire history of the Universe as seen projected on the sky. It is based on data collected with ESA’s Planck satellite during its first 15.5 months of observations. Dark blue areas represent regions that are denser than the surroundings, and bright areas represent less dense regions. The grey portions of the image correspond to patches of the sky where foreground emission, mainly from the Milky Way but also from nearby galaxies, is too bright, preventing cosmologists from fully exploiting the data in those areas.” From: ESA and the Planck Collaboration


We’ve only just begun our search for the answer to dark matter. Maybe WIMPS  are the answer, maybe not I don’t know. I do know that we need to keep looking, keep trying to understand our universe. To me, the more we discover the more amazing our universe becomes and the better we can understand our place in it.

To people like Jim who bring these topics to us, I have only this to say…….more please!


Comet Caucus

Left to right: Comets Linear, ISON, Lovejoy and Encke. Click on the image to see a larger image.

Comet ISON is getting a lot of attention in the news these days, but lately there were four comets visible, and it has been a great time to find some dark skies and go comet hunting.

Last week, our good friend Tony took these amazing shots of four comets that were hovering in the sky over his Quantum Skies Observatory in Pulaski. Thanks for sharing, Tony!

This comet montage includes:

  • Encke – 5 shots of 60 sec each
  • LINEAR – 5 shots of 120 sec each
  • ISON – 6 shots of 120 sec each
  • Lovejoy – 25 shots of 300 sec each tracking the comet itself

All shots were taken by Anthony J. Kroes on 11/8/2013 with a Canon T1i DSLR at ISO 1600 through a Tele Vue 127mm Refractor on a German Equatorial Mount. Images captured with BackyardEOS software, stacked and calibrated with DeepSkyStacker, processed with ImagesPlus and Photoshop CS6.


Another Missed Eclipse

Last week, a total eclipse took place in us-eclipseNorthern Australia and in the South Pacific.

Whenever I read about them, it always reminds me of an article that I read 30-plus years ago about a man’s experience during a total solar eclipse. I don’t recall all the details, but I vividly remember that his descriptions of the event made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Shortly before the darkness came, he wrote of the growing excitement as the long bands of shadows began moving across the ground. Looking through an eyepiece, he saw Baily’s beads of bright pearls forming on the edge of the moon, and the beautiful crimson color of the prominences on the edge of the sun. Then a blanket of darkness fell upon him as quickly as a light switch turning off, and the full glory of the solar corona filled his eyepiece. It said it was the eeriest experience he’d ever had.

Needless to say, I’ve wanted to experience this in person ever since, but only 21 total eclipses have happened in the last 30 years, always seeming to happen in places I couldn’t or didn’t want to go to, like Syberia or Iceland or Colombia.

But it’s finally going to happen for us here in the Midwest. In 2017, the point of Greatest Eclipse will fall only 500 miles south of here for a total of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. You can bet Amy and I will be there!

Now if only the moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to the Earth, and in the same orbital plane, there would be a total solar eclipse every month. I don’t know if everyone else thinks that’s a good idea, but I’m quite sure I’d never tire of it.


Elusive ISON

Just got back from my first attempt at viewing sunrisecomet ISON with my 10×50 binoculars. It’s tough this time of year, crawling out of a nice, warm bed and stepping alone into the dark, 19-degree Wisconsin morning. But the sky was clear and there were enough pointer stars nearby in Virgo for me to give it a try.

Typically, I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. The rusty old Buick was parked in the way, and keys needed to be found to do a round of musical vehicles. Then, I wasn’t more than a block from my house before I realized my Out of Gas light was blinking. I needed to pull into the Shell station down the road and grab a few gallons before I drove to the outskirts of town.

I arrived at my usual Easterly observing site, and as my eyes were getting dark-adapted, a pickup truck lazed towards me from a farm up ahead. By the time I had explained that I was all right and actually trying to look at a comet on the other side of his truck, well, astronomical dawn had arrived and my night vision had left the building. The ISON party was over for the night.

Dick, a member of our local club, sent me this Visibility of Comet ISON chart that shows when ISON will be visible around here in the near future. Hopefully the moon, the clouds, and the snow will all cooperate again soon so I crawl out of bed and try again.


Gravity – One Astro Babes Opinion

First I want to say that I did NOT read any reviews of this movie prior to writing this!

GravityThe premise of the movie is that Ryan (Sandra Bullock), an astronaut with only six months of training, is a Mission Specialist (MS2) with the crew of Space Shuttle Explorer. She’s been sent to add an enhancement to the Hubble space telescope. Side note: if you visit our Space Camp Adventure you’ll see that I also was an MS2 with the job of fixing the Hubble. So – using some really bad logic, I’m Sandra Bullock.

Back to the movie: There’s a bunch of space debris heading their way and they need to make a quick getaway. They do take some liberties with reality which you just have to ignore. Things like how things react in space and the likelihood of being able to maneuver from one space destination to another. That being said – the graphics are fantastic and the view of the earth are breathtaking. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play well of each other. He’s a seasoned astronaut on his last mission; she’s a novice with little training. He’s able to help her for a while, until, well let’s just say she needs to rescue herself.

Lynn and I both agree – more George Clooney please! We just don’t see enough of him in this film. Literally, just his head. The rest of him is tucked away in his space suit the whole time!

The real story here is not about how Ryan makes it home. It’s about her personal struggle with tragedy. The gravity of her life weighs on her. She carries the pain of her life with her. It shapes who she is and weighs her down.

The accident in space wakes her back up. It gives her the will to live and the strength to put the past behind her. When she finally makes it back to earth, she struggles to walk with the pull of the earth’s gravity making her legs feel like lead weights. But when we see her face, we know she’s finally free floating. She’s finally free of the sadness and full of energy to move on.

Either that or she’s just really happy to be home.

I recommend this movie, it was fun! I also plan on seeing it again.


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