Over the weekend, our astronomy group hosted our annual Messier Marathon at the Brillion Nature Center. About 40 people showed up bringing both treats and telescopes. Amy and I attended but were late because of prior commitments.
The Messier Marathon is an annual event held by many astronomy clubs. It all started with the 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier, who cataloged 110 deep sky galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. The idea is that you begin observing the list of objects as they’re setting at sundown, and then work your way eastward across the sky. If everything lines up just perfect, and it’s a moonless, cloudless, dew-free night between mid-March and early April, it’s possible to observe all 110 Messier objects in one night.
In the past, Amy and I recorded at least a handful of the early Messier’s and qualified for a Messier observing award. This year, we figured we’d get some of the later objects, but somehow we didn’t get any Messier’s at all.
I did manage to knock off six observations needed for other Astronomical League observing programs, and Amy was able to find the asteroid Vesta with her binoculars, which shone at a magnitude 5.9 and was close enough to Mars to make it relatively easy to find.
When Amy and I left around three (yes, I meant 3 a.m. – a new Marathon record for both of us) there were still at least a half-dozen die-hards there, waiting inside the shelter for the next round of Messier objects to rise.
Next year we’ll try it again and maybe take it all a little more seriously. Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll bag all 110 objects.
To celebrate Women’s History month I’d like to share a little about my favorite historical woman in astronomy, Maria Mitchell. Maria (pronounced with a long i) was born in 1818 and grew up on the island of Nantucket. There she studied the stars with her father. As a young girl, Maria learned to navigate by the stars and was able to fine tune marine chronometers.
In 1947 she became famous as a ‘comet sweeper’, discovering what came to be known as ‘Miss Mitchell’s Comet’ for which she was awarded a gold medal from the king of Denmark.
Maria said “In my younger days when I was pained by half educated, loose, and inaccurate ways which we all had, I used to say, ‘How much women need exact science.’ But since I have known some workers in science who were not always true to the teachings of nature, who have loved self more than science, I have said, ‘How much science needs women!”
She truly was a women before her time!
Maria went on to be a champion for women, protested against slavery and co-founded the American Association for the Advancement of Women. Please visit www.mariamitchell.org to learn more about this amazing woman!
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 Slooh.com, 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!
Every Tuesday for the past few years the Astro Babes have gotten together for a ‘meeting’. We picked Tuesday because a local pizza place had $2 margarita’s. What better reason to get together than that? These meetings started as a way for the two of us to go have margarita’s and pizza and talk about whatever needed to be discussed at the time. Sometimes it was astronomy related sometimes not, but each week we had an agenda, took notes and planned the next meeting.
It was during these meetings that we planned our club talks and dreamed up some of our now famous adventures. Sadly, the pizza place is no longer there, but Tuesday nights are still dedicated to our meetings. This past Tuesday we set aside our valuable Astro Babe meeting time to watch a live Q & A with the makers of the new Cosmos series.
This live webcast was watched by nearly 75,000 people – which could explain why neither of my tweets made it through! The webcast gave us a look at the new host, Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have to say that I’m a big fan of his. He comes across as enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable in all things astronomical. I’m looking forward to the premier even more now!
We plan on doing some tweeting during the premier so if you’re not already following us please do!
I was clicking through the channels the other night and stumbled upon an episode ofUniversity Place Presents on PBS entitled “The History of the End of the World”.
At first I suspected it would be all about astronomy; meteorites and asteroids, solar flares and rogue planets. Juicy cataclysmic stuff hurtling towards us from the unknown reaches of our galaxy.
But it turns out that demise by space debris is a relatively new concept in human history. Before Copernicus, people believed that the end of the world would come about as an upheaval in social order, or perhaps by the hand of God or an expanding and contracting universe.
Copernicus discovered that we’re not alone in a sphere, but rather, we’re vulnerable and out in open space with a lot of company. That’s when our stories of destruction changed. The universe became a whole lot scarier.
Just two years ago some of us went to bed on December 11 wondering if the sun would rise the next day. Would there be a flip of the Earth’s magnetic axis or its rotational axis? Would the alignment between the Earth, the Sun, and the center of the galaxy somehow be disastrous? Would we be struck by the rogue Planet X? And how scary was it to have a near-Earth miss and the Chelyabinsk meteor entering the Earth’s atmosphere over Russia only six weeks later?
The possibility of space debris falling on us frightens a lot of people, so many that the term Cosmophobia has been coined to define people who fear outer space and all the things it has to throw at us. Perhaps it’s time to get our aluminum hats out and wear them outdoors all the time.