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.



Looking Forward to the Comet 209P/LINEAR Meteor Shower

209P Linear meteor shower
Radiant for 209P/LINEAR shower early this Saturday morning.

The weather is looking great here for the Comet 209P/LINEAR meteor shower. The Camelopardalids could produce as many as 200 meteors per hour early Saturday morning between 12:30 and 4 a.m., peaking around 2 a.m. CDT.

What is so neat about this shower is that it’s never been seen before, and the farther north you live in the viewing zone, the more meteors you are likely to see.

The last time I clocked meteors for the Astronomical League’s meteor certificate, I brought several copies of star charts of the radiant area of the sky, and as I saw meteors, I drew them on a chart and numbered them. On a separate sheet of paper, I made notes on brightness, color, speed, etc.

You can also do some real science by submitting your observations to the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers. All the information you need to work on your meteor certificate is available on the Astronomical League’s website.

After midnight tonight, you’ll find Amy and I perched on our lawn chairs facing north, with pencils and clipboards poised and ready. We’ll be busily adding hours towards our Astronomical League Meteor Program Certificate, (meteors or not) and having a great time. Hope you’re all out there, too!

Please be sure to write us and tell us about the meteors you see.


Armchair Eclipse Watching

Looks like Tony’s done it again! His video of last month’s lunar eclipse was being passed around on a cell phone at the last astronomy club meeting, so I wrote to Tony and ask him if he’d share it with you, too.

Tony said the video shows the moon going from totality to uneclipsed, and displays 2-1/2 hours in 10 seconds. The movie is made up of 270 individual frames – each shot with his Canon T1i DSLR mounted piggyback on his telescope, while it was tracking at the Quantum Skies Observatory in Pulaski.

Exposures at the beginning of the set are ¼ sec at ISO 1600, and those at the end are 1/4000 sec at ISO 800 (factor of 2000x brighter/dimmer!)  The frames were taken about 30 seconds apart, so while the video comprises 2-1/2 hours of real-time, when run back at 30 frames per second it only lasts ten seconds.

There won’t be any more lunar eclipses visible around Wisconsin in 2014, but next year on September 28th we’ll have another total lunar eclipse visible from all of the continental U.S. We’ll get to see a partial solar eclipse this year on October 23rd, too, although we’re itching to see the total solar eclipse that will fall just 500 miles south of here in 2017. Road Trip!

Thanks again for sharing, Tony!

Lynn & Amy


Chicks in Science

As much as I hated to name this blog post that way, it had to be done. I’m referencing the comment made by former Treasury Secretary & Harvard University President Lawrence Summers who suggested that there might be a genetic reason that women don’t excel in math and science related fields of study. The question “what’s with chicks in science?” was asked by an attendee of a panel discussion at the Center for Inquiry.

The person brave enough to respond to the question was Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of the new Cosmos series. His answer was quite honest and thought provoking and brought me to tears.

How much talent have we discouraged due to social norms and prejudices?  What could society possibly gain by intentionally discouraging bright young minds of all kinds to stretch and grow to their full potential? Doesn’t that seem counterproductive? Imagine what we could have accomplished by now if we had been wise enough to see beyond the fear and stereotyping. It’s enough to take your breath away.

Some of you may say “But Amy, we’ve come a long way”. That is true, but we have a long way to go.  I had to explain to my daughter’s seventh grade math teacher that when he pits the boys against the girls in a problem solving contest it becomes less about math and more about gender. If the boys win, boys are just smarter than girls. If the girls win, well that’s just a fluke. Let’s teach our kids to work together as a team!

One reason I like Mr. Tyson is his passion. Where’s OUR passion people? Why was I the only parent who had a problem with the whole ‘boys against the girls’ concept of teaching?  No one else said anything, and hadn’t for years. Why is that?

I say we show this video to every parent and every educator in the country. A tall order I know, so let’s get going!

Thank you Mr. Tyson for your insight and your bravery for saying it like it is.



Geocaching in Space

Mastracchio travfel but
Mastracchio holding his geocache Travel Bug on board the ISS.

I received an email from Groundspeak yesterday announcing that geocaching Astronaut Rick Mastracchio had safely returned home from a six-month stint on the ISS. He was carrying the first Travel Bug that actually spent some time in outer space.

Mastracchio also logged the first and highest “Find” on the ISS in a cache hidden earlier on the outside of the station by fellow astronaut and geocacher Richard Garriott.

It’s hard to imagine that there are people who don’t know what geocaching is, but for the neophyte, geocaching is a grown-up treasure hunting game using GPS’s to navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates. Each cache has a logbook to sign, and may contain treasures that can be swapped, including items called Travel Bugs that travel from one geocache site to another.

220px-Geocaching logo
International symbol for geocaching.

So I’m telling Amy about the astronauts geocaching on the ISS, and whoa!! Just a darn minute there!! How can you geocache in space with no lines of latitude or longitude, Amy interrupts? On a moving object too? Was the ISS orbiting below a GPS satellites’ orbit, and if so, did Mastracchio utilize the GPS signals from the satellites? And if you’re not using lines of latitude and longitude, is it really geocaching, or is it just playing hide and seek? I gotta admit; there’s never a dull moment when you’re hanging around with Amy.

All good questions to ask Mastracchio next time you see him at the Pick N’ Save. In the meantime, if the weather is reasonable this weekend and you’re not afraid of the daylight, give it a try. It’s free, and all you need to do is register on, get the coordinates of some caches near you, and grab your GPS, your smart phone, or the GPS from your car. In fact, maybe I’ll try to get Amy to do some geocaching this weekend. Can’t imagine we’ll find Mastracchio’s travel bug though – the next stop for that thing is probably a cache at the Smithsonian.


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