Northern Nights Star Fest

GPS’s are handy tools, but an atlas is handy (just in case).

The Astro Babes are on a road trip! At nine this morning we hit the road and caravaned seven hours to Palisade, MN, to attend the 6th annual Northern Nights Star Fest.

This is the first Star Party that Amy and I have officially attended and stayed overnight. It’s getting dark now, but because it’s raining, most of the attendees are standing around here in the lodge or watching Astro Fred explain the nitty gritty of processing photographs. Luckily the star party runs till Sunday.

The Clear Sky Chart is solid white (which means clouds) so we’re not even taking the telescope out of the trunk tonight. If by some miracle it clears, we’ve got our trusty binoculars waiting in the wing.

Amy explores the observing field (before the rain started).

Apparently we missed an amazing night sky on Wednesday night, but due to work commitments we were unable to make it until Thursday.  To add insult to injury,  it wasn’t just clear and dark…from the photographs we’ve seen, the auroras here last night were spectacular. Sigh. Here’s hoping for another beautiful night before we have to go home.

Lynn & Amy

Perseids 2014

Everyone brought reclining chairs to catch a few Perseids after sunset.

Last Wednesday evening, the local Astronomical Society club that Amy and I belong to held its annual Perseids Party and Picnic at Parmentier’s Observatory.

About 35 club members attended and brought spouses, kids, dogs, and plenty of dishes to pass. The weather was perfect for our annual get together at the foot of the dome.

The hobby of astronomy can be a solitary obsession that often finds one alone in the stillness of the night with only mosquitoes and crickets for company. But it’s the social events like the picnic that bring us together as friends, and remind us of our common passion for the wonder that endlessly drifts overhead.

The picnic started at 7 p.m. with enough food to feed a small army of star gazers.

If you’re going it alone, good for you. But if there are clubs in your area, don’t miss out on the opportunities to observe with others, attend star parties, volunteer at public outreach events, go to swap meets and picnics, and hang out with the gang for public observing and the Messier Marathon. Having friends that share your excitement and your enthusiasm makes the hobby of amateur astronomy all that much more satisfying.

Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Gerry, the NPMAS club president, did all the cooking.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Since the party started before the sun set, a few club members set up solar telescopes.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.
Amy gets a hug from the club president.




Intelligent Life Found on Mars! (Well, Not Exactly)

Mars is back in the news again. On its way to the base of Mount Sharp, the Mars Curiosity Rover snapped yet another controversial photo – this time, it captured a picture of a UFO landing nearby.

NASA claims that the bright spot in the first photo (on the left) is a hot pixel, which is a bright spot that appears on an image when camera sensors get hot during long exposures. NASA claims they appear often on Curiosity’s images.

Okay. Everyone can accept that explanation. Hot pixels happen even here on Earth. But the second image on the right was snapped only 31 seconds after the first image, and it appears to look like a shiny UFO descending off in the distance. But this time, NASA says it’s a cosmic ray strike.



We’re all rational adults here, right? But doesn’t that seem like an absolutely amazing coincidence? I mean, putting all sanity aside, put these pictures side by side with a 31 second time frame and yes, it does look like a UFO is landing on Mars.

This is not the first time that the rovers have sent back strange images from Mars, and I’m guessing that if you’re a rover and you’re crawling around on any planet in the solar system taking zillions of pictures, you’re going to photograph strange tricks of light and questionable rock formations now and then.

For example, just this past April, Curiosity photographed a mysterious bright light shining off in the distance.


The same light appeared in pictures taken on two different days. One NASA explanation was a distant shiny rock. Another explanation involved a spot of light shining through the vent hole of a leaky camera housing. And, of course, a cosmic ray was offered as an explanation, too. But that last explanation was hard to swallow when the same light was found on two separate images, taken on two different days with the same instrument.

One website that shall remain unnamed claimed that this was an “artificial light source” that could indicate that “there is intelligent life below ground and they use light as we do.” Sigh.

In my recollection, all this fuss about Mars began in earnest when the Viking 1 orbiter captured the famous Face on Mars back in 1976.


Rumor spread like wildfire when this image hit the news stands. This rocky face was located in the Cydonia region of Mars, and was immediately dubbed a remnant of an ancient civilization. Eventually, NASA dismissed it as a trick of light and shadows, but to this day it gives me the willies.

Here are a few other photographs of Mars that I’ve run across over the years. Isn’t that a Martian Squirrel captured by Curiosity in September 2012? It sure looks like the squirrels I have in my backyard.


And then there’s this fossilized iguana captured by Curiosity in November of 2013. According to another website that shall remain unnamed, there have actually been 10-15 animals found on Mars, and they speculate that NASA is releasing them. Some excitable conspiracy theorists “fear that NASA is planting life on the planet for scientific testing.”


Another fave of mine is this picture taken by the rover Spirit in January 2004. You can’t help but see the mysterious lady walking down a Martian hillside.


But here’s my all-time favorite Martian photograph! It’s a selfie of me and Curiosity that I took during my Mars exploration mission in 2012. What a great adventure that was!


Pareidolia is the human tendency to see random images and turn them into something significant, which is why you can occasionally find people selling an image of the Virgin Mary seared into a grilled cheese sandwich. This psychological phenomenon may explain away some of the images that conspiracy theorists see when they search through the images from Mars. But as far as I’m concerned, I won’t be convinced until I’m holding a live, kicking Martian squirrel in the palms of my space gloves.

– By Barbara Millicent Roberts
Astro Babe Mars Correspondent

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