Ceres Curiosity is Killing Me!

I don’t know about you, but this is making me absolutely nuts!

Yesterday, NASA’s released this image on Ceres from an altitude of 2,700 miles.
Yesterday, NASA’s released this image on Ceres from an altitude of 2,700 miles.

 

My rational adult brain understands that I only need to be patient a little while longer. In August, the Dawn spacecraft will skim above the surface of Ceres at a mere 230 miles. Soon after that, we will hopefully receive a convincing explanation of what those bright, shiny spots are on Ceres. But until then, I’m losing sleep.

Fortunately, the photos from Ceres have improved as the Dawn spacecraft has gotten closer. But rather than solve the riddle, each photographic improvement has bought more questions.

HST 2004
HST 2004
Dawn, Feb. 2015. Distance 29,000 miles
Dawn, Feb. 2015. Distance 29,000 miles
Dawn, June 6, 2015. Distance 2,700 miles
Dawn, June 6, 2015. Distance 2,700 miles

Just what the heck are those mysterious, shiny patches? Our greatest minds are postulating subsurface ice reflecting sunlight, or ice volcanoes, or even salt. Me? Well I’m not convinced that the sun can light up ice that brightly from 257 million miles away. I could be wrong.

And ice volcanoes? Shiny salt? Sigh.

So just what the heck are they anyway??

Lynn

Clouds Didn’t Rain on Our Parade

The Messier Marathon last weekend was tons of fun. It’s always great to get together with

The Messier Marathon seems to bring out the foodie in all of us.
The Messier Marathon seems to bring out the foodie in all of us.
others who share your passion. And although we amateurs often gather in groups to observe, there’s not always a lot of social interaction going on.

And that’s why I like the Marathon. When it is clear, you can observe all night long, and when it’s cloudy, you can hang out socially with people you like. It’s a win-win either way.

This year it was clear at sunset. As it got dark, I piddled much of the first hour away noodling with the finder scope and getting things polar aligned. Luckily, Amy distracted me by finding Messiers with her binoculars. If it had’t been for her, I would have missed it all because, about an hour after it got dark enough to observe, the clouds rolled in from the West and stayed for the night.

marathon2-2015
Just a few of the telescopes ready for a night of observing at the Brillion Nature Center.

Inside the shelter, there was talk about moving the Marathon up until early April next year, but in April you’re wrestling with dew all night long, and that can be really frustrating too.

marathon3
Eh?? Which way is North???

Had a great time though. Got to hang out with Amy, ate lots of treats, scored a chunk of Fran’s Oreo tort before it was gone, got skunked in a Cribbage game with Amy, Jim and Wayne, got more practice polar aligning the telescope, and got to bed early. It was a good night.

Lynn

Jupiter Triple – Check!

Here's a bad selfie of me with the three shadows on  Jupiter.
Here’s a bad selfie of me with the three shadows on Jupiter.

Ok – so a clear night and a telescope would have made this a bit more satisfying, but hey, we can’t have everything!

On the night of the triple shadow transit we were, of course, clouded out. We weren’t alone this time, practically the entire U.S. was under a blanket of clouds. So that’s where we went – to the cloud! If we can’t watch a live transit, we would settle for a live webcast of one.

Yay Griffith Observatory! They came through with a promise of a clear sky and a live broadcast. I tuned in, made sure Lynn was online too, and made myself comfy on the sofa. There were over 1400 people online, and the comments were streaming so fast that I could feel the excitement! Plus, I was sharing this experience with people from all over the world!

Then Jupiter came into view. Well, the hazy blob appeared on screen. It seems that high altitude winds were making the view unstable. Fortunately Lynn was quicker than I was when someone posted an URL for another live webcast from Brazil. She texted me the new site and we both switched to Brazil.

Jupiter was setting there, and the sky was clear! Perfect! By now I had moved to the recliner, and had hooked up my TV to act as a monitor, thanks to Lynn for the idea. Why can’t all observing sessions be this comfy?

As the shadows crawled across the face of Jupiter, I was transfixed by the image. Checking this rare event off of my ‘must see’ observing list completed a very hectic week for me. Sure it would have been nice to be peeking at this through the eyepiece, but sometimes we have to take what we can get.

So here’s your lesson for the day, when a rare astronomical event is clouded out, somebody somewhere will be showing it on the net. You gotta love technology.

Amy

Make Mine a Triple

jupiter-triple
A computer simulation of the appearance of Jupiter at 6:30 am GMT on 24th January 2015l. Image credit: Ade Ashford/Sky Safari Pro.

We are so clouded out here in Wisconsin that it’s not even funny. And then, to crush any hope that we have of watching the Jupiter triple tonight, it starts to snow. One look at the satellite map on Weather Underground sealed the deal. No observing of the triple for Amy and me tonight.

However, we’ll be glued to the Griffith Observatory feed with all the rest of the clouded out saps in the country. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. PST. Be there or be square!

If you are one of the lucky ones to watch the transit tonight, or just want to share your thoughts about the live feed, share them with us!

http://new.livestream.com/GriffithObservatoryTV

 

During our last weekly meeting, it became apparent that Amy and I are getting excited about the upcoming triple transit of Jupiter this Friday, January 23rd. The transit:

  • is going to be at a reasonable hour that will not require an alarm clock
  • temperature promises to be above zero (probably into the double digits at transit time)
  • will happen on a Friday night so there’s no worry about getting up for work the next day
  • event has the word “rare” in it

All this scenario needs is a clear, dark sky and we’ll be happy.

Amy and I have witnessed the transit of Venus, and I think we may have seen a double transit at some time because they are pretty common.

But a triple, with the shadows of Callisto, Io and Europa visible on the surface of Jupiter at the same time, well, that doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it averages out to just once or twice a decade. Jupiter’s equator and the orbits of these three big moons will be almost edge-on to our line of sight, which only happens twice in Jupiter’s 11.9-year orbit of the Sun.

We’ll be doing some planning during the next few days, calling Tony and the other big club telescope guns to see if anyone will have something impressive pointing towards Jupiter that night. For this event, the bigger the better holds true. It will be a great opportunity to take some pictures and see something that most people never witness. Find a club or a big scope and get out there! As I said, all this scenario needs is a clear, dark, sky and we’ll be happy. Extremely happy.

– Lynn

Comet Lovejoy – Check It Out!

At our astronomy club’s last gathering, someone mentioned that comet Lovejoy was both visible and within reach of a good pair of binoculars. Well, as you can tell, I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell as far as observing is concerned so I thought maybe I should try it.

Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy

I have a thing about being cold. I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. I’d much rather curl up on the couch under a blanket and watch I.Q. (one of my favorite movies that has a comet in it) than go out in the cold and try to find one.

I just couldn’t turn my back on this one though.  After all, it was up early, relatively bright and should be easy to spot in my backyard. All the requirements of a quick observing session have been met.

Thursday night I looked up the position of the comet on my Sky Safari. The comet made a triangle with Rigel in Orion and Aldebaran in Taurus. No problem!

I put on my snow pants, boots, jacket and scarf and headed outside with my trusty 10 x 50 Nikon binoculars. I kept them inside my jacket so the lenses wouldn’t fog up on me right away.

When I got outside I realized that it wasn’t so bad! Cold, yes, but not too bad at all. The view from my backyard was actually pretty good! I could see Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades against a fairly dark sky. I eyeballed where I thought the comet should be. I had to sweep a little back and forth but within minutes I found it!

It was a fuzzball, no tail. Apparently the tail is pointing towards us at this time. I was really thrilled! I went inside to make sure I was seeing the right object. I checked the star pattern around the comet on my software. Yep, I saw it alright!

It’s still visible in the Northern latitudes so get out there and check it out! Here’s some info on where to find it – Comet Lovejoy

I officially logged my first observation of 2015. So far so good!

Amy

Happy New Year!

What a year it’s been! Amy found Uranus with 2015-logoher binoculars (no small feat!!) and we both learned how to use setting circles. We gave one of our Lynn & Amy Shows at the Neville Public Museum to a captivated crowd, and together attended our very first star party in Minnesota. We went to the annual club Perseids picnic last summer, and uploaded our 100th blog to this website.

November and December were especially busy as our jobs bogged us down. Then the shopping and baking season kicked in and we prepared for family time and Christmas and the company that it brings. I baked a zillion Christmas cookies, and got to spend a whole week with my first grandson who is quickly figuring out how to pull himself up and stand on his own. It was magical.

However, along with the joys of Christmas comes the crappy skies of Wisconsin. As the atmosphere above us grows colder each winter, the condensation and cloudiness spread out horizontally and results in mostly overcast days and nights. The clouds pretty much roll in here late in November and stay until the Messier Marathon. Then, when it does warm up a little, we are stuck with ground and air temperatures that are almost the same, which brings fog and condensation. Oh, and living a few miles away from a Great Lake doesn’t help much either.

And if that’s not bad enough, the cold temperatures discourage all except the heartiest from going outside for more than a few minutes – even on the clearest nights. Right now, the wind chill is double digits below zero, and last night the actual temperature was -7°F. If I heard right, the wind chill could dip below -30°F tonight. Sigh.

However, despite all the current weather gloom, there is a lot to look forward to in the coming year, starting off with the NPMAS Christmas Party this Wednesday (the White Elephant Gift Exchange is always a hoot!). Then there is some winter camping at Camp U-Na-Li-Ya in a few weeks, lots of blogs to write, and a calendar full of meetings and pizza at Happy Joe’s. There will be warmer nights of observing at Parmentier’s, public observing events, meteor showers, a couple of total lunar eclipses, the New Horizons spacecraft arriving at Pluto, and hopefully another great trip to the Minnesota Star Party.

The year 2015 promises to be a great year for the Astro Babes, and we hope it is a great year for you, too. Happy New Year!

– Lynn

Orion – America’s Spacecraft

Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls
Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls

After the sad story of the failed Antares spacecraft launch, I thought I would share some good news! On Friday December 5th, NASA launched the Orion spacecraft, also known as ‘America’s Spacecraft‘. The success of this quick mission is the first step in the long range goal of putting boots on Mars.

Our first goal was to develop a spacecraft that will take us out further than any human being has traveled so far, out past the moon. The Orion spacecraft will do just that.

Artist concept of Orion capture mission courtesy of NASA.
Artist concept of Orion capture mission courtesy of NASA.

The next step is to use the spacecraft in the Asteroid Redirect Mission. This mission is both exciting and, for me, a bit scary! It involves capturing a small asteroid and putting it in orbit around the moon in order to study it. Imagine, our own moon could have a small moon of it’s own! I say scary only because I just have this thing about the moon. I just don’t like the idea of messing with it. That’s a topic for another post.

NASA Photo
Orion Re-entry. NASA photo

As I watched the capsule descend to earth, it sent shivers down my spine. I knew that this was a huge step. One that will end with another “small step for a man”, our first step on Mars.

Congratulations NASA and thank you!

Amy

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