Star sizes

I just saw this on Facebook and thought I would share it here. This gives a great representation of how truly small we are in the universe. Image Betelgeuse. That little red dot that represents Orion's right hand. Wow, our sun is really small.

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Bertha Bites the Dust (AGAIN!)

I was hoping that this web site would serve as a great tool for posting exciting observations and cool astrophotos that I imaged with my new camera. Bertha returned last year on the dubious day of September 11th, and has really worked well since her return. On Friday night I opened the dome and went about some visual observing of Saturn and other goodies. Shortly after telling Bertha to slew to a new location, the Autostar handset started blinking and beeping and I had to turn off the scope to reset it. This meant that lost my polar alignment and would have to realign the scope before continuing any GOTO activities.

Enjoying the clear sky, I decided to manually flip the scope over, pointing to Polaris, and began the process of alignment. After about 10 minutes or so, I slewed to Leo and wanted to observe the deep sky elements in that constellation. Slewing from one Messier object to the next, I was pleased that the scope brought each object into nearly the center of my 26mm eyepiece. I got lost in the sites of clusters and galaxies, and eventually started feeling the cold. I decided to call it a night and parked the scope. This time, however, instead of the scope slewing to the normal park position, it stopped halfway and was done. I had to turn off the scope, which meant for the second time that night I lost my alignment.

As you can imagine, I was beyond perturbed, and called Meade as soon as I could on Monday. After I explained the hundreds of hours lost in the past six months since her last repair, they agreed to service it again. Fortunately I still had the shipping boxes left from the last delivery, so off she went today. I just hope it doesn't take ANOTHER three months. There goes another Messier marathon down the drain. Better luck next year I guess.

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Starry Christmas Gifts

Inspired by the August 27th podcast titled, "Need a Unique Birthday Gift? “Buy” a Birthday Star"  from the 365 Days of Astronomy, I thought I would share my views on the topic.  Patrick McQuillan and his son Ryan did a fabulous job presenting the rather silly side of buying a star in someone's name. I did a little research and found for any where from *9.95 to a whopping $154.95, I could name a star for someone. The "Ultimate Kit" included some very exciting components:

Beautiful 12" X 16" full color parchment certificate personalized with the star name, date and coordinates. The certificate comes beautifully double matted in a gold metallic frame. The outer mat is a cream colored "flannel" and the inner mat is a dark delft blue which matches the colors in the certificate.

A Personalized 12" X 16" sky chart containing the star name, star date, the constellation and the location circled in red where the star is in the sky. The personalized star chart is framed also in this package. The frame measures 20" X 16" and matches the frame in the Deluxe package.

A booklet on astronomy written by a professional astronomer with additional sky charts.

A letter of congratulations/memorial for the recipient.

The package also includes a complimentary personalized wallet card imprinted with the star name and coordinates.


My favorite is the wallet card. Imagine how many times the recipient will whip that out at a party and share it with friends and family. A gift that keeps on giving. Granted, there is "some" value in two items that are framed. At least you get two frames to put something of real value in later. Second, this kit was offered by the one and only "International Star Registry."  Please note, there is one and only one organization in the world that has anything to do with the naming of stars. It is the International Astronomical Union which also has a very interesting article on this topic. This is the group that declared Pluto was now considered a dwarf planet and reduced our solar system to eight planets.

So, if you want to name a star for someone, send me the $100 and I'll do the same ridiculous things as the online services and store the registration in my own official registry which is as real and official as those online. However, if you want to do something fun that is a little more real, make up a certificate for a "Birth Star". No, there isn't a registry and no one's name will be attached. What I'm suggesting is do a search on star distances and pick one that is the same number of light years away as the receiver. This means that the light that everyone sees left that star the year the person was born. It's a gift that you can keep on giving each year, as you'll have to pick a different star, but hey, it's free and it's fun, and it's not a load of junk that the star naming sites offer.


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Winter Solstice

When people are asked the question, "What causes the seasons on Earth?" the most frequent answer is our distance from the sun. Unfortunately, for our science teachers success record, that is not the correct answer. The reason for the seasons is that the Earth is tilted towards or away from the sun. When it's winter time, we are tilted away from the sun, so the sun light glances off the planet and is also lower in the sky, giving us much less energy and much less heat than in the summer.

The Earth at the start of the 4 (astronomical) seasons as seen from the north and ignoring the atmosphere (no clouds, no twilight).
The Earth at the start of the 4 (astronomical) seasons as seen from the north and ignoring the atmosphere (no clouds, no twilight).
The Winter Solstice occurs exactly when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. Though the Winter Solstice lasts an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midwinter to refer to the day on which it occurs. For most people in the high latitudes this is commonly known as the shortest day and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the Winter Solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. The Winter Solstice is also the shortest day or lowest sun position for people in low latitudes located between the Tropic of Cancer (23°26'N) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23°26'S). Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice occurs some time between December 21 and December 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and between June 20 and June 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid meteor showing is about to happen, peaking December 13th-14th. The good news is that this meteor shower starts around 9:00, so we don't have to wait until the wee hours of the morning like we did with the Leonids. The dust that cause the Geminids doesn't originate from a comet, but instead is thought to be from an asteroid called Phaethon. The particles will be traveling around 86,000, and are believed to be the remnants of when Phaethon may have been a comet. Perhaps it traveled too many times thorugh our solar system that it lost all of its icy shell and now it's just a rock? That shell is what we hope to see tomorow night. Hope you have clear skys and dress warmly!

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Changing site to glFusion

After spending considerable time trying to integrate a "standard" html web site with a Coppermine image gallery and a Wordpress blog, it seemed that the use of a Content Management System (CMS) would make mouch more sense. So I did some research and found that glFusion was a much better way to go. I will be moving the blog over as soon as I can.

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