Daily Archives: 21/04/2010

Observing tonight

The Eddington Society canceled its April 21st sky watch due to the expectation that twilight would be just too bright. However, the date was left on the website and the Moon was shining nicely with Venus just a moment away, so I took my telescope down to Abbot Hall park and managed to meet up with someone down there. No vast array of telescopes this time, just me and my own. But not my eyepieces, which I had to rush home for. As well as pictures from the night, I’ve included some pictures of the Moon from previous weeks.

Target one of the evening was Venus, hanging pretty high in the West. The bright planet shows a disc with phases. Then the telescope was moved onto the Moon, rather bigger and even brighter in a lovely half phase. There were some lovely rilles and valleys and quite a few craters with peaks and mountains illuminated within, we stuck here for quite a while.

A Chinese lantern (don’t write in…) sailed overhead to mark nine o’clock as they tend to do at the moment. No UFO, just someone letting off an ornament, making a strange light in the sky. It joined a group of planes seeming intent on making up for lost time and the odd helicopter.

We moved onto the Beehive cluster and then to Mars, presenting an orange disc. Although there wasn’t much in the way of any level of detail to be seen, just seeing it as a disc was enough. But there was one planet for which a disc would never be enough and that was next.

Saturn appeared as a bright, distinct object accompanied by Titan as a speck. The slender line of the rings at either side of the planet seemingly joined by the darker line of the shadow of the rings, easily visible in the 4mm eyepiece. Despite the rings being as they were, not the widened splendour we’ve been used to, this counts as one of my better views of the ringed planet.

A murkiness fell over Kendal that turned the Moon a shade of green and gifted it a ring of iridescence. I scouted around for a couple of dim comets, but soon gave up and ended the session at 10pm. Then back home for a cuppa and preparations for London. I should return to blogging on either Friday night or Saturday, depending on how exhausting the travel was…

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Solar Dynamics Observatory releases images

The Solar Dynamics Observatory, SDO (which tweets here), has released pictures and videos of the churning plasma on the surface of the Sun. Some of these have been transferred to their Youtube Channel and are shown below:

New bits for the ISS

The International Space Station is soon going to have to learn to live without the constant deliveries of water by space shuttle. With the heaviest lifter available to retire after three more missions, the ISS will be running its water recycling system, which Discovery dropped off during its latest visit. Might sound a bit nasty, but the living conditions on the ISS are a bit better than those outside of it. Forty years after Apollo 13, space agencies do like to be prepared against any problems that may befall space bound vehicles. Especially when something seemingly so minor as the placement of oxygen tanks (#9 in Universe Today’s 13 things that saved Apollo 13) can make or break a rescue.

One new bit that will be going up in a hundred days or so to be fixed to the outside of the station is the alpha magnetic spectrometer 2, which will be measuring the composition and energy of cosmic rays.

Preview of the May Issue of Astronomy Now

Keith Cooper, editor of the UK based astronomy magazine Astronomy Now, introduces the May issue:

Meanwhile Dr Alan Longstaff, who does the Ask Alan bit of the magazine, answers questions on this month’s focus – meteorites:

Ash cloud and #SciVote roundup

As the Government admits it may have been overcautious in closing down the UK’s airspace for six days, the need for evidence based policies has rarely been more evident during the election campaign. The ash cloud (which is still going) has often been quoted to be invisible to aircraft – but that’s only aircraft without certain equipment used in atmospheric and astronomical observations (or links to satellites and monitoring stations with the same).

Lidar measurements (optical radar, bouncing lasers rather than radio waves off particles) are capable of examining the density, size and shape of particles, useful when determining how much and how dangerous ash is. These plots from the 16th show the cloud and engineering data can be used to extrapolate its effect on aircraft. Lidar are also used by satellites such as Calipso to map ash clouds. ESA satellites such as EnviSat are also having a look, with the latest picture here. All of these efforts are part of the less sexy Earth observation program that often gets hammered in terms of UK funding because the ‘impact’ is not obvious enough to ministers. Whereas Hubble celebrating twenty years in space is rightly getting attention across the world, ERS-2, which is celebrating fifteen years of watching the Earth won’t be looking forward to similar plaudits if it lives out another five years.

There are fightbacks in evidence, such as the Science Party (who tweet here) standing in Bosworth. Hopefully, if we can put a few more scientists and a few less lawyers in parliament, misunderstandings on issues such as what is an IP address could be relegated to the past…

Things to do…

Another quick reminder of things to do (I will be at a conference for the next two days, meaning no blog posts).

Tonight is the Eddington Society Skywatch at Abbot Hall park, Kendal from 8pm. This is our second major event during Global Astronomy Month and coincides with Lunar Week. GAM themselves are also hosting an online observing event at 19:30 UT (20:30 BST) tonight.

It is also the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower, with a low level of activity, maybe a meteor every ten minutes or so, expected in the early hours.

Turning from the Moon to the Sun, also tonight, the Solar Dynamics Observatory will have its first images premiered at 19:15 BST (2:15 EDT) tonight at this webpage.

Meanwhile those in London might be interested to know at the National History Museum there is to be a debate on alien life including astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell of UCL at 19:00-21:00 on April 29th.

Meanwhile over in the USA, NASA offers live interviews with two of the Hubble Space Telescope’s premier scientists on Friday 23rd of April between 6-9am EDT (11-14am BST), to be broadcast on NASA TV. Further information here.