Over the past week, during clear pre-dawn skies, I got a bit obsessed with the trio of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars rising in the east, and have been trying to find a way to take a picture. Not easy, since I’m working with my phone – which has a pretty nice camera, actually, but isn’t geared for long, timed exposures.
This morning, I managed the best shot of the week – not super-impressive, by any means, but I’m happy with it for now:
Venus is the brightest, up there at the top, and Jupiter’s the second-brightest. You have to look just a bit above Jupiter, and ever-so slightly to the right – say, one minute past midnight on a clock face – to see Mars, but it’s there.
So: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Earth (which totally counts because you can see the trees and clouds) – four planets. Why the asterisk in the post title? You’ll have to trust me and Google Sky on this one, but lost in the light saturation needed to capture the planets was a pretty old, rising crescent moon, just above the treetops left of center. And as it happens, Mercury is right alongside that moon:
(Image from EarthSky.org – which has a really nice guide to this month’s morning sky.)
Which means that from a certain point of view, I woke early up this morning was rewarded with the chance to take a picture of more than half our solar system. Which is pretty cool.
I finally got around to borrowing the telescope the North Canton Public Library loans out, and spent a little more than an hour outside last night just wandering comfortable territory and taking in easily-spotted stuff: the Great Nebula in Orion, Sirius, Mars, and the Pleiades, just before they sank over the rooftop to the west.
The telescope is an Orion StarBlast 4.5-inch reflector – and for an uber-amateur like me, it’s just about perfect: compact and stable and portable and really simple to use.
I tried to do a little more targeted observing and see if I could find star clusters and things in Cassiopeia, but the battery in the red-dot viewfinder ran low, and I wasn’t really in the best location, with the constellation low over the neighbor’s house in a smudge of streetlight reflection. Still, even though the Milky Way wasn’t apparent to the naked eye, it was there in the telescope like I’d never seen it before. I just sort of gently swept my aim back and forth – I landed on something neat up between Orion’s club and Gemini, but honestly, that area’s so rich with stuff I couldn’t tell you what it was, even though I tried to pinpoint it by memory after I’d gone inside. I even managed to catch a satellite crossing the telescope field at one point.
I’ve got the telescope for the next two weeks – fingers crossed for clear skies during a planned visit to my mom’s house, which is a good 20 miles from any significant city lights – and now that I’ve got that first impatient night out of the way, I’ll do some better planning and try to pick out some things I’ve never seen before.
Of course, even the familiar remains fantastic: This morning, I couldn’t resist checking out the waning crescent moon before the sun was fully up.
David Morgan-Mar’s got a golden “Irregular Webcomic!” today and sharing it cannot wait.
The winning point in this one is scored not by the strip itself – though it is funny – but in the fascinating write-up below it.
Astronomy, exploration, history, and a vintage Aaron Spelling reference?
Here’s the first panel – click on it to read the rest.
(Or here. It’s worth it.)
I’ve been a huge fan of Wired’s GeekDad blog since it launched two years ago, so seeing my name up there as a guest poster is a ridiculously cool thrill! Thanks to editor Ken Denmead for giving me the shot.
And though I missed it due to traveling and spending some fantastic time with the extended family, Galaxy Zoo easily surpassed its cosmic classification goal – update: Here’s the site’s blog about the millionth click – but the effort’s still rolling at 1.6 million and counting.
Well, thank the heavens for Bad Astronomy, because, you know, there just aren’t enough ways to kill time on the internet, right?
It took me all of two seconds to decide I wanted to play a small part in Galaxy Zoo‘s quest for one million galaxy classification clicks during the 100 Hours of Astronomy – and if you’re reading this before April 5, 2009, then You’re Soaking In It – and, as Phil Plait promised, it’s crazy addictive. I stopped after 22 classifications just to come over and bang this out, and then I’m headed back.
So far, this one‘s my favorite:
This is the sort of thing that never ceases to thrill and humble and quake me: Think of it – that smudge, there. That’s a freaking GALAXY. It’s a real place out there. It’s uncounted stars and solar systems. It exists. It’s possible to be there. It’s not just dots or light, but an actual physical occupant of this universe, that galaxy and its suns and possible planets.
I’d better stop or I’m not sleeping anytime soon.