Quadrantid meteor shower and observing session

I went out last night with my youngest for a meteor shower watching party which had been scheduled from 9 to 11 up at the school. It was colder than its been all season, but the sky was clear and the moon was last quarter and hadn’t risen as yet. We bundled up really well, brought out some camp chairs and blankets and a pair of (I thought) decent binocs. As the night went on these became nearly inoperable in the 27-28F temps, and I’ve read that better quality binocs don’t have that problem.

The teacher got the kids organized and looking up and gave some opening remarks before introducing her guest for the night who turned out to be my favorite professor from when I was working on my masters at Stony Brook, Dan Davis! He had brought out two telescopes, both Dobsonians, one an immense 14″ and I believe the other was either a 10″ or 12″ and was busily assembling and collimating them. To collimate basically means to align the mirrors so that the image is as perfect as possible. This video gives you an idea of what is involved (keep in mind this was being done in the dark).

Continue reading “Quadrantid meteor shower and observing session”

A quick peek at Jupiter and her moons

Getting home late tonight we stepped out of the car and looked up Southward to behold the ominous (and luminous) sight of the Moon almost to the full against a backdrop of wispy clouds directly over the house. I quickly made plans with my eldest to meet in the backyard with the binocs for some impromptu sky gazing, and though a night with a nearly full moon isn’t the best time to look we were both so glad we did. Learning how to use binoculars properly takes a little time, but what a payoff! My daughter also recently got new glasses so just having those on was awe-inspiring for her, let alone the close up view the binocs afforded. But the real treat was our view of Jupiter. At the time it was still pretty low in the East, but there weren’t any clouds near it (at first) and after a few minutes of fiddling, I at least was able to resolve two moons. A quick check of Stellarium afterwards confirms that what I had been seeing was Ganymede on the left and the combined light from Europa and Callisto on the right. I didn’t see iO, but the wife claims she did. I’ll include a couple screen shots from Stellarium of what it looked like to us. You know its a great night of gazing when your kid is as excited about it as you are! She even said she wants to study Astronomy more! Win!

Dinosaurs not killed off by asteroid impact?

The theory that the dinosaurs were killed off by the Chicxulub meteor about 65 million years ago may be wrong! I found the article in Time, but Gerta Keller of Princetons Chicxulub page has more details. The findings are apparently not new having been presented in France in 2003 after 10 years of fieldwork. Not sure why Time picked up the story recently unless the findings are only being published now in the Journal of the Geological Society that she and another researcher were able to find just as many species in the 30 ft layer of soil above the infamous iridium layer laid down by the asteroid impact as beneath it at several sites in Mexico suggesting that the impact didn’t kill off any species at all. The mass die off appears to occur above this 30 ft layer, so their research suggests whatever killed off the dinosaurs happened about 300,000 years after the asteroid hit.

The Real Lord of the Rings

It was one of the quieter New Year’s Eves for me personally. We didn’t invite anyone over, we didn’t make plans to go anywhere. My youngest is still recovering from being sick and we didn’t know how we would be feeling ourselves. While a million people were partying in Manhattan, I was in the back yard gazing at the real Lord of the Rings, Saturn. Saturn is closer that it will be until 2034 at a "mere" 748 million miles away. It’s rings are tilted at about 25 degrees to our line of sight such that they are much easier to see (with a telescope) than when they are presented "edge on".

I’m not sure, but I think I had a better experience with the binoculars (Bausch & Lomb Legacy 7 x35 EWA 11 degrees) than I did with the old Jason refractor. Through the binocs, Saturn appeared quite bright (the Moon is only just past first quarter and was hanging low in the west at about 11:30pm), and I swear I could make out the rings (though I may have been imagining it!) With the jason, I could get it into the field of view OK (which is usually a pain since the viewfinder is messed up), but the resolving power wasn’t good enough to make out even the hint of rings.

I’ll have to seriously investigate a better telescope soon. I go out often enough that it wouldn’t be too terrible a waste of money. But when you can go inside and cruise to the Hubble image repository, it does begin to seem a waste of time. There are some cool telescopes you can hook up to your computer and control remotely now too. I wouldn’t even have to brave the elements! You can actually punch in the azimuth and declination and *zap* the thing will be pointing at the the right place in the sky. Cool. Anybody else have a telescope?