More views of Jupiter

We were out last night looking at Jupiter.  Still some nice views.  Tried the 10 mm objective with the orange filter and saw the bands very clearly.  Matt was able to make out at least one moon in his binoculars.  My eyes are too dim for that.  Took a look at the ET cluster in Cassiopeia too.  Not as clear as I have seen it, but still nice.  And nice to be able to find it.

Auriga was right over head.  And Orion is also rising at a reasonable hour.

Why is it so cold?

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Jupiter Late October 2011

Some pretty wonderful views of Jupiter lately.  As it turns out, according to a recent Astronomy Picture of the Day Jupiter is near opposition, and also quite close to the earth.  So, prime viewing.  As we have been having some very clear skies lately (at least over my house), nice looks at Jupiter and its moons (some of them).  Have yet to see the spot though.

Also, continuing to have good luck with the telrad.

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Star Party October 2011

Well, it is kind of late here, and I haven’t written the whole thing up, but it was a pretty good party, for me.  The sky was a little hazy at first, but it cleared up as the night got older and colder.  Here are the constellations I considered:

Cygnus, Lyra, Sagittarius (well, I think I saw it, but it was setting at the time), Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Andromeda, Perseus.

I found nearly everything I was looking for, some old standbys, and at least one new find (I mean new for me to find).  I will come back tomorrow and fill it all in.

So, here goes:

Cygnus:  well, Kathy really likes albireo, and even though it was almost directly overhead when I could first see it, it is a good test of my ability to find anything.  Using the telrad, and the finder scope (which I think is 7x) I did find it.  That was an auspicious beginning of the night.  Now, I know you are thinking that Cygnus is full of all kinds of things, and someday I hope to track them all down, but I am going to have to wait for a better angle.

Lyra.  Okay, M57, but again almost directly overhead.  But I found it, again the telrad working very well.

Sagittarius, it was setting into the moonlight and the city lights.  No chances there.

Cassiopeia:  There is something that has been shown to me a few times, that I have never been able to find on my own.  NGC457.  Don’t laugh.  I just never knew where it was.  But we were waiting for Jupiter to get over the trees, and so I thought, let me just scan the area.  And what the heck?  There is was.  I didn’t even use any finding technique, except the old fashioned push the scope around and wait til something appears.  This is a great cluster.  Marlene proclaimed it the best thing she had seen all night (and maybe ever).  Kathy also liked it alot, once she recognized the shape.  It seems also cool to me that as it goes across the sky ET does a headstand.  I felt pretty good about that, so I went for NGC 581 (M 103).  Again the telrad had me right on it.  I saw clearly the triangle with the slight nebulosity.  Checking it against the picture in the book (which I almost never do), confirmed the find.

Again, there are lots of things in Cassiopeia, but Jupiter was on the rise.  Kathy was getting impatient, so even though it was still low on the horizon, I turned the scope on it.  It was beautiful.  In the 25mm eyepiece you could see 4 or 5 moons, and the bands.  No spot this time (something I have never seen.  I need to get back on the phone call list).  Anyway, I soon had a line of observers at my telescope.  The lowly 6 inch dob had a line.  Kathy said, “See if you look at Jupiter, you will be popular!”  Indeed.  Planets are the home runs of amateur astronomy.  Saturn is a grand slam (at least when you can see the rings.)

Pegasus:  Only one thing in Pegasus is a sure thing:  M15, which is a pretty nice globular cluster.  A pretty easy find using the telrad to hop from Enif.  And then on to

Andromeda:  Which had been up almost all night, but was finally high enough to afford a good look at M31, M32 and M110.  Well, clearly M31 M110 maybe M32.  Basically this convinces me that I really need a chair for this telescope.  Next time the Blue Snowball.

Perseus:  Toward the end of my night, I noticed Perseus and remembered the great Double Cluster.  I think I have found this before, but I didn’t really remember, and in any case I was really happy with the telrad, and thought this would give another opportunity to practice.  So NGC 869 and NGC 884.  I was a little confused at first about which star was 15-eta and which was 23-gamma, but I finally got it sorted out, and got right on the great Double Cluster.  Next time I will try to find Collinder 29 as well.

I think that was about it for that night under the stars.  One Day’s Gazing.

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Birmingham gets as much annual rainfall as Seattle.  Nevertheless, I am optimistic that I should get some looking in sometime soon, and when I don’t I can be studying the Messier Marathon book, and trying to figure out what should be where when.  I have a tendency to rely on the kindness of strangers, or relatives, to point out everything worth seeing, but I am trying to do better.

I like the idea of the geometric method.  However, maybe I have some sort of inner ear balance problem.  When I look up I loose directions, and when I look down (as into the eyepiece) everything gets upside down, and maybe backwards too.  But that is what is supposed to happen.

So, in the next few days I will pick some nice M objects to try to find, and then find them.  In the summer haze above my house.

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Vincent and Walt

Have you read Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo? I haven’t yet. I found this quote in Gardner’s Art Through the Ages (page 918):

Perhaps death is not the hardest thing in a painter’s life. . . . [L]ooking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star.

~ Vincent van Gogh in a letter to Theo, September 1888.

He painted Starry Night in 1889.

He committed suicide in 1890 at age 37.

I wonder if he had read Walt Whitman . . .


A Clear Midnight

This is the hour, O soul, thy free flight into the wordless,

Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,

Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best:

Night, sleep, death, and the stars.

    ~ Walt Whitman (1881)
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Hip Pocket

You mentioned this publisher, Hippocketpress, and it reminds me of an experience I had.  There used to be pocketbooks, what maybe then were called paperbacks, and they sort of fit in a pocket.

Some years back I was walking down the street in Long Beach, CA.  I think it was even Long Beach Blvd.  And there is a woman walking in front of me wearing some short cut off jeans.  Pretty nice.  You might say, to tie it to this website theme, a heavenly body, but you might decide not to say that, in the interest of avoiding cliche, anon anon.

So in the hip pocket of those cut off jeans, she has a pocketbook, even a hippocketbook.  Yes, World’s Greatest Short Short Stories.

That is my favorite short short story.  Might have been a longer story, but in those days, as ever, I don’t talk to women.

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The Stars Will Outshine Us

Like you, I read a fair bit, and sometimes a poem or piece of prose affects me, and I want to share it with others. Sometimes these pieces are even related to looking up, or space, or even equipment and gear. So I’ve added a new category for our posts here: Poetry & Prose.

To start, here’s a poem I wrote that was rejected by AstroPoetica (not all my poems are rejected; see this Winter’s Canary, an on-line poetry magazine: ; it contains a poem of mine called “In the Neighborhood of Full Quiet”):


The Stars Will Outshine Us


We say we know the universe began

and might not end. We say it is open

or closed or flat. It doesn’t matter. Death

comes fast for us, and after us the stars

keep spinning out their light for a hundred

trillion years. And after that the universe

might slowly slow its inky, empty cold

for trillions upon trillions more.


we mean that we are lonely . . .

And this—All of us together, lonely.

All of us together, a single face, an eyeblink . . . a wink.


Michael Day

P.S. When Grady died as he was being born (not a single breath), I was struck deeply by how short life is. Not how short life can be; how short it is. For all of us. How many days do each of us have left? How many breaths? Heartbeats?


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Dew Heater for Telrad

I’ll be buying parts and making a dew heater for my Telrad in the next few days. Want me to make you one too? Here’s a pdf file with the instructions in case you’d rather make one yourself (scanned from the book, Starware, by Phil Harrington).



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I’m still tinkering. I’ll keep varying the header and background photos because there are so many beautiful photos at the Hubble site. And I’ve added a few links that I intend to really use. For example, CalSky (which is not specific to California); check out “CalSky Intro”, Tim), and Hubblesite and STScI.

I guess I’m trying to make this blog our star-gazing portal and record keeping site. That was my original thought anyway. I’d like to use it to narrow our options, not drown us. Clean and uncluttered is my goal. I wonder if it will work out. Also, I guess I’m just trying to figure out how to use some of this modern internet media for some real purpose.

Most of all, it’s nice being in touch with you. Surprising you with a new header photo feels good too. Ah, the simple life . . .

Still cloudy,


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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Today’s APotD reminded me of a book I want to recommend to you: Rare Earth: why complex life is uncommon in the Universe, by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee (Copernicus, an imprint of Springer-Verlag, 2000). It’s full of interesting astronomical information (Brownlee is a professor of astronomy, Ward of geological sciences). Just last night I read this:

The scattering process that bestowed on Earth life-giving material from the outer solar system also has a dark side. We have noted earlier that the accretion process never really ended. The rate is many orders of magnitude less than it was 4.5 billion years ago, but, as in any solar system where planets form by accretion of solids, the process still goes on. The annual influx of outer solar system material falling to Earth is 40,000 tons per year. This is mostly in the form of small particles, but larger objects occasionally hit. The small particle flux is one 10-micron particle per square meter per day and one 100-micron particle per square meter per year.  (pp 48-49)

So the APotD was perfect today: some of the 40,000 tons per year! The “dark side” refers, of course, to the now much rarer larger bodies (1-, 10-, or 100-kilometers in diameter), whose impacts would have serious or dire consequences for plant and animal life.

Still cloudy and raining here.


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