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Thursday, May 20, 2010


2000 posts! Time for a competition!

I’m not really good at keeping track of my blog stats, and keep on missing anniversaries and so on. However, in 7 posts time I will have made 2000 posts on this blog since I started it in 2004. So it’s time for a competition.

I have a copy of “The Hunt for Planet X” to give away. All you have to do is write about your most enthralling amateur astronomy experience, be it a stunning telescopic view, a meteor blazing overhead or sharing an eclipse with your family. Post your story in the comments here. The stories will be judged by myself and my family, and the best will be promoted to a post of its own as the 2000th post, as well as having a copy of “The Hunt for Planet X” being sent your way. At an average of a post a day, you have 6 days to write your story. Get to it!


I could tell you about my solar eclipse experince in 1999.
It was overcast all day. Raining. This is Germany in Summer (August) - but rain is just part of living over there. To see the event all of Germany gets in their car and drives to the southern states - Autobahn chock full. (One man dies because during the eclipse he doesn't see the need to actually stop driving his car and runs into a bridge pylon. Several people go blind because they look at the sun with unprotected eyes or with inappropriate protection (like using a CD or Aluminium foil instead of proper solar viewing glasses).
But I'm in a car of 4 people, driving in dense traffic for hours until we enter the predicted eclipse path and it is raining! The sky is cloudy. We keep going south, keep listening to the weather and traffic forecast. We're cutting it close, entering the path probably only half an hour before the eclipse starts because there's so much more traffic than we anticipated. Clouds overhead always. Some patches of blue sky open up here and there, but not underneath where we expect the sun to be. And then the time has come - first contact has already happened - it takes a while from first contact to totality though. So we park the car and lie down in a field. Hoping. And then the clouds actually parted for the duration of totality!! That was SO uncanny! Moon was halfway across the sun when the clouds parted, and we got to enjoy the whole spectacle of weird purple light, we tried to see crescent shadows but couldn't, and generally just lay amazed in the field appreciating how inCREDibly lucky we were.
And shortly after totality as the moon was moving away and a limb of the sun started to reappear the clouds shut the skies off again.
So if you're thinking of travelling to Queensland for the November 2012 eclipse, appreciate that the chance for clear skies is good there - but even if it's cloudy it might still be worth going. 'Nuff said.
-Tom Magill
My experience may not fall under strict astronomy but one night after reading the novelisation of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I sat outside on the steps of my house in Melbourne at about 2:30 AM one night. I noticed a steady orange orb floating in a straight line low and slow across the city. I am very familiar with airctaft and it had no running lights and did not make a noise. It wasn't a police helicopter. My mind was abuzz with aliens and UFOs after reading the book. The next day I learnt that other people witnessed this as well, some as far as South Australia. To this day I never learnt what it was. Probably a weather baloon but this is the time time I've seen a UFO.
I've had two WOW! experiences and can't choose which had the most impact - so here's both of them.
The first was a total eclipse in Melbourne. It wasn't the eclipse itself that made the greatest impression, it was the other-worldly silence and the strange and unexpected colour of the air. Eerie and unforgettable, like being transported to another planet.
The second was my first view of Saturn through a friend's backyard telescope. Having seen many photographs of Saturn and its rings, I was unprepared for the 3D reality of the planet actually hanging there in space. It was over an hour before I could wrench myself away from the telescope. Experiential learning like this should be part of every high school syllabus.
Posted for Andrew Burrow.

Hi Ian,

I too am an amateur astronomer, although I now have no telescope, but I
still wonder when I look up to the heavens. My first experience was when
my dad took my friend and I to the Auckland observatory where we saw the
moon and Mars through the big telescope. I bought a couple of small
books that night, one of which I still have, now with pencil notations,
called Stars of the Southern Sky. I duly got as a present my first and
only telescope, a 60mm refractor. On it's wobbly tripod I was so excited
to see the rings of Saturn, Jupiter with four of it's moons, and of
course our moon. Even my eyelash would make the thing shake, and earth's
rotation meant I was continually adjusting the coarse controls to keep
the object in view. They were happy nights.
When I was a very young lad living on the outskirts of Melbourne, I was taken outside to view Sputnik 1 flyover. What I remember of that evening is the mosquitos and the stars. I was told the stars were like our Sun but so far away that they were only pin points of light. I was also told about planets, like the Earth we lived on and went around the Sun. I asked the adults around me to show me another planet. They couldn't and I was disappointed.

I then remember the adults get exited about a specific light in the sky, Sputnik 1, I don't remember seeing it. I was 12 before I figured out how to find planets, Mars being the first.

That night though left me with a life long hobby, now over 50 years & still running, in astronomy.

Chris Wyatt
My best astronomy experience involved no telescope, or meteors, and not even a pair of binoculars. It was simply sitting in a canoe, well up the Noosa river, well away from city lights. It was utterly startling, to look up and see just how full of stars the Milky Way really was - far more than I could ever see in Brisbane (where I grew up) or Canberra (where I live).
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