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Thursday, June 30, 2005


A ring of comets?

The Hubble Space Telescope has seen a dusty ring around the star Fomalhaut using Hubble’s coronagraph. Astronomers think this ring may be due to collisions in a ring of cometary material around the star, and the shape of the ring sugggests planets are sweeping the dust up.


More images of the massing

Well, the clouds have finally rolled in, so I'm taking a break from planetary massings. these pictures are from Wednesday 29, I didn't have time to upload them yesterday. Top one is normal, bottom one is 3x Zoom. Mercury is above Venus (the brightest dot) and Staurn is off to the left. Click on the image for a larger version. I wonder if I can make an animation of this sequence? Pop over to APOD for an beautiful shot of the massing with exquisite sunset colours.

Of course, the clouds will hang around so I can't image the double shadow transit of Jupiter tomorrow, or the Occultation of the Pleiades Sunday morning.


Deep Impact videos an outburst of Temple 1

After Hubble's imaging an outburst at Temple 1, Deep Impact got a video of a bigger one. Read more here.


Science as art

Take a look at the First Annual Art of Science Competition. A tip of the hat to A Voyage to Arcturus (who has also added me to his Blogroll. Thanks!). Some fantastic images at the competition site.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


You are probably geting sick of this

Another fantastic evening, getting out a microsecond earlier seems to alter the colours a fair bit. The top image is standard conditions, bottom is 3x optcal zoom. Click on the images for a larger picture.


Temple 1 in outburst

The Hubble Space Telescope has caught Comet 9P/Temple 1 in outburst. Go have a look. Comet 9P/Temple 1 is the target of the DeepImpact mission. The Deep Impact website has some nice images too.

Monday, June 27, 2005


An Amazing Massing

Today was a prefect day, sky clear and bright. I got home to see Venus and Mercury right close together, and Saturn nearby, it was beautiful. I hurriedly tried to guide my neighbor's to see it (a bit hard with the obstacles in the background) then took these quick snaps.

Then I organised curry for the Bettdeckererschnappedneder Weisles birthday dinner.

Photos taken with an Olympus µ[mju:] 300 in night scene mode, self timer on, on tripod. Top image is 3x optical zoom, bottom is normal. Click on the images for a larger image.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Venus, Mercury and Saturn, and a night full of rain

After last nights pessimistic post, today dawned fine and clear without a cloud in the sky. It's the Bettdeckererschnappender Weisles' birthday tomorrow, but as that's a school day, Middle One made waffles while I made pancakes and coffee for a luxurious breakfast in bed. Eldest One set up the tray and carried it in, while Smallest One got underfoot. As it was a beautiful day we decided to cycle to lunch with our friends. Such a beautiful day! Such a pleasant lunch! (With only one broken pepper pot, one broken plate and Eldest One fell into the canal, quite an uneventful outing).

Never tempt Hughie. We left the cafe in brilliant sunshine, and cycled straight into a tempest. The photo above shows the rainbow that accompanied us as we raced from shelter to shelter in between bursts of jack-hammer rain that shot droplets dancing high into the air as it fell. Of course we had left our raincoats behind (but luckily we did bring sunscreen). It was actually quite beautiful, but being wet and cold can get you down after a while. We got home to hot baths and showers and listened to the squalls pass. Eventually it calmed down, and the clouds headed out to sea.

Of course, the clouds all congregated where the planetary massing would be. The Sun sank lower, the clouds remained. Sunset, the clouds stayed put. Sirius and Procyon peek out, the eastern sky is sparkly clear, but the cloud squats where the trio should appear like a manevolent toad. The light drains from the sky, then finally, a break in the clouds. Venus shines forth like a beacon, then Mercury, then Saturn pops free. A beautiful triangle of planets framed by clouds. I rush out and shoot off a few images before they are consumed, pause to take in their beauty, then they are gone.

One image is shown below (you will have to click on the image to see the detail, you can barely see Saturn and Mercury in the bloggered image), the lights down the bottom of the image are ships on the horizon, so the planets were pretty low. Over on Astronomy Blogg Stuart has a nice image of his encounter with the planets.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


It's raining again.

Yes, it's raining again. No observing the massing of the planets tonight, and the forecast is for cloud tomorrow too.

To cheer myself up, the Bettdeckererschnappender Weisle and I and the kids watched the new Dr. Who. The Dalek episode. Man that was good (okay, it's a sci-fi TV series, not Four Corners or anything, but it sure beats the new Battlestar Galactica). Auntie Beeb has managed to keep halfway decent plots while adding in decent special effects.

Now I'm playing with my new copy of SkyMap Pro 11. I really like this program. Here's a screen shot.

I've looked for the next time Mercury and Venus will be so close in the handy events finder (not for many, many years) and looked at all the interesting Jupiter satellite events I've missed due to the rain and cloud (far too may). It may not be photorealistic like Starry Night, but it fits nicely on my elderly laptop and runs at a decent pace, allows me to plan my astronomy viewing sessions, and log them (if the rain ever lets me do any astronomy viewing sessions) and of course put together observing maps such as the ones I post on Southern Skywatch

Planetarium programs are very much a personal choice, peoples observing needs are very different. I do mostly planetary/comet and occultation observing, and SkyMap is very handy for that (and it incorporates an internal download of the latest comet, asteroid and satellite orbital elements). It's got a full on version (the one I use) a light version and a demo version you can try out. However, there is lots of good astronomy planetarium programs out there. Cartes du Ciel is very handy, and it is free. And there is The Sky, which runs on Mac as well as PC. I've heard good things about them all.

But none of them make the sky clear, so it's off to bed for me.


Now that's pretty!

A great image of Saturns Moons from Cassini. Over at Tom's Astronomy Blogg.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Red Nose Day

It's red nose day today. Get yourself a red nose for yourself or your car, or buy a pen or a teddy bear. It's all in aid of SIDs community aid and research, so be a hero with a Red Nose.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Venus and Mercury and Saturn, Oh My!

The bucketing rain has stopped (well for Adelaide, 53 mm is bucketing down, in my birthtown of Brisbane 53 mm is a light shower), the clouds have parted, and I have got my first view of the massing of Venus, Mercury and Saturn. I did a few quick shots of them with my Olympus digital camera on the way home from work. and the results is presented below. It looks somewhat darker on the web than it does in Paintshop. Mercury is at the bottom, Venus in the middle (of course) and Saturn up the top.

Mercury, Venus and Saturn will continue to get closer together over the next few days. On the 26th they will be in a circle 1.2 degrees across, and on the 27th Mercury and Venus will be visible together in a telescope. This degree of closeness is rather rare.

Of course, the 27th will be the Bettdeckererschnappender Wiesle's birthday, so I guess I won't be doing any astrophotography that night (Why is it all the really interesting phenomena that aren't covered by cloud occur during partners birthdays, or kids mealtimes or their bath times?).

Anyway, back to exam marking.


Cosmos 1 still hasn't phoned home

One of my favorite science fiction stories was Arthur C Clake's "The Wind from the Sun" a tale of a solar sail race. Solar sails always were attractive to me, there was something so cool about using light to push you around the solar system or interstellar space (I like sail generally, and I always take the opportunity to visit tall ships, and I love Eric newby's "The Last Grain Race"). Science fiction writers in general didn't have much time for solar sails, although Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vance, Robert E. Forward and Larry Niven all wrote Solar Sail stories. Solar sails don't have the same macho "right stuff" that fusion engines or hyperdrives did.

Solar sails are so simple in concept, just let photon pressure push you, but so diificult in execution. Making several miles worth of atom thin reflective material that will withstand the conditions of space, let alone the problem of packing it up an successfully unfolding it in space, is a major technical problem.

Cosmos 1 was going to be a first step to establishing solar sailing.

But something went wrong. Either it is lying at the bottom of the sea, or is is scooting along in the wrong orbit. There is a small chance that it is in the wrong orbit, and can possibly be recovered. I hope this is possible, as it will be a long slow wait until or netx opportunity to try out this beguiling concept.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Cosmos1 Star sail silent

The Cosmos1 starsail was launched this morning. However, since the orbital insertion burn, it has returned no telemtery. Mission controlers will keep trying to reach it. Cosmos1 will be visible through binoculars, but unless telemetry is established the solar sail cannot be deployed.

Monday, June 20, 2005


This is your father on drugs

This post was inspired by posts by PZ Myers and Dave Thomas.

This is your father on drugs

He’s sitting at the end of the table, eyes half lidded, arms folded in front of him, head nodding slowly. Soon his head will sink onto his folded arms, and sleep will come. Before him is the bottle of beer that has driven him to the arms of Morpheus.

In my childhood, Dad wasn’t home much, he spent a lot of time in outback towns working on construction sites. When he came home he often drank. Some nights there was shouting, screaming and long slurred, rambling arguments, but my single most vivid image of my father is that quiet, slow slide as he drank himself into oblivion.
My Dad wasn’t alone, he was typical of working class Australians who had gone away to WWII and returned changed. They drank hard. On Friday nights (payday in those far-off pre electronic deposit days) our suburb resounded with drunken fights. Dad was neither the worst, nor the best. At that young age I knew there where families where drink didn’t rule, but I also knew that there was far, far worse out there. Memories are a tricky thing. My brother remembers Dad screaming to his mates who died in the war, but I mostly remember those long, alcohol-filled silences.

This is your father not on drugs

The same table, Dad is at the same place, but it is a decade on and we are all drinking cups of tea (our house ran on tea). Mum is giving one of her anti-aboriginal monologues. Years later I will learn of the tragedy that fuels the racism of my mother who is usually kindness and tolerance itself. Dad pipes up. “We’re all black, you know.”
“We’re all black” he says again. “We’re all descendents of the Australopithicines, and they were black, so we are black". This is said with authoritative finality, because it was in Dad’s National Geographics. Most Australians of Mum and Dads age are imbued with a degree of racism, but Dad had grasped a fundamental truth, all humans are one, cousins, descendents of far-off hominids who one day walked out of Africa to cover the world in humanity. This is my most vivid memory of Dad.

Dad loved to read, he never went to High School, the bleak years of the Depression ruled that out for a working class lad, but he loved to read and read widely. He subscribed to National Geographic, and read it cover to cover. I read it too, Dad was happy for me to read his precious magazines, keep neat and tidy in library-like order. Its articles on stars and planets and space craft kept me entralled. In one issue was a full layout of the Apollo instrument panel. I would sit for hours pressing the photographed buttons imagining I was on the way to the Moon. Years later I would discover Dad’s Steinbeck’s, and archy and mehethibel and the books on Anthropology, but for the young me the collection of National Geographics was heaven, a gravitational mass of words and images that would eventually nudge me into the orbit of science.

In my childhood, Dad wasn’t home much, he spent a lot of time in outback towns working on construction sites. When he came home, he brought back strange minerals from mining towns and fossils. Those minerals and fossils lined the walls of my room until I left home. Even now, decades later, after moving across continents, I still have some of the fossils he gave me.

Unlike my mother, who tirelessly worked to ensure that my brother and I would have the opportunities denied to her and Dad, Dad never encouraged my academic ambitions directly. But when I was developing my interest in star gazing, he gave me his old binoculars. Sturdy military 10x50’s, I rested them on my window sill and cataloged the craters of the Moon that I could just see. Or I lay on my back in the back yard, absorbing the beauty of the Milky Way. Later, when I had bought a little 50mm refractor from saved up money, he made a better mount for me. I still use it. Later still, he took me around to a mate of his who made telescopes. We bought a mirror off him, and together he and I made the telescope to go with the mirror. Or rather Dad did it mostly, and I was regulated to occasional carrier of things. Dad was an artisan with his hands, he could work wood and metal with ease, making chairs, cupboards, tables. He even made his own collection of carving knives. The telescope worked beautifully, and the views through it were breath taking.

It must have been some regret to him that his eldest son was a complete fumble fingers, but then this was balanced by the fact that his eldest son was rarely on the same mental planet long enough to have a conversation with. Conversation wasn’t a big thing with Dad anyway. But that was fine by me, he was only loquacious when drunk. When home, he would wake me at 5.30 am before going to work, and we would sit in companionable silence, drinking tea in our small kitchen. When my astronomy was going full swing, I would wake him at 4.30 am with a cup of tea, go and finish my observations, then we would sit in companionable silence again.

I’m sure Dad would have been surprised to know that his fumble fingered, daydreaming, star-obsessed son would end up Patch Clamping nerve cells in Germany, an insanely delicate technique. But Dad died while I was in Germany, before I learnt Patch Clamping. When my brother rang I knew it had to be bad news, as my brother never rang me in Australia, let alone Germany.

At his funeral, a long line of friends told stories of a kind, humorous, hard-working man who helped build the Bowls club, stood by his mates, and was helping restore an old ship. Memory is a funny thing, people remember things differently, I didn’t remember the man they were describing. I remember the man drooping in front of the bottle, I remember the man connecting with our ancestors, the man who loved National Geographics. I remember a man of contradictions who I nonetheless loved and missed.

My father wasn’t the best father in the world, but he was a good father to me.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Comet Maps Up

The maps of comet 2005 K2 are up at Southern Skywatch.


A comet splits in two

Comet 2005/K2 has split in two! Predicted to be an uninspiring 11.2, it is brighter than expected, around 8.5, which puts it in "easy" amateur range. Except it is very low. It's 11 deg above the northewest horizon tonight, almost directly below Regulus, and will skim up through Cancer and the beehive to Hydra the next few days.

Here's a nice image of the comet from Mike H. Also have a look at this page.

Here's some position locations, time is at local astronomical twilight (ACST)
Date Altitude Geo R.A. Geo Dec
18 Jun 2005 +11° 10' 30" 08h 48m 34.1s +32° 41' 12"
19 Jun 2005 +12° 55' 14" 08h 48m 18.1s +29° 53' 09"
20 Jun 2005 +14° 30' 47" 08h 47m 52.4s +27° 10' 44"
21 Jun 2005 +15° 56' 40" 08h 47m 17.5s +24° 34' 27"
22 Jun 2005 +17° 12' 37" 08h 46m 34.1s +22° 04' 40"

I'll try and get a map up on my website ASAP. Of course, it is pissing down here.

For more on the story see Sky&Telescope.

Friday, June 17, 2005


Not another Exoplanet

I've had a good day in the lab killing cultured nerve cells. I rigged up my digital camera and took some images through the microscope. From the pictures I can now follow neurite and nerve degeneration in individual cells rather than relying on crude spectrophotometric methods. They were such a success I've ordered Steve Mogg's webcam adaptor for microscopes, so I don't have to balance the camera precariously while imaging the cells (Level 4 have an umpteen thousand dollar fluorescent microscope that has a digital camera attached, but it is useless for bog standard light microscopy). I use Steve's adaptor for my own astrophotography.

Buoyed up by this success, and the double shadow transit tonight, I rushed home ... to cloud. And more cloud. No transit images. So to cheer myself up the Bettdeckererschnappender weisle and I watched a bizarre German version of "Behold the Man" and I trawled APOD for some cheering images.

Well, they have found ANOTHER exoplanet. This one is only about 6 times the size of Earth, so it is probably the first terrestrial planet ever found. A bit toasty though, makes Venus seem positively Arctic. Anyway, pop over to APOD and get the full story (and a nice painting).


And a picture no less

Well, after posting my saga, it appears at least one Adelaidean had enough clear sky to take some photos. Richard Challis of Adelaide Hills got his image posted over at SpaceWeather. Have a look at this:

This is sort of what I saw, only wobblier, with more cloud.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Daylight Jupiter Blues

It's 30 minutes to Jupiter's closest approach and all I see is cloud cloud cloud. This morning, in a burst of optimism, I packed my big binoculars and portable 50 mm refractor and took them to work.

Of course it bucketed down. At lunch time I wandered around outside the building to see if there was a good vantage point, but all I could see was cloud. It was like this last year, for the naked eye occultation of Venus. A beautiful clear day the day before, thick cloud on the day.

15 minutes to closest approach. I wander off down the corridor while Rebecca finishes the lymphocyte proliferation assay. At least that is working correctly. I press my face to the window at the edge of the corridor.

Then the Moon appears from behind a cloud. Amazingly a whole chunk of clear sky has just framed Selene. I try to see Jupiter with my unaided eye, but through the grimy glass I just can't spot it. I rush back to Rebecca to check the results (very interesting) help her clean up (this was her first time running the assay by herself, and things went well), then pop outside with my binoculars to look at the Moon.

Cloud. I wait 5 minutes and am rewarded with a 30 second break, I swing up the binoculars ... and I see it, a bright dot just above and to the left of the Moon, I try and see Jupiter unaided ... but the cloud swallows the Moon again. Still, I am jubilent, daytime Jupiter at last!

Back to the lab, I continue doing some marking. Cloud outside. I pop out onto the walkway joining the North and South Buildings and suddenly there is another cloud break and the Moon is with us once again. I pop back into the lab, grab the binoculars and drag Francis the PhD student out with me. For a few glorious moments we see Jupiter floating above the Moon in the binocs. Looking up, I see another break coming. I rush in and assemble the scope, and call up some folks in the level 5 labs. Drag the scope onto the walkway, line up the Moon ... and there it is a pale banded ball visible in the daytime sky. Francis sees it too. The others make it to the walkway, and the cloud comes over again. We wait awhile, another break, one of the honours students sees Jupiter through the scope fleetingly, and then the cloud comes again.

We wait, the cloud stays, the level 5 folks go back. I pack up. Francis and I share the warm glow of seeing something special under difficult circumstances.

Then I go back to marking.

Walking home from the train, I see Jupiter, now far past the Moon, peaking through the cloud, playing hide and seek. But I won't play, I gotcha under far more difficult conditions today.


Let's try that again.

Astroblogger has been moribund for 6 months, ironically shortly after I wrote this
But now with the ADSL modem, connecting in and updating my Blog should be a lot easier, so lets hope I'm more bloggish now.

Ha! Well, it didn't quite work that way, despite having lots of things to blogg about. Hopefully I can add them over the coming weeks. Let's see if I can get this blogging thing happening.

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