Monday, February 25, 2008

Light Pollution Awareness - The Globe at Night - Feb 25 to Mar 8

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Over the next 13 days (February 25th through March 8th, 2008) there is an opportunity to participate in a world wide light pollution awareness project. It looks to be both easy and fun!

The folks at GLOBE and NOAO in conjunction with some other sponsors have created a educational awareness package complete with static and interactive training aids and specialized star charts.
Click here for more details on the Globe at Night light pollution awareness project.
To participate you'll need to be able to find Orion, have a good eye, and access to a computer to report your results.

Weather permitting, the 433rd will make observations during our regular meeting this week and next week on our Tour of the DDO. Hopefully, this will show the positive effect of the light pollution prevention measures put in place by the Town of Richmond Hill.

I also intend to repeat this exercise during Earth Hour to see if I can notice any visible impact and will post our results here.

I've written about light pollution before.

Many thanks to the Bad Astronomer for pointing this one out!

PS: I forgot, you may want to check out your local clear sky clocks. If you don't know about these please see this article.

Here are some other web pages and blogs endorsing the Globe at Night project:
  • NASA - here.
  • The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) - here.
  • The Bad Astronomer - here.
  • Star Stryder - here.
  • Music of the Spheres - here.
  • Chirp and Chatter - here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Observatory Tour - March 4th, 2008

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For information on the David Dunlap Observatory tour and directions, please see here.

With the proposed sale of the DDO this may be our last chance to see the Observatory!

Update: The DDO reservations page can be found here and directions here.

Unofficial Carnival of Space Search Widget

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I've created a Google Search Widget for the Carnival of Space.
Google Custom Search
It's experimental only in that it is subject to tinkering. The intent is to be able to search through sites and pages related to the Carnival of Space. Tinkering will be limited to the addition of related sites, and changes to options to limit how far the search can expand itself.

Currently, the widget searches each page has hosted the Carnival and dynamically includes pages linked from these pages. The search should not expand beyond this to the larger Internet.
I will also be adding individual sites from the carnival.

I had tried some different options initially and found some the searches went a bit astray. I'll put this down to my inexperience with Google CSE widgets.

I'll update this post if I make significant changes.

Feedback is welcome.

I've also added it to the blog's side bar for when this rolls off into the archives.

For more on Google Custom Search Engine widgets, see here.

BTW. If you are considering using this widget or creating one of your own, Google's Terms and Conditions include some "Exclusivity" terms to preserve their lock-in. If I read it correctly, they don't want to share their widgets on pages with other search engines/widgets.

Update: No longer experimental. The options that I'm using to limit searching too broadly have been working well and there appears to be no need to tinker with them anymore.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Black Hole discoverer to be eaten by land developers

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The facility that first confirmed the existence of black holes now faces annihilation behind a $100M event horizon at the hands of land developers.

I have written about this previously, here.

A new link from the Richmond Hill Naturalists can be found here. They have set up an online petition.
  • The text and form can be found here. The signature form is at the bottom of the petition text page.
This is a sad development on many levels.

Please add your voice!

An satellite view of the site is available here.

Some of the issues include:
  • While light pollution has been cited as crippling the scope, observations are made using instruments that see light that is outside the range people can see.
  • While the telescope cannot see to the edges of the universe like larger and more modern scopes, it can continue to do useful research.
  • The disposition of the telescope is uncertain and may be left up to the buyer.
  • The site is considered historical by many, including possible archeological interest.
  • The site is also of environmental interest.
Some recent coverage of the proposed sale:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Carnival of Space

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This article touches upon two areas of interest. One is communications and the other is astronomy and space exploration.

In my previous posts on ScoutBlogs, I was looking at ways that Scouters might communicate better outside of the hierarchies of their local and national organizations. I briefly considered web rings and blog networks. Another interesting idea are blog carnivals. They come in several forms, one of these is a kind of distributed roving online magazine. It's a great way for cross promotion. It also seems to require more coordination effort.

A great example of a blog carnival is "The Carnival of Space". This is a roving carnival with a central coordinator. An index can be found here. And if you loose that link, googling "Carnival of Space" will get you there in a pinch.

Update 2008-12-15: The Bat Page gets a mention in The Carnival of Space #41! This edition covers 22 different space blogs and there is some very interesting stuff including a 20 km/second catapult, a galaxy eating monster, and using WiiRemotes in physics.

One of the things I didn't mention before was that each new carnival is written and hosted by a different blogger using information submitted by others. It's fascinating and often entertaining to see the different writing styles.

APOD and other astronomy image sources

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There are some wonder sources of astronomy images on the Internet.

NASA's Astronomy Photo Of the Day site, called APOD is one. The photo of the day is here, and the index of what's archived can be found here.

Another good site is the Hubble Space Telescope Site, here with the HST photo gallery.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Astronomers Badge

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Image courtesy of NASA, the Comet is a bonus, click on image for more info
(Credit: Alessandro Dimai at the
Col Druscie Observatory)
The 433rd has been working on the astronomer badge. The (paraphrased) requirements include:
  1. Showing how to use the pointer stars (Merak and Dubhe) of the Big Dipper to find the Polaris (the North Star - the comet in the photo shows the way).
  2. Using a star chart and finding 5 constellations, see Planispheres.
  3. Learning and relating star lore (classical or aboriginal), see the Wolf Moon for one example.
  4. Knowing and describing 3 (astronomical) features of the sky, such as comets, asteroids, planetary rings, strange quasi-moons, or other news.
  5. Knowing about the phases of the moon and tides, see the Tides Game.

Earning an astronomer badge automatically counts for Black Star requirement A11 (finding the north star and 3 constellations).

Requirement 1 is paramount as it can be used to find direction!

Some easy constellations to find (in the northern hemisphere) include:
I would be interested in hearing from Cubs outside of Canada about astronomy requirements in their badges and awards. In particular, I would love to hear from Scouters in the southern hemisphere.

Update: Above I noted that Cubs can double dip on requirements for the Black Star. It turns out they can actually triple dip as the Winter Cubbing badge has a requirement to find the North Star and three night sjy objects!

Update: If you are a Cub leader outside if Canada, please also read The Great Astronomers Badge Swap.  And please click on the BadgeSwap label below to see other related badges and entries.

Earth's other moons ...

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For those of you who thought the Earth has only one moon, you may be surprised. Here are a few other "moons" (well sort of):
  • The unusual 3753 Cruithne (our "2nd moon" and pronounced "krooy-nyuh"). See here or for a very neat animation here.
  • An old Apollo 3rd stage was briefly thought to be our "3rd moon", here.
  • Even more unusual object is 2002 AA29 which is our once and future "moon", here.
  • And a quasi-satellite called 2003 YN107, here.
I led you on a bit as these are actually called co-orbital bodies and quasi-satellites. They aren't actually true satellites like our moon.

Some of these orbits are very weird! Crutithne is not actually pushed away from Earth. The annimations are usually in two dimensions and really cannot capture the complex interactions that happen in the four dimensions of space and time.

There may also be other asteroids in stable solar orbits near earth at the five "Lagrangian Points". These are strange places in space where you can get gravity without actually having a large mass like a planet. These happen when you have two objects with a large (planet size) and really large (sun sized) mass interact. Rather than trying to think about the math, you could think of a standing wave in a river as an analogy.

Update: There have been some historical beleif in and attempts to find moons around Earth. A summary can be found as part of this longish essay, here.

How many planets have rings?

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Image courtesy of NASA APOD, click on image for more information
Credit: (NOAO), J. Burns (Cornell) et al., Galileo Project, JPL, NASA

Everyone knows about Saturn's rings. They are fabulous and viewable through even small telescopes.

But did you now that some of the other planets have rings as well?

How many more? One? Two? More?

Saturn's rings were first observed by Galileo in 1610. His telescope wasn't quite good enough and he mistook them for moons. It wasn't until 1655 when Huygens, using a much better scope, identified them.

Uranus's ring system was the second discovered. In 1977 scientists using the Kuiper Airborne Observatory discovered the rings by accident when a star they were following passed behind the rings. The rings were first photographed in 1986 by Voyager_2. An additional set of rings was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005. APOD has several photos of Uranus's rings, here, here, and here. Another unusual fact about Uranus is that it's tilted dramatically so that as it goes around the sun, we will see it from pole to pole and find ourselves looking down on (and later up to) its rings.

Jupiter has rings too. They were discovered by Voyager 1 in 1979. They are normally invisible. The photo above was taken by the Galileo spacecraft when Jupiter eclipsed the Sun.

Neptune's rings system was discovered by Voyager 2 in 1989. Hints of rings began to emerge a few years previously. The rings of Neptune also appear to be unstable.

Update: It seems that one of the moons of Saturn, called Rhea, may itself have rings! For more information see here and here.

Update: There is one other object that may have rings - Pluto. See Does Pluto have rings?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wakeboarding in February!?

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This weeks meeting was supposed to be a tobogganing party at Akela's house. It just didn't work out that way. It almost turned into a wakeboarding party!

I write this now watching the tail end of the 30+ cm of snow we were hit with Wednesday, thinking about last Friday's snow storm that closed schools in Toronto around mid-day and left most of us digging out.

Enough snow to close Toronto schools is a rare event indeed. We had every right to expect a great tobogganing party. Unfortunately for our plans, we were hit with an all too frequent thaw and rainfall over the weekend. So by Tuesday night, the hill was fine thin but the 8 cm deep mini-lake of ice water at the bottom was definitely a bad thing.

Making the best of it, we went on a hike through West Deane Park Valley, slid down hills, made snowmen and had snowball fights. When done, we retired to Akela's basement for cookies and hot-chocolate.

Isn't it good to have a plan "B".

You want to get a star named after someone ...

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From time to time people ask me about getting a star named after someone.

The short answer is no. You also can't get asteroids or other astronomical objects named after you.

There are a number of companies that will sell you a fancy looking certificate with the name of your choice and a location in the sky. These are not official or recognized in any way and are little more than novelties or gag gifts. You should treat them as such. For more information, check out the International Astronomical Union's explanation, here.

Comets are an exception! You might just be able to get a comet named after yourself. You'll need skill, equipment, time, dark skies, and a bit of luck. In short, you'll need to discover one. When you see a name like "Swift-Tuttle" you know it was a tie between two people (for lists of comet names see here). Keep in mind, there is a lot of skilled competition and a couple of robots called LINEAR and NEAT as well as the Catalina Sky Survey.

Update (April 18): A series of articles appeared on this topic where several professional astronomers chimed in. It was great to see the additional depth and insight a couple of pros can bring to the table. Especially of interest are the conflicts created. The negative emotional impact of someone who's been ripped off against the positive educational and awareness value of getting people interested. I have to say the original article was more positive than I expected and made me think. But I have to side with Stuart about these charlatans.
One of the readers pointed out a free name a star site! You can check it out here. Just remember it's just for entertainment.

Update:  There are other objects that you can name, see Pet Rocks? Naming things in Space

Friday, February 1, 2008

Reflections on light pollution

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Images courtesy of NASA APOD, click image for more info
(Credit & Copyright M13: Noel Carboni, Digitized Sky Survey) and
(Credit M51: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

Light pollution is the bane of Astronomers. Professional astronomers often use instruments that operate outside of the visible spectrum. That's how telescopes like the DDO (see here to help save it) can still be effective even when located near a city. Recent studies suggest there are also biological effects on people, animals, and plants.

The ill-timed Earth Hour event will disappoint North Americans this year. However, you may remember the North Eastern Blackout of 2003.

That evening, I took my dog for a walk at the usual time. I took along a flashlight just in case. In good scouting fashion I was both prepared and didn't need to use it. Most of the people I met walking their dogs at the same time did not expect it to be so dark so soon! I told several families that I met that I would have a telescope on my front lawn. Upon my return, I set up my 8" non-computerized reflector scope on the front lawn. A couple of the families stopped by to look.

My first target, was the great globular cluster M-13 in Hercules. Without the city's interference, there was no effort searching for it. Next, I tried the Whirlpool Galaxy (M-51) beneath the handle of the big dipper in Canes Venatici (the hunting dogs). While I'd seen it before in larger scopes, this was a target that I'd never found myself. A few star hops and soon I found it near a small triangle of stars. While little more than small grey smudges in my scope, it was clearly visible. (Note: beautiful photos like the ones above require long exposure times as people don't actually see that well through telescopes).

Unfortunately, around about 10pm the full moon came up and ruined the party.

The next night with the lights back on, I returned. And even though I knew I was looking right at it, I couldn't see event a hint of the Whirlpool.

ScoutBlogs #2 Nipissing and the Google Search

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The Nipissing Scouting News blog is a fine example of a scouting blog. It does a good job of staying focused on local news and events. It looks crisp and sharp. But beyond that it does more.

This blog is well organized and provides its readers with a great portal to Scouting and supporting resources on the Internet. The two sidebars have links for organizations, newsletters, and a wealth of other resources. There is also something special.

The site includes a Google custom search engine (CSE) widget setup to search a large number of scouting resources. I liked it so much that I asked the webmaster for permission to use it! Now you see it on our sidebar - at the top! This is a great resource because you can type in things like "skits", "songs", "rope", "knots", "astronomy" and have a far better chance at finding an appropriate page. It may not be the Scout blogging network I was thinking of, but it sure is useful.

Thanks to Ken Sitter of the 3rd Widdifield in Nipissing!

Update 2008-2-15: I checked out how to create a Google CSE widget. It looks pretty simple. You need a Google account to start.
Update 2008-2-24: The homepage for this Google CSE can be found here.