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[ 20061230 ]

IYA 2009

Thanks to the ASKC's Dave Fox for the heads-up; for the quadricentennial of Galileo's first telescopic observations, the IAU "will be coordinating the International Year of Astronomy in 2009." See also this UNESCO proclamation.

Jay Manifold [11:20 AM]

Improving Amateur Astronomy, One Facility At A Time

I think this pretty nearly counts as a tourist attraction. A very public thank-you to Larry Goode, Darrick Gray, Ken Ireland, Gil Machin, Randy Thompson, and anyone else who may have been involved in its construction. Behold the new 2-holer at the Dark-Sky Site (click on picture for full-size version, 800 × 598):

UPDATE: Advice for tourists from Randy ...

If you are planning a visit to the DSS, you should bring some toilet paper along. We don't have an airtight container for the TP yet. Any TP left out could get wet or carried off by mice. (Mice love TP for making nests.) So, if you are planning a visit to the DSS, for now, tuck a roll of TP in your car. Just in case.

FURTHER UPDATE: Bad jokes about "first light" are already underway on the ASKC Yahoo! Group ...

Jay Manifold [9:48 AM]

“What’s Up 2007 - 365 Days of Skywatching”

Thanks to George Allen of the ASKC for pointing to Tammy Plotner's What’s Up 2007 - 365 Days of Skywatching, a free (but large; 24 MB, 410 pages) download.

Ms Plotner is President of Warren Rupp Observatory, located near Mansfield, Ohio.

(See Top Ten Astronomical Outreach Events for 2007 for my feeble effort in this direction ...)

Jay Manifold [9:28 AM]

[ 20061225 ]

Christmas Aurora

Thanks to Jim Stephens of the ASKC for pointing to this picture and passing along the caption info below, and thanks to Tom Martinez of the ASKC for labeling the stars and constellations; "Alberio" = Albireo, at the head of Cygnus; Vega is the brightest star in Lyra; and the "Keystone" is the torso of Hercules. Click on picture for full-size (800 × 545) version.

S116-E-07308 (19 Dec. 2006) --- The Aurora Borealis, also known as "northern lights", is featured in this photograph taken by a STS-116 crew member onboard Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day 11 [Wed 20 Dec] activities. The long exposure on the digital still camera enabled the astronaut to capture stars and city lights.

Jay Manifold [11:11 AM]

[ 20061219 ]

Bioterrorism and the Search for Life on Mars

Maybe HGWells was right, and our bugs would have killed them off. Bacterial census of Texas air reveals microbial diversity isn't exactly the kind of diversity most people like to promote:

Gary Andersen, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory .... and his team developed a novel microarray called the PhyloChip, which contains about 500,000 probes to detect the 16S ribosomal RNA signatures from 8,741 bacteria and archaea. They probed the chip with amplified 16S rRNA samples taken weekly from air filtration systems in both Austin and San Antonio, which are about 80 miles (128 km) apart, and found between 1,500 and 1,800 bacterial species above each city.

The article also quotes the inimitable J.Craig Venter, who points out that since "each 16S rRNA corresponds to hundreds or thousands of different organisms," the true species count is several orders of magnitude higher -- probably over 1 million.

The bioterrorist implications of finding a very nasty needle in a very big haystack aside, contrast our terrestrial flora with the number of positively identified native organisms -- ie, zero -- on, say, Mars. Quoting the article again:

"We humans are embedded with bacteria; we are surrounded by them," said Norman Pace, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who was not involved with the study. "You take a deep breath, and you pull in a thousand bacteria. You take a shower and you aerosolize bacteria that you suck in. When you flush the toilet, you generate an aerosol that you then breathe in. We're surrounded by bacteria, and they are not necessarily friendly."

Sampling of Martian air should very quickly either reveal -- or rule out -- the presence of a biosphere, unless some mechanism keeps every trace of life underground at all times. As Enrico Fermi famously asked (though about intelligent aliens, not bacteria), where are they?

Phoenix will not perform such sampling, although its soil-testing MECA instrumentation will include an "optical microscope [with] a resolution of 4 microns per pixel, allowing detection of particles ranging from about 10 micrometers up to the size of the field of view (about 1 millimeter by 2 millimeters)."

Nor, as near as I can tell, will Mars Science Laboratory.

I infer that direct visual detection of microorganisms in the atmosphere of Mars has already been deemed an unproductive strategy, with all that such a decision implies about the limited extent of Martian life, if any exists.

Jay Manifold [1:57 PM]

[ 20061209 ]

Tomorrow Morning's Triple Conjunction

UPDATE: Clouded out here; will try again tomorrow (Monday) morning, when it will be almost but not quite as good.

Three planets in an exceptionally tight group low in the east, plus the Moon and Saturn close together near the zenith -- it's going to be quite a show. Per the Observer's Handbook 2006, page 104: "This is the closest grouping of three naked-eye planets during the period 1980-2050; all three planets will (barely) fit within a 1°-circle on Dec. 10."

Grazing over to the US Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Dept, we find that civil twilight begins in KC at 6:56 AM. Proceeding on to YourSky and generating the appropriate map by selecting "Set for nearby city" and then updating the time to 2006-12-10 12:55:00 UT, it appears that the conjunction will be low in the southeast (bearing ~120°), less than 10° above the horizon, in the head of Scorpius. Since Jupiter is shining at magnitude -1.6, tens of times brighter than the nearby stars, it should be easy to find.

At the same time, Saturn will be only about a degree south of the waning gibbous Moon, very high in the western sky, in the head of Leo.

Now, just as a fun reminder that what we're seeing is a two-dimensional projection of a very three-dimensional phenomenon, here are the distances of the various bodies, expressed as multiples of the distance to the Moon.

The triple conjunction is: Mercury, 485x; Mars, 925x; and Jupiter, 2,370x lunar distance.

The Moon-Saturn conjunction is: Moon, 1x; Saturn, 3,270x lunar distance.

(See also Planetary triple play on deck Sunday.)

Jay Manifold [10:57 AM]

Bizarre Astronomical Editorial Comment of the Day

Turning to To ignore the moon would be lunacy, we find: "Most of us barely notice the Moon now; indeed, due to light pollution, it is sometimes barely visible." Light pollution must be pretty bad in the UK if it's keeping people from seeing the Moon. Or does the Sun really never set on what's left of the Empire?

Jay Manifold [10:57 AM]

[ 20061206 ]

In the Spirit of the Usual Screwing Around

-- by which I mean, things like this (and this), here's a fine contribution brought to my attention by Horseman of the Arcturcalypse Alan Henderson, namely The Call of the DMV. Heh.

Jay Manifold [8:38 PM]

[ 20061204 ]

Missouri Skies

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Scott Rogers, who works smack in the middle of Chicago's Loop but hails from Albany, MO, reminds me to plug ASKC member Dan Bush's phenomenal photography site, Missouri Skies (Dan has been mentioned on Arcturus in Amateur Astronomy/Moody Blues Video and Rainbowblogging/Wordsworthblogging). Graze on over and enjoy!

Jay Manifold [6:08 PM]

[ 20061202 ]


I've upgraded to Blogger Beta. Note the search field at top left; try it with the word "starlight." The result is not a mere list of post titles, but a display of Arcturus with the full text of all posts containing that word.

Jay Manifold [7:27 PM]

Your Aperiodic Dose of Ahistory

Alternate history, that is ... in this case, Matthew White's Alternate Histories. They're all fun, but I liked "Balkanized North America" best.

Jay Manifold [7:27 PM]

[ 20061201 ]

Nailed It

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The West
The South
North Central
The Inland North
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Jay Manifold [7:41 AM]