Colorful/Super Moon


Photo credit: Noel Carboni

The image above, click it for a wallpaper sized version, is a composite of 15 exposures digitally stitched together. According to photographer Noel Carboni:

Looking through the viewfinder I swept across the surface in a zig-zag fashion, trying for about 1/3 overlap between frames. I triggered the shutter with my TC80-N3 remote timer/controller. I did the stitching by hand in Photoshop.

Since it was taken at the camera’s most noise-free setting (ISO 100), the data is very accurate, and thus I was able to strongly increase the saturation via Photoshop’s Image – Adjust – Hue/Saturation function.

The fascinating color differences along the lunar surface are real, though highly exaggerated, corresponding to regions with different chemical compositions. And while these color differences are not visible to the eye even with a telescope, moon watchers can still see a dramatic lunar presentation tonight thanks to a fluke of orbital mechanics that brings the moon closer to Earth than that it has been in more than 18 years. At its peak, the supermoon of March 2011 may appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than lesser full moons. However, to the casual observer, it will probably be hard to tell the difference.

…And Keep Looking Up

Quite often during high school I would come home from a party or a late night hanging out with my friends and see my brother sitting in the living room with a glass of sun tea flipping through the channels. Often my brother would come home from an evening of partying or hanging out with his friends and find me with a coke watching Teletunes.

We would usually excitedly tell each other about our evenings. And inevitably we both sit down in the living room, late in the after-curfew hours, and tune into PBS waiting for the Star Gazer to come on (It was originally designed to air on PBS stations just before sign-off). We would listen intently to what the star hustler had to teach us during his five minute lesson on the heavens. Both of us would then mosey out to the backyard and look up into the stars and see if we could find whatever it was he was talking about that week.

We would sit there silent and feel small and special. These are some of the fondest teenage memories I have with my brother (and I have a ton of fond teenage memories with my brother). And although those memories will never die, the mortal symbol of those evenings, “The Star Hustler”, passed away today. I am genuinely saddened.

Colorful to the end, “Horky” offers this amusing, self-penned epitaph in his bio: “Keep Looking Up was my life’s admonition, I can do little else in my present position.” You can watch his last episode by clicking here.

Beginners Guide To Viewing The Persied Meteor Shower

The annual summer Perseid meteor shower is set to display its glory in our skies over the next couple of days. The show comes as Earth passes through the dust trail of the Swift-Tuttle Comet. The meteors that scorch through the atmosphere appear to come from the constellation Perseus. The peak of the show is expected to be this evening, Thursday the 12th of August. The show should be particularly easy to view this year since there will be little light interference from the moon.

If you go outside a little early on Thursday evening, around sunset, you’ll see a beautiful gathering of planets in the sunset sky–Venus, Mars, Saturn and the crescent Moon. It’s a nice way to start a meteor watch. Here are a few tips to help you have the best viewing experience.

  • Check the weather. If it’s cloudy in your area there’s no point to the rest of it. Checking the weather will also let you know if you should bring a coat or warm clothes.
  • Clear Sky Charts are a good way to determine how dark and cloudy your night sky will be. For example, here is the chart for Denver:
  • Try to get out of the city. Your viewing experience is greatly diminished by light pollution: the leftover glow leaked from densely populated cities’ artificial light. Use this website to help you determine the darkest place for viewing in your area.
  • Use this website to help you determine the peak time for viewing in your timezone. The best Perseid activity, no matter the date or location, is usually seen during the last hour before the start of morning twilight, when Perseus lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. This is usually between the hours of 4:00 AM and 5:00 AM for most of us. If you can’t time it exactly don’t worry, anytime after midnight you should see a healthy number of “shooting stars” throughout the night.
  • The meteors will appear to be coming from the near the Persius constellation. So try to find a location with a low horizon to the north-northeast (if you are in Northern hemisphere). It’s not important that you look precisely at the Persius constellation but a goodstar chart will help you orientate yourself to the heavens and give you an idea of what you are looking at. Sky maps can also be found online and for the iPhone.
  • Relax your eyes and let you gaze wander this will allow you to pick up on the quick flashes that are produced by the shower.
  • Things to bring:

    • A coat or blanket
    • Bugspray
    • A flashlight
    • A compass (or a good sense of direction)
    • A folding lounge chair
    • Drinks & snacks
    • A sense of wonder

Most of all it’s important to have fun and enjoy the splendors of nature. If you’re interested in learning more about meteor showers this amateur astronomy website is a good place to start.

Martian Skin And Tatoo

Martian Surface

This incredible photo of the surface of Mars was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera. Our very own local astronomer/blogger, Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, points out that:

The important thing to note here is that the sand in the craters of Mars is actually dark grey in color, since it’s made of basalt. The reason it looks red in pictures is because covering the sand is a thin layer of much finer dust, and the dust is what’s red. When a dust devil moves over the Martian surface, it can pick up the very light dust particles, but not the heavier sand grains. So those blue-grey swirls are tracks where the dust devil has vacuumed up the dust, revealing the darker sand underneath. If you look carefully in the tracks, you can see the sand dune ripples are undisturbed. Only the dust is gone.

I think it is also important to note that by clicking the photo above, you can view a much larger version that shows the martian sand dunes and dust devil tracks in detail.

Libration

Today on Wednesday’s Wonderful World of Wikipedia is the concept ofLibration. In astronomy libration (from the Latin verb libro -are “to balance, to sway”, cf. libra “scales”) refers to the various orbital conditions which make it possible to see more than 50% of the moon’s surface over time, even though the front of the Moon is tidally locked to always face towards the earth. As the orbital processes are repetitive, libration is manifested as a slow rocking back and forth (or up and down) of the face of the orbital body as viewed from the parent body, much like the rocking of a pair of scales about the point of balance.
Read More