Blog Archives

Prepare For A Blood Moon

For this Throwback Thursday, I’d like to open with a classic movie scene:

Well, don’t worry, the world won’t end, but I can promise you an epic, blood red moon! There will be a super moon, a blood, moon, and a lunar eclipse all on the same day on September 27th, and I can’t wait to see it!

Read more about it here at Space.com http://www.space.com/30546-supermoon-blood-moon-total-lunar-eclipse.html 

If you want to read more about  and red moons, click on some of my previous posts below.

  1. The Tale of the Blood Red Moon
  2. Super Moon Madness

New Scary Posts for Halloween!

Here are my best posts on Halloween:

 

  1. History of Halloween, NEW https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/astronomy-myths-and-legends/
  2. My exploration of the myths of Werewolves! https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/new-page-astronomy-myths-and-legends-new-wolf-moon-hooowl/ 
  3. Harvest Moons: https://memiorsofanastronut.wordpress.com/2013/09/ 

SUPER MOON MADNESS!

Tonight is the beginning of what astronomers call the Moon’s Perigee, the point in which the Moon is closest to the Earth. This means that tonight, the Moon will appear 12% bigger than usual!
Find out how to spot craters and

Not only is this the biggest Moon of the year, it’s also one of the most interesting. June 23rd’s full moon is classified as a “Strawberry Moon,” or “Rose Moon” It was called Strawberry by the Algonquin Native Americans because they knew this full moon was an ideal time to gather fruit. To learn more about this particular full moon, I’ve posted a link to a video created by the good folks at “The Farmer’s Almanac”, a trusted astronomy resource for over 100 years.

So I hope to see some of you down at Primland to look at this beautiful full moon. I know I’ll be training the telescope on it!

Happy Stargazing

Cool Astronomy Resources For Kids

Hello everyone!

In addition to running this blog and giving nightly astronomy tours, I am also working on developing a kid’s astronomy program for the resort. In my quest to make astronomy fun, accessible, and interactive for young people, I came across some valuable free resources that I’d like to share with you. Obviously there are hundreds of blogs, podcasts, video channels, and websites out there and I could never share them all, so if you like this post and think something should be added, let me know! I’d be happy to make this a new page on the blog and follow up weekly with new resources.

So here is a short multimedia collection of links that you can show to your young ones to get them excited about space:

Video channels

Deep Sky Videos– An excellent channel, not only for astronomy, but for science all together. It features great pictures by professional astro-photographers and lots of valuable data.


NASA TV- Here’s NASA’s official YouTube Channel, which provides you with simple, clear explanations of what our space agency is doing. Sometimes they interview astronauts on the International Space Station, and get them to talk about life in space.

NASA JPL Live This is not Youtube, but a live feed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Whenever there is any kind of live event at NASA, such as the docking of a spacecraft, or live pictures from Mars, you can access it with this link!

Video streaming by Ustream
Apps

Exoplanet- A free app that allows you to keep track of any new planets discovered outside our solar system. You can use your mobile device to find each planet in an interactive map of the galaxy, zooming at warp speed to newly discovered worlds.

Sky Viewer- This app tells you exactly what planets and constellations you are looking at by overlaying names and a connect-the dots pattern over the night sky. A GPS compass keeps track of where you are, and you can see the stars using the display. There is a pay version that also shows you more planets and keeps track of satellites, but the free version is a nice way to learn the constellations and keep track of where you are in the sky.

NASA Space Weather Map (Android App only)

View near real-time images of outer space from current NASA missions. Learn about weather near the Sun, Solar Wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, and Heliosphere from scientists who study them

I did find some neat pay apps from this website too, just in case you aren’t  satisfied with the free stuff:

Websites

Astronomy.com– The official website of Astronomy Magazine, loaded with pictures, articles, and tips for amateur astronomers, and yes, there’s a kids’ page.

ISS Tracker- A website that allows you to know where the International Space Station is at all times!

NASA’s JPL Planet Quest- A great interactive site which teaches kids about planets beyond our solar system, by allowing them to create one, studying the ideal conditions for creating life in the universe.

Social Media

The Curiosity Rover’s Twitter Page- Updates from the mission, written in the first person by the robot.

Kids Needs Science (Tumblr Page)-Full of beautiful pictures of space objects and links to articles.

International Space Station Facebook -Regularly updated with videos, pictures, and news articles.

So there’s a rough start to the vast world of astronomy for kids on the web. Like I said earlier, I’d be happy to post any of your suggestions, or turn this into a regular feature on the blog. Let me know in the comments. In closing, just to show you how far we’ve come with online education, I’d like to post an oldie but a goodie- Bill Nye the Science Guy explores comets and meteors:

Happy Stargazing!

 

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare

Today, I’d like to switch hats for a little while from Astro-nut to Shakespeare Geek. I’ve been studying Shakespeare for a long time and since today is his birthday, I thought I’d take some time to celebrate it. Like a lot of Elizabethans, Shakespeare believed that the stars and planets helped to influence a person’s destiny. Of course, he lived in the time of Galeleo and Copernicus who questioned these established opinions, and you can hear this changing tide of ideology in the dialogue of his plays. Plus, Shakespeare frequenly uses stellar images to add some extra spice to his love poetry. After all, who doesn’t want to be compared to the radient Venus, the brilliant stars, or the kingly Jupiter?

So today, I’d like to sojurn with you for a while away from the shores of science, and into the sweet waters of music and poetry related to the stars, with Shakespeare as the pilot for our vessel. Hope you enjoy it!

The Facts Are These:

  • Shakespeare lived from 1564 to 1613, and died at the age of 52.
  • He wrote 37 surviving plays, 154 sonnets, and four epic poems.
  • The word “Stars” appears 77 times in Shakespeare’s work.
  • The god Jupiter appears as a character in one of his final plays, “Cymbeline”
  • In his tragedy “King Lear” an old lord worries about disasters called by eclipses and comets.
  • One of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, Prospero, is a magician who uses the powers of astrology to control the elements.
  • Shakespeare was called “Sweet Swan Of Avon” by his contemporary Ben Johnson. The river Avon flowed through his home town of Stratford in Warrickshire. You can still see the swans today!

Some Famous Quotes From Shakespeare About Stars:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love. – Hamlet

Take him and cut him into little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun -Romeo and Juliet

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves – Julius Caesar

FOOL: The reason the seven stars are only seven is a pretty reason,

KING LEAR: Because they are not eight?

FOOL: Yes, indeed: thou wouldst make a good fool.

Shakespeare and Astrology

A diagram from the 17th century of the different planetary spheres and their influence on the four elements.

A diagram from the 17th century of the different planetary spheres and their influence on the four elements.

As I’ve mentioned in the “This Month In Astrology” posts, people of Shakespeare’s day believed that the planets and stars could influence a person’s desitny and their character. They believed that the universe contained four basic elements called humours, that were the forces behind the planets, the stars, and our bodies. The four humours corresponded to the four basic elements- Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. These humours reflected aspects of people’s personality- the cold and dry meloncholy, the warm and airy blood, the hot and fiery cholor, and the slow and temperate phlegm (the humour of water). Living in ballence with the planets, stars, and your own bodily humours was the best way to live a healthy life, so Shakespeare and his contemporaries studied the stars to figure out how to control and understand their lives. Queen Elizabeth herself had a pesronal astrologer who helped her get through the invasion of the Spanish Armada. A lot of Shakespeare’s tragedies focus on people whose destinies seem to be influenced by bad stars or planets. As I mentioned in “The Ides Of March” post, a bad planet or a comet could influence the fates of powerful people. Meanwhile, the comedies focus on people who let their humours take over them; from the melancholic Jaques to the foolish constable Dogberry, to the brave but idiotic Orlando, Shakespeare’s characters are at their funniest, when they are at their most “humourous.” In short, Shakespeare’s understanding of the humours and the stars allowed him to classify and examine different types of people, and how they deal with extrodinary situations. This is one reason we continue to read his work 400 years later.Finally, a little poetry reading. Here is one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a short poem that’s only 14 lines long.

In this poem, the speaker rejects the doctrine of Astrology when looking into the face of his beloved, and instead claime that the only celestial light he needs is in the bleoved’s eyes. When those lights are gone, the universe as he knows it will end, so he advises the object of his affection to have children to allow those lights to renew. This is the format of the first 126 sonnets, but Shakespeare uses incredibly varied devices to make the same simple point.

So I hope this little sojourn into Shakespeare’s swan boat was entertaining for you and I hope combining my love of astronomy and Shakespeare will help you, the reader to appreaciate both even more.

Happy Stargazing,

Paul
“Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a postscript” – Twelfth Night

PS. If you liked this little exploration into stellar poetry, please leave a comment below. There is a rich vein of poetry related to the Sun, Moon, and stars, and I would love to write about them in future posts.

A Leap of… Imprecise Astronomical Calculations

Simulated image of the path of the Sun during the Winter Solstice created by

Simulated image of the path of the Sun during the Winter Solstice created by

February 28th is the last day of the month, which means that this is not a Leap Year. As you probably know, every four years we add an extra day onto February assuming that we didn’t do so in the last 300 years. Since this is a somewhat confusing and imprecise system, I thought I’d devote some time to explaining it here.

The reason we don’t have a precise calendar with a nice round 365 day year is because calendars are based around a rather imprecise clock- The Earth. Because of the Earth’s dizzying running pace of 19 miles per second around the Sun, it actually turns nearly four extra quarter turns on its axis, which adds up to one extra day, and that is why we add an extra day on February 29th. But here’s the catch- it’s not actually a complete day, which means that after a few centuries, the accumulated time we lose by adding a day means that we get off track with the Earth’s cycle around the Sun. This is why we skip a leap year every 400 years. The year 2000 was a leap year, but the year 2100 won’t be.

I found this nifty little algorithm to help you figure out whether or not the current year is a leap year:

Ithe year is divisible by 400 then
it  is a leap_year
If the year is divisible by 100 then
not_leap_year
If the year is divisible by 4 then it is a leap year.

In this video, you can see a fun look about the science and history behind this phenomenon, and how it relates to, -gasp- MY FAVORITE STAR- SIRIUS:

As you can see from the video, the human race has evolved a great deal of calendars over the years to precisely track the motions of the planet around the Sun: the Egyptian, Mayan, the Julian, and Gregorian. Even today, with our cesium laser powered atomic clocks, we still use this system as the basis for how the world tells time; as mammals we still respond to the cycle of our planet, its Sun, and its moon, and we depend on that to keep our lives in sync with the rhythm of the cosmos. Imperfect though it may be, it is what links us with the rest of creation.

So enjoy this non-leap year, and while you do, take a little time to think about how you are part of this great cosmic dance, and how our planet knows the steps even after 4.6 billion years.

Happy Stargazing!

Paul

A Shining Proposal

Real Moon dust from NASA, currently being studied by the University of Boulder Colorado

Real Moon dust from NASA, currently being studied by the University of Boulder Colorado

Last week I got my fiancee her wedding ring, just in time for Valentine’s day. Although she was thrilled, I was kind of taken aback when I read in the New York Times about a far stranger love gesture- giving the girl you like a spoon full of Moon-dust!

As you can see, lunar dust (pictured left), has a grayish charcoal-like appearance. The astronauts from Apollo 11 even said it smells like gunpowder as it coated the boots of their space suits. It actually cut up parts of the ship like finely ground glass.

In this particular story, a young male astronomer who was examining lunar dust, (possibly at the University of Boulder Colorado), wanted to impress his sweetheart, so he gave her a spoonful of the lunar dust. Before the university could confiscate the valuable material, SHE ATE IT! According to Dava Sobel, an astronomy reporter from the New York Times, (and a personal friend of the woman in question), The lunar dust was incredibly shiny and bright, and seemed to take on a mystical quality as it entered the woman’s body:

I exaggerate the romance of the incident in my reverie, so that as the moon dust enters Carolyn’s mouth, it ignites on contact with her saliva, shooting sparks that lodge in her every cell. Crystalline and alien, it illuminates her body’s dark recesses like pixie powder, thrums the senseless tune of a wind chime through her veins. By its sacred presence it changes her very nature: Carolyn the moon goddess (excerpt from New York Times.com 10/1/95)


It is probably not true that lunar dust could actually shine from within you, but it is true that lunar rocks reflect a lot of light, which is why the Moon shines like a mirror at night when the Sun hits it. The dust itself is also very jagged and shiny like finely ground glass, which is why eating lunar dust in great quantities could pose some great health risks, as scientist Jennifer Hedmann explains in this video.

Some studies suggest that breathing Moon-dust could actually damage a person’s lungs. With their fine powder, the dust particles could damage the fine air sacks in the lungs that we need to provide oxygen-rich blood to our cells, in a fashion similar to Stone-Cutters disease. So in the future, if human beings ever do return to the Moon, they will have to be very careful about dusting.

Unfortunately, this romantic gesture didn’t quite work- the woman in question never married her astronomer boyfriend, and soon he and the Moon dust in her body just… slipped away. So I suppose if there is a lesson to ladies looking for a man to give them the Moon and the stars it’s probably this: some men are good for your heart, but not good for  your lungs. And to the men I say, “stick to Earth rocks.”

Till next time, Happy Star gazing!

Paul

Happy Chinese New Year!

Seattle_-_Chinese_New_Year_2011_-_71Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival; the time in the Chinese lunarsolar calendar that signifies the beginning of the Spring. It is also the beginning of the new Chinese zodiac sign, which begins every 12 years. Each year is associated with one of the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. I found this handy little chart from Chinese Zodiac.com. This year is actually the Year Of the Snake.

chinese-zodiac-years2

28 Mansions of the Chinese Astronomy

28 Mansions of the Chinese Astronomy

A person’s zodiac was determined by marrying a person’s year animal, their birth element- earth, water, fire, metal, and wood, which were associated with the 5 planets of the solar system- wood for Jupiter, fire for Mars, Earth for Saturn, metal for Venus, and water for Mercury. Like the European astrologers and philosophers, these elements and planets also had a powerful influence on the human body.

The belief that the stars can control human bodies and destinies was one reason that the Chinese became such good astronomers, as this video demonstrates:

song-star-mapMany astronomers believe the Chinese had the best astronomers in the world in the period before the Arabs. Even before the Greeks, the Chinese figured out how to predict eclipses, and to navigate by the North Star. By the fourth century, they had charted most of the night sky. This chart on the left, accurately depicts the 28 Chinese constellations.

 

 

So enjoy your Chinese New Year day, and good fortune in the new year!

New Page- Astronomy Myths and Legends- New Wolf Moon…HOOOWL!

Hi subscribers,

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve created a new post for the Astronomy Myths and Legends page, in honor of the Full Wolf Moon that’s going on tonight. That’s right, it’s a Full Wolf Moon according to the Algonquin Native American calendar. Since the name conjures up images of werewolves and howling and Jacob from Twilight, I wrote a new post about the myths and legends surrounding full moons for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

New Pages- Today In Space History and Astronomy Myths and Legends: The Seven Sisters

Orion Spacecraft (artist's rendering)

Orion Spacecraft (artist’s rendering)

Hello Loyal Readers and Subscribers!

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve added a new page devoted to Astronomy History as well as current developments in the Space Program called “Today in Space History” At least once a week, I’m going to comb the web and the history books and report on new developments in space exploration as they develop. When nothing’s new, I’ll give you some info on history- recalling what happened on this very day in history, with facts on everything from the first chimp in space, to the discovery of gravity by Isaac Newton. In short, This new page is about space exploration- not only what’s going on now, but also the many discoveries, experiments, successes, and failures that made it possible.

My first post is about how NASA is celebrating the inauguration of President Obama, with a week long program of open houses, free stargazing tours, and discussions about the future of NASA with astronomers and astronauts. Here’s a taste of what I found:

For more titillating posts, please visit “Today In Space History”

Also, sit tight, tonight I’ll be coming out with an all new “Astronomy Myths and Legends” post, about the Pleiades, (or the Seven Sisters as it’s also called), one of the most beautiful star clusters in the night sky.

 

Hope this piques your interest, and see you later!

-Paul