On August 5, 2012 the Curiosity rover will attempt to land on Mars. The efforts that went into landing its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity were amazing. Curiosity is much larger and heavier that those two rovers so bouncing across the surface of Mars inside airbags isn’t an option. What NASA, and JPL plan to do is insane! Watch how they plan to tackle the gargantuan task of landing on Mars.
Having spoken at least briefly to about 3,000 homeschool families who have a telescope or want a telescope, the big problem does not seem to be affording one, but making it work right and finding the motivation to use it.
If you have a telescope and are not using it, put it fully ready to use in a convenient place like the porch. I am much more likely to move the scope out front for a quick look at something if it is right there and ready to go than I am if it’s in the basement or attic.
If you have a telescope and can’t get it to work right Google “Star Party” and your city name and take the scope to the gathering. You will be deluged with a 100 geeks like me who can’t wait to fix the issue and be your hero.
Actually finding objects in the sky is another challenge. The easiest way is to download a program like Stellarium for your computer. It could not be easier to use and find what is available in the sky that night. Couple that with an App like Google Sky on your smart phone which will tell you what you are looking at in the sky when you hold your phone up to an object, and you can’t go wrong. Continue Reading →
Wow! What a day yesterday! As the weather forecast cleared up for the evening I was excited to catch a glimpse of the transit of Venus. I left work a half hour early so that I could setup my telescope and get everything in order.
I’d decided to project an image from my telescope on to a whiteboard. This would allow my kids to see the transit easily and also allow me to point out what was happening.
As the time of transit approached, clouds started to roll in and obscure my view of the sun. I thought for sure I’d be clouded out. I was losing hope. Then the clouds cleared and at 6:05 pm EST I could see the beginning of the transit!As the event progressed I called my 6 kids over and each of them looked through the #14 welder’s glass I had from the 2004 transit. They were mostly excited that they could see the sun but the older ones were really excited to see Venus passing in from of the sun. As Venus proceeded past ingress I pointed it out to them on the projected image.
After about 40 minutes the skies darkened again and the sun was setting below the tree line. Earlier, I’d though to go to a local park but had nixed the idea because of the cloud cover. I didn’t want to drag out the telescope and whiteboard only to stand around for 2 hours and see nothing.
As I was putting away my telescope I looked North and noticed the skies were clearing. Decision time: do I take the telescope to the park? I decided head to the park. I grabbed some snacks for 3 of my kids and we were off.
When we got there the skies were mostly clear! I was kicking myself for not bringing the telescope. We did have the welder’s glass, however, and proceeded to watch the transit.Since we were near a parking lot and there was a much lower tree line here than at my house we got a full hour of additional observing.
In addition to sharing this with my 12, 10, & 9 year-old kids, we shared it with many people in the park as their baseball and soccer games were ending. We grabbed everyone within reach and asked them if the want to see Venus.
Some were skeptical at first (one guy thought I was trying to sell him something) but once they looked at it themselves the wonder and amazement on their faces was very rewarding.
Young children, parents, and grandparents all were amazed by the tiny black spot in front of the sun. Many had heard that this even was occurring but didn’t think it could be see without any special equipment (besides solar shades or welder’s glass).
What a great experience! I was able to do some homeschooling in action with my kids and share this marvelous event with approximately 50 other people. The only regret I have is not bringing my telescope and whiteboard to the park. I’ll be sure to remember it in 2117.
The past two months I’ve done a monthly blog post about astronomy and the things you can observe from your own backyard that people have observed for thousands of years. This month, rather than talk about multiple events, I want to focus on one major event: the transit of Venus across the disc of the sun.
This rare astronomical event will not happen again for another 105 years! Arguably, nobody alive today will see it again (unless you’re frozen and then thawed out when it happens again). The previous transit occurred in 2004 and it was a sight to behold! You won’t want to miss this year’s transit.
I was able to observe this marvelous event in 2004 when it last occurred. The photo at the beginning of this post is one of the images I captured during the event. You can view others in a photo gallery. I can tell you that it is a sight to behold! Seeing another planet pass between the earth and the sun really helps you realize the special place we have in our solar system.
I’ve compiled a number of resources that you can use to find out more about this event. Don’t forget your eye protection when you look up!
As I find more resources that I think will be beneficial, I’ll continue to add them to this post.
The first few nights of the month look for Mars near a waxing gibbous moon. Mars is currently visible in the sky towards the south about 1 hour after sunset in the constellation Leo near the star Regulus. Mars is a blazing red object so it’s very easy to differentiate from Regulus.
On the 4th and 5th you’ll see Saturn near the moon as well in the constellation Virgo. Saturn which looks yellow will also be near the star Spica which has a bluish appearance and twinkles. Remember: stars twinkle, aircraft blink, and satellites move quickly across the sky. Planets do not exhibit any of this behavior.
The full moon on May 5th is going to be spectacular. Dominating the eastern sky at sunset, it is the closest full moon to earth in 2012 and will appear 14% wider than the full moon in November. It will also setup some great waves for all the surfers out there.
On Sunday, May 20th, if you’re in a narrow viewing path in the western United States and Asia you will be able to see an annular eclipse. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun but doesn’t completely block it. A ring appears around the moon during the eclipse and it will be a sight to behold. For times and viewing locations checkout the article 2012 annular eclipse of the sun over at EarthSky.org. Remember: you must use appropriate eye protection when viewing an eclipse! So get yourself some eclipse glasses if you want to view this phenomenon.
On the 28th look for Mars near a waxing gibbous moon and then look for Saturn on the 31st near an even larger moon. Note how much the size of the moon has changed in just 3 days.
Venus is still blazing brightly low in the western sky. It’s currently in a crescent phase and is gradually enlarging as it approaches Earth and will soon transit the sun (more on that next month).
Jupiter is slowly riding off into the sunset after putting on a great show for us last month.
Wow! What a great month for astronomy! I hope you get an opportunity to view some of these spectacular events. You don’t need any special equipment, just your eyes (except if you’re viewing the eclipse), to enjoy the marvelous heavens above us all!
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.