This recent Moon image is brought to you by…

…the 2017 North America Solar Eclipse.  See the great eclipse in locations everywhere across the continent on August 21st!*

* Visibility of the 2017 North America Solar Eclipse is not guaranteed.  Consult local weather forecasts.  Premium travel rates may apply.  Lodging is not guaranteed.  Eclipse solar coverage will vary from none to totality depending on your location.  If you are within the path of totality on August 21st, 2017, you may use those several minutes, at your sole discretion, to reprove Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.  Never look at the Sun either directly or through a magnification device such as a telescope or binoculars without proper solar filters securely equipped.

Seeing the Moon Among the Clouds

July 27th, 2017, 6:50 p.m. local time

The Moon grows on its month-long journey to meet the Sun for the 2017 North America eclipse.  Tonight was clear, warm, and pleasant.  About 90 minutes before sunset the Moon’s crescent stood out in front of a paling blue sky through wisping clouds overhead.

In case you are having trouble seeing the Moon among those clouds, here is a closeup, not of the same picture but taken within a few minutes of it:

Saturn in July 2017

July 16th, 2017, 11:10 p.m. local time

All the recent rain and generally miserable humid summer weather almost made me forget that there was a brief pocket of pleasant evening clearness just this past Sunday.  It was a great opportunity to move my 10″ Dobsonian to my back deck for taking in the evening’s astronomical wonders.

I started with imaging Saturn, my primary objective.  I had great difficulty locating Saturn that night and it was almost 20 minutes before I locked on.  Keep in mind this is all a manual process.  My homemade Dobsonian is a Newtonian reflector on a simple alt-az swivel mount.  Even by turning my exposures all the way up, I still had problems finding it.  The lesson here is that it may be next to impossible to attempt imagining of Uranus in a few months with my meager equipment.

Returning to the present though with Saturn, I think this may be my best yet.  When I image the planets, I always take a few sets of videos with different refocusing.  It is really, really hard to get the exact focus right, and the digital camera’s view screen can only get you approximately there, hence the need to take a few sets so that hopefully at least one of them is good.

This night, I took two sets, and it was the first group of videos that allowed me to create the above image.  I also used my Neodymium filter, which I prefer for Saturn as it brings out a nice color contrast among planet’s cloud bands and ring levels.

After my Saturn session was complete, I put a 17mm eyepiece on the scope just to look around on that clear no-Moon night.  Of note was the Hercules Globular Cluster (Messier 13) which I saw clearer than I ever had.  Wow!  I could make out many bright stars in the foreground of the cluster.  I don’t have the proper equipment to image it, but I hope to have the skills to properly draw it by next year.

Also of note was that I am starting to see Cassiopeia earlier and earlier in the Northeast.  It’s the great pointer to the Andromeda Galaxy.  My view to the East is mostly blocked, so I have to wait some before the galaxy is visible via telescope and binoculars from my backyard, but it is comforting to know my favorite gray smudge will be back soon!

Why I Stopped Watching “Doctor Who”

Here is another tangent from my normal postings, but if you bear with me for a few paragraphs more, I promise to tie it back to astronomy.

I was, or I guess still am, a lifelong Doctor Who fan, though I stopped watching the series over a year ago.  Apparently, a new Doctor actor was recently selected, which brings the series back to mind.

That this character could change physical shape and still be the same person was a brilliant way to keep the series alive for well past 50 years, minus about 15 years hiatus.  We always felt a connection to the Doctor, the same person, no matter who the actor.

When I was young, I wondered what his last regeneration would be like, specifically his thirteenth (since Time Lords could regenerate twelve times).  What would the Doctor be like, facing his own mortality?  I thought they would be fascinating tales, to explore how such a long-lived character would react to and reconcile the approach of his final, impending death.  Those potential stories, well into the future, captured my imagination.

The future and its potential never arrived, though, and probably never will.  My Doctor Who bubble burst upon the absurd twist that the Doctor was now on his final regeneration early, “War Doctor” notwithstanding, and that the Time Lords, now deities, could bestow the gift of eternal life.  The show kind of ended for me then as I realized there would be no final contemplation on the Doctor’s life and death beyond the terribly superficial rampant in “sci-fi” and fantasy today.

I and all longtime fans were robbed of this chance to learn the Doctor’s closing narrative.  There will never be a final chapter now that the canonical nature of regenerations has been sent to oblivion.  Once the Doctor would have passed, a successor could have certainly stepped in, be it a descendant, partner, or some other Time Lordy-type entity.  The entertainment industry does not like death, beyond the ability to jump-start characters back to life.  You cannot sell commercials or movie tickets when the best characters are forever dead in their fictitious realities.  And so characters keep coming back on screen, compliments of genesis worlds, alternative timelines, and pagan mercy.

It is unfortunate that death is rarely explored sufficiently in genres related to science fiction, especially for the most beloved characters.  The quest to understand, particularly the heavens, is intrinsically linked to the cosmos’s truth that all things expire in this universe.  Stars form and fade, spectacularly at times. Planets are born and live, but will either burn up or crash into bigger objects, eventually.  The energy of the universe will expire someday, when all stars have burned out and there are no light elements left, no hydrogen nor helium, sufficient to form new ones.

These are wonderful philosophical matters to ponder.  It is just unfortunate that our society goes to such lengths to impede this exploration, be it light pollution blocking our night skies or through pulp stories watched on television.

Feeding Our Curiosity

“This is an important part of being a human being, to have this curiosity—about the universe, who we are, where we come from, how it all fits. We have to feed that curiosity. We have to feed our souls. You have to feed your intellect, or else you’re nothing more than a well-fed cow.”

– Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican Observatory

Perhaps it was from having a father who was a devout Catholic who also loved all things science (and science fiction).  Perhaps it was from attending a seminary where both religion and science were taught alongside each other (with a surprisingly great emphasis on the latter, as I recall).  Perhaps for these and other experiences in my life, I never understood the contemporary battle between science and religion.

My blog is about astronomy, but I do touch on religion from time to time.  A recent edition of St. Anthony Messenger, a Franciscan publication, reviewed the science-v-religion matter with Guy Consolmagno.  He is a Jesuit priest, PhD planetary scientist, and director of the Vatican’s observatory.  Yes, the Vatican has an observatory!  You can read the article here.  It discusses the origins of the battle along with in-depth examples of how religion and science are far more harmonious than not.

There is so much that we don’t know, about everything.  Our knowledge of the physical universe expands, but our souls are still a matter of philosophy and faith.  Take any point from human history; its learned people believed they were on the cusp of all understanding and revelation.  It was never true, is not true today, and will not be for a long time, if ever.  Though scientific knowledge has spiked over the past century, I am confident that the humans of the 22nd century will look upon our times as we look at the era of the steam engine (if you happen to become one of those 22nd century humans, please let me know if I was right by leaving a comment below).  And yet, even they will not have begun to know the mysteries of our creation and existence.

A Blazing Full Moon with Saturn

July 9th, 2017, 12:15 a.m. local time

This moon was full – very full.  And it was very bright.  The sky and everything were lit like alternative dawn imagined on an alien world, not by our Sun but from an unknown foreign star.  The Moon hiding behind a patch of clouds helped to illustrate this effect.

In the photo, you can also see Saturn off to the right.  The summer weather has stopped me from getting my telescope out more to both look at and image the planet, but I hope to get a least a few good sessions in through the month of July.

On a side note, my stargazing has been jagged for the past two weeks.  I packed it all in during the July 4th weekend while all the bombs were going off, for fear of a stray firework hitting either me or my telescope.  But I have also been studying the sky, to understand which constellations and stars are out this time of year.  My favorite, Scorpius, looms over the South horizon.  I have mapped out Bootes, which falls into the category of constellations not obvious to find unless you star hop and have a moderately dark sky.  Hercules and Ophiuchus are this type as well found in the Northern Hemisphere during the Summer.

What I am really looking forward to is the “return” of the Andromeda Galaxy.    We are nearly at that time of year again where I will be able to see it peeking over my East treeline if I stay out well past midnight.  According to my log I started viewing it last year mid-to-late July.