Webmaster's blog

Sidewalk astronomy: a good night

A sidewalk astronomy event took place tonight, a part of Westlake Porter Public Library's Customer Appreciation Week. Two amateur astronomers from the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association set up their telescopes near the north end of the library's parking lot and invited visitors to take a look at some amazing celestial objects. After dicey late-afternoon cloud cover the sky cleared in time for setup at 7:30 and viewings from 8:00 to 9:15 PM.  Curious visitors got good views of Jupiter, the Hercules Star Cluster (M13), the Ring Nebula (M57), and the great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). The Ring Nebula was very difficult for most viewers to spot in the eyepiece but it was actually presented well in both telescopes. M13 --a globular collection of several hundred thousand stars-- was a beautiful sight. Andromeda Galaxy was its usual fuzz-ball self but not bad at all, the light from its trillion stars a subtle beauty through the telescope. Jupiter, some 492 million miles distant, was best viewed shortly after sundown. Good moments of seeing revealed multiple cloud bands in addition to the two big equatorial belts, and patient viewers got a good look. Seeing was unsteady at lower angles and as the planet sank lower in the sky, occasional good seeing ended and the planetary disk was unsharp. Thanks to those who braved the chilly temperatures for a good night of sidewalk stargazing!

Telescopes return Oct. 22

Sidewalk astronomy returns to the library Wednesday night, October 22, during Customer Appreciation Week. Telescopes will be set up outside of the library --most likely next to the parking lot north of the main building entrance-- for viewing of the giant planet Jupiter. We also hope to be able to look at a few other celestial objects perhaps including the great Andromeda Galaxy. The outdoor program is scheduled to begin by 8:00 and end at around 9:15 and is entirely dependent upon the weather; if it's raining or too cloudy the program will be canceled. If you are concerned about whether the program will take place, you can check the library Web site for updates or call the library's main number and ask that evening. The main number is:  (440) 871-2600.

See the Space Station!


See the Space Station tonight!


The International Space Station will be visible in our late evening and early nighttime skies several times in September. Using the list below watch for a very bright, unblinking light to appear in the westerly direction indicated and move briskly eastward across the sky. If the timing is right and you can see the entire passage or transit, you will see the light dim and disappear as the huge assemblage dips into Earth's shadow streaming into space. Each transit takes only a few minutes so be sure to start watching for its appearance before the indicated time!

Is that a UFO or what?

Look! Up in the eastern sky! Is that bright light a UFO?

We have been enjoying some very clear skies of late (between tropical storm left-overs) and early risers may have spotted a very bright point of light in the pre-dawn eastern sky. What is it?

It's not a bird. It's not a plane. Nor is it Superman. That brilliant beacon is the star Sirius -- the brightest star in Earth's night sky.

Eclipse thrills millions

Photo: NASA TV image of the 2008 total solar eclipse at totality.

On Friday, August 1, a total eclipse of the Sun took place within a narrow corridor that traverses half the Earth. We couldn't see it from the U.S. except via TV and the Web. The sight thrilled millions, however, seeing it with their own eyes or remotely, via electronic means.

No eclipse here!

Photo: Eclipse images by Lon Dittrick, Cuyahoga Astronomical Association.On Friday, August 1, a total eclipse of the Sun will be visible from within a narrow corridor that traverses half the Earth but you won't be able to see it from Ohio! The path of the Moon's umbral (central) shadow begins in Canada and will speed across northern Greenland, the Arctic, central Russia, Mongolia, and China. A partial eclipse is seen within the much broader path of the Moon's penumbral shadow, which includes far northeastern North America, most of Europe and Asia. No portion of the eclipse will be visible from the United States that day!

Mars Phoenix in the good, cold summertime

University of Arizona weather graphic depicts conditions at the Phoenix landing site.It's summer time where the Phoenix lander sits at what would be the Martian arctic circle. Its mission is limited to only around 92 (Earth) days because, even as it sits there in Mars's summer season, the high temperature never exceeds something like 20 degrees (F) below zero and, at night, well, your ice cream would never melt. EVER! They tell us that, as winter sets in on Mars, the Phoenix lander will become entombed, yes completely covered in snow and ice --mostly frozen carbon dioxide-- effectively "killing" the immobile robot about three (Earth) months from now. When summer returns to the northern regions of Mars, the lander will be exposed again. The solar panels will generate electricity again. And NASA will listen. There is a small chance Phoenix will stir back to life and, if it does, her handlers don't want to miss it! In the mean time we sit and watch the show from the warmer climes of Earth and marvel.

Mars landing May 25

Image: Artist's depiction of Phoenix lander arriving on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Calech/University of Arizona We're landing on Mars this Sunday. Well, at least a mechanical emissary of ours is landing on the Red Planet this Sunday, May 25.

Luna in the sky with diamonds

Saturday, May 10: Celebrate Astronomy Day by taking a look at the night sky. After dark, say around 9:30 to 10:00, under --we hope-- a clear sky, look in the direction of the first-quarter Moon. To the lower right of our pock-marked neighbor you will see three bright "stars" floating in the still darkening sky. The first of those isn't a star at all. That first reddish object is the planet Mars. To the right of that are two of the genuine article: stars Pollux and Castor, the "head" parts of the constellation Gemini. Higher in the sky, nearly overhead, the ringed planet Saturn can be seen to the east of the star Regulus; the pairing makes them easy to spot. Look carefully: can you see the slightly golden tint to Saturn's light compared with the star's cooler color?

Chore Wars!

If chores are a constant battle in your family, then there is a Website for you: ChoreWars.com.

Basically, your household's chore workload is transformed into an online role-playing game, like the ones your kids are already playing.

The family determines what the chores are, and how many "experience points" each one is worth, making a nice little competitive incentive between the players. So, a little healthy sibling rivalry could give you a much cleaner house!