I haven't written a blog entry here in quite some time. A telephone call from an interested library patron drew me out of retirement; she was excited that "Mars will be so close" in August and was asking whether we would have telescopes set up to see it.
August 12-13 -- Watch for meteors after nightfall and before the bright waning gibbous Moon interferes with the show! Observers may see up to about 60 "shooting stars" per hour from a dark site.
Every year some of us receive an email that says something like: "The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!" Or "On August 27 Mars will be as big and bright as the full Moon." There's even a
Occasionally this winter we have been able to see the sunset and the night sky. Amazing, I know, but it's true... once in a while the clouds have parted! As the Sun's light fades from the sky the "first star we see tonight" isn't a star at all; it's the glorious planet Venus -- third brightest light in our sky after the Sun and Moon.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in cooperation with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures' movie WALL-E from Pixar Animation Studios, will conduct a naming contest for its next Mars rover. The car-sized Mars Science Laboratory is scheduled for launch in 2009.
The contest began November 18, and is open to students 5 to 18 years old who attend a U.S. school and are enrolled in the current academic year. To enter the contest, students will submit essays explaining why their suggested name for the rover should be chosen. Essays must be received by January 25, 2009. In March 2009, the public will have an opportunity to rank nine finalist names via the Internet as additional input for judges to consider during the selection process. NASA will announce the winning rover name in April 2009.
Disney will provide prizes to students submitting winning essays, including a trip to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., where the rover is under construction. The grand prize winner will have an opportunity to place a signature on the spacecraft and take part personally in the history of space exploration.
The Mars Science Laboratory rover will be larger and more capable than any craft previously sent to land there. It will check whether the environment in a carefully selected landing region ever has been favorable for supporting microbial life. The rover will search for minerals that formed in the presence of water and look for several chemical building blocks of life.
Entry forms and a selection of books about Mars are available from a special display in our library's Youth Services area!
Think hard, write well, and good luck!
A new PBS documentary about the history of American astronomy premiers Monday, Nov. 10. Entitled The Journey to Palomar, the film is about George Ellery Hale and the building of the giant telescopes at the Yerkes, and Mount Wilson Observatories, and Hale's crowning achievement at Palomar. The 90-minute program premiers nationwide on PBS November 10.
The filmmakers write, "More than a science film, The Journey To Palomar is the story of America's 'can-do' spirit at its very best. The combination of Hale's dramatic personal story set against the backdrop of American history and humankind's reach into the far corners of the universe creates a film with appeal to viewers of all ages."
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!
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 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!
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.