Space Station Transits Sun | 11 Jun 2017

A few days ago I received an email notice from CalSky that the International Space Station would pass directly in front of the Sun for my location. The station moves about 5 mi/sec. The duration of the transit would be 0.67 sec to cross the full disc of the Sun. Here it is. Don’t blink.

This view is slowed down to 1/4 as fast and is much easier to see. Do you hear the birds in the background?

Here is a composite of the station position each tenth of a second.

Strawberry Moon | Micromoon | 9 Jun 2017

Moonrise for me last evening was 8:42 pm. I went out at 9:10 to see if the sky to the east was clear giving a view. Saturn was supposed to be positioned close to the right of the Moon. It was very hazy. The Moon was not bright and Saturn was not visible to me. I went back in the house for the camera and tripod. These two photos are at 9:20 and 9:21 with the Moon framed by some trees low to the horizon.

9:20 pm CDT

9:21 pm CDT

I went back inside to wait for the Moon to rise above some of the haze. When I returned at 9:59, the conditions were better. There was still a hazy glow near the Moon. I liked the effect. How about you?

9:59 pm CDT

Timing is everything, so I’ve heard. This moon coincides with the ripening of strawberries. Hence the name Strawberry Moon.

Much has been written in recent years about super-moons. That occurs when the Moon is at its nearest distance from Earth at full moon. This time, the Moon was at its farthest from Earth when full. The term mini-moon or micro-moon has been applied by some for this event. For more information about this full-moon, follow this link to Space.com. The following image compares a super to a micro moon. See this link for details.

Astronomy Picture of the Day | Catalin Paduraru

Miss Pickerell and Me

One of the first books I remember reading was Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars written by Ellen MacGregor and illustrated by Paul Galdone. It was published in 1951. It had a strong influence on me. Many other young readers apparently felt the same way as evidenced by the comments on this page at Goodreads. That book made me hungry for more adventures in science by the independent spinster with a pet cow who was willing to say what was on her mind.

I read about her trips to the Arctic and the Undersea as well as her adventure with a Geiger Counter. The science in each book was explained in ways a young person could understand. I have no doubt those books helped reinforce my interest in science. I became a teacher of physics for my career. Thank you, Miss Lavinia Pickerell and Ellen MacGregor.

MacGregor first wrote for publication in 1946. A class assignment for the Midwest Writers Conference was later published as a book Tommy and the Telephone. Miss Lavinia Pickerell first appeared in a story by MacGregor called Swept Her Into Space published by Liberty Magazine in 1950. That story was expanded to book length in 1951 and published as Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars.

She wanted to offer literature to children with an emphasis on science. Much of the science was not considered known or tested and was classified as science fiction. The explanations in the books used the best known science of the day to tell the stories. Her works were well received by critics. Her first Miss Pickerell book about Mars was the initial selection of the new Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I still have a pin I got for reading a certain number of book club selections in grade school.

Three more Miss Pickerell adventures followed before MacGregor’s early death. Copies of the four books are available in different formats from Fadedpage. This link to the Ellen MacGregor collection describes each and provides formats in txt, html, kindle, epub, pdf, and zip files for download.

MacGregor kept many notes on more books she intended to write about Miss Pickerell. Twelve additional books were written from those notes by author Dora Pantell between 1965 and 1986. More contemporary topics were in these later Miss Pickerell adventures such as harvesting the sea, weather satellites, earthquake rescue, supertankers, energy crisis, blue whales, and the war on computers. I have not read these books by Pantell. But, I am confident they are good.

JUNO | Close Flyby of Jupiter | 19 May 2017

The JUNO spacecraft continues its mission of very close flybys of the cloud tops of Jupiter. The most recent pass was on 19 May 2017. Images downloaded from the JunoCam instrument were made available to the public. I downloaded two sets in red, green, and blue filtered grayscale. Each set was combined into color versions using Photoshop and techniques described in a previous post. The colors are my interpretation and not necessarily real.

Mt. St. Helens | Eruption | 18 May 1980

The eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State 37 years ago was a spectacular event. Upwelling of magma caused the mountain to be forced slowly and strongly from below. On the morning of 18 May, a huge landslide occurred on the north slope face of the mountain. Rock, timber, snow and ice, slid down the face. The event allowed the volcano to release pressure and begin its eruption.

Ash was projected high in the sky and was caught in the high altitude westerly winds. The dense cloud of ash drifted east blocking out the midday sun across the state. Ash settled down on communities causing confusion and havoc.

In the path of the settling ash was Manastash Ridge astronomical observatory run by the Dept. of Astronomy of the Univ. of Washington. Douglas Geisler was working at the observatory throughout the night of the 17th into the early morning hours of the 18th. He said the skies were excellent for telescope observations. He went to bed at about 5 am.

A loud ‘boom’ barely interrupted his sleep. He went back to sleep until about noon. When he got up to go outside, it was dark.

“Yikes! – There is no day. It’s completely black; thick, inky black with visibility ~10 feet (with a flashlight), & it stinks. This is the end of the world.”

In the logbook for the 19th, he noted for the record the sky condition was black & smelly. He also noted he lost 6 hours of observing due to volcano (good excuse, huh?)

He thought he might be the last survivor of the war as he remembered hearing a ‘boom’. He turned on the radio and heard ‘cha cha’ music. Why was the world playing music at the end of the world? Eventually the radio station from Yakima said that Mt. St. Helens ‘blew its wad.’ He was relieved.

It remained dark until mid-afternoon. Several inches of ash settled on the ground. Visibility improved to about 1/2 mile by dusk. He covered the telescope and instruments to prevent damage. He took some pictures of the dome and surroundings thinking he might make a lot of money on his story. But, he never followed through.

Double Iridium Satellite Flares | 13 May 2017

Iridium is a global network of communications satellites. The system was originally a product of Motorola. Iridium’s 66 satellites provide wireless mobile communications as they move in polar orbits at altitude of 485 mi (781 km). They are able to provide global coverage from pole to pole.

This brief video illustrates the ability of the constellation of satellites to receive a ground signal, pass it to other satellites, then deliver it to the ground in another part of the world.

The original Iridium satellites carry three highly reflective antennae as shown in the image below. Because of their mirror-like surfaces being positioned much of the time in intense bright sunlight, they sometimes reflect a bright spot of light to the ground. The ground track of the reflections is known precisely. If you happen to see it in the sky above, it grows in brightness over a few seconds and can be many times more intense that Venus and then it fades away. They are most easily seen just after sunset and before sunrise. They can also be seen in bright daylight if you know where to look.

Wikimedia | Cliff

I received an email earlier in the week telling me such a reflection, or Iridium flare, was to pass right over my house going south. In fact, another Iridium satellite in nearly the same orbit was to also flare me only 24 seconds after the first. The sky was clear the night of 13 May as I set up for a time exposure photograph.

About 45 seconds before 9:22:14 pm, I started the exposure using NightCap Pro on my iPad 2. The flare maximum occurred as predicted right on time. Coming right behind it was the next one. It passed and peaked at 9:22:38 pm. After 90 seconds I ended the time exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro | ISS mode | 89.05 sec

How does one know when and where to look? I subscribe to a service called CalSky. It emails me when significant events like this are to occur. It offers many options and services but is not the easiest to use. There are others which are simpler. The best in my opinion for the general user is Heavens Above. In these services, you need to input your location. Heavens Above makes it easy to do by clicking on a map for your location.

Using the CalSky interface, I produced the sky chart of where the Iridium flares were going to pass. It gave this chart making it easy to know where to point my camera.

CalSky Chart

Jupiter | Three Galilean Moons | 7 May 2017

The clear evening sky offered a view of our Moon with Jupiter nearby as shown at left. Near sunset we set up the telescope and camera on tripods for closer looks. Good seeing allowed a photograph of Jupiter showing a few cloud bands as well as 3 of the 4 Galilean Moons. Ganymede was at the upper right. Europa and Io were to the lower left. Callisto was visible farther to the lower left in the telescope view. But, it didn’t show in this photo.

Usually, setting the exposure for Jupiter detail underexposes the Galilean moons and makes them not visible. Setting exposure to show the Galilean moons overexposes Jupiter. This time was a compromise.

Canon PowerShot SX60HS, ISO = 100, Shutter = 1/25s, Raw

Screenshot view via Stellarium