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Apple cheese breakfast pie March 14, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
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What better way to start the Pi day of the century and then with an easy cheese and apple pie.

Start with a crust for a 9 inch pie. I haven’t had any time to bake this week, so I used Pillsberry. 

Thinly slice two apples. I like a mix of a sweet  and a tart but firm baking apple, but this morning my fruit bowl contained two pink ladies, so that’s what I used. Arrange as many of the slices as you can on about one third of the piecrust, leaving about an inch margin for sealing the edges. I’m usually left with about a quarter of an apple that I can’t get on the crust. 

Next up, 4 to 5 ounces of cheese. I like a sharp cheddar, like a Vermont or Glouchester, combined with something smoked, like a smoked Gouda. I don’t like too strong of a smoky flavor, so I’ll usually use about 1 ounce of smoked Gouda for 3 ounces of cheddar. Lee that she is as evenly as possible across the top of the apples.

What’s the edge of the piecrust. Fols the empty half of the crust overtop of the filling, and seal the edges. If you don’t seal the edges, the cheese tends to leak out and scorch on your pan and you end up with a burned-bottom pie, and that’s no good. 

Bake in a 400° oven for about 50 minutes, give or take about 10 minutes. Since there’s no thickener, the only thing you have to worry about is getting the crust cooked, so the pie is done when it’s a beautiful golden brown. 

Allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting or oily cheese gushes out all over the place. 

Serve at 9:26 on March 14, 2015, for pi day of the century, or any other time you feel the need for quick and easy breakfast pie. 

Viewing Comet Lovejoy January 8, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2 is about 4th magnitude right now. if your observing sight is dark, it’s easily naked eye. Urban observers aren’t so lucky, but it’s bright enough to be picked by a camera!

You’ll need a camera you can set the exposure and focus on (some smart phone apps will do that.) I strongly recommend a tripod since you’ll need an exposure of a few seconds.

Focus first on Jupiter: it’s bright enough to see through your viewfinder, and rises by the time the sky is dark enough to see the comet.

Once you’ve got a good focus, point your camera so Orion is on the left side of your view, and Taurus at the top middle. As it gets latter in the month, adjust the position so Taurus is on the left, and Orion is out of the view. Check the maps on the Sky & Telescope website for a more precise location.

Take exposures ranging from about half a second to about 15 seconds – the longer your exposure, the better the comet will look, but too long and the sky brightness may wash out everything.  You should have a very wide field image.


about 5 seconds…

Once back inside, you can zoom in and crop to get a better composed picture.


Of course, if your skies are this bad, adding a little guidance might help.

There's the comet! Really!

There’s the comet! Really!

Ok, you’re unimpressed. I can tell. But consider how bright those trees are. And, it was so cold my camera stopped working. Hey, if you think you can do better, prove it! Share your photos!

Urban Observing January 2015 January 1, 2015

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Special events

What better way to start a year then with a comet. Already a naked-eye object at the end of December, comet Lovejoy should brighten more during January, making it a good binocular target for urban skies. It starts the month in the constellation Lepus, just below Orion’s feet. It then travels up past Orion, through Taurus, Aries and Triangulum. On Feb 2, you’ll find it next to Almach, the foot of Andromeda. Look for it especially January 13-20, when you’ll have less interference from the waning moon, and the comet should be at its brightest. Also, it’s not too far from the Pleiades on those days. There’s a great map, not to mention an article with some spectacular pictures, on the Sky and Telescope website.

Comet Lovejoy near the Pleiades at 9 PM on January 17.

Comet Lovejoy near the Pleiades at 9 PM on January 17.

Some of you will enjoy knowing that perihelion, Earth’s closest position to the Sun, occurs on January 4 this year. Some of you will, of course, be confused because January is the coldest part of winter here in the northern hemisphere. Just remember, it’s the tilt and whoever gets more sunlight, not the distance that counts. After all, it’s summer down south right now!

Meteor showers

The year kicks off with what could be one of the best meteor showers of the year. Unfortunately, the Quadrantids have a very short peak, and the weather in the northern hemisphere at this time of year tends to be terrible for observing. Also, a gibbous Moon interferes this year. Still, with a typical rate of 25 meteors per hour bright enough to see in the glare of the full moon, and a high number of fireballs, this shower is worth a look even for urban observers. The peak should occur at 2:00 UT on January 4, which is 10 PM on January 3 in the eastern standard time zone. The radiant doesn’t rise until 11 PM, but early observers might get the chance to see a few meteors shooting up from the northern horizon.

A full sky map showing comet Lovejoy and the location of the radiant of the Quadrantids meteor shower

The sky on January 3 at 11 PM. The meteor shower radiant is just rising in the NNE, and comet Lovejoy is in the south.

There are a large number of radiants located along the ecliptic from Cancer to Virgo. While none of these is sufficiently active to generate a shower, the overall meteor activity at this time of year is increased. If you have insomnia, or work third shift, this is a good time of year to go out on any clear night between midnight and dawn and look up. For details on a week by week basis, be sure to check out the American meteor Society website: http://www.amsmeteors.org/category/meteor-showers/


Full: Jan. 5
New: Jan 20


Mercury and Venus peek out of the sunset twilight together at the start of the month. Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation on January 14. Being mid-month, you might think that means it’ll be visible in the evening all month, but as it heads back toward conjunction and away from Venus, its apparent motion speeds up, and it vanishes into the glare of the Sun around the 25th. The two planets are less than a degree apart on January 11. A day old young Moon joins the pair on January 21, but it will be difficult to spot even with a telescope. Venus meanwhile heads toward an early February conjunction with Neptune.

Venus and Mercury with the rays of the setting Sun

Venus and Mercury, less than half a degree apart, at 5:45 PM on January 11.

Mars continues its slow progress toward conjunction in late spring. It passes slowly through Capricorn and Aquarius this month. Look for it within 2 hours of sunset. It passes less than a degree from Neptune on the 19th, and there’s a good binocular conjunction of Mars, Neptune and a young Moon on the 22.

The starfield with Mars, Neptune, and Sigma Aquarii  marked.

Mars and Neptune, only 0.5º apart, at 8 PM on January 19. This image is about 1 1/2° across, so It shows what you might see through binoculars or a small telescope.

Mars, Neptune, and a young Moon above Venus on January 22nd at 7 PM.

Mars, Neptune, and a young Moon above Venus on January 22nd at 7 PM.

Jupiter is well up by 10 PM this month. It is in retrograde right now, so look for it between Leo and Cancer, headed slowly closer to Cancer. There is a nice conjunction with the gibbous moon on the 7th.

Jupiter and the Moon in the east at 10 PM on January 7.

Jupiter and the Moon in the east at 10 PM on January 7.

Saturn is the gem of the dawn skies this month. Between Libra and Scorpio, it is best viewed around 7 AM at the beginning of the month, and around 6 AM at the end. There should be a stunning grouping of Saturn, Scorpio’s claws, and a waning crescent moon on the morning of January 16.

Saturn , the lone planet of the eastern predawn skies. Shown here at 7 AM on January 16.

Saturn , the lone planet of the eastern predawn skies. Shown here at 7 AM on January 16.

Deep sky Objects

Early sunsets and clear, dry air make January one of the best months for deep sky observing with a small telescope. Of course, you should definitely bundle up!

The Orion nebula, or M42, is one of the nicest objects. Binoculars are enough to show a hint of fuzz and the cluster of the stars. A small telescope resolves the 4 young type O stars at the core even in very bad skies.

January is a good time to catch the Beehive cluster, or M44, in Cancer. A naked eye object in dark skies, it shows up nicely in binoculars or a small telescope even in badly light polluted skies. Find it by about half way between Castor and Regulus.

The early sunset also means you can still catch the Andromeda galaxy, M31 around 9 pm.

While you’re in that area,be sure to look for the Blue Snowball planetary nebula, NGC 7662. A nebula, sky, or O2 filter help a lot with this in light polluted skies.

Full sky map for 9 PM on January 15.

Full sky map for 9 PM on January 15.

Space Weather Enthusiasts Dashboard | NOAA / NWS Space Weather Prediction Center December 20, 2014

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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Space Weather Enthusiasts Dashboard | NOAA / NWS Space Weather Prediction Center.


An email from Spaceweather.com let me know that an increase in solar activity has led to an increased chance of aurora later this weekend or early next week. This led me to a search for better data on aurora predictions. This NOAA dashboard might be overkill for some, but I’m geeked by finding it!


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