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Citizen Scientists Making Incredible Discoveries – NASA Science April 25, 2011

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Science.
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Citizen Science projects are projects that ask you, the citizen, to collect, analyze or process data like a scientist. SETI at home was the first major citizen science project. It asked users for their spare processor time. It made for a nifty screen saver, but didn’t take much involvement or input from you.

The Galaxy Zoo changed that. They asked users to classify images to determine what type of galaxy was in the picture. Along the way, several amazing things were discovered, and they were discovered by people like you.

If galaxies aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other projects in the Zoo now.  You can search for supernovae or new planets, or even read old ships logs for the weather reports.

Read more about the discoveries and the origins of Galaxy Zoo at

Citizen Scientists Making Incredible Discoveries – NASA Science.

Or joint the Zooniverse at http://www.zooniverse.org/.

Fireflies in the Garden February 20, 2011

Posted by aquillam in poetry.
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This is for Bob, because I can’t ask you if you knew the earliest C8s had different RA locks.

You definitely achieved a very star-like start.


Fireflies in the Garden (Robert Frost)

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

Useful Weather Resources For Observers September 14, 2010

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Galileoscope, MichiganAstro.
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Weather is very important to astronomers. Here are some of my favorite weather-related resources.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service is responsible for issuing forecasts and warnings. In fact, those emergency broadcasts that interrupt your TV show to tell you to take cover come from the NWS.  http://www.weather.gov/

The NWS pages are generally very basic, and their maps can be hard to read if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Most weather outlets use the data from the NWS, and of course post the warnings, but then modify or enhance it in some way. The Weather Underground is one of my favorites.  In particular, their wundermap allows you to select radar or satellite or both, map the severe weather warnings, or just show what your local weather stations are reporting. You can zoom in and out or move around so you can see what’s overhead and what’s coming.  You can also adjust the sensitivity of the satellite or the frequency of the radar. With some practice, you can figure out if the clouds might clear off or if you should just go to bed. You can even track bird and insect migration with the radar! (go to “About Maps and Radar” under resources on the home page.) They also have useful information like sunrise and sunset right on the main forcast page, and a fairly nice star chart.  http://www.wunderground.com/ National wundermap at http://www.wunderground.com/wundermap/?lat=38.54817&lon=-95.80078&zoom=4.

Clouds and precipitation aren’t the only things astronomers worry about.  There’s also transparency and seeing. Transparency is how transparent the atmosphere is.  The more water there is, the less transparent the air is.  On a foggy morning, the transparency is very very bad. Seeing is how shaky the air is.  Looking across a hot parking lot, you can see the air shimmer, looking like wavy water.  That is bad seeing.

The Canadian Meteorological Centre has a forecast for both transparency and seeing. However, like the NWS, they don’t have the most user friendly interface. That’s where the Clear Sky Clock comes in.  It presents the data in a graphical format, though you’ll want to study the key for a bit before you really get the hang of it. Most observatories link to their local clock, but you can find yours at http://cleardarksky.com/csk/.

The Clear Sky Clock is one of the projects at http://cleardarksky.com/. They are also trying to improve their predictions for seeing. If you have a 6″ or larger telescope and know how to tell the difference between turbulence caused by the ground, your telescope tube, and the air, you can help them (and the rest of us.) http://seeing.cleardarksky.com/so/index.html

Ultimatly of course, especially here in Michigan, weather still has an element of chaos. No matter how good the satellite images look, or what the Clear Sky Clock says, you should always look for yourself before opening the dome or carrying your optics outside.

Galileoscope observations March 8, 2010

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Galileoscope, MichiganAstro.
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I’ve been posting observations for Globe at Night (http://www.globeatnight.org/) and we’ve had a series of unbelievably good nights for winter in Michigan.  But I am lazy, so I haven’t wanted to haul out my C8. But my galileoscope is just sitting in my dining room waiting to be used.  So I grab it and my Sky Quality Meter and head outside.

The Galileoscope is somewhat more powerful than my binoculars.  The Orion Nebula looks absolutely spectacular. The Pleiades are very nice, but they are wider than the field of view of the ‘scope, so I think I still like the binoculars better for them.  Mars is decidedly unimpressive. Saturn however is tiny, but has rings.  Of course, I know what I’m looking at, so I have a little trouble telling if my impression of a crisp hoop around the planet is really there, or if my brain is filling it in.  In either case, I certainly couldn’t mistake it for ears, so to the Galaileoscope team: COngratulations, you accomplished the goal of having something better than Galileo, but for a lot less money!

Last night I tried to take some pictures.  unfortunately, nothing was bright enough for my little digital camera, at least not while I’m just holding it up to the eyepiece.  In 2 more weeks the moon should be back in the evening  sky, and maybe it’ll be in time for the next round of good weather. Fingers crossed!