A Clear Night

Mondays are my Firefly night, so I’m normally up after everybody else has gone to bed. After tonight’s episode I was checking the back doors when I spotted the sky and stepped outside. It’s the clearest night I’ve seen in a while, and the stars are quite something. I ran upstairs and dug out my binoculars. We must still be passing through the dust of Swift-Turtle as I saw four shooting stars, which pretty much doubles the number I’ve witnessed! One was particularly bright and long-lasting, definitely the most impressive I’ve ever seen. I spotted two planets for sure – I’d guess Jupiter and Saturn but I’m a little rusty – and probably Mars given the reddish tint. There were a couple of ‘moving stars’ I couldn’t identify. I picked up one through the binoculars; it definitely wasn’t a plane and it moved a fair distance before disappearing. I guess it must have been a dust grain in the very upper reaches of the atmosphere, but it’s easy to see how people could come up with more elaborate explanations. After ten minutes or so I started picking up on every rustle in the garden and got nervous so came back inside. It’s beautiful out there.

Lost, Gone and Vaporized

Lost was certainly intriguing. I’m looking forward to watching it over the next few months – should be fun! However while watching it I forgot about Danny Wallace! Damnation, and me a Joinee too. I’m having a good day for making silly mistakes.

My car has gone! I handed it over to a very nice lady this evening. I’ll be using Mum & Dad’s car until I’m in a position to afford the monthly payments again. Thankfully I’ve never been one for getting attached to cars, and the money will definitely come in handy. I keep expecting to remember I’ve left something expensive in there, though…

It’s the annual Perseid meteor shower this Friday, btw. I’ve seen a ‘shooting star’ once, but I’d love to see a large number in succession like this. The meteors that produce these showers are only about 1mm in diameter, which makes it even more amazing imho.

Discovery Touchdown

Discovery LandingDid anybody else cheer when Discovery touched down this afternoon? I certainly did. Despite the problems, it’s still an astonishing machine. I heard somebody on BBC News 24 commenting that SpaceShipOne cost far less and managed to get into space, but what they don’t know is that getting into orbit is an entirely different challenge from simply touching space and coming back down. This Boing Boing post sums up the difference in energy. I like the fact that the Shuttle comes under manual control once it drops under the speed of sound, and is, as the New York Times put it, ‘a brick with wings’. It’s the world’s most expensive glider.

As a matter of interest, the always-exuberantly-described X-Plane flight simulator has a Shuttle mode, and is the only simulator to model the physics of the flight in real-time rather than using lookup tables. You need a degree in user-interfaces as well as extensive flying knowledge to even get off the ground in that program, however.

Monkeys and Space

Just back from badminton, and hotter than an extremophile’s hot water bottle. Phew. It was good fun though.

A fun thing to do of an hour is browse random flickr tags. The wtf tag has some shots by turns amusing, gross and thoroughly loopy:

Masturbating Monkey

Duck Crossing

Jedi Squirrels

There are quite a few from the Williamstown Theatre Festival, however.

I discovered at the weekend that the BBC have all Sky at Night episodes since 2001 available online. I admit I haven’t watched any yet, but I intend to. Patrick Moore is the height of all things cool. I wrote him a letter for a school project back in secondary school and received a personal reply. Did you know he was once treasurer of the Monster Raving Loony Party? Any other position might have made a bit of sense, he said. It takes guts to be openly enthusiastic about anything these days, but you can still see the sparkle in his eyes when he discusses the latest astronomical developments on TSAN, and I think that’s wonderful.

Speaking of all things space, there were two new planets discovered last week. They’re both a similar size to Pluto, and if we make the assumption that one of them isn’t 100% reflective (not unreasonable) we can infer it to be larger still. As well as this, Pluto’s moon Charon passed in front of a star, allowing observation of its atmospheric properties, size and shape. Also, Mars Express spotted a large ice lake on Mars, and not at a pole. This goes into the circumstantial evidence for life on Mars bracket (on Earth, where there’s water, there’s life) but is a very interesting discovery nonetheless. Manned missions would be far easier with a plentiful water supply. And as if that wasn’t enough space news, Discovery’s having trouble with falling foam again, and NASA have suspended all future launches even before the shuttle touches down. There are rumours this could be the last shuttle flight, and I wouldn’t be surprised. When they have the same launch problem despite two years of reports and engineering, people tend to get cross. It’s such a shame there’s nothing to replace the shuttle; as far as I know there’s not even a decent proposal.

Comet Muppetry

Nasa crashed a probe into a comet last weekend. An incredible achievement, given that (as Bad Astronomy Blog points out):

a comet orbiting the Sun at 30 kilometers per second is hit by a probe moving at 10 km/sec, and images were taken by yet another instrument sweeping past the whole event.

Now that must have taken some serious calculus! The collision was monitored by many Earth telescopes and the debris produced exceeded predictions, which is very interesting. However, at this point we must Bring On The Muppetry!

An astrologer in Russia is suing NASA (really) because the orbit of the comet has been affected:

…Ms Marina’s [sic] claims to be experiencing “a moral trauma” – which only a payment of $300m (252m euros;

I saw the crescent

The moon does indeed look quite large this evening, while previewing a photograph through a digital camera (using a nearby streetlight as comparison) shows how much smaller it really is. Very interesting optical illusion.

Enceladus

Cassini’s reporting that Enceladus, the highly reflective moon of Saturn, has an atmosphere. That’s rather interesting, as its mass isn’t enough to support a permanent atmosphere gravitationally, so it must be being replenished somehow. If that’s the case it must be geologically active, likely as a result of gravitational tides. It also looks increasingly likely that it’s this activity that’s creating Saturn’s E-ring – the outermost ring that’s composed of slightly different particles from the rest.