Tag Archives: astronomy


Listening to “Into the West” (end credits song from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). Lyric, “Across the sea a pale moon rises.”

It’s all about crossing the sea into the west to go to elf heaven. Presumably the speaker is standing at the Grey Havens, waiting for the ships to arrive and carry her off to the Undying Lands, looking across the sea…to the west.

So since when does the moon rise in the west?

Admittedly, it’s a fantasy setting, but Middle Earth is set up to be a mythical past for the real world, so I’m fairly certain the sun and moon still rise in the east…

Exoplanets: Say Cheese!

I remember being bowled over when astronomers first detected planets around other stars. Nowthey’ve actually managed to get pictures!

Of course, they’re about as detailed as pictures of the stars at a science-fiction convention panel taken from the back of the room, or the band on stage from the upper-top-fifth-tier seating (see! that dot there is so-and-so!), but still…it’s a start.

There’s one photo from Hubble of the planetary debris disc around Fomalhaut, with a little dot that apparently has been tracked in other images, consistent with being in orbit around the star. It’s estimated at being about the size of Jupiter and about four times as far out from its star as Neptune is from the sun.

Meanwhile: consider that we can see something the size of Jupiter even though it’s 25 light years away!

Then there’s one from the Gemini North telescope that has actually caught two planets in orbit around a star called HR 8799 — a photo of a planetary system!

Update: Hubblesite has more on Fomalhaut including this image showing Fomalhaut B’s location in 2004 and 2006:

Look! Up in the Sky!

On Sunday, I participated in the Great World Wide Star Count. The idea is to track light pollution and get people (especially kids) stargazing. They ask you to look at either Cygnus (northern hemisphere) or Sagittarius (southern hemisphere) about an hour of two after sunset, and match what you can see against a set of charts. Each chart shows the sky with only stars at a certain magnitude or brighter. The website has activity guides in various languages.

I was actually surprised I could see more stars than I expected once I let my eyes get dark-adapted. It’s been unusually clear over the last few days, though it looks like that’s coming to an end. Of course, the magnitude 4 stars were only barely visible, and the sky never quite seems to get black here.

The event runs from October 1–15, so there’s only 4 nights left! Get out there, and take a look at the stars!

Lunar Eclipse pics

I decided to go for it, and set my alarm for 2:30 AM (ick) to see the eclipse. The moon was nearing totality at that point, with a too-shallow crescent near the bottom and the rest in slightly reddish shadow. My original plan was to lie down on the balcony and watch, but it turned out there was a tree in the way, but if I went over to the other end, by the patio table, I was able to see it.

I watched as the crescent shrank to a sliver, and finally the moon was shaded dark red to dull red to light red to a much dimmer white than usual. The deeper reds slowly spread across its face, edging out the brighter colors near the edge of the Earth’s shadow.

I brought my cheesy little digital camera, and took some photos. It promptly started warning me the battery was low, and I had to dig around in the dark to find the spare. I think this is the best of the pictures, as far as showing the eclipsed moon itself goes:

Moon in eclipse
Eclipsed Moon, 3:13 AM

Earlier in the evening I was testing different shutter settings. I thought this photo from the floor of the balcony turned out interesting:

Balcony lit by full moon

Yes, that’s lit by moonlight (in a long exposure).

OK, I’m going out to take one last look at the moon (I think I heard the downstairs neighbors’ door open a few minutes ago, so at least I’m not the only one up for this) and then go back to bed. I’ll look through my photos again tomorrow and post anything else that looks good.

Update: Here’s a shot from deeper in totality, just after the mid-point of the eclipse:

Lunar Eclipse - orange moon
Eclipsed Moon, 3:40 AM

PleiadesAnd here’s the Pleiades, which I spotted when I turned around and looked up. A far cry from this, but hey, I figured I was doing pretty well to be getting photos of stars with this type of camera in the first place.

I think the last time I saw the Pleiades, Hyades, Taurus and Orion in August, I was something like 14 and on a trip with my scout troop to do whitewater rafting. We slept out under the stars and I just happened to wake up at 3 in the morning.

OK, sleep is calling to me. Signing off…

Update 2: After I went to bed, I realized that I shouldn’t have dismissed my idea of scrounging up some film and pulling my manual SLR camera out of the closet. Between the better optics, more shutter control, and an actual telephoto lens, I probably would have gotten considerably better pictures. I just don’t think we have any rolls of film lying around that haven’t expired, and I didn’t want to run out at 11:00 to get some. Ah, well. Something to think about for next time.

Also, I realized that these blurry pictures look kind of like a Moon-sized version of Mars. Hmm, that might confuse some people. 😉

Update 3: You have to check out Thursday’s APOD: an incredible telescopic image of the moon taken during totality.