Saturday, November 21, 2009

10 Places to Learn More about Astronomy Online

You may remember a while back Karen Schweitzer did a guest post for Black holes called
"10 Places to get a Free Astronomy Education Online", well Karen, the guide to Business School has offered her excellent services once again with suggestions for another 10 free places to learn of Astronomy online.

The web is a great place for amateur and experienced astronomers to learn more about stars, planets, comets, galaxies, and other celestial objects. Here are 10 free education resources that almost any astronomer will benefit from.

1. - Astronomy, the world's bestselling astronomy magazine, also has a website with educational resources for astronomers of all ages. Only magazine subscribers can gain access to the site's premium features, but there are a number of free resources that are available to everyone.

2. Sky and Telescope - Sky and Telescope, another popular astronomy magazine, uses their online presence to provide astronomy news, highlights from the magazine, observation tips, and interactive sky charts. Other notable features include a site blog and community forum.

3. - KidsAstronomy - As the name implies, is an astronomy site for kids. The site offers a free astronomy course, sky map, astronomy games, activities, fun facts, and other resources to educate kids about outer space.

4. Windows to the Universe - This award-winning site from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research provides a user-friendly education system for anyone who is interested in learning more about earth and space sciences.

5. Astronomy Cast - This popular astronomy podcast is aimed at amateur astronomers, but also provides educational material for more advanced learners. Several new episodes are published each month and old episodes are archived so that listeners can review information they may have missed.

6. Astronomy Picture of the Day -NASA posts a new astronomy picture each day along with an explanation of what viewers are seeing. Old pictures (dating back to 1995) have been archived so that site visitors can explore images they may have missed.

7. Sky View Cafe - Sky View Cafe is a free web application that offers an astronomical event calendar, star charts, and other useful astronomical information. Users can also use Sky View Cafe to see which stars and planets will be viewable in their area each night.

8. Stellarium - This free multi-platform software displays a realistic night sky in 3D on your computer screen. It can also be used in planetarium projectors.

9. Your Sky - This interactive web planetarium allows users to create personalized sky maps that show the entire sky as it looks at a particular day and time.

10. My Online Astronomy Journal - My Online Astronomy Journal is a community based website for amateur astronomers who want to record their observations and share them with other people. Membership is free and open to everyone.

Thanks again Karen for taking the time to put together this collection of great Astronomy links, and thanks to everybody who took time to comment on my last post and send me encouraging emails of support, also Astro-Nuts for showing me a major signpost.

I had mentioned on my last post I was taking some time off to look for my next signpost to guide me to get to where I need to be, since then I have found many, and many have helped, and I thank you all. When all seems lost and nothing seems right it's good to know that Christ our Savior is always there to get us through, 1Peter 5:7-11, some verses I found when I really needed them most.

ps, see you in Vancouver in December Livingsword

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Last Post .......for a while

So I was driving down a dark country road, I had just been out in the afternoon to scout out a location in the country to view a Moon and Pleiades conjunction. Always easier to find a new location during the day then head back out at night.

I was driving what seemed like forever looking for the turnoff that would get me to the place I needed to be but I couldn't find it, must have missed it, but how could I have, I thought there was a sign, did I drive by it? I started getting a little anxious, was I on the right road, the millage was off compared to what it was the first time out, drove what seemed like forever, pulled over and turned around and headed back towards safety and home. Wasn't more then just a few minutes and straight head a sign I was looking for pointed me in the right direction, wow talk about being relieved.

Took my images packed my stuff away and started home... true story, as I was heading home a car came towards me with his brights on, as I looked away I noticed in my rear view mirror the sign, all big, green and shiny and I thought to myself how on earth did I miss it?

Life can be that way sometimes, always easy to see clearly when looking back at stuff then it is when your in the middle of it. I will be away for awhile looking for my next signpost but this time not fretting about the destination. I want to thank all of you who have given me so much encouragement the last couple years with your kind comments, we've laughed, we've cried, mostly laughed though and I treasure every last moment we've shared.

I thought my latest Sunset clip would be fitting for my "Last Post...for a while". With every Sunset there is a Sunrise, and with it a new day with new hopes and no goodbyes...just good memories.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Daytime Moon and Zodiacal Light

Wife: Whatcha up to?

Me: Looking at a daytime crescent Moon...just above that tree over there..see it?

Wife: .......No.

Me: Okay, look at the top of that pine over there and then a little to the left...see it?

Wife: .......No.

Me: Alright watch where I'm pointing, the Moon is sitting on top of my finger....see it?

Wife: .........If I say yes will you stop?

This conversation actually took place, the daytime crescent Moon can be a hard target to find but boy is it worth it, looks so majestic in the daytime.

If you're interested you can go here to see the current phase of the Moon and go here to find out where it is. I eventually set up the telescope and took some images for her to see later, which I don't think she did, but hey if she reads the post she will.

Just a reminder, in the early morning hours of this coming Thursday the Moon and Pleiades will be in conjunction, but you can enjoy the coupling late Wednesday evening, just grab some binocs, find the Moon then just off to the left will be the Pleiades, granted you won't have me to point them out to you but you should be good to go on your own.

Zodiacal Light The Worlds Of David Darling

Mark September 16th. on your calender for an awesome showing of the Slim Crescent Moon, Venus, and...and, the Zodiacal Light, triple whammy. The Zodiacal light will be putting on quite the show for a few days beyond the 16th., until the Moon gets brighter and takes away it's cool soft glow.

First you have to get up a couple hours before Sunrise, leave the glare of the city lights, and look to the east. You will see a faint triangle of light rising up from the horizon, very beautiful. The Zodiacal light is the result of Sunlight reflecting off dust particles left behind by comets and collisions between asteroids, best seen the beginning of fall before Sunrise in the east and spring after Sunset in the west. You may or may not know that the Zodiacal light is responsible for 60% of the skylight on a moonless night.

I'll leave you now with an animation of a Sunset I took a week ago.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

10 Places to Get a Free Astronomy Education Online

Old Shanghai Observatory Star Theater

Something special and new for you this this time round. Karen Schweitzer will be doing a guest post. Karen is the guide to Business School. Karen also writes reviews of Online Colleges for There is some great stuff here, I have reviewed all the links Karen has provided and have actually printed some of the study materials down to read and incorporate in future posts, take it away Karen.

Whether you are a beginning astronomer or a professional who is interested in learning more about a specific topic, there are plenty of places to get a free astronomy education online. Here are ten courses, podcasts, encyclopedias, and other education resources to explore:

Introduction to Astronomy- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers this free course to introduce self-learners to astronomy. The course includes readings, study materials, assignments, and quizzes with an answer key.

Elementary Astronomy- This free online course from the College of Eastern Utah focuses on the formation and existence of the sun, moon, planets, stars, and comets. The course includes 38 pages of informative handouts with illustrations.

Astronomy 101- The Guide to Astronomy offers this free online course to self-learners who are interested in learning the basics of astronomy. The 10-lesson course includes an assignment, links to more in-depth information, a final quiz, and forums where students can ask questions. A certificate is awarded to those who finish the course.

Hands-On Astronomy- This free online astronomy course from MIT focuses on observing stars and planets. The course teaches students how to use small telescopes with lecture notes and other self-study materials.

Old Shanghai Observatory Star Theater

The Solar System- This free online course, also from MIT, provides an introduction to the solar system. Students learn about the formation and life of the solar system through assignments, fact sheets, and other course materials.

Essential Radio Astronomy- This advanced-level astronomy course was designed for students who already have some knowledge of astronomy. The text-based course includes problems sets and exams with solutions.

Weekly Astronomy Podcast- Astronomy magazine's free weekly podcast is an excellent educational resource for astronomy enthusiasts. Episodes include astronomy news, information on upcoming sky events, and much more.

Astronomy Network- The Astronomy Network is a social network for astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts. The site is a great place to learn more about astronomy online through discussions, blog posts, and videos.

World Of Astronomy- World of Astronomy is a comprehensive online encyclopedia of astronomy topics. Visitors can learn more about galactic astronomy, observational astronomy, the solar system, stars, and much more.

Ask An Astronomer- Volunteers at Cornell University's Astronomy Department offer this free public service to people around the world who are interested in astronomy. You can browse previously asked questions or submit your own question to be answered by one of the graduate students at Cornell.

Thank you Karen, with all the information out there it's nice to have an expert do the research on where to get stuff. I'll leave you now with an animation of the Greater Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an China, built in 652 it was used to hold sutras and figurines that were brought back from India by Xuanzang

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Moon, Pleiades and the Perseids

As far as I'm concerned there is nothing more pretty then a celestial gathering of the Moon and Pleiades.

We just had one August 14. Next groupings of the two are September 10, October 7, November 3, and December 1, do yourself a favor and look at the pairing on one of these nights using binoculars.

If you're so inclined just email me and I'll tell you where and when to look, you won't regret it. I think I can almost see the usefulness of tweeter in a case like this, might learn how to tweet to give you a reminder.

What can I say, the Perseid meteor shower this year was probably the best shower I've seen in years. I missed the peak night due to clouds but was lucky enough to get some clear skies the following night, I later found out that this particular shower had 3 peaks, which is unusual, this year we happened through 3 distinct concentrated dust trails left behind by comet Swift Tuttle. The tiny dust particles aka meteoroids create the meteors aka falling stars we see by burning up through friction as they enter our atmosphere.

Was treated to around 30 an hour and 5 fireballs, but the real cool thing was I didn't watch it alone. As I was pulling up to my regular viewing spot I noticed a car parked, as I got closer I noticed a couple people in it, a Mother and son. They had heard about the event, believe it or not, not through my blog but through a local radio station, they decided to venture out to see their first ever meteor shower, the looks on their faces when the first fireball came along was more exciting to me then the fireball itself. They had lots of questions and I did my best to answer them and at the end of the day they went away a little more in tune with the cosmos, a very special night for us all.

Next major shower are the Orionids, peaking October 21. Look to the South East at the Constellation Orion around 10:00 pm for the show to start.

Expect around 20 or so an hour. They are generally small, fast and have a slight color to them as in the above image I took last year. Notice the bright Moon, it took away a lot of the contrast so I was only able to spot the very bright meteors, not to worry, this year the Moon will be coming off it's new Moon stage and will have set by that time leaving us a dark sky in which to pick off even the faintest of meteors.

I'll leave you with an animation of a bamboo forest just outside of Shanghai.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shanghai...The Solar Eclipse

The night we arrived in Shanghai we were treated to an awesome lightning show. I took the image above from the balcony of my hotel suite the eve of the Total Solar Eclipse, with a grim weather forecast for eclipse day my thought was if I wasn't going to be imaging the eclipse, I might as well get some lightning shots.

Didn't get much sleep, up at 4:00 am organizing my equipment, then at t-90 minutes and counting to the eclipse I ventured out to find a spot I would be viewing it from. The tour organizers had paid extra for us to have a place on the hotel terrace to view the event, but after I walked along the China Sea beach that morning, I knew this was the place for me, ended up being a great decision.

Met all kinds of people from different countries, was filmed by a Beijing TV crew and saw lots of ghost like Junk ships on the China Sea , they seemed to disappear then reappear from behind pockets of mist and smog, very creepy cool , and the people,

People in awe,

Amazed people,

Cheering people.

Just before the eclipse started the clouds broke a little, enough so that we were able to view a partial eclipse, everybody cheered.

Our tour guide was kind enough to let me use his phone, I regularly called updates of the event into the CNN live crew. A CNN producer read my blog about me getting my first passport just to go see the eclipse in China. She emailed me and asked if I wanted to do an interview as well as do regular call ins to update CNN of the progress of the eclipse in Shanghai, I said sure, who wouldn't,very cool.

Saw it get dark,


Darkest......... all within a matter of minutes. So let me sum this up for you. I am in Shanghai on the China Sea beach, watching ghostly Junks float by, with people all around me watching my every move, on the phone with a producer from CNN giving her live updates on the Solar Eclipse I was viewing and imaging, oh and earlier was filmed by a Beijing TV crew for their nightly news... I remember thinking at the time that even my dreams don't get this good.

Just after totality it started to rain and some friends from my tour group helped me carry my equipment to the hotel, it was over , at least for us in Shanghai, an experience I will never forget and even to this day can't believe I was actually a part of.

The next day we visited the Old Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.

Our last major event on the tour was a visit to the 88th floor, the observation deck of the Jin Mao Tower, what a view of Shanghai,

All good things must come to an end but the memories and experiences I have gathered will never fade away, I took more then 1200 images and 6 hours of video to make sure they don't. Taking this trip to China was so not like me, being a claustrophobic fear of flying introvert, just goes to show you that fears can be conquered....... with the want and a lot of willpower.

I even learned a few words in Chinese, one phrase I remember is "Xie xie" pronounced "Sheh sheh" in English, means "Thank you", I use it when ever I buy Chinese food now, whenever I use the phrase the surprised look I get from the person behind the counter, and then they started talking back to me in Chinese, then I explained I don't know any other words, they look confused, I explain about my trip, they smile and I really got to stop doing that, but it is fun.

I look back on this adventure with fond memories, the kindness of the Chinese people, their vast and rich history, seeing the great Wall for the first time from a plane, touching and smelling the clay that the Terra-Cotta army was made from, all something one doesn't soon forget.

I'll leave you with a video I took from the observation floor of the Jin Mao Tower. Note that at 1:20 into the video I cut in a Mission Impossible III scene, in the bottom of the four tower images I took above, the tall round building and the slanted roof building next to it are involved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two New NGC Premieres, Ride Of a Lifetime and Gumby

I'm going to take another break before I wrap up my China adventures to tell you of a couple of National Geographic Channel premieres coming this Sunday August 23rd at 9 and 10 pm EDT.

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First off at 9:00 pm EDT Alien Earths. Join a team of astronomers and leading scientists in the search for alien earths, another place we could call home. So far they have discovered around 350 planets, all of which you wouldn't want to live on. too hot, too cold, oceans filled with gas ect. With the aid of CGI animations you'll journey to these unbelievably strange and odd worlds, the stuff of sci fi. You'll also see what they are doing to hunt for worlds much like our own using Kepler, the first spacecraft of it's type able to discover earth size and smaller planets capable of supporting life as we know it. Of all the strange planets and oddities you'll discover my favorite is the Planemo, a poor little planet that has been thrown out of it's solar system into space. It wanders in the darkness of space, looking for a new home. I'm surprised no sci fi shows or books have been done using the Planemo as a story line, work with me on this one people.

A little planet gets the boot from it's solar system through a freak of gravity of a larger planet, gets captured by another system, maybe even a double star system, the planet develops a highly intelligent life form capable of light speed and they hear through the space grapevine a planet is being invaded by beings from the same planet that jostled them out of their solar system millions of years before, the planet being invaded is Earth. They come, rid us of the invading aliens and give us the technology to build holodecks.

Next at 10:00 pm EDT Hawking's Universe. Stephen Hawking is probably one of the most famous scientists in the word and you'll learn a little of his early life before he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, meet his daughter, find out some of his major contributions to the field of astrophysics and learn of his quest to find the theory of everything. His goal in life, and I quote, "My goal is simple, it is the complete understanding of the universe, why it exists the way it is and why it exists at all". Hawking first put forth the theory that black holes are not completely black, that they give off radiation and are slowly evaporating through radiation, what we call "Hawking Radiation", named after him. His theory says that just before it goes into nothingness it gives off energy, depending on the size of the black hole, unspeakable energy, is this what caused the Big Bang? The preview dvds I received look real good, something you won't want to miss, again this Sunday starting at 9:00 pm EDT. Unfortunately these programs are only available in the US. Previous NGC shows I have mentioned here are slowly making their way to Canada through the Canadian Discovery HD Channel and the Canadian NGC, if you live in Canada just keep an eye open for them on those channels.

Now, I'd like to leave you with a video I took on my adventure in China, it is a ride on the Maglev, the worlds fastest railway in commercial use. We took the Maglev from the financial district in Shanghai to Shanghai's Pudong Airport, WOW, what a blast!! The 30 km distance took less then 7 minutes to cover, top speed 431 km and hour. Note at five and a half minutes into the ride a Maglev going in the opposite direction passes within feet of us scaring the crap out of me and a traveling partner, also notice at seven and a half minutes into the ride you'll see the Shanghai's 2010 World Expo mascot "Haibao". I'm thinking he looks a lot like Gumby, everybody thought I was crazy, especially the people that asked what a Gumby was, what do you think?

Real Gumby.

Haibao(Gumby wannabe).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Terra-Cotta Army

Often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world the Terra-Cotta Army, dating back to 210 BC was built to help the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang rule in the afterlife.

It is estimated that more then 700,000 laborers and craftsmen manufactured the estimated 9,000 soldiers, chariots and horses.

So far 3 main pits have been discovered; Pit 1 and the largest, the top 2 images above, contains the main army; Pit 2 the next largest and the image above contained specialized troops such as archers.

Pit 3 , the smallest of the three was the troop command center.

The army was discovered by some local farmers digging for water back in 1974 when they came across some pottery pieces, the rest is history. For a donation you can get a founding farmer to, (get it, founding farmer, just made that up right now), sign your Terra-Cotta Army book and then they will allow you to take their picture as well, one of the farmers is signing my book in the image above, very cool.

Before the Terra-Cotta Army there was a small village and Pomegranate growing fields. The villagers have all been relocated and a small tourist town now occupies the land.

The museum is just outside of Xi'an (pronounced she anne) China and receives 2 million tourists and visitors annually, the Queen Of England, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and me to name a few.

Our tour guide told us a couple interesting tidbits of info, a local person dressed up like a warrior and hid down amongst the figures, he managed to pull it off for quite awhile until someone saw him move and he was arrested, also apparently they had put a halt to the excavating because the warriors after being restored were losing their color, they have now figured out how to prevent that from happening and had just started to excavate a month before I arrived.

Besides soldiers, chariots and horses a large assortment of real armor, weapons, rare animal and bird figures and various types of pottery have been uncovered, as well as mass burial graves.

To keep the tomb a secret hundreds of officials and craftsmen involved in it's construction were buried alive with the dead Emperor. Just to the southwest of the mausoleum 42 mass graves have been uncovered, a lot of good the burying alive thing did, just 5 years after the Emperor's death General Xiang and his army looted and burned the Emperor's tomb destroying the Terra-Cotta Army.

The figures were created using molds and local clay heated to between 950 and 1050 degrees Celsius. The heads were made with 2 piece molds with the eyes, ears, mouth and hair added after to give each warrior their own individual look, actually there are some experts that say that real soldiers were used as models. I was so fascinated with that idea that I took a bunch of images using my telephoto lens, and they are all different, at least the images I collected, just think, when you are looking at the images below you could be looking into the face of someone that was an actual warrior back in the day!

I'll leave you with a video I took of the unforgettable event, notice at the beginning of the video I was told no pictures, still you can see the farmer signing some books before I turned off the camera, once inside the pits I was allowed to image again, but boy was it packed, had to push and shove my way into the front area, you can see where I almost lost my footing on a slope, all the area I could find to take pictures at the time, was also very hot, reached 40 c that day and wasn't much cooler in the building, very humid, you could smell the clay, added to the whole adventure.

Also look to the North East after darkness falls tonight , just under the W of Cassiopeia for the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower, could see as high as 40 meteors an hour, I'll be out trying to image them, should be a fairly good show.