Category Archives: Astro

Astronomy and Astrology

The Mathematics of Easter

Why is Lent 40 days long, why is Passion Week 7 days, and why was Jesus “in the earth” for 3 days? Further, why do we celebrate his birth on the solstice and his resurrection on the equinox?

This essay by Alvin Boyd Kuhn explains it all, and it blew my mind. Good reading for an Easter weekend.

Wil Wheaton has a new podcast

[Memories of the Future Jellyfish]

I just learned tonight that Wil Wheaton has a new podcast out, called Memories of the Futurecast.

The podcast is a promotion of his latest book, Memories of the Future, Volume One, which is Wil’s going-down-memory-lane review of the first 13 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I listened to the first episode of the podcast already, and I’m looking forward to hearing the rest (12 of 13 have been published so far, as I write this). I enjoy everything Wil Wheaton does.

Check it out.

Eclipse Watching

I stayed up last night to watch the Lunar Eclipse transpire. What a wondrous feeling I get from these aligned astronomical geometries. The quietness, the slow marching forward of time, the bursting waves of the Northern Lights in the sky overhead, and the projection of our very own shadow on a screen so far away. Shadow puppets on the Moon.

As the Moon darkened, the fainter stars slowly emerged. Even the Andromeda Galaxy graced the glass of my binoculars. And I felt wrapped in the infinite Love of the Universe. A perfect moment. A perfect world. A perfect Self.

First Moon Landing: 19 years x 2

According to the official story, man first landed on the moon 38 years ago today. What makes this special is that 38 years is divisible by 19. And 19 is the period of the Metonic cycle, the approximate common multiple of the tropical year and synodic month.

6939.6075 days =  19 tropical years
6939.6887 days = 235 synodic months  

What this really means to us is that the phase of the moon today is very close (within about 6 hours) to what people saw 38 years ago on July 20, 1969. Very cool.

So, enjoy the view of the moon today and remember back to when we as a global humanity first bought the story that man had finally made it to the moon. 😉

A Solar Eclipse for the 2008 Olympics

[Total Solar Eclipse, by Astrobrian]I just found out today that there will be a total solar eclipse in China one week before the 2008 Olympics begin!

This event will occur on 1 August 2008, giving us 2 minutes and 27 seconds of maximum totality. The line of totality will pass through Siberia, skirt along the western Chinese-Mongolian border, and pass through central China southwest of Beijing. (It will only be visible as a partial eclipse at sunset in Beijing itself.)

This is great news for people thinking about coming to Beijing for the Olympics. Just come a week early, catch the eclipse, and then tour around China until the Olympics start. I can’t wait. 🙂 Spread the news.

Shoot the Moon

[18-day old moon]

Last Wednesday I shot the moon. Because of my knowledge of the Lunar cycle and the recent full moon, I was expecting the moon to rise a few hours after sunset. So I left my room at the appointed time and made my way to the main building on campus. I took the elevator to the 10th floor, climbed the stairs past the elevator room at the top, and emerged on the roof of the building. And there she was, a beautiful orange moon, 18 and a half days old, just rising over the buildings in the distance. It was a very clear night, but the pollution in Beijing still turned the moon orange.

This shot was made with my Canon PowerShot A70 digital camera (a highly configurable point-and-shoot), at full zoom (3x), hand-held, and pressed against the eyepiece of my tripod-mounted 10×24 travel binoculars. I’m impressed with the results, but it took me about 40 shots before I started to get sharp and in-focus images.

Cool Websites – Random Links

Here’s a list of some cool websites I’ve come across lately:

  • ctrip. com — A very comprehensive site on booking hotels and tickets for travelling in China. I’m using this for my upcoming Shanghai trip.
  • slooh.com — A subscription-based online telescope. For $50 US a year, you can have unlimited access to their group missions, plus 15 minutes of solo time, where you get to direct the telescope to your object of choice. Cool!
  • Article: How to get the best sound out of your PC — A technical prescription on how to optimize your Windows audio chain. For audio geeks only.
  • madphilosopher del.icio.us bookmarks — An online bookmark storage and sharing service. This link is my account, but you can get one too. The cool thing about shared bookmarks is that you can see how many other people around the world are bookmarking the same sites. And since it’s online, I can access my bookmarks from any machine. Check it out!

Four more days to go

I just read an interesting Wired article about how Blogger has been experiencing tonnes of glitches and outages lately, really diminishing the blogging experience for its users. I just had to smile, knowing that Mercury is just shaking things up for us again. You see, Mercury is retrograde right now, and Mercury is all about communication, thinking, and technology. So when that planet’s motion reverses in the sky, miscommunications happen, and the communication channels that we rely on—especially technological ones—tend to break. This doesn’t happen because Mercury is somehow punishing us, but it is intended to remind us from time to time how reliant we are on our technology. It is good for the soul to be “off the grid” for a while.

I have talked to numerous people in the last few weeks about miscommunications that have happened to them, and I relate them all back to this. I was tipped off to Mercury’s action when my webserver went completely off the wall. This forced me to find a new hosting solution, and alas, to move away from Blogger. As a result, I discovered a new technology called WordPress that I am quite happy with. It’s really a joy to manage and create blog entries under WordPress, and it’s responsive and reliable. Much more so than Blogger.

As for Mercury, we have about four more days to go before the planet goes direct again. Take the time to reflect on the gift of communication, in its many forms from natural speech and body language, to the technologically-enhanced forms we use today. And call your Mother!

Working with vCalendar

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I used my time to work on putting Moon phase information for the new year into my Palm’s calendar. I already have a Python script that will calculate the times of the phases of the Moon based on the algorithms found in Jean Meeus’ Astronomical Algorithms (2nd Ed., 1998). But I still needed a way to import this data into my Palm in an automated way. Last year, I did this by hand. Yuck! So I used the Palm Desktop application and the vCalendar file format for exchange of calendaring and scheduling information. I had never used the vCalendar format before, but I found the specifications online and soon modified my Python code to output into this format. Here’s an example of what I produced:

BEGIN:VCALENDAR
VERSION:1.0
BEGIN:VEVENT
DTSTART:20050103T174530Z
SUMMARY:Last Quarter 01h45
END:VEVENT
BEGIN:VEVENT
DTSTART:20050110T120238Z
SUMMARY:New Moon 20h02
END:VEVENT
...
END:VCALENDAR

Note that the times DTSTART are given in UTC (the “Z” is for “zulu”), but I wanted the event description to be in local time (8 hours ahead for China). Since China doesn’t observe daylight savings time, I could apply this +8 h correction into the Python code quite trivially.

If you want to see the code that I used to do this, just email me.

We’re back in business

Hey, my website is back up. I hope I didn’t lose anybody in the outage. Bruce didn’t give me any explanation, but the IP address did change and the machine failed to notify me.

Oh, and Happy Winter Solstice everybody! I just spent the day with Eydie at the Forbidden City here in Beijing. I learned that the Winter Solstice is one of the special ceremony days for the Emperor in Old China. So it was a great day to go. We wore many layers of clothes cause it was a cold day, but we stayed mostly warm. Eydie is at home now warming up her toes.