Astro General

Blame it on the stars

My website has been down for about a week. [I am writing this post offline without being able to publish it for now.] This is really frustrating since there is not much I can do except wait for Bruce, the server’s administrator, to discover and respond to my messages. He must be out of town on a long trip or something. In addition, for about a week before the server outage, file transfers were extremely slow. And, for the last five days, my broadband connection at home was AWOL too.

So it was over this weekend that I made the connection between these problems and Mercury being retrograde. This phenomenon is known to disrupt communication and, in particular, computers and computer networks. So I’m being hit in multiple ways. Mercury goes direct in the next couple of days, so hopefully things will get back to normal.


Moon: Broke!

There was a total lunar eclipse last Wednesday night over North America, and my sister and her family were able to catch it. They saw the full moon on their way to get family pictures done. When they reemerged to the outdoors, the eclipse was well underway, and the moon was only a tiny sliver. Trinity, my youngest neice, who’s now about 20 months old, apparently loves the Moon. She was the first to see it, and so to alert the family she exclaimed, “Moon, broke!” Very cute.

Makes me proud.

Astro Swing

Swing, Northern Lights, and Rainbows

I’ve had two great experiences here in Edmonton so far, to do with the sky. The first was when I was walking back to my car after being out at a Blues club with the some of the Swing dancers here. It was some time after midnight and I was heading home. I thought I saw some northern lights in the sky, very faint, like wispy white clouds in the dark sky. So I left my car and went to the nearby park which has an awesome swing set, and I swung for a couple of hours under the lights. As expected, they got brighter and more active. Very beautiful, and an excellent reminder of why I live (or used to live) in such an amazing place.

The second was last night. There’s a fair going on here called Klondike Days, and a Swing band was playing at the outdoor stage that night. So eight of us dancers went and crashed the show, dancing off to the side of the stage. It was cool, but a bit difficult to dance to everything the band was playing. There was some threat of rain, but we only got spit on at the start of the show. But as I was dancing, I noticed a very bright rainbow hiding in the clouds, in full view of the stage. The audience missed it since the rainbow was behind them, but I’m guessing that the band and I were the only ones who saw it. So I got to dance Swing under a rainbow. Now that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Venus Transit on June 8 — You gotta see this!

I don’t have much time to write about this — I’m very busy — but check out the following link and do your own homework. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

A Venus transit is where the planet Venus travels across the disc of the Sun. So it’s like a solar eclipse, except that Venus is only a small disc and won’t cover the Sun at all. It will be visible to the naked eye, provided that one uses welding glass to cut down the brightness of the Sun as well as the infrared and ultraviolet radiation which can damage the eyes very quickly. I’ve personally waited for this event for over 7 years, having read about it in an astronomy book. The rest of the world has been waiting 120 years since the last Venus transit.

Because it is also an inner planet, Mercury can also transit the disc of the Sun. This is more common than a Venus transit, but it is still a rare enough event to be quite special. I hope you can find a local astronomy club or observatory (who will have the necessary equipment) that you can join to watch this event. It happens Tuesday, June 8 during the day (obviously). It lasts for over 6 hours.

2004 Transit of Venus

If you are in Beijing, contact me and I’ll bring you along on my journey to the stars.


A Sunspot First

While in Hainan I got to see something I’ve never seen before, even though I’ve tried many times in the past—to see a sunspot with my naked eye. This one was particularly large, and I had no trouble identifying it as a sunspot. It looked like a very dark spot on the surface of the sun, right in the middle of the disc. I observed it on 0930 UTC 23 October 2003.

I should point out that looking directly at the sun with your naked eye is dangerous, but I had the protection of a very hazy sky to block out most of the light. Whether or not I was sufficiently protected from the UV rays of the sun damaging my eyes I do not know.

The picture on the left is a white light telescope image of the sun courtesy of the Mees Solar Observatory, University of Hawaii, Institute for Astronomy. Click on it for the full-size image. Remember, Astronomy rocks!


Vernal Equinox

Welcome to boreal Spring! With the Vernal Equinox, the Sun entered the sign Aries earlier today at 0100 UTC, which is another way of saying that the Sun’s geocentric longitude along the ecliptic is starting back at zero degrees again. Or, from the point of view of the Sun, we on the Earth are beginning another cycle around the Sun. But don’t worry, we’ll be back here in another (tropical) year.

Also, the Sun’s geographic position (GP), or the point on the Earth’s surface where the Sun is directly overhead, crossed the equator from south to north at the mighty speed of 1.8 km/h! Now if the Earth did not rotate about its axis, the west-to-east speed of the GP would be about 4.2 km/h at the equator. But when you take into account the rotation, the speed is much faster at about 1671 km/h (and in the opposite direction).

But at least now Spring can begin in the Northern Hemisphere. (Oh, and welcome to Fall if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.)