Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tiny little blue dot...

Last week we had another unique chance for a self portrait.  No, not one of those really lame "stand in front of the mirror with an iPhone" photos for a dating site or a Facebook profile, but from much, MUCH farther out that a counter width from your mirror.  
Yes, I'm guilty of the "selfie"
This time the photo was from 4 Billion miles away.  We were all in the photo.  May of us did go outside and wave in the direction of Saturn at the assigned time too!  I looked toward the horizon here and was hoping to take a photo of Saturn while Cassini was taking a photo of us.  I have done daylight planetary photography before, and it IS possible to see planets during daylight with a telescope.  Saturn was just too low at the time for my location. 
 I did get a shot of Venus though!
The photos have been processed and are here.  Eventually, this will be assembled into a large mosaic of the whole planet eclipsing the sun.  But the frame were were waiting for is in. 
The Messenger spacecraft in orbit around Mercury did the same.  It also turned around from it's studies to send a photo home of it's home planet.   Cool!
So when you look at these photos, think about this - everyone that has ever lived, famous, or infamous, all wars, all inventions, all art, dinosaurs, disasters....EVERYTHING that we know or have ever known in the past, and in the future has happened on that tiny blue dot.  If that doesn't make something go *PING!* in your head, I don't know what will. 

Tiny pale blue dot. 

That's us (click to enlarge)
Seen from the other side - Messenger at Mercury

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Crazy cat lady equivalent?

Filled my truck
It happens again.  I get an email in our astronomy club account from someone that has a telescope that they would like to donate to our club.  Many times they are the cheesy little "Trashco Tasco" types and I may politely decline the offer.  Every now and then a really nice one is offered, so I'll return the email asking more about the telescope.  Usually, I'll end up picking it up and giving the orphan a new home.
Some assembly required
Recently I got another email from Robert, who had a cute little 17.5 inch dob that he wanted to donate to our club.  A couple email exchanges for info on the telescope - mostly interested in how long it is - and I agreed to give it a home.
So I drove up to North Bend to pick it up and Robert opens his garage and there it was.  Much bigger than I imagined!  It filled the back of my truck and still hung out a few inches, but got it home safely.
At 206 lbs listed in the manual, this thing isn't too portable.  I'd love to take it to a star party sometime and see what it can do in a dark sky, but I'll have to figure out transportation since my poor truck has a failing transmission, and my lower back hasn't been doing well either.
It rolls now!
Anyway, it's big!  I spent about an hour re-collimating the  mirror and had a clear night so I gave it a try. Very impressive!  This thing sucks in light at a furious rate, you can almost hear the sucking sound if you stand near the open end of the tube (ok, not really!).  Saturn looked great despite being low in he murk, I could easily pick out 5 moons and the Cassini Division.  M57 Ring was fairly bright, not much need for averted vision.  M13 Globular looked amazing also, as well as other things I tested out on.  The skies were really hazy and transparency really sucked.  Not very good for photography, but sure is fun to just wander around the sky without any electronic guiding for a change and just look at things visually.
After a few internet searches, I decided on a method for moving it.  About $20 later, and two trips to the hardware store, I fixed the problem of moving it around the yard. The wheel/handles are removable to avoid a tripping hazard, and it can be dragged around easily now.
Some people collect stray cats, I seem to collect stray telescopes!
Looking forward to more clear nights with "Lil' Palomar" as I think it's going to be named.

Size DOES matter if you are an astronomer!