Saturday, April 26, 2014


May has two meteor events well worth checking out. 

 Early in the month, May 5-7, 2014 the Eta Aquarids come to the forefront.  The predicted peak for this shower is May 6, 2014 but this meteor shower's maximum is one that actually spans over several nights.  Expect to see ten to twenty bright meteors per hour from this event (likely on the lower end).   

The best time to view the Eta Aquarids is in the predawn hours around 4 am and the moon is going to cooperate this time around with a first quarter moon setting prior to the peak hour. This will set up potentially an amazing light show of meteors for those who care to (or need to) rise at such an early hour.  The radiant (apparent area where a meteor shower appears to originate) for this shower is around the star Eta in the constellation Aquarius.

Late in May, there is a real possibility for a brand new meteor show for all of us on Earth. 

In 2009, Comet Linear passed near theSun and will pass near it again in early May, 2014.  Later in May, as the Earth passes through Linear's debris field there is a potential of a fine,very VERY FINE and new meteor shower.  The date predicted is May 24, 2014 and this was registered in 2012 by astronomers and meteor experts Esko Lyytinen of Finland and Peter Jenniskens at NASA Ames Research Center.  Some researchers and scientists have used the term, "meteor storm" while others have been more conservative and have predicted "strong meteor showers."  

Jeremie Vaubaillon of The Institut de Mecanique Celeste et de Calcul des Ephemerides in France told 

So far, given the observations, we estimate a ZHR (zenithal hourly rate) of 100/hr to 400/hr, which is an excellent outburst! But this shower can become an exceptional one. Indeed, given the current orbit of the comet, all the trails ejected between 1803 and 1924 do fall in the Earth’s path in May 2014! As a consequence, this shower might as well be a storm

The more recent, less optimistic calculations come from Quanzhi Ye and Paul A. Wiegert, both at University of Western Ontario. Their work was published online in November 2013. In a report on their work at, John Bochanski wrote that Ye and Wiegert’s work suggests a rate of 200 meteors per hour under ideal conditions.

 Bochanski wrote:

 But Ye and Wiegert warn that, given the current relatively weak dust production of the comet, rates could be much lower. With the low dust production, as well as the team’s lower estimate of how many debris streams from the comet’s previous passes are hanging around in this region of space, it’s highly unlikely that we’re in for a meteor storm (1,000 per hour) — although the team couldn’t quite rule it out.

Whichever theory is right, it sounds like Comet Linear's meteor shower on the night of May 24, 2014 will be something that shouldn't be missed.  200 meteors per hour is an amazing sight; 500 meteors per hour will be absolutely incredible.  There's no way to know for sure.  As with ANY meteor shower, the only real way to tell is to go out on the night of the peak of the shower, preferably after midnight and look up!  Fingers crossed!!!!

portions of this are excerpted from EarhSkyNews

Friday, April 25, 2014

You Don't Need A Telescope

THIS was originally written for the Oregon Observatory Night Sky News.  Since very few people receiving the newsletter (there are only 700 subscribers) will see this blog but so many more of you faithful readers follow me, I decided to put it here as well.  This is for new astronomers or old ones who've forgotten.

You Don’t Need a Telescope
Prior to the early 17th century when Galileo first turned a telescope to the night sky, man had been looking up in the darkness and observing the heavens.  Indeed, many of the early astronomers were astrologers and priests who were well respected in their cultures and counted on to make predictions about times to plant or harvest, the health of a person, or the time to hunt all based on what was going on in the heavens.

The beauty of Astronomy is its simplicity.  With nothing more than a dark sky (or one not so dark but the darker the better) a great deal of pleasure may be derived from viewing the cosmos with only our eyes.  There is much to see and with the help of a simple star map or a planisphere, a connection with those priests and priestesses from ancient times can easily be made. A binocular, and not necessarily an expensive one – just the one that is in that back closet or under the bed, will definitely enhance what you can see.

To begin, there is the Moon, of course, to look at.  Many of the Moon’s most prominent features can be seen easily with the naked eye.  There is the “Man in the Moon” to see but that gets a little old.  Try finding the “Rabbit in the Moon”, the “Yelling Grandma”, the Pirate, or the “Young Girl”. These are all patterns that we can see on a full Moon using the naked eye but only if we stretch our imagination a little bit.  In a binocular, the Moon gives us breathtaking views of craters, mountains, and mare depending on what phase the Moon is in.

The many constellations (88 official ones) are best looked at with the naked eye.  That’s how they were looked at by humans from the distant past and how they became “the pictures in the sky” that astronomers use today as guideposts for events and locations in the night sky.  This is where a planisphere comes in handy.  Sitting on a chair or lying on a blanket with the planisphere held above you, the sky will begin to make sense…the star patterns labeled on the planisphere can be seen and once you learn where the constellations are you can begin to identify some of the naked eye objects and smudges that have always been up there but most you’ve never seen.

For example, in the eastern sky in mid to late spring, Orion is visible.  Orion’s three belt stars are immediately apparent…three relatively bright stars in a row and just about evenly spaced. Once you find those three belt stars you should be able to make out the sword, three “stars” hanging down off the belt.  Look at the middle star closely… it’s fuzzy and that’s because it’s NOT a star but the Great Orion Nebula where baby stars are being formed!  Also in Orion look at the stars that outline Orion’s body; it’s plainly evident that the bottom right star, Rigel, is blue and the one marking Orion’s left shoulder, Betelgeuse, is red.  Colors indicate the temperatures of the stars.

There’s another fuzzy spot below and slightly to the right of Cassiopeia that shows up best in late summer and autumn.   That is the closest galaxy to our Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy.  It is nearly 2.5 million light years away from us!  Did you think you could see that far?

Our naked eyes can see about 2500 individual stars on any given night in a dark place. Light pollution, especially in cities, reduces that number dramatically.  When we see a stream or band of light arching through the heavens that appears to be a little like bright clouds with a sort of structure to them, well that’s a part of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.  All those “clouds” of light are actually the light from millions of stars.  If you have a binocular try aiming it toward the Milky Way and prepare to be astounded!  And remember, those stars in the “cloud” are millions of light years away...some are many millions of  light years away and the light has been in transit ever since.

By adding a binocular to your night sky viewing, you are opening up horizons that were unheard of before Galileo. Using a binocular, it’s easy to see the four Galilean moons around Jupiter. In good seeing conditions the rings around Saturn may be seen; the phases that the planet Venus goes through are readily available; and many double stars become visible and show off their colors.  With a binocular, some nebula begin to take shape, many open star clusters become vividly beautiful, the Moon becomes a startling contrast of flat areas (mare),  craters, and the shadows of mountains as well as the crater rays (material ejected after a meteor or asteroid struck the moon) begin to become visible. The binocular is a wonderful tool and some objects, such as the North American Nebula, look better than through a telescope!

Binocular viewing is easy to learn and do.  As mentioned earlier, any binocular will work for astronomical viewing and are often recommended for a beginning star gazer.  As with most things, comfort is most important when you choose a binocular to buy.  Unless you have a tripod, remember that you will be holding a binocular (with two hands) for what could be long periods of time, smaller binoculars are easier to hold steady and are excellent for long sessions.  A chair (or even better a lounge chair or a cushioned blanket on the ground) is an excellent choice for viewing the cosmos with binoculars.  Add a thermos full of a warm drink and some sort of guide book (see short list at bottom of this article) as well as a red light and you are all set for many comfortable and fascinating hours!
If you are in the market for a good quality binocular, they are relatively inexpensive. Our astronomy store has a number on hand most of the time with a price range of about $50 to $100.  Often we get deals and we’ve had superb instruments that we have sold for $30! The beauty of a binocular is that they are multi-use instruments – they can be used for bird and wildlife watching, sporting events, theater, and even whale watching!  Everyone should own at least one.  It is important to buy a binocular from a reputable seller since there are issues with some less expensive instruments.  Our astronomers check each binocular for collimation and other quirks before they are sold. Our staff can show you how to correctly hold and focus a binocular as well.

People “do” astronomy for a lot of reasons.  For many, the whole exercise of viewing the night sky allows the day’s stress and anxieties to fade away.  Many new astronomers rush out and buy the latest and greatest instruments available and sometimes those just sit, covered, in a garage or living room.  If you’re relatively new to astronomy, don’t get caught in that trap. Learning the night sky with the naked eye or with a binocular will enhance the hobby tremendously.  For some of us, just staring skyward in the dark is more satisfying than anything else.  The night sky is full of wonders.  Keep looking up!
Throughout this article, I’ve mentioned “guide books.”  Below is a VERY short list of a few we have available in our store.  We can order just about any you might want or find online.

·         365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year - Chet Ramos
·         The Stars: A New Way to See Them – H.A. Rey
·         Turn Left at Orion: Hundreds of Night Sky Objects to See in a Home Telescope  -and- How to Find Them – Guy Consolmagno
·         Star Watch: The Amateur Astronomer’s Guide to Find, Observing, and Learning About over 125 Celestial Objects – Phillip Harrington
·         The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide – Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer
·         Touring the Universe with Binoculars – Phillip Harrington
·         Binocular  Highlights: 99 Celestial Sights for Binocular Users – Gary Seronik
·         Sky & Telescope’s  Pocket Sky Atlas Roger Sinnott
·         Sky & Telescope Binocular Highlights – Gary Seronik

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You look beautiful just the way you are!

I was typing away on my keyboard and the nineteen year "foster" child came out of her room with a loud query, "do I look fat?"  She was wearing a new bathing suit that did nothing to hide her curves.  I told her that she looked great and didn't have hardly an ounce of fat on her body...which is long, lean and lithe.  Then she came up to my desk and said, "I'm probably going to wear my other bathing suit tomorrow (she's going to a local warm springs on an Indian reservation with a friend) which makes my boobs look bigger.  Dirty old man that I am, I looked straight at her chest (which I think has a 34 A measurement) and said "your boobs are perfect for your body. You need to look at photos of models and other HEALTHY young women.  You look great!"
The FAT 19 year old

Sigh...with two teenage females living here (ages 16 and 19) I get to see a lot of young women come through the house.  Typical teens, they are all agog and aware of the latest trends in fashion...many will show up in leggings ("THOSE AREN'T PANTS, girls!") and t-shirts or tank tops.  Those leggings don't hide a whole lot (often the young guys who visit are caught "admiring the view" and many are outspoken -- sometimes crudely, sometimes flatteringly).  We live in a rural community which is replete with opportunities for these kids to be involved in physical activities including skiing, swimming, horseback riding, golf as well as specialized gym programs in school such as volleyball, weight lifting, and yoga. Most of the  young people who come here are in extremely good shape in spite of the hours spent on tablets, cell phones and computers. Of course most are not "model pretty" but that's not an issue to them.  They "glow" with health and that's how it should be when you are a teenager. One of Bri's friends said it best, "I feel happy with the way I look."  And Bri says, "I love how I look."

Bri and friend who made above remarks.

I'm not the first "oldster" and I know I won't be the last who bemoans the fashion industry and the anorexic models and movie stars that many of the young people want to emulate.  In spite of the many YouTube videos that show how Photoshop "creates" the look in many of the ads or the pasty looking near skeletons that sashay (when was the last time you read that word?) down the runways, young people and especially girls just light up when they see them.  This isn't doing our young people any good at all.
Model Eliana Ramos ate only apples and tomatoes.  She died at age 21

God/Mother Nature/the Universe or whatever created all sorts of people and in all shapes and sizes.  I grew up standing at a startling 5' 6" !  I always wondered what it would be like to be taller but when young, I played hockey, some baseball, skied, rowed, sailed and never did my height affect my performance.  Now that I have some years on me, I only wish for more height when I'm working on my pickup or changing a light bulb--in both cases standing on a bucket or a short ladder suits me fine. So...I'm short.  So is Tom Cruise! Many successful people aren't petite in size nor are they muscle-bound, either.  Some of the most attractive and successful people in Hollywood are beginning to speak out about being "normal" instead of scary skinny...folks like Jennifer Lawrence (who earned I think 8 million dollars for her last film), Kate Upton (who earns a gazillion dollars for each photo shoot), Valerie Bertinelli, Julie Delpy and so many more.  We and especially the young folk who are around us need to hear this message over and over. The young people
Jennifer Lawrence
should ask models like Kate Upton if they think they are fat! Jennifer Lawrence said something like:

In Hollywood, I'm obese, I'm considered a "fat" actress.  I eat like a Californian, I'll be the only actress who doesn't have anorexia rumors.  I'm never going to starve myself for a part. I don't want little girls to be like 'oh I want to look like Katniss so I'm not going to eat dinner'.

Brava for Lawrence!

I guess this all boils down to a message to my young friends and the young people other adults in my circle touch.  BE YOURSELF!  Don't try to look or be someone else.  The attributes you were born with are what make you beautiful!

Monday, April 7, 2014

A ROMANTIC Trilogy Review

A Trilogy Review
Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
Before Midnight

I'm not a film reviewer but I know what I like.  Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight are three films I like -- A LOT!  

This trilogy (which I watched on are set nine years apart with the first, Before Sunrise,  taking place in 1995 (the other two in 2004 and 2013), stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  Both sequels also star the same two actors.  All scenes are filmed in Europe and in spite of being low budget films ($3 million or less) feature luscious cinematography and amazingly talented acting.

Unlike most "sequels", these three movies are true sequels in that are all part of the same story.  The films follow the relationship between the two characters, Jessie and Celine, who meet unexpectantly on a train and spend an evening together in Vienna before Jesse needs to leave Europe to return to the US.  Each film is a "slice of life" for these two -- all are unabashably romantic and feature a modern look at "love".  There is little action in any of the films other than walking and the dialogue.  And it's in the dialogue the genius of these films is shown.  The audience is sucked into the heads of Jessie and Celine and becomes a part of the world they create.  The scenery, the music, the discourse all blend together into some of the most intense film making I have ever seen.

Rotten Tomatoes, the well-known film review aggregator, has rated these three films at 100%, 95% and 98% respectively, indicating universal acclaim for these low budget, amazingly effective movies.  Several reviewers have rated Before Midnight as the second best film in 2013 with Gravity taking the top spot.  Like Sandra Bullock's performance in Gravity, the intensity of the characters here is what carries these films sans the physical drama and special effects Bullock experienced in Gravity. Indeed, Before Midnight was nominated for an Academy Award in 2013.

The three films are intelligent, witty and poignant.  At times they are melancholic.  At no time is there a "he-man" or a submissive woman.  There is a natural chemistry between Hawke and Delpy and the storyline is nothing less than genius. Other than a few "f-bombs", mild cussing, and one sequence showing Delpy's breasts, there is none of the stark and vivid sexual or violent scenes so often seen in modern cinema.  For older teens or adults, these three films will work for most.  I watched them back to back and the about 5 total hours was unnoticed and I left the films with a definite desire to see them again.  

For anyone looking to see film making at its finest and willing to invest the time to become a part of Jessie's and Celine's world, I highly HIGHLY recommend these three. AND, I suppose I am willing to wait ANOTHER nine years to see what happens to these two characters (but I wish it would happen a whole lot sooner).