Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Help Choose Where to Point Hubble

If you're like me, you've enjoyed seeing some of the really amazing photographs produced over the years by the Hubble Space Telescope like this one of the Cat's Eye Nebula. Whether your interest is in the scientific advances associated with its imaging or just the sheer beauty, I think most all of us find the Hubble images uniquely fascinating.

Well, now you can have a say in where Hubble will point next. In conjunction with the International Year of Astronomy 2009, NASA has created a site - You Decide Hubble's Next Discovery - where you can vote for one of six possible targets.

Votes can be cast through March 1st, after which Hubble will image the winning object. It will be released during the IYA 100 hours of Astronomy held April 2nd through 5th. After casting your vote, you can also register to win one of 100 prints of the released image. If you are a teacher or educator, NASA has also developed special classroom activities so your kids can participate in the event.

So get over there now to cast your vote... I have. We'll see who's favorite shows up in April!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Astronomical Tunes

As mentioned in my last post, Tom Noe performed a few songs about Galileo's impact on our view of the universe at the January Texas Astronomical Society meeting. Listening to Tom sing brought to mind one of my favorite songs, one that also has an astronomical theme (though more science than history). 

Back in 2000 our twins, Brian and Chris, and I made a trip with others from their Boy Scout troop to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. For the first few days on the trail we were led by a ranger, a kid from the University of Florida the boys called Scuba Steve. While hiking, Steve taught the boys a few songs to pass the time. One called Why Does The Sun Shine? was particularly fun. We found out later that it is from a 1950s album called Space Songs performed by the folk singer Tom Glazer and later popularized by the group They Might Be Giants

Why Does The Sun Shine? doesn't highlight Galileo so it isn't as fitting for the celebration of IYA2009 as the pieces Tom sang, but given the main presentation of the meeting (David Dooling's talk on the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope) it might have also been an appropriate theme song for the evening. On second thought, a better choice would have been another TMBG song,  Why Does The Sun Really Shine? (The Sun Is A Miasma Of Incandescent Plasma), one they wrote to address the inaccuracies identified in the lyrics of the original, 1959 version.

The TMBG songs seem as popular today as they were when they were released. Here is a YouTube video that looks like a mash up of Why Does The Sun Shine? and

New Texas Astronomical Society Member

One of the first goals I set for this year and for participation in the International Year of Astronomy 2009 was increased networking with other amateur astronomers, in part through membership in the Texas Astronomical Society. Well, meet the newest member of TAS!

I attended my first TAS meeting tonight (well, first one as a member) and had the pleasure of listening to guest speaker David Dooling, Director of Education and Outreach for the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, talk about the next big NSO project, development of the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST). When built, it will be the world's largest optical solar telescope with a 4 meter primary mirror. David also talked about his plans for the Sunspot Solar System Model, a 1:250-million-scale model of the solar system with the sun located at the NSO site in Sunspot and other planets and solar system bodies leading back along the highway towards Cloudcroft and spread across much of New Mexico. Both talks were engaging, informative and entertaining.

Speaking of entertainment, after the break one of the members, Tom Noe, provided music in the spirit of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, singing Did Galileo Pray? (by Paul Ellis) and Do You Really Wanna Know (by Peter Mayer). I didn't expect to hear music tonight but it was great fun. Listening to Tom sing brought to mind a favorite song of mine that also has an astronomy theme... more on that in a future post. Meanwhile, in addition to his involvement in house concerts I understand that Tom is a telescope maker - see his Teleport Telescopes web site for more information on what he calls the LTFWT (largest telescope factory in Wylie, Texas).

As for networking, I didn't get very far tonight - though I did run into someone I know, Chaz Hafey. Chaz was director of the Science Place Planetarium (now the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science Planetarium) back when Linda first started working there. It was good to see Chaz again, but at the next meeting I look forward to meeting other members who I haven't met before.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

City Lights

Although I enjoy spending time in the countryside, I'm a city boy at heart. I enjoy too many of the amenities conveniently available only in the city... a wide variety of restaurants, the symphony, major museums, etc. That said, there is one thing I don't like about living in town - I've watched the night sky from my backyard disappear over the last 20 odd years.

Our youngest sons are just about to turn 24. When they were small, we could sit in the backyard and clearly see the Milky Way rising up from the southern horizon and crossing overhead. I can't see it at all now and haven't been able to for probably 10 years or more.

While I can still enjoy observing from my own yard, the best targets are obviously the moon and planets... dim fuzzies are just too dim. As an example of the night-time illumination in my area, see the photo City Lights to the right. No, that wasn't taken during daylight. Look closely and you'll notice some faint star trails and even Polaris just to left of center. That shot was taken around midnight under clear skies; the exposure was 30 minutes at F/11 and ISO 200. Compare it to Twinkle ..., taken by Jamal Alayoubi in the Swiss countryside northeast of Lake Geneva. His exposure was almost 4 times as long at F/5 and ISO 500.

One of the most dramatic examples of just how bad light pollution has gotten in certain areas is the light pollution maps at The Night Sky in the World. To see how severe the problem has gotten in my hometown, check out this light pollution map for Dallas, Texas provided by Mesquite is about half-way between the center of the image and the right side. Ouch!

While it is a shame to lose the connection our ancestors had with the sky, there are serious reasons for concern over light pollution including wasted energy, upsetting the natural rhythms of nocturnal animals and birds and possibly even impacts to our own health. The good news is that the issue seems to be getting more attention in the press. National Geographic published a great article on the subject this past November. And while reviewing the International Dark-Sky Association web site for other media coverage, I discovered that Think, one of my favorite programs on our local PBS radio station, KERA, recently highlighted the subject of light pollution. Hopefully, the increased attention - possibly aided by the International Year of Astronomy 2009 events - will begin to make a difference. I'd love for my grandkids to some day see the Milky Way from my backyard.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

First Full Moon of 2009

Nearly Full Moon, originally uploaded by neatonjr.

Hazy Moon, originally uploaded by neatonjr.

Moon Ring, originally uploaded by neatonjr.

A few quick shots to record the lunar start to IYA2009. Snapped one Friday when it wasn't quite full yet, then tried again this evening once it was full. Too many clouds, so I never got a clear view. Around midnight, though, I stepped out one last time to catch a spectacular moon ring! That definitely made up for missing out on a clear view tonight.

It was interesting to note that the moon was nearly straight overhead when I took the moon ring shot above. Not only was it near the zenith, but was about 73 degrees above the horizon. Why so high? As Astroprof explains, it has to do with the earth's tilt and the fact that since the full moon is directly opposite the sun, during the time of year when the sun is low in the sky for our hemisphere the full moon is at its highest. 

I am still researching but suspect that the moon being nearly straight overhead contributed to how large the moon ring was. I'll post more when I have an answer.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

And now for something completely different

So, this blog is supposed to be about the wind and the sky (as in astronomy), right? Well, bear with me for a minute... bats fly at night... and night time is when we usually go out to observe... and "The Bat" in German is Die Fledermaus... which is a piece by Strauss performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra tonight!

Ok, so I'm off topic on this one, but the new DSO music director, Jaap Van Zweden, pulled off a variation on the traditional Viennese New Year Concert tonight - all three encores - and it was FUN!

I have to say with some embarrassment, I've donated a lot of money to the DSO over the years. No, not the donations the tax man recognizes - done plenty of those and proud of it. I'm talking about the number of times I've spent good money to attend a concert only to doze through some portion of it. It isn't that I don't enjoy the music... most of it I really enjoy. It's just that with season tickets some times I have to be there but am too tired or stressed to really focus on the music. Not tonight! It was an hour and a half of lively, moving music... I even enjoyed the Stokowski version of Pictures at an Exhibition.

I'm not the expert that each of my classically trained sons are (Brian on viola, Chris on trombone), but I do know what I enjoy and I thoroughly enjoyed all the music tonight. Of course, it might be a bit of nostalgia. Back when the DSO was less famous, they used to come and perform at area schools as part of their student outreach. Tonight's concert, with The Light Calvary Overture, The Typewriter and the Thunder and Lightning Polka took me straight back to grade school. Of course, now the schools go to the DSO - we were surrounded by kids from several area schools. I hope they enjoyed the concert as much as I did!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seeing the Real Thing

As announced in the latest newsletter from the UT Arlington Astronomy Department, The Starry Messenger, in addition to their state-of-the-art planetarium they will soon have a new observatory. Housing a 16" Meade LX200 (including CCD camera), it is primarily going to serve the students of the department, the school also has plans to host public viewing nights. The observatory is scheduled to be operational in Fall 2009.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Astronomer's Friend

I've recently added a widget for the Dallas Clear Sky Chart to the site. It is a great tool for getting a sense of what the sky conditions will be over the next couple of nights (as well as during the day for folks who enjoy solar viewing). It uses weather forcast models published by the Canadian Meteorological Center to show key factors that can affect viewing. While I configured my widget form conditions in Dallas, they are available for sites all over North America.

As cool as that is, the point of this post is something that takes this to the next level. I just received the following email (and I get email on my phone, so I saw it come in immediately):

Favorable observing conditions at Dallas
Based on your Default subscription.
Opportunities to observe at: (Clouds/Trans/Seeing)
01-08 @ Hour 19 for 4 hours (0%/Transparent/Good)

Check out your clock at
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Consider a sponsorship of the Clear Sky Alarm Clock.
Reach over 3000 astronomers every week with your message.
Inquire at

This tells me that the skies above Dallas will have no clouds, will be very transparent and will have good seeing at 7pm for the following 4 hours. Based on this, I can take a closer look at the clear sky chart itself and also see that it won't be incredibly dark until the wee hours when the moon sets, that the wind and humidity will be low and the tempurature moderate.

Very cool, huh? This is thanks to the efforts of Mark Casazza, who runs a site called Clear Sky Alarm Clock. When you sign up for Mark's service, you can configure one or several "alarms" that trigger an email like the one above when a specific set of conditions are coming up. I have one alarm (Default) that tells me when the seeing will be generally good at my home. I also have one that goes off when conditions are going to be excellent and one for when daytime solar observing on the weekend will be good. I won't go into the details of all the features here - go check it out for yourself.

Meanwhile, it's time for me to run... need to get ready to get the scope out and take advantage of the clear skies!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Family Affair

Something I should have mentioned from the beginning is that I'm not alone in my interest in astronomy. My wife, Linda, presents planetarium shows (both formal presentations and ad hoc sky shows) at the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science. As much as I enjoy getting out under the sky at night, I don't know nearly as much about the sky as she does. So, we welcome you to our little corner of the blogosphere where we'll be joining the rest of the world in celebrating 400 years since Galileo first turned a telescope on the sky.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009 2009 Quadrantid meteor gallery 2009 Quadrantid meteor gallery

Although I missed seeing the Quadrantids due to clouds, plenty of others managed to catch sight of a few.  Some sites apparently reported up to 150 meteors per hour. 

A Quiet Sun

A Quiet Sun, originally uploaded by neatonjr.

IYA2009 shot for January 3rd. The Sun, shot with Nikon D40, 55-200mm VR lens at 200mm, through Baader solar film filter. Deep in the depths of the solar minimum, no sun spots in sight. For information on when sunspots are visible, be sure and check out

Moon, Venus and Photographers

Moon, Venus and Photographers, originally uploaded by neatonjr.

Here's my post for 2nd day of the IYA2009.

Back in December 1956, when my Mother was 5 months pregnant with me, she and my Dad climbed the levee on the south side of the Trinity River below downtown Dallas and took a shot of the city skyline. Having recently had all my Dad's slides digitally scanned, we ran across that shot and decided to recreate it. We went down to the same spot with a family friend to shoot the skyline at sunset and after dark. You can see one of the skyline shots here.

While my Dad and Steve took a break from shooting downtown, I turned my camera on the two of them with the Moon and Venus in the sky behind us.

New Year Moon

New Year Moon, originally uploaded by neatonjr.

This was a "first light" shot using my Nikon D40, new T-Ring and remote shutter control with my Meade LXD55 SN10. I had a devil of a time getting focus right - focusing the D-SLR at prime focus is a bit more difficult than the old Minolta SRT201 was - but I learned a lot and it was a beautiful night to be out under the sky.

Mercury at Twilight

Mercury at Twilight, originally uploaded by neatonjr.

One of my first targets for this year, Mercury hanging low in the western sky not long before sunset. Not as exciting as the view from the front-row seat spacecraft Messenger has, but still a beautify site. I only wish I'd gotten a good shot of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and the Moon a day or two earlier.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Plans for IYA2009 Projects

Thinking about how to do my part to help celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, a couple of ways come immediately to mind:
  • Networking with other amateur astronomers. I've been meaning to join the Texas Astronomical Society (TAS) for years... it's about time. I've also enjoyed observing with folks like Dwight and Paul before and look forward to doing so again this year.
  • Through my photography. Yes, it'll be fun but, more importantly, my hope is that everyone who sees my work - whether here, on Flickr, or anywhere else - will appreciate the sky in a new way or learn something new about astronomy.
  • Through star parties. Linda and I have participated in one every year or two for Mesquite schools. Hopefully, there will be more opportunities this year - whether for MISD or other organizations (TAS, etc.). Seeing people's reaction the first time they see Saturn or a crater on the moon is incredibly rewarding!
  • Sharing here. As I run across news articles, other people's photos and anything else about astronomy on the web that strikes me as interesting, I'll reference them in posts or add them to Recommended Links.
In addition to these - and in some cases, in conjunction with them - there are some personal projects I have in mind.
  • Photographing a solar analemma. What is an analemma? Learn about it here. This would be a huge project so not sure whether I've got the time and energy, but I do have some ideas on a way to pull it off.
  • Capturing a suburban view of meteor shower. Although I've never had any success watching a meteor shower from our backyard, I've seen a few nice ones out near the lake. This year, I hope to capture images of one (or more) shower. I'd also like to contribute to information gathering efforts to document meteor showers.
  • Capture image of a young crescent moon. This is a key event in the Islamic calendar but is also of interest to me both for the challenge and as a unique photography subject.
More to come...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

International Year of Astronomy 2009

One of the key points of creating this blog is to have a forum for celebrating the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Not exactly sure how this will work yet - I'm going to take another shot at a 365 project on Flickr, this time posting one astrophoto a day. That might prove as challenging as managing 365 shots of anything that came to mind last year, so my goal is going to be to use this blog to tie it all together over the course of the year.

About the title...

So, welcome to Wind and Sky. The point of this is to celebrate three of my favorite hobbies... sailing, astronomy and photography. Yeah, title doesn't really speak to that last one - but this is as much (or more) a photo blog as anything.