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The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

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The Ambiguously Galactic Duo

M81 and M82 are two galaxies hanging out in the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. M81, on the right, is also referred to as Bode's Galaxy (for its discoverer, Johann Elert Bode). M82, on the left, is also know as the Cigar Galaxy.

Here are the wacky things about images like this one...

(1) Every single star you see in this image is in our own galaxy. It's easy to think you're seeing individual stars in M81 and M82 but that's simply not the case. At 12 million light years away, the galaxies are fairly close to us but they're still much too far to be able to resolve individual stars. Also, while there are such things as rogue stars that get flung out of their home galaxies due to gravitational disturbances, it would be quite rare for one to show up in an amateur astronomer's image.

(2) If your monitor is bright enough and calibrated well, you can see a lot of fuzzy patches, each of which is another galaxy!

Don't look at them too closely... M81 harbors…

Summer of Astronomy 2016

As we enter the final stretch of summer, now is a good time to reflect on some of the astronomy adventures I had this time around. They include trips to GMARS and to the Trona Pinnacles for the LonelySpeck.com meetup as well as a overnight stay at Mt. Piños to cool off.

Along the way, there were Perseids to be seen, photos to be taken and stars to be gazed upon.

GMARS
The dark-sky site of the Riverside Astronomical Society, GMARS, is my astronomy main stay as it's where I have a permanent observatory. In the summer months, it can easily get to 110° F during the day and often doesn't cool below 80° F at night. So, occasionally it's nice to get to a mountain top where it's nice and cool...

Mt. Piños
When the desert gets too hot and all you can do is stand still to stay cool, the mountains can provide a much-needed respite. Most of the southern California mountains are awash in light pollution. One of the few remaining sanctuaries is Mt. Piños near the intersection of Los A…

Perseid Meteor Shower 2016 - Bang or Bust?

The Perseid meteor shower is coming up SOON! Here are some facts about how to view the shower.

What? Like all meteor showers, the Perseids occur annually. Also like all meteor showers, the Perseids are caused by the Earth making its way through the debris field of a comet that passed years prior. Those little specks of dust and rock (about 1 to 10mm in size) that the comet left behind smack into the Earth's atmosphere at about 35 miles per second and burn up in an instant, emitting a bright streak of light in the process. Different meteor showers are attributed to different comets. The comet in question for the Perseids is Comet Swift-Tuttle (109P/Swift-Tuttle), which made its way through the inner solar system most recently in 1992.How? Get away from city lights! That's the most important bit of advice for viewing a meteor shower (other than open your eyes and look up). City lights create light pollution and wash out the fainter stars and meteors of the night sky. Go to the de…

Dusk in the Desert

Dusk in the desert can be a magical time. The sun has just set, temperatures continue to cool and pink and orange hues take over the landscape.

Star parties are a great way to experience that time of day. Here are a couple aerial shots as star party guests at GMARS gather and get ready for an evening of observing and imaging.


And, of course, here's an aerial video of the Landers area. It features the area at dusk, a 1-mile flight from GMARS to CS3 and back, flyovers of star party-goers, and a flight over Kate's Lazy Desert (at the end of the video).

Summer is Approaching

In the northern hemisphere, when you start seeing the Milky Way crawl over the eastern horizon in the middle of the night, you know summer is approaching.

Below are a couple images of the Milky Way rising over GMARS. The first is an 8-panel mosaic taken at GMARS around 12:30AM on May 28th. The far left end of the image is looking northeast, and the far right end is looking southeast. From left to right, the light pollution domes are Las Vegas, Joshua Tree & Twentynine Palms, and the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs, et al) on the far right. Also on the far right is Mars, nearing opposition.

The second image is similar, but taken the following night from a different part of GMARS and uses 15 individual frames to create the mosaic. Notice the difference in green airglow from the first night to the second night.

Images like these aren't terribly difficult to take. You just need a tripod, a decent DSLR and a good editing program like Photoshop. Rather than trying to describe the equ…

There's a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today

A man by the name of Gordon Sumner wrote those words some time in the early 1980s. They were especially applicable yesterday (May 9, 2016) because there was in fact a little black spot on the Sun, and not an ordinary one.

There are almost always areas of intense magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun that appear as small, black, irregularly-shaped spots. We refer to them sunspots. But the little black spot in question yesterday was an interloper, an intruder, a wanderer... and extremely circular in appearance. It was the planet Mercury.

Mercury, being the closest planet to the Sun, transits the face of the solar disk now and then, every few years or so. The only other planet to do this is Venus. Venus transiting the Sun is a much rarer occasion. It last occurred in 2012 and won't happen again until 2117.

Actually, all planets transit the Sun, just not from our perspective here on Earth. Many events in the solar system are a matter of perspective. We can only see Mercury or Ve…