Rhapsody in Blue – Saturn / Moon Occultation
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On the evening of May 22nd 2007 the beautiful blue sky was host to a first quarter moon. The evening was to bring me one of the most visually rich observations in my drawing odyssey . When I set up my dob I really wasn’t expecting to  catch a glimpse of Saturn in a daylight sky. The software gave me an idea of where the planet was, I scanned the area in the hope of finding it. My task was to see Saturn before it went behind the unlit quarter of the moon. In my first look there it was, the white ringed planet, one billion miles away in space. Saturn was there in my eye, embedded softly in the azure sky moving swiftly toward  the invisible limb of the moon.  Nothing could have prepared me for that  revelation, it was a totally different experience to seeing Saturn in a dark night sky. My drawing paper was hastily endowed in blue … Continue reading

Lyrids Meteor Shower 2017
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The Lyrids meteor shower is a medium strength shower that typically produces good rates for three nights centered on the maximum. These meteors usually lack persistent trails, but have been known to produce fireballs. This shower is best seen from the northern hemisphere, where the radiant is high in the dawn sky. This shower can be seen from the southern hemisphere, but at a lower rate. Peak: April 21-22nd Active from: April 16th to April 25th Radiant: 18:04 +34° (see image above) Hourly Rate: 18 Velocity: 30 miles/sec (medium – 48.4km/sec) Parent Object: C/1861 G1 (Thatcher) The moon will be a waning crescent, rising shortly before dawn. Source: American Meteor Society … Continue reading

Video from a Vatican Observatory Tour
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Last month (March 2017) Vatican Observatory Director Br. Guy Consolmagno and Vatican Observatory Foundation Development Director Katie Steinke led a week-long tour of astronomy-related sites in Italy.  They invited me to accompany them on the tour, to provide some extra history of astronomy expertise.  I was happy to go, not only for all the obvious reasons (it was a fantastic experience, as you might imagine), but also because many of the places on the tour were connected to material that is part of my Astronomy 101 classes at my college (Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky).  I could serve the tour as “the flowing font of history of astronomy knowledge,” and also serve my students by bringing them along on the trip “virtually” (by means of a video camera and YouTube). Community college students are a diverse bunch: some have the means to travel and have been to Europe; many others are financially very hard-pressed and have travelled … Continue reading

Sketching Eddington Crater with the Grubb refractor at Dunsink Observatory Dublin – a very nice memory
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Last night I was looking up at the moon, it brought back to me a wonderful April evening in 2007 when the phase was exactly the same. That evening was to offer me a great experience in lunar sketching. When I was about fourteen years old I had my first looked through the South Refractor at Dunsink Observatory in Dublin. For months I had pestered my dad to bring me out there, a bit of a long drive in those days, before motorways existed. Jupiter was on view that evening, it was crystal clear. The planet must have been quite high as I could look through the Grubb standing on the floor of the dome. At that time I had my own little white 50 mm Tasco telescope on a short plastic tripod. There was not much to see in it, however the moon always got a look. Since that first planet view at Dunsink I wanted to revisit the … Continue reading

Astronomy in Art & Architecture:  Covington, Kentucky, USA
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Ever since Br. Guy invited me on board “The Catholic Astronomer” I have had my eye and camera out for instances of math and science (and astronomy in particular) appearing in public art and architecture, because that would be great subject matter for the blog.  But clear instances of public math and science (versus, say, something like generic stars on the ceiling of a building) have turned out to be rarer than I was expecting.*  As noted in previous posts, some can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota.  And then there is this interesting mosaic in Mother of God Church in Covington, Kentucky: What is interesting about this is how the artist has represented the stars.  The stars are merely background for the mosaic: the subject of the mosaic is the Holy Trinity, with symbolic representations of the four evangelists.  But unlike most artistic representations of stars, these stars are not just generic spiky dots (such as are … Continue reading

Cosmic Lobster Pot
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I have always visualised Cassini’s journey through the Saturnian system as a kind of orchestrated cosmic dance. Cassini moves silently at great speed in its petal shape overlapping orbits. This precisely executed dance brings Cassini frequently through the icy ring plane north to south and then back again on the opposite side of the planet, south to north. This robot ship continues on its unparalleled odyssey of exploration. On board, Cassini is the custodian of twelve science instruments all primed to seek, gather, and process the offerings of this unique planetary system. Collectively they are performing one of the most important scientific probing of Saturn and its many moons in the history of space exploration. One of these science instruments is the Cosmic Dust Analyser. The CDA looks a bit like a golden lobster pot,that is not a bad analogy. This apparatus is trawling the interplanetary ocean for particles of cosmic dust, tiny particles that are the messengers of the … Continue reading

Naked Eye Orion sketched from Ireland
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Recently I have spent some time in the west of Ireland . It’s been stormy , with icy rain and sideways on hailstones battering the landscape. The winds have been epic in this wild place where the ancient potato drills shout evidence of our ancestors ribs bursting the Earth , still hungry after all these years. Most evenings I have stepped outside to look up at the night sky while listening to the Atlantic roar its salty roar at stars too far away to listen. Occasionally the clarity of the sky has been impressive but short-lived. However on the evening of March 23rd on opening the door I was met with what I can only describe as a crisis sky. Every familiar constellation was buried in the galaxy. It is sometimes said that there are more stars in the night sky than grains of sand on all the worlds beaches, that sky was the epiphany of that statement. I sat … Continue reading

Strange Tales of Galileo and Proving: Omitted Data and the Tides
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Last week I wrote a post on how even books for children and travel books state (incorrectly) that Galileo proved that the Earth circles the sun, as Copernicus had said it did.  This post tells a strange story about Galileo’s efforts to prove that the Earth circles the sun. In Galileo’s time, no telescopic observation was likely to prove Earth’s motion.  Before the telescope had even been invented, Tycho Brahe had proposed a geocentric theory in which the planets circled the sun while the sun, moon, and stars circled the Earth.  Brahe’s theory was mathematically and observationally identical to Copernicus’s heliocentric theory insofar as the Earth, sun, moon, and planets were concerned: the “machinery” of both systems was the same, it was just that in Brahe’s the Earth stood still, whereas in Copernicus’s the sun stood still.  Galileo’s telescopic observations proved that Venus circled the sun—but Venus circled the sun in both Brahe’s geocentric theory and in Copernicus’s heliocentric theory.  … Continue reading

Newly Named Asteroids: Mar. 12, 2017
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The March 2017 IAU Minor Planet Center circular returned to its regular format, containing: errata, new observatory codes, deleted observations, new identifications, thousands of observation records, and several new names for minor planets. Numerous finalists from the US who participated in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS math and science competition for middle school students were given named asteroids, as well as Noam Chomsky, the city of Mansfield in Germany, the Mekong and Thames rivers, the Chimborazo volcano, Tai Chi instructor Tam Yiu, and several others. (624) Hektor I = Skamandrios Discovered 2006 July 21 by F. Marchis et al.at Mauna Kea. Skamandrios was the son of Andromache and Hektor, who was a Trojan prince and the greatest fighter for Troy in the Trojan War. (7202) Kigoshi = 1995 DX1 Discovered 1995 Feb. 19 at Ojima. Kunihiko Kigoshi (1919–2014) was a cosmo-geochemist and emeritus professor at Gakushuin University. One of his pioneering works was the development of the radiocarbon dating method, both … Continue reading

Eratosthenes Drawing Drama plus an Experiment opportunity for schools all over the planet
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On that cold evening back in 2007 Eratosthenes looked powerful in its position emerging into the suns warm rays. Rupes Recta was also inviting and Plato almost called me again. Even drenched in sunlight Plato’s steel grey floor carried those unmistakable flame shaped shadows. Eratosthenes is a truly dramatic crater, a sweeping mountain chain whips away from it in a visual series, of broken, deep shadows. Montes Appeninus is cut and chopped first by Mons Wolf, and then by Mons Ampere. Next in line, Christian Huygens name is lent to Mons Huygens named in honour of the discoverer of Saturn’s largest moon Titan . This high mountain (164,000ft) is a billion miles away from those primal methane or ethane seas discovered by the Cassini Huygens mission on one of its routine flybys. Mons Bradley and Mons Hadley cradle the Apollo 15 lunar landing area from 1971. A mission that put wheels on the moon for the first time. This wonderfully … Continue reading

Punished for Proving
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History of astronomy turns up in unexpected places.  Unfortunately that history is often poorly presented.  Consider this example, found in a children’s book called C is for Ciao: An Italy Alphabet by Elissa D. Grodin and Governor Mario Cuomo: G is for Galileo, punished when he proved that the sun was sitting still and the earth’s the one that moved On the same page is— Until the Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus discovered that the sun is the center of our solar system… people since the second century had thought the sun revolved around the earth. —and— In developing the telescope, Galileo was able to prove that Copernicus’s theory was correct.  This caused a problem with church leaders of the day, who—disrespectful of scientific facts—were offended by the idea that the earth was not the center of the solar system. But Copernicus did not discover that the sun is the center—he hypothesized that it was.  Galileo did not prove that the … Continue reading

Across the Universe: The Boundaries of the Unknown
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This column first ran in The Tablet in March 2014 Isaac Newton thought that planetary orbits in our solar system were kept stable by God’s direct intervention; they were proof to him that God existed. A hundred years later, the great French mathematician and skeptic Pierre-Simon Laplace described his new orbital theory to Napoleon and supposedly quipped of God’s role, “I have no need for that hypothesis.” In fact, it is bad theology to reduce God to merely a gap-filling hypothesis. Only recently, however, have we learned that, actually, planetary motions may sometimes not be so stable after all. One of the pioneers of studying chaos theory in celestial dynamics is Jack Wisdom, an MIT professor (and MacArthur “genius”) who is visiting the Vatican Observatory this month. He’s working now on modeling the complex interaction between the Moon’s orbit and spin with the spin and orbit of the Earth. It’s all tied to the larger issue of the origin of … Continue reading