Goodbye – Cassini’s Last Splendiferous Hurrah
avatar

        The English language is lacking in positive affirmations glowing enough to encompass the significance of the Cassini Mission to Saturn. Side winding its way into my mind in the effort to find the right words came a memory of an old TV variety show. In the show, the host announces the artists to perform by pronouncing very large words in rapid precision. Each word is preceded by a judgemental gavel blow. The hyperbolic introductions primed the audience to welcome the splendiferous offerings of the forthcoming show. The pulchritudinous (excellent) nature of the mission has produced an abundance of most noteworthy images. The collection can spectacularly stimulate our senses to levitate our minds and souls. Cassini therefore invites us to relish the beauty of Saturn and its many moons. NASA has magnanimously offered the images videos and gifs to all who wish to enjoy the resplendent wonder of this epic mission. If the same host was to … Continue reading

Climate in Kurzynski Country
avatar

I’m sorry to report that a terrific scientific and educational resource, the United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN), is fading away.  A couple of years back the USHCN stopped updating its database—the last data available are from December 31, 2014.  Moreover, the USHCN recently reported that it was going out of business, so to speak, as of the end of this month.  Nothing lasts in the digital world. In honor of the USHCN’s fine run, and in hopes that it will stick around under some other guise, I present an analysis, based on USHCN data, of the climate in the southern Wisconsin stomping grounds of Fr. James Kurzynski, priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin and fellow blogger on The Catholic Astronomer.  Fr. Jim’s posts reflect an ongoing interest in ecology, and in ministering to and communicating with people who may have diverse views on the subject of climate science.  Fr. Jim and I are “team-posting” here.  I did … Continue reading

An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy
avatar

Now You Know Media presents a new lecture series with Br. Guy An Introduction to the Universe: The Big Ideas of Astronomy In these 12 lectures, Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Ph.D. leads you on a journey through the Cosmos; you’ll learn how the stars and planets reveal the beauty of Creation, and explore Scripture, the great astronomers, and the most profound questions about the universe. Topics include: Naked Astronomy: How can we to learn the sky, to recognize its regularities and its changes, and find God in the rhythm of the stars? Dark skies: For most of human history, nightfall meant the absence of light, a daily shift of what we could and could not do. How has the ubiquitous presence of artificial light changed the way we the spirituality of preserving our view of the heavens Astronomy in the Bible: How does scripture talk about the stars? What can we learn today about the best way to appreciate the … Continue reading

21 Precious Perseids viewing pleasure
avatar

My observing location for the 2017 Perseids was flanked toward the east by a large stony hill. Towards the west  the Atlantic Ocean and to both the south and north by fields of sheep. All week the forecast was less than favourable. It was a treat to have a relatively clear sky. Between local time 22:40 ( 21:40UT) and 23:35 ( 22:35UT) I observed 19 beautiful Perseids. Two white ones to start then a stunning blue mag 3 which spanned the width of Ursa Major. The vast majority were white with the occasional dim red Perseid zipping in from the direction of Perseus. Several of the white variety matched magnitudes of 2 + similar in brightness to many ISS passes. Some of them entered directly overhead, they spurted and spluttered their smoky trails just in case they were not noticed. On this occasion, I did not create a drawing, but simply enjoyed watching the show. The Milky way became increasingly … Continue reading

Get the Moon in your head – Learn from Galileo and Apollo 11
avatar

          Learn from  Galileo – 1610 ‘At conjunction the moon occupies a position between the sun and the earth; it is then illuminated by the sun’s rays on the side which is turned away from the earth. The other hemisphere, which faces the earth, is covered with darkness; hence the moon does not illuminate the surface of the earth at all. Next departing gradually from the sun, the moon comes to be lighted partly upon the side it turns toward us, and its whitish horns, still very thin, illuminate the earth with a faint light. The sun’s illumination of the moon increasing now as the moon approaches first quarter, a reflection of that light to the earth also increases. Soon the splendour on the moon extends to a semicircle, and our nights grow brighter; at length the entire visible face of the moon is irradiated by the suns resplendent rays, and at full moon the whole … Continue reading

Kicking up some more dust – Apollo 11 Memories part 2
avatar

The Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 had a profound effect on my life. It gave me an interest in astronomy and space that has stayed with me ever since. It has inspired my paintings and my outreach education efforts later in life. In September 1969 I went back to school full of anticipation that my teacher would talk about the biggest global event of the summer. For some reason I truly thought, she would tell us more about it and make a big deal of it in class. No, not a word, not a mention, nothing at all. I was beyond disappointed at the time, that has stuck in my craw ever since. Back in 1969, you did not really engage with your teacher, ask questions or bring up issues. You sat at your desk (wooden with an ink well) with 54 other children and absorbed whatever they dished out. My last year in primary school was in … Continue reading

Kicking up some dust – Apollo 11 Memories Part 1
avatar

July 20 1969, I was  12 years old living in a regular suburban house with regular suburban parents. In my family I the eldest of five at the time. As with most families then we had to be in bed at 8 pm on weeknights, maybe 9.30pm at weekend’s school holidays or not that was the way it was. The Moon landing held a big interest for me, I really wanted to see it. Irish TV (Telefis Eireann) were going to cover the story with a special programme. Much to my surprise, the pestering of my parents in just the right way and at just the right time produced a yes. Deirdre was allowed to stay up and see how the story unfolded. Telefis Eireann didn’t start broadcasting until 6 pm in those days, the Moon landing programme started at 9 pm and was presented by Kevin O’Kelly. We had a small black and white TV with a rabbit-ear aerial. … Continue reading

Nibiru, Kepler, and some basics on orbits
avatar

Let’s take another look at Johannes Kepler and at Nibiru, the supposed planet that supposedly will wreak havoc on Earth in October.  This is my second Nibiru post on this blog, the first being a couple of months ago.  As I mentioned then, some people find this Nibiru business to be a lark, or just an example of the worst sort of internet misinformation.  Others take it seriously—or don’t know how they are supposed to be able to know what to believe.  But here at The Catholic Astronomer, Nibiru is a great opportunity to talk about how the solar system works, and about Johannes Kepler, the first astronomer to really figure out how the solar system works. The Washington Post asked “Will the mysterious shadow planet Nibiru obliterate Earth in October?”  They answered “No”, but no one need take their word for it, or anyone else’s.  A person can reason this out for himself or herself, with a little help … Continue reading

The Bay of Rainbows and a bag of carrots
avatar

The Bay of Rainbows in the Ocean of Storms ( Sinus Iridum in Oceanus Procellarum). What an atmospheric description of a dry colourless area on our moon. Sometimes when I am speaking about the moon to children I often say that the Bay of Rainbows is one of my favourite observing areas . The title of the feature brings up visions of a safe and happy place in a vast ocean of grey rock . The Bay of Rainbows is on the edge of The Ocean of Storms, a safe heaven is conjured up despite the fact that the moon has no seas or storms. The Sinus or Bay is the remains of a large impact crater which was subsequently flooded by basaltic lava, far from a safe place during its formation. The general surface of the bay is relatively flat but has a number of Dorsa aka wrinkle ridges. The ridges form when cooling magma shrinks and following magma … Continue reading

Astronomical Irish Women
avatar

‘Astronomy is essentially a popular science. The general public has an indefeasible right of access to its lofty halls, which it is all the more important to keep cleared of unnecessary technical impediments’           Agnes Mary Clerke When I was president of the Irish Astronomical Society one of the most interesting guest speakers we had was Dr. Marie Bruck. She was noted for her interest in an Irish astronomer called Agnes Mary Clerke.  Back in 2007 our meeting room in Ely Place Dublin was full to  bursting point.  She delivered an eloquent talk on the centenary of the death of  this unusual lady astronomer. Her erudite presentation finished up to warm applause from all attending. Marie did her doctorate at Edinburgh University and then went on to live and work at  Dunsink Observatory in Dublin in 1950. She met and later married the director of Dunsink, Dr. Hermann Bruck.  After Dublin Marie and her husband moved to … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Of stars and sheep
avatar

This column first ran in The Tablet in June 2015 ‘Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify.’ — Pope Benedict XVI At Notre Dame University [in June 2015], Katharine Mahon, a doctoral student in theology, reminded me of this passage from Pope Benedict’s Easter 2012 homily. One of the striking hallmarks of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, was how it was rooted in the theology and writings of his predecessors, like the passage above. Just as our badly-overlit cities blind us to the stars, our desire to wrap ourselves in the soft wool of technology insulates us from the reality of … Continue reading

What time is it? – Musings on time from zero to Webb
avatar

The concept of time on this Earth is a fictitious delusional notion to facilitate human beings to operate collectively and individually. We humans live on this Earth as it is moving through space and time at 18.5 miles per second. The imaginary line through Greenwich in London gives us a vertical starting point for longitude at zero. East away from zero adds positives in time and west away from zero produces negatives from time zero. A straight line south of Ireland reveals that vast areas of Africa and Antarctica share the same time zone as we do. The ancient Egyptians were the first to understand and put to use the concept of a year. The Egyptians kept accurate astronomical records on papyrus scrolls circa 4,500 BC. Through careful astronomical observations they realised that Sirius one of the brightest stars in the sky was visible rising next to the sun every 365 days. Exactly the days the earth takes to orbit … Continue reading