Made it to Page Four

I recently gave into curiosity and subscribed to a stat counter for my website to see how many people were stopping by and where from. Without much surprise most of the people were from Canada and a few hits from Europe. The traffic was clearly linked to the posts I make on Facebook, the only place I tend to link to my own website.

I had some deep hidden hope that maybe someone had found via a search engine, but alas no such luck. That was until the second day when I checked the stats again. Someone in Indonesia had done a Google image search for “cloud CROP” and was directed to one of my pictures of the suppermoon I took a few weeks back.

Curious to see how many pages of photos the poor soul had to wade through before stumbling onto mine, I recreated his/her search. To my surprise I found my photo staring back at me on page four of Google images!

My suppermoon on page 4 of a Google image search for "moon crop".

Ever curious, I then did a Google search for “Mogk”. I was still expecting my webpage to be lost somewhere beyond page twenty, well past the Mogks of page one; which include such greats as Cory Mogk of the Green Party, or Matt Mogk of The Zombie Research Society. To my utter shock the WebCrawlers at Google had moved me up to page four!

Look Ma'! I made it to page 4 of Google.

It’s no page one and I still can’t find myself when I search “scriptwriter (for hire)”, “cool blogs with stuff about astronomy and other random things”, or “great Canadians of history”, but I figure these things take time. I’ll check back again in a week so or so and see where I stand.

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Venus Countdown

A week Tuesday Venus will transit across the sun for the second and last time this century. For those in North America it will happen on June 5 at sunset. Through the rest of the world, save for South America and western Africa that will not see the transit, it will take place on June 6 either at sunrise or during the day depending on your location (see the bellow map for details).

Visibilty of the transit of Venus for 2012 (Image from NASA)

As with a solar eclipse, you will need proper eye protection to watch the transit of Venus. Solar eclipse glasses or #14 welder’s goggles (no other number will do) will work great for the transit, but if you can watch it through a telescope or binoculars with a proper solar filter you will benefit from being able to see things up close. In Winnipeg you can purchase solar eclipse glasses from The Manitoba Museum Shop for $2 each.

When choosing a location to see the transit, make sure to find a location with a clear view of the western horizon. If you can scout out the location a couple days before the transit to check the path of the sun and find a good viewing location.

If you are unfortunate enough to b in a location that won’t be in view of the transit, you can watch it on NASA TV. In Manitoba if you don’t have a pair of solar glasses or access to a filtered telescope you can watch the transit take place on Shaw TV, who will be broadcasting the transit with The Manitoba Museum.

The path of Venus across the Sun (Image from NASA)

 

Transit Times For Select Cities in Canada

Contact I

(Ingress Beings)

Contact II

(Ingress Ends)

Sunset

Victoria 15:05:43 PDT 15:23:17 21:11
Calgary 16:05:23 MDT 16:22:58 21:46
Edmonton 16:05:17 MDT 16:22:51 21:58
Yellowknife* 16:05:06 MDT 16:22:40 23:22
Regina 16:04:57 CST 16:22:32 21:05
Winnipeg 17:04:36 CDT 17:22:12 21:32
Toronto 18:03:56 EDT 18:21:35 20:55
Ottawa 18:03:47 EDT 18:21:25 20:47
Montreal 18:03:42 EDT 18:21:21 20:39
Halifax 19:03:25 ADT 19:21:05 20:56
St John’s 19:33:11 NDT 19:50:53 20:54

*Yellowknife will see the whole transit. Egress starts (Contact III) at 22:32 and ends (Contact IV) at 22:49.

You can also check with your local chapter of the RASC to see if there will be public viewings near you.

Image: Daphnis and Pan Perturb Saturn’s Rings

Browsing the web I found a great photo from the Cassini spacecraft with an article about the effects Pan and Daphnis (two of Saturn’s moons) have on Saturn’s rings. The photo was just so stunning I had to share it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow the link below the image to the original article for the full story.

Daphnis' (bottom left) and Pan's (top right) gravity affecting the rings of Saturn.

 

Image: Daphnis and Pan Perturb Saturn’s Rings | Saturn Today – Your Daily Source of Saturn News.

Dragons in Space

Falcon 9 taking off. (Image from http://spacexlaunch.zenfolio.com)

Yesterday marked a first for commercial space flight. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket took off carrying the Dragon spacecraft at 3:44 am from the Cap Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch got Dragon successfully into orbit where it will now go through a series of tests to see if it can dock with the International Space Station. If Dragon does dock with the ISS on May 25th, it will be the first commercial spacecraft to do so.

This is an exciting time that will hopefully herald a move towards commercial and more affordable space flights.

If you would like to catch Dragon in our night’s sky you can go to http://www.heavens-above.com and put in your location. Then look under satellites to see if and when Dragon is visible in the sky for you.

A computer rendering of Dragon in orbit above the Earth. (Image from http://spacexlaunch.zenfolio.com)

Keep Those Solar Eclipse Glasses

Hopefully everyone has kept their solar eclipse glasses from this past weekend’s solar eclipse, because in two weeks time on June 5/6 you can use them again to witness an extremely rare celestial event: the transit of Venus.

Like clockwork Venus transits in front of the Sun in a repeating pattern of 8 years followed by 121.5 years then 8 years again and finally 105.5 years before starting all over again. If, like me, you missed the 2004 transit the next one won’t be for another 105.5 years and I’m afraid I likely won’t be around in December of 2117.

So what makes the transit so rare? The orbits of the planets around the Sun are not all perfectly aligned with the Earth’s orbital plane around the sun (called the ecliptic). When observed from Earth, every planet’s orbit is inclined slightly off the ecliptic by a few degrees (Venus is inclined 3.4°). During a transit, the orbits of the Earth and Venus align in just a way that Venus crosses the photosphere of the sun when observed from Earth.

The orbits of Earth and Venus and their intersecting nodes in December and June (Image Source: Popular Science Monthly Volume 6)

It will take Venus approximately six hours to cross the surface of the Sun and even though Venus is almost as large as the Earth, it is miniscule when juxtaposed with the Sun. Venus will appear as little more than a small black dot that will just be visible without magnification. Viewing it through a properly filtered telescope or filtered binoculars will, admittedly, give you a much better view.

Not only is the transit a rare event, but it also answered the questions of just how big our solar system is. Before using the transit of Venus as a measuring stick, we knew the relative positioning of the planets to one another thanks to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. However, we could only assigning the distance from the Sun to the Earth the arbitrary value of 1 Astronomical Unit (A.U.) and we could then calculate the distance of all other bodies in the solar system in A.U. Unfortunately, we simply had no idea exactly how long in kilometres (or miles at the time) one A.U. was.

Using parallax, a way of measuring distance by observing an object from two know locations and noting its apparent change in position on a fixed background, astronomers in the 18th century positioned themselves at different points on the globe and observed the transit. They had to of course know their latitude, which was easy enough to calculate, and their longitude, which was no easy task even in the 18th century.

These pioneering astronomers did manage to find their positions on Earth within relative accuracy and also time the transit to the second. Then, with some relatively simple math they had finally put a value to the Astronomical Unit! It did of course have fairly large margin of error, but for the first time in our history we knew the approximate size of our solar system.

Six hours of watching a black dot moving silently in front of a star may not sound like the most riveting spectacle to watch in the world, but coupling the rarity of the transit with its historic importance should make this once in a lifetime event (twice if you caught the 2004 transit I confess) a bucket list must for anyone who has gazed at the heavens and wondered how all the celestial pieces move in their elegant dance.

Photos of the Partial Eclipse

Here are some photos of today’s partial eclipse taken from Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg with my 80mm Orion Table Top GoScope refractor and solar filter on an Alt-Az mount. I used my 20mm eyepiece for the most part.

I have to say astrophotography is a challenging and fun pass time and I can only hope I get better as I learn more about it. In the mean time I hope you enjoy the few photos I took, I think they turned out all right for a first go around with photographing the sun.

Getting set up just before the eclipse gets underway.

The beginning of the eclipse with 10mm eyepiece.

The start of the eclipse through my 20mm eyepiece.

Approaching mid-eclipse, or mid-eclipse as I forgot to note down which photos were mid-eclipse. Oops!

Post mid-eclipse with two sunspots.

Three sunspots!

The Sun making its way towards the horizon as we pack up to leave. Too much cloud cover to get any more pictures with my simple setup.