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All posts for the month June, 2009

Mars-style

We’ve arrived at our destination pretty much safe and sound — thanks to all of you who wrote to wish us well.  I was going through all the news that’s piled up while we were on the road, and noticed a story about “warm” weather on Mars and how some landforms show evidence of freeze-and-thaw cycles that indicate warmer weather sometime in the past. Very interesting and a great object lesson in what you can learn by studying landforms.

Driving across the landform that is the Great Plains of the United States, I couldn’t help but think about how millions of years ago the whole area was under an ocean. The landform is gentle and and rounded, with a few hills here and there. Of course, we went through some of our own “warm” weather the past few days — sweltering temps and some pretty severe storms. Those are short-term compared to the long-term existence of things like oceans in the past or the yearly freeze-thaw cycle on Mars that spurred the recent finding.  But, it’s all planetary science — and it’s all still in the landforms, if you know how and where to look!

Loveliness

I’m currently driving cross-country to a new home.  It’ s a huge move; all of our stuff is on a moving van, we have us and the cats in our cars.  The scenery this time of year is gorgeously green — at least along I-80. But, what has kept my attention both nights has been the sight of a lovely crescent Moon high in the west. One of the pleasures of skywatching is to see such sights and then let the imagination wander about how cool it is that we have another world so close that we can see its curvature without needing binoculars or a telescope. If we lived on a planet without a Moon, I often wonder how long it would have taken humans to intellectually figure out that other worlds exist, and what their characteristics are?

If you get a chance, get outside and check out the Moon the next few nights. It’s lovely!!

Northern Hemisphere Style

Well, it’s high summer here north of the equator, and for those of you without incessant rains coming down from the sky, the stars must be lookin’ pretty good right about now. I always like to go out and look for Sagittarius, which from my latitude is pretty far south and the tail just grazes the horizon. There’s a lot of stuff out that way — the center of the Milky Way lies in that direction, and so do a number of nice star clusters and some nebulae.  It’s one of my favorite places to look with binoculars.  The Milky Way also skims right over head later in the evening, and if I can find a spot in the grass without chiggers or mites or skeeters (mossies, for those of you in Australia), it’s really rewarding to lay back and just gaze at that (with or without binoculars).

I remember as a kid doing that “laying in the grass and looking up at the skies thing” and trying to count stars. An impossible task. There are a few thousand, not counting the ones you’d need magnification to see (either too dim or too far away or too crowded together in clusters and the Milky Way).  But, don’t let that stop you from trying.

Here’s a challenge for you:  get out there every night and look up.  Just do it. No excuses. Get a star chart (if you don’t have one, get one here: Skymaps. Print it out, study it. Then go out there and use it to identify a constellation or two. Maybe some bright stars.  If you’re daring, you might see if you can find some clusters. They’re out there. And if the weather is good for you (warm, dry, comfy), try it every night. Go on do it.  I dare ya.  Me?  I’ll do it, too. But first I have to find some clear skies. It’s been raining here for a week.  And, for the next seven days, I’ll be absorbed in moving to a new house. But, I’ll check in with you, to make sure you’re stargazing.  Watching the stars is free — and, as they say — in this economy — free is good.