Wrong kind of stars

From Paul Sutherland: Death of the London Planetarium.

File Under: London Planetarium.

Borrowing Matt's trumpet...

Reading boyruageek this morning I stumbled on Matt's Toot, Toot! posting. Seems his weblog has been listed over on the Sky & Telescope website. "Neat", I thought, "he deserves it too".

And then I started to read the list and realised that pretty much every astronomy 'blog I read is listed there: Kaustav, Rob, Megan, Ian, the BA, Vern, Stuart, James plus others (sorry, that's a list in no order and it isn't exhaustive — apologies to anyone I didn't name). "Really Neat", I thought.

And then I noticed I was listed too. "Eeek!", I thought.

It's nice that I've had a mention on the site of my favorite astronomy magazine, and it's really nice to be listed in such great company.

File Under: Astronomy Blogs, Sky & Telescope.


Log cloud

I've been meaning to have a go at this for a while now and, last night, I finally cracked. I've added a page to my astronomy site which displays my log category list as a form of tag cloud.

For those who don't know what a tag cloud is (is there anyone left who doesn't?), the idea is that you display a list of tags (or, in my case, log categories) — normally in alphabetical order — and set the font for each tag depending on how often it occurs.

While I did it more for fun than anything else it actually does seem to be an interesting way of looking at my observing logs. This, more than anything, gives me an instant feel for what sort of things I observe (or what sort of things I do while observing) the most.

Update: The cloud is no longer created from log category list. I've now changed things so that it creates the list of tags from the category list and a bunch of other markup items I have in the source XML files for the logs.

File Under: Astronomy Logs, Tag Cloud.


Astronomy from another planet

Chris Lintott has a nice link to some images of Orion taken from Mars.

File Under: Chris Lintott, Orion, Mars.

Vote Bad Astronomer

I've voted for the Bad Astronomer. Have you?

File Under: Bad Astronomy, Bad Astronomer, Bloggies.


Jodrell Bank on the move?

Some time last year there was some discussion on the SPA BB about the location of various posters and how people could best make the information available to others. One poster suggested that it would be handy if there was some sort of map that people could look at. I'd been looking for a reason to play with the Google Maps API so decided to have a go. Later on that day the SPA Forum User Location Map was born.

Last night, in an idle moment, I decided to revamp it a little and one idea I had was to add the locations of various sites of astronomical interest to it (the idea being to add places that are open to visit so people using the map can see how close they are to these places of interest). Today, in spare moments, I've been looking around for places to add.

An obvious candidate was Jodrell Bank. The really nice thing about their website is that they give their location on the front page:

Thing is, at first glance, it didn't look right. +2° longitude? Really? By my guess that places Jodrell Bank somewhere in the North Sea.

Just to be sure it would be that wet a location I added them to the map using the coordinates they give and this was the result:

No wonder Megan is always talking about observing from a roof!

Given that their number is on the front page too I gave them a call and asked to speak to the webmaster. Got to speak to someone and pointed out what seemed to be a rather amusing mistake. As of the time of writing they seem to have changed it:

Perhaps it's just me, but that seems confusing as opposed to wrong. Either it's a method of writing longitude I've not seen before or most people are going to see that and wonder if the "+" or the "W" is a mistake.

File Under: Jodrell Bank, North Sea.


Celestron SkyScout

Here's an interesting idea that I've not seen before: the Celestron SkyScout (found via here). It seems to be a hand-held, zero power finder that tells you what you're looking at. No sign of a price at the moment; April 2006 is given as the release date.

Personally I'm a little confused about who it is aimed at. I guess the main market is the beginner but I'd have thought that the "GOTO" market is affordable enough now that most people wouldn't need something like this. I suppose the other market is the gadget-obsessed experienced amateur who just has to have cool toys.

Should be an interesting one to watch out for — I'll be keeping an eye out and having a play should I ever get my hands on one.

Update: Just noticed that this page says $400.

File Under: Celestron, SkyScout, Astronomy Gadgets.


Next time you're having a bad night...

The next time you're having one of those observing sessions where nothing seems to go right, or the light pollution is being a bit of a problem, consider this observing log entry:

...started exposure at 21h 44m GMT. Flying bomb exploded very close and shifted star in declination out of the field. Star recovered and exposure restarted at 21h 47m GMT. Just after starting the second time, a second flying bomb exploded. This was more distant and though it shifted image from the slit, star did not go out of field and was quickly recovered. Exposure ended 22h 07m GMT.
From here, via this posting on the SPA BB.

File Under: World War II, Observing Problems.


You could fill a book...

Something I forgot to mention yesterday: the observing session on Wednesday saw me filling the last page of my first observing log book. It's taken me since 2005-04-16 to fill it. I'm not sure off-hand how many pages there are in it — I use a Black n' Red A5, ruled, wirebound notebook that has a "elastic closure strap" (it's the C67009 as listed here) — but there's a fair few.

I know it's kind of arbitrary but it feels like a significant milestone.

File Under: Logbooks, Milestones, Amateur Astronomy.


Finally! Some observing!

Finally, after been stuck in the observing doldrums for ages, I managed to get out and do some observing last night. That's a whole month since my last observing session.

The main focus of the session was Saturn — this was my first view if it in the 'scope since May of last year. I know everyone says this but you just can't get fed up of observing it. Over the course of an hour or so I had some terrible and some not-so-terrible views of it. I also spent a fair bit of time trying out various filters to see what effect they'd have.

The other highlight was viewing Saturn and M44 in the same field of view with my binocular. After having spent some time viewing Saturn in the 'scope this view somehow made Saturn appear very small and insignificant.

I've not had time to type up the log of that session yet — I'll probably get the chance in the next day or so.

Things don't look so good for tonight. Although it was clear enough for me to see the Moon when I stuck my head outside earlier there was a fair bit of mist about. Chances are it's only going to get worse by the time I'm free to do any observing.

File Under: Saturn, M44, Beehive Cluster, Praesepe.


Sketching links

Knowing that sketching in astronomy is something that I'm interested in, Paul Sutherland sent me an email today pointing me at this link. It's got links to some interesting sites that deal with sketching in astronomy.

An Introduction to Planetary Drawing looks very interesting.

File Under: Astronomy, Sketching, Planets, Deep Sky Objects.


Please step away from the pencil

For a couple of days now some of the quotes in this article have been bothering me. First, I'll admit, until a couple of days ago I didn't have the first clue who Myleene Klass was. By coincidence, she'd turned up on an "celebrity" edition of Mastermind — I'd missed the first ½ of the programme so didn't catch what her subject was (I think she got the highest score for that section) but seem to recall that she managed to score 1 point in the general knowledge round.

Having seen that and wondering who she was I then happened to read Move Over Sir Patrick and ended up being a little wiser.

Anyway, to the quotes that bothered me. The one that really stood out was:

"If I did a space show I wouldn't want you to feel you had to run and grab a pen and pad to look up all the references later on"
Why? What's so wrong with the idea of not being a passive consumer? Why the suggestion that learning is only fun if you don't do a little work yourself? In recent years, especially on the BBC, there seems to have been this trend towards entertainment over education (ask any long-time Horizon fan).

Another one, which I'm still trying to get my head round, is:
"I love the lighter side of astronomy - heavenly bodies, fly me to the moon. It doesn't always have to be heavy. Things like Doctor Who and the Daleks grab the kids."
Can anyone make sense of that? Yes, Doctor Who is a fantastic programme, but what the hell does it have to do with astronomy, even the "lighter side"? Well, okay, I laughed out loud at Stuart's article about Guinevere One too, but, really...

I know it's not going to happen, I know I'm just ranting for the hell of it, but this sort of glorification of dumbing down annoys the hell out of me.

Dumb down The Sky At Night? That gets me feeling all "over my dead body".

Where's Simon Singh when you need him?

File Under: Sky at Night, Patrick Moore, Myleene Klass, Dumbing Down.


Article in Popular Astronomy

Just received the latest copy of the SPA's magazine Popular Astronomy. In it is a write-up about the SPA convention that was held in September last year. I was delighted to see that a large part of the article comprised of the report I wrote back in September last year. Yes, it was used with my permission, but I'd mostly forgotten about it so it was fun to find myself reading it and thinking "hang on, this sounds familiar".

File Under: Society for Popular Astronomy, SPA Convention, Popular Astronomy.