Archive for July, 2010

Actually, it’s as large as or larger than the Earth:

The Sun at 1:58 PM CDT, July 31, 2010, showing Sunspot #1092, according to www.spaceweather.com. Projected onto white paperboard using the 60mm refractor and a 17mm eyepiece.


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Waning gibbous Moon, 5:19 AM CDT, July 29, 2010. 8″ Reflector with 25mm eyepiece.

Jupiter at 6:24 AM CDT, July 28, 2010, 8″ Reflector with 12mm eyepiece and 2x Barlow. Obviously the Sun was already up. I’m including this because it’s the closest I’ve come so far to revealing any atmospheric detail on Jupiter. It’s subtle, but I think you can see a hint of the North Equatorial Band extending from about “9 o’clock” to “four o’clock” in this picture (South is at the top). Both my 60mm refractor and 8″ reflector easily reveal atmospheric detail to the eye, but showing it in a picture has been my greatest astrophotographic challenge so far. As this article explains, the South Equatorial Band has been obscured lately.

From left to right (South is at top): Callisto, Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede. Io was occulted by Jupiter at the time. 8″ Reflector with 25mm eyepiece, 5:31 AM CDT, July 29, 2010.

The reader may wonder if I ever photograph anything besides the waning Moon and Jupiter, and why I’m always doing astronomy early in the morning. Well, the two things are related. I work a 3PM-11PM work shift five days a week, so my remaining two precious evenings tend to be used for other things besides astronomy. Meanwhile, our astro-dog Pluto generally needs an early walk at about 5:20, so it’s a nice time to get out and enjoy the morning sky before going back to bed for awhile. These days Jupiter is prominent in the pre-dawn sky. Maybe one of these times I’ll tackle the challenge of photographing Uranus, currently near Jupiter in the sky, and I’ll continue to other objects as they appear in the pre-dawn sky during the course of the year.

Even without my current work schedule, I’ve always enjoyed pre-dawn astronomy. It’s a quiet time, often with good non-turbulent air, and getting out before dawn gives me the feeling of being in on a secret. “Winter” constellations such as Orion, so-called because they are prominent in the evening sky during Winter and early Spring, are already coming into view just before dawn now in mid-Summer, so I see them months ahead of time by getting out early. And the Moon spends half the month in the morning sky as it wanes. It’s a great time to view the skies.

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I just made an eight-day study pilgrimage to Chicago and back, so I’ve decided to share some highlights.

I set out on Saturday, July 10. I was happy to see someone was spreading the Good News at a truck stop near Hudson, Wisconsin.

I didn’t even notice the pink elephant at this gas station just north of Madison until I was fueling up.

I arrived that evening to stay for the week at the home of my wife’s brother Jon, his wife Stacy and their son Max, who live near Loyola University in northern Chicago. Their hospitality was much appreciated.

The occasion of my trip was the Summer Distance Learning Seminar at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, where I’m working on a Master’s degree in Jewish Studies. Classes began early Sunday afternoon and continued through Thursday. Each day I commuted via the “L”, Chicago’s elevated train system, which is only partly elevated. As I approached the Loop on the “Red Line” train I discovered that it is partly underground! Above is the view from Loyola Station. Highlights en route included Wrigley Field.

Spertus built this new building at 610 S. Michigan Avenue a few years ago. After plugging away at five video courses since 2003, I finally made it to the on-campus seminar! Both courses I took were utterly fascinating, one on the Passover Haggadah by Dr. Byron Sherwin of the Spertus faculty, the other on the Dead Sea Scrolls by Dr. Leonard Greenspoon of Creighton University in Omaha.

Here’s the view from a 7th floor classroom. The building is very well designed for looking upon the famous Chicago Lakefront outside. During my five days of study I encountered many thought-provoking ideas and made some new friends. But the courses are not done yet, as in the next few months I will need to write my papers!

On Friday, after classes were done, I took the opportunity, not only to relax, but to feed my astronomy hobby by visiting the Adler Planetarium. I attended all the shows they were currently showing in the traditional planetarium as well as the newer Definiti Theatre.

Here’s the view of Chicago’s skyline from Adler. The Shedd Aquarium is in the left foreground.

These interesting eyeball characters were being filmed dancing around in front of the Adler as I approached, probably in connection with some upcoming educational campaign.

The yellow dome shows the size of the Sun to the same scale as Jupiter and Saturn above. Can you find where the much smaller planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are displayed?

This is the actual Gemini XII spacecraft, in which astronauts James Lovell and Buzz Aldrin orbited the earth in November, 1966. There was also an interesting display of historic telescopes and much more.

On Saturday, July 17, it was time to return home. I was in for a special treat for breakfast:

Max, whose middle name is Miguel, was the waiter at Chez Miguel’s. The featured special was blueberry pancakes and fruit smoothies, nicely prepared by Jon. Then I started off on my journey back home, but with one more “visit to Outer Space” yet to come.

I seized the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream, to visit the Yerkes Observatory, home of the world’s largest refractor telescope. The building itself is a delightfully ornate old academic building on a beautiful site in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The grounds are the site of many weddings. In fact, one would be happening that day in the lawn just south of the observatory building. I attended the 11:15 tour, and of course the greatest moment was entering the dome and seeing the grand telescope itself:

I have dreamed of seeing this instrument since I was a kid. Once the largest telescope in the world, it has been long since dwarfed and rendered mostly obsolete by several generations of giant reflector telescopes. But I don’t think any classier telescope has ever been built.

Time to proceed on my way. Somewhere in South Central Wisconsin this house was in the process of tipping over. Perhaps the Wicked Witch of the East has just met her demise somewhere underneath.

Almost within sight of home! The closest thing to an actual crisis on this trip came as I was travelling back through central Minnesota just in time for a torrential downpour and a tornado warning. But after pulling over for awhile things cleared up, and all was well. It’s hard to imagine a trip going any better than this one did.

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Waning crescent Moon, 5:56 AM CDT, July 6, 2010, 8″ Reflector with 25mm eyepiece. I suppose I should try to get up when it’s still dark, but that’ll get easier as Fall approaches.

This is a closeup of the Jupiter picture posted 7-2-10, from 5:20 AM CDT that morning. In addition to Io and Ganymede to the upper left, Europa is revealed just to the lower right of Jupiter. 8″ Reflector, 25mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow.

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Waning gibbous Moon, 5:30 AM CDT, July 2, 2010. 8″ f8 Reflector, 25mm eyepiece

Jupiter, 5:20 AM CDT, July 2, 2010. Moons Io and Ganymede are visible outward from Jupiter to the upper left. 8″ f8 Reflector, 25mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow.

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on June 24, 2010:

1930 was a big year for space exploration. It was the year that Pluto was discovered. All three of the Apollo 11 astronauts were born in 1930 – Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins. Last but not least, it was the year that my father was born. His contribution to astronomy was to build a large, ingenious homebuilt telescope for his teenage son. I used to say that “we” built it, but it was about 85% Dad who did it. Thirty years later it’s still my window to the wonders of the universe which God created. “One tiny step for astronomy, one giant leap for Mickey-kind.” As my Father’s Day tribute to my Dad, Here’s what the Moon looks like through the telescope that Dad built. “The heavens declare the glory of God” Psalm 19:1.

(Note: This picture was taken at 9:25 PM, March 20, 2010. For more about my new astrophotography hobby, click my upcoming Astrophotography tab.)

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on June 10, 2010:

What are the “Christian ABCs?” What are the basic foundational teachings of the Christian faith? Many Christian churches use a statement called the Apostles’ Creed to summarize the Bible’s basic teachings about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In our church we say or “confess” the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday. There’s a longer statement like it called the Nicene Creed, and there are other Christian creeds. For example, the Apostles’ Creed is part of a book called the Small Catechism by Martin Luther, which is often used in Lutheran confirmation classes. It has four main parts, dealing with the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper along with Confession of sin.

But are there any creeds in the Bible? Are there any lists of basic Christian ABCs right in the Scriptures? There’s an interesting statement in Hebrews 6:1 and 2: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (ESV) The author is saying two things: these things are parts of the basic ABCs of the Christian faith, and Christians need to keep on learning more than just the basic ABCs.

I find it fascinating that this list mentions the laying on of hands. The Bible says that Paul bestowed a spiritual gift upon Timothy through the laying on of hands (2 Timothy 1:6). Jesus often laid hands upon people to heal them. Servants and messengers of God were set apart through prayer and the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6 and 13:3), and the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17 and 19:6). It looks pretty important! Maybe we’re not paying enough attention to it. Let’s pay more attention to what the Bible says about all the “Christian ABCs,” and then let’s not stop there. Let’s keep on growing. The Bible is a big, interesting book, with lots of suprises in it even for people who have been believers for a long time.

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