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Archive for September, 2010

October 4-10, 2010, is World Space Week. H/T to Raven Yu, who seems to keep track of these things better than anyone on the planet. As for me, I can get pretty “spaced out” any old week!

Here’s a followup on my recent post illustrating Jupiter’s approach to its recent opposition, which happened to be its closest approach to Earth since 1963. Jupiter is moving on, and so are we, as what really has happened is that Earth “lapped” and overtook Jupiter like a faster runner on the inside track, just as it always does about every 13 months.

I thought I’d repeat the chart and add a picture I took this morning. Jupiter hasn’t quite disappeared from the pre-dawn sky yet, but one has to get up earlier to see it. It was less than 11 degrees above the horizon when I took this morning’s picture. Anyway, Jupiter was 1,237,424 miles further away from Earth this morning than it was on September 22, and I thought my friend John might need some reassurance that Jupiter is moving off again and won’t be coming dangerously close! :O)

July 2, 2010
5:20 AM CDT (10:20 UT)

41.64″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Ganymede, Io, Jupiter, Europa (Callisto lost in glare just North of Jupiter)
439,479,627 miles from Earth (707,273,900 km)

July 29, 2010
5:30 AM CDT (10:30 UT)

45.37″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Callisto, Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede (Io occulted)

403,391,417 miles from Earth (649,195,556 km)

August 30, 2010
6:11 AM CDT (11:11 UT)

48.95″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Ganymede, Callisto, Jupiter, Io, Europa

373,871,326 miles from Earth (601,687,576 km)

September 4, 2010
6:26 AM CDT (11:26 UT)
49.29″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Callisto, Ganymede, Io, Europa, Jupiter (Europa appears to be on edge of Jupiter)

371,287,908 miles from Earth (597,529,968 km)

September 22, 2010
4:44 AM CDT (9:44 UT)

49.79″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Ganymede, Io, Jupiter, Europa, Callisto

367,570,821 miles from Earth (591,547,895 km)

September 30, 2010
5:24 AM CDT (10:24 UT)

49.62″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Europa, Io, Jupiter, Callisto (upper), Ganymede (lower)

368,808,245 miles from Earth (593,539,336 km)

8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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O Magnum Mysterium

Quiet your heart for a few minutes:

O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen

Latin text:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

English translation:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

This selection takes me back to my alma mater’s Christmas Concert, which I was in just once back in 1986 (that was the first year the College Orchestra was included), and makes me just want to stop everything and listen. (Clarification: this piece hadn’t actually been composed yet when I was in college, but has been featured at many Christmas concerts since its composition in 1994.)

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The Moon and Jupiter in the southwestern sky, 6:16 AM, August 30, 2010.

Jupiter has ruled the pre-dawn sky for the last few months, but now is sinking into the western horizon as sunrise approaches. Yet now, for all you folks with normal schedules, who watch the skies in the evening, your 2010 Jupiter Adventure is just beginning! Though it has now completed the brightest opposition since 1963, Jupiter will continue to be grandly visible in the evening skies for the next few months.


Mercury at 6:26 AM, September 26, 2010 (11:26 UT), taken with Bushnell 7×35 binoculars and LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

Mercury has made a brief but favorable appearance this month in the pre-dawn sky. It awaits the arrival of the MESSENGER spacecraft into orbit around Mercury in just a few short months, on March 18, 2011.


Waning gibbous Moon, 6:46 AM CDT, September 26, 2010 (11:46 UT). 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

The waning Moon soars high in the Northern skies in September, especially the upcoming third-quarter phase, when the Moon will be in roughly the same spot in the heavens that the Sun occupied three months ago.


The homebuilt reflector pointed moonward, 6:47 AM, September 26, 2010.

I view the heavens in the early morning, not only because of my odd schedule, but because I love to. I enjoy the quietness, the slow brightening of the early morning, and I also enjoy seeing celestial objects months before they appear in the evening skies. In October I look forward to Saturn’s reappearance in the pre-dawn sky. There’s something spiritual about the heavens in the early morning, a closeness to the Creator that I feel, and which others have experienced. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35 NIV

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Venus continues to approach Earth as it heads toward inferior conjunction in late October. The air at my locale was quite windy and turbulent on 9-26-10. I wish it were always as nice and stable as it was on 9-19-10.

6:23 PM CDT, August 21, 2010
Angular diameter 24.92 arc seconds
47.7% illumination
Distance from Earth 62,222,852 miles (100,137,974 km)
5:58 PM CDT, August 28, 2010
Angular diameter 27.16 arc seconds
43.7% illumination
Distance from Earth 57,092,020 miles (91,880,700 km)
2:26 PM CDT, September 11, 2010
Angular diameter 32.85 arc seconds
34.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 47,199,203 miles (75,959,754 km)

6:13 PM CDT, September 19, 2010
Angular diameter 37.21 arc seconds
28.7% illumination
Distance from Earth 41,671,869 miles (67,064,373 km)

While viewing Venus on 9-19-10 I was accompanied by Pluto!
1:39 PM CDT, September 26, 2010 (18:39 UT)
Angular diameter 41.52 arc seconds
23.1% illumination
Distance from Earth 37,345,447 miles (60,101,671 km)

8″ f8 Homebuilt reflector, 25mm eyepiece, handheld LG VX8360 cell phone camera

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2010 is a year of note in Jupiter fiction, but most of all in Jupiter fact!

The year 1984 saw the release of the film 2010, a largely forgotten sequel to the classic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the sequel, set in the year 2010, The Superhuman Entity Formerly Known As David Bowman transforms Jupiter into a tiny but fully functional star, shining as a second Sun on Earth, but as the first Sun on Europa, where life develops.

Well, we’ve reached the real year 2010, and no such event appears to be in store for Jupiter! Furthermore, the movie had a now-dated Cold War subplot, with war erupting between the USA and the Soviet Union while a joint US-Soviet space mission travelled to Jupiter. I remember the year 1984 very well, and if anyone had claimed back then that the USSR would no longer exist in eight years, they would have been called completely bonkers! But now a whole generation has grown up in a world without a Soviet Union. And of course space flight has not developed as predicted in “2001” and “2010” either. And as we all sadly know, the real year 2001 turned out much differently.

Anyway, I love a great story, because even if fiction is fictional, great fiction tells truths about the human condition (and I love being entertained, too). But as for Jupiter, what I really enjoy and prefer is “Science Fact.” It’s really quite remarkable that this year, and especially this month of September 2010, Jupiter and Uranus have reached conjunction and opposition at the same time, and those planets have reached conjunction with the Full Moon, in September known as the “Harvest Moon,” and that The Harvest Full Moon this year was within hours of the September Equinox, leading some to call it the “Harvestest Moon.” Read more about all this from Raven Yu here and Carl Hergenrother here.

Alas, clouds and rain prevented me from seeing all this on the night of the equinox. Astronomy is a great hobby for developing serenity; celestial events can be predicted untold centuries in advance, but it might be cloudy that night! But here’s a series of my recent Jupiter pictures. I think you’ll be able to see the modest but noticeable increase in Jupiter’s apparent size over the last 2 1/2 months. Also, I think the Galilean Moons looked especially crisp and bright a few nights ago during the time of Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth since 1963!

July 2, 2010
5:20 AM CDT (10:20 UT)

41.64″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Ganymede, Io, Jupiter, Europa (Callisto lost in glare just North of Jupiter)
439,479,627 miles from Earth (707,273,900 km)

July 29, 2010
5:30 AM CDT (10:30 UT)

45.37″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Callisto, Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede (Io occulted)

403,391,417 miles from Earth (649,195,556 km)

August 30, 2010
6:11 AM CDT (11:11 UT)

48.95″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Ganymede, Callisto, Jupiter, Io, Europa

373,871,326 miles from Earth (601,687,576 km)

September 4, 2010
6:26 AM CDT (11:26 UT)
49.29″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Callisto, Ganymede, Io, Europa, Jupiter (Europa appears to be on edge of Jupiter)

371,287,908 miles from Earth (597,529,968 km)

September 22, 2010
4:44 AM CDT (9:44 UT)

49.79″ apparent diameter

(L to R) Ganymede, Io, Jupiter, Europa, Callisto

367,570,821 miles from Earth (591,547,895 km)

8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this year also, serious amateurs Christopher Go and Anthony Wesley (in my link list) and amateurs in Japan, have twice captured images of impacts upon Jupiter, momentously following upon last year’s Jupiter impact, which in turn followed upon the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994. For an entertaining musical account of the 2009 impact, click the video below:

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Dance of the Hours

Just yesterday on the way to work I heard a portion of Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours on Minnesota Public Radio, and of course it brought to mind the hysterically funny animated sequence from Disney’s Fantasia. I especially enjoy the dance of the hippo and the alligator. Take a few moments of your day to enjoy this work of comic genius!

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Just one day ago Jupiter has made its closest approach to Earth since 1963, and continues to shine especially bright for the rest of this month, visible all night. I hope to post a few pictures soon, but meanwhile, you may read more about it from Raven Yu at “Journey To the Stars” and from Carl Hergenrother at “The Transient Sky.”

Certainly some jovial music and images are appropriate for the occasion!

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