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Archive for October, 2010

Waning gibbous Moon (close to Third Quarter Phase), 6:19 AM CDT (11:19 UTC) October 29, 2010. 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click photo for larger view.

It’s great to see the Moon and other celestial objects again after six days of clouds, cold rain, and strangely strong winds driven by a record-setting low barometric reading for Minnesota. Lots of stuff happening up there – today Venus makes its closest approach to Earth during inferior conjunction, beginning the countdown until its momentous next inferior conjunction, in which it will transit the Sun! Saturn is becoming more evident in the predawn sky – but as for me, now I need to disappear into my cave and finish a paper on the Passover Haggadah that’s due on Monday! See you on the other side …

P.S.: Today is the beginning of the Great Worldwide Star Count, a chance for you to show that your observations count, by helping us record and preserve dark skies! H/T again to Raven Yu of “Journey To the Stars,” who has more info about it here.

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on October 14, 2010:

When I was a pastor in South Dakota, I presided at the funeral of a lady named Tena who was born in 1898 and died in 2002 at age 103. Her husband had died years earlier, and there was already a “19” pre-carved into her gravestone! You would never guess it now, because the grave marker people did a great job of fixing it and replacing it with “2002.” At her funeral I remarked that though we all have a birth date and anticipate a time of departure, the important thing is what we do with the dash in between. Tena had a very long dash, 1898-2002. Others have dashes that are far too short. But if you’re alive reading this today, you’re somewhere in the middle of your dash. What are we doing with our dashes?

It’s normal to be “in-between.” We all have hopes for the future, and that’s okay, but we “do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14). What about today? Recently fans of John Lennon observed what would have been his 70th birthday. I don’t agree with some things he said, but I like his statement that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Something, or someone, in your life today might seem to be interrupting or delaying your plans, but dealing with it, or him, or her, could be the very thing God sent you to Earth to do.

We’re coming to the end of an in-between time in the life of Chippewa Church in Brandon. Pastor Tony Stockman left last year after being here for 22 years, and now this Sunday we welcome Pastor Michael Johnson at the occasion of his installation. In between it has been my privilege to serve in the interim. Life didn’t stop while we were “in-between,” and we have experienced joys and deep sorrows. I want to thank the church for their fellowship and support during this time, and I want to thank my fellow columnist Pastor Ed Borchardt, who was a blessing to all as he preached at our Wednesday evening services during Lent.

My task is changing, but I’m planning to continue my “dash” as columnist. I’m 45, so I think it would be safe to pre-carve a “20” in my gravestone, though I’m not in a hurry to purchase one, and perhaps Jesus will return first!
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 ESV

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While waiting for the clouds to part once again, here’s a series of recent lunar photos. They vary in quality, as some of them were truly done “on the fly,” and a few with my smaller telescope. My large reflector remains my best instrument for astrophotography, but I’m learning how to make the most of the small refractor as well, since at five pounds it can go many places where the 95-pound reflector can’t, and faster! I’ve done a minimum of editing; the photos with the reflector were originally inverted, and the refractor photos were originally mirror-image due to the use of a star diagonal. It’s easy to pick out the ones taken with the refractor, because the Moon looks smaller! The refractor with 17mm eyepiece yields about 41x magnification, whereas the reflector with 25mm eyepiece yields about 65x magnification. All photos may be clicked for full-sized view.


11:56 PM CDT 10-15-10 (4:56 UTC 10-16-10), 60mm refractor, 17mm eyepiece. Not bad considering that the Moon was just about to set, and I was looking through lots of atmosphere. A shot truly taken on the fly.


10:25 PM CDT 10-16-10 (3:25 UTC 10-17-10), 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece.


12:04 AM CDT 10-19-10 (5:04 UTC), 60mm refractor, 17mm eyepiece.


11:44 PM CDT 10-19-10 (4:44 UTC 10-20-10), 60mm refractor, 17mm eyepiece.


5:39 AM CDT 10-21-10 (10:39 UTC), 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece.


6:04 AM CDT 10-22-10 (11:04 UTC), 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece.


11:50 PM CDT 10-22-10 (4:50 UTC 10-23-10), 60mm refractor, 17mm eyepiece.

All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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This is the closest to the time of fullest Full Moon that I’ve achieved since I began my cell phone astrophotography adventure a few months ago! This was only a little over three hours after the fullest phase for this month.

UPDATE: The moment of Full Moon was at 8:36 PM Central Daylight Time at my location, or 1:36 Universal Time on 10-23-10. I see all sorts of people have clicked this post, apparently trying to find out that information, so I thought I’d include it. I get my info of that type from SkyViewCafe.com, in my link list on the sidebar.

Of course the fullest the Moon ever gets is when it passes through the Earth’s shadow, resulting in a lunar eclipse. Speaking of lunar eclipses, one is coming up in just two months on December 21, 2010, and will be visible here in the very early morning hours. I hope the weather cooperates! As for this photo, the Moon was four degrees north of the Ecliptic, and so one can see a bit of crater shadow detail along the south limb.

At the time of this shot, the Moon’s apparent diameter was 30.44 minutes of arc, and libration had taken Mare Crisium about as close to the eastern limb as I’ve ever seen it. Click the photo for a larger view.

11:50 PM CDT 10-22-10 (4:50 UTC 10-23-10), 60mm refractor telescope, 17mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

I had hoped to take pictures in the pre-dawn with the 8″ reflector, but the Moon was already shining through misty clouds as I took this photo just before midnight, and by the time I got up for my usual pre-dawn astronomy session the sky was completely overcast. The clouds now will likely be with us for a few days, alas, along with some rain and possibly even our first snowflakes of the season!

I’ve learned more about how to take good cell phone photos with my small telescope, and I’m glad. The photos are best with the large scope, of course, but sometimes it’s nice to able to take a few shots “on the fly” or on a trip. Here’s the issue: my reflector’s 8 inch mirror gathers over eleven times as much light as the refractor’s 60mm objective lens, and ironically that made it harder to take lunar photos with the small telescope without the light washing out the details! Here’s what was happening: the cell phone camera has an automatic photometer, which responds to the large reflector’s sea of light by stopping down the light level, resulting in a pleasing level of lunar detail and contrast without me having to work very hard at it. But since the refractor gathers much less light, the photometer was still trying to brighten up the image as much as possible, resulting in washed-out images of the Moon! The secret, I’ve discovered, is in the settings. The Photometry menu has three settings: Average, Spot, and Spot Multiple. I’ve discovered that the Spot setting is the one to use with the Moon, with either telescope. I discovered this while taking crescent photos with the large telescope, in which I was having a similar problem; the crater detail on the terminator was good, but the sunward limb was washed out. The Spot setting brought instant improvement. Sometime I’m going to do a complete post on “How to take good cell phone astrophotos,” but for now here’s your tip if you’re trying it yourself: use the Spot setting. And your other tip: if you’re holding the camera by hand, you absolutely need to rest your hands and/or forearms against something to keep them steady!

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On their website (click text to view the article and photo gallery):

The Dead Sea Scrolls—the oldest known surviving biblical and extra-biblical texts in the world—are slated to be scanned with high-resolution multispectral imaging equipment and shared online, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Google announced Tuesday, when this picture was taken in an IAA lab.

Discovered in caves near the Dead Sea in the 1940s and 1950s, the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek scrolls date to between 150 B.C. and A.D. 70. They include copies of nearly every book in the Old Testament as well as others that are not part of the traditional canon, such as the Gospel of Judas (time line of early Christianity).

No! The Gospel of Judas is not part of the Dead Sea Scrolls! It was a more recent find in Egypt, which has much more in common with the Nag Hammadi Library. Considering that National Geographic themselves spearheaded the publication of an edition of the Gospel of Judas, they should know better. They should know better simply because they are, supposedly, a scholarly organization, but now I have my doubts. This is the kind of error that nonscientist journalists make when trying to make head or tail of unfamiliar subjects, and it is shameful for National Geographic to goof up in this way.

H/T to James R. Davila of Paleojudaica.

UPDATE: I emailed them about this matter shortly after posting this post, but as of today, November 21, 2010, nearly a month later, they have not fixed the error.

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… I’m probably taking a picture of it! I’ll update this post later by comparing this shot with my nearly-full Moon photos of August and September, but meanwhile, I wanted to show you the Moon as it was sinking in the west this morning at 5:39 AM CDT (10:39 UTC), October 21, 2010. 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

UPDATE: One morning later, the Moon is even closer to full, but not quite there. Due to libration, Mare Crisium is very close to the limb. 6:04 AM CDT (11:04 UTC), October 22, 2010. Same equipment as above. The moment of Full Moon this month is 8:36 PM tonight my local time, or 1:36 UTC October 23, 2010.

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I’ve managed to take one more picture of Venus as it draws closer to the Earth, approaching inferior conjunction on October 29, when its apparent diameter will be a full minute of arc, about 1/30th of the Moon’s apparent diameter. At the moment of inferior conjunction, which is the time that it is closest to being directly between the Sun and the Earth, it will be less than 25,250,000 miles from Earth. it’s distance will be about 106 times the Moon’s mean distance from Earth, which is about 238,000 miles.

To illustrate how large Venus appears in the sky right now, here’s a same-scale comparison between Venus on 10-16-10 and the Moon seven hours and two minutes later. These two pictures may be clicked for a larger view.


Venus at 3:23 PM CDT (20:23 UTC) 10-16-10

The Moon at 10:25 PM CDT 10-16-10 (3:23 UTC 10-17-10)

Venus is already nearing its closest approach. Here’s the series updated since my last Venus Update:

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)

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)

4:05 PM CDT, October 3, 2010 (21:05 UT)
Angular diameter 46.63 arc seconds
16.9% illumination
Distance from Earth 33,248,887 miles (53,508,897 km)
2:27 PM CDT (19:27 UTC), October 11, 2010
Angular diameter 52.75 arc seconds
9.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 29,391,701 miles (47,301,357 km)
3:23 PM CDT (8:23 UTC), October 16, 2010
Angular diameter 56.44 arc seconds
5.7% illumination
Distance from Earth 27,472,436 miles (44,212,600 km)

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

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