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Archive for January, 2011

It was a very clear and calm, but frigid Minnesota morning, with the temperature at 12 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-24 Celsius). Fortunately there was very little wind chill, which made the cold much more bearable, and since the Moon and Saturn were both within the southwestern quadrant of the sky, I just pointed the telescope out the garage door without having to lug it outside. If one can deal with the cold, such weather conditions actually make for very good astronomical viewing, since the air is very calm and free of turbulence.

Waning gibbous Moon
6:53 AM CST 1-22-11 (12:53 UTC)
Angular diameter 33.13 arc minutes
57.0 Earth radii distant, very close to perigee
90.2% illumination
Lunar age 17 days since New Moon
8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece

Below are three closeups taken with the 17mm eyepiece, which yields 96x magnification with the 8″ reflector, as compared to 65x with the 25mm eyepiece. Click the photos for larger image to get the full effect:


Above, the northwestern quadrant at 6:59 AM.


Above, the northeastern quadrant at 7:00 AM.


Above, the southeastern quadrant at 7:01 AM.

Here’s a “Saturn Update:”

7:37 AM CDT November 6, 2010 (12:37 UTC)
Angular diameter 15.92 arc seconds
99.9% illumination
Distance from Earth 966,825,301 miles (1,555,150,630 km)
17mm eyepiece
7:40 AM CST December 29, 2010 (13:40 UTC)
Angular diameter 17.08 arc seconds
99.7% illumination
Distance from Earth 900,415,441 miles (1,449,078,188 km)
17mm eyepiece
7:12 AM CST January 22, 2011 (13:12 UTC)
Angular diameter 17.81 arc seconds
99.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 863,698,339 miles (1,389,987,740 km)
17mm eyepiece

All with 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope and LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Moon photos may be clicked for larger view.

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on January 6, 2011:

Five years ago this winter, when I was pastor of two churches in South Dakota, three of my parishioners who lived near the “Country Church” were on their way at dusk to a mid-week study 17 miles away at the “Town Church,” when they found their agenda slightly rearranged. They were a couple named Rick and Suzie, as well as Rick’s mother Donna, and as they drove past a T-corner in the gravel township roads, they noticed a pickup in the snow that had obviously slid through the T-corner and gotten stuck. At first they didn’t see anyone, and Suzie and Donna hoped they would just get on their way, but somehow they knew that Rick wouldn’t pass by without investigating. Sure enough, he backed up, parked, stepped out, trudged over to the pickup – nobody was in there, but soon Rick heard a voice from a short distance away: my voice! The pickup was my blue Ford Ranger, and I was the one who was stuck!

About a half hour earlier I had just finished teaching Confirmation at the Country Church, and planned to eat supper with my wife before leading the evening study. But I had underestimated the iciness of the T-corner two miles north of the church, and sailed right through straight-shot, so straight, in fact, that I was still on the track between two fields, and would have still been on the road had there been one there! But I was stuck, I couldn’t pick up a strong enough cell phone signal to call anyone, and though I knew almost everyone in the neighborhood, everyone lived at least a mile away. I had just started walking the long, cold mile east to a farm belonging to another parishioner couple, when Rick, Suzie and Donna came upon the scene. I hopped in the car with the ladies and amazingly we got there on time for the study, though I postponed supper till later. Rick got help to get my pickup unstuck, and drove it to the study, arriving only about a half hour late. The moral of the story is, no matter how godly your purpose, don’t hesitate to adjust it in order to show Christian love to someone in need. The purpose you save may be your own! “Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.” Ecclesiastes 11:1 NASB. And remember, we all need to be rescued from the power of sin. Never be too proud to admit you need what Jesus has to give, and don’t ever think you’re too far gone for Jesus to love you or to save you. A friend of mine named George passed this on to me that his priest said one Sunday: “There is no saint without a past, and no sinner without a future.” May your present and future be filled with God’s purpose for you during 2011!

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11:30 PM CST 1-17-11 (5:30 UTC 1-18-11)
32.53′ angular diameter, 58.2 Earth radii distant
96.4% illumination, 13 days since New Moon

Exactly 48 hours later at
11:30 PM CST 1-19-11 (5:30 UTC 1-20-11)
33.20′ angular diameter, 57.2 Earth radii distant
99.8% illumination, 15 days since New Moon
8 hours, 9 minutes after maximum Full phase

Previous two photos taken with 60mm refractor telescope and 17mm eyepiece.

The following photo was taken 7 hours and 2 minutes later with the 8″ reflector telescope and 25mm eyepiece. The sky had been crystal-clear when I woke up at 5:30, but had vexatiously clouded over by 6:00 when I got out to the shed to set up the telescope. By 6:30 it had partially cleared again, but amongst the tree branches and passing clouds this was the best shot I got.

The Moon now is close to perigee at the time of Full Moon, in contrast to late October 2010, when it reached perigee sometime after Last Quarter (see this post), and to early September 2010, when it was at perigee very close to New Moon (see this post).

All photos with LG VX8360 cell phone camera and clickable for larger view.

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Waxing gibbous Moon
5:01 PM CST 1-15-11 (23:01 UTC)
Angular diameter 31.29 arc minutes
Distance from Earth 60.8 Earth radii
82.0% illumination
Lunar age 10 days since New Moon
8″ homebuilt reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera

Later on I’ll try to update this post by comparing this photo with a picture I took on 9-18-10 (International Observe the Moon Night), and included in this post about lunar libration. Preview: the phase is nearly identical, but the libration situation is different.

I discovered just this morning that people all over cyberspace have been going bananas after Professor Parke Kunkle, an astronomer in my own state of Minnesota, was quoted as affirming that the Earth’s “wobble” has changed the zodiac signs. I immediately checked out “Journey To the Stars,” and was not surprised to find that my friend Ms. Raven Yu already had a great post on the subject, and I recommend a look at her post. I’ll add just a few observations:

– What Professor Kunkle was talking about was Precession of the equinoxes. The Earth does indeed wobble like a top, but very slowly – just one wobble in about 26,000 years. This means that the point on the Zodiac where the Sun is at the time of the March Equinox slowly moves westward one degree in about 70 years or so. This has been known since ancient times, and is old news both for astronomers and serious astrologers.

– Apparently many people who pay attention to their “sign” and horoscope are not aware that astrological signs have not matched the Sun’s real position in the sky for ages. Right now the Sun’s position at the time of the March Equinox is in transition from the constellation Pisces to the Constellation Aquarius, and that’s what people mean by “The Age of Aquarius.” So even in popular culture there’s been the knowledge of the changing of the “signs.” But not much now. Two thousand years ago our ancestors knew the sky quite well, though they didn’t have much of our present scientific knowledge. But now with our unprecedented communications technology (the web, email, etc.), confusion as well as clarity spreads more quickly than ever before! For all the things that science has learned about the heavens, many people aren’t in touch with the sky, which makes it hard for people like Professor Kunkle to get their message across without confusion.

– Another point: Despite reports to the contrary, there’s no causal relationship between the “wobble” and the “new sign” of Ophiuchus, and again this has been known since ancient times. The Sun’s apparent yearly path through the sky is completely unchanged, since it’s determined by the plane of the Earth’s orbit, not by the tilt of the Earth’s axis. The Sun’s path has travelled through Ophiuchus since before skygazers first invented the constellation of Ophiuchus, it’s just that the time of year when the Sun is in Ophiuchus changes over the course of the millennia.

– One more point: I’m an astronomer, not an astrologer, and my character and destiny are not determined by the stars. I am, however, deeply affected by the beauty, grandeur, and marvel of celestial objects. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

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7:08 PM CST 1-9-11 (1:08 UTC 1-10-11)
Angular diameter 29.76 arc minutes
Distance from Earth 60.6 Earth radii
27.9% illumination
Lunar age 4 days since New Moon
8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera

I don’t get too many chances to take pictures of the waxing Moon, especially the waxing crescent Moon, so I went ahead, even though it was shining through translucent clouds. A little lacking in definition, but it has a nice soft glow this way. The upcoming early Spring will be an especially good time to view the waxing crescent Moon from here in the Northland, so stay tuned!

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My first post and astrophotograph of 2011, and it turns out to be Venus, which has continued to recede from us as it races ahead in its faster orbit closer to the Sun. On January 8, 2011 it will reach Greatest Western Elongation. To access previous Venus Updates, Click here.

12:40 PM CDT (17:40 UTC), November 5, 2010
Angular diameter 59.94 arc seconds
2.4% illumination
Distance from Earth 25,866,740 miles (41,628,483 km)
6:35 AM CST November 23, 2010 (12:35 UTC)
Angular diameter 47.81 arc seconds
16.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 32,427,864 miles (52,187,588 km)
Venus photography generally works better in the daytime, as in the dark its apparent “thickness” gets exaggerated by its intense brightness.
10:02 AM CST November 27, 2010 (16:02 UTC)
Angular diameter 44.72 arc seconds
20.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 34,669,885 miles (55,795,771 km)
9:04 AM CST December 13, 2010 (15:04 UTC)
Angular diameter 34.77 arc seconds
33.9% illumination
Distance from Earth 44,589,852 miles (71,760,411 km)
This photo taken with 60mm refractor & 17mm eyepiece, looking out through the kitchen window!
12:03 PM CST January 5, 2011 (18:03 UTC)
Angular diameter 25.58 arc seconds
48.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 60,611,164 miles (97,544,214 km)

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

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