Archive for April, 2011

Beginning now and continuing through May, pretty much every planet except Saturn is involved in a celestial dance party visible just before dawn. You may read about it at Journey To the Stars,, Sky and Telescope, and Yahoo! News. It’s easiest to observe in locations considerably further south than my location, but I’ll be trying to view the festivities just the same.

Far from the above-mentioned planetary gathering, Saturn orbits grandly by itself, nicely visible every clear evening for the next few months. In fact, get this: Saturn currently is closer to the Earth than it is to any other planet! It gets closer to Jupiter than to any planet, but not right now, because Jupiter and Saturn are currently almost exactly on opposite sides of the Sun from each other. The next “grand conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn does not happen until December 2020. I haven’t taken any new photos of Saturn since 4-14-11, so here’s a rerun: Saturn at 3:23 AM CDT 4-14-11 (8:23 UTC), 8″ reflector, 17mm eyepiece, 2x Barlow:

Here is a lunar series for March and April, 2011. A few of these photos are repeats from previous posts. I haven’t included the distance and angular diameter info that I sometimes do, but note these dates:
March 6, 2011: Apogee (furthest distance from Earth)
March 19, 2011: Perigee (closest to Earth; the close coincidence with Full Moon caused the “Supermoon” event)
April 2, 2011: Apogee
April 17, 2011: Perigee, once again close to the Full Moon, but not as dramatically close as in March, and it was cloudy that day here, so I have no pictures. Unless otherwise noted, all following pictures are with 8″ reflector telescope and 25mm eyepiece. Compare the March photos with this montage by Raven Yu at “Journey To the Stars.”

8:33 PM CDT 3-13-11 (1:33 UTC 3-14-11)

11:31 PM CDT 3-16-11 (5:31 UTC 3-17-11)

3:34 AM CDT 3-19-11 (8:34 UTC), the “Supermoon”

7:27 AM CDT 3-26-11 (12:27 UTC)

7:16 AM CDT 3-27-11 (12:16 UTC)

7:22 AM CDT 3-28-11 (12:22 UTC), shining amongst tree leaves

7:21 AM CDt 3-29-11 (12:21 UTC), 60mm refractor with 17mm eyepiece

7:03 AM CDT 3-30-11 (12:03 UTC), 60mm refractor with 17mm eyepiece

12:45 AM CDT 4-12-11 (5:45 UTC), 60mm refractor with 17mm eyepiece

3:15 AM CDT 4-14-11 (8:15 UTC)

6:04 AM CDT 4-21-11 (11:04 UTC), through haze, as clouds were moving in

6:06 AM CDT Easter Morning, 4-24-11 (11:06 UTC). The Western Church reckoning of Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. Thus, the Moon is always waning at Easter, and it was a beautiful part of a glorious morning. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

6:22 AM CDT 4-25-11 (11:22 UTC)

Three minutes after the above photo at 6:25 AM, with 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece, and 2x Barlow, yielding about 130x magnification. Closeup of the southern part of the Moon. All five craters which form an arc within Clavius are visible.

I took this low-definition video at 6:33 AM that same morning on 4-25-11, just to show what it’s like to aim my cell phone camera into the eyepiece:

6:03 AM CDT 4-29-11 (11:03 UTC)

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


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Saturn at 3:23 AM CDT April 14, 2011 (8:23 UTC), using 8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope, 17mm eyepiece, and 2x Barlow. That optical configuration yields about 191x magnification. Saturn recently passed opposition on April 3, and remains at a favorable distance for viewing. During the upcoming months it will be well-situated for evening viewing. This is my best yet Saturn photo, as I had not yet captured the space inside the rings. My only regret is that Titan, its largest and brightest moon, seems just a bit too dim to show up with my cell phone photos. Titan and Rhea were both clearly visible to my eye within the view shown in the above photo.

Compare with this picture of Jupiter below, which was taken at the same magnification, close to Jupiter’s opposition last Fall:

Left to right: Ganymede, Europa, Jupiter, Io, Callisto, at 10:19 PM CDT, October 16, 2010 (3:19 UTC 10-17-10).

The waxing gibbous Moon at 3:15 AM CDT, April 14, 2011. 8″ reflector, 25mm eyepiece.

A few hours later, a veritable chess set of pelicans and cormorants at 7:43 AM. 60mm refractor telescope, 25mm eyepiece. Below, a few seconds of the pelicans and cormorants in action:

All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on March 31, 2011:

Anyone who has lost his or her wedding ring knows the awful, sinking feeling I knew for one year and eight months. At my job at Donnelly Manufacturing in Alexandria, we can’t wear finger jewelry on the production floor, and one weekend in July 2009 I looked for my ring in the usual place where I kept it during the week. Where was it? Suddenly a terrible chain of events came into focus in my memory. The previous Monday I had discovered at work that I was wearing my ring, so I wrapped it up in tape and put it in my toolbox. Sometime later, I accidentally dumped part of the toolbox’s contents on the floor and quickly scooped them up, forgetting to look for the most precious thing in the box! Finally, when I discovered the ring was missing, I thought for sure that the ring had tumbled out of my toolbox, and since it was wrapped up in tape, it would have looked like any other wad of scrap. It probably had been swept up and didn’t exist anymore.

In a way, that was one of the worst things about it. I would have rather thought that it had been picked up and appreciated by some stranger instead of being unceremoniously swept up with the trash and incinerated. As it was, I gradually adjusted to the loss of the ring. My wife, bless her heart, was very gracious about the whole thing and took it in stride. Life went on, we focused on other things, and though I always felt a bit dejected whenever I thought of my wedding ring, I thought of it less and less. We occasionally talked about finding a replacement ring and having it blessed, perhaps in connection with a renewal of vows. I was even well on my way to thinking that a replacement ring could be as good as the original after all.

Then the miracle happened. Not long ago in mid-March 2011 I was heading off to work early for some overtime, when I put something back in my toolbox, and suddenly out flipped a wad of tape with something in it that I never thought I would see again: my ring! Of course my toolbox had been the first place I looked, but I had never thought of lifting up the tray that sits in the top of the toolbox and looking underneath. For 20 months the tape with my ring in it had been stuck to the bottom of the tray! Of course that means that I had hundreds of chances to lose the ring any time I opened the toolbox. I was on the verge of being late, but I was taking no chances: I rushed inside, giddy to the point of goofiness, and told my wife, “It’s a miracle! I found my ring! Here, put it in a safe place!”

I’m overjoyed to have my ring back, but of course life would have still been okay if it had really been gone forever. Losing a ring is nothing like losing a person. Do we treasure the people around us more than things? What about Jesus Christ, who gave His life for us? Do we treasure Him and His Kingdom more than earthly possessions? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Matthew 6:21. “Or what woman, if she has ten sliver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10 NASB. My lost ring was one of my least favorite topics of conversation ever: I only remember even telling my wife, my mom, and one other person. But now that it’s found I enjoy telling everybody!

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Now there are three! Their favorite log is distantly within sight from right in front of the garage, if one can dodge the intervening tree branches, so here they are via my usual 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, and LG VX8360 cell phone camera, at 6:47 AM this morning:

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It’s been a long winter even by Minnesota standards. I’m trusting that the arrival of these birds is a promising sign.

On the morning of March 30 this Cardinal was singing a pretty song from a tree across the street. The dark patch above the bird isn’t a cloud, I just didn’t have the camera aligned perfectly into the eyepiece’s exit pupil. 60mm refractor telescope, 17mm eyepiece.

April 3, 2:39 PM: This lone White Pelican is the first one to arrive at the neighborhood park where many of them congregate all summer. 60mm refractor, 25mm eyepiece.

Some Mallards and Canada Geese stay all winter, as there’s a warm water discharge nearby, but now they enjoy the ever-widening ice-free area. 7×35 binoculars.

A goose and female duck rest standing on one foot. 60mm refractor, 25mm eyepiece.

The pelican spreads its wing …

… then preens underneath. Both with 60mm refractor and 25mm eyepiece. All with LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

I took this video with my same cell phone. As you can see, the definition is much, much lower with the video camera than the still camera.

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