Astronomy

An Amazing New Space/Astronomy Newsletter

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I’ve been reading (and listening via podcast) to Fraser Cain at Universe Today for many years. Fraser just announced recently that he is starting up a weekly newsletter that he is personally writing. The newsletter will come out every Friday and it will feature space related news from across the globe that Fraser will handpick as they are things that have caught his eye. I can tell you from experience that Fraser has a good eye for these things. If you are into space and astronomy and want an easy way to stay on top of what is going on then I highly recommend you sign up for this newsletter. I did. It will be waiting for you every Friday in your email inbox. That’s perfect timing for me as the weekend is when I like to kick back a little bit and catch up on interesting reading and this certainly fits the bill. It’s rare to get this kind of personalization these days so take advantage of it. Click on the linked article below for instructions on how to sign up...

Linked Article: https://www.universetoday.com/138585/subscribe-new-weekly-email-newsletter-written-fraser/

Solar Eclipse 2017 Photos

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Like I mentioned in my "You'll Burn Your Eyes Out" post, I spent Aug 21, 2017 in my front yard watching the eclispe with my kids. It had been a few years since I have used my telescope to do any solar observing and I had forgotten just how challanging it can be to manually point a telescope and succesfully find the Sun. Telescopes are not natually setup with tools that easily let you point at the Sun. The solar filter also makes the Sun quite dim in the eyepiece and if you don't get your eye just the right distance from the eyepiece you don't see anything (even if the Sun is in the field of view). At night you always have a background star field so you know when you have your eye placed at the right sweet spot. Oh, and did I mention the challenge of having sweat run down your face (it is Florida in August after all).

So the eclipse was almost at its maximum (we only had a partial eclipse here in Central Florida) by the time I got the Sun centered in my telescope. Back during the Venus transit of 2012 I wrote up a post detailing my telescope setup and I used the same setup for this solar eclipse (so reference my 2012 post for details). I don't have an autofocuser and I wasn't all that concerned about getting a bunch of really great photos through my scope (I was more focused on seeing the eclipse in real time with my own eyes (and my kid's eyes) through the scope), so I took the approach of taking a bunch of photos and only keeping the ones that were properly focused. So out of the several hundred photos I snapped the 3 that ended up being half way decent are below:

We also took some indirect photos of the shadows that one of the trees in our front yard was casting on the ground:

 Lots of little crescent Suns!

Lots of little crescent Suns!

All in all we had a great day off from work and school watching one of the great wonders of nature right from our front yard. I took a quick selfie of the 3 of us in between viewings:

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Online Eclipse Viewing and Science Experiments

Today is a big day for both amateur observers and professional scientists alike. Hopefully all of you already have your eclipse glasses and/or telescope and solar filter at the ready, but even if you don't there are still plenty of opportunities to participate in today's eclipse activities. In fact, because this particular solar eclipse is spanning the entire continental U.S. we get to share the experience with people across the planet via the internet. Below is a summary of just some of the online viewing and activities you can check out today:

Apps:

There are so many solar eclipse app for your smartphone that there is no way I could possibly list them all. So I will just call out the two that I would definitely download:

Total Solar Eclipse for iOS is an app by the folks at Exploratorium. Exploratorium is..."a hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception in San Francisco, California..." What makes this app so special is that the folks at Exploratorium are deploying people with telescopes in various locations in Oregon and Wyoming and live streaming images of the eclipse from these telescopes to the app.

Smithsonian Eclipse 2017 app for iOS is another not to miss app. They will have a live stream from NASA of the eclipse as it travel across the entire U.S. The app also has interactive maps and timers to tell you what to expect based on your exact location.

List of live streams:

Below is a list of live stream viewable from an internet browser. There are a ton of them and these are just a few. Hopefully you have a large computer screen and can watch them all!

  • NASA live stream (starts at noon eastern thru 4pm eastern) on both the web and on FaceBook Live
  • NASA EDGE is another great NASA stream that will be up today live from Carbondale from 11:45am - 4:15pm eastern and there is a web version and a FaceBook Live version
  • Virtual Telescope Project (1pm eastern)
  • SLOOH has a live cast starting at 12 noon eastern
  • And last but not least I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that GeekDad.com will also be covering and live streaming the event today (as most of you know I occasionally write for GeekDad). Just head over to the GeekDad.com main page.

Science:

There are quite a few really cool science experiments and observations taking place and below are just a few that should be aware of:

You'll Burn Your Eyes Out!

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This is what is wrong with our society today (among many other things). I received a letter from my kid's school (the Brevard County school district here in Central Florida) informing me that my kids can be taken out of school this coming Monday if I as a parent am concerned about my child's safety. Yes, the Brevard County schools are concerned that if kids are allowed outside during any portion of the partial solar eclipse on Monday they could potentially look at the sun too long and damage their eyes. So they are doing two things to protect our children.

  1. They are cancelling all regular outdoor activities. Kids will not be allowed outside for any reason during the hours the eclipse will be taking place.
  2. They are allowing excused absences for parents who wish to keep their kids home from school to avoid eye damage that may occur when their kids try and view the eclipse.

Look, I'm all for keeping kids safe. But the first step in keeping people safe when it comes to a wide-spread astronomical event like this is education. Last time I checked isn't that what schools are all about? If you explain what to expect with an eclipse like the Aug 21, 2017 event and how to safely view the event then you can prevent accidental eye damage. I understand that with younger kids this can be challenging, but in my case my kids are in junior high and high school. Schools (especially with older kids) should be taking advantage of this rare celestial event and using it to teach kids about astronomy and the local movements of our own planet, Moon and Sun. Talk to the kids about why its dangerous to look at the Sun even when a good portion of the light from the Sun is being blocked by the Moon during a partial eclipse. Then show the kids how to safely view and enjoy the eclipse.

No, instead of using the event as an education opportunity the school district is taking preventive measures to protect themselves from over-protective parents and any legal battles that would ensue from any kind of eye damage. Has there been a documented case of a child at school during a school run eclipse viewing event being injured? I tried to find one and I couldn't. This is not a dangerous event. It is people's ignorance that is dangerous and unless fixed it will continue to be a problem. The only way to fix ignorance is through education and if our local schools aren't going to do it then I will. So I will be taking my kids out of of school to "protect" them from being locked in the school during Monday's amazing celestial display. I'm taking my kids out of school to "protect" them from the helicopter parenting that seems to be out of control and is now dictating school policy. Most importantly I am protecting my kids from ignorance, because if they were to go to school on Monday and locked in the school during the eclipse they would be robbed of an incredible education opportunity.

The Brevard County schools missed an opportunity here with the eclipse, not only from an educational standpoint but also from a media relations standpoint. They could have written the letter in a way that gave parents the option to keep their kids home so they could share with their kids this amazing experience (even if the real reason was to protect themselves from litigation). If the school district really wanted to protect kids they would be educating them about the eclipse. Because guess what, in 7 years the U.S. will be experiencing another solar eclipse and because our schools didn't educate our kids when they had the chance to, these kids could be damaging their eyes 7 years from now as ignorant adults. No, this change in policy wasn't about protecting kids it was about protecting the school district from litigation.

I plan to publish an article this weekend about the various online viewing events and scientific experiments that will be taking place on Monday and I will also be tweeting all day from home during the eclipse, so follow me on Twitter. If you are local here in Central Florida and want to stop by and see the eclipse through my telescope, get a hold of me via my contact page and join us in our little impromptu solar eclipse viewing party...you just might learn something.

April 2015 Lunar Eclipse Photos

Got up to see the start of the lunar eclipse here is Florida (around 6:15). Got the kids out of bed long enough for them to walk out into the back yard and see the first few bites be taken out of the Moon. I stayed out and took as many photos as possible until the Moon dipped down below my local horizon. I was using a Canon Digital Rebel XT with a 28-135mm telephoto lens with image stabilization. My favorite image is the one at the top of this post (ISO 800 with the full 135mm telephoto). I included all the photos that turned out half way decent below (inluding a photo I snapped with my iPhone).

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