Blog overdrive

I noticed I haven’t been posting too much here lately and it’s because I have been posting elsewhere. I added The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast to my blogroll. Check it out! It’s going to be really cool and I need your help to spread the word.

We also have a few new things over at Slacker Astronomy.

And did you check out my iPhone app, Bubbler? GIVE ME $0.99 NOW!!!!!

Spread a little too thin sometimes…

Blog overdrive

The Earth Is Not Moving

Courtesy of Good Math, Bad Math, our attention is directed to these completely deluded, insane, Biblical freaks, from which I quote:

The Earth is not rotating…nor is it going around the sun. The universe is not one ten trillionth the size we are told. Today’s cosmology fulfills an anti-Bible religious plan disguised as “science”. The whole scheme from Copernicanism to Big Bangism is a factless lie. Those lies have planted the Truth-killing virus of evolutionism in every aspect of man’s “knowledge” about the Universe, the Earth, and Himself.

I apologize for pointing out this low-hanging fruit. This, people, is what you get when you demonize science. All crazy theories become equal. Religion sows the seeds of relativism, not the other way around. If science is in conflict with your religion, your religion is wrong.

The Earth Is Not Moving

Queen star hands in science PhD

I’m proud that Brian May did this. So many people seem to think that education is a means to an end. Like once you have a livelihood you no longer need education. Wrong! Education should be a quest that never ends for everyone. Brian May has all the money he would ever need yet here he is, getting data and writing a thesis.

I’m surprised we don’t see other successful people pursue formal education more. We have all these actors and athletes who “retire” in their 20’s and 30’s who don’t do shit but try to make more money as entrepreneurs and live lives of luxury and hedonism. WTF. Learn more, people. Learn a lot more. It’s not work, it’s fun.

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Queen star hands in science PhD


Here is my first widget, for Mac’s Dashboard, VizWidget. It does one very simple thing: it searches VizieR for anything within 1 arc minute of the object or position entered. It returns 1 row of every catalog that has an entry. It calls the web browser to do this and does not display the data in the widget itself.

Download VizWidget (Macintosh OS 10.4.3 or greater)

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger is required. If you’re using Safari, click the download link. When the widget download is complete, show Dashboard, click the Plus sign to display the Widget Bar and click the widget’s icon in the Widget Bar to open it. If you’re using a browser other than Safari, click the download link. When the widget download is complete, unarchive it and place it in /Library/Widgets/ in your home folder. show Dashboard, click the Plus sign to display the Widget Bar and click the widget’s icon in the Widget Bar to open it.


Astronomy Matters

(It’s Astronomy Day today and on that theme I’m posting a little essay I wrote years ago describing my interest in astronomy.)

To tell you the truth, people are not that surprised that I am interested in astronomy. I think all people find astronomy fascinating. After all, it is the true nature of the universe. All of our world views have to take into account the vastness of the universe, the enormous time scales and distances and the seemingly insignificant and relatively instantaneous event that we call our lives. The universe is more strange and awesome than we can imagine. People use the word “astronomical” in their everyday lexicon to mean, in many cases, unimaginably immense. To me the question is not why are people interested in astronomy, but why aren’t all people?

It is interesting that for many people to contemplate the universe brings them face to face with God. They feel that this is God’s creation. I don’t think they are wrong but, like Carl Sagan, I tend to want to save a step. Rather than leaving the question “who created God” unanswerable, I choose to leave the question “who created the universe” unanswerable. To me, studying the universe does not reveal the mystery of God, it reveals the capabilities of human beings. We have learned so very much about things that we can never touch and can barely see. The science of astronomy is a story of the undaunted brilliance of people with a passion to understand. This is my passion: to understand the universe. I may never contribute one significant thing to the science. I’m sure my name will never appear in a text book or on a comet. But I will understand, and I’ll understand the hard stuff, too. Quantum mechanics and relativity are not by any means beyond our reach. Astrophysics is not beyond our reach. Any person can understand these things if they truly desire to.

My story begins, like many, when I was a young child with a telescope. It was a cheap telescope and gave me more frustration than pleasure, but it was the start of looking up. Later in life I felt my passion returning and a gift from my then girlfriend (now wife) of a 4.5″ Newtonian reflector got me on my way. I started as many do looking at Messier objects and reading every astronomy book I could get my hands on. I learned the constellations, how to recognize the planets and how to find many galaxies, clusters and nebulae with my first telescope.

For me, though, I was not getting enough photons. Objects do not look in telescopes like they look in photographs. Most are dim, fuzzy blobs that are barely visible. My next step was taking pictures of astronomical objects with a common camera. You can take some great pictures of some great objects with a common camera. This method of photography is called “piggy back” because you attach your camera to a telescope and use the telescope to keep the camera pointed at the object as the earth turns, a process called guiding. The camera uses its own lens and is not coupled to the optical system of the telescope.

The next step was using a camera attached to the telescope optically, which is called “prime-focus”. Here the telescope acts as the lens of your camera. This gives you much more light due to the larger nature of the telescope aperture, which in turn gives you better resolution of fine details. Prime-focus photography is much more difficult that piggy-back photography, but the results are stunning.

As I started to take more and better pictures of this freaky universe, I felt myself reaching a bit of a wall. The process of taking these pictures is enjoyable and exacting, but is not astronomy in the actual definition of the word. I wasn’t really studying or researching anything, I was just taking pretty pictures. I still love imaging and I consider it a great thing, because it brings the universe home to us in a way we can share with people. But my understanding of astronomy was not progressing. I felt it was time to start getting ready to study astronomy in the true sense of the word, and this means learning the language of astronomy, which is mathematics. To that end, I started taking classes at the University of Minnesota. I have a degree in music and needless to say, we did not study a lot of heavy math and physics in music school. I have started to take Calculus and Physics courses. More on that here.

I knew, though, that it would take me years and years to get to the point where I could study astronomy in the “professional” sense of the world. What could I do in the meantime? It didn’t take much looking to find the answer: study variable stars. It turns out that amateurs like me can make important contributions to science, and learn a lot along the way, by taking measurements of variable stars with a CCD camera. A CCD camera is a special kind of digital camera that is used for astronomy. (CCD means “charge coupled device” and you find them in common digital cameras, camcorders and scanners). There are so many stars in the sky and comparatively little time on “professional” telescopes that professional astronomers can’t really cover all the objects all the time. While some professional astronomers look down their noses at us silly little amateurs with our silly little telescopes, most do not. They appreciate the vast coverage that amateurs are capable of and use our data to correlate observations they make with rare large telescope time. On my research page I have some of the light curves and data that I have gathered. I intend to continue working with the AAVSO, the CBA and other loose-knit collaborations to gather, analyze and publish data on variable stars.

So now you know. Astronomy is the study of the true nature of the universe. It is the most important thing in the world. It is as frivolous as music and as serious as religion. Astronomy matters.

Astronomy Matters

"weird star" RS Oph

Name this star: “It’s 5000 light years away, it’s a binary, it’s two old stars, one puffy and bloated, the other tiny and compressed, and one is eating the other while the other blows off a wind, and the tiny one periodically explodes, and forms a peanut-shaped soap bubbly nephroidal shell, which we can observe and model…”

RS Oph, of course, as excellently summed up by our friend the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait.

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"weird star" RS Oph

Global Climate Change and Mars

I’m assuming Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait won’t mind me posting this here. Hell, I’ll even ask him. After the fact, of course.

I said:

I have a guy on my site claiming that the polar caps on Mars are melting for the same reason that we see global warming on Earth.

He said:

“I don’t think anyone has yet to explain to me the simultaneous melting of the Martian polar icecaps. Seems like a pretty weird coincidence. If the ice caps on Mars are melting because the Martian climate is getting warmer, doesn’t it make sense that the Earth would be warming too as a result of the same root cause?”

I.E. NOT human causes.



Phil’s reply:

Hi Michael-

I just heard about this myself. The claim is that warming is seen on Mars, Jupiter, a moon of Neptune, and Pluto. GW deniers are saying it’s due to the Sun warming up.

The thing is, the warming on Jupiter is local, not global (as far as I can tell); the warming on Triton is seasonal, and expected; Pluto is too far away to see a warming like this due to increased sunlight; and — oh yeah– there has been no measured increase in solar flux. 🙂

I’m not sure what’s going on with Mars. If real, it may be that it is simply coming out of an “ice age”. What I find interesting is that these people talk about four objects out of 100 in the solar system. What’s happening on the other planets, the other moons? I don’t know, but it’s clear we can’t start making claims until we have a real statsitical sample.


* * * * * The Bad Astronomer * * * *

Phil Plait
The Bad Astronomy Web Page:

The key point, which I had mentioned in the past, is that we are not seeing increased solar luminosity (that I’m aware of). We have the SOHO satellite sitting out there watching it 24 hours per day. We also have solar observatories, like Kitt Peak, that have been operating for decades.

Good question, but I don’t think it is related to the global climate change debate.

Global Climate Change and Mars