Posts Tagged ‘Pinhole Viewer’

Hale-Bopp.  Mmm Bop.  See the difference?

Hale-Bopp. Mmm Bop. See the difference?

As regular readers will know, I’ve often got my eye to the sky for backyard astronomy. In fact, my most popular post of last year was my eloquently titled,  “The Adventure foot Guide to Not Burning Up Your Retinas or Going Blind While Simultaneously Viewing the June 2012 Transit of Venus Across the Sun for the Last Time Until 2117…or How to Make a Pinhole Viewer.”  That post, not to brag, (but totally to brag), was even ranked #1 on Google’s search results for 3 days.  So cool.

But ya know, watching the Transit of Venus or some of the other cool celestial goings-on sometimes takes a lot of preparation or complicated directions on how to view the event.

Not so with the Comets of 2013!

There are 2 great opportunities to view comets this year and one is TONIGHT (or tomorrow… or anytime through the 18th) All you need to do is:

  1. Follow your Adventure Foot out the door just a little while after sunset. 30 minutes should do.

  2. Locate the crescent moon low on the horizon (If you’ve got a lot of obstructions like trees and houses, you might need to find another location. It’s low in the sky.)

  3. Look at the comet right next to it.  It’s the bright red-ish star…with a tail.

Ta-da!  That little 2.5 mile wide hunk of rock and ice is named Comet Pan-Starrs.  It was discovered in June 2011 by a team of astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (or PAN-STARRS), a telescope in Hawaii. Personally, I would have named her Dottie.

Artist's (my) approximation of comets. They casually cruise the solar system with boom boxes playing Monster Ballads from the 80's.  I bet you didn't know that.

Artist’s (my) approximation of comets. They casually cruise the solar system wearing aviators and carrying boom boxes playing Monster Ballads from the 80’s. I bet you didn’t know that.

Pan-Starrs is on a lazy 100-million year orbit around the sun and is the brightest comet to whiz by earth since Hale-Bopp in 1998 (astute readers will also remember this as the “Mmm Bop” era, but that’s unrelated.)

On the off chance that any of my South American friends might be reading today- there’s another comet visible in your sky tonight called Comet Lemmon, hereafter known as Comet Liz Lemmon.

Viewing guide. Credit Science@nasa from space.com

Viewing guide. Credit Science@nasa from space.com

If cloudy skies thwart your comet viewing this week, do not fret!  Another hunk of icy space junk will be blazing through the sky in November.  It’s called Comet ISON and it’s making a close pass by the sun in November.  This solar pass is either going to cause it to melt slowly and have a huge and spectacularly long tail… or possibly cause it to melt real quickly and be a bust.  Guess we’ll just have to see.

By the by- did you know that comets and asteroids are both space debris from the earliest part of our solar system?  They were formed around 4.5 billion years ago out of the left-over stuff floating about.  The main difference between the two is their composition: comets are mostly ice, frozen gas and some rocky material, while asteroids are metal, rock and minerals.  The ice/frozen gas on a comet are what melts and creates its distinctive tail.

Please also check out one of my favorite astronomy related blogs, also from last year.  Click here! 

AND if you’re a Heartland Road Runner (or if you want to be a Heartland Road Runner): Come to Kelly’s at 6:15 tonight, run 3 miles with me, then I’ll point out the comet for you!


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My once-a-shoebox pinhole viewer.

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about the Transit of Venus, which will occur today, June 5, 2012 and will not occur again for another 105 years.  I sketched out a diagram of how to make a pinhole viewer to watch the event and posted it and it here and my blog brought up an interesting conversation with my friend, Doug.

I told him that I realized the last time I had made a pinhole viewer was when I was in Baldwin School.

He replied, “5th grade.  Solar eclipse.”

And he was right.

nasa.gov photo of an eclipse viewed from Turkey.

I didn’t know Doug back then, but he knew when the event was because we were both in 5th grade at the time, and we both had made pinhole viewers, and we both had spent a week talking about space in our 5th grade classrooms prior to the big eclipse.  And many, many other classrooms full of kids and office buildings full of adults emptied outdoors on that spring morning to watch an event that has fascinated people since the beginning of time.

The most unique power of events like the Transit of Venus or an eclipse is the power to connect people.  In these situations, the planets and the sun aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary.  They just happen to cross paths from our line of sight and they move out of alignment with no more cosmic fanfare than what they moved into it with.  The part of the event, then, that is so extraordinary, is the grand marking of time across huge swaths of the planet.

The moon landing. Photo credit space.com

Life is fragmented and is only becoming more so.  Occasionally, there is a moment where time is marked in such a dramatic way to so many people that, years later, people will say, “where were you when…?”  But as a culture, we no longer gather around a single radio or a television set and share an experience.  Everyone alive for, say, the moon landing will always remember it as the same broadcast.  When world-changing events happen today, we consume media from a hundred different sources, through a hundred tinted lenses, and remember the moment a hundred different ways.

But then, there’s the pinhole viewer.

The Transit of Venus that I’ll view through my homemade pinhole viewer will mark a little moment in time, and the universe probably won’t take any notice.   It won’t happen again while I’m alive, so it’s neat to see it tonight.  The TOV isn’t going to have the same level of excitement as a full solar eclipse, but it can remind us of something very important: All over the world, we’re looking out at the same cosmos.  We don’t all share much, but we do share that.  And I’ll be looking at the heavens today through my once-a-shoebox  pinhole viewer and someone else who I don’t know in a place I’m not thinking about will do the same thing.  And maybe that little bit of sharing across time and space is enough to make us all feel a little more connected.

Click here to read my first blog on this topic. Learn more about the Transit of Venus and how to turn a shoebox into a pinhole viewer!  Also, PLEASE write comments! I’d like to know what *you* think!

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Picture of Venus Credit Space.com

If I said that tomorrow night, June 5, 2012, you’ve got the chance to see something you’ll never ever have the chance see again, would you call it an adventure?!  I would!

Tomorrow’s Transit of Venus is a celestial event that won’t come around again in our lifetimes (well, probably.  The next transit is December of 2117… but let’s assume that if I live to be 135 years old that my vision won’t be quite as good as it is now.)  That makes the TOV one exciting event that you won’t want to miss!

Viewed from Illinois, the path of Venus will cut across the “top” 1/3 of the sun beginning around 5 pm Central Standard Time (6 pm if you’re in the Eastern time zone) and will continue across for about 7 hours, which means you’ll be able to check this out any time after work all the way through sunset.

As with all solar events, you SHOULD NEVER EVER LOOK AT THE SUN lest you burn your retinas and never look at anything else again.  So that means it’s time for some grade-school arts and crafts time to make your very own Pin-Hole Viewer!  You remember this, right?

Materials:  Shoebox, 2 inch square of foil, 2 inch square of white paper, pin or needle, tape, exacto knife or carpet knife.

You may repost this image, but please link adventurefoot.com 🙂

My once-a-shoebox pinhole viewer.

Five Fun Venus Facts!

  1. Even though Venus is much smaller than Jupiter, because it is so much closer to Earth, its apparent magnitude is greater than Jupiter’s! (Apparent Magnitude= how bright an object looks from Earth, not how bright it actually is.)

  2. You wouldn’t want to get caught in a storm in Venus since its clouds are primarily made of Sulfuric Acid.

  3. Venus is almost the same size as Earth- it’s only about 400 miles smaller in diameter- but it rotates much slower (243 Earth days= 1 Venus day.)

  4. Venus may have once had water but, if so, it’s long gone.   Its proximity to the sun and a runaway greenhouse gas effect has dried the blue planet up.

  5.  On Venus, the sun rises in the WEST and sets in the EAST.  The only other planet to rotate that direction is Uranus.

*Fun facts are from space.com, planetfacts.net and nasa.com, but synthesized for awesomeness by me, here on Adventure Foot.

The path Venus will take across the sun looks like a “J” across the upper 1/3. For specific times and locations, visit transitofvenus.nl

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