Tag Archives: Astronomy

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day

Orion's Belt, a photo by Martin Mutti.

Orion's Belt, a photograph by Martin Mutti.

So many people (ok, five…)  told me they liked the photograph at the top of my “Starry, Starry Night” post (that photograph is from flickr.com) that I’m posting a NASA website (see below) that archives a photograph each day of an astronomy feature.  I chose Orion’s Belt to illustrate this post, because it’s my favorite constellation — probably because it’s easy to identify.  Also,  the night sky here in Kansas in the winter, when Orion appears, is usually clear.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
The NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day website explains the photograph above:  Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are the bright bluish stars from east to west (left to right) along the diagonal in this gorgeous cosmic vista taken by Martin Mutti. Otherwise known as the Belt of Orion,  these three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than the Sun. They lie about 1,500 light-years away, born of Orion’s well-studied interstellar clouds. In fact, clouds of gas and dust adrift in  this region have intriguing and some surprisingly familiar shapes, including the dark  Horsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula near Alnitak at the lower left. The famous Orion Nebula itself lies off the bottom of this star field that covers about 4.5×3.5 degrees on the sky.  Mutti took this image in January 2009 with a digital camera attached to a small telescope in Switzerland.  It better matches  human color perception than a more detailed composite taken more than 15 years ago.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive.

“Starry, Starry Night.”

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Starry, Starry Night

southern-cross-and-pointers1

In the center, the Southern Cross constellation and its two bright pointer stars (at the left) adorn the pale band of the Milky Way in the night sky of the Southern Hemisphere.

It was almost midnight when we arrived at Macquarie Lighthouse in Sydney for the second time.  In the afternoon, we’d come as tourists to this spot, checked it off our list and hadn’t planned to return.

Old South Light Head.

Macquarie Lighthouse.

“We’ve lived here for decades and never seen this lighthouse, and now we’re seeing it twice in one day,” David said.

Okay, so we weren’t thrilled at this unscheduled second trip  — my fault, I admit — but even the locals had to admit they were charmed to see the lighthouse in action.  I’ve visited a dozen lighthouses, but I’d never seen one at work before.  It was a beautiful summer night in late January.

Armed with flashlights (or torches, as they say), we soon focused on finding Monica’s bracelet, lost on our first trip.  (Yes, my fault.) It had been a long day and a long drive, and we just hoped to find the bracelet and get home to bed.  Overhead, the old lighthouse steadily flashed its beacon.  Beyond was the dark Tasman Sea, pounding on the rocky shore below the cliffs.

Macquarie Lighthouse.

Macquarie Lighthouse is Australia’s first and longest operating navigational light. There has been a navigation aid on this site since 1791 and a lighthouse since 1818.

“I found it,” Monica announced, displaying the bracelet.  That afternoon she’d slipped it off her wrist so that her hand would fit under a fence to retrieve my camera lens cap. (I should buy my lens caps by the gross.)

“That was fast.”  Relieved, we turned to leave, but the night sky was so amazing.

We turned off the flashlights and stared at the heavens.  The pale ribbon of the Milky Way stretched across the sky. Even though we were on the outskirts of  Sydney with its light pollution, the clear, black sky was sprinkled with bright stars.  Despite my poor night vision, I could easily pick out Orion, although he looked a bit askew from this southern latitude.

“See, aren’t you glad you lost your bracelet here? ” I asked.

Macquarie Lighthouse.

Macquarie Lighthouse stands at the southern entrance of Sydney Harbour, which Captain James Cook missed while investigating the coast of Australia.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Monica fired off.  I was sure I could see her smiling in the dark.

She and David pointed to the Southern Cross and to its two pointers stars.  It was then that it really hit me.  Not only was I was 9,000 miles from home, but I was just a tiny blip in the cosmic picture.  I felt exhilarated!

You can’t see the Southern Cross from the Northern Hemisphere, even as the people in the Southern Hemisphere can’t see the North Star.  One of the pointer stars is Alpha Centauri, a star system that is closest to the earth,  “only” 4.37 light years away, which you can’t see from the Northern Hemisphere.

“Hello, neighbor,” I said to Alpha Centauri.  “Nice to meet you at long last.”

This aerial view of Macquarie Lighthouse shows the Sydney skyline in the background.  The lighthouse stands on the south head of Sydney Harbor. This isn't my photograph, though I wish it were!

This aerial view of Macquarie Lighthouse shows the Sydney skyline in the background. The lighthouse stands on the south head of Sydney Harbour. This isn’t my photograph, though I wish I could claim it!

The Down Unders certainly don’t feel that they are at the far end of the world. To them, the stars are as they should be.

I got my bearings at 33 degrees latitude south and felt right at home in Oz.

Who's on top of the world?  It all depends on your perspective.

Who’s on top of the world? It all depends on your perspective.

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Full Moon

The full moon hung like a huge ornament over the Christmas lights of the Country Club Plaza shopping center in Kansas City.

The full moon hung like a huge ornament over the Christmas lights of the Country Club Plaza shopping center in Kansas City on Saturday. When we rounded the curve of Ward Parkway in our car, the sight was breathtaking. At a red light on a bridge over Brush Creek, I jumped out and snapped a couple of shots. I knew they were blurry, but we'd stopped traffic so I couldn't get any more. A woman, who had walked onto the bridge, was also photographing the scene. "Isn't it crazy beautiful!" she exclaimed. I agreed. Next year, I'll set up a tripod and take a proper photograph. This year, you have to pretend it's a painting by Claude Monet.

The full Moon adorned the glowing Bloch Building on Saturday.  You can see the moon in the center between the trees.

The full moon adorned the glowing Bloch Building on Saturday. You can see the moon in the center between the trees. Actually, this photo was taken one day after the moon was full, but it's still an impressive sight (much more so in person, really!) On Friday night, the moon appeared 14 percent bigger in our sky, because it was at its closest point to Earth this year. It was also 30 percent brighter than some other full moons during the year, according to space.com. The moon makes a trip around Earth every 29.5 days, but the orbit isn't a perfect circle. On Friday night, the moon was 221,560 miles (356,567 km) away. The average distance is 238,855 miles (384,400 km).

You can't see the moon here, but the Bloch Building creates its own glow.  The Bloch, a new addition to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, houses contemporary art.

You can't see the moon here, but the Bloch Building creates its own glow. The Bloch, a new addition to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, houses contemporary art.

Moonlight iluminates the sky above the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City on Saturday.  One of the Nelson's four giant shuttlecock sculptures, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, looks as if it just landed on the front lawn.  There are four shuttlecock sculptures among the many sculptures in the Nelson's Sculpture garden, including a dozen monumental bronzes by Henry Moore and a cast of The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.

Moonlight illuminates the sky above the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City on Saturday. One of the Nelson's four giant shuttlecock sculptures, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, looks as if it just landed on the front lawn. There are four shuttlecock sculptures among the many sculptures in the Nelson's sculpture garden, including a dozen monumental bronzes by Henry Moore and a cast of The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.

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