Our imagination and creativity gives us the means to explore our universe, but what we find there is completely real. Here, we see Saturn’s moon Rhea peek out over the hazy Titan atmosphere, as seen by the Cassini probe. Titan may look out of focus, but it’s not; its thick atmosphere creates this effect.
It had been far too long since I last used my telescope, so with Jupiter hanging high in the sky I dragged it out and set the king of the planets in my sights. It looked a little something like this…
(I can’t really take pictures with my telescope, so I borrowed one from here.)
While looking at Jupiter I realized that I didn’t really know what it’s like under those clouds. I do know that the planet is mostly hydrogen, which under enough pressure changes phase to liquid. But then what? According to the nineeightplanets.org page about Jupiter, at even higher pressures we get liquid metallic hydrogen! Crazy. Though, if you dove into Jupiter’s atmosphere you wouldn’t fall into a weird metal ocean at some point, because the transitions are gradual. Not that you’d ever want to do that, of course. When “Jupiter” is the question, “untimely demise” is usually the answer.
At the very center of Jupiter is likely a solid core of rock or nougat or something, though we really don’t know for sure. Well, we can rule one of those out at least; nougat isn’t even solid!
This weekend Saturn was at opposition with the Sun, its closest approach to Earth this year, yielding a spectacular view of our favorite ringed planet. So of course it was cloudy. Not a total loss, though, as I had the chance to photograph Saturn a few nights before.
(Note: I did not say photograph it well.)
That shot is cropped straight from a 5 megapixel image. Suffice it to say, Saturn appeared tiny and blurry. It seems that my astrophotography career begins and ends with the Moon, at least with my current equipment. I think I could probably draw a better picture of Saturn. In fact, I did!
While the image of Saturn with my 10mm eyepiece is clear (unless using a camera, apparently) it is on the small side. So, yes, hastily scribbled notes, I do need a new eyepiece. That sketch is from an astronomy journal I’ve been keeping so that I can remember what I’ve seen or failed to see (Comet Lulin, I’m (mostly failing to) look at you!). It’s been cloudy recently, and now the moon is full, so my star gazing has been stymied of late. I’ll be back out there soon enough, though. Hopefully it will be a bit warmer, too.
Wow, just three posts into this blog and I use a pun. A horrible, horrible pun. Let me distract you from that with a picture!
You’ll recognize this as the constellation Leo (or maybe not; I wouldn’t have until about a week ago), with Saturn hanging out just below. What you probably won’t recognize is Comet Lulin. Let me help out by zooming in and fiddling with the contrast a bit.
There’s Lulin. I think. I was able to track that very faint, fuzzy object along the comet’s projected path over three nights, so I’m pretty sure. Sadly, the view in my telescope only resolved a slightly brighter fuzzy dot without a tail or even a hint of the brilliant green color. So while I did end up spotting Lulin, it was nowhere near the sight it could have been thanks to light-pollution. I need to pick up and head out of the city.
Last night I set out to find Comet Lulin. And failed. I’m not too worried since there are a good handful of days left in which the comet is (supposed to be) visible, but I am concerned that I don’t understand where I should be looking. Let’s go to the chart.
Here we can see the comet’s path skirting the constellation Leo. Last night around 10pm, Lulin should have been somewhere between the February 23rd and 24th mark on that line, right in the vicinity of Saturn. No amount of searching revealed the comet, though. On the other hand, I saw Saturn plain as day, so I’m obviously doing something right. Nothing to do but hope for clear skies and try again tonight!
I figured I’d get this blog rolling with the Moon. What it lacks in air, magnetic fields, or a decent name, it makes up for with being really close to Earth. At around 380,000 km distant, it is the only non-Earth object humans have ever set foot on (though we have plenty of probes and such all over the place). It’s also really easy to take a picture of with a small telescope and a cheap digital camera. Which is what I did! So while it’s not that hard to get a good look at the Moon, and there are plenty of pictures of it online, this one is special because it is my picture of the Moon. But you can use it if you want.
Today, the astronomers in Sciencopolis decided after much heated debate that Pluto is to be demoted to a “dwarf planet,” leaving us with a grand total of eight “normal” planets. Take a good look now, folks, because your future eager mother mnemonic devices will have significantly fewer pizzas in them.
Wait, that’s it? That’s what all this fuss is about? A fuzzy dot? Either the Nordic Optical Telescope needs a good dose of Windex or Pluto is entirely inconsequential. After all, it is a lump of ice and rock floating around five billion kilometers away. I don’t think we’ve hurt its feelings by calling it a dwarf planet. In fact, now Pluto can feel better about its tiny size and eccentric orbit. It doesn’t have to live up to the lofty expectations of being a planet anymore.