Flip That Light Switch!

March 29, 2008

That’s correct. Turn that light off tonight at 8.00pm (local time).

“Why do that?” you ask. Well, two reasons.

The first is to participate/celebrate “Earth Hour,” a world-wide effort to reduce energy consumption around the globe. It’s the idea of the World Wildlife Fund, who started this in 2007 in Sydney Australia.

Going hand in hand this year is “Lights Out America,” which was started in San Fransisco in an effort to reduce energy consumption, and bring the problems of light pollution to the general public.

Even Google is “going dark” for the day.

So do your part. From 8.oopm to 9.00pm tonight, turn off your lights, unplug any appliances you aren’t using. Turn of the television. Heck, turn off and unplug your computer for an hour! (Yes, you’ll survive an hour without being online). Make a difference in your community.

And if you’re looking for something to do for that hour, go outside if it’s clear and watch the sunset and the stars come out. You’ll be taking part in something wonderful.

For more information…

Earth Hour

Lights Out America  


Look Up Tonight! (March 28)

March 28, 2008

Since it looks like the skies will be clear here in West Michigan, it’s a perfect opportunity to not only look at the night sky, but see a great flyover by the International Space Station.

If you are interested, step outside just after 9.00pm and look to the West-Northwest. At 9.08pm the station will rise and slowly (sort of) traverse the evening sky, going high overhead, and then disappearing in the Northeastern sky  over six minutes later.

Because of it’s location overhead, and the time of day, ISS will be the brightest thing in the night sky, easily outshining all of the stars overhead. At it’s highest point – 72 degrees – the station will be half-way across the sky. Finally, before it disappears, it will pass just below the Big Dipper.

The link to the right will take you to a site with predictions for the ISS, space shuttle, and other satellites as they travel overhead. You can see just when a certain object will be in view.

Over the next few weeks, we will have many opportunities to see the space station in the evening sky. Some will not be as spectacular as tonight’s will, but then again, there are a few that will be better.

And as an added treat, there is something following the space station. You will notice about three minutes later a slightly dimmer point of light following in the ISS path. The is the Jules Verne ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle), a  new supply ship on its maiden voyage to the space station.

So if you can, go outside, look up, and wave as the station (and its crew) fly overhead. They won’t see you, but will appreciate the interest.

March’s Full Moon

March 21, 2008

The full moon for March 2008 will occur at 2.40pm EDT on the 21st. The March full moon is called the “Worm Moon” as the warmer days of spring bring the thawing of the ground, and the birds finally going after earthworms that are beginning to get active.

(Just a note about the time of full moon: the moon is “full” for only a moment, despite what local meteorologists say. This has been discussed before).

This also happens to be the Paschal Full Moon, which is the first full moon of Spring. What is the significance of this? The date of the first full moon after the vernal equinox determines the date of Easter.

This year Easter will be about the earliest it can be, so expect some colder weather. You might have to hunt Easter eggs in the snow.

Spring Just Has to Come Sometime

March 20, 2008

Yes, that’s correct. Soon it will be officially Spring.

At 01.48 EDT, the sun will appear to be directly above the equator, heralding the start of Spring in the northern hemisphere of our little planet. Astronomers like to call it the “Vernal Equinox.” At this time we have (for the most part) equal parts day and night, as the sun rises due east and sets due west in the evening (both of these times causes headaches for those persons driving on east-west roads).

The sun is slowly climbing in our sky, bringing with it the promise of warmer weather, the growing season, and more daylight, culminating in the summer solstice in June.

This is “astronomical spring” as opposed to “meteorological spring” which started on march 1st. While the weather people tend to think of the seasons as it pertains to the calendar, and weather averages over time, astronomers choose something less arbitrary: the position of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

Now to dispel a rumor that has been going around for years – that on the Vernal Equinox it is the only time you can stand an egg on end. That’s incorrect. You can do this any day of the year, and at any time of day (the author once stood 15 eggs on end in the middle of August, because he had nothing better to do, and also to debunk this rumor).

But instead of going into detail about why this egg-standing rumor is false, I am going to point you to Dr. Phil Plait, who owns the badastronomy.com website. He has an excellent page about the egg myth, and just recently posted a video on how to do it.

Standing an egg on end on the Spring Equinox

How to stand an egg on end

Once you’ve figured out the secret, tell your friends. And after you have perused the rest of Dr. Plait’s site, come back here for some more information later on about this month’s full moon, and why Easter is so early this year.

Have an eggs-citing first day of Spring!

Arthur C. Clarke: 1917-2008

March 18, 2008

A sad note came across the news wires earlier today, as the announcement of the passing of Sir Arthur C. Clarke was made public. He was 90 years old.

Perhaps best known to the world as the author of the book 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke was also an accomplished scientist and explorer.

Clarke was born in Minehead England in late 1917, and while with the Royal Air Force in World War II was instrumental in developing radar. He actually wrote a paper in 1945 outlining a world-wide network of communication satellites in a fixed orbit – what are now geostationary satellites. In fact, these orbits are commonly referred to as “Clarke Orbits.” He never patented the idea, and in 1965 wrote an essay that was subtitled “How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time.”

But it was his writing that he was known for the most. Apart from 2001, he penned such classics as Childhood’s End, Rendezvous with Rama, The City and the Stars, and A Fall of Moondust. In fact, 2001 grew out of two of his short stories, The Sentinel and Encounters in the Dawn.

The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation was created in 1983 to recognize those individuals whose insights range most broadly in our comprehension of the universe we live in, the way we live in it, and the responsibility we have to improve our world.

Clarke also formulated three laws of prediction, or what are now called “Clarke’s Laws.” As to the number of his “laws” Clarke commented “As three laws were good enough for Newton, I have modestly decided to stop there.”

A great man… a visionary… a critical thinker… has left us. He will be missed.

The Universe (Colonizing Space)

March 11, 2008

The next episode of the amazing series The Universe continues tonight. The new episode is called “Colonizing Space.” Here’s a preview…

Space colonization is no longer the fodder of science fiction, it is becoming a reality. Examine the efforts underway to establish a human colony on Mars, including how they plan to grow food, recycle wastewater and introduce greenhouse gases to revive the red planet and make it more habitable for humans. Cutting-edge computer graphics are used to bring the universe down to earth to show what life would be like on Mars, and to imagine what kind of life forms might evolve in alien atmospheres.

Check local listings for the time of the show.

Endeavour Lights up the Night Sky

March 11, 2008

At 2.28am EDT, the Florida coastline lit up with a false sunrise as the Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off from Cape Canaveral for a scheduled 16-day mission to the International Space Station. Everything went smoothly, and Endeavour is now safely in low earth orbit, heading for a rendezvous and docking with ISS.

This long mission will include five spacewalks, and the installation of the first part of the Kibo module of the Japanese Space Agency, and the new robotic manipultor system, which is called Dextre.

If you want to see when the shuttle (and the space station) are flying over your area, just visit the link on the side of the page. They will both be visible in the morning skies.

You can follow the mission at the shuttle mission page and if there are any special events, we’ll talk about them here. Locally, we have the Community Media Center to thank, as they broadcast NASA-TV on local cable channel 24 (Livewire). The GRAAA sponsors NASA-TV locally.Godspeed Endeavour, and good luck.