Tag Archives: Space

Painting the Horsehead Nebula

This is one I have attempted to view through the telescope but which is fairly difficult to view. Through the telescope and in any image taken in the visual spectrum the Horsehead nebula is a dark patch of dust and gas against the glowing background nebula. This painting is based on an image taken by Hubble in the infrared, a wavelength in which the gas of the nebula can be observed. It's just a very tiny part of the much larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex.

As all of my iPad paintings have been, this was done with Procreate using an iPad Air 2 with a generic stylus.

Painting the Lagoon Neblua

My first effort at using the iPad and Procreate to paint was the Eagle Nebula. To be honest I started that first project assuming I would not get very far. I'd never painted and expected it would be a huge mess. But it wasn't half bad and I enjoyed the process far more than I expected I would. In fact I enjoyed it so much that when I finished I decided to try another, the Orion Nebula. When I finished that I thought I'd give the Lagoon Nebula a try. I chose the Lagoon Nebula because I'd recently viewed it as it is a great summer object and one I always view at least a few times each season.

Precarious

As is my usual routine I took my dog Cosmo out for our walk to the mailbox yesterday. Along the way I had a thought about the precariousness of our existence on Earth. We live in this sort of illusion as our daily life is wrapped in an assumption of stability. For the most part our human brains encounter the same environment everyday. Most of us wake up in the morning and are active during the day. The light from our sun scatters in our atmosphere, heating and lighting and otherwise presenting a world around us that seems stable. Somedays are cloudy, others sunny, often a mix of the two. As we go about our days we see a mix of human and non-human species, natural and human environments. We eat and breath, work, play, and talk.

But our life on this planet exists on the thinnest of onion skins. The biosphere of our planet, the zone in which all life happens is remarkably thin. While the actual thickness of the biosphere is not easily measured it generally falls within a range of 6.5 miles. At the highest we have birds flying as high as 1.1 mile and at the depth we have fish 5.2 miles below the water. There are examples of higher flying birds and deeper dwelling organisms but they are exceptions to the general. The diameter of the earth is 7,918 miles. The radius is 3,959 miles. Almost all life on our planet lives on the outer 6.5 miles of that.

The image above is to scale for size but not distance in orbits

The image above is to scale for size but not distance in orbits

As an amateur astronomer I've spent a good bit of time viewing and contemplating space and distance. For all of the beauty of the stars in the night sky, space is mostly empty. The space between stars is vast. The space between galaxies even more so. If we just turn our attention to our own solar system and what exists here well, again, it's mostly empty space. Our Sun makes up 99.86% of the matter in our solar system. Our Earth, though it is the densest planet in the solar system, is only the tiniest proportion of the mass of our solar system. It barely registers. On the scale of our solar system our Earth is merely a tiny point separated from the sun and other planets by vast distances. To get a sense of it watch this amazing video by Wylie Overstreet in which three guys drove out to the desert of Nevada with a to-scale model to demonstrate the spacing of our solar system.

Our lived experience, our world, is just a precarious, thin layer on what amounts to a very tiny planet. On a clear, dark night I can lookup and see several thousand stars with my naked eyes. In remote locations such as mine there is little light pollution and the atmosphere disappears. It is in this star-lit darkness that I can begin to experience the Earth as a space ship of sorts. It really is a living space ship. In our orbit around the sun we move through space at 67,000 miles per hour. But remember, our solar system is also moving around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at 490,000 miles per hour. Of course we don't see it or feel it directly but it is happening nonetheless.

Life on Earth is precarious. It's stability is not permanent. Our sense of day-to-day continuity is something we're used to and something we assume will continue. I'd suggest that if more people had a better sense of how it all works, had a better sense of just how thin the envelope of safety is, perhaps they might be more inclined to take seriously the warning of science regarding climate change, habitat loss and other aspects of biosphere stability. It's too late to stop much of what we've set in motion but if we don't make real change very soon we will experience the worst case scenarios.

Barack Obama: America will take the giant leap to Mars

One of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandfather's shoulders, waving a flag as our astronauts returned to Hawaii. This was years before we'd set foot on the moon. Decades before we'd land a rover on Mars. A generation before photos from the International Space Station would show up in our social media feeds

I'm not a huge fan of Barack Obama (Democrats, Republicans or the two party system in general). Nor am I a fan of CNN. But I came across Obama's essay on Mars, space exploration and STEM and well, I just can't help myself.

Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders. We'll still look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time. But instead of eagerly awaiting the return of our intrepid explorers, we'll know that because of the choices we make now, they've gone to space not just to visit, but to stay — and in doing so, to make our lives better here on Earth.

Well said.

Finishing the Herschel I program

In the fall of 2012 I bought my first telescope since having one as a kid. I wasn't sure how much use I'd get out of it but I wanted to give it a go. I suspected I'd not regret the purchase. Within the first couple of weeks I'd become obsessed. I went out each clear night and sometimes stayed up till I started dozing at the scope which was often in the wee hours of the morning. Within a couple weeks I'd started keeping track of the objects I was viewing. I started just with the date, object name/ID, date and time. Soon after I started noting the eyepiece I was using as well as a description. It occurred to me that it would be fun to do the full Messier list and get the certificate from the Astronomical League. Not that I cared all that much about the recognition but having a list helps give a bit of order to the process. Had I not taken it on I might have gotten stuck looking at the same objects. Another side effect of having a list and doing the "official" program is the requirement that the observer find the objects on their own. No go-to telescopes allowed. Which was not as much of an issue as I didn't have a go-to telescope. But reading about the program drew my attention to the idea of systematic searching and recording.

A month into the Messier list I realized there were some nights that when I would have no objects to search for as I would have already found all the available objects on the list that were up in the sky. So it occurred to me to look for another list that I could start at which point I became aware of all the various programs that the Astronomical League administers. I settled on the Herschel I and got started. It's a list of 400 objects from the NGC catalog of 7,840 objects, largely based on the observations of William Herschel, his son John and his sister Caroline. It's a mix of galaxies, star clusters and various kinds of nebulae. It's a great list to do after the Messier list because it is slightly more difficult with fainter objects.

I finished up, or thought I did, about a year later. Upon checking my list though I discovered that I'd bungled a few by not recording proper descriptions and I was also missing a few. So, I started filling in my gaps until, about a year later, I thought I was finished. And, again, I discovered a few I had missed! So, back to it. With each successive check my list of missed objects was getting smaller. Essentially my transition from the initial list to spreadsheet to database introduced a few errors. Over the past couple of months I've been taking care of the few remaining objects and in the wee hours of a late September morning I finally got the last object in my eyepiece. NGC 2372, a planetary nebula in Gemini. I entered it in to my report and spent the rest of the morning double checking my final list. All in all the list took about four years and during that time I recorded well over 500 observations for that particular list (many duplicates due to the first 100 or so having been recorded without the detailed descriptions).

What did I learn during the experience? I learned much more about seeing the objects. Early on I was moving too quickly from one object to the next. It was not uncommon for me to log 15 objects in a 4 or 5 hour session. That's three to four an hour. When you consider the time it takes to find an object in the scope and record the observation it turns out I was only looking at some objects for 5 minutes or so. That's a minimal amount of time. These days I tend to look at about half that number of objects and I spend more time on each one.

The process of really seeing a faint object requires dark adapted eyes (no bright lights after you start viewing. Only low levels of red light!) and it requires at least 10-15 minutes, often times more, for each object. I also find it helpful and more educational if I take some time reading about the object. I don't necessarily see the object better but reading about it helps me appreciate what I'm seeing. It's easy to do using Sky Safari which is my preferred astronomy app. Each object has a description associated with it, many of them are quite detailed. There are also images in the app which can be very helpful in finding some of the details that might otherwise be missed.

I also was also reminded that there is an important connection between observation, vocabulary and description. As with any skilled observation it is important to develop an understanding of the components of what is being viewed. For example, if I'm viewing birds I pay attention to not just the colors but also the shape of the beak and tail, the physical habits, the body shape, the song, etc. There are many details that will help me identify the species of bird I'm looking at as well as understand something about the bird for example it's diet or food gathering habits. The same might be said of plants, trees, butterflies or any other observation of the natural world including astronomical objects. There is a certain literacy that goes with observation and increased literacy means a more detailed interpretation of the sensory data.

When I first began looking at galaxies I mostly just saw smudges of light. But right off it was evident that the shapes varied. For example, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and it's two neighbor galaxies (M32, M110) vary quite a bit in size, shape, brightness and features. They're a good starting point and learning tool. M31, a spiral galaxy, fills even the largest wide-field eyepiece with its large disc and offers a concentrated, bright nucleus as well as dust lanes. By comparison, M32, an elliptical galaxy, appears as a compact and bright nucleus with no disc. M110 is also an elliptical galaxy but is much larger than M32 and better described as an oblong nebulosity with a slightly bright central area but no bright core or nucleus. But while these three nearby galaxies are a good starting point and each offer different characteristics to be described they are just the beginning of many galaxies. Then there are the many kinds of nebulae and star clusters to learn about. No doubt astronomy offers many years of possible observation, a lifetime of possibilities in fact.

So, where to next? I've already started three other programs: double stars, nebulae, and the Herschel II list. I think I'm going to start the lunar program as well. As our closest neighbor the moon can cause a great deal of light pollution for much of each month making other observations difficult. But it's a fascinating subject itself, why not enjoy it?!

Apple and NASA collaborate on short film to celebrate Juno Mission: ‘Visions of Harmony’

As an avid amateur astronomer, NASA supporter and all around science nerd I was pretty happy to read today that Apple has partnered with NASA to produce a nine minute short film to celebrate the Juno spacecraft entering Jupiter’s orbit. The film is available on iTunes and Apple Music for free and is called “Visions of Harmony.” On a personal note, as is often true for many amateur astronomers, Jupiter was one of the first things I looked at with my own telescope when I was a 9th grader working on a science fair project. The view through that little telescope was breathtaking though strangely, it didn’t quite seem real and it was a moment I’ve never forgotten.

From the NASA website:

NASA announced a collaboration with Apple that will serve to enhance the agency’s efforts to inform and excite the public about dramatic missions of exploration like Juno. “Destination: Juno” is a synergy between two seemingly disparate worlds: popular music and interplanetary exploration. The works resulting from this collaboration showcase exploratory sounds from artists who have been inspired by Juno and other NASA missions, including Brad Paisley, Corinne Bailey Rae, GZA, Jim James featuring Lydia Tyrell, QUIÑ, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Weezer and Zoé.

Apple has captured moments in this journey with a behind-the-scenes documentary spearheaded by the Juno mission’s principal investigator, Scott Bolton, and scored by Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The content is available on various Apple platforms. Other Juno-related content, including educational opportunities with Bill Nye on and an “Interactive Guide to NASA’s Juno Mission,” will roll out over the course of a year and throughout the length of the Juno mission.

The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

One thing I can say from personal experience as an amateur astronomer is that music does indeed go very well with our exploration of the Cosmos. When I go out to spend an evening at the telescope observing distant galaxies or planets in our solar system I always have a bluetooth speaker with which to play my “Stargazing” playlist. While the quiet sounds of nature are always a nice soundtrack it’s usually when I have music playing that I’m most likely to have those moments which seem most otherworldly. There’s nothing quite like looking through a telescope at Jupiter or something more distant such as galaxy that has been sending its combined starlight out into the universe for 12 million years. That’s the kind of visual experience that is wonderfully enhanced by music.

To go along with the short film, Apple has created a new featured section on Apple Music called “Destination: Jupiter” that highlights the short film as well as the music that appears in it. I’ve not yet listened but it includes tracks by Trent Reznor, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Quin. The film not only includes live music by the above artists but also an interview with Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton.

NASA missions into the solar system are always exciting. Years of planning followed by years in space and then months to years of data collection. Juno, launched in August 2011, will have been traveling just shy of five years when it enters  a polar orbit on July 4.

The spacecraft is to be placed in a polar orbit to study Jupiter’s composition, gravity field, magnetic field, and polar magnetosphere. Juno will also search for clues about how the planet formed, including whether it has a rocky core, the amount of water present within the deep atmosphere, mass distribution, and its deep winds, which can reach speeds of 618 kilometers per hour (384 mph).

According to Apple the goal of its partnership with NASA is to educate and inspire people, while also highlighting the link between exploring space and making music. From USA Today: “The goal is to make science and technology more accessible and relatable to everyone.” – Apple vice-president Robert Kondrk.

For those that might ask, what’s the connection between space exploration and creative expression? I would answer that there’s nothing we might do that requires the imagination and creativity like space exploration does. Science, in a general way, is often rooted in a creative process. Much of what Einstein accomplished had it’s origins in creative thought experiments in which he imagined different scenarios so that he might work through. And he isn’t the only one to have used such thought experiments! Spend some time browsing around the fantastic NASA website, have a look at the many ongoing missions and past missions and consider the beautiful dance of science and creativity that goes into the designing of our space telescopes, rovers, and orbiters. NASA often exhibits the best of humanity. Okay, now I’m gushing. This is what happens when I’m allowed at the keyboard unsupervised while on the topic of NASA.

Also, in case you missed it, one last bit of NASA news. Earlier this month, NASA released an application for iOS and the fourth-gen Apple TV. The app includes live streaming NASA TV, a real-time view of the Earth from the International Space Station, as well as on-demand access to over 10,000 NASA videos and more than 15,000 photos, either individually or as a slideshow. It’s a fantastic tool for exploring our solar system from the comfort of your couch. From your Apple TV search for NASA in the App Store. Or, from your iOS device get it from the iTunes App Store.

To view the new Apple Music/NASA short film, head to Apple Music.

Originally published at beardyguycreative.com on July 1, 2016.