June 7, 2020

November 2011: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere.

A “Warhol Moon!” (Photo mosaic by Author).

Wow, can you believe that 2011 is coming to a close? It seems that it was only yesterday that we where installing Windows 98 and fretting about Y2K, and now we have a decade plus of the 21st century under our belts… this month brings a pair of launches headed towards the Red Planet, a partial solar eclipse for distant lands, and a Tweetup for one of the aforementioned launches:

Coming to a Sky Near You: Comet 2009/P1 Garradd remains the evening binocular comet that you should be watching, as it ended its southerly drop in declination in late October and begins its climb northward shining at magnitude +7 through the constellation Hercules. Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday the 6th, as most of America “falls back” one hour, and backyard astronomers welcome back the night. A close passage of the 200 meter asteroid YU55 occurs on the 8th at 0.8x the distance of our Moon; we’ll be talking about the particulars of spotting this object as it speeds along through the sky. The Leonid meteors peak on the 17th; look for a zenithal hourly rate of about 10-20 in the dawn hours. A Black Friday partial solar eclipse occurs on the 25th, visible from all of Antarctica and portions of Tasmania and South Africa as a shallow partial. Finally, we’ll take a look at the variable star R Geminorum as it approaches its peak at the end of the month.

This Month in Science: November 1st is not only All-Saints Day, but also the traditional date on which the Bent Spoon awards, celebrating “the perpetrator(s) of the most preposterous paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle” are announced. We are also laying plans to visit Florida’s Rosemary Hill observatory and the Alachua Star Party on the 5th, and who knows, a post just might just result. Also, in Space Coast news, attention frazzled shoppers; Mars Curiosity is set to leave the Florida Space Coast for the Red Planet on Black Friday, November 25th! In the review department, we’ll also be looking at Science Illustrated magazine, Astronomy calendars for 2012, and the hooded observing vest by Dark Skies Apparel, a must for every astro-shopper’s Xmas list!

This Month in Science Fiction: November is also the traditional time of year for the Bad Sex (in Fiction, hopefully!) Award, an honor that is occasionally bestowed upon a deserving science fiction novel. Also, we’ll be reviewing Planesrunner by Ian McDonald out in December, the first novel of a quantum-serial thriller. Looking back into the alternate timeline, we’ll also be reviewing Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, book three in the Burton & Swinburne Steampunk series by Mark Hodder out soon from Pyr Books.

Launches in November: 1st up on November 3rd is a Proton rocket deploying three each Glonass satellites out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Next, an interesting launch to watch is the Phobos-Grunt mission out of Baikonur on November 8th, which, if successful, will conduct the first landing and sample return from a Martian moon. Last month marked the Soyuz-Progress return to flight after the loss of an unmanned Progress shortly after launch earlier this year, and on the 14th, a manned Soyuz also out of Baikonur will depart for the ISS. But the big ticket launch will be the Atlas 5 with the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity on the 25th; we’ll be bringing you all of the blow-by-blow action as we attend the launch NASATweetup! To Be Determined launches include a Soyuz with Glonass M on the 22nd out of Plesetsk and a Proton with SES-4 on the 25th out of Baikonur. Follow @Astroguyz on Twitter for all of the launch action updates!

Astro-Atta-Boy: This month’s “good on you” science fiction award goes to the new sci-fi series of Terra Nova, which finished off the pilot episode with a large Moon hanging over a Jurassic age encampment. Absolutely right, guys; the Moon is receding away from us at a rate of about 38 millimeters a year, not much, but a measureable amount that adds up over millions of years. The dinosaurs would indeed have seen a noticeably larger Moon if they bothered to look up, a very teachable moment!

Astro Bloopers: One minor goof, however, was apparent in Terra Nova…the presence of pre-historic flowers. Flowering angiosperms emerged during the middle to late Cretaceous about 120 million years ago… perhaps one could say that the human time travelers brought them back in time with them (a bad idea in of itself as they would be totally alien to the Jurassic biosphere) but otherwise, the writers missed another teachable moment. A Jurassic FTD would have to settle for non-flowering wreathes!

Astro Quote of the Month: “I can’t stand being crushed in the center of a seething mass of astronomers. It’s like getting caught in a yak stampede in the New York subway.”

-Robert Burnham Jr., Author of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.


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