Archive for 2014

Daily cosmobite: stars in the north

Published by Nick Lomb on July 30, 2014 No Comments

30_Virgo and Corvus_StellariumLooking north in the early evening we see Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo the Maiden, very high in the sky directly in front of us. Don’t confuse Spica with the planets Mars and Saturn, which are to its right or east. Below and a little to the right or east of Spica we find the reddish star Arcturus.

The constellation of Virgo with the adjacent constellation of Corvus. Courtesy Stellarium

Apollo 8 capsule_Nick Lomb

The historic Apollo 8 capsule that circled the Moon in December 1968 is on display in the Henry Crown Space Centre. Photo Nick Lomb

In early July during a short trip to the United States I took the opportunity to pay a brief visit the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the country’s largest museum. It was impossible to take in the whole of the vast museum, but I selected a number of exhibitions to visit, including the display of the Apollo 8 capsule that circled the Moon and became the first manned craft to leave the vicinity of the Earth.

Museum Science & Industry Chicago_Nick Lomb

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Photo Nick Lomb

One impressive exhibition I saw was a fully automated toy factory, ToyMaker 3000. For a payment of $5 you can watch a toy being assembled by robots specifically for you and at the end the toy is even packaged automatically. You can collect the finished product by presenting your receipt for scanning. Another exhibition was a large model railway, The Great Train Story, showing how goods are transported to Chicago from a shipping terminal at Seattle. In the model 20 trains run continually on over 400 metres of track against a backdrop of scale models of the buildings of Chicago and Seattle.

Rotunda Museum Science &  Industry Chicago_Nick Lomb

The Rotunda at the museum gives a choice of many fascinating exhibits to visit. Picture Nick Lomb

Of course, I soon made my way to the Henry Crown Space Centre. There I controlled a model of a Mars rover though I did not have the time or the patience to fully back it out of the corner in which it had been left. As well, I was not fully successful in getting a space shuttle to dock with the International Space Station using an interactive computer simulation. There was too much else to see including a training mock-up of the Apollo 11 lunar lander that was used to give shows every few minutes illustrating the excitement of the first Moon landing.

Apollo 8 first day cover_Powerhouse Museum

A philatelic envelope commemorating the launch of Apollo 8. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum

What caught my eye though is the Apollo 8 capsule in which Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders were the first people leave the vicinity of the Earth and circle the Moon in late December 1968. This was an important milestone towards the first landing on the Moon that took place just seven months later. Although 1968 was a turbulent year with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Tet offensive in Vietnam and much else Time magazine named the three Apollo 8 astronauts as Men of the Year.


The Apollo 8 image of Earthrise from the Moon. Courtesy NASA

The greatest legacy of the Apollo 8 mission is one photograph that they took as they came around the Moon in the capsule and saw a gibbous blue Earth rising above the lifeless surface below. That one image changed the perspective with which people saw our home planet. Previously, it was seen and ignored as a large, solid, stable and permanent surface that fully encompassed all human activities, past, present and future. Now people could see it is a delicate fragile object moving on its own in a much greater Universe. This fragile object needed protection and so this, now iconic and ubiquitous, picture is credited with beginning the environmental movement.

Inscription to Earthrise from the Moon photo on display at Chicago Museum Science and Industry

The inscription to the Earthrise from the Moon photo on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Photo Nick Lomb

Seeing the Apollo 8 capsule and being reminded of its great significance was a fitting conclusion to visiting the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Daily cosmobite: a giant galaxy

Published by Nick Lomb on 2 Comments

29_M87_HubbleM87, which is number 87 on a list of fuzzy objects discovered by the French astronomer Charles Messier, is one of the most interesting galaxies in the sky. Scientists using X-ray and optical observations recently calculated that at its centre there is a supermassive black hole with a mass six billion times that of the Sun.

The Hubble Space Telescope image of the galaxy M87. Courtesy NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

2014-08-4 Occultation of Saturn Night tour

Published by Sydney Observatory on July 28, 2014 Comments Off

Book the 8:15pm night tour on Monday 4th August to also see an occultation of Saturn. At 9:22pm Saturn will disappear behind the Moon and re-emerge at 10:13pm. On this evening the night tour will continue until 10:30pm to allow visitors to see Saturn re-emerge from behind Moon. It will include an outdoor telescope and binoculars if weather permits. All visitors will have a 3D Theatre experience and if the weather is poor a virtual night sky in Sydney Planetarium.

Book now

28_Crescent Moon_Nick LombThis month the first visibility of the crescent Moon after the astronomical instant of new Moon is of particular significance in the Islamic calendar. The Moon was new on Sunday at 8:42 am. After sunset this evening the Moon will have moved sufficiently away from the glare of the Sun to be briefly visible as a thin crescent in the western sky.

The crescent Moon. Photo Nick Lomb

Daily cosmobite: lunar flight anniversary

Published by Nick Lomb on July 26, 2014 No Comments

26_The Apollo 15 lunar rover on the Moon_NASAApollo 15 was launched towards the Moon on this date in 1971. Two astronauts, David Scott and James Irwin landed four days later next to the spectacular scenery of the Apennine Mountains. In a lunar first they travelled about 28 km in a Lunar Roving Vehicle.

The Apollo 15 lunar rover on the Moon. Courtesy NASA

Daily cosmobite: stars in the south

Published by Nick Lomb on July 25, 2014 No Comments

25_Scorpius_Nick LombFacing south in the early evening we see the reddish star Antares among the stars of Scorpius to our left or east. In front of us the Southern Cross with its bright stars stands vertically high in the sky while the two pointers are to its left and almost horizontal.

Antares and the stars of the constellation of Scorpius the Archer. Photo Nick Lomb

To help you learn about the southern night sky, Sydney Observatory provides an audio guide/podcast, transcript of that audio, and a sky map or chart each month. This month’s guide is presented by Melissa Hulbert, Sydney Observatory Astronomy Educator.

Mel suggests stars and constellations to look out for this month include Scorpius, with the red star at its heart, Antares; Sagittarius (which looks more like a teapot than a centaur); Crux – more commonly known as the Southern Cross; and Ophiuchus, the 13th sign of the zodiac! Mel also tells us the best times and dates to try to see the planets Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury.

For more, listen to the August 2014 night sky guide audio, or read the transcript below.

You can subscribe with iTunes or upload the (18 mins 40 secs) audio to your iPod or mp3 player, or listen to it on your computer.

We provide an embedded sky map (below) and an August 2014 night sky chart (PDF) which shows the stars, constellations and planets visible in the night sky from anywhere in Australia. To view PDF star charts you will need to download and install Adobe Acrobat Reader if it’s not on your computer already.

August 2014 night sky chart

Our annual book, ‘The 2014 Australasian sky guide’, by Dr Nick Lomb has more information and star maps for months from December 2013 until December 2014 inclusive (next year’s, likely to be available from November, will have months from December 2014 to December 2015), plus information about the Sun, twilight, the Moon and tides, and a host of other fascinating astronomical information. You can purchase it ($16.95) at Sydney Observatory and Powerhouse Museum shops or other good bookshops, or online through Powerhouse Publishing (additional packing/postage costs apply).

READ THE TRANSCRIPT (after the jump)


Daily cosmobite: Venus and the Moon

Published by Nick Lomb on July 24, 2014 No Comments

24_Venus Mercury and the Moon_Nick LombEarly risers can see Venus each morning before dawn low in the north-east. Those who are not early birds will need to wait until November when Venus will switch to the evening sky. Tomorrow morning a thin crescent Moon is near Venus; it is above and to the right or east of the planet.

Venus, Mercury and the Moon on the morning of 25 July 2014. Chart Nick Lomb

Adler Planetarium entrance_Nick Lomb

The entrance of the Adler Planetarium. Note the large poster advertising the planetarium’s premier sky show, Destination Solar System, on the left, while on the right a poster advertises the popular exhibition for young children, Planet Explorers. Photo Nick Lomb

At the beginning of July 2014 I visited one of my favourite places in the world, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Like the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles that I had visited two days earlier, it is spectacularly located though not on hills but on a small peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan with a wonderful view of the Chicago skyline.

Again like Griffith Observatory, it has been extended relatively recently. Instead of digging underneath the original heritage building the Adler Planetarium was extended with a glass Sky Pavilion that opened in 1999 and provided extra space with great views for exhibitions and a cafeteria.

Panorama Adler Planetarium and Chicago skyline_Nick Lomb

A panorama of the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago skyline visible from there. Click on the image for a larger view (same with the other images in this post). Photo Nick Lomb

There have been more recent developments as well. Soon after my last visit in 2011 the new Grainger Sky Theatre opened; this 300-seat sky theatre is believed to be the most sophisticated in the world. Its 20 projectors are controlled by two supercomputers, 46 servers and 42 Nvidia Quadro GPUs (graphic processor units) and provide a screen image of 8000 by 8000 pixels or 64 megapixels. This image, which is refreshed 30 times a second, is sharper than the resolution of the human eye.

To experience the Grainger Sky Theatre I booked our little group into seeing the Adler’s premier show, Destination Solar System. It was not cheap, as to see it is necessary to purchase Anytime All Access passes at $34.95 adults and $29.95 for children. Still it is worth the cost for the 30-minute show plus the pass allows viewing all other shows at the planetarium together with all the exhibits.

Adler Planetarium from Willis Tower_Nick Lomb

The Adler Planetarium can be seen (circled) in this view from the Chicago Skydeck, on the 103rd floor of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, which is the second tallest building in the United States. Photo Nick Lomb

To my pleasant surprise the show was very much designed with young children in mind and perfectly suited the three 8 to 11 year olds in our group. The fun began in the entrance foyer as we waited to be allowed into theatre. We were told that it is the year 2096 and we were about to undertake a tour of the highlights of our solar system. Inside, after the theatre filled the show began with the blast off into space. There was a live guide Jesse who wandered among the audience telling us about what we were seeing, all the while bantering with both members of the audience and the spaceship’s computer Max.

The images were truly impressive with sights ranging from the surface of the Moon to activity on the Sun’s visible surface together with visits to Titan, Mars and the asteroid belt. Certainly all the highlights in the solar system were visited. At one stage there was a serious problem with our spaceship and Jesse heroically had to make an emergency repair (I do not want to give too much away). No surprise that the three children in our group loved the show.

I wondered about Jesse as he seemed far too good an actor to be a usual planetarium presenter. A little subsequent research told me that there are six Jesses, or possibly three Jesses and three Jessies as three are male and three female. They are all actors with experience in improvisation and were given some astronomical training by the Adler staff.

We did see another of a number of shows on offer at the Adler Planetarium, but Destination Solar System is highly recommended, especially for those with children in tow. Presented in a state-of-the-art sky theatre, the show is fun and in a refreshingly new style.



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