Archive for February 2006

Observation Log 2/28/06: I can’t believe it, I just watched a SuitSat flyover!

February 28, 2006

Path of SuitSat

I wrote earlier today about my meticulously geeky plans to try and bag SuitSat. I just got back indoors from the attempt, and I don’t believe it, but I did it!

The short story is that the talking laptop was the real key. That, and having practiced the flyover several times using the talking AppleScript and Starry Night with all the labels and lines turned off. Oh, and a bit of damn good luck at just the right time. I used my laptop, my Oberwerk 11×70 binoculars on a cheap tripod, and my Canon 10×30 Image Stabilizing binoculars for quick spotting.

Once I got outside, I couldn’t see my first and last guide stars, and Cepheus was lost in the city-glow to the north. I had only left 15 minutes to set up, get my eyes dark adapted, and practice acquiring the target stars. It wasn’t enough. I picked a spot with the widest view I could find, which barely included Alpheratz and Pherkad. Algenib at the extreme left, and AIkaid, to my extreme right, were both behind the trees. I got the laptop set up and got down to finding the target stars I could see. I had intended to use the Great Square to find Alpheratz, but the other three stars were behind the trees. Then the laptop told me SuitSat was coming above the horizon, and I had 85 seconds before it passed Algenib. I used the time to try and find Iota Cephei and Alfirk. I was close, but not positive. The laptop said 10 seconds to Algenib. I swung the Oberwerks over to my best candidate for Algenib and waited to hear the marks for entering and exiting the FOV. Nothing. Then the laptop said I had 25 seconds to frame Alpheratz. I realized then that’s what I had been looking at all along. I stayed on that star, cheated the FOV down and to the right for a better view, and waited. A moment after the laptop said I should see SuitSat, there it was. It was much dimmer than I expected, perhaps a bit brighter than 6th magnitude at this point, but I immediately noticed that it came in and out of view every five seconds, which matches the suit’s spin rate quoted on A. J. Farmer’s blog, which also reported the photographic SuitSat observation from Singapore. SuitSat was also traveling faster than I’d thought, and I kept lifting the legs on the cheap tripod as I tried to keep up. I held SuitSat in my Field Of View for about 15 seconds, and lost it somewhere near Iota Andromedae. The laptop said I had 27 seconds to frame Iota Cephei at the top of my FOV. I had to guess again. Thankfully, I had to foresight to add a few informational spoken messages, and at 6:44:00, the laptop said, “SuitSat is directly below Cassiopeia at 30 degrees altitude.” That was an easy one, and within 15 seconds I’d reacquired SuitSat, and I held it until it ducked behind the trees, just past Pherkad.

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I want to see SuitSat. Bad enough to geek out.

February 28, 2006

Path of SuitSat OK, today I did a pretty geeky, pretty cool thing. I learned that tonight is the best chance to see SuitSat for at least a week, so I spent a few hours with my Starry Night Pro software. I plotted its track overhead, with times and a Field Of View indicator overlaid on the track, in an attempt to maximize my chances. As I wrote yesterday, some people believe it is visible, but only with binoculars. But, with such a narrow Field Of View (see the red FOV circle for my Oberwerk 11×70 binoculars), it’s important to know when to look where. That’s where the geeky part comes in.

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TiVo CEO: We’re thinking of giving TiVo boxes away.

February 28, 2006

TiVo logo I’ve written about how TiVo has changed my life. I currently use two, both connected to my DirecTV satellite dish, to watch standard (non-High Definition) TV. I’ve been patiently waiting for new TiVo products to make the leap to HDTV. To make matters more tempting, the CEO of TiVo has just announced they are considering offering their upcoming boxes in a variety of prices: nothing up-front, all up-front, and other options in-between.

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Download the largest picture of any galaxy ever. If you can!

February 28, 2006

The Pinwheel Galaxy (not actual size) This is a tiny version of a 16,000 by 12,000 pixel Hubble image of M101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy, a “grand design” galaxy with full, intricately detailed spiral arms. Read more about it here, or go right to the download page here. Be forewarned: the full-size graphic is about 455 megabytes! Other variations of the picture are also available, such as close-ups of other galaxies clearly visible in the background. If you have a large monitor (maybe a 30″ LCD screen?) this is just the thing.

All it needs is a small label on the bottom, “Objects may be larger than they appear.”

Observation Log 2/27/06: 19°F, spotted Mercury, but didn’t catch SuitSat (visually)

February 27, 2006

Mercury is just past its greatest eastern elongation (eastern means visible at night, western elongation is visible before sunrise), so I spent the afternoon driving around, looking for an observation spot with a clear view to 255° azimuth (where the sun sets today). I found a beauty, right next to a police station. I came back at the appointed time, bagged Mercury, but missed SuitSat, which was supposed to pass almost directly overhead.

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Scientists get results from a Quantum Computer by NOT running the program. Really.

February 24, 2006

Think Outside The BoxIt sounds impossible, but it’s true. This article at NewScientist.com tells the story, and has one of the best lines I’ve read in a while, “A non-running computer produces fewer errors.” Seriously, though, quantum physics, string theory, and the like are giving us abstract thinkers almost too much conflicting information to contemplate. I’m sure someone has said, “The more we know, the less we know,” I just don’t know whom. QED.

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Tonight is the best night to spot Mercury after sunset

February 24, 2006

According to a story in Astronomy Magazine, Mercury will be 18° above the horizon at sunset tonight, dropping rapidly over the next week. Here in New Hampshire, USA, it’ll also be 16° South of true West, visible starting at 5:00PM EST, and setting around 7:00PM. Everyone should try and see all the other planets in the solar system during our stay here on Earth.

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