Grrr, NASA

CNN reports that NASA is cutting back the Mars Rovers’ team budget, which will likely result in Spirit sitting catatonic until funding comes back (yeah, right):

NASA officials have directed the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program to cut $4 million dollars from its approximately $20 million dollar budget this year, and principal investigator Steve Squyres tells CNN that will likely mean science operations will have to be suspended for Spirit. The rover would be put in hibernation mode, and if all goes well it could be reactivated in the future in the event funding is restored.

Hey, congress, are you listening?  I’d like to donate my income taxes for the year to the Mars Rover folks.  Please?

[Update: Yay, looks like funding for the rovers will not be cut after all.  Hey, Congress, can I have my income taxes back now please?]

Xobni

I have a few invites to the Xobni beta.  Let me know if you’re interested by commenting (put your email address in the e-mail address box) and I’ll send over as many invites as I can cover.

I installed it yesterday, and it’s actually a really cool way to see stats on your email for people who like that sort of thing.  Here’s a few samples:

image Communications with my boss: I can clearly see that they typically happen during the day and not in the middle of the night.  That’s a good thing. 🙂

image Here’s a graph (click to make bigger) of the e-mail traffic per day: as you can see, I don’t send or receive much e-mail on the weekends.  That’s a good thing. 🙂

There’s a lot more super-cool views, but I can’t really sanitize them sufficiently to display here.  One of the cool features is the “Stay in Touch” view – it shows people that you haven’t emailed in quite some time, and it’s reminding me that there are a bunch of people I need to chat with again soon that I haven’t in a long time.  Neat stuff.

The Girl Scouts are killing us

img007 Wow, look at those nutrition facts for thin mints… and this is for a serving size of only 4 cookies!  23% of your daily saturated fat needs makes this almost as disappointing as the day I looked up the nutritional info for my favorite Starbucks beverage. (for the record, a grande white chocolate mocha with whip is 470 calories, with 12 grams of saturated fat: that’s 61% of your daily intake; I’ve since switched to grande white chocolate soy mochas, no whip.  Yep, I live in Seattle.)

This weekend’s observations

It’s gonna get a little monotonous here, but I figure since I’ve posted all my other telescoping hijinx, I might as well keep up with that. 

Saturday, we drove up to Anacortes to visit Anacortes Telescope & Wild Bird.  I chatted with the owner of the store for a bit on what my equipment is, and asked him for recommendations for what I should do next.  His first suggestion was to upgrade to 2" eyepieces, but that would cost me a pretty penny right now.  I decided to wait on that, and followed his suggestion on a Tele Vue 32mm Plossl eyepiece, as well as some miscellaneous other parts to improve my scoping.

Since I bought a new eyepiece, I figured Saturday night would bring clouds.  However, I stepped outside at about 8pm, and lo and behold, the stars were out.  I quickly hauled all the telescope gear upstairs and set up on the deck.  I aligned my finder, threw on the new eyepiece, and … Wow, the eyepiece is truly amazing when compared to the Meade Series 4000 eyepieces I’ve been using.  I’m really about ready to put the 26mm, 15mm, and 9.7mm Plossls I have now on eBay to fund getting to 2" eyepieces.  The problem is that these Meade eyepieces are going for about $25 each on eBay, which doesn’t get me near my goal.  Why do I always end up with the expensive hobbies?

I spent a few hours with a friend on the porch staring at Saturn (Titan, Rhea, and Iapetus visible as well), Mars, M42, M45, and M35.  Most of these I’ve looked at before, but I wanted to get a good comparison to previous eyepieces.  M35, however, was new to my eyes.  An amazing starfield, and conveniently easy to find when I looked at it – about 4° away from Mars.

Saturn

The weather report says it’s about 37°F outside, and it’s nice and clear.  I decided to subject myself to the cold and go gazing upwards.

I decided to do a bit of experimenting this time around with AstroPlanner, a piece of software that was demo’d at a recent Seattle Astronomical Society meeting.  Turning on AstroPlanner let me know that Saturn was visible, as I expected, and seeing as it’s already fairly late I decided to focus on that.  Oddly, I’d never taken the opportunity to point the telescope at Saturn.

Since the big telescope is still packed away from our recent roadtrip to the Washington coast (that I still need to blog about), I dragged out the little guy: a Meade ETX-90, a 3.5" f/13.8 Maksutov-Cassegrain.  I haven’t used the little guy very much (cause the LX-50 is superior), and I had to haul out the external DC power cord for it (note to self: re-solder the battery wire in the base of the telescope to fix that).

I pointed it at Saturn, and was presented with a clear view of the planet, her rings, and Saturn’s two largest moons Rhea and Titan just barely visible.  Rhea is showing up at magnitude 9.99, and I couldn’t make it Dione at magnitude 10.51, so that gives me a pretty good idea of what I can see with the ETX-90 from my deck and the suburban lighting.

According to Stellarium, this is what I should see, and I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty much spot-on:

image

If the weather holds out tomorrow night, I think I’m going to haul the big telescope upstairs.