Cold weather and more viewing

I looked at the Clear Sky Chart for my local viewing area a few days back, and I noticed a wonderful combination of things: Friday night was scheduled to be clear and the moon wasn’t going to rise until 2am.  Friday night being a weekend meant I didn’t have to get up early the next day.  I quickly sent out a few e-mails to the local astronomy group to see if anyone else was planning on showing up at Rattlesnake Lake.  Sure enough, a bunch of people said they’d be there:  I needed no more reasons.

Boaz tagged along, and we headed out there at about 8pm, just around the time of sunset.  Starbucks coffees in hand, and covered in several layers of wool, we waited.  Other people started showing up around 8:30pm as it was getting dark, and by 9:30pm we probably had a half-dozen telescopes setup.  Around 11pm, most people left, but a guy named Jim, Boaz, and I stayed out until 2am.  It was well worth it!

Last night’s bounty included:

And that’s just the stuff that I saw through my telescope.

Items I found new appreciation for last night:

  • Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas.  My observing still is maturing: I started off looking at only things I know (i.e., Orion nebula, Pleiades); I moved up to understanding celestial coordinates and using R.A. and declination to locate items; and now I’m star hopping with the Sky Atlas.  I found that a few times, I would like at something (using R.A. and dec) and then move on to the next object on my list — only to find that there were other objects just barely out of the viewfinder.  Using the Sky Atlas last night was great — we got every Messier object in the Virgo Cluster by starting with Vindemiatrix (? Vir) and ? Vir and then jumped from galaxy to galaxy.
  • Green laser pointers.  I’ve got to get me one of these; two people out there last night had them, and they make it amazingly easy to point out things.
  • Hand/Toe warmers.  Those little chemical packets you stick under your socks and in your gloves.  They’re very handy at 1am when it’s literally freezing outside.
  • Double stars.  You might think looking at two stars very close to one another is boring, but it’s pretty cool when the two stars are of vastly different color spectrum, like Albireo.
  • We’re tiny, and life is short.  All the stars you see in the sky that are so far away?  They’re all in our galaxy.  I saw other galaxies that are over 60 million light-years away.  The light from those has been traveling for 60 million years before it reached my eyes.  That’s astounding.

Random Gifts from Texas

A few weeks back, I had a cryptic e-mail message from my friend Karl:

From: [redacted]
Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2008 23:00:16 +0000
To: marius@marius.org
Subject: April 27

I sent y’all an unbirthday present. I think I got the date right, though
I’m not too good at math and it is a leap year …  🙂

Apparently April 27th is the half-way point between my birthday and Diann’s birthday in a leap-year.  Yesterday, I got home and there was a … large … box on my doorstep:

Shipping Label

Yes, that says 29 pounds.  I hoisted it upstairs (the return address was actually obscured by a UPS shipping sticker, so that increased the intrigue) and opened it up:

Inside the Box

Yep, a 24-pack of Dr. Pepper from the Dublin, Texas factory (no, you’re not crazy: Diann had already pulled four of them out of the box before I was able to snap a picture).  What’s special about this?  Well, you see, the Dublin Dr. Pepper factory is the one of four in the world that makes their Dr. Pepper the old-fashioned way: with pure cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.  You can definitely taste the difference, and having this only a 1-hour drive away is one of the few things I miss about Texas.  Mmmm, Dublin Dr. Pepper.

Karl: well played, sir.  Well played.  Hope you don’t mind that we’ve already opened it up before our unbirthday!

Crazy weather, and the answer to what was for dinner

Let me start by saying I can’t believe it’s snowing.  In Seattle.  In April.  It was 80° and sunny last Saturday.  I guess that was summer, and we’ve already moved into next winter. Grr.

A few days ago I posted a picture of what we had just cooked for dinner, and a few of you have asked (via comments and e-mail) what we cooked.  I’m here to answer your question:  Sake Steamed Salmon with Shiitake-Leek Noodles.  Good stuff: lots of sake, lemon grass, leeks, star anise, and many other things.  It’s from the April 2008 edition of Cuisine at Home magazine, and they’ve unfortunately not made this recipe available with their on-line listing of recipes.

But, those of you that are interested know how to get in touch with me. :)  Heather, I don’t imagine you can find local salmon at your farmer’s market, though.

Am I nuts?

I guess the answer to that is, “it depends”.  And, it depends a lot on who you ask.

If you ask my new office-mate, the answer is likely yes.  You see, a new person joined our group at work about 3 weeks ago, and due to an office space crunch, I’m sharing an office with him. Today, as he was wearing his headphone, I decided to crank up some music and get some work done.

I plugged in my headphone and proceeded to crank up the music.  About 20 minutes later, he tapped me on my shoulder to ask me a question.  As I pulled the headphones out of my ears, I noticed the music was still going … loud. 

Yep, when you plug headphones into a Lenovo T61p laptop, it doesn’t kill the audio going to the external speakers from the docking station.  So, for the last 20 minutes, I’ve been listening to headphones, and apparently everyone within about 20 feet of my office has been listening to my speakers.  Epic fail.

Telescoping: April 11

We’re having an odd break in the weather here in the Seattle area, and last night the clouds cleared.  (Not to mention it’s beautiful and sunny today, and supposed to hit the low 70’s!)  Diann & I went out to Rattlesnake Lake, where the temps were hovering in the mid-40’s.  The moon was up in it’s last quarter, so that definitely put a damper on finding some of the fainter objects, but there were still galaxies to be found.  Further complicating things was the gusty wind and the turbulent atmosphere – it’s difficult focusing in on tiny points of light when your telescope is jumping around because of the wind.

Last night’s viewing included Saturn (with Titan, Tethys, and Rhea just barely visible), Mars, M109, M108, M106, M105, and M51 (as well as NGC5195) again.  Mars was a particularly interesting view – it was about a degree away from the moon, so looking at it looked as though you were looking at an orange ball in a white mist.  We also took a peek at the moon once we were ready to kill our night vision, and I started putting some of my planetary filters to use.  I used the Meade #38A Dark Blue filter to look at the moon – which is great, because it cuts out about 80% of the light that comes through it.  If you’ve never seen the moon through a telescope, you’d be shocked at how bright it really is.

We also were able to catch an Iridium Flare – our first view of that.  Overall, I’d call that anti-climactic, but I guess it was worth taking the eyes off the telescope for a few minutes to catch.  It really is amazing how much space junk is up there: I saw satellites and/or debris shoot through my field of view several times while looking through the scope at galaxies and the moon.

After about an hour and a half of fighting the wind, we decided to pack it up and go home.