Archive for the ‘Saturn’ Category


Observing report: All-nighter on Mount Baldy

July 15, 2012

Whew! Last night rocked. Terry Nakazono was out from LA, and we had been planning for about two weeks to spend the night observing up on Mount Baldy. We had made a shorter, half-night run up the mountain back in June, Terry to chase faint galaxies with his SkyScanner and me to log a few Herschel 400 objects with the XT10. Last night was basically the same plan, but on steroids–the moon was rising later, and neither of us had anywhere to be today. My wife and son were both out of town, she on work and he on a sleepover, so I was released on my own recognizance.

We got up there about 8:45 and met fellow PVAA member Craig Matthews setting up his 8″ Dob. Former PVAA president Ron Hoekwater joined us a little later on.

Terry was rolling with his SkyScanner again, and aiming for galaxies in Ursa Major and Bootes. I decided to leave the XT10 at home and take the Apex 127 Mak instead. I’ve had that scope for about a year, but before last night I had not really tried it out under dark skies. It did go to the Salton Sea in February, but we were mostly clouded out that night. Five inches is a lot of aperture under dark skies, and I was anxious to see what the Mak could do. Mount Baldy is not stupid-dark like Afton Canyon or western Arizona, but it’s not bad at all. The Milky Way was prominent and showed a fair amount of detail, especially after midnight when a strong marine layer at lower altitudes effectively halved the light pollution to the south (Inland Empire) and southwest (Los Angeles). On light pollution maps Baldy shows as being in the Orange zone, Bortle Class 5, but between the altitude and the marine layer it is sometimes effectively Green (Bortle 4). Last night was such a night.

I also took along the Celestron Travel Scope 70, which I had otherwise only used for quick peeks from my driveway. I’ve been meaning to blog about that scope. Right now you can get the scope, finder, two eyepieces, a tripod, and a backpack carrying case from Amazon for about $70 shipped. The finder is a travesty–an all-plastic “5×20″ unit that is in fact stopped down to 10mm right behind the objective. I stripped the so-called optics out of mine and use it as a naked-eye sight tube, in which role it performs admirably, and a heck of a lot better than it ever did as a magnifying finder. The tripod is a joke, the sort of thing that gives other flimsy tripods a bad name. It struggles to hold a point-and-shoot digital camera steady, let alone a telescope, so I donated it to a museum. But the eyepieces are serviceable, the carry bag is fine, and the telescope itself is okay–more on this in the next post–so for $70 it is a screaming deal. As with the Apex 127, I was anxious to see what it could do under dark skies.

It was not yet fully dark when we arrived so I spent some time jawing with Craig. It was cloudless and clear where we were, but we could tell it was raining in the Mojave Desert, because the northeastern sky flickered with distant lightning. And we knew it was far off because we never heard even a hint of thunder. The lightning was not reflecting off clouds but off of the sky itself. It was as if the sky was on the fritz, like a bad florescent bulb. It was a profoundly weird and unearthly effect.

I started my observing run by putting the Apex 127 on Saturn. In addition to observing with “new” scopes, I was also rolling with genuinely new eyepieces. Explore Scientific has been having a CUH-RAY-ZEE sale on their well-reviewed 68, 82, and 100-degree eyepieces, so I sold some unused gear and bought a few: the 24mm ES68, which delivers the widest possible true field in a 1.25″ eyepiece, and the 14mm and 8.8mm ES82s. The Apex 127 is my longest focal length scope at 1540mm, so those eyepieces yielded 64x (24mm), 110x (14mm), and 175x (8.8mm). I also have a 6mm Orion Expanse that gives 257x–that is my default high-mag eyepiece in any scope. The ES eyepieces had just arrived in the mail last week so last night was my first time to try  them out.

Anyway, the seeing was limiting, with the view shaky at 175x and downright ugly at 257x, but Saturn was crisp and jewel-like at 110x and I could see four moons even at 64x. I haven’t checked the charts to see for sure which ones they were, but Titan certainly, and Dione, Rhea, and Tethys probably. I have seen up to five moons of Saturn at once before, but that requires steadier skies than we had last night.

After Saturn I hit a few favorite Messiers, including the globs M13, M5, and M4, all of which were impressively resolved for a 5″ scope. My favorite view of the evening through the Apex 127 was of the galaxies M81/M82 in the same field at 64x, with tantalizing hints of detail visible in both.

Then I got to work, finding and logging Herschel 400 objects. I was chasing mostly open clusters in Cygnus and Cassiopeia. I logged NGCs 6866, 7062, 7086, 7128, 7008 (a planetary nebula) and 7790. I also tried for open clusters NGC 7044 in Cygnus and 136 in Cassiopeia, but could not locate anything I felt comfortable calling a definitive open cluster at the charted locations amid the rich Milky Way starfields. This was also an issue with several of the Cygnus clusters I did log—at high magnification they tended to disappear into the surrounding star chains and asterisms.

Getting skunked is no fun, and by that time I’d been working on H400s for about two hours. For a change of pace, I switched over to the Travel Scope 70 and started plinking at Messiers. With a 32mm Plossl eyepiece I got 12.5x magnification and a stunning 4-degree true field–more like a finder on steroids than a telescope. I started with the Double Cluster as soon as I saw it was over the horizon, then hit M31, but didn’t immediately see its satellite galaxies. Then it was on to the “steam” rising from the teapot of Sagittarius: M8, M20, M22, M24, M25, M23, M18, M17, M16—these last three all nicely framed in the same field—M26, and M11 up in Scutum. Then back to the “bottom” of Scorpio and Sagittarius to catch M6 (M7 had already set behind a hill to the south—bummer), M69, M70, and M54, then all across the sky for M51, M101, M102, M13, M92, M15, back to Andromeda for a nice view of M31, M32, and M110 all prominent in the same field, M52, M103, M33, M76, and M34. I’d seen all these things before, but for most of them this was the lowest magnification I had seen them at, given that my binocular observations of them had mostly been with 15x70s. One of my favorite views of the night was M103 in Cassiopeia with NGCs 654, 663, and 659 in an arc below in the same field.

A little after 3:00 AM it was time for another goal: tracking down the outer giants. I had looked up the finder charts for Uranus and Neptune on Sky & Telescope’s website and logged their positions in my atlas. I found Neptune first, in Aquarius, using the Apex 127. Neptune was a very blue spark, and required 257x to appear non-stellar. Uranus, farther east in Pisces, was obviously non-stellar even at 64x. I also ran up to 257x on it, but the most pleasing view was at 175x. I had seen both planets before, but never as well, nor spent as much time on them as I did last night. Very strange to see giant Neptune as a tiny point of light in the mind-boggling darkness and immensity of space.

After observing planets I went back to the TS70 to continue the Messier survey. Logged M57, M56, M27, M45—absolutely stunning in the center of the field at low power—M72, M73, M2, M30, M75, M71—and old adversary from my early days with the XT6, but dead easy at low mag under dark skies—and M77. I tried for the faint face-on spiral galaxy M74 and suspected something there but couldn’t be sure. For a few these objects, including M72 and M77, I had to go up in magnification to pull them out of the skyglow or make sure they were not stars, using the 25mm (16x) and 17mm (23.5x) Plossls. I tried the 24mm ES68 but it was too heavy for the long cantilever from the mid-tube dovetail to the extended focuser tube of the TS70.

The last big show of the night was an upside-down kite shape rising in the east, with Jupiter at the top, Venus at the bottom, the thin crescent moon on the left, and Aldebaran on the right. I looked at the planets with the Apex 127 at 64x—the near-horizon seeing was bad but Venus’s crescent shape was well-defined, and Jupiter showed a couple of cloud bands and of course the four Galilean moons. Update: Pictures of this conjunction are posted here.

And that was it. The sky was rapidly getting brighter in the east, so we didn’t need artificial light to pack up. We pulled out at 5:25, went to Norm’s diner for breakfast, and I dropped Terry off at his hotel and went home for some badly-needed rack.

My final tally for the night was 8 new H400s, including NGCs 654 and 659; 44 Messiers, 42 of which I saw in the TS70; and 5 planets, including all four gas giants and Venus. Favorite observations were the flashing sky from over-the-horizon lightning, M81 and M82 in the same field in the Apex 127, M31 and both satellite galaxies in TS70, my best-yet views of Neptune and Uranus, and the dawn conjunction of planets, moon, and stars. Between dusk and dawn I observed five of the seven planets visible in a 5-inch scope, missing only Mars and Mercury (both were achievable, it turns out, I just didn’t try for them). It was a heck of a good night.

How did all the equipment perform? Stay tuned for the next post!


Observing Report: Salton Sea

March 19, 2011

Last Saturday, March 12, London and I went camping at the Salton Sea. It was the first time we’d been camping since the All-Arizona Star Party back in November,  and my first serious observing since then, too.

The forecast was for partly cloudy conditions, and I didn’t want to lug out a big scope if the weather was iffy. Part of this was laziness, and part practicality: we were car camping, and with the back seats folded down and the two of us stretched out to sleep, there would be no place in the vehicle to put a big scope if there was any precipitation. I took Shorty Long and Stubby Fats, my SkyWatcher 80mm refractor and 130mm reflector, and a tripod that fits either one. I set up Shorty right after we arrived and spent some time watching shorebirds, including the egret shown above, which I shot through the scope at a distance of 200 yards or so.

As I am wont to do, I visited the nearby campsites and told people they were welcome to come over and have a look. I got a few takers. There was a big family get-together a few spots down, and about 20 people spanning three generations came over for a look at the moon, and at Saturn later on.

I also  hailed a couple that I saw strolling through the campground right after dark. Their names were Al and Mavis and we ended chatting for a good long time. I even toasted them some marshmallows. I learned that they work as volunteers in the Salton Sea State Park visitor center, and they invited us to stop in the next morning.

We had visitors on and off until almost 10:00, when I pulled a couple of camp chairs together, grabbed a blanket, and had London climb up in my lap. We looked up and watched for shooting stars until he feel asleep. We saw one together, and I saw several more after he sacked out. It was bittersweet–London is six years old now, and I think the last time he fell asleep in my lap was about a year ago. I always wonder if each time will be the last. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to see my little boy grow into a boy, full stop, and we have so much fun doing things that were impossible for him even a year ago. But I miss my baby, too.

The sky was not bittersweet, it was just plain sweet. A few clouds hovered around the horizon but none came overhead, and I found and got good looks at everything I tried for. The moon was at first quarter, which makes it bright and pretty but not so bright that one can’t do a little deep sky observing on the side.

I took the above photo through Stubby Fats, the 5″ reflector. With its fairly steep f/5 light cone and central obstruction, Stubby does not deliver the same contrast the unobstructed refractor, but I didn’t get any complaints. In the early evening, with the moon dead overhead, I had to use Stubby because the long tube of the refractor put the eyepiece uncomfortably close to the ground. Later on I switched to Shorty Long for Saturn and some of the brighter clusters and nebulae, and then back to Stubby for my serious deep sky run after the moon set.

Saturn was a real treat. By a little after 8:00 it was high enough in the east to look good, although I could tell that the seeing (atmospheric turbulence) was degrading things a bit. Once it climbed out of the near-horizon roil, it was simply stunning. The rings are nicely open now and the above photo, taken through Shorty, does not do it justice. At the eyepiece, the shadow of the rings was a black line etched across the planet’s disk, like mascara. I could make out some detail in the clouds, too, subtle pastel shadings wrapped horizontally across this fast-spinning world (a day on Saturn is 10.5 hours long, and the planet’s rotation has squashed it into an oblate sphere only 9/10 as tall as wide).

I spent a good long time just plinking around, getting reacquainted with the sky. The Great Nebula in Orion (M42) looked fantastic, as did the Pleiades (M45) and the Beehive Cluster (M44). The Double Cluster in Perseus was visible, but it suffered from the abundant moonlight–this double handful of diamonds looks best against the black velvet of a new-moon night.

Around 1:00 AM I switched over to the 5″ reflector for good, parked the tripod, chair, and charts beside the car where I would be out of the moonlight, and turned my attention to the deep sky in earnest. My first target was M104, the Sombrero Galaxy. It was there, but as expected the moonlight was still hitting it pretty hard. I made a mental note to come back, and went on to other targets. Next up I observed the a pair of colliding galaxies, NGC 4038 and 4039, popularly known as the Antennae. From my notes:

1:30 AM. Antennae–1st quarter moon not quite set, 108x in 130N, dim blobs between two faint field stars, more tantalizing than inspiring, but visible even at 20x with averted vision.

It wasn’t a knock-your-socks off view, but it still pretty unreal to see their light–45 million years in transit–with my own eyes. In his book Seeing in the Dark (p. 64), Timothy Ferris crystalized perfectly my feelings about galaxies:

As often happens, I was struck by the fact that all these things, unimaginably big or small or hot or cold as they may be, really are out there…they confront us with the regality of the materially real.

I will definitely have to revisit these with a bigger scope on a darker night, and see how far I can trace the tails of stars thrown off by their gravitational dance.

By this time the summer constellations were rising, and I hit M13, the Great Glob, in Hercules. It was beautiful, as always, but as usual I hopped next to M5 for a comparison and found M5 just a bit more pleasing to the eye. In comparison, M13 is bigger but more diffuse, and in my opinion less pleasingly structured. It’s a big ole ball of stars, but in a bit of a formless lump, like grits ladled out onto a cafeteria tray. M5 is smaller and more compact, but with a brighter, more concentrated core, and a periphery of stars that appear to be in concentric rings, like shock waves from an explosion. M13 looks inert and M5 looks somehow kinetic (I’m editorializing here, and your preferences may differ–go compare them back to back and let me know what you think).

Then it was time for more galaxies. I picked up the Leo Triplet–M65, M66, and NGC 3028. These three spiral galaxies are close together as seen from Earth and also in fact.  They represent a small gravitationally-bound group much like our own Local Group, which includes the “grand design” spirals of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the Triangulum Galaxy (M33), plus 30 or more dwarf galaxies that hover about like courtiers around medieval royalty. The Leo Triplet must include its own host of dwarf galaxies, but if so they remain unseen by me. However, with a low-power eyepiece I could see all three of the great Leo spirals in one field of view, the combined light of perhaps one and a half trillion suns.

There is another triplet of big, bright galaxies in Leo, the M96 Group, which consists of the twin spirals M95 and M96 and the elliptical galaxy M105, plus a train of lesser NGCs. The Leo Triplet might actually be satellite members of the M96 Group, and both are relatively close by within the Virgo Supercluster, to which our own Local Group also belongs. These galaxies are fellow citizens of the cosmos with our own Milky Way, comparable in size and age and likely history, and by observing them we get a little perspective on our place in the universe–both scientifically and philosophically. The 20x eyepiece swept up the three Messier galaxies of the M96 Group into a single field as well. I frequently had to step away from the telescope, not to rest my eyes but to collect the scattered fragments of my mind, simultaneously humbled by the immensities before me and empowered by the homegrown primate ingenuity that put them, however briefly and imperfectly, within my grasp. I felt blessed.

The Spindle Galaxy, NCG 3115, was, as the name implies, a bright elongated needle of starlight, like a miniature Sombrero. Also living up to its name was NGC 3242, the Ghost of Jupiter. Like the Ring and the Dumbbell, the Ghost of Jupiter is a planetary nebula, a shell of gas blown off by a dying star. In The Urban Astronomer’s Guide, “Uncle” Rod Mollise wrote that contemplating the remains of dying stars gave him the chills. I had previously dismissed that as poetic license, but at 2:30 in the morning, all alone in the cold and dark, I could suddenly relate. I turned south, to warmer climes and cheerier sights.

Directly  to the south the crooked, asymmetric star patterns of the constellation Centaurus reared above the horizon like the rigging of a wrecked ship. Huddling among the wreckage I found Omega Centauri, NGC 5139, the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. OCen is a beast, 86 light years in diameter and containing several million stars (most globs have a few hundred thousand to perhaps one million). My notes say simply, “DAMN that’s a big glob”. When I looked away from the eyepiece–globstruck, as it were–I saw that to my surprise Omega Centauri was easily visible to the naked eye. I had heard of other observers catching it with bare peepers from SoCal, but on my only other viewing from the Salton Sea it had been entangled in some near-horizon murk and invisible to all but the telescope. I had seen it with my naked eyes on the beach in Uruguay last summer, where it loomed directly overhead like a deity, too vast to be encompassed by mortal faculties. It was oddly comforting to see it down near the horizon, where, according my parochial mental calculus, it “belongs”.

I was winding down. I briefly visited the globs M4 and M80 in Scorpio, the Double Double star in Lyra, and the Ring Nebula, more to check in on these old summertime friends than to have my mind blown yet again, although they were all quite beautiful. My penultimate target was the Sombrero Galaxy, which showed its dark dust lane and trademark shape much more clearly now that the moon had set.

I ended on Saturn, the jewel of jewels. It rises just after dark these days, and will be visible in the evening sky for the rest of the spring and much of the summer. Good times are coming.

In the morning London and I made pancakes, took our regular hike along the shoreline, and then drove to the visitor center. In half a dozen trips to the Salton Sea, I had never been. Al and Mavis welcomed us and showed us around, and asked if we were interested in going on the noon kayak tour. The kayaking tours are free, you just have to sign up in advance. We hadn’t, but there were a couple of cancellations, so from noon to 1:30 we kayaked along the shoreline, enjoying the wheeling flocks of birds and the cool sea breezes.

And now I am sitting in the middle of civilization under a deck of clouds that is supposed to hang around all week. I am already itching to get back out.


Mt Wilson: even better the second time around

June 14, 2010

About a dozen of us from the Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers spent Saturday night observing with the 60-inch telescope up on Mount Wilson. A really excellent night on the mountain is a Goldilocks affair–you need enough of a marine layer to cover up the lights of LA, but the fog has to stay low enough not to swamp the observatory itself. The PVAA visited Mount Wilson last summer, but got fogged out. That worked out okay for me, because they rescheduled for the fall and I found out about the trip in time to go along.

Saturday night the marine layer was looking  pretty good when we got there. Unfortunately, it cleared out before midnight, so the sky was too bright for us to do any serious galaxy observing. But we saw quite a few planetary nebulae and globular clusters, which punch through the light pollution better than most galaxies.

We saw a lot of burnt trees on the way in, from last fall’s Station Fire, which at one point threatened the observatory. The trees by the gate had some light charring down near the bottoms of their trunks, but they hadn’t burned very high or very hot, and I suspect that the fire evidence I saw there was caused by backfires set by the firefighters who saved the observatory.

The 60-inch telescope, largest in the world from 1908 to 1917, is as impressive as ever.

Our first target was Saturn. Although the seeing settled down later in the evening, right after dark the sky was pretty turbulent and that cut down on the amount of detail we could see. Also, and to my immense irritation, I couldn’t get my camera to focus with the optical zoom engaged, so I couldn’t  increase the object size on the CCD as much as I would have liked. This photo doesn’t really do the view justice–in fact, it’s not much better than I’ve done with my 10-inch scope from my driveway (proof here).  Remember that this is a sad comment on the state of the just-past-sunset atmosphere and my finicky camera, and not a slight on the telescope, which is capable of much better!

But things did get better as the evening progressed and we saw tons of cool stuff. Several other people were experimenting with their own digital cameras and that inspired me to try some things I haven’t done before, like photographing double stars. Here is Albireo, a summer favorite that is easily split by even small telescopes.

We started with Saturn and ended with Jupiter; the King of the Planets was climbing in the east as the sky started to brighten before dawn. If you haven’t looked at Jupiter in a while, the Red Spot is actually red again, and the normally-brown South Equatorial Belt has faded almost completely. This is a big switch from the past year or two, when the “Red” Spot has mostly been visible as a white notch in the SEB. It was far and away the best look at the GRS that I’d ever gotten.

The highlight of the evening for me was seeing M13, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, and M5, another excellent summer glob, back to back. M13 is probably in most deep sky observers’ top ten, but some people like M5 better, and I’m in that camp. M5 isn’t quite as big or bright, although it comes very close, but it has a much more compact core and the outer stars are arranged in loops and swirls rather than radiating chains. To my eyes, M5 looks like an explosion of stars, in progress. It’s good in my ten-inch scope. It’s phenomenal in the 60-inch.

Last fall we went on a weeknight and I had to leave early, around 3:00 AM or so, to get up to teach the next morning. We also had a considerably larger group, so we didn’t get through as many objects per unit time. Obviously going with a big group is better for the club, but it was nice to have a more intimate group and a shorter line at the eyepiece. I had a heck of a good time, and I plan on going back up every chance I get. If it’s within your means, you should do likewise.

Many thanks to our host and telescope operator for another tremendous evening!

Update: I’m kind of a doofus. If you were wondering why this post is included in the binocular category, it’s because I took my 15×70 bins with me and did some deep-sky observing out of the opening in the dome, while waiting in line for the eyepiece. I bagged four targets for the AL Deep Sky Binocular club, which leaves me with only six more needed to complete that list. But I forgot to mention all of this when I first posted!


The moon and Saturn tonight

April 19, 2010

It was almost freakishly clear and calm here in Claremont this evening. My friend and fellow blogger Andy Farke came over and we spent some time looking up.  First target was the waxing crescent moon. Here in town, the seeing is often so bad that at anything over 100x, the image looks like it is under a rippling sheet of water. But tonight we were able to push on to 240x with no problems. I’d say the effects of seeing (atmospheric turbulence) didn’t start to be noticeable until 120x and even at 240x it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Here’s Mare Nectaris and vicinity (click for the larger, unlabeled version). The line of craters formed by Theophilus, Cyrillus, and Catharina is an easy catch in binoculars at this phase. The Altai Scarp is an immense range of cliffs, hundreds of miles long. Mare Nectaris formed as a multi-ringed impact basin, much like the Chicxulub crater from the “dinosaur-killer” asteroid, and the Altai Scarp is the largest surviving stretch of one of the outer rings.

We had a look at Mars, which was a well-defined disc with hints–and only hints–of detail. I suspected the ice cap from time to time, but couldn’t convince myself that I’d really seen it, as opposed to just thinking the disc looked lighter where I know the ice cap ought to be. Still, a whole ‘nuther planet, y’know? Give me a telescope and a world to point it at and I get a little giddy.

The real treat of the evening was Saturn. At 120x it was crisp and jewel-like, but at 240x it was simply astounding. I have never seen so much detail in one of my own telescopes. The photo is by far my best ever for Saturn, but it just doesn’t do it justice, not by a long shot. The whole planet was striped with pastel bands, and we could clearly see the gap between the rings and the planet. The dark band stretching across the disc is the shadow of the rings. Three moons shone out proudly to the left of the rings; Stellarium informs me that they were Dione, Rhea, and Titan, from inward to out. After Andy left I even caught little Enceladus–she of the geysers–between Dione and the rings.

I also cruised over to the globular cluster M3 and it was very nice, a contained explosion of stars. It looked better than I’ve ever seen it, which is saying something since the moon was out. Most DSOs don’t suffer unduly from bad seeing since they are extended and dim to begin with, but globs do. I’m half-tempted to haul out the scope again and have a look at M13, which ought to be up now, but I have to sleep sometime. Good night, and clear skies.

Photos taken with a Nikon Coolpix 4500 digital camera, shooting through an Orion SkyQuest XT10 telescope and Orion Stratus eyepieces.


The persistence of mystery

December 10, 2009

Wired has a story about the hexagonal storm around Saturn’s north pole.

I love it. Things like this, the methane that comes and goes on Mars, the disequilibrium in Venus’s atmosphere, and transient lunar phenomena, are useful reminders that the other worlds of the solar system are, in fact, worlds. Our plumbing of the mysteries of these worlds, even for so comforting and familiar an object as the moon, is not even really started. There are plenty of physical processes here on Earth that are not well understood, so we should feel pride, but no comfort, that we have sent a handful of probes and gotten a little dust on the boots of our astronauts and the wheels of our rovers. Just think how much we’ll know after a geologist has spent as much time on Mars as Spirit and Opportunity. On one hand, our knowledge then will dwarf our knowledge now; on the other, our exploration of Mars will then be just beginning in earnest.

In Cosmos, Carl Sagan said, “How lucky we are to live in this time, the first moment in human history when we are, in fact, visiting other worlds.” I’m on board with that.

Hat tip to Mike.


In lieu of an actual post…

October 20, 2009


…here are some pretty pictures.

First batch: the Ares 1-X test vehicle rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and down to the pad. If all goes well, it will be lifting off in about a week. This is the first launch in the Constellation program which is slated to replace the shuttle. In what should make a iconic transitional image, Ares 1-X is on Launch Pad 39B at the Cape while Atlantis is on Pad 39A, awaiting its Nov. 16 launch to the International Space Station.

I haven’t found any photos so far that show both pads, just lots of photos of the Ares 1-X.


It’s tall. Like 310 327 feet tall. For reference, the Space Shuttle stack (bottom of booster rocket to top of external tank) is only 184 feet tall. The only taller vehicle ever flown successfully is the Saturn V (363 ft), and the last one of those took off in 1973 to launch Skylab.* **


* Real boffins will tell you that the thing that launched Skylab was not a Saturn V but the one and only Saturn INT-21, but c’mon, it’s clearly a Saturn V with Skylab on top.

** Successfully is the operative term. Russia launched several of their N1 moon rockets (345 ft) between 1969 and 1972, but they all blew up. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian leaders denied even having a moon program. [I realized later that it's a bit snarky to point this out before any Ares rockets have flown at all. Fingers firmly crossed!]

Anyway, check out the cool pictures and keep your fingers crossed next week.


Second batch: apparently Saturn is pretty, or something. Definitely pretty cool.

One more week of teaching. Keep soakin’ up them photons.


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