No time for a real post, so here are a few things of note. Two good, one bad, as the title says.
W00t! #1: Want to have your mind blown? Check out this photographic sky survey “meant to reveal the entire night sky as if it rivaled the brightness of day.” Link.
W00t! #2: Want to see a star blow up? No a simulation, but a real-life supernova? You have two choices: be very patient, or use a telescope. The last 5 naked-eye supernovae in our galaxy were observed in the years 1006, 1054, 1181, 1572, and 1604, although supernova 1987a in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, was also naked-eye visible. Anyway, the point is that if you want to see the light of an exploding star with your own eyes, the best place to observe from is the eyepiece of a telescope. It’s not uncommon for a supernova to briefly outshine its host galaxy–that fact is worth pondering for a moment–and there are literally thousands of galaxies within reach of amateur telescopes, so even a modest telescope will show you supernovae in other galaxies on a semi-regular basis. A good site for keeping track of potentially observable supernovae is this one, which lists them by their visual magnitude (you may also find this limiting magnitude chart and this calculator useful to determine which supernovae are within reach of your instrument).
I bring this up because right now supernova 2011by is at magnitude 12.5 and may get brighter still. It has already been sighted in a 6in telescope (according to a post on Cloudy Nights) and is theoretically observable with even a 3- or 4-inch instrument under very good skies. It’s in the galaxy NGC 3972, which you can find using Stellarium, Cartes du Ciel, or any of a number of other free programs. Right now isn’t the best time to see it, thanks to the nearly-full moon, but hopefully it will still be reasonably bright at new-moon time near the end of the month.
Gaaaah!: Sorry to end on a bummer. The state of California is planning to close 70 state parks for budgetary reasons, and the Salton Sea State Recreation Area is one of those on the chopping block (story here). The Salton Sea is one of my favorite spots for camping and stargazing, and I’m seriously bummed that they’re going to shut down the park. I don’t know who to write to in order to fight this, and even if I did, I doubt if enough people would write to make a difference. One reason I go to the Salton Sea is that it’s a really nice campground that is never empty but never overflowing, either. So it’s a bit of a catch-22: the low traffic that draws me there in the first place pretty well ensures that the park will have few advocates. And I’m not even sure if fighting this would be a good thing. I know that the state can’t afford to keep all of the parks open, and maybe it’s better to shut down a low-traffic place like the Salton Sea park and let the property rest undisturbed*, than to shut down a high-traffic place and drive those folks to the Salton Sea and thereby increase the human footprint. I’ll think about it some more, and look around and see if there is anything to be done. In the meantime, I’m just sad.
*Normally, I’d worry that this was Step 1 in some nefarious plan to sell the land for commercial development, but the Salton Sea is such a commercial black hole that I doubt if such a plan could be put into place even if someone strongly desired it, and there’s no evidence that anyone does. It’s a lonely spot, and that’s the point–I like to get out and enjoy the emptiness.