Archive for the ‘Mysteries’ Category


A Cheshire Cat on the moon

November 21, 2010

It’s been an interesting week.

I got a new scope…

That was sort of by accident. I really wanted the mount for my 5″ reflector, because it’s a bit too heavy for my current mount and tripod. Orion sells that mount as the VersaGo II for $199, but right now OPT has the SkyWatcher-branded version of that mount, the AZ4, and a nice 80mm refractor with finder and eyepieces for the same price. So by going through OPT I essentially got the scope and accessories for free. I originally planned on selling off the scope, but I keep hearing about people falling in love with the crisp views through refractors (which unlike reflectors and catadioptric scopes have no central obstruction), so I decided I’d give this one a fair shake before I got rid of it.

I’m glad I did. It’s a keeper–it has very sharp optics, gives a nice, clean, contrasty image, and is very fun and easy to use. It doesn’t pull down as much light as my bigger scopes, but it’s easier to handle and it cools down in no time, which is a big plus at this time of year. (One  of the biggest sources of image distortion at the eyepiece is heat waves coming off lenses and mirrors that haven’t reached ambient temperature.) Frequent commenter David DeLano has this scope as well, and he warned me that if I wanted to sell it, I shouldn’t look through it, because I’d get hooked. You called that one right, David!

I gave it a name, too. Some people name their scopes and some people don’t. I also talk to myself and to inanimate objects when I’m alone, and I suspect that those traits are highly correlated with naming scopes. Anyway, there’s a bit of back story behind this one. When I was a kid, my cousin Michael had a good friend, also named Michael, who was quite a bit taller than he was. They felt dumb calling each other by their own name, so my cousin Michael dubbed the taller one “Shorty Long”, and tall Michael retaliated by calling my cousin “Stubby Fats”. That’s never ceased to crack me up. And now I’ve got two shiny black SkyWatcher scopes that will be sharing a mount, one a long skinny refractor and the other a short fat reflector, so it made sense to name them Shorty Long and Stubby Fats.

With the moon and Jupiter both high and bright in the evenings this week, it didn’t pay to go after fainter fare, and I hadn’t put in any serious time on the moon in a long time.

Tuesday the moon was waxing gibbous. I got this shot through Shorty Long with my Coolpix 4500:

It doesn’t show everything there was to see. Sinus Iridium, the Bay of Rainbows, is the C-shape, open to the bottom, at the very top of the moon in the above picture; it’s an old impact basin mostly flooded by the later basalt flows that formed the maria or lunar seas. Just past Sinus Iridium I saw a couple of mountain peaks that the sunlight was just reaching, and they glowed like a pair of eyes staring at me from beyond the terminator. Here, I’ll show you:

Kinda spooky lookin’, eh?

It got better. As I stared back, the rising sun (from the perspective of those mountains) lit a couple of lower peaks, below and between the first two, and then a ridge running beneath all of them. It looked for all the world like the face of the Cheshire Cat, with two bright eyes, two nostrils, and a big wide smile. The nostril peaks and the smile ridge were too faint to show up in any of my photos, but a helpful guy on Cloudy Nights produced this image with the Lunar Terminator Visualization Tool (yay, more free astro software!) using my location and the time of the observation:

One of the nostril peaks was too dim to show up even in the LTVT shot, but other than that the face looks pretty much like what I saw Tuesday night. There is even a suggestion of eyebrows.

The peaks turn out to be the aptly named Harbinger Mountains. I asked around on Cloudy Nights and no one has reported seeing the Cheshire Cat “lunarism” before. I’m going to do a little more research on the features involved and report back.

That wasn’t the end of my weird moon adventures for the week. Last night I was back outside for the full moon:

I had basically just gotten set up when I saw a small, perfectly round object float by in front of the moon. I figured it was probably either a weather balloon or a satellite. Turns out that a CN user got video of the thing; the video is now on YouTube, here.

[Almost Immediate Update: the thing in the video is not the same thing I saw, or at least not the same pass, because that video was made about three hours before I made my observation. I just learned that in the CN thread, which is here.]

It’s probably a satellite; another CN user got video of a similar thing flying in front of the sun, and reports seeing them on a regular basis. So don’t get out your tinfoil hats just yet. But do get out and have a look at the moon when you get a chance. As this week has shown, you never know what you might find, even with this closest and most familiar of celestial objects.


Here’s something weird

October 21, 2009

Apparently Sirius, hands down the brightest star in the sky, was blood red in antiquity but blazes blue-white today, just 1500 years later. The evidence is compelling. The problem is, no known astrophysical process can account for the change. Read all about it here, and go here for more discussion.

By the way, I love it when stuff like this comes along. It doesn’t mean that science is wrong or that science doesn’t work. It means that there is plenty of stuff that we haven’t figured out, and some of it is, like, huge. As someone who loves figuring stuff out, I take a lot of comfort from that. I want some of that pie for myself. But in this area, at least, I can also get some satisfaction just from looking at other people’s plates.

How wonderful that we have met with a paradox.  Now we have some hope of making progress.  ~Niels Bohr