Saturday, June 22, 2013

Conjunction Junction - Wait, what's conjunction?

The other night as we drove home late from softball, my wife started asking me a few questions about astronomy terms, and so I thought I might write down a few of them.

  • Conjunction: A conjunction is when two (or rarely three or more) objects are close together in the sky.  This is typically spoken of in terms of the planets. For instance, just this week Mercury and Venus experienced conjunction, and were very close in the sky.  With so many moving objects in the sky, a conjunction of some sort occurs just about every month -- and certainly so if you include the moon as one of the objects 
Jupiter and it's moons
 "being occulted"?
(I don't think that's proper English)
    • Occultation: A very special conjunction where objects appear so close together in the sky that one object actually passes behind another. The most common types are when the moon passes in front of some object, and for a short time, that object is hidden behind it. I have never had a chance to observe this. Here is a list of lunar occultations for this year and you can see that the moon passes in front of stars all the time (nearly every day) but in front of major planets only a few times. And during those times, you can only see the occultations from generally small locations on earth. 
    • Transit: A transit is another type of conjunction, when a smaller object moves in front of another bigger object. The most famous transit is when Venus transits the sun, an event that occurs twice every 120 years or so. The most recent was June 5, 2012, so I'm sorry -- if you didn't see it then, you probably won't see it ever.  I made sure to watch it, and took this picture. The transits of Venus in 1639, 1761 and 1769 are of historical interest, because they helped scientists get an accurate measure of the distance from the earth to the sun.
    • Syzygy: This is just too cool of a word to leave out, even though I've never seen it written anywhere except in a glossary of astronomical terms. It's a great Scrabble word, worth 25 points, for those rare (impossible actually) occasions when you have 3 y's.  Essentially, a syzygy is whenever three astronomical objects are all in a line.
    • Eclipse: An eclipse is when the sun, moon, and earth are in syzygy -- and depending on the order of the three, and when the syzygy occurs, you might experience an eclipse.  Every 14.5 days the three are aligned in some way, but most of the time the moon is slightly above or below perfect alignment, and so only a handful of times each year does some kind of an eclipse occur.  Here's the next ten years of eclipses.  The next total solar eclipse that will be fully visible in the North America will be on August 21, 2017, an event I'm planning on driving down to see. 
  • Opposition: When a planet is at opposition, that means it is on the opposite side of the earth from sun. This is for the planets further away from the sun then earth -- and is usually the best time to observe them.  The planet is usually the brightest then -- and highest in the sky (along the local meridian) at midnight.
  • Elongation: Elongation occurs for inferior planets (Venus and Mercury) and is when appears the farthest away from the sun. This marks the best times to observe Venus and Mercury -- when they are their brightest, and furthest away from the sun's blinding glare. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Welcome to the dark side -- here are your cookies...

...Aw man... why are they oatmeal raisin!? Gross!

So, I haven't written a ton in the last few months, because I've been a little overwhelmed.  Most of it was just normal, end-of-the-school-year busyness (business?) of trying to finish off four different classes and grade 140 exams.

But another overwhelming thing has been switching over to using a mac.  

You see, over spring break, my household computer died -- the hard drive completely crashed. Besides losing all my data, papers from classes, pictures and videos of our kids first two years of life, etc, it also meant I didn't have a way to work from home anymore. At the time, I was spending at least 10 hours a week doing something from home (mostly in the 4:30-6:00am time frame...).  Accomplishing this all at school would have been a difficult move.

Not sure if I agree -- it was just a cool picture
Fortunately, I was given a laptop to work with. The only thing was -- it was MacBook Pro. Our school is in the initial stages of a move toward 1:1 access (every student has their own computer) and the teacher's laptops had just come in. We were given our laptops with a simple suggestion: play with them.  Get familiar with them.  

I had no choice really, but to dive in pretty quickly. Fixing or replacing my windows machine was not in our financial budget, nor did my personal time budget have room to try to make repairs. So, I began doing everything I used to do on a brand new machine.

After 10 weeks, I can finally say that I like this new machine. I still find myself behaving at times as though I'm on a PC (I keep pressing "Alt F-S" to save something and otherwise trying to access the menubar) but I am getting used to many of the changes. I won't say that I like this machine better then a PC yet -- but at least I've stopped cursing under my breath as I use it. If I end up ever liking it better, it will probably be because of QuickSilver -- but that's another post for another day. 

More posts will follow, I promise -- but it's still slow going. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reflections/Refractions on a rainbow:

Today we had a thunderstorm roll through an hour before sunset, and afterward a beautiful, full, double rainbow appeared.  It was so beautiful that I woke my daughter Abby up (actually, she hadn't quite fallen asleep yet) to take her outside and see it.  After about one minute Abby became more fascinated in the neighbors dog, but still, she said it was pretty.

Afterward, I came in and by the time I had posted these pictures to facebook, everyone else had already posted pictures to facebook about the same rainbow.  It reminded me of the second to last page of my difficult physics exam this semester, which was all themed about different types of severe weather, such as the energy of a falling hailstone to the current in a lightning bolt and the centripetal force of cows stuck in a tornado.  At the end of the exam, I posted this page, reflecting on the promise God made to never again destroy the world with a flood.  In it, I describe how each one of us sees our own individual rainbow - a testament to the way that God gifts each one of us separately and uniquely.

A rainbow is God's sign that he provided to us as a reminder of his covenant to never again destroy all life with a flood. Though God is the speaker in Genesis 9:16, I like to claim the verse for myself that says: "Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." It reminds me that though the storms of life will come, my God will not let me go.

A rainbow is a consequence of light from the sun being refracted as it enters a water droplet, reflected off the back of the drop, and refracted again as it leaves. This refraction causes the light to split into different colors. Each droplet sends a specific wavelength of light back to your eyes, which you interpret as a specific color. The entire collection of water droplets in the sky, all producing different colors -- or, if you will, all singing different notes -- produces the symphony of light that you enjoy.

Even more amazing is the fact that the person right next you is experiencing their own unique rainbow, as the rays of light necessarily must travel at different angles to reach their eyes. Therefore, a droplet that you see as red, might be producing yellow for your neighbor, and a droplet they see as violet, you might not even see at all. 
Reflect (No pun intended. Ok, maybe a little.) on these thoughts for a moment, and then proceed to the final page to share some of your own thoughts from the entire year. If time allows, feel free to additionally share some of your own thoughts on rainbows on this page.
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