Monday, May 26, 2008

Astronomy, word for the week

Hi All,

Well, it's getting seriously dark now. It's not quite pitch dark all the time, but we can see stars pretty much 24/7. There is an odd quality to the night sky here that I've never experienced in the northern hemisphere... bright stars seem to flash in colors in ways that I've never seen. It's called scintillation, or twinkling, but it's much more pronounced here ( If you look out at Sirius, it appears to be a bright flash of white, followed by a bright flash of red, then blue. I suppose this is accounted for by the cold, dry air, but it really is different. Big stars look like psychedelic beacons. The air is so clean, and so dry, that more stars are visible, and it seems (to me) that the brightest stars (betelgeuse, sirius, canopus, rigel...) are much brighter and more "twinkly" than I've ever seen them. We have been very fortunate in having some major Iridium flares lately ( Some of you may have seen them without thinking twice about it, but they are particulary dramatic here. Iridium satellites are always facing the sun, and at certain times they "flare" or show a bright reflection to folks on the ground. We, with time on our hands, note when Iridium flares are going to happen, using tools like this ( to determine when and where they will be happening. You can go outside at the proscribed Iridium flare time, and see a bright streak across the sky.

I use a really cool tool called SkyGlobe, which is free to whomever would like to download it: ( You can input your coodinates, and see the whole sky as it appears from your position. This is really cool, because you can note a bright planet or star in the sky and use SkyGlobe to figure out what it is. It is especially helpful here, because the heavenly bodies don't move in paterns I'm familiar with. The moon is up for two weeks and down for two weeks-- totally different than what I'm familiar with.

It's so different here. You would probably never be able to see the stars at all in a big city-- we are immersed in darkness and starlight.

I've been reading a lot lately, and keeping track of words I've never heard of-- here are the words of the week: Vulpine (foxlike), and Argot (



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