January 2008

North America, South America and Western Europe will see the first lunar eclipse of 2008 on February 20 between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. EST.

Eclipse Diagram

Diagram: NASA

This occurs mid-way between the Moon’s perigee and apogee. As a bonus, Saturn is at opposition and can be seen as a bright object just northeast of the Moon. The eclipse will take about 50 minutes. The Moon will pass in the southern-most part of the Earth’s umbral shadow, meaning the top half of the Moon will appear much darker than the bottom half which passes just inside Earth’s shadow.

There is an annular solar eclipse occurring on February 7, however, the best viewing appears to be from Antartica.


Asteroid 2007 WD5 whizzed by Mars today unencumbered by any massive objects, like Mars itself. I was hoping for an impact so that the debris kicked up into the Martian atomosphere could be analyzed. Who knows what may have been discovered?

Steve Chesley, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Lab said that impacts of a 164 foot asteroid like 2007 WD5 can be expected to occur only once in a thousand years, while near misses happen frequently, perhaps every ten to twenty years.

Mars is a smaller catcher’s mitt for these spaceballs to hit, and missed Mars by 6.5 Mars radii. There will be others and I will be looking out for them.

Somewhat unsettling is the news that researchers now say the asteroid that impacted Tunguska, Siberia a hundred years ago wasn’t nearly as large as previously thought, according to supercomputer simulations by Sandia National Laboratories physicist Mark Boslough. He estimates the blast force of that asteroid to be 25% to 33% of the 10 to 20 megaton blast force previuosly believed. This means that smaller asteroids hitting earth may in fact create larger blast zones than previously thought.

The simulation shows the asteroids mass exploded above ground shooting a fireball downward into the ground faster than the speed of sound. Botton line – it takes less energy than thought to create devastation from an asteroid.

With a 250 pound eraser made of actual rubber, and 4,000 pounds of Pennsylvania graphite, Guinness World Record maker Ashrita Furman has broken another Guinness record.

largest pencilphoto by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In total, it weighs 22,000 pounds and is 76 feet long. On display at the City Museum in St. Louis, the pencil was temporarily broken in two for its transport from Queens, New York City to St. Louis, where it will be reattached.

Furman is 53 years old and a health food store manager with a hobby of breaking Guiness records. He claims to have broken 177 records in his lifetime and currently holds 72. The pencil took 7,000 man hours and $20,000 to build. It breaks the Faber-Castell record of a 65 foot pencil outside its world headquarters in Malaysia.

Now all Furman needs to do is to built the worlds largest pencil sharpener!


NASA will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. EST on Wednesday, January 30, to announce scientific findings and release new images of Mercury. The briefing will be held at the James Webb Auditorium, 300 E Street, S.W., Washington.

NASA has released some images already on their web site. The fact that they are holding a news conference must mean the data is exciting. I am looking forward to it. The news conference will be streamed live on NASA’s web site at www.nasa.gov

Shortly after the Kent State killings in May 1970, I read a poem in an advertisement in Time Magazine. As a thirteen year old kid, it affected me and I memorized it and remembered it until this day, thirty-eight years later. After much searching, I found it and reprint it below, merely as a thought provoking poem. One can argue about its merits as poetry, but one thing is certain for me; it is powerful.

It was written by Harry Pesin, the owner of a New York ad agency. He placed a full-page-and-a-column ad in Time after the Kent State killings. The ad consisted of a color photograph of children’s faces, and in a column opposite was this poem.

A Polite Plea for Peace

War is an excuse
    to kill.
If you need an excuse,
  that’s a good one.
Feel free
  to kill
  and say you kill
to be free.
  is a good excuse
  if you need one.
Count the dead:
  by the numbers
  kills no one
  in particular
nothing personal
  you know,
which is a good excuse
  if you need one.
  The killer
needs an excuse, and peace
  is no excuse.

You can find an article regarding a play based on this poem performed in 1970-71. The article is by Gil Lazier and can be found by searching JSTOR at www.jstor.org. There may be a nominal fee to get a copy or if you are a student, your university library could probably access for you for free. The name of the article is Living Newspaper 1970: Obituary for a Gentle Agit-Prop Play by Gil Lazier, originally published in the Educational Theatre Journal, Vol.23, No. 2 (May, 1971), pp. 135-151.

I not espousing a war or anti-war position. I am printing this to generate some thought about what’s going on.

In the pre-dawn sky here at the end of January and for a week or so into February, Venus and Jupiter will appear closest together in the sky, peaking around February 1. Our moon will join this alignment, 2 – 3 days later, making all three celestial objects in conjunction. The moon will be in its waning crescent phase.

Venus and Jupiter rise out of the east to southeast a couple of hours before sunrise. They will be so close to one another and so bright as to appear to be a double planet. On February 4, about forty-five minutes before sunrise, the moon will join the two planets to form an isosceles triangle, or pyramid shape, with the planets three degrees apart and the moon at the vertex five degrees apart from the other two.

The moon will be 247,000 miles (397,000 km) out, Venus 126 million miles (203 million km), and Jupiter 560 million miles (901 million km). Another conjunction of Venus and Jupiter will occur in the evening sky on December 1. Two and one-half years later in 2011, Venus and Jupiter will be in conjunction in the morning sky once again.


Picture:  http://news.yahoo.com/s/space/20080125/sc_space/spectacularskyshowvenusjupiterandthemoon 

 For more information, view these links:




I need to correct the width in feet of asteroid 2007 TU24 in my previous post. My meters to feet conversion was off. It is actually estimated to be 500 feet to 2,000 feet in diameter, or 150 meters to 610 meters. It closest distance should occur at 2:33 am Central (3:33 am Eastern, 12:33 am Pacific). NASA says moderate sized telescopes should be able to pick up the asteroid. It will quickly fade after its closest approach, so be ready if you plan to observe it.

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