Sep 2, 2009

Sleep is for Sissies

Motto of the Robert Ferguson Observatory
Merlin Pup TentMerlin goes camping! Best dog friend, Norma Jean, invited Merlin and entourage to a star party birthday sleepover at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in the Sonoma Valley. Her people booked the group campground and arranged for the Valley of the Moon Observatory Association astronomer docents to open the Robert Ferguson Observatory just for us! Merlin and Norma JeanThey have three telescopes: a 24" reflector for deep space, a classic 8" refractor for solar system objects, and a 14" CCD for photographing faint objects direct to digital, displayed on a huge room monitor. Thrilling!

Our small group had the telescopes all to ourselves. Here's some snapshots from the CCD. Not as spectacular as Hubble, but pretty thrilling for a California State Park in Sonoma.RFO M51a Messier 51a is the cannibal Whirlpool Galaxy. NGC 891 is an edge-on spiral galaxy in Andromeda, 30 million light years away. Sirius, the Dog Star, would appear an hour before dawn. Merlin lasted until midnight. We had our eye on Jupiter all night through the refractor in the dome. It's at opposition, and is the closest, biggest, and brightest so far this century. The brilliant planet revealed four moons through the telescope. Over the night, two bright moon dots sidled up to Jupiter from either side. By 1:30 am all the sissies were asleep. Only Merlin's people were up with the RFO NGC891docents to witness Callisto disappear behind Jupiter as Io disappeared in front. Io’s inky black shadow crept across radiant Jupiter for two hours. Orbital dynamics, live, through a telescope near you. Just like Galileo, except without the Inquisition.

Galileo Galilei was the first to observe Jupiter's moons in 1610, through his telescope invention. Science challenged Church and Galileo lost, spending the last decade of his life under house arrest. Merlin hides out in the arts whenever he has a subversive urge.

Merlin Planet WalkIn the morning we walked to Mars. Pluto was too far on a distant ridge. Astronomy mingles science and mystery, empirical observation with awe and wonder. Plus, we get to stay up all night. Anyone with a pair of decent binoculars can look up into the night sky and see Jupiter's moons for themselves.Merlin Sleeping Bag Tonight, Callisto and Io will slip behind Jupiter as Europe and Ganymede pass in front. All four Galilean moons of Jupiter will disappear, an event which occurs only a few times each century. We’ll be outside, looking up, pup tent near by. Ad astra!

Sugarloaf: 80 miles
Pluto: 2.66 billion miles
Andromeda Galaxy: 2.5 million light years
Edge of Universe: 46.5 billion light years
Sleep Sissies

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