Monday, November 17, 2014

Telescopin' Trivia


Peak Meteor Shower time! Hope everyone is enjoying the Leonids! And what better time to appreciate our telescopes-- which often translates into coveting a newer, better, bigger one.

Conventional history records that German-born Hans Lippershey invented the telescope in 1608, but legend has it that the device was actually invented years earlier by children playing with lenses in his shop where he created eye-spectacles. Other stories say his apprentice first hit upon the idea of doubling refracting lenses. Nonetheless, Lunar Crater Lippershey is named after him, and not the help.

Coastal merchants were the first competitive consumers of early telescopes, using them to spot approaching trade ships; certainly sailors also found them handy when scanning for land masses -- but Galileo Galilei was the first to use one for astronomy. Turning the telescope heavenward, he found the Galilean moons, noted the phases of planet Venus and also analyzed and described sun spots.

Most of the world's largest optical telescopes (listed by aperture) are now built in remote areas, or atop remote peaks, so as to operational in clean, thin air.

For over 70 years, the largest telescope in the world was located at Birr Castle in Ireland. The 40-ton reflecting telescope with a 3-ton mirror, built by the Earl of Rosse in 1845, was nicknamed the “Leviathan of Parsonstown”. Suspended between two giant stone walls, the telescope offered views of Jupiter and one was later used to observe nebulae.

Leviathan of Parsonstown

Today, the largest telescope in the world is the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos in La Palma, Canary Islands (Spain).

From 1993 (when fitted with corrective lenses after deployment) to the present, the Hubble Space Telescope has been the source of more than 25% of all published astronomy research papers. Funny how you never hear anyone gripe anymore that it was 7 years late and over-budget.

Radio Telescopes in northern California
Radio Telescopes that pick up celestial radio waves instead of light, being all the modern rage, now number over 100 and span the globe. Singular dishes and arrays can be found in both Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Antarctica. There have even been two in space!

The majority of professional astronomers don't even look through eye-pieces anymore. Telescopes are largely operated remotely with computers! Even casual computer users can access robotic observatories from home now. Want to try an internet-based telescope? Go to Seeing In The Dark at Cornell University's Astronomy Department.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Happy Carl Sagan Day 2014!


Happy, happy Sixth Annual Carl Sagan Day!

This year's theme is,unshockingly, "COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey," and once again, Florida's Broward College has planned awesome lectures, planetarium shows, children's activities, educator workshops, COSMOS episodes, telescope instruction, and star-gazing.  The celebration includes a fundraiser dinner to honor what would have been Sagan's 80th birthday.

Most folks recognize Carl from COSMOS in the 1980s, the most widely watched program in PBS history! No surprise, the reboot this past year with Neil deGasse Tyson was also incredibly popular! I've blogged numerous times about my idolization of his highly-quotable written material, my great love for his part in the Voyager Golden Records and their longevity, and last year, I was so pleased to visit a major bucket list item, the Carl Sagan Planet Walk scale solar system!

Carl taught at Cornell and Harvard universities, and worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Other titles included technology officer of the Icarus planetary research journal, Planetary Science Chair at the Astronomical Society, Astronomy Chairman at the Advancement of Science Association, and Co-Founder of the Planetary Society, the Earth's largest space-interest group.

Carl Sagan passed away in December 1996 at the age of 62, and was buried in New York (Lakeview Cemetery, Ithaca) right beside his parents.

An astronomer, philosopher, professor and NASA consultant, Carl Sagan won 30 public awards, published over 600 scientific articles and authored or co-authored 20 books. I’ll never weary of recommending Pale Blue Dot to anyone who will listen!  The unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.

Sagan was instrumental in the early Mariner missions to Venus, determined landing sites on Mars for the Viking Lander probes, and also assembled the first physical messages sent into space.  He was instrumental in establishing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence(SETI), urging the use of radio telescopes to detect signals from other intelligent life. Along with Frank Drake, he also composed the Arecibo message, beamed once into space in 1974.

He's one of those people who makes you scratch your head and think, "What the heck have I been DOING with my time?!"

Carl had the ability to make space "knowable" to audiences of all ages. He was known for popularizing  science in a way that inspired people to understand both our insignificance in the larger universe, but also, paradoxically, the absolutely precious nature of our enormously unlikely existence.

Follow me on Twitter today for #TriviaThursday, all day today, which is all about Carl Sagan's life, works, activism, and scientific accomplisments!  Speaking for space geeks everywhere... thanks a billion, Carl.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Free COSMOS and FIREFLY Shirts Giveaway!




Browncoats! Spacetweeps!  To celebrate the Cosmos television series DVD release, GeekChicTees is offering free shirts to lucky winners who help us sing the gospel of Carl Sagan's science series remake, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson!
Click to Order COSMOS

All original and new COSMOS episodes are now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from National Geographic. And since Captain Mal's Wisdom always helps us get the word out to space cadets of all stripes, we're also giving away one free Firefly shirt!

 The contest will run for one week, today through next Thursday (July 10th - 17th).

Click to Enter T-Shirt Giveaway!
Click to enter T-shirt Giveaway!

At the end, we will let the [slightly confused]cat pick two names at random (SRSLY!).  he winners, upon sending clothing size and address confidentially, get to pick their favorite products from the GeekChic Tees catalogue!

To enter the contest for either free T-shirt, pop over to our Rafflecopter Giveaway Page and choose ways to enter on Twitter and Facebook.

Or, make up one of your own tweets, but be sure to include, AT MINIMUM: the link to the contest, both Twitter handles, the hashtag #COSMOS.

 Click to Enter T-Shirt Giveaway!
Click on picture to enter contest!

If you are not on Twitter or Facebook, you can also share this page to Tumblr, Pinterest, and/or Google+ and comment on this blog post to say you have done so. We'll be watching all new messages!

Enter as many times as you like, on as many platforms as you like. We'll go check them out! Every follow, share, and tweet counts as an entry

DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: Midnight PST, July 16th!
Winner will be announced on the morning of July 17, 2014.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Pillownaut Hiatus


With my heartfelt love and thanks to all of my wonderful long time readers, I'm sorry to announce Pillow Astronaut is being put on hiatus while I contend with some elderly family members with medical issues.

I hope you will remain a follower until I am able to resume writing again!
I hope you will keep me in your favorites or your feed.
I hope to return, soon!

~ Heather