Planets!

For the last two weeks or so we’ve been treated to a nice grouping of planets rising in the northeast each morning around dawn. Here’s a few photos I took on my little Canon IXUS with exposures in the 5-15sec range. Be sure to click through to the Picasa album for full size images…

Jupiter, Mercury, Venus (brightest) and Mars, 6:21am 13 May 2011:

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Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, 6:16am 19 May 2011:

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Jupiter, Mars, Moon, Venus and Mercury (low on the horizon between Petone and Somes Island), 6:43am 31 May 2011:

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Mars, Moon, Venus and Mercury, 6:44am 31 May 2011:

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To help identify the stars and/or planets, I use and recommend Your Sky – a fantastic site/tool to make a sky map for any location and time. To get started, look for the links to select a nearby city – for example, here’s the current sky map and horizon view for Wellington. On a related note, if you want to track satellites in real time, try this website which lets you track all sorts of satellites overlayed on a Google map, as well as the International Space Station.

The Eagle has landed

Forty years ago today Neil Armstrong spoke those words soon after the Eagle landing craft touched down on the moon – surely the greatest triumph for mankind, especially so given technology of the day. In addition to Armstrong, Apollo 11 also carried Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin (who also walked on the moon) and Michael Collins (who remained in orbit).

I wasn’t yet born in 1969 so can’t relate to what the event meant at the time, but space has been a fascination for me for a long time – I still have my favourite childhood books on Space and NASA and went on to study astronomy at University. Lately, I’ve been enjoying reading all the moon landing anniversary articles, checking out the photos again, watching the cleaned NASA footage and listening to (more senior!) colleagues relive their memories. Today, 40 years ago, was an incredible day, and afterall, who since then hasn’t dreamed of being an astronaut, blasting into space or walking on the moon?!

So props to NASA for winning the race and putting a man (several in fact) on the moon. Super stuff.

Here’s some link goodness for your enjoyment today,

And finally some homage from Google via custom logos for today,

YouTube.com:

YouTube logo

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Google.co.nz:

40th Anniversary of Moon Landing

Carbon Credits sold on TradeMe

The first public offering of certified Carbon Credits sold on TradeMe yesterday and today, a couple of parcels for households and one for a business. If this is pretty random stuff to you, I suspect you’re not alone – I’m still trying to grasp the ins and outs of it too…

Meridian Energy put the parcels of credits up for purchase, having come from their wind farm at Te Apiti, with the idea being that you can use the credits to offset your carbon dioxide emissions (calculate them at carboNZero).

So why buy carbon credits? For a business it might be good for marketing allowing a claim of “carbon neutral” (ie clean and green) to be made, whereas an individual would do so solely for ethical reasons. However, here’s where I would argue that you’re far better off making changes to your lifestyle or home/business that are more energy efficient or environmentally friendly first, rather that simply paying to offset bad practices. If and when you’ve got your emissions as low as practically possible (and I’m sure everyone can do more) then look at buying to offset the final amount if you must.

In this case the parcels of 20 credits (offsetting 20 tonnes of CO2) went for around $3,000 (view auctions here and here) and the parcel of 1000 credits went for a little over $19,000 (auction here). What happens next is up to the buyer – they can either retire the credits thus offsetting their emissions, or keep em and on sell them at a later date (presumably for a profit…)

Meridian claim they put the credits on TradeMe to get people talking about their carbon footprint and how to reduce it. Given this ramble, and combined auction page views of over 30,000, I guess they succeeded.

Blood Moon

In case you missed the total lunar eclipse last night, here’s a composite as seen from the Carter Observatory here in Wellington (via stuff.co.nz)

Lunar Eclipse

Don’t be mislead by the images on the top row – the moon’s disc was never actually obscured as it moved into the earth’s shadow. In reality it looked more like the images on the bottom row with the bright full moon dimming from the bottom up. The top three obviously had a lower exposure to reduce the brightness of the full moon.

And in case you’re wondering why the moon goes red during a total eclipse here’s a quick explanation… Even though the moon moves into the earth’s shadow, some light is refracted (or bent) by the earth’s atmosphere and still reaches the moon. As the sunlight passes through the atmosphere the shorter blue wavelengths are scattered out by dust particles leaving more of the longer red wavelengths in the light that reaches the moon, hence the reddish tinge (the same process that leads to red sunrises and sunsets).

A moment of silence for Pluto

In case you missed the science news in the last week, we now only have 8 planets in our Solar System with Pluto demoted to “dwarf planet” status, 76 years after it was discovered.

I must admit that while studying Astronomy at Uni I was never 100% convinced that Pluto should be called a planet. It is afterall tiny, in a binary orbit with its moon Charon (the centre of gravity of the pair is located between them), and its orbit is higly tilted from that of the remainder of the planets and crosses inside Neptune’s.

The decision was made by scientists meeting recently in Prague who agreed that a planet (put simply):

  1. orbits the Sun
  2. is big enough to be nearly round
  3. has “cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit”

Point 3 is a little strange since other planets don’t pass this test – including Earth, which orbits the sun with many near earth asteroids (ie our neighbourhood is NOT clear).

That aside, the result is that we now have 8 planets, and currently 3 dwarf planets – Ceres, Pluto and “2003 UB313” (how’s that for a stupid name!) Ceres orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Pluto’s binary companion Charon is NOT a dwarf planet as it’s classifed as a “satellite” (or moon), and lastly “2003 UB313” orbits beyond Pluto.

While I tend to agree with the decision from a technical point of view, it has divided the scientific community. Many disagree with the change and reckon things should have been left alone, and to complicate matters only 424 of the 2500+ attending voted on the issue.

One group happy with the decision might be the publishers of school and uni text books – just a few are now out of date and in need of reprinting!

For more, see the following Wikipedia entries,