My Sagan Collection

15 08 2010

This summer brought a miracle of good luck*  when I happened upon two nice collections of Sagan’s work in a silent auction.  I scored enough books that I’m slowly closing in on having his entire published works.

Hmmm, maybe I should alphabetize...

As I’ve written before, I’ve been reading Sagan since high school 20 years ago.  What I enjoy most is his ability to speak to a wide audience.  You can read Cosmos or Contact if you just want a light visual into who we are and how we fit in, while Demon Haunted World or Broca’s Brain can really push you to look within yourself to reflect on what *you* believe.  And, in most every thing, he put his unending belief that nuclear disarmament was vital to our survival as a species.  He’s right, y’know.

However, my collection is far from complete!  For those of you wondering what to get me this Carl Sagan Day (November 7th), I give you this list of wants:

–> Planets (1966)

–> Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (1973)

–> Other Worlds (1975)

–> Murmurs of the Earth (1983)

–> Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)


–> Billions and Billions:Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (1997)

Of these books, I’m most ashamed that I don’t own the last one; seeing as how it was the last book he ever wrote.  I need to rectify that.

Oh, and if you’ll notice in the picture above, that is an actual paper-bound textbook for Cosmos!  It has 13 chapters that correspond to the 13 episodes, complete with assignments and study guides!  Awesome, huh?

*(irony intended)


Planetary grouping for the Perseids

10 08 2010

You can see by this image I stole from Sky & Telescope that we’re due for a really cool planetary grouping in the west over the next few days.  It’ll be a real challenge to pull Mercury out of the glare of the setting sun (if not impossible without binoculars), but see if you can spot the other three planets this week.  They’ll be approaching the horizon around 9:30, so you’ll have to look before then.

And be sure to catch Jupiter rising in the east around 10pm.  It’s the brightest thing in the sky from that time until dawn this week, so you can’t miss it!

After 10pm you can start looking for Perseids.  The peak is Thursday night/Friday morning, but you can catch elevated rates of meteors all week.  Perseids tend to be quite fast, and the brighter ones look yellow to me.  About a third of them will leave persistent trains, which can leave an indelible memory for any witness.  Remember, even though they can light up the sky and leave a brilliant streak across the heavens, they’re rarely larger than your fingernail.  And Perseids almost never make it to the ground.  Each one will burn up at least 25 miles over your head.  Amazing, huh?

Let me know if you see something spectacular!

Boring title.  Awesome topic!

Perseids 2010!

6 08 2010

The spectacular Perseids meteor shower is almost upon us!  This year the best rates for the American continent will occur on the morning of Friday, August 13.

Remember last year? I told you all about the really good rates, but even I didn’t go out for more than a casual look.  Most likely, neither did you.  We had a glaringly bright full moon that just made observing near impossible!  This year the rates are still high; and — good news, everyone! — there’s no moon to worry about.

The meteors within this shower were shed from comet Swift-Tuttle, which passes across Earth’s orbit every 135 years.  The last time it was here was 1993 when observers in Europe saw 200-500 meteors/hour!  We won’t get nearly that number this year, but the rates will still be substantial.  And with the peak occurring just two days after new moon, the only thing keeping you from seeing a smattering of your own Perseids will be the weather.

The Perseids will be falling all night with an expected rate of 60 meteors/hour.  Remember that as with most meteor showers, you will sometimes go for 5-10 min. without seeing a thing, then four or five will zip across the sky all at once!  As the evening turns toward deepest night, the rates will increase dramatically; and near dawn you can expect almost 120 meteors/hour.  Remember that the farther north you are, the higher the radiant will climb and the more you’ll be able to see.  But also the farther north you are, the sooner night turns into day.  So those living around 30 – 35 degrees north latitude (MY latitude!) probably get the best overall show.

So set aside some time Thursday night to relax outside with a reclining lawn chair and some bug repellent.  You don’t want another year getting by without watching this ancient event.  It’s really special.

Most folks, like yourself, only want to lay back and see how many they can count.  What a serious observer like me would do is take good notes and file a detailed report with one of the major meteor organizations.  (how nerdy am I?)  But there *is* a group in Britain trying to get the public to help them gather data by using Twitter.  I have a bit of a problem with this as I would prefer people to not take their eyes off the sky long enough to punch characters on their phones.  Also, unless your phone has a deep-red-only display, you’ll kill your night vision the moment you look at the screen.  But… maybe it’s a worthwhile effort.  And if we can get a bunch of people actually interested in looking beyond just the pretty and trying to contribute some real science — well, who am I to complain?

Here’s their warm-up video.  It’s a little on the “sensational” side, but awesomely entertaining!

[You gotta watch it fullscreen!]