Monday, March 28, 2022

Recent Astronomical Observing

We bought this home in part for its larger backyard and better views of the sky. Nominally, we are still under Bortle 7-8 conditions with the Milky Way not apparent naked eye. However, the high wall around the yard does block a lot of neighborhood lighting. 


Messier 47 First View (18 March)

I participate in the Cloudy Nights discussion board. Thanks to Voyageur responding to the topic "Underwhelmed" in the Beginner's forum, I found Messier 47 in Puppis, 18 March 2022 at 2047 CDT. I viewed it until 2120 using different oculars with my ES 102-mm f/6.47 refractor - 32mm and 14mm with and without a 2X Barlow. The 14mm (82 degrees) alone was best. I counted 40, then 50 stars. 

Initially, I was not sure if the target was M47 or M46. They are physically close. However, after I came in, I read Wikipedia and the two are distinctly different in view. I did sweep the area several times but did not find Messier 46 that night. I did find it later.


Messier 80 First View (20 March)


I found M80 where I expected it, below beta Scorpii (Graffias, a complex system that I see as a binary), and Antares, about halfway and somewhat inward to the body of the Scorpion. It stood out as a classic globular cluster, a "puffball" with a somewhat brighter center but not to be resolved into individual stars with the small aperture and low magnification (D=102mm; 32mm and 14 mm; 20.625 and 47.14 X). Nonetheless, it was a find and I attribute my success to beginner's luck. Also on the same morning, I first found the small open cluster NGC 6231 near zeta Scorpii. A week later, the mornings were warmer and I sketched the view.


The allegedly easier Messier 4 does not appear easily in my sweeps near Antares. Reviewing my logs I located it on 14 July 2015, 11 and 13 June 2020, and 31 July 2021. I found it again on 26 March.


I revisit familiar objects such as the open clusters Messier 44 (“Beehive”), Messier 7 (“Ptolemy”) and Messier 22, in addition to double stars such as Castor (actually six; only two are available for small telescopes), and mu Scorpii, among many others. I am happy to find again targets that I previously logged such as M6 (“Butterfly”) and Messier 28. 


Dubhe alpha Ursa Majoris (23 March) 

With 32 mm and 14 mm (20.6 X and 47.1 X) oculars I checked Dubhe one of the Pointers in the Big Dipper for a companion star because of the ambiguity in my references. Wikipedia says that it is a spectroscopic binary. Sue French (Celestial Sampler) says that it is "easily split" with the companion 380 arc-seconds away. 


At 20.6X using a 50-degree Tele Vue Ploessl eyepiece the active field of view is 2.42 degrees or 145 arc-minutes and I did see another star in the FOV. That was also true with the 82-degree Meade 14-mm  eyepiece (yielding 1.74 degrees = 104.5 arc-min). I thought that this was far too wide to be a gravitationally bound binary, but was only another star in the field. 

However, I had it all along. I just did not have an intuitive grasp of the measurements. I know that 380 arc-sec is 6'20" but I did not relate that to Mizar-Alcor which is an easy standard. Mizar and Alcor (“Horse and Rider”) are the center stars of the Handle of the Big Dipper. In a small telescope, they resolve easily to a three-star system with a binary companion close to Mizar. After using the 14-mm Meade (82-degree) and the 7-mm Nagler Series 1 (50 degree) and drawing those views, I put in a 40mm (SvBony Ploessl) which was a mere 16.5X and the companion was there. I checked Burnham’s Celestial Handbook and he provides an orbit and a separation of 12000 light years. 


Messier 46 First View (25 March)

I finally found Messier 46 at 2212 hours. After a half hour of sweeping the area where I expected to find it near Messier 47, I came inside and re-read the instructions in Sue French's Celestial Sampler. I had been making the same error as Messier: I was searching ENE instead of ESE. (The cluster was temporarily lost to the archives because Messier transposed two coordinates.) With the 32-mm TeleVue Ploessl ocular for 20.625X, I counted perhaps 20 stars in the center using averted vision to see some and another 20 all around the periphery. Overall, the open cluster is not as sparkly, bright, and attractive as Messier 47. But there it is.

Messier 22 in the east top of Sagittarius is a familiar target.


Messier 81 “Bode’s Galaxy” First View (27 March) 

 The sky was exceptionally clear for my location. The small, open cluster at the head of Orion, near lambda Orionis (Meissa) stood out. Knowing where it runs, I could almost see the Milky Way. Following instructions on Cloudy Nights posted by Migwan—diagonally across the Bowl of the Dipper, continue the same distance—it took about ten minutes to locate M81. It appeared as a bright-ish round patch with a bright-ish center. I viewed it until 2117. I did not find the nearby companion galaxy M82. When the sky clears later in the week, I will go out again and search. 


Observational astronomy has an epistemological foundation: understanding what you are looking at better enables you to see it. One comparison for myself is junior high school woodworking: cut with a saw; take it closer with a file; finish it with sandpaper.


Recent Astronomical Research

As an editor for the History of Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society, I usually dragoon other people into writing for the monthly webpage. Recently, I assigned myself several articles. "Planets Have Rings" (here) appeared earlier this month. I am now writing about Agnes Mary Clerke. In July my topic will be the discovery of stellar x-ray sources. 


I am awed by what we can achieve now versus what was being done 100 years ago. In Problems in Astrophysics (1903), Agnes Mary Clerke reported on the suggestion of "dark matter." So, even before quantum mechanics informed astrophysics, they were piecing together a coherent view of the cosmos. And they were doing so with instruments far inferior to today's commercial off-the-shelf technology. This photograph was captured by an amateur colleague. Expand the view and you can see a jet of light extending from the lower edge of the galaxy.

"The elliptical galaxy M87 is the home of several trillion stars, a supermassive black hole and a family of roughly 15,000 globular star clusters. For comparison, our Milky Way galaxy contains only a few hundred billion stars and about 150 globular clusters. … The jet is a black-hole-powered stream of material that is being ejected from M87’s core. As gaseous material from the center of the galaxy accretes onto the black hole, the energy released produces a stream of subatomic particles that are accelerated to velocities near the speed of light." --




Binary Star Project 

Red Shift: Six Years with Astronomy 


Seeing in the Dark: Your Front Row Seat to the Universe 

Measuring Your Universe: Alan Hirshfeld’s Astronomy Activity Manual 

See also:

The Problem of Induction: Karl Popper and His Enemies 
Harriman’s Logical Leap Almost Makes It 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022


 I took up a new hobby. I bought microscopes from and some prepared slides from Amazon. I was happy to be able to take some pictures with my cellphone using my Celestron NexYZ adapter. The first foray was easier and more rewarding than my attempts at astrophotography. In both fields, my primary interest is in verifying for myself what I read in books. I also benefit from the discovery or revelation of facts not perceived in daily life.

Based on my experience in astronomy, I sought to avoid early mistakes by finding a discussion board that I could rely on and participate in. The astronomy board Cloudy Nights has a forum for microscopy, "Cloudy Days." There, I found a recommendation for Oliver Kim's Microbe Hunter website (here), YouTube videos, and discussion board (forum). 

Kim has an MSc in microbiology and teaches high school biology. I found his narratives interesting, informative, and objective. Some others have complained that he is salesman for his favorite brands. I have not found that so. He does insist that quality and price are on curves and that the average person can find a good-enough microscope for a few hundred dollars or less. I found these two for under $75 each with shipping and handling. (I searched for 1-cent shipping and Buy Now versus bidding.) I still hold to my longterm goal of buying a Zeiss university classroom instrument for about $1000 when the time comes for me to upgrade. That will depend on my learning curve.

I also bought books, of course. I have an instructor's edition for a survey class in microbiology, a couple of lab manuals, and two handbooks on microscopes. 

Onion rind
Picking up where I left off 60 years ago, I found vegetables a lot easier to work with. The sets of prepared slides were not expensive and for that reason were also not carefully prepared. I am not big on bugs, but I could do (and have done) a better job. The specimens are mashed and tangled. So, the next step will be to buy slides, slips, and mounting fluid. (I confess to being a little shakier now than I was at 12 years of age and I think that I can focus past the intentional tremor.) 

Ultimately, I will be exploring histology for anatomy and physiology. As attractive as plants are, they do not tell me much about myself. 

I do appreciate the unity of life. One of the prepared slides is "Lily Ovary." Miss Lily's ovary speaks to the astounding multifarious expressions in complicated matter since the invention of sexual dimorphism. A science fiction story could consider a watery world in which all of the single cells share communication and thereby constitute a self-aware intelligence. The extent to which the cloned daughters would vary could be a plot element if not the story line. How is difference perceived--and is it accepted--when just about everyone is almost exactly alike? 

Be that as it may, in the mean time, my new toys need cleaning. I have Zeiss fluid and other tools. However, I hesitate to disassemble the oculars and objectives. When I started in astronomy, I had a Celestron 130-mm (4.25-inch) Newtonian reflector. It came with a 20-mm and a 10-mm oculars. A little later, I bought the Celestron Lens-and-Filter Kit that I saw several others with at my first star party. I could not get a filter to screw into the bottom of the 20-mm, so I unscrewed the top--and was rewarded with a handful of small glass lenses. Fortunately, it is a known problem and Celestron has a page on their website on how to put it back together. But it was never the same. I got the faces right, but the axial rotation was off. They are supposed to be circles, of course, but at that level, they are not perfect circles and a little bit makes a difference. So, I have to decide whether and to what extend I want to pay for the lessons being presented here. 

That also impacts another toy, truly a toy, an Educsope. It cost less than $15 from Goodwill and came with a kit of tools and slides. But the stage will not stay up. From an old Tasco microscope set that a neighbor gave me some years ago, I already know this to be a problem with cheap microscopes that kids use. I can take it apart easily. Whether I can clean and tighten the rack and pinion is another question entirely. I actually did that with the Tasco. It works better now. The Eduscope is all plastic and does not hold much promise.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

World Peace Through World Trade

I stopped at Walmart because they have the best organic salad greens in a box at a price even lower than Whole Foods. Usually, it is a quick trip. This time all of the scanners near the groceries were gone and in their place were large boxes. After paying at a cashier's station, I took some snapshots.

Waiting to be uncrated

Each is half a unit.

Made in India. Over 7000 lbs of convenience.

The half that we consumers care about was made Mexico.

Previously on Necessary Facts

World Peace Through Massive Retaliation 


The Shroff 

Awesome Austin Foods at the Wheatsville Co-op 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Invite Russia to Join NATO

The problem with U.S. foreign policy is that we have no collective memory. The failures in Iraq and especially Afghanistan were evidence of that. Now, a war in eastern Europe came into the news like a tropical storm and newscasters are already impatient that it  has dragged on for a week. Basically, we do not know what it is like to harbor a 1000-year grudge. And that informs our weakness regarding China whose gerontocracy executes petty criminals in order to harvest their organs. China has a 300-year plan and the people who formulated it intend to see it through.

Old times there are not forgotten.
Saints Cyril and Basil brought Roman religion.
Alexander Nevsky defeated German invaders.

Meanwhile, in Europe, we Americans think that whatever the situation was in 1990 was set eternally even backward in time. We toss out proper nouns like “France” and “Germany” that obscure the histories of Burgundy and Champagne, Saxony and Swabia and a hundred other locations which themselves were only the places where nomads ceased wandering. Andulsia in Spain was the new home of Germanic Vandals (Vandalusia) and even today, in Spanish, your brother and sister are not rooted in the Latin (frater and soros) but hermano and hermana: your Germans. So, as much as I enjoyed sharing Yule Brenner as Taras Bulba with my Ukrainian chums in junior high school, I have to ask: What makes the Ukraine a nation? And what makes it worth killing and dying for? 


The extension of Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries

The long and deep truth is that Russia faces West because the East has little to offer, except stunning landscapes, Mongols and Tartars. When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, Moscow became the Third Rome. Peter the Great was a welcomed visitor in England (which was not yet Great Britain or the United Kingdom). He brought savants of all kinds, (Leonhard Euler for one) from Europe to his new capital. That continued in the 19th century. Friedrich Georg Struve of the Pulkovo Observatory also went by his Russian name: Vasily Yakovich Struve. That trans-national association continued even when another Struve was in charge of the McDonald Observatory in Texas. 

The Communist Revolution changed the relationship between Russia and the West. They set themselves apart as the enemies of capitalism and were not surprised when the UK and USA invaded. To get out of World War I, the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ceding the Ukraine and the Baltic States. That was superseded by the Versailles Treaty, though Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland became recognized (by the Allies) as independent nations. Poland became a nation (again). Czecho-Slovakia and Jugoslavia were created from the Austrian empire. (They broke apart after 1990 because they had no reason to be unified.) Hungary, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria had fascist or pro-Nazi governments. Hungary sent troops into Russia alongside the German invaders. With the defeat of Germany, Russia protected itself with a wall of puppet states. 

Borders are fluid.
Left to Right: 1914, 1942, 1945


In response, the USA and the UK created NATO, which, oddly enough included Turkey. Not bordering the North Atlantic, Turkey had been an ally of Germany and then technically neutral until August 1944, finally declaring war on Germany only on 23 February 1945. During the Cold War, the USA placed Jupiter missiles in Turkey. In response the USSR put missiles in Cuba. And America was outraged. 


It is important not to fall in to moral relativism or equivalency. It makes a difference who rules. Liberal democracy means free trade and free minds. The Ukraine was a relatively benign place once the Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych was removed by the Revolution of Dignity. Russia has seldom been a benign place no matter who ruled. Benign neglect was the best that the Romanov tsars could deliver. 


In George Orwell’s 1984, the point is made that the incessant three-way wars are not intended for conquest or even victory, but as excuses to terrorize their own peoples into obedience. As O’Brien says to Winston Smith: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” When Donald Trump was President, he was friends with Vladimir Putin and China was the enemy with virus bioweapons. I did not vote for Trump, but I knew that if Hillary Clinton were elected, Russia would become the new enemy and we would be friends with China. 

Russia has nothing to lose.

It just seems to me that the war in the Ukraine could have been avoided. Russia did not want the Ukraine to join NATO. That is easy to understand. One solution could have been to bring Russia into NATO. Open Russia to the West. It is really all they ever wanted.



Sergei Magnitsky 

War is Good for Absolutely Nothin’! 

Book Review: The Second World Wars by Victor Hanson 

Reflections on Haldeman’s “Forever War” 

Brian Krebs’ Spam Nation