The Incomplete Completion Conundrum

PlutoHere we are, on the eve of our closest – and perhaps, for my lifetime, only? – visit to tiny Pluto, the body which marks the outermost boundary of the “classical solar system”. My generation was brought up counting nine planets; it’s only in the past decade that the obsessive-compulsive need to shovel things into rigidly defined categories knocked that down to eight.)

It’s humbling to think about it: Pluto is the most recently-discovered of the “classical solar system”, and the only one discovered by an American astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh. Not even Tombaugh could have imagined that, 85 years after he found that speck of light that moved between two still photos of the night sky, we would be there. (more…)

Star party!

Little E and I went to our first Star Party, held each month by the Arkansas/Oklahoma Astronomical Society – and much to our delight it was really more of a planet party!

The event is held at the wonderfully light-pollution-free Janet Huckabee Nature Center in Chaffee Crossing, on a ridge next to Wells Lake Road. The guys from the AOAS had a 10-inch telescope set up, which is great for ogling the confluence of celestial bodies on view right now.

Me and E got there waaaay to early for stargazing, giving us an opportunity to explore the grounds, meet a gaggle of geese, and relax while the sun disappeared from the sky. It was finally time to peer at planets!

Star Party
The moon and Venus – sky’s still too bright for Jupiter to emerge.

The best time to catch Venus is just as the sun is setting or starting to rise. The planet showed off a nice, easily identifiable crescent shape, bright white as always. This wasn’t an astrophotography setup, so I recorded what I saw the old-fashioned way: I sketched it on paper, scanned it, and inverted it on the computer! In much the same manner as the ancients!

Star Party

Sadly, we missed Jupiter – Little E was trying to catch lightning bugs. But when it was darker, the telescope was re-aimed at Saturn.

Star Party
Yep, about that dark. Cell phone photo enhanced to make Jupiter more visible.

Not only were Saturn and its rings visible, but its largest moon, Titan, could also be seen.

Star Party
Saturn and Titan

We had lots of fun and stayed up well past Little E’s bedtime (hey, it’s not a school night).

Meanwhile, at the edge of the outer solar system…

Star Party
The Pluto Party awaits.

Scenes from a birthday party

ParTAYThe scene: birthday party for one of Little E’s classmates. Due to bad weather (i.e. incessant rain), the party has moved from the park to indoors at the church the birthday boy’s family attends. It’s still pretty good fun, pizza, cake, the whole works. At one point there’s an attempt to do a hula hoop contest (spoiler: the repeated “contest” attempts fall into chaos pretty quickly and the kids go back to doing what they were doing before). One of the hula hoops is missing though. “Where’s the other hula hoop?” (more…)

First book… second edition… now available!

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