A quick Christmas craft for my friends' stockings. I found book cover images (front, back, and spine wherever possible) and printed them onto card stock, then glued them onto tiny sticky note pads. Unfortunately, using the sticky notes later doesn't really work, but they're meant to be Christmas ornaments so it doesn't matter.
Choosing which books to make was easy for friends who have GoodReads accounts. I simply sorted their shelves by their own ratings, and made ornaments of their 5-star favorites.
The Harry Potter books, of course, have wonderful covers that wrap all the way around.
For friends without GoodReads accounts, I had to work a little harder to choose appropriate books. For some I had to remember books that had been brought up in conversation in the past, and for others, I had to guess based on personality. Luckily I ended up guessing correctly most of the time.
I have to admit, all those little books hanging on the tree at our Christmas party were pretty cute. I might just have to make some for myself. I think I have a few more sticky notes around here somewhere...
For the stacked-books effect, most sites warn that it will take more books than you think it will. Luckily, in our house, enough books is not even a little bit of a problem. Notice the still-full floor-to-ceiling bookcase behind the tree. That's not the only still-full large bookcase in the house, either.
(click to enlarge) I have no idea how many books we actually ended up using, but much of the inside of the tree is filled with books as well, to give it support. I was relieved to discover that a book I wanted to lend to a friend was one of those not in the tree, so I didn't have to a) find it in the spines-inward tree, or b) figure out how to extract it.
I'm not looking forward to the post holiday season when I will have to dismantle the tree and put away all of the books exactly where they belong (when you own this many books, they don't go on shelves willy-nilly, or you'd never find them), but for now I can enjoy my tree made of very processed trees.
_I wrote an e-book:
Stargazing for Beginners
How to Find Your Way Around the Night Sky
Turns out neither mirrors nor microscopes are needed for these two amazing feats of science. This video describes not only how to find your blind spot, but also why it's there in the first place.
So, that's pretty neat, but then it goes on to show how you can see the network of blood vessels in your eye that your brain usually ignores. You can do it using your own hands and the computer screen. Without mirrors. Without microscopes. See the inside of your own eye.
My mind is pretty much blown.
Kick Ass Oregon History is hosting a Diorama Contest!
Since entries for this contest are in the form of photographs, I thought the contest lent itself well to a diorama that doesn't hold up to transport, or, well, time. My Oregon History diorama chronicles the Tillamook Burn. I was quite pleased that an angry fire demon decided to appear for one of my shots.
Participants can earn an extra 5 points by bringing their physical creation to the Stumptown Stories show on January 17th at The Jack London Bar (529 SW 4th Ave Portland). Do you think there's any chance I'll get the full 5 points for bringing in my pan of charred remains?
Click the photo above to enlarge it, or any of the photos below for a little slide show.
What is your favorite part of your state's history? If Oregon is your state (or even if it's not) and you want to create your own Oregon History diorama, entries are due by January 15th, 2012
f1/32 ISO100 300mm All kinds of shutter speed bracketing, can't remember this one
Like all superlative statements I hear about astronomy in the general media, I was skeptical of this one. Every August, for example, I see floating around the internet a news item: Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in 50,000 years! Skywatchers take note! Unfortunately, when this was originally circulated, the year was omitted. This was true... in 2003; it has been endlessly circulating since.
So, when I heard about this business with an Extreme SuperMoon happening, the closest the moon has been in 18 years, I decided to look a few things up.
Here's where I went:
Wikipedia: Clean and quick info, with dates of SuperMoons
Universe Today: "SuperMoon" or "SuperHype"?
Richard Nolle: Coiner of the word "SuperMoon"
As it turns out, a regular SuperMoon (or, more technically, perigee-syzygy) happens pretty frequently - a few times a year. Extreme SuperMoons happen often enough - every few years. There was an extreme SuperMoon that happened 18 years ago, and it's possible the intervening ones between then and now qualified as extreme SuperMoons, but just weren't quite as close as on March 8th, 1993.
So, it was a real thing. Actual perceived difference between the extreme SuperMoon and a regular full moon: not huge. I always enjoy moon-gazing though, so an excuse to do that is welcome.
If you haven't already, please start by reading Lesson 1: The North Star, Lesson 2: The Circumpolar Constellations, Lesson 3: Elegant Orion, Lesson 4: Ask Orion for Directions, and Lesson 5: Sweet Summer Sky before proceeding.
The Zodiac Constellations are a group of 12 constellations that fall on either side of the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the path that the sun traces through the sky, from the perspective of Earth, throughout the year. Put another way, if you were to take a giant celestial crayon and draw a line through all 12 Zodiac Constellations, you would end up drawing a ring in the sky that goes all the way around the Earth. The sun would always be near that ring, as would all of the planets (not Pluto, though... add that to the ever-lengthening list of reasons Pluto is only a "plan-ette").
Above, you'll see the ecliptic in blue, with the associated constellations. I've added other constellations we have learned so far, so you can get your bearings. The bottom part of the Big Dipper is just peeking through at the top of the picture in the center.
Below is a video that quite effectively shows the relationship between the Earth, the Sun, the ecliptic, and the Zodiac Constellations. The upper right corner shows which constellation is being highlighted, and the bar at the bottom shows the time of year. Notice that if it's night time on Earth (facing away from the sun) then the Zodiac Constellation you see in the video will not be visible, because it is "up" during the daytime. You'll have to wait 6 months for that constellation to be visible in the dark. The music is nice and soothing, but beware: the end of the video will audibly jar you back to reality.
We'll go through each of the 12 Zodiac Constellations below, traveling to the "left" along the ecliptic as we go. Some Zodiac Constellations can be found using others we've learned about, but others you may just have to learn to find on your own.
When you're stargazing, if you can find any two Zodiac Constellations, you know that the ecliptic goes through them and continues on either side. Use that knowledge to find any others that might be visible at that moment.
Taurus, the Bull:
We're already familiar with this one. Remember, you can use Orion's belt to find Taurus's nose. Follow the belt up and to the right.
Gemini, the Twins:
We are also already familiar with the twins. Find the blue star Rigel, in Orion's ankle, and the red star Betelgeuse, in Orion's shoulder. Connect them and continue to find Gemini.
Cancer, the Crab:
Next to Gemini, you'll find Cancer. The stars in Cancer are very faint, so he'll be difficult to see most nights. The easiest way to find him is to find Gemini and Leo, and then look between them.
Leo, the Lion:
Leo's head, neck, and front left foot form a distinct backwards question mark shape. That shape will be your key to finding Leo in the sky. Those stars are brighter than the rest of Leo.
Virgo, the Virgin:
Find the handle of the big dipper, and follow the arc to the red star, Arcturus. Now, instead of bouncing back up to Corona Borealis, "spike down" to a blue star, Spica (SPAI-kuh).
Spica is a fairly bright star, and is the only bright star in Virgo. Frequently, you'll be able to find Spica, and be unable to find any other stars in Virgo.
Libra, the Scales:
Libra is the only non-living object represented by the Zodiac. The scales are usually depicted as those old-fashioned two-sided balances. This version is one side of the balance.
Scorpius, the Scorpion:
The scorpion has a red star right at its heart, called Antares (an-TAHR-ees). The Milky Way goes through Scorpius, as well as Cygnus and Cassiopeia. Follow the path from Cassiopeia, through Cygnus, and onward until you find the red star. It will be low to the horizon in the summer.
Orion and Scorpius are enemies. According to the ancient Greeks, the gods put Orion and Scorpius as far away from each other in the sky as possible. If you can see Scorpius, Orion is below the horizon in the opposite part of the sky, and vice versa.
Sagittarius, the Archer:
The archer shoots his bow toward Scorpius. Sagittarius also appears very low to the horizon in the northern hemisphere, so it may be difficult to see most of the time.
Capricorn, the Goat:
In this depiction, the goat is leaning down to eat some grass near his feet, with his tail in the air, and horns pointed toward Aquarius. Following the point of the Summer Triangle through Altair may be helpful in finding Capricorn's tail.
Aquarius, the Water Bearer:
Aquarius is leaping over Capricorn, and water is spilling out of the bucket that he bears (see what happens when you run with a full bucket of water?)
Pisces, the Fish:
Pisces is two fish with their tails tied together. The "V" shape is the rope that holds them together, and the circle and triangle at the ends of the rope are the fish.
Aries, the Ram:
Aries leaps toward the rope in Pisces, and away from Taurus (yep, we've come all the way around again).
Now that you're more familiar with the Zodiac Constellations, watch the video again. Some of them are drawn using the same stars, but different lines. See if you can still identify them (try not to look at the answer in the corner) as the video progresses.
• Back to Lesson 5: Sweet Summer Sky •
• On to Lesson 7: (coming soon...) •
If you haven't already, please start by reading Lesson 1: The North Star, Lesson 2: The Circumpolar Constellations, Lesson 3: Elegant Orion, and Lesson 4: Ask Orion for Directions before proceeding.
If you've been practicing along with the real sky, you'll need to wait 6 months between Lesson 4 and Lesson 5. Sorry about that. It's summer now, for the purposes of our continuing stargazing education. Most diagrams in this lesson will show both the whole picture (so you can remember where you are), and a zoomed in version so you can see what's going on better.
Start by orienting yourself. Find the Big Dipper, then Polaris, confirm Cassiopeia. I've left out Cepheus and Draco, because they're harder to find in the real sky anyway. If you want to quiz yourself a bit more, add them in where you think they should be in your mind, then check yourself by going back to Lesson 2.
Boötes, the Herdsman:
The Herdsman, Boötes (boo-OH-tees), contains one of my favorite stars to find. It's another red star called Arcturus (arc-TER-us). Find it using the Big Dipper; follow the arc of the handle to get to Arcturus. That red star is the brightest one you'll find in Boötes.
Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown:
I usually just call this one "Corona" because I've never seen Corona Australis, the Southern Crown. Find Corona by rolling an imaginary bouncy ball off the handle of the big dipper. The ball will hit Arcturus, and then bounce back up to land in Corona. Corona forms a "C" shape (C is for Corona, or C is for Crown, take your pick), and it is oriented like a cup to catch the bouncy ball.
The Summer Triangle:
A well-known asterism, the Summer Triangle is actually 3 bright stars from 3 different constellations. To find this one, widen your gaze a bit. The Summer Triangle is quite large. Find 3 bright stars high overhead (in the middle of the summer at prime star-watching time, it's pretty much directly above you) that form a triangle the same shape as the blue one below. For orientation purposes, notice that the skinny end points away from the line formed by connecting the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Cassiopeia.
Remember that in my diagrams, there are no distinctions between bright stars and faint stars. The points of the Summer Triangle in the real sky will be brighter than anything else around them; those three stars are the 2nd (Vega), 7th (Altair), and 14th (Deneb) brightest stars in our night sky. It should be fairly easy to pick them out. (Other stars in the top 15 we've already learned about: Sirius, Arcturus, Rigel, Procyon, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Pollux).
Cygnus, the Swan:
The point of the Summer Triangle closest to Cassiopeia is the star Deneb, in the constellation Cygnus (SIG-nus). Deneb is the tail of the swan, and the swan flies toward the triangle. An asterism within the swan is the Northern Cross. The Southern Cross, visible in the southern hemisphere, "points" south the same way our Big Dipper "points" north.
Lyra, the Lyre:
Completing the short side of the Summer Triangle is the star Vega (VAY-guh), in the constellation Lyra (LEE-rah). A Lyre is a stringed musical instrument, kind of like a harp.
Aquila, the Eagle:
Completing our Summer Triangle is the star Altair (ahl-TARE), in the constellation Aquila (uh-KWIL-uh). Altair is one of the stars in the head of the eagle, and the beak of the eagle faces away from the triangle.
Hercules, the Hero:
Nestled between Corona and the Summer Triangle is Hercules (HUR-kyoo-leez). He holds a club above his head, and runs across the summer sky. Hercules can be tricky to discern, as he is composed of faint stars, but once you can narrow down the region of sky by finding Corona and the Summer Triangle, you might as well see if you can pick him out.
The Milky Way:
If you're in a really dark area, with no moon, and far away from city lights, the Milky Way will be easy to find.
Otherwise, knowing exactly where to look can help you out. The Milky Way runs through Cassiopeia and Cygnus. If you can see those two constellations, look carefully and see if you can find it.
What is the Milky Way? It's our galaxy, and you're seeing it from the inside. Our galaxy is shaped like a giant frisbee in space.
Imagine you are a tiny ant wandering through a frisbee factory. Suddenly, you fall into a vat of clear-blue molten plastic, and you get manufactured into a frisbee. When you look up through of the top of the frisbee, you can see a few molecules of clearish blue plastic (stars) before you see the outside world (space). If you look down through the bottom of the frisbee, you can also see a few molecules of plastic before you see the outside world. If, however, you try to look sideways through the frisbee, there's so much plastic in the way, that all you see is bluish plastic.
When you see the Milky Way in the sky, it looks like a dense stripe of stars - you're looking sideways through the disk of the galaxy from inside it!
The term "Milky Way" comes from the Greek word for "galaxy" (galaxy = galactic = lactic = lactose = milk, right?). With enough visible stars, the Milky Way certainly looks like someone spilled milk across the sky.
If you haven't already, please start by reading Lesson 1: The North Star, Lesson 2: The Circumpolar Constellations, and Lesson 3: Elegant Orion before proceeding.
Review from previous lessons:
The circumpolar constellations rotate in a tight circle around Polaris, the North Star. They are always above the horizon if you're in the northern hemisphere.
Other constellations are farther away from the North Star, and rise and set like the sun. Different constellations will be visible during prime star-watching time (from early darkness to bedtime) at different times of the year.
In the last lesson, we became familiar with Orion. Here he is with some of his closest neighbors. Can you spot him? Look for his belt, and then confirm by finding Rigel and Betelgeuse.
Orion, the Hunter:
The stars in Orion can be used to find other nearby constellations, much the same way that the pointer stars in the Big Dipper directed us so effectively toward Polaris.
We can use his belt, his shoulders, his dagger, and Rigel and Betelgeuse to find Canis Major, Canis Minor, Taurus, The Pleiades, Gemini, and Lepus.
That big white star you see is the only magnitude difference I'll show, but only because it is the single brightest star.
Canis Major, the Big Dog:
Follow Orion's belt down to the left. You'll come to a bright star, Sirius (it's a seriously bright star). It's so bright, in fact, that it's the brightest star you can see from Earth, other than our sun. That makes it the brightest star you can see from Earth at night.
Sirius is the diamond on the collar of the big dog. It is sometimes called the "dog star."
Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) is the Great Bear, and Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) is the Little Bear. It probably follows, then, that if there is a BIG dog, there should probably be a LITTLE dog, too (the same logic follows for anything with Northern/Borealis or Southern/Australis in the title, as well).
Canis Minor, the Little Dog:
Follow Orion's shoulders sideways to the left, and you'll come to Canis Minor, or the Little Dog.
The Little Dog is just two stars, so it looks more like a hot dog. The brighter of those two stars is called Procyon (PRO-see-ahn), which is Greek for "before the dog." This is in reference to how the stars rise. You will always see Procyon rise above the horizon before you see the "dog star," Sirius.
Canis Minor is one of the 88 modern constellations, but was not recognized by the ancient Greeks. According to the Greeks, Orion had only one dog.
Maybe she had puppies.
Taurus, the Bull:
Follow Orion's belt up to the right, and you'll come to the nose of Taurus, the Bull.
Taurus's face is a little V shape, and he has long horns reaching far behind his head.
Taurus has a reddish star, Aldebaran (ahl-DEH-buh-rahn). It's the star closest to the top of Orion's shield (the star that marks the top of the bull's face and the bottom of his horn).
The Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters:
Continue past Taurus until you reach a little blurry patch in the sky. That little blurry patch is a cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. In Japan, the star cluster is known as Subaru (check the car company logo next time you find yourself near a Subaru).
The cluster is made up of hundreds of stars, currently passing through a dust cloud (hence the blurriness).
Most constellations appear the way they do from Earth because of our perspective; if you went to another solar system, they would look completely different. The stars in The Pleiades, on the other hand, are physically near each other in space, so they will look like a cluster from any vantage point.
Gemini, the Twins:
Draw a line from Rigel to Betelgeuse, and then continue up to Gemini. The stars that make up the heads of the twins are called Castor and Pollux.
The head-stars are very bright, and will likely be one of the only recognizable parts of Gemini when you see it in the sky.
Locate the twins carefully! The two head-stars look an awful lot like Canis Minor if you're only going for an approximation. Shoulders sideways gets you to the little dog, and the Rigel-Betelgeuse line gets you to the twins.
Pollux has really long legs, and Castor has really short legs, so clearly they're fraternal twins.
Lepus, the Hare:
Shhh! I'm hunting wabbits!
Orion, the hunter, needs some prey, and his dogs like to chase things. Follow his dagger downward to find a rabbit, Lepus. It's easy to remember the name of this little guy, because rabbits leap-us.
Never mind that this gigantic lagomorphic monstrosity could probably take out the Little Dog with one well-placed kick of his non-existent legs...
Now you know all of Orion's neighbors!
If you go back to the last lesson, you can see Orion in the photograph, along with Canis Major (everything but the tip of his tail), Canis Minor, and you can even see Pollux's toes (he's the long-legged twin). Lepus is there, too, about to dive nose-first into the Pacific Ocean.
You now have at your disposal two whole patches of sky, and 11 of the 88 constellations, or 12.5% (The Pleiades is considered part of Taurus in the count).
That number becomes even more impressive when you think about all the southern hemisphere constellations you don't have to worry about unless you travel there.