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Welcome to Faint Fuzzy! August 2, 2009

Posted by Treehopper in astronomy, catholic, general, opinion.
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Welcome to Faint Fuzzy.  It’s my little corner of the interwebz where I can ponder a few of my favorite things: science (namely astronomy), religion (namely Catholic Christianity) and why I feel the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

The articles here will represent my particular view on things.  I don’t claim to be unique.  I certainly don’t claim to be incredibly smart or gifted.  I won’t even claim to be right about certain things.  Most of what will be found here will be “thoughts in process” or perhaps slightly more advanced ruminations.  I’ll try to be “fair and balanced”, but I’ll never claim to be unbiased (and never trust anyone who says they are!)  While I have no problem with differing opinions, I can and will wield editorial control over the content here (meaning I will edit or delete comments at my discretion.)

For those unfamiliar with the term, a “faint fuzzy” is a euphemism used by some in the astronomy community to refer to Deep Sky Objects (or DSO’s).  These objects (and there are a lot of them) often appear as dim smudges in a small telescope.  I thought the name was appropriate because I often feel as I’m trying to frame a position on a topic, it’s as unfocused and indistinct as some of these far away celestial doo-dads.  Sooner or later, I hope to articulate some of these faint and fuzzy concepts into something more tangible. Just bear with me.

Speaking of bearing with me, I’m somewhat new to this whole blog thing as well.  I manage a couple of online game-related blogs which use the WordPress “engine”, so it’s somewhat familiar.  But it’ll take me a while to figure out all the in’s-and-out’s, gadgets, widgets, and deely-bobs I have at my disposal.  So this is very much under construction for now.

Let me know what you think.

Regarding “Truth” September 16, 2009

Posted by Treehopper in astronomy, catholic, opinion.
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Who’s Truth Is It Anyway?

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m neither a scientist nor a theology scholar.  I do, however, have my feet solidly in both camps as a serious student of both astronomy and Catholic Christian theology.  This often leads to a precarious balancing act, especially when in full view of the prevailing academic atheism that has been so popular in our institutions of higher learning for the past several generations.  So to echo Pilate’s rather indelicate question, just what is truth?  Does one side or the other have an exclusive claim to truth?  Does a person of faith today have to travel incognito with regard to his religious beliefs or be prepared to take one on the chin by his irreligious peers?

Science or Faith?

Science or Faith?

At the very end of the August 2009 issue of Sky & Telescope in the “Focal Point” editorial article (page 86), a trio of astronomers from the University of Texas at Austin collectively penned an opinion piece titled, “Keeping Science Safe.”  These authors use such charged terms as “insidious” to describe the efforts of so-called “Intelligent Design” proponents, and referred to their worldview as “antiquated” and “antiscientific.”  To these astronomers and their “worldview”, one must flash their skeptic’s credentials at the door before being admitted to the halls of “true science.”  The irony here is that while accusing the opposing camp of running an agenda, their own pre-conceptions are laid bare.  To wit, there is no room in modern academia for faith in a Creator.

Such a notion runs face-on into the historical record of such luminaries in the field of astronomy such as Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe, Kepler, Newton, et al.  Go beyond astronomy into other fields, and you’ll find a small army of equally notable names; all whose contribution to science is undisputed, and all of whom expressed a religious faith.  One need not argue too vehemently that the scientific method itself owes a great deal of its foundations to men whose consciences were formed by fervent faith in God.


Jupiter Without Moons September 2, 2009

Posted by Treehopper in astronomy, observation.
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(Originally posted by Tony Flanders on the Sky & Telescope Observing Highlights section.)

On the night of September 2-3, 2009, a remarkable celestial event will take place. From 4:43 to 6:29 Universal Time on the 3rd (which is 12:43 to 2:29 a.m. EDT on the 3rd, or 9:43 to 11:29 p.m PDT on the 2nd), a casual look at Jupiter through a telescope will show no moons at all. It’s quite common for one of the four Galilean moons be hidden, and it’s not rare to see only two moons. But only a few times in a century do all four moons hide simultaneously behind or in front of Jupiter.

As the diagram shows, Callisto and Io will be either behind Jupiter or eclipsed by Jupiter’s shadow, rendering them completely invisible to any telescope. But Europe and Ganymede will be in front of the planet, where their disks should (at least in theory) be visible at high magnification if the atmosphere is very steady. And for most of that time, one or both of the moons’ shadows will also fall on Jupiter. The moons themselves are hard to see because they’re similar in color and brightness to Jupiter. But the shadows are pitch black, so they stand out relatively well.

To enjoy the event to the fullest, you should try to watch the moons’ disappearances and reappearances. Most of the 11-hour sequence should be visible from the American East Coast, and much of it is visible across all of the Americas and in Europe.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
23:28 UT, Callisto enters occultation behind Jupiter.

Thursday, September 3, 2009
03:44 UT, Io enters occultation behind Jupiter.
04:00 UT, Europa begins transit of Jupiter.
04:46 UT, Ganymede begins transit of Jupiter.
04:56 UT, Europa’s shadow begins to cross Jupiter.
06:32 UT, Io exits eclipse by Jupiter’s shadow.
06:46 UT, Ganymede’s shadow begins to cross Jupiter.
06:50 UT, Europa ends transit of Jupiter.
07:50 UT, Europa’s shadow leaves Jupiter’s disk.
08:24 UT, Ganymede ends transit of Jupiter.
08:44 UT, Callisto exits eclipse by Jupiter’s shadow.
10:24 UT, Ganymede’s shadow leaves Jupiter’s disk.

FirstScope – Review August 28, 2009

Posted by Treehopper in astronomy, review.
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The Celestron FirstScope proves that cheap doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.”

With 2009 being the International Astronomical Union’s “International Year of the Telescope” (commemorating the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first attempts at turning the newly discovered telescope toward the heavens), the astronomy community has been all abuzz over various products and projects that bear the official “stamp” of the event.  One of these products is the FirstScope, produced and distributed by Celestron.   When it originally rolled out, it was priced at a modest $50 or thereabouts.  Not horrible as telescopes go, but enough to keep budget-minded fence-sitters like me at bay.

Then, the e-mail arrived.


Ode to the Small Scope August 23, 2009

Posted by Treehopper in astronomy, equipment, opinion.
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Maybe I’m just a sucker for the underdog.  Maybe I’ve never quite gotten over that tendency to be an underachiever.  Or maybe it’s just the allure of not using the biggest and best equipment and still enjoying my astronomy habit.  But I’m usually in the vocal minority of folks who routinely defend and champion the smaller aperture telescopes.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again.  A neophyte would-be astronomer comes asking one of the very first questions a newbie always asks when in the company of more learned folk.  “How do I select a new telescope?”  And it seems as though as sure as night follows day the majority will rise up chanting the near-universal mantra, “Aperture is king!  Buy the biggest thing you can afford!”  And more often than not, what they mean by this is, “Get a Dobsonian reflector!  Dobs rule!  I wouldn’t let my ugliest, smelliest dog sit on anything less than a 8-inch Dob!”

“I remind myself that the likes of Galileo, Newton, or Messier didn’t have even an 8″ Dob to accomplish the deeds for which they are so highly regarded and fondly remembered these centuries hence”

Galileo must have left his 12 Dob at home...

Galileo must have left his 12" Dob at home...


The Basics August 3, 2009

Posted by Treehopper in opinion.
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In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should make a few declarations up front.

First off, I’m not a professional anything. I’m not a scientist. Nor am I a theologian. I have great respect for both science and theology, and consider myself a student of both. But I don’t have a vocational vested interest in one position or the other.