Thursday, December 19, 2013

Renaissance Astronomy: Redefining the Universe

Last week, I wrote about the deep roots of the European Renaissance, the time to our modern society can trace its origins. In short, by the mid 1400s, Europe was ripe for an intellectual revolution that would, literally, reshape the universe as we know it.


Nicolaus Copernicus.
The first great astronomer of the Renaissance was Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who is widely considered to be the first great astronomer since antiquity because it was Copernicus who proposed the idea of a heliocentric, or Sun-centered, solar system. Actually, the idea that the Earth was a planet and all planets revolved around the Sun was an old hypothesis first put forward by Aristarchus of Samos in the 300s B.C. Unfortunately, unable to ponder the inconceivable of why there was no great wind thanks to Earth's motion and that the stars could have been infinitely far away, the ancients disregarded Aristarcus' ideas in favor of the more practical, Earth-centered theories put forth by others.
Ironically, if not for a colleague, German astronomer Georg Rhericus, Copernicus' ideas may have never made it outside a very small circle of friends. After returning to his native Poland after a trip to Italy, Copernicus wrote a short work on a heliocentric solar system that he distributed only to his friends (being a clergyman himself, Copernicus undoubtedly realized the offensive nature of such an idea). In time, this short work became the revolutionary work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs, which finally went to print in 1443. Copernicus himself received the first printed copy on the day he died.
In analyzing Copernicus, he had some important motivations for developing his heliocentric idea. First, Ptolemy's geocentric solar system was complicated and it was often at odds with observations. When it came to arguing for heliocentricism (and perhaps avoiding getting himself into trouble), Copernicus didn't flat out say that he was right and his opponents wrong, but that his theory was just that, a theory, and one that couldn't be proved or disproved any more than geocentricism. Unfortunately, just like with Aristarchus 2,000 years before, critics came out of the woodwork to argue against Copernicus. The fact that Copernicus himself was dead by the time his book was printed didn't help matters, either. As with Aristarchus, opponents argued that, if the Earth moved, there should be a constant wind, or at the very least, a noise. If the Earth spun on its axis, why didn't objects dropped always land to the West of where they fell? If earth moved, why wasn't there any detectable stellar parallax/brightness change in stars? These ideas plus the unprovable nature of it, the fact that it couldn't explain anything Ptolemy's system couldn't, and the 2,000 year history of Geocentricism all conspired to keep the ideas of Copernicus out of the scientific forefront.  

Tycho Brahe.
The next three giants of Renaissance astronomy would be contemporaries, albeit in different locales. The first to become a scientific star was Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), a Danish nobleman with a zest for science. Having observed a supernova in 1569, Brahe's book about the event brought him to the scientific forefront virtually overnight. With such fame, Brahe became a hot commodity whose skill as an astronomer was sought by many nations. To keep him from going abroad, the Danish king gave Brahe his own island plus a considerable royal allowance to be used in the pursuit of science. Brahe did not disappoint his royal patron.
Using his allowed money to build a permanent observatory, construct the world's largest (and therefore the ability to make the most accurate measurements) instruments), and hire trained assistants, it is little wonder that Brahe was the greatest of all the pre-telescopic astronomers, compiling more than 10 times more data than all the other astronomers who had ever lived to that point, combined! Adding to the quality of his reputation, Brahe's instruments were permanently mounted and multiple observations were made for verification. Single-handedly, Brahe corrected the error-ridden astronomical charts compiled by previous generations of astronomers.
Naturally, being such a big name in the scientific community, it was only natural that Brahe would weigh in on the whole shape of the solar system debate. In his solar system, Brahe went for a compromise model. The Earth was at the center but all the other planets went around the Sun, which went around Earth. However, unlike previous astronomers who had discounted heliocentricism without much thought, Brahe was sure to examine the theory before discrediting it. First of all, even with his huge instruments that could measure to accuracies previously unimaginable, Brahe could still not detect any stellar parallax. Also, in trying to measure the angular size of the stars, they were several minutes of arc. Even at an unimaginably distant 7,000 A.U.s, the stars themselves would have to be several A.U.s across, far too large for Brahe to comprehend. Result: the compromise solar system, which would hold sway for around 100 years.  

Johannes Kepler
At the same time that Brahe was measuring the heavens, a German, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), was just getting his career started. Like with Copernucus before him, Kepler could have easily never became an astronomer. Initially sent away from home to study theology and become part of the new Lutheran clergy, Kepler instead found himself drawn to mathematics, which soon became his field of study. Upon graduation from college, Kepler found himself teaching high school mathematics, with astronomy being as a spare, side interest. Despite astronomy not being his profession, Kepler wrote a book on the topic, specifically planetary orbits. This work attracted the attention of many astronomers, including Brahe, who invited Kepler to join his staff.
Brahe was an astronomer, not a mathemitician, and he knew that he needed Kepler's mathematical genius to make sense of his volumes upon volumes of data. At the same time, Kepler knew he needed Brahe's data if he were to make any discoveries. Unfortunately for Kepler, Brahe, probably rightly so, regarded his observational data as his life's work and wasn't about to start giving it out freely. Between the time he joined Brahe's staff in 1599 to the time Brae died in 1601, Kepler almost quit his position several times over frustration about not being granted access to the volumes of data Brahe had compiled in over 30 years of observations.
After Brahe died, though, Kepler would be appointed to Brahe's position of Imperial Mathemitician, which thus granted Kepler access to all of Brahe's data. Eagerly plunging into his work, Kepler immediately came across problems, specifically that the observational data could not be reconciled with planets having a circular orbit. In the time that followed, Kepler tried various models for planetary movement in the hope of finding one that would fit the observations. Try as he might, Kepler just couldn't reconcile the models to the observations, especially in regards to the planet Mars, which exhibited the greatest irregularity in its orbit.. Finally, in desperation, Kepler, a deeply religious man who sought to find proof of a divine blueprint for the solar system, gave up the perfect circles that had so dominated astronomy for centuries. Upon calculating the orbits of the planets as ellipses (slightly elongated circles) the observation and theory finally agreed. It was this discovery that planets' orbits ere elliptical that inspired Kepler's 3 laws of planetary motion.
Law 1: All planets move in elliptical orbits with the Sun at one of the foci.
Law 2: All planets move through equal areas of space in equal times ()basically, planets move faster when closer to the Sun and slower when farther away).
Law 3: A planet's period of orbit is proportional to its distance (orbital period (in years) of the planet squared equals the semimajor axis (in AU) cubed). This discovery showed that there was some common force governing planetary motion (this force is gravity, but Kepler didn't know this yet).
While his 3 Laws were undoubtedly important to the development of astronomy, Kepler also left a historical footnote among his already rich legacy to mankind: the world's first work of science fiction. In The Somnium (Dream in Latin), Kepler details a trip to the Moon, the lunar environment, and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, in the mid 160=10s, a partial copy got out to the public, which sparked rumors of witchcraft about the Keplers, with many people accusing Kepler's mother (who fit the stereotypical image of a witch in the fact that she was old, lived alone, sold herbal medicines, and had a quarrelsome personality) of using her magic to transport her son to the Moon. To make matters worse, this was the “Burning Time,” the height of the witch hunts when clergymen relentlessly pursued so-called witches, employing torture to extract confessions before often burning the unfortunates at the stake. In reality, the (un)Holy Inquisition was more of a womens' genocide. In some villages, only a handful of women were left alive after the inquisitors passed through and this was the environment in which Kepler's science fiction found itself.
Not surprisingly, the rumors got to the ears of the church leaders who then ordered Kepler's mother arrested. In the middle of the night, the authorities cam,e fore Katherine Kepler, forced her into a chest, and then carried her off to prison, which is where she would spend nearly the next 5 years. It was only through years of legal wrangling that Kepler was finally able to get his mother out of prison. Not surprisingly, Kepler blamed himself to an extent for his mother's legal woes and, after the court battle was over, Kepler put the Somnium aside for the better part of a decade, sticking to science fact instead. Finally, in the mid 1620s, Kepler started writing again but, just as he was about to publish, he died suddenly in 1630. The Somnium was published by his son in 1634, the only edition that would find its way to print for over 200 years.

Galileo Galalei.
At the same time that Kepler was battling the forces of the Inquisition while trying to paint an accurate picture of the cosmos, another, very different type of scientist, was conducting work in Italy that would, in time, come to gain him the title “father of modern astronomy.” This man was Galileo Galalei.
Like his contemporary Kepler, Galileo was drawn to astronomy through mathematics. Earning a mathematics degree, Galileo would go on to a university teaching career in Pisa. Unlike Kepler, who was motivated by a purely intellectual desire to discover, Galileo's initial motives were financial. Despite its high prestige, the position of university professor was not the best paying job in the world and Galileo was short on money, especially considering the fact that he was supporting a secret, second family as well as his wife and children with her. The avenue or financial success: a new invention called the spyglass.
An early telescope owned by Galileo.
Invented by an unknown Dutch lens maker who discovered that great magnifications could be achieved by the right pairing of lenses, the spyglass was the father of the telescope. In fact, the Dutch were the first to turn the spyglass skyward, and they reported far more stars than could be seen with the naked eye. Being a mechanical mind, Galileo resolved that, if he could get a spyglass and improve the design, he could make a lot of money by selling his design to the military. Well, Galileo did get a hold of and improve upon the spyglass, but his legacy would be far more than as a salesman.
Being naturally curious, Galileo gained worldwide fame for the fact that he was first to turn the improved spyglass, now dubbed the 'telescope,' to the sky, thus becoming the first telescopic, and thus modern observational astronomer in history. Finally, after centuries as a theoretical abstraction, the sky and the bodies it contained would become places. In his book, the Starry Messenger (written in the vernacular Italian, not Latin as all previous scientific works were), Galileo both forever changed the picture of the universe through undeniable visual observations and the way which people perceived science through writing in everyday language.
In the Starry Messenger, Galileo made several major discoveries. Starting with the least Earth-shaking, the Milky Way cloud transformed itself into rich fields of tiny stars, far more than the eyes could ever count. In the telescope, the stars looked the same as they did visually, with no details, which implied that Aristarchus and Copernicus were right, the stars were infinitely far away. Last, the angular sizes of the stars were greatly over-estimated by non-telescopic observers, including the great Tycho Brahe.

One of Galileo's drawings of the Moon.
Moving up into slightly disturbing, Galileo discovered that the heavenly bodies were not perfect and unchanging. The Moon was found to have mountains, valleys, plains, and dark areas, hardly a perfect world. As for unchanging, Galileo found that the Sun was not some static, unchanging body, but a disc covered with dark sunspots that moved across the Sun itself. By watching the sunspots, Galileo deduced that the Sun spun on its axis about once a month.
Now for the heretical.
Galileo's observations of Jupiter's moons.
When turning his telescope on Jupiter, Galileo found that the planet was accompanied by four tiny specks that moved with it through the stars, changing position relative to each other, but staying with the planet. It took no time for Galileo to realize that2 these tiny specks were moons, thus disproving the long-held idea that everything revolved around the Earth. However, geocentricism was not dead. Okay, so maybe not everything orbited Earth, but there was still no irrefutable proof that the Earth was a planet that went around the Sun.
Galileo's drawings of the phases of Venus.
Galileo's next discovery, the phases of Venus, provided such proof that Earth is not the center of the solar system. In a geocentric solar system, Venus would always be some sort of crescent thanks top the fact that the Sun orbited Earth with it. Ina heliocentric solar system, Venus would go through a full range of phases, just like our Moon. Well, in turning his telescope on Venus, Galileo found that it did exhibit a full range of phases from a thin crescent to a nearly full disc (new and full are obscured by the Sun). Now, while today, the only logical conclusion can only be that the solar system was heliocentric, back then, there was the third model proposed by Tycho Brahe: that which had the Earth at the center, the Sun orbiting our planet, but all the other planets orbiting the Sun. Now, as awkward as that idea is (why would the Earth, of all planets, be so special?), it held sway until around the year 1700 and the advent of Newtonian physics, which we will address later.
Now, these discoveries in themselves were disturbing enough for scholars and theologians but, to make matters “worse,” Galileo published all of these findings in the vernacular Italian, the language of the masses, rather than in Latin, the language of the educated. In doing so, Galileo became the first great popularizer of science, but the cost would, in time, be great.
When Galileo published the Starry Messenger, the Catholic Church, long the unchallenged, dominant religion of Europe, was in a bad way. The Protestant Reformation had begun in 1517 when Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, which directly challenged the authority of the catholic priesthood by stating the, at the time blasphemous idea, that salvation could be achieved through a personal relationship with God, thus negating the middleman that was the Catholic priest. Its authority challenged, the Church immediately clamped down on all opposition, which included science as, back then, theology and science were tightly intertwined. Remember, if the Bible said something was true, it was true, the observations to the contrary be damned, literally. As a result, the Church went on a frenzy of squashing anything that challenged its doctrine or world view. In 1616, just a handful of years after Starry Messenger was published, pope Paul V declared the teaching of heliocentricism to be heretical. His justification: the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament, which plainly stated that, with God's aid, the Sun was made to stand still, thus implying that it, not the Earth, moved. Shortly thereafter, cardinal (now saint) Robert Bellarmine personally warned Galileo to stop teaching heliocentricism. For the time, Galileo heeded this advice and did other work, which included pioneering experiments in physics.
In 1624, Paul V died and was succeeded by Urban VIII, an old personal friend of Galileo. Seeing this change at Church helm being to his advantage, Galileo approached Urban VIII about heliocentricism. Urban, who was, for the time, rather progressive in his thought, gave Galileo the okay to write about a Sun-centered solar system under one condition: heliocentricism was to be discussed as a theory, nothing more. Taking this approval, Galileo proceeded to write the Dialogue, subtitled Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the Ptolemaic and Copernican, which was published (also in the vernacular Italian) in 1632..
In the past when autocratic governments/religions were the norm, writing about controversial topics in the form of a dialogue (more accurately a debate) was a great way to avoid getting oneself in trouble, provided that the debate was actually balanced. Plato did this in an increasingly intolerant Ancient Greece (remember, Plato's teacher, Socrates, was condemned to death for, among other things, blasphemy and, according to the charges, corrupting the Athenian youth with his teachings) and never got himself in legal hot water. Obviously, Galileo sought to emulate writers like Plato in his Dialogue. Unfortunately, Galileo's debate was anything but balanced, with the character supporting the Earth-centered model and using Church arguments even being named Simplicio (“simpleton” in Italian).
Needless to say, the Church wasn't happy.
Summoned before the (un)Holy Inquisition and threatened with torture, Galileo, then 69 years old, confessed that his teachings had been in error and that he was guilty of religious crimes. The Church, in reality, came down rather lightly on Galileo, sentencing him to house arrest in his palatial villa for life (they could have sent him to prison or, like Giordano Bruno, had him burned at the stake) and placed the Dialogue on the Church's list of forbidden books (where it would remain until 1822). With such an influential scientist treated in this manner, it was little wonder that no scientist in Italy dared speak of a Sun-centered solar system even as the idea was becoming widely accepted in the rest of Europe. As a postscript, the Catholic Church never admitted its injustices toward Galileo until 1993, when he was formally declared innocent of the charges. In thanks to Galileo, 2009 was declared the International Year of Astronomy as it marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning the spyglass skyward.


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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Smallest Full Moon of 2013 is Tonight



Tonight, the Moon is going to be as small as it will get at Full stage the entire year. When the Moon reaches Full phase today, it will be roughly two and a half days from apogee, the farthest point from Earth in the Moon's orbit. So, what else of this 'Mini Moon?'


As was first discovered in the early 1600s by
 Johannes Kepler, all orbiting bodies move in elliptical (slightly elongated) orbits, the Moon is no exception. The fact the lunar orbit is elliptical is the root of the whole 'mini Moon' event that will happen today. Because of the elliptical orbit, the Moon is not always the same distance from Earth, but a varying distance that can change by as much as about 27,000 miles. Tonight, the Moon will come to a point in its orbit that will bring it very close the farthest point in its orbit, a position called apogee.


In practical terms, the fact that the Moon is farther than usual will not amount to much. In a telescope, however, things will be different to an experienced observer. As seen in a telescope, the Moon will be slightly smaller than it is when it is full at perigee (the point in its orbit closest from Earth), especially when put side by side in a composite photograph.

Oh, yes, next month's Full Moon will be a true apogee Moon, with Full taking place less than two hours from apogee, meaning that the January Full Moon will be about as small as a Moon can get.


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Friday, December 13, 2013

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight: Watch Live Online!


After a days-long lead-up, tonight, December 13/14, 2013, is finally the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower, which means that tonight, more so than any before or after, should offer the most meteors streaking through the sky.

Every December, Earth passes through the stretch of space junk shed by a mysterious object called
 
3200 Phaeton, reaching the deepest concentration of debris tonight. According to some estimates, under ideal conditions (dark country skies), one can expect to see something in the range from 60-120 meteors per hour. The reason the meteors are called Geminids is because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Gemini. The best time to view the shower is in the wee hours of the nigh/early morning, when Gemini is at its highest.

If you plan to go out in the early morning, look in the West-Southwest and directly above Orion to spot Gemini, whose signature feature is bright stars Castor and Pollux within a 5 degrees of each other.

The best part: even if its cloudy, you can watch the meteor shower online! Go here to learn more about the shower, how to observe it, and for a link to the webcasts!


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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Renaissance Astronomy: Roots

If a single event can be said to be the origin of the modern world we live in today, it would be 1300s Italy and the birth of the Italian Renaissance, which would, over the coming decades, spread across Europe and remake the entire world thanks to the fact that Europe was, despite its intellectual backwardness, a continent on the move.

The word 'renaissance' itself is of Italian in origin and roughly means 'rebirth.' To understand why the Renaissance was a rebirth, one has to take a brief look back through history.


Thales of Miletus
The Classical civilization of Greece and Rome was the peak of European civilization when the Renaissance started in the late 1300s. Starting in around 600 B.C., man started to try and explain the world rationally and express the belief that the world was knowable if observed and that laws of nature, rather that the will of God/the gods, shaped world events. In the centuries that followed the assertion made by Thales of Miletus that the world was not of godly, but of natural origin, science as a way of understanding the world blossomed. In Classical world, the following, fundamental truths were recognized:
1. The universe was of natural origin and did not require God/the gods (not all accepted this)
2. The first explanations of the celestial bodies as places
3. The Earth was discovered to be spherical
4. Proofs of a spherical Earth were found
5. The first models of the solar system were created
6. Earth's circumference was measured to a few percent its true size
7. Precession of the equinoxes was recognized
8. Stars were mapped and classified by brightness

Unfortunately, the ancients were not perfect, some ideas were dead wrong (and appear silly today):

1. The Earth was the center of the solar system
2. The heavens were perfect and unchanging
3. Could never divorce the idea of God/the gods playing a role

However, despite their errors, the Classical astronomers were making important breakthroughs every time they came up with a hypothesis that explained the world naturally. Today, following in that tradition, modern astrophysicists are seeking to find a theory that explains the origin of the universe itself as a natural event, a difficult pill for some to swallow even today.

The Death of Socrates (1787) 
Needless to say, this golden age of science (and among other things literature, theater, philosophy, free inquiry, democracy, and many other societal virtues) was not to last. Even in the Classical age itself, the tide began to turn against the very things that had made the civilization so great. Emperors replaced democratically-elected leaders (Republican Rome became Imperial Rome), freedom of thought began to be squashed (Socrates was just the start), and science began to be subservient to religion (Scientists increasingly found themselves branded heretics). By the time the political creation that was the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 A.D., the golden age of Classical civilization was long past as knowledge had long since taken a back seat to bad leadership, civil wars, and barbarian invasions.

Unfortunately, things would get even worse.

The Last Judgment: a common scene in Dark Age cathedrals.
The Christian Church, which started as an underground religion, came to the surface when emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity. With the political disintegration, the Church saw itself as the successor to Rome. After the last Roman emperor was deposed, Western Europe went from a single political organization (albeit an increasingly tenuous one) into hundreds of tiny, often warring kingdoms. With the power that was Rome gone, people ran to local warlords for protection. In the face of such political disunity, the Christian faith was the single factor binding Europe together. Seeing this potential for power, church leaders lorded it over peasant and king alike, demanding total obedience in return for a chance to go to Heaven.
In a climate of such fear, it is little wonder that freedom of thought was soon squashed.
For the Church, the findings of the Classical scientists often went contrary to the Bible. In their sense of self-righteousness, the Church leaders, when encountering something that went contrary to their holy books, simply declared the observation to be in error, anyone who professed belief in it top be a heretic, and then tried to sweep the unsettling discovery under the proverbial rug in the hope that no one would ever find it again. In the centuries to follow, it is little wonder that Europe would become a continent of the uninformed, ignorant, and superstitious.
Fortunately, this Dark Age would not last forever.
Meanwhile, while Christian Europe was in the midst of its 1,000 year, largely dreamless sleep, the Islamic and Byzantine worlds would serve as a repository for what was, at least to Western Europe, lost knowledge. However, besides simply preserving the findings of their forebears, the Byzantines and Muslims would go on to do new astronomy, building observatories and mapping the stars in the tradition of the ancients. More so than any other people, the Muslims saved Classical astronomy from intellectual oblivion.
The start of the astronomical Renaissance was in places where Christians and Muslims lived peaceably (yes, this did happen), most notably in Muslim-controlled Spain. In such places, works in Arabic were translated into the Christian-dominant language. In another vein, while Western Europe may have had no inherent interest in science, it did have an interest in exotic goods brought by way of the Byzantine Empire, which effectively bridged the East and West. Besides goods, the trade routes would also bring new ideas to Western Europe.
With a new-found, although not overly deep interest in astronomy, Europeans discovered a rather perplexing problem: all of the Byzantine/Islamic start charts showed the stars positioned differently than their own, which turned out to be in error. The question of why the stars on the old charts were incorrectly placed (precession is why) was the spark that reignited long-suppressed curiosity of European intellectuals. In short order, Europe would begin on its slow path towards discovery once again. The first universities were founded in the 11-1200s, better scientific instruments were developed so as to minimize errors, and more scientists actually took to experiment rather than remain as mere commentators. Then in 1453, the watershed event of European history took place: the Byzantine Empire, which had survived its Roman brother for 1,000 years, finally collapsed, after which all kinds of curiosity spurring texts came flooding out and into Western Europe.

Constantinople, Byzantine capital, was situated at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

With the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, Europeans finally had a practical reason to become interested in astronomy: trade. Up until 1453, Western European traders had a pretty easy time of it traversing the Byzantine trade routes. When the Ottoman Turks took over, seeing the potential for revenue, they upped the fees for traders passing through to the point where some monarchs deemed it cheaper in the long run to try and find a new way to Asia than pay the fees the Ottomans demanded in exchange for safe passage.

Ships were the spacecraft of the 13-1400s.

In the 1400s, sailing ships were like spacecraft are today. When a sailor left home port, he was, in effect, sailing to an uncharted new world far beyond the help of his home country, much the way astronauts in space do so today. In crossing the oceans to journey to distant lands, sailors might as well have been sailing to Mars. At the time, finding longitude was the biggest navigational challenge. Latitude was easy, simply look at what Northern stars you could see in a given location to tell approximately how far you had gone. Longitude? Well, that was tough. Traveling East-West had no easy answers, except, quite possibly, in the stars and in more accurate methods of timekeeping. With rich nobles wanting their exotic spices and fine silks, science, specifically astronomy, finally had a practical application.

The Black Death changed the face of Europe (and inspired decidedly macabre art) 
At the same time, the Black Death was raging through Europe. First hitting in the “great mortality” of 1347, the Black Death would wipe out about a third of Europe's population in the years 1347-1352. While such a terrible, gruesome disease in itself would have been horrifying enough to an ignorant populace, the fact that the all-powerful Catholic Church could not do a thing to stop its spread increased the already terrible feelings of helplessness. When watching so many die and nothing being done to halt the spread of death, faith in the Church was shaken. Perhaps the Catholic Church that had dominated European life for 1,000 years wasn't so powerful after all.
In time, these three things, exposure to intellectual achievement, the collapse of Byzantium, and the loss of faith in the Catholic Church would lead to the Renaissance, the rebirth of Europe.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

EOS-M2 Announcement Begs Question: Canon, Why Do You Hate America?


Canon has just announced the EOS-M2, an update to the original EOS-M that, according to Canon, features AF that is twice as fast. The only problem: anyone reading this in America need not concern themselves with saving up money and/or trying to preorder the camera. Why? By the look of things as they stand, Canon has no plans of bring the M2 to America!

Booooooo!!!!!!!

For starters, this is not a revolutionary update, but rather an evolutionary one, and a mild one at that. However, while the EOS-M2 may just be a EOS-M rewarmed in the technological microwave, it does have the updated AF Hybrid CMOS II found in the 100D/SL1 models. Why does this matter? While generally acknowledged as a capable camera in most respects, the EOS-M had an Achilles Heel: its AF sucked!

Cue the '2.'

In the time between the EOS-M and now, Canon did some tweaking to its AF system and then incorporated the fix into its 100D/SL1 dSLR. Result: a noticeable improvement in AF performance. This same AF system is now being used in the EOS-M2. However, for us in America (unless you visit/order overseas from Japan), we won't be privy to any of this., which is a shame considering that, save its rotten AF performance, the EOS-M is a rather good camera by most accounts.


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Comet ISON Dead, Debris Cloud is 8th Magnitude



Comet ISON is undeniably dead for good. The latest videos from the SOHO solar observatory are showing Comet ISON to be no more than just a cloud of dissipating dust shining at 8th magnitude and dimming quickly.

According to Spaceweather.com, after having a few days to examine the imagery, experts are starting to come come to a consensus that Comet ISON actually disintegrated before perihelion. The reasoning: the comet's brightness dipped quite noticeably right before perihelion as seen by the SOHO camera. So why did it brighten post-perihelion? The last gasps from a gravitationally-bound rubble pile.

Sad end for the once-proclaimed 'comet of the century.'



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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Video: Comet ISON Disintegrating (For Real This Time!)


Yesterday came surprising reports that Comet ISON, whose survival some were hailing as a Thanksgiving miracle, was now disintegrating. Well, a day after the news first broke, the bad news is undeniably real as the comet is rapidly dimming and dissipating.Unfortunately, while the previous reports of the comet's 'death' were quickly shown to be premature, this second demise looks to be for real.


See also: the brightest comets in history

It was on Thanksgiving that the comet made its close approach to the Sun, coming within a mere (in astronomical terms) 700,000 miles from our nearest star. Is is this close pass to the Sun, and the resultant melting of the comet that, according to optimistic estimates, could push Comet ISON to magnitude -11, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Unfortunately, though, the same mechanism that could make Comet ISON comet of the decade could also destroy it, which now appears to be the case
Stay tuned for more updates!


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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Breaking News: Comet ISON Disintegrating (VIDEO)


Call the Sun the Grinch as it appears to have just stolen Comet ISON! The latest videos from the SOHO solar observatory are showing a rapidly fading, dissipating Comet ISON racing away from the Sun. Unfortunately, while the previous reports of the comet's 'death' were quickly shown to be premature, this second demise looks to be for real.

See also:
the brightest comets in history

It was on Thanksgiving that the comet made its close approach to the Sun, coming within
a mere (in astronomical terms) 700,000 miles from our nearest star. Is is this close pass to the Sun, and the resultant melting of the comet that, according to optimistic estimates, could push Comet ISON to magnitude -11, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Unfortunately, though, the same mechanism that could make Comet ISON comet of the decade could also destroy it, which now appears to be the case
Stay tuned for more updates!


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Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Miracle: Comet ISON Survives Perihelion! (PHOTOS, VIDEO)


Miracles are real! It now appears that initial reports (including one here) suggesting that Comet ISON disintegrated have been proven premature thanks to further video (click the above picture to watch) by the SOHO solar observatory clearly showing Comet ISON, or at least part of it, emerging from the other side of the Sun.

So, what could have happened?

Right now, the Sun is near the peak of activity in its regular, 11-year cycles. This means that the Sun is blasting a lot of waves of charged particles (solar wind) out into space. With Comet ISON getting so close to the Sun, it will take a direct, close-range hit should a flare aimed at the comet erupt in the coming days. As for what could happen? While anything exact is far from certain, it appears as though the solar wind could have stripped off a sizable portion of the comet's atmosphere, thus reducing its brightness, and leading to premature expectations of its total demise. The same thing happened to Comet Encke in 2007.

See also: the 10 brightest comets of all time

In the end, though, the only way we'll be able to know what Comet ISON will do is to wait and watch. Hopefully, it will survive its close encounter intact and become a show for the history books when it reappears on the other side of the Sun.



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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Photo/Video: Comet ISON Appears to Have Disintegrated


New photographic evidence has shown something reappearing on the other side of the Sun, but it hardly looks like Comet ISON. Appearing as a small streak, there is clearly something on SOHO's camera, but all evidence indicates trouble in the form of a 'headless' comet (one that has largely been stripped of its atmosphere and tail) or the remains of a fragmented nucleus. Go here for a video.

AS of now, no one is certain exactly what is going on, but stay tuned for further updates!

Comet ISON Comes to Perihelion Today, Watch it Happen Live!



Comet ISON is coming to perihelion later today! In non-astronomer lingo, this means that Comet ISON is going to make its closest approach to the Sun today, coming to with 732,000 miles (a close very shave in astronomical terms). It is this intense solar heat that will cause the comet to melt at its fastest rate. Why does this matter? Simple: all of the solar light reflected off the water vapor pouring off the comet will give ISON the familiar, tailed comet look.

The best part: you can watch everything happen live (almost) online!

With Comet ISON being lost to visual observers, the only way to see it now is by way of Sun-studying orbital observatories. Mission control for one of these observatories, SDO, will be hosting a Google+ hangout from 1pm to 3:30pm EDT. Go here for a link to the action.

See also: the 10 brightest comets of all time

In the end, though, the only way we'll be able to know what Comet ISON will do is to wait and watch. Hopefully, it will survive its close encounter intact and become a show for the history books when it reappears on the other side of the Sun.


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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

List: The 10 Brightest Comets of All Time


In a matter of days, Comet ISON will make its perihelion approach, coming within 750,000 miles (a very close shave in astronomical terms) from the Sun. Both astronomers and the general public have gone abuzz over Comet ISON thanks to a prediction released a year ago by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that stated that the comet could reach magnitude -11.6, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Additionally, besides being shadow-casting bright at night, the comet would be bright enough to easily be spotted during broad daylight.

If this were to happen, it would not be a first, but it would allow Comet ISON to join a very exclusive list of the brightest comets ever seen. To days, only 9 comets in recorded history have been bright enough to be seen in daylight. Now, in chronological order, here they are . . .

Great Comet of 1106.
The Belgian historian Sigebertus Gemblacensis completed his
Chronica in 1111. In it, he wrote that on 1106 February 2 a star appeared during the daytime, between the third and ninth hours, about a cubit from the sun. The probable universal time of this observation was February 2-3. A cubit is roughly equal to one degree, meaning that the comet was in Aquarius. The comet was observed in other European countries as well as in the Orient. Some estimates credit the comet as having a tail spanning 100 degrees at peak.



Great Comet of 1680.
Even if it weren't for its amazing show, the Great Comet of 1680 had another distinction: it was the first comet discovered by telescope. First seen on November 14, 1680, the comet rapidly brightened as it approached perihelion, which took place on December 18, 1680, at which tie the comet, which passed within 600,000 miles from the Sun, was reportedly bright enough to be seen in broad daylight. Coincidentally, the Great Comet of 1680 has an almost identical orbit to that of Comet ISON. 



Great Comet of 1743-4.
This comet was discovered simultaneously be several astronomers in November, 1743. In november, 1743, it was reported as appearing as a nebulous star without a tail. By February, 1744 it was as bright as Venus and, after perihelion approach in March, 1744, it developed a spectacular, fan-like tail with 6 prominent streaks. This 6-tailed comet was even observed before it rose, its tail was that bright. The comet then moved into the Southern hemisphere, where some observers credited it with a tail spanning 90 degrees. After 2006-7's McNaught, some came to believe that the Comet of 1743-4 was the first recorded appearance of a comet featuring prominent dust striae.



 
Great Comet of 1843.
First observed in February of 1843, the comet rapidly brightened to the point it was seen in broad daylight at perihelion, which brought it to about 1 angular degree (or about 830,000 miles) of the Sun. This comet was known for its extremely long tail. At over 2 astronomical units (over 180 million miles), the Comet of 1843 would have the longest measured tail until Comet Hyakutake of 1996 was found to have a tail of over twice that length.



  
Great Comet of September 1882 (the Super Comet). 
Perhaps the brightest comet ever seen, at peak, some estimate the Great Comet of September 1882 of having had a peak brightness of magnitude -20, rivaling that of the Sun. Initially spotted in either late August or early September1882, the comet brightened rapidly as it approached perihelion, which took place on September 17. At this time, the comet was reported as being scarcely dimmer than the limb of the Sun, suggesting a magnitude as bright as -20. After perihelion, the comet quickly moved into dark skies, making it perhaps the most spectacular comet ever seen in all of recorded history. The comet remained visible to the naked eye for a long time, until February, 1883, with the last confirmed sighting coming in June, 1883. This comet was also notable in being the first great comet to have been photographed. 



The Daylight Comet of January 1910. 
In 1910, comet mania was in high gear with the anticipated return of Halley's Comet set for April. However, in January, a surprise came about in the form of a comet that literally burst into naked eye visibility virtually overnight. Initially observed in the Southern Hemisphere, the comet reached perihelion on January 17 and moved into the Northern Hemisphere thereafter, easily out-shining Venus and having a tail possibly 50 degrees long. Thanks to appearances of Halley's Comet later that year and the passage of decades, many recollections of the two comets were confused when Halley's Comet reappeared in 1986, with the Daylight Comet being falsely remembered as Halley's Comet.
Comet Skjellerup Maristany (1927).
This comet became very bright in late, 1927, being naked-eye visible for about a month. In mid December, the comet, already notable for its yellow appearance thanks to a shedding of sodium atoms, shot into daylight visibility thanks to a forward scattering of light, provided one blocked the Sun with one's hand. The Comet reached perihelion on December 15 passing within 1.5 angular degrees of the Sun.




Comet Ikeya Seki (1965).
Initially discovered in December, 1965, initial predictions projected a perihelion approach to within 500,000 miles of the Sun coming in mid October and the comet reaching incredible brightness. In this case, the comet lived up to the hype, reaching an apparent magnitude of -10 in October, 1965, becoming visible next to the Sun in daylight near perihelion. After the comet reappeared on the other side of the Sun following perihelion, it sported an extremely bright, long tail. 


Comet West (1976)
Discovered photographically in September, 1975, Comet West was predicted to reach perihelion on February 25 of the following year. At perihelion, observers reported the comet as being bright enough to be seen in broad daylight. Unfortunately, despite its spectacular appearance, comet West was largely ignored by the non-astronomical media thanks to another comet, Kohoutek, which failed to live up to its initial billing as 'comet of the century' in 1973.   



Comet McNaught (2006-7)
Like West, Comet McNaught was discovered photographically about 6 months prior to perihelion, which took place in mid-January, 2007. For observers, it didn't take long to realize that the new discovery was brightening rapidly and had the potential to become a 'great comet.' Until its perihelion approach, Comet McNaught was a Northern Hemisphere object. Even before perihelion, the comet was bright enough to be seen in daylight. Post-perihelion and after moving into the Southern Hemisphere sky, the comet sprouted a gigantic, dusty, fan-like tail, the end of which was even visible in the Northern hemisphere. In terms of measured brightness, McNaught was measured as having a brightness of -5.5, the brightest since 1965.



So, will Comet ISON get added to this list? In the end, only time will tell. The good news: whatever happens to Comet ISON, we won't have long to wait as it makes its perihelion approach in a mere 2 days!


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Sunday, November 24, 2013

How Bright Will Comet ISON Get? New Predictions!


Both astronomers and the general public went abuzz over Comet ISON thanks to a prediction released a year ago by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that stated that the comet could reach magnitude -11.6, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Additionally, besides being shadow-casting bright at night, the comet would be bright enough to easily be spotted during broad daylight. If Comet ISON were to become this bright, it would not be a first, but it would still be the astronomical event of the year should the JPL's prediction come true.

Now, less than a week to the (hopefully) big show, some new predictions regarding how bright comet ISON could get have been made.


So, how bright could ISON get? Short answer: no one knows, with everything hinging on whether the comet survives its close approach to the Sun, a point where the experts are in disagreement.

What we do know is as follows. At the start of the month, Comet ISON was shining around +8 magnitude, where it had been for over a month and a half. Then, without warning, the comet's brightness jumped about 2 magnitudes (or about a factor of 5 times) in visual brightness. By the 16
th, the comet was reported as having jumped another magnitude, to about 5th, near the dim end of naked eye visibility. Some current estimates place ISON in the 4th magnitude.

Now, how about that close solar approach?

On November 28, the comet will pass a mere (in astronomical terms) 732,000 miles from the Sun. Is is this close pass to the Sun, and the resultant melting of the comet that, according to optimistic estimates, push Comet ISON to magnitude -11, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Unfortunately, the same event could also melt the comet and cause it to disintegrate and fizzle out altogether. Bottom line: the only way to see what ISON will do is, literally, to wait and watch.

Okay, comet hunters, here are some key dates to consider:
November 28: Comet ISON's closest approach to the Sun, hopefully it will survive and if it does, a spectacular tail (McNaught on steroids) is a very real possibility
Early December: Comet ISON will be visible on both evening and morning skies for mid-Northern observers and circumpolar for the far North
December 26: Comet ISON makes its closest approach to Earth at 39.6 million miles


For an intriguing afterthought, according to comet hunter John Bortle through Spaceweather.com (go to the September 25, 2012 archived page), Comet ISON's path closely parallels that of the
great comet of 1680, which was bright enough to be seen during the day (just like McNaught).



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