Solar Eclipse seen from Germany…

This is one of my few non-IT posts ;) Today is solar eclipse day. At my location (roughly 50N, 8E), we had a rough 10% occultation. But, as usual, the day started with a 100% occultation due to clouds. Nevertheless, I set up my PST solar scope, and a pair of eclipse “glasses”. Finally, the skies cleared up around the time the eclipse began. Not great, still lots of clouds, but, hey, this time I wasn’t after chasing fine detail. The moon could clearly be visible in front of the sun and this was what counted.

The h-alpha view in the PST was quite different, in my personal observation, from what I saw through the eclipse glasses. Most interestingly, when I initially looked I actually did not see a part of the sun being dark, but I rather “saw” the moon in front of it. I actually envisioned the moon’s globe. I thought I could even see its structured extended into the dark of the sky (especially in the PST), as an extension from its image “inside” the sun. That was rather strange. In fact, it took me some effort to forget about the moon and “just” see a piece of the sun “bitten off”. I guess this is again a good proof on how much our senses (or better our brain’s interpretation of what the senses deliver) depend on our knowledge and expectation.

As a side-note, I gathered my family around the scope and we all had a great time viewing (though me was obviously the one who had most endurance). And I should probably also mention that I screwed a biz meeting by running out loudly telling “the clouds are gone” ;). And at another time a fellow astronomer called in remembering my that I should watch. Great when people care :). And, finally, after around 75 minutes (around three quarter of the eclipses duration), it just appeared to me that I had special solar-observing save plastic film, which I than quickly moved in front of my camera. So I even have a few shots of the eclipse (one of which you can see right here at the top).

While I could not see the initial phase of the eclipse, I could see the moon move away from the sun. Very interesting.

All in all, this was a very motivating day, a real highlight. And now on to the usual stuff…

German UNAWE Committee …

Last Saturday, I had the joy of attending a meeting that formally founded the German UNAWE Committee (which, as a side-note made me become a member of it).

UNAWE (“Universe Awareness for Young Children”) is an internationally-recognized organization trying to educate young children on astronomy. The target age is rougly between 4 and 10 years. Besides astronomy, UNAWE is also about people (children) from different cultures talking to each others and sharing their experiences. This is a fantastic idea and I like it very much. There are already a number of UNAWE committees all around the world and I am eager to help grow that network.

If you are into astronomy, work with children, or both: consider contributing!

“The Clouds” online for July 2007

I was quite busy, but I finally found some time to compute “the clouds” animation for the month of July 2007. The clouds is one of my fun and educational projects. I initially thought of it as an astronomy project, but it soon turned out that it can be equally useful for understanding geography and, of course, physics in general.

The coulds offers stunning, satellite-based views of earth’s revolving cloudbands as seen from weather satellites. So far, I used EUMETSAT services, but plan to expand that to other satellite providers, too.

I usually create the animation in the first week of the month. This time, it took much longer. Part of it was that I was quite busy with rsyslog. The other had to do with my laziness. When I started the project back in early may, I thought it would be a one-shot for one month. Consequently, I pulled the sat images via a “secondary” system without any fault tolerance. When it turned out that “the clouds” would run for an extended period of time, I changed none of the setup. And, guess what – the hard disk failed early August. I didn’t even monitor that system for health (my second fault, especially *I* should have done that…). So I didn’t notice until a few days later.

The really bad thing is that I couldn’t get any past images. EUMETSAT thankfully offers current satellite images without charge for non commercial use. However, the archive is a paid option. So I initially feared I’d lost all of July. Thankfully, I could recover that satellite images. So July 2007 is complete. I lost four days at the beginning of August, but that doesn’t hurt so much. And, yes, I’ve at least learned a bit out of the whole situation: The image grabber now runs on two systems concurrently and both of them store images on mirrored disks. That should keep my on the safe side.

astronomy talk for kids

Live is not just about programming. Today, I took some time off to give an astronomy talk to elementary school kids. Their teacher had approached me some time ago and asked if I could give that talk at the end of their school excursion. Of course I could :)

It was a quite basic talk about the sun, moon and stars, with a focus on understanding our place in to solar system. Of course I covered all the nice planets and especially focused on Saturn (of course, because I am a SOC member ;)). We had big luck with the weather. Around noon, there was pouring rain and clouds, clouds, clouds. When I arrived at the school (they came over to our elementary school in Grossrinderfeld), the rain ceased somewhat.

We prepared and off went the talk. The kids were very interested and obviously had fun. And, believe it or not, by the time the talk completed, there was bright sunshine. So I could bring out my PST solar telescope and the kids could have a great look at our mother star (of course, the teachers liked it to).

To conclude the event, I dispersed NASA stickers (ESA doesn’t provide me some ;)) and left a lucky crowd.

Did I say this is a very rewarding activity? ;)