Tag Archives: John McLaren

APOD: more than just pretty pictures

The Astronomy Picture of the Day is more than just a pretty photo. In fact, each of the featured images may well have more than a thousand words packed into it. You just need to drill down deeper into the site.

John McLaren, a NASA Solar System Ambassador and treasurer of the Seattle Astronomical Society, gave a presentation about APOD at the society’s meeting last week. He said the key to finding a wealth of information about celestial objects is dragging your eyes away from the pretty pictures long enough to notice the explanation of the photo and, more importantly, the submenu below it. McLaren uses this information when preparing presentations about astronomy for various groups.

“You can build a more complete story,” he explained. “There are good links here for education, for outreach, and home-schooling groups.”

You’ve probably noticed that the explanations of the photos use plenty of links to further information. Below the explanation there’s typically a set of “more on” links about objects or content. The real prize, though is in the index, a fully searchable listing of what’s on the APOD site.

That’s a lot of stuff. McLaren noted that the site was started by Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell when both worked at the Goddard Space Flight Center. The first posts were in June of 1995, and there have been more than eight thousand of them since. McLaren pointed out that when you look at the site, it is very 1995. There’s no flash or fancy moving menus. It’s pretty straight HTML, and the authors figured that changing things would run the risk of breaking a zillion links to APOD information.

Earth from Apollo 17

The Earth from Apollo 17
Picture Credit: NASA, Apollo 17, NSSDC

They don’t update the photos published, either. Clicking on each photo gives you the best version of it that they have. The one at left, a photo of Earth taken from Apollo 17 in 1972, was posted in the first week of APOD’s operation. When McLaren showed this photo on the big screen during his presentation, there was some laughter about its low resolution. He reminded us that in 1995 we were probably dialing in to the Internet with a 2400 baud modem, and that wouldn’t deliver the high-res goods in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed in our broadband world.

Click the “archive” link on each page and you’ll find a long scroll, day by day, of every APOD ever. The “index” link takes you to a menu of stars, galaxies, and nebulae, solar system objects, space technology, people, and the sky. Clicking on these will give you a handful of “editors’ choice” photos they consider to be the most educational on the chosen subject.

McLaren found this photo, the APOD of October 20, 2002, of the space shuttle docked with the Russian Mir space station in 1995. It made him wonder who took it. Was it the first known selfie?

Shuttle and Mir

The Space Shuttle Docked with Mir. Credit: Nikolai Budarin, Russian Space Research Institute, NASA

“Since it was the first docking, they wanted to get good information about how the two spacecraft functioned together,” McLaren explained. “So one of the Soyuz crews on Mir actually undocked their Soyuz spacecraft, did a fly-around, and observed the combination.” All of that was found by following the links on the photo page.

Astrophotographers who aspire to be published on APOD may well wish to check out its index of Messier objects. McLaren points out that many of the objects in the index are represented by numbers, not pictures.

“They don’t have photos of all the Messier objects posted yet, so if you submit a good color picture of them you may get your photo as the astronomy photo of the day,” he noted, which could lead to fame and fortune or at least bragging rights.

The search engine for the index is useful. Type in “Saturn rings” and it will find 200 items.

“There’s a wealth of information in there if you’re looking for something,” McLaren said.

So the next time you’re checking out the Astronomy Picture of the Day, remember that there’s a whole lot of knowledge lurking beneath those gorgeous photos.

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Solstice sunset watch and LIGO info on our calendar this week

The calendar year is winding down, and astronomy clubs are hustling to get a last few events in before we plunge into 2017.

Rose City AstronomersThe Rose City Astronomers eschew their usual formal meeting for their annual holiday potluck at 6:30 p.m. Monday, December 19 at the OMSI auditorium in Portland. Leftovers from the event have traditionally been donated to a homeless shelter, and this year the astronomers are also collecting warm clothing for donations, figuring that astronomy folk may have a supply of such to bring comfort to those late-night sessions at the eyepiece.

The Eastside Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, December 20 at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. NASA Solar System Ambassador John McLaren will give a talk about the history of scientific exploration of the Sun, and look ahead to future efforts to learn even more about our nearest star.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 21 in room A102 of the Physics/Astronomy building on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Joey Key, a professor at the University of Washington-Bothell, will talk about the next LIGO run searching for gravitational waves, which will also involve astronomical collaboration is search of an elusive “multimessenger source,” a signal that could be detected both in gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation. Interesting stuff!

Vikings

VMMEPPThe Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project plans an informal information session for 4 p.m. Tuesday, December 20 at the Hillsdale Library in Portland. This family-friendly event will feature artifacts from the Viking mission, activities for kids, and lots of information about Viking history. Check out our recent article and podcast about the project. The year end is a good time to lend a little financial support to this great history project, too!

Solstice sunset watch

Join Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info and watch the first sunset of winter at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, December 20 at Solstice Park in West Seattle. The solstice is at 2:44 a.m. PST on Wednesday. Sunset that evening is officially listed as 4:20 p.m., but Enevoldsen says they’ve noted that it’s typically about ten minutes early because of the horizon at that spot. She gives a fun and informative presentation about the mechanics of the seasons, and is persistent about it—this will be her thirty-first seasonal sunset watch. That’s a lot of solstices and equinoxes! Come by even if it’s cloudy, because the Sun sometimes sneaks through anyway, but driving rain makes it a no-go.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. The page also features a full schedule of planetarium and stage science shows at Pacific Science Center.

Up in the sky

The Ursid meteor shower peaks this week. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.

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Club activity and more Viking news on this week’s astro calendar

The Vikings are sailing on Oregon, and a number of astronomy clubs in the region have meetings and events this week.

Viking at Science Pub Eugene

VMMEPPMeet some of the folks involved with the Viking Mars missions in the mid-1970s at Science Pub Eugene at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10 at Whirled Pies at Cozmic in Eugene, Oregon. As an 11-year-old girl Rachel Tillman saved the last remaining un-flown Viking spacecraft from the scrap heap. She later became founder and is executive director of the nonprofit organization The Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project. Tillman will speak at Science Pub Eugene, along with Al Treder, who worked on Viking guidance and control; Peggy Newcomb, wife of NASA Viking engineer and author John Newcomb, who passed away in March; Virgil Young, Camera Imaging Team member at Martin Marietta Laboratories; and Dr. Clare Reimers, professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

Suggested donation for admission is $5. Science Pub Eugene is a program of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. If you can’t make this Viking Mars Mission event, it will be repeated at Science Pub Corvallis on the 14th.

Astronomy clubs

Olympic Astronomical SocietyThe Olympic Astronomical Society plans its monthly meeting for tonight (Monday, November 7) at 7:30 in room Art 103 on the campus of Olympic College in Bremerton. A look at the constellations Libra and Piscis Austrinus and a talk about the warping of time and space are included on the agenda.

beaslogo_300The Boeing Employees’ Astronomical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, November 10 at the Boeing “Oxbow” Fitness Center. NASA Solar System Ambassador John McLaren will give a presentation about the latest information gained from exploring the Sun. Non-Boeing visitors are welcome but need an escort to the meeting. Contact David Ingram for more information.

BPAA logoThe Battle Point Astronomical Association on Bainbridge Island has several events planned for Saturday. Parents and budding scientists attending the BP Astro Kids program at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. November 12 will learn what caused all of those craters on the Moon, and then will build their own moons to take home. At 7:30 p.m. the club’s planetarium show will look at the possible connections between dark matter, black holes, and gravitational waves. If there weather permits there will be astronomical observing as well. It all happens at the club’s Edwin Ritchie Observatory and John Rudolph Planetarium in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge.

Seattle Astronomical SocietyThe Seattle Astronomical Society will offer a workshop about understanding telescopes at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 13 at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Experienced stargazers will discuss the basic concepts needed for choosing and using telescopes, eyepieces, and star charts. The event is open to members and non-members alike.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. New additions to the calendar this week include the next Astronomy on Tap Seattle event, set for November 16 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. By the way, there’s a nice article about the Astronomy on Tap movement in the December issue of Astronomy magazine.

Up in the sky

Neptune will appear very close to the Moon on Wednesday. The Sky This Week from Astronomy and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope have more observing highlights for the week.

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