November 19, 2010 #121 – Visit to a New Mexico Cinder Cone.

We visited the Capulin Volcano National Monument today. This cone shaped mountain has many analogs in the solar system. We saw collapsed lava tubes, lava flows, and lava cliffs with strata. In fact I was reminded a lot of the pictures of mars being transmitted by the rovers over the last few years. The lava is the same color and texture. The main difference of coarse is the vegetative cover.

As I stood on the crater rim at 8100 ft. I could see 50 miles across the plains. All along the rift were volcanoes in a line. The lava flow patterns were easy to identify even after 10's of thousands of years.

 As I looked east, the almost full moon was rising into the pale blue sky. As I watched, it occurred to me that we are much more fortunate than Martians would have been. Our spectacular satellite is a wonder to behold, and I think what events she has shown upon. Imagine the fire fountains spraying thousands of feet into the sky, building the cone, rivers and pools of lava, with her hanging over the scene in the night. Lighting would play in the clouds of ash and the moons light would cast wandering shadows over all. Then I wonder was any man here to take this all in. Just 8 miles to the north east is the Folsom Site where early artifacts dating around 10,000 years have been excavated. I wonder how long before this were humans in the area. I went to where they would have stood and looked back towards the mountain.

(Click to enlarge)

(A line of cones along the rift)

 (Inside the cone)

(50 miles east more cinder cones)

(Capulin Volcano)

 Clear Sky - Rich


November 18, 2010 #120 – Piazzi’s Life and Scientific Accomplishments

After my posts on the discovery of Ceres Ferdinandea I began to wonder about the life of the discoverer.  Joseph Piazzi was born in Italy in 1746 and lived to 80. During his early years he became a monk. He taught philosophy and due to some of his teachings alarmed the Dominicans and earned enemies. As a consequence he became a professor of mathematics and was instrumental in reforming the teaching methods of the time in his society.

He was able to persuade the nobility of Sicily to help him establish an observatory at Palermo, engaging Ramsden to construct the instruments which Piazzi designed to improve observational accuracy. The observatory was completed around the end of the century and he began a program of observation. Piazzi  conducted exacting observations and rechecked his observations extensively to insure accuracy. His first work was a great catalog of almost 6750 stars and the discovery of the new planet. In his lifetime he recorded over 125,000 observations and ended up with his catalog reaching 7646 stars, an amazing accomplishment.

If you would check the following link you will find a paper written on Pazzi's work with a picture taken from a portrait painting and the transit he had constructed and used to acquire his data.

I have included his obituary, which covers his life in more detail, for you to read if you would like to know more. I found it in the 1827, “New and United Series of the Philosophical Magazine or Annals of Philosophy –Vol.I” on Google Books. (Click to Enlarge)

Piazzi 01Piazzi 02Piazzi 03

His 1814 Star Catalog is available with the introduction in Latin on Google Books. Look for "Praecipuarum Stellarum Inerrantium Positones Mediae" You can translate the Latin by opening the text version and copying it to a translator such as Google Translate. The tables are readable without translation. I have included the title page and the 1st. page of the Catalog to give you a sample of his work. It is interesting to compare his recorded positions with the current position on a modern computer astronomical chart to see the amount of change that has occurred since the early 1800's.

Clear Sky - Rich


November 17, 2010 #119 – Old Magazine and Journal Illustrations with Astronomical Themes

I mentioned in a past blog that I enjoy clipping old drawings that can be found within the pages of periodicals. In this post are a few of my favorite recent finds from the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Hope you enjoy them. (Click for a little better view)


Clear Sky - Rich


November 16, 2010 #118 – Observations of Newly Discovered Ceres and Pallas by William Herschel

William Herschel began systematic observations of Piazzi’s Ceres Ferdinandea and Dr. Olber’s Pallas in early 1802. Herschel had constructed some of the best optical systems in existence at the time. These he used to characterize the new planets. This included observing the orbs for color and visible characteristics, searching for moons, and determining the size with as much accuracy as possible.

These observations were published in the 1802, “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London – Part II” In the same year he also released a catalog of “500 New Nebula” that he had discovered. If you have a chance to read about his life and accomplishments you will be absolutely amazed. The man lived for telescope time and the grinding of giant mirrors with legendary figure!

The following is a bit long but it gives you a sense of his observational and scientific skills. You can find this and the paper presenting the new nebulas on Google Books. (Click to Enlarge)

Ceres 001Ceres 002Ceres 003Ceres 004Ceres 005Ceres 006Ceres 007Ceres 008Ceres 009Ceres 010Ceres 011Ceres 012
Clear Sky - Rich


November 15, 2010 #117 - Star-Names and Their Meanings

When I was a boy in the sixties I purchased a copy of Dover’s reprint of “Star-Names and Their Meanings” by Richard H. Allen. This was my first introduction to what the origins for the names of all those places I pointed my telescope at in the night sky.

Today the critics say that the volume is full of inaccuracies, that the author was not conversant in Arabic and many of his sources were incorrect. But, I learned a lot over the years from my much thumbed through copy.

Many times on a search through Google Books, you will hit a book that is an unexpected treat, that was not what you were looking for. Imagine my delight when I found the (1899) first edition scanned and offered for reading. If you would like a copy, go to


If you would like a more modern guide, check into a web site by Gary D. Thompson, of Melton West, Australia. He has gathered a lot of good information. I especially enjoyed looking at his pre-historic sky maps taken from archeological investigations.

Clear Sky - Rich


November 14, 2010 #116 – Ceres Ferdinandea

While reading the  DAWN web site about the 2015 rendezvous with Ceres, I became curious about the discovery of the first minor planet.  With a little searching I found that Bode had in 1772, “calculated from his theory of the harmonic ratio of intervals between planets, that such a planet might be discovered” in an orbit between Mars and Jupiter, that we today designate the "Asteroid Belt".

The Italian astronomer Piazzi, of the Observatory at Palermo, using this information, searched and found the moving star on the first day of 1801 in the constellation Taurus. He named the object (Ceres Ferdinandea). Piazzi became ill and the star was lost. Based on Piazzi’s observations, Gauss calculated where it should be and relocated it.


I have included two articles, located from Google Books, which document these events. (Click to Enlarge)

(The Monthly Mirror, Vol. XIII – 1802)

(The Philosophical Magazine Vol. XV – 1803)

Clear Sky - Rich


November 13, 2010 #115 – Interesting Picture taken from Opportunity Rover.

I was checking out the latest pictures from Mars today, as I have been from day one. PIA13592 is a pan of “Intrepid” Crater with those wonderful  crater rim/hills on the horizon, getting closer and closer.

As I panned around, a small rock not far away caught my eye. It looks like one of the ring shaped, cut-ham bones that my Springer, Ruby leaves around after she works out all the marrow. Now you will probably say are you one of those nuts?  No, I’m not, the geology fascinates me but fossils are not one of the things that I think are going to show up. The best I could hope for would be something microscopic from the dawn of the planet. What fascinates me is what fantastic shapes that blowing sand and dust have formed on mars over eons of time. My favorite are the thin strands with the “Blue Berries “ attached to the end, left elevated above the surface. How delicate and other worldly they appear. Just imagine, did you ever think you would see Mars up close, I mean lay on your stomach and look closely! We live in wonderful times.

Pictures from the NASA Mars Rovers Site.

Here is Ruby’s lost dog bone.


Clear Sky - Rich


November 12, 2010 #114 - Mercury (sidius dolosum) and Achromatic Glasses

I am including a couple more "1823 anecdotes" from the Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery, Mont Benger. Mercury the Eternal Torment of Astronomers and the Discovery of Achromatic Glasses in the 1700's.

(Click to Enlarge)

Clear Sky - Rich


November 11, 2010 #113 – Origin of the Telescope

While searching for some new bits of astronomical history, Google Books hit upon a series of books published in the early 1820’s. These digitized  volumes, “The Percy Anecdotes” were written by Sholto and Renben Percy, Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery, Mont Benger. I did a little detective work and found that they were actually Joseph Clinton Robertson and Thomas Byerley, newspaper men.

The anecdotes were compiled from British newspaper files and written for public enjoyment. These works were very popular at the time. As I began reading a chapter on science I found that there is a lot of good historical information. Many things I read were new to me. I will include a few articles over a couple of days on astronomical and optical history. (Click to enlarge)

Clear Sky -Rich


November 10, 2010 #112 – Finding the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox.

Tonight I was browsing an 1897 book entitled, “A New Astronomy” , by David P. Todd. I admire a lot of the old drawings and illustrations from the period and have a habit of clipping the ones that strike my fancy. Sort of like the scrapbooks from my younger days.

This is the Front Plate, a solar eclipse painting, which looks as if it takes place in Holland. I think it is striking. It’s claimed to be close to the real color observed. No date was given for the event. (Click to enlarge)

I also found a couple of drawings illustrating how to locate the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes. These charts illustrate using two star patterns I have not seen in any modern texts.

Clear Sky - Rich


November 9, 2010 #111 – An interesting Letter, about the Discovery of Uranus by William Hershel.

There are a lot of surprises in some of the old astronomical journals that pop up as you read them closely.  As I was reading the 1888, “Journal of the Liverpool Astronomical Society Vol. VI”, on Google Books, there were two letters that caught my eye. The first by William Herschel on the methods he used to discover the planet Uranus.  He goes to some lengths in the narrative to explain the pains-taking work he put into his observations.

The second letter, published the next month, is about a statement that Caroline Herschel, his sister, made in late life.  This I had not read about before, though it may be that I missed it in my astronomy readings in the past. She states that,  “It was her eye that made the discovery”.(Click to read)

2010-11-06_234202 2010-11-06_234221
Clear Sky - Rich


November 8, 2010 #110 – Biographies of Famous Astronomers of the 1800’s.

If you are interested in some of the people that were instrumental in hauling astronomy into the light of science, Google Books has a volume that is a must read. As I was looking at the offerings I came across a 1905 book entitled, “Astronomers of To-Day and Their Work”,  by Hector Macpherson, Jr. In this volume there are biographies of twenty-seven renowned astronomers. Many of their names are still well known. Take a look, there is a lot of good historical information to be discovered in this book.
Here is some info about the contents.(Click to read)

Clear Sky - Rich