September 30, 2011 #126 - The Soviet Moon Program

If you are interested in the history of the moon race between the United States and the Soviets, there is a newly released book containing some high quality photos and background info from the soviet program. It's entitled "The Soviet Reach for the Moon: The L-1 and L-3 Manned Lunar Programs and the Story of the N-1 (Moon Rocket)", 1995, by Nicholas L. Johnson. This public domain book is available as a PDF from

( has also released seven other books that may be of interest to readers of this blog. They cover lunar and planetary geology:

Guidebook to the Geology of Barringer Meteorite Crater, Arizona (a.k.a. Meteor Crater)
by David A. Kring

The Geology of the Terrestrial Planets (1984), by M. H. Carr, R. Stephen Saunders, Robert G. Strom, and Don E. Wilhelms

Lunar Stratigraphy and Sedimentology (1976), by John F. Lindsay

Moon Trip: A Personal Account of the Apollo Program and its Science (c1989), by Elbert A. King

Planetary Science: A Lunar Perspective (c1982), by Stuart Ross Taylor

To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration (Tucson and London: University of Arizona Press, c1993), by Don E. Wilhelms

Guide to Lunar Orbiter Photographs (1970), by Thomas P. Hansen

Clear Sky - Rich

April 29, 2011 #125 - The surface of Mercury

I was admiring the flood of orbital pictures that  are flowing back from the Mercury Orbiter - MESSENGER. This started me thinking about what astronomers were able to see of the surface in the time of great planetary observation in the 1800's. A search of Google Books turned up some gems from the period.  I found an interesting article by G.V. Schiaparelli of the Observatory of Milan entitled "Scenes on the planet Mercury" - May1890, Popular Science.

 I also found some drawings representing surface features by Percival Lowell in the 1897 Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (Vol. LVII).

 Imagine what these painstaking observers, that spent hundreds of nights recording dancing visions of this far world would think if they were able to examine the digital images available to us today. Ah for a time machine!

Clear Sky - Rich


March 26, 2011 #124 - Walking the Lunar Surface Again

Last night I was walking around on the lunar surface again. I was having fun looking at the LROC Zoom NAC M113168034R to locate the natural lunar bridge formed by a collapsed lava tube, which left an unbroken span still in place. This formed a bridge over what was once a flowing river of melted lunar crust. In the search through the zoom for the feature I noticed something interesting in a crater near the photos top. Attached are some screen captures. One showing the overall location, so that the crater can be found. I marked on a second copy the point of interest, and the third a 200% enlargement. The curved shadow is what caught my eye as it seems to point to an above surface projection extending from an apparent square shaped base. I understand that to the untrained eye things are not always what they seem, but it is fun to find this in the data. Take a lunar stroll and look for yourself! Hope you have some fun with this and let me know what you think.

Clear Sky - Rich


March 19, 2011 #123 – East Texas the "Piney Woods"

It amazes me how life plunges on without us being aware. Then "Father Time" smacks you occasionally. I was out admiring the beautiful moon last night as it rose out of a tall east Texas pine and that was one of those reality checks. My mind was recalling the moon rises watched on our journey around America. The native Americans counted time by her monthly passage through the heavens. I find that in our travels I have forsaken the clock and calender and have returned to marking time this way. The days are too short and many pass without registering on our minds. There is trouble recalling what day it is. I remember that in my early youth I lived much like those early Americans with regards to time and now have returned to that place in my mind.

When I look at my blog I see that I have not written an entry in two and a half moons. In that interval we have traveled from "The Panhandle" down through central Texas as far south as San Antonio to live for a time in the "Hill Country", then east to the "Big Thicket". Each region is unique and fascinating to a boy from Indiana. Life is so short and there is so much to see and experience in the natural world we are journeying through. I sometimes feel a sadness at missing things but then an elation at what I have experienced and observed.

A week ago I saw Canopus above the southern horizon. Orion was high in the sky not like I'm accustomed to. As I looked at the star atlas I could see that the Magellanic Clouds were just bellow the horizon.  How I would love to see those misty apparitions!

The world news has been very sad for a while, but I still find things to lift my spirits. In our quest to understand the Universe we have discovered many new worlds revolving around far suns, we have entered orbit around Mercury, we have passed the orbit of  Uranus on our journey to explore Pluto, we continue to travel the surface of Mars, and stunning views return from the orbit of Saturn. Many new sights still remain to be seen in the future from probes traveling to far destinations and tonight another full moon will have passed. Our personal travels of discovery also continue.

Clear Sky - Rich


January 12, 2011 #122 – Deep in the Heart of Texas

The Ghost of Cactus Jack

Well, after many weeks of traveling down through the Texas Pan Handle and admiring this beautiful desert country we have found the Internet near Austin, TX.  I spent many a night under desert skies, listening to the coyotes sing their songs, as meteors, lunar eclipses, and the change from fall to winter constellations drew my eyes and ears.  I have found that I love the desert. There is something new to see every day. I feel like I did when I was a young lad.  Everything is strange to the senses. It’s like starting a new life, learning the plants, walking without the distractions that occur in the bustling areas of the US.  As a wildlife biologist in the mid-west for forty years I am experiencing living creatures that have only existed for me in books. It takes a while to get used to walking, as everything is guarded by spines, thorns, or needles, and does not have any pity on the awkward or careless. I am doing OK now, but had to remove my share and lose some blood for a while.

I have been reading a lot about the paleo-history as we travel. I have become fascinated by the early Native American Peoples of the region and their methods of living in this land. Each plant and animal seems to have been utilized in many ways and it is fun seeing what I have been reading about. I was only dimly aware that great wars were fought over hundreds and thousands of years. Native peoples moved from many places, some as far as Canada and displaced whole nations. It seems that no one was able to hold a particular region over long time spans. The people displaced and those new here then adapting to the new habitats. I just completed reading the book chronicling the journey across  this region by Cabez de Vaca in the 1540’s the first Europeans to see much of this land and live with the pre-horse native people. Another interesting book was Geronimo's Autobiography dictated at the end of the 1800's. (Both freely available on Google Books) He gives us a glimpse into growing up in the Apache Culture of the region. There is much more to see and learn. I will write as the opportunity's arise but this blog will probably be sparse for a while.

Clear Skies - Rich