Las Cumbres telescope sees first light at McDonald Observatory

Via and The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory:

The first of a planned suite of telescopes of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT) Network achieved first light recently at The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory. […]

The 1-meter (40-inch) telescope will be used for both research and outreach to K-12 schools. It is part of a large planned network of LCOGT telescopes to be installed around the world, and the first of five (two 1-meter and three 0.4-meter) and possibly more LCOGT telescopes to be installed at McDonald Observatory over the next few years.


A Chinese perspective on the spring equinox

A different perspective courtesy of Deborah Byrd at

In Chinese thought, spring is associated with the color green, the sound of shouting, the wood element, the climate of wind, things sprouting, your eyes, your liver, your anger, patience and altruism—and a green dragon. Not surprisingly, spring is also associated with the direction east, the sunrise direction as Earth spins us toward the beginning of each new day.

What’s this about? It’s a system called Wu Xing by the Chinese, which translates to the Five Phases or Five Elements. Phases describes it better, because it’s a description of nature, which as we all know never stops moving.

Everything you need to know: Vernal or spring equinox 2012


The March equinox signals the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. It marks that special moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator going from south to north. In 2012, this equinox comes early. It’ll be on March 20 at 5:14 UTC, or 12:14 a.m. Central Daylight Time for us in the central U.S.

Why is the equinox early in 2012? The reason is, in part, because 2012 is a leap year. If this year weren’t a leap year, this equinox would come on March 21—not March 20—at 5:14 Universal Time. The equinoxes for the coming three years—2013, 2014, 2015—will all fall on March 20 as well. But—with each passing year—each equinox will come nearly 6 hours later by the clock. In the year 2016, the equinox would fall on March 21—if 2016 weren’t a leap year.


Did the moon help sink the Titanic?

A fascinating proposition from astronomers at Texas State University (via

Astronomers at Texas State University announced today (March 5, 2012) that the pull of the moon – its creation of tides in Earth’s oceans – might have played a role in the sinking of the Titanic nearly 100 years ago, causing death by ice water for approximately 1,500 people in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Their announcement comes as the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic – on April 14, 1912 – is almost upon us.

Texas State has a nice write-up about the moon’s possible role[…] The story is that an unusually close approach by the moon on January 4, 1912, would have caused abnormally high tides that might have pushed the fateful iceberg into the Titantic’s path.

Auroras Underfoot

From NASA by way of comes this amazing video of auroras taken from the International Space Station.  Just breathtaking.

NASA Goddard rocks the Moon

Beautiful animation of the moon moving through its phases through an entire year, courtesy of NASA, via the Bad Astronomer!

Make sure to check the linked post for an explanation of the Moon’s librations, the crazy rocking and tilting motions that appear to be going on!

Stars and planets in the daytime

An important, and difficult, concept: There are always stars in the sky, even during daytime.  Deborah Byrd from explains:

People often ask if stars are up there, beyond our blue sky, during the day.

The answer is surely yes, because Earth is a planet in space, surrounded on all sides by stars. The image at right is Venus and the moon, seen through a telescope, in daytime. Venus is the most commonly seen daytime sky object, after the sun and moon. Meanwhile, the chart at the top of this post shows the stars toward the southeast at morning in late February or early March. Of course you really can’t see the stars, but they are there.