Chasing Comets

Highlights From This Past Weekend:

Friday evening (July 17, 2020) – We drove south (an hour drive) to Powell Observatory for an ASKC members only viewing of Comet Neowise plus Jupiter at opposition and glorious through the 30 inch. Clouds were an issue to our total viewing experience, but it was great to see everyone and it was a surprisingly pleasant evening. We left shortly before eight o’clock and were back home by two minutes to midnight. An excellent excursion and a nice field trip from our lock-down life at home.

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An Hour Before Midnight, Lion Spotted

The weather forecast for today predicted over an eighty percent chance of rain so I either needed to make my observation before midnight or wait a couple of days for cloudless skies. Fifteen minutes before my Mythgard Academy class started last night (at nine o’clock Central Time), I decided to make my first observation. I set the timer on my smartwatch for ten minutes and hung outside while my neighbors to the north decided a fire in their firepit was warranted (not helping my light pollution survey one bit). My neighbor to the south also appeared to have search lights trained on my backyard so adjusting my eyes for optimal viewing already had steep hills to climb. I somewhat patiently waited for the timer to count down.

Meanwhile, I found Venus immediately, very high and extremely bright in the west. Next, both Procyon and Sirius shown brightly in the upper and lower southwest. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the western sky still seemed dimly luminescent and I detected a very slight haze obscuring the fainter stars. My timer buzzed and I began sketching out the brightest stars and the only constellation I could identify – Orion – sinking slowly into the southwestern horizon. To the north I could just barely make out Polaris but could not find the Big or Little Dipper (mostly because the trees are starting to leaf out).

Almost directly overhead but still on the eastern side of the zenith, I could barely make out a sickle, an asterism that can be found in the constellation Leo (see diagram below). I had checked the Sky and Telescope Interactive Star Chart before stepping outside so I knew where to crane my neck in the hopes of spotting the lion. In addition to the sickle, I could also make out, barely, the triangle of stars that form the lion’s rear and tail. I could not tell where Leo ended and Virgo began as the stars were so faint I gave up.

I returned to my computer, logged into the Webinar and while I waited for it to start, I verified my sketch against the star chart. I had found Leo, but only by the very brightest of it’s stars (which aren’t that bright when you compare them to Sirius, Vega or Procyon). Fast forward two hours, where I found myself nodding off and decided I’d consumed enough First Age elven antics for one session and bailed out of the webinar (I can always watch the last 15-30 minutes via YouTube later).

I went back outside and noticed immediately the haze had disappeared. The air was crisper and I didn’t even need to wait the full ten minutes before I could clearly see the constellation Leo, now slightly west of top-dead-center overhead. My northern neighbors were still enjoying their outdoor fire but my southern neighbors had toned down the search lights to just one very bright LED porch light.

I returned inside and recorded both of my observations via the Globe at Night web site. I plan to repeat my observations each night weather permitting until the middle of next week.

How did your observations go?

Astronomical Activity and Dark Sky Awareness – the Case of the Hidden Lion

Tonight and for the next few nights, you can participate in a survey of your night sky and increase awareness of dark skies (and the converse of light pollution). While we are sheltering at home, we have vastly reduced the amount of air pollution, but have we given thought to the loss of our dark skies while we hunker down, sheltering at home? No? Well, here’s your chance to pitch in and save our night skies!


The Case of the Hidden Lion

Can you find the constellation Leo (for Northern latitudes)? For the next week, take a few minutes out of your late evening and follow these simple instructions to locate the missing lion in your night sky.

Five Easy Star Hunting Steps

  1. Use the Globe at Night website to help find your constellation in the night sky.
  2. Use the Globe at Night website to find the latitude and longitude of the location where you are making your observation.
  3. Go outside more than an hour after sunset (8-10 pm local time). The Moon should not be up. Let your eyes become used to the dark for 10 minutes before your first observation.
  4. Match your observation to one of 7 magnitude charts and note the amount of cloud cover.
  5. Report the date, time, location (latitude/longitude), the chart you chose, and the amount of cloud cover at the time of observation. Make more observations from other locations, if possible. Compare your observation to thousands around the world!:
April 2020 Campaign – Find Leo After Sunset all this week!

I’ll be making my observations either tomorrow or Friday evening around 10 o’clock Central time. I’m just one degree shy of forty degrees north latitude. We’re in the last quarter of the moon, with the new moon occurring on the 23rd so this is the best opportunity to find that missing lion!

Times for Sunset and Moonrise for Kansas City, KS:

April 16, 2020
Moonrise: 3:55am
Twi A: 5:05am
Twi N: 5:40am
Twi: 6:13am
Sunrise: 6:41am
Solar noon: 1:19pm
Moonset: 1:59pm
Sunset: 7:57pm
Twi: 8:25pm
Twi N: 8:58pm
Twi A: 9:32pm
Day len: 13h 16′
April 17, 2020
Moonrise: 4:29am
Twi A: 5:03am
Twi N: 5:38am
Twi: 6:11am
Sunrise: 6:39am
Solar noon: 1:18pm
Moonset: 2:59pm
Sunset: 7:58pm
Twi: 8:26pm
Twi N: 8:59pm
Twi A: 9:34pm
Day len: 13h 19′

Tuesday Tidbits

For no other reason than I feel the need to write a post about all the ‘firsts’ I’ve done this week.

Sunday

  • I scissor cut and clipper trimmed my husband’s hair. I’ve done the latter before but never the former. I watched several YouTube videos and my husband was gracious enough to say it was a better haircut than he normally gets from a salon or barbershop.
  • Made scrumptious hamburger buns for our grilled burgers Sunday dinner. Melt-in-your-mouth goodness!

Monday

  • Made oatmeal cinnamon raisin bread – an upgrade to my oatmeal sandwich bread recipe that I’ve made at least a half dozen times in the last three weeks.
  • Terry converted his previously scheduled doctor’s appointment to a telehealth remote link. So we had to get his camera and microphone working on his computer last night. His doctor is using Zoom unfortunately, which is not secure and has been in the headlines this past week. I chastised the scheduling person stating that I work for a law firm and we are not recommending Zoom to our clients and strongly prohibiting its use internally. We successfully tested Terry’s setup and he’s ready for his appointment Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday

  • Low and slow – smoking a pork butt today on our pellet smoker (see photos below).
  • Terry successfully connected remotely with his doctor, who was late, but eventually the chatted via Zoom for about 30 minutes.
  • Enjoyed smoked pulled poke on homemade buns with smoked baked beans for dinner.

Have a wonderful evening and thanks for stopping by!

Baking Buns

Seeded Hamburger Buns

Terry asked me earlier this week to make some hamburger or slider buns for Sloppy Joes or grilled hamburgers since the weather is starting to warm up. My son had provided me a recipe he’d made a few weeks ago. I compared it to three or four recipes I found at the King Arthur Flour web site. The first one I leaned towards trying (and dividing in half) was the Hamburger or Hot Dog Bun recipe (and I do actually have the KAF hot dog bun pan). The second one I looked at was the Beautiful Burger Buns recipe, which required a quarter cup of sugar and no milk.

I chatted with Amanda at the King Arthur Flour live chat and asked if I could substitute honey for the sugar. She confirmed I could but I should halve the amount. So for the Beautiful Burger Buns recipe, I would use two tablespoons of local honey instead of a quarter cup of sugar. I also added milk to the water (a half cup of each).

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Back to Beethoven

Today I start my third week of sheltering at home and working from home. Also my first week in that scenario of on call rotation. Thankfully, the weekend was quiet, and the weather improved to the point where both Terry and I got out of the house and worked in the yard Sunday afternoon. I needed the exercise to counteract the back and neck pain I’ve been suffering from in my non-ergonomic home office.

Terry also accompanied me to pickup our second order from Dillons (local Kroger affiliate) and we decided to run the van through the car wash. For Terry, it’s been weeks since he has let the house. He’s at increased risk for the coronavirus and it would likely prove fatal for him. He self-isolates during flu season, and the coronavirus pandemic meant he’s had to extend an already months-long isolation. The sunshine and brief excursion did both of us good.

I work up Sunday knowing I needed to make a fresh loaf of the Oatmeal Sandwich bread to go with the sourdough stuffing, boneless chicken thighs and corn I’d made the day before as a ‘care package’ from my father and uncle. I’m still tweaking the recipe and Ron, my uncle, had expressed interest in trying the ‘original’ version which uses three tablespoons of molasses. I had just popped that loaf in the oven when he messaged me to state he and Dad were going on a road trip to Cottonwood Falls. I was a bit confused as I though they were going to meet us at Dillons when we picked up our order and I would transfer the care package to them. Since it was going to be a gorgeous perfect spring day in Kansas, my only warning was the Flint Hills ranchers would probably be burning their fields this time of year (they were) and a request for a sketch of the oldest still in use county courthouse in Kansas. Now I wish I’d let the bread rise just a tad longer since I didn’t need to have it finished by noon and cool by one o’clock.

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Recipe Review: Oatmeal Sandwich Bread (5 stars)

Oatmeal Sandwich Bread

Take One

On my sixth day of self-exile in my own home, and several sourdough loaves later, I wanted to try something different. My lazy self, before the world turned upside-down, would buy a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal bread once or twice a month. Baking bread, especially sourdough, isn’t onerous (Thank you Lord for my bread machine!) but does require you set aside the time necessary to manage the process. It doesn’t require a lot of brain cycles, but in my previously ‘normal’ routine, starting bread after six o’clock at night meant being up past my bedtime before it was done and cool enough to bag. Weekends were usually spent running errands, volunteering, shopping, visiting friends and relatives or attending events. For the foreseeable future, my bread machine and I are going to be BFFs!

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Hugo Hiatus

Two people I know in real life are traveling down under this spring, to New Zealand, not to attend WorldCon, home of the Hugo Awards ceremony, but just for vacations. Although, I wonder if their plans have changed since I last spoke or saw them over two months ago now. Much ado about something is occurring everywhere now, but don’t even compare it to 1918. Regardless, a trip to New Zealand would check off two items on my bucket list: 1) to see the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky (stars and constellations I cannot see from 39 degrees north latitude) and 2) to visit the closest thing to Middle-earth on this Earth.

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At the Cross-Roads

Cover of The Lord of the Rings A Reader's Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

My monthly Tolkien reading yesterday from A Reader’s Companion by Hammond and Scull took me on a journey into the ancient past, both in Tolkien’s Legendarium and in our own world. The rise and fall of empires; the hubris of man and his futile pursuit of immortality; the triumph of time over all things . . . all of this from a few lines of a two hundred year old poem about a three thousand years dead king.

It all started with a note (p. 485) referencing this passage in Chapter 7 Journey to the Cross-Roads in Book Four of The Lord of the Rings:

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Strange Sunday Diversions

Stress at work ramped up a bit the last week or so, resulting in my neglecting my sourdough, my reading and my blog. I’m two sessions behind in my notes for the recently completed Mythgard Academy class on Out of the Silent Planet. I was the only member of my local library book club who did not finish the book, yet I was supposed to be leading the discussion. My husband risked his life on Friday, exposing his compromised immune system to God only knows what viruses to buy me flowers and a card for Valentine’s Day, yet all I brought home was myself and my stress.

Because I got home later than normal on Friday evening, and properly baked potatoes take a minimum of ninety minutes, we opted for take out from our local Applebee’s for dinner. We also squeezed in a game of Pandemic, which we won again. We decided the next time we play, we’ll increase the number of epidemics to increase the difficulty level.

Saturday I woke early to perform an update that was long over due. As usual, I overprepped and the update applied without issues. I spent the rest of the morning running errands and shopping. I even squeezed in a visit to my dad before heading back home and prepping the Valentine’s Day dinner of a porterhouse steak (bought fresh from a butcher in KCKS during a snow storm last week), roasted brussel sprouts and baked potatoes.

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