Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gas Giants

As I squinted at the time early Saturday morning (4:30 a.m.), it came to me that I had forgotten to put out the trash. I knew it would be difficult to get back to sleep without resolving that situation, so I threw on some clothes and dragged the stuff out to the curb. Walking back up the driveway, I noticed a bright planet trailing behind the half moon. Saturn, I thought.

Oh well, there's no time like the present. I quickly set up my Televue 85 telescope and took a look at 75x. Instead of rings, I saw a banded disc surrounded by four little dots: Jupiter and the Galilean Moons. I checked my calendar to find out when Saturn would be up, and 18 hours later I returned to the back yard and found it high overhead.

As it turns out, Saturn's orbit will be at opposition this coming Saturday. That means the orbits of Earth and Saturn will be as close as they get in a 378-day cycle, and Saturn will be overhead at midnight. I use my Televue more as a wildlife spotting scope than an astronomical scope so my mount is just a photo tripod with a video panning head. But it worked well enough to find (at 138x) the ringed ornament hanging in the sky. If there's a neglected telescope stuffed in a closet, now is a good time to dig it out and take a look at the rings. Saturn rises in the east and sets in the west just like the Sun and Moon, so now should be visible throughout the night. And if you happen to be setting out the trash at 4:30 a.m., the Jovian system also is worth a look. (Or you can wait until May 5 when it will be at opposition.)

After some dabbling in astro observing and photography, I decided a while ago it would save a lot of time and frustration if I would do my astronomical observing mostly through the photos of others. But once in a while it's a good idea to look at the sky and get a reminder that those photos represent something real.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


It was nice to see Bruce Sutter get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yesterday it was announced he barely got the required number of votes, making him the first pure closer to be honored. Along with Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire will be eligible to be elected next year. I think McGwire will get elected but he will have fewer votes than the other two due to that little steroids controversy. I still like my idea of closing the Hall to new inductees after this year. OK, one exception for Gwynn and that's it.

Tomorrow I'm off to Iowa in search of bald eagles again. I usually don't complain about it being too warm in January, but I have heard that for eagling, colder is better. I'm sure there will be a few eagles along the mighty Mississippi, so look for photos next week.

Bruce Sutter, 1999

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I managed to stay awake all the way to the end last night as Texas pulled it out against Southern Cal 41-38. I am left with one question: If Reggie Bush was the greatest football player of all time and space, as some pundits seemed to think prior to last night, why wasn't he on the field for the pivotal fourth-and-two with just over two minutes remaining? I don't have a problem with USC going for it, or with giving the ball to LenDale White, but I don't understand why Bush was over on the sidelines watching. Even having him in as a decoy would have affected the Texas defense, wouldn't it?

Of course after last night, the pundits have forgotten all about Bush and are now proclaiming Vince Young as the greatest football player of all time and space. The pressure on the Houston Texans to draft the hometown hero Young instead of Bush will be enormous.

It was a great football game, the type envisioned by those who created the Bowl Championship Series (That Is Not a Series). It proves the old adage about a blind squirrel occasionally finding a nut. Any year (most years) when there aren't exactly two undefeated teams from major conferences, the legitimacy of the championship game is suspect. This year the BCS cultists lucked out when Michigan scored on the last play of the game to inflict Penn State's only loss. The game proved something else that should be an adage: All-time great teams have both offense and defense. Pete Carroll made his reputation as a defensive coach, so it's ironic that his offense was so great and his defense was so deficient.