Thursday, December 16, 2010


A rare astronomical event will happen Tuesday December 21 in the early hours of the morning.  The Sun, Earth, and Moon will be in perfect alignment and the Earth's shadow will cha-cha across the face of the Moon.  This is the TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE!  The action begins at 1:32 AM (Eastern Standard Time) when the first visible part of the shadow eats away the left side of the Moon.  I especially love to watch this part because of the precision - it happens exactly, to the second, when astronomer predict it.  That's the time to hoot a holler at the Moon like a real "Luna-tic". 

The Moon will continue to move into the darkest part of the Earth's shadow (the umbra) and turns an eerie shade of orange.  This will occur from 2:40-3:53am.  Why orange?  You're seeing the sunlight bend off of the the atmosphere of the Earth and still getting to the Moon with a slightly different hue.  You can think of it as the reflected light of all the sunrises and sunsets of the Earth giving the Moon a similar glow.

Then the Moon will slide out of the shadow and return to a normal full Moon at 5:01am.  And then that's it.  We won't have another one in the United States until 2014.  So don't miss it!  Either set an alarm to wake up to the eclipse or stay out all night! 

For more on the eclipse you can check out my videos for the program Jack Horkheimer's Star Gazer.  I'm privileged to be the guest host of this program that is on PBS across the country.  Look for me on your TV late at night or watch the eclipse videos at:
1 Minute:
5 Minute:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Piscis Australis - The Southern Fish

A cute, little fall constellation seemingly swims alone on the southern sky this month. Piscis Australis (or Piscis Austrinus) is the southern fish, big daddy to the two fish tied together in the zodiac constellation Pisces. The mythology on these stars is sketchy at best. One account says that a goddess fell into a lake near the Euphrates River and was saved by this fish. In most drawings of Piscis Australis the waters dumped by the constellation Aquarius flow right into his big mouth. Does a fish really need to drink?

Piscis Australis is easy to find because it has one really bright star called Fomalhaut (pronounced foam-a-low) which means, "fish's mouth." Look to the south right after sunset and you'll see one lonely bright star just a 1/4 the way up in the sky. That's Fomalhaut. The other stars are faint but look a little like a line-drawing of a goldfish.  Fomalhaut is a great indication for fall and it has the most unique color of all bright stars. Most astronomers will say that stars cannot be green, but if you look closely you might see it flicker blue, white, and GREEN. Most recently a planet was seen in orbit around Fomalhaut (see picture) so could this be a place for alien fish to thrive?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Deanspace on YouTube

To meet the ever-growing demand for answers to the question, "Will the world really end on December 21, 2012?" I recently made a video that I hope will put everyone's mind at ease.  Please visit:

Enjoy and spread the word.  It is NOT the end of the world.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tiamat the Dragon

One of the most ancient stories that survives to the present comes from the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish. This tells the tale of Tiamat the Dragon and Marduk the Hero.

"In the beginning there was nothing. Total blackness. Creatures emerged from the ether and roamed the dark universe. There existed a huge she-dragon named Tiamat who was 7 miles long from head to tail and ruled the darkness. She had a mob of other monsters who carried out her bidding and kept everyone in constant terror.

"There was a god named Marduk who decided to stand up to Tiamat and the monsters. Marduk had a giant net, a bow, and arrows. He was said to be able to control the seven winds and feared no monster. Marduk made it his quest to defeat Tiamat and free the fledgling world from her tyranny. When Marduk approached Tiamat, the mighty dragon towered over him. 'You dare to challenge me, little man,' she croaked. With barely a thought Tiamat snatched Marduk up in her right claw and brought him close to her fire-breathing snout. Marduk was not afraid. In fact, everything was going according to plan. He threw out the net which was carried by the seven winds to encircle the dragon's body. This slightly impressed Tiamat but all she said was, 'You'll make a nice appetizer after all.'
"She then opened up her mile-wide jaws and was about to devour Marduk when he sent the seven winds right down her throat. The winds puffed her up like a balloon while the net held her down. Then Marduk notched an arrow to his bow and let one fly down her open mouth, past her sharp fangs, through her long esophagus, and 'Thunk!' smack dab into her heart.
"Tiamat was dead. Marduk took her body and cut it in two parts. One half he threw upward to become the heavens, the other half became the Earth. He rounded up the monsters and threw them into the sky to become the stars around the once-mighty Tiamat who you can still see today in the constellation Draco."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Draco the Dragon

In the northern sky in summer, we come across Draco the Dragon. Draco, along with Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are CIRCUMPOLAR constellations - meaning they circle the pole star and never set throughout the year.

Draco's place in the heavens is easy to locate even if it's stars are difficult to find. Look for the coiling curve of faint stars that runs between the much brighter stars of the Big and Little Dipper. The Dragon looks more like a coiled snake and the four stars marking her head are the most pronounced. The brightest of the head stars, Eltannin, points near Vega and is the farthest point away from the Big Dipper.

Draco played a much more central role in the earliest astronomy than it does today. Even though it has few bright stars, it had one that beared many names:

Thuban - "Judge of Heaven," "High Horned One," "Proclaimer of Light," "The
Favorable Judge," "Crown of Heaven."

Why so many exalted names for a mediocre star? Because of the Earth's wobble - also called precession - Thuban was Pole Star around 2800 BC. It was the only star that didn't move and was always there to guide the ancients as the North Star does today. Egyptians built pyramids to Thuban, so that its light penetrated huge shafts at key dates and times.

Draco's brightest star is Eltannin- "Dragon's Head" (Arabic) "Isis" (Egyptian). In 3500 BC, the temple of Hathor in Greece was dedicated to Eltannin. The adjoining town was named the city of the dragon.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Scutum the Shield

Not all of the constellations are ancient. In fact many of them were named in the 1600s for scientific instruments or newly discovered, exotic animals. One of the strangest ones is called Scutum the Shield. The Shield is not very bright but can found between Ophiuchus and Aquila and above Sagittarius.

Scutum was originally named "Sobieski's Shield" by the astronomer Johannes Hevelius. Hevelius loved charting the faintest of stars and created 7 constellations overlooked by the ancient Greeks. He was also known for having a 145 foot long telescope - one of the longest telescopes ever made. After Hevelius' observatory burned down, the King of Poland, John Sobieski, financed the rebuilding of a new observatory. Hevelius was so moved that he honored his patron by naming a bit of sky (though mostly empty of stars) after him.

Upon closer examination (with the aid of a telescope), there are tons of stars in Scutum. The Shield lies in a particularly think swath of the Milky Way. Just beyond 20/20 vision these stars are near the heart of our galaxy.

Not all of Hevelius' constellations made it to modern star charts. He named one group of stars after Cerberus, the Three-Headed Hound of the Underworld. How could the astronomers leave "Fluffy" out of the sky!?!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ophiuchus the Seprent Bearer

Ophiuchus looks like a long stretched out pentagon in the southwestern sky. Connect a line from Deneb through Vega and you will run into Ras Alhague, the brightest star in Ophiuchus.

Ras Alhague is an Arabic word meaning “Head of the Serpent Charmer”. Just to the right is another star in the constellation Hercules called Ras Algethi, or “Head of the Giant”. So we have two men bumping heads in the heavens! Ophiuchus is lucky. He gets to stand right-side up, while Hercules flies through the sky upside-down.

Many legends say that this group of stars forms a man holding a huge snake. You really have to use your imagination to see that. The Greeks believed this wrestler was named Asklepios. He was the god and inventor of medicine and was so gifted that he could even restore the dead to life.

Asklepios learned this trick from snakes. Once when he was making a house call to a sick patient, a serpent slithered into the room and coiled around his walking stick. Asklepios, slightly scared of snakes, quickly killed it. A few minutes later a second serpent crawled under the door carrying an odd herb in its fanged mouth. The second serpent went over to the dead one, applied the herb, and restored the snake to life. What was the magical herb? Who knows? But from that moment on Asklepios always carried a staff with a serpent wrapped around it. It became the symbol for the medical arts still in use today.

Asklepios quickly learned to make his own resurrection juice to bring back any lost patients. And later that month he even came to his buddy Orion's aid. As described in the Orion myth, the gods sent a scorpion to humble Orion's boasting - by killing him. Well, that sure showed him! But in another version of the myth, Asklepios was called to the scene of the crime to work his doctorly deeds. Not only did Asklepios raise Orion to life but he even dispatched the scorpion by squishing it under his sandaled foot.

Notice from the picture at the top that Ophiuchus is standing on the Scorpion. And he doesn't seem scared of that large serpent coiled around him. We'll learn his fate next week...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Scorpius the Scorpion

Orion the mighty hunter was quite a braggart. He boasted that he could conquer any man, woman or beast on Earth and even tested the power of the gods. His vanity was so great that the goddess Hera created a vicious scorpion to humble Orion. Scorpius bit Orion on the foot and killed him with poison. Thus the mightiest warrior was slain by one of the tiniest creatures. O! how the gods laughed at that one! Orion still looms large in the winter sky - but hides from the Scorpion in the summer. Legend has it that Orion never wanted to see that awful scorpion again so they are never in the sky at the same time.

Scorpius lies low in the southern sky on summer evenings. He has three stars almost in a line just like Orion has in his belt. These three stars mark Scorpio’s head and two claws. A little down and to the left is Scorpio’s brightest star, ANTARES. Antares is a red supergiant star. In fact, it is one of the largest known stars in the galaxy. If Antares was our sun, it would fill up the entire orbit of Mars. We would be burned up inside it! But luckily Antares is 330 light years away.

Antares marks Scorpio’s heart and may even appear to be beating in the sky. It is a Greek word meaning “Rival of Mars,” because it is so red just like Mars. The Chinese called it the “Fire Star” for the same reason.

Follow Scorpio’s body down to the left and then the stars will start to curve upward. This is the scorpion’s tail and stinger that killed mighty Orion. The last star on the tail is a bright one called SHAULA, which means “The Sting” in Arabic.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Corona Borealis - The Northern Crown

This is one of the most identifiable constellations in the sky. Although Corona Borealis has almost all dim stars, the outline of the seven form a subtle ring of sparkling jewels. The constellation lies between Bootes the Bear Driver and the mighty Hercules. The best way to find it is first find the Big Dipper. Go do the handle of the Big Dipper but do not follow the arc to the bright star Arcturus, straighten out the line (go farther left or east) and there you will find the lovely crown.

The Greeks likened this star picture to the crown presented to a beautiful maiden named Ariadne. She fell in love with the Prince of Athens, Theseus. Unfortunately for their love affair, Theseus was chosen to be sacrificed in the great labyrinth whose twisting halls were roamed by the vicious Minotaur - half man, half bull. Before Theseus was thrown into the labyrinth, Ariadne gave him a sword to kill the beast and a huge spool of thread. Theseus tied one end of the thread to the entrance and reeled out the thread as he walked through the maze. This way, he would be able to find his way out.

Theseus killed the Minotaur and followed the thread back to Ariadne’s arms. They lived happily ever after for only a few years. Theseus got bored with family life and left Ariadne high and dry. The god of wine Bacchus took pity on Ariadne for this slimy act and granted her the most beautiful crown in the world. Upon her death, the crown was placed in the skies for all to see.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


There are total eclipses, annular eclipses, partial eclipses, and now itty-bitty eclipses of the Sun. Astrophotographer Thierry Legault captured this picture of the International Space Station (ISS) and the Space Shuttle Atlantis transiting the Sun. Getting this picture was a difficult endeavor. Thierry planned ahead and put himself in a very specific place to witness this eclipse (the countryside outside Madrid, Spain). And the two crafts (moving at 16,500 miles per hour, 242 miles above him) took a mere 1/2 second to cross the disc of the Sun. Blink and they're gone. I'm blown away by the precision involved and humbled by the coolness of this picture. Right click on the picture and select "Open Link in New Window" for a close-up view.

Thierry has photographed other rare sights - including the Hubble Telescope, ISS at night, eclipses, transits and more. Check out his website at:


Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Trip to the David Dunlap Observatory

Last week I went up to Toronto, Ontario Canada for spring break (I know I went the wrong way...). I met up with members from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) who have recently been put in charge of running the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) north of the city.
The story of their telescope sounds similar to ours in Cincinnati - it was started by the University of Toronto - who then wanted to sell it - who sold it to a private developer - who was influenced by the astronomical community to allow the RASC to run it - who now conduct education programming. In fact, the RASC said that they were modelling their programs after ours. And they have a big hook: they have the largest telescope open to the public (its mirror is 74 inches in diameter!). They let me move the giant scope and even let me take a look at Mars and the Moon. It was easily the largest telescope I have ever looked through.
The RASC was a great host - it's amazing how astronomers all over the world are all so alike. I'm so glad this amazing institution is still up and running. For more check out: Click on any of the pictures for a close-up view.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

International Sidewalk Astronomy Night

On Saturday March 20 there were telescope all over the Tri-state. This was part of a world-wide effort to bring telescopes to public places. "Have telescope, will travel," is the motto of the Sidewalk Astronomer. Telescopes were set up in unlikely places - Newport on the Levee, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, outside of a Blockbuster video store. I was right downtown on Fountain Square and even with the enormous light pollution, I was able to give a clear view of the Moon to passers-by. It's a lot of fun to see people just walking by with no idea what that thing is next to you (the telescope). And when you ask, "Wanna see the Moon?" you get some mixed reactions. After people overcome their apprehension and get a look, everyone is moved!

So if you see something that looks like a cannon on a sidewalk near you, but people are looking through it, stop over and say hi to your neighborhood astronomer.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Future Exploration Poll

The future of manned space missions is at a crossroads. NASA may be focusing on unmanned missions while the private sector may be taking a more active role with manned missions.

Critics believe that NASA is a waste. "We should be spending money on Earthly problems instead." As federal projects go, NASA funding is one of the small potatoes. The budget for NASA is less than 1% of the U.S. annual federal spending. Studies have shown that this funding acts more like an investment with a high return of interest in the form of jobs, new technologies, and spin-off products. For a list of many industries that owe credit to NASA, see:

Space missions can inspire whole generations. The Apollo missions to the Moon gave us defining moments of the 20th century. Will reaching Mars have the same impact in the 21st century?

Some say we should return to the Moon first to practice a trip to Mars. Others say, if Mars is the goal why not go directly to Mars without a detour. And a third camp says, "Follow the water," and Europa, a moon of Jupiter, has a liquid ocean under its icy surface.

If you were in charge, what would you do and why?
1) Return to the Moon
2) On to Mars
3) Drill through the ice of Europa
4) None of the above

Share your comments on what the future of exploration should focus.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Cincinnati Observatory in LEGO Form

I was forwarded this great rendition of the Cincinnati Observatory in LEGO form. This detailed replica was designed by William Lynch of Cincinnati Bricks and is on display at Kenwood Town Center at the LEGO Store. Everything about it is accurate including the two spindly pine trees, the new handrails, and skinny window on the left. I'm not sure which of the LEGO people is supposed to be me, but I assume that I am the cowboy. Click on the picture for a closer look.