Many of you may already know, I’m an astronomy nut. I love space and everything to do with it.* I’ve watched Carl Sagan’s brilliant TV Series Cosmos dozens of times (and happy to watch some again with anyone interested). I’m half way through the first series of the Discovery Channel’s The Universe series. I’ve got The Teaching Company’s  Introduction to Astronomy DVD Course. And I just signed up last week to Swinburne Astronomy Online’s Short Course.

And yesterday, I bought my very own telescope.

My Meade LS-6 ACF telescope

They don’t make telescopes like they used to, eh? It’s a fully automatic whizz-bang thing, I basically press buttons and it zips around (slowly) and shows me what I asked for. It has slightly cheesy audio descriptions, which are actually kinda cool because they tell you what too look for, as well as how big and how far away the object is.

After a rocky start last night, where the dumb thing couldn’t even get a GPS lock, I took it out to the local football oval down the street and tried it again tonight. Despite nothing changing since yesterday, it now worked a treat and it was set up and auto-aligned within 10 minutes. Excellent!

Unfortunately, Melbourne’s far too bright a city. The light pollution is pretty bad and you could be excused for thinking the universe is mostly grey. There were plenty of stars about, though. But no planets! I was out at about midnight, but all the planets, asteroids and moons in our solar system were hiding below the horizon! Very inconvenient! But as I said, there were plenty of stars around so I still got to see some Globular Clusters (awesome name for a rock band but no, GCs are groups of stars all bunched up in each other’s gravity).

First object I looked at was M45, Pleiades. Roughly 440 light years from Earth, it’s an open globular cluster that’s also known as the Seven Sisters (for 7 of the brightest stars are very clearly visible with the naked eye). What I saw wasn’t quite like this image (no blue and I couldn’t see the dust clouds, just black space with very bright white dots) but I saw about 20 or 30 stars, as well as the very obvious 9 very bright stars. So that was pretty cool.

M45, Pleiades star cluster

Next I had a look at NGC 3532. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the very first thing the Hubble Space Telescope looked at when it was first launched, which seems fitting for my first night out with a scope! It didn’t work out too well for the Hubble telescope, which had a flawed mirror at the time, but for me I had no trouble looking at it and could see a good 20 or 30 stars. Was quite cool!

NGC 3532

And last of what I can remember, I had a look at Hyades.


There were a bunch of other things, mainly globular clusters as there was too much light pollution to really see anything else. Definitely looking forward to getting out of Melbourne and into the middle of nowhere, to really get some dark sky viewing!

Please be aware, none of the photos here are my own. They are all sourced from the web, but most I have altered brightness or colours to try and better reflect what I saw. They’re pretty good as a rough guide to what I saw.

* Well, not EVERYTHING. I mean there’s way too much maths involved, for a start. And don’t get me started on dark energy…

Upcoming Movies

Ahh, ‘serendipity’. A word which is almost ALWAYS followed by it’s definition: finding good things when not looking for them.

Which is what happened when, on the weekend, I was forced to clean my house. Well, most of my house. In doing so, I discovered – or should that be, rediscovered – my Christmas present from last year! Movie vouchers! Trouble is, they expire…. on 31 December 2010! So I have about 3 weeks to go and see four movies. Or three weeks to see one movie, with three friends. Or two movies with two friends. The possibilities are, well, not endless.

So…. who wants to see a movie? Having a look at what’s out now gives:

Tron: Legacy (3D)

Computers, motorbike racing and tight, figure-hugging neon-blue suits…. what more could a geek like me want?

Listen to or download Marc Fennell’s review of Tron:Legacy here.

Red Hill

An Australian Western sounds corny, but from everything I’ve seen this could be one of the best Aussie films yet.

Megamind (3D or 2D)

Animated superhero comedy film, supposed to be really good.

Listen to or download Marc Fennell’s review of Megamind here.

Fair Game

Drama based on the true story of undercover CIA Agent Valerie Plame, who was outed by White House officials to discredit her husband during the Bush Administration.


A Bruce Willis/Morgan Freeman action-comedy, sounds like an alright popcorn-movie.

So who wants to see a movie before December 31? Let me know which one you want to see, and when, and we’ll sort something out!

Tighter Airport Security Is Worth Sacrificing A Little Privacy

I’ve written before about how precious we are, as a society, when it comes to nudity. Our clothes are a mask, behind which we hide our self-consciousness and our insecurities. So when the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started using body-scanner machines that can ‘see through’ clothing, there was a not unexpected outcry. And again when, at the end of November, the TSA introduced more in-depth frisking for anyone who refuses the body-scanners – including physically ‘patting’ the genital area.

CNN News reports on an confrontation with a passenger, which includes a description of the procedure: Watch Here

“Privacy advocates” (and as Jeff Jarvis often points out, we never really know who these paranoid activists are) were up in arms about this gross invasion. Sure, it’s invasive – and so it should be. This isn’t some “Let me see you nude, or let me feel you up” perverted TSA ruling. This is a reasonable and understandable attempt to make flying safer. If you want to blame someone for this, don’t blame the TSA – blame Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He’s the guy that, no doubt in severe emotional distress at having such an unpronounceable name, tried but failed to blow up us underpants on a plane. Thanks to him, and the drug-mules that don’t want want suspicious bulges showing up on the scanners, we NEED X-ray machines and hands-on tackle-checks.

Let me be perfectly clear: if a security officer at an airport asks you to step through one of these body-scanners, it is NOT a sexual thing. For one thing, you’re not that hot. Secondly, security officials are too busy to be having a quick flog over your black-and-white scans. Thirdly, you’re really not identifiable on the scans. It’s not about you.

It’s about time we stopped worrying about whether someone in a professional capacity gets to see our nudie bits, or having a feel for home-made bombs.