Astronomy: June Sky Watch

sky watch graphic copy

Get outside for summer stargazing fun in June! With weather warming up, June is a great time to enjoy relaxing evenings under starry skies with your telescope or astronomy binoculars.

Here are a few of my top picks for June stargazing:

  • The Moon & Mars Red planet Mars will appear to creep within about two degrees (about 4 lunar diameters) of the Moon on the night of June 7th. This conjunction will be visible from moonrise to moonset, so get outside and enjoy the view!
  • Ringed Saturn Throughout all of June, the ringed planet will be an attractive target for stargazers. Use an eyepiece that will yield at least 40x in your telescope to catch views of Saturn’s beautiful rings and brighter orbiting moons. Larger telescopes and clear, dark skies will help you see a thin gap between Saturn’s rings, which is called the Cassini Division.
  • Swirling Spirals – Around 10pm in mid-June, two glorious, face-on spiral galaxies M51 and M101 will both be in a great position for viewing and imaging. While you can see these great galaxies with a humble 60mm refractor, bigger telescopes will reveal finer details. Use a 10″ or larger reflector under dark skies to see the delicate spiral arms of M51.
  • Gems of the Summer Triangle – By 10pm in mid-northern latitudes, the Summer Triangle, comprising beacon stars Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (in Cygnus), and Altair (in Aquila), will be fully visible above the horizon. Several celestial gems lie within its confines, including the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), open star cluster M29, and the visually challenging Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888). To catch a glimpse of the elusive Crescent, you’ll almost certainly need a filter in a larger telescope.
  • Pretty Pair – On June 24th during daylight hours, the thin crescent Moon passes within 1 degree of our neighboring planet Venus. One degree is about the width of your pinky held at arm’s length. Knowing this proximity makes it easier to spot Venus in the daytime sky. Can you see it?
  • Summer is Globular Season! – Globular star clusters are densely packed balls of stars that are concentrated towards the center of the Milky Way. June skies offer some of the finest globular cluster viewing opportunities. You can catch globular clusters in 50mm or larger binoculars, but a 6″ or larger telescope at moderate to high power offers the best chances to resolve individual stars. In the constellation Hercules, look for M92 and the “Great Cluster” M13. In Scorpio, look for M4 and M80. The constellation Ophiuchus is home to six globulars – M10, M12, M14, M107, M9, and M19. Can you spot them all?
  • The Virgo Cluster – A treasure trove of galaxies can be explored if you point your 6″ or larger telescope towards the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Aim your telescope at galaxy M87 in the constellation Virgo and start scanning the surrounding night sky. How many galaxies can you see?
  • Summer Sky Challenge – Discovered in 1825 by the German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, NGC 6572 is bright enough to be seen in a 60mm refractor telescope; but it is very, very small! At only 8 arc seconds in size, it takes a lot of magnification to distinguish this from a star. The easiest way to find it is to look in the target area for a green star. NGC 6572 is one of the most intensely colored objects in the night sky. Some say this is green, some say it is blue; what do you think?

Happy viewing!


The Empress of Ireland


The cruise ship cut through the near-freezing water in the dead of night. For the first-, second- and third-class passengers it was an exciting time, ahead of them lay a long voyage across the ocean to a far-flung land.

But it would be a voyage that was to be cruelly cut short, for out of the darkness loomed a solid mass – one which it was impossible to avoid. When the collision occurred it was severe – steel plate juddered and buckled from the impact.

The radio officer managed to send out a message, but things started to happen very fast. The ship began to flood, very, very quickly.

The Empress of Ireland The Empress of Ireland

In 17 short minutes it was all over and more than a thousand lives were consigned to the deep.

You might be thinking Titanic, but this tragedy occurred two years later, on May 29, 1914 –…

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#WarriorWednesday: LCDR John Charles Waldron, USN (1900-1942)

Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron, USN, standing in front of a Douglas TBD-1 "Devastator" of Torpedo Squadron Eight, circa 1942.

Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron, USN, standing in front of a Douglas TBD-1 “Devastator” of Torpedo Squadron Eight, circa 1942.

Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron, CO of Torpedo Squadron 8, went directly into harms way by leading his unit of 15 planes toward a Japanese carrier group without fighter escort. His bravery and leadership changed the course of the Battle of Midway.

John C. Waldron was born at Fort Pierre, South Dakota, on 24 August 1900. Graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1924, he became a Naval Aviator in 1927. During the years prior to World War II, he served in several air units, was an instructor at the Naval Academy and at Pensacola, Florida, and performed other duties connected with aviation. In 1941, LCdr. Waldron became Commanding Officer of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8), which was to serve on the new aircraft carrier Hornet (CV-8). He led that unit during the Battle of Midway, when all fifteen of its planes were lost to overwhelming enemy fighter opposition while making an unsupported attack on the Japanese aircraft carrier force. Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron was killed during that action.

USS Waldron (DD-699) was named in honor of John Charles Waldron.

On the Web: 

Course to Midway – Torpedo Squadron 8 – U.S. Navy

Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) 

A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron8

Battle of Midway

USS Hornet (CV-8)

USS Waldron (DD-699)


Remembering Torpedo Squadron 8 and the Battle of Midway


winnie wisdom

seeking spirit

Truths We Learn From Winnie The Pooh

Since first appearing in 1924, Winnie the Pooh has innocently stumbled through the Hundred Acre Wood, leading friends and readers on curious and memorable adventures. The lovable bear is the brainchild of A.A. Milne, inspired by his son, Christopher Robin, and his toys.

1. “How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet “You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”
2. “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
3. “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
4. “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”
5. “I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”
6. “You…

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Memorial Day 2014 #HonorReflectRemember




Slapton Sands in Devon, was the site of the ill-fated ‘Exercise Tiger’ in 1944, undertaken by the Allies in preparation for the D-Day landings and where many US servicemen lost their lives. Through the tireless efforts of a local man Kenneth Small, a Sherman tank sunk in the wartime exercise, was eventually recovered in 1984 and now stands on the road behind the beach at nearby Torcross. This is the story as to why this tank was saved, and the awful truth of what happened on that fateful night in 1944.

It was two hours after midnight on 28 April, 1944. Since the moon had just gone down, visibility was fair. The sea was calm.

A few hours earlier, in daylight, assault forces of the U S 4th Infantry Division had gone ashore on Slapton Sands, a stretch of beach along the south coast of England that closely resembled a beach on the French coast of Normandy, code-named Utah, where a few weeks later U.S. troops were to storm ashore as part of history’s largest and most portentous amphibious assault: D-Day

The assault at Slapton Sands was known as Exercise Tiger, one of several rehearsals conducted in preparation for the momentous invasion to come. So vital was the exercise of accustoming the troops to the combat conditions they were soon to face that commanders had ordered use of live naval and artillery fire, which could be employed because British civilians had long ago been relocated from the region around Slapton Sands. Individual soldiers also had live ammunition for their rifles and machine guns.

In those early hours of 28 April off the south coast in Lyme Bay, a flotilla of eight LSTs (landing ship, tank) was plowing toward Slapton Sands, transporting a follow-up force of engineers and chemical and quartermaster troops not scheduled for assault but to be unloaded in orderly fashion along with trucks, amphibious trucks, jeeps and heavy engineering equipment.

Out of the darkness, nine swift German torpedo boats suddenly appeared. On routine patrol out of the French port of Cherbourg, the commanders had learned of heavy radio traffic in Lyme Bay. Ordered to investigate, they were amazed to see what they took to be a flotilla of eight destroyers. They hastened to attack.

German torpedoes hit three of the LSTs. One lost its stern but eventually limped into port. Another burst into flames, the fire fed by gasoline in the vehicles aboard. A third keeled over and sank within six minutes.

There was little time for launching lifeboats. Trapped below decks, hundreds of soldiers and sailors went down with the ships. Others leapt into the sea, but many soon drowned, weighted down by water-logged overcoats and in some cases pitched forward into the water because they were wearing life belts around their waists rather than under their armpits. Others succumbed to hypothermia in the cold water.

When the waters of the English Channel at last ceased to wash bloated bodies ashore, the toll of the dead and missing stood at 198 sailors and 551 soldiers, a total of 749, the most costly training incident involving U.S. forces during World War II.

Allied commanders were not only concerned about the loss of life and two LSTs — which left not a single LST as a reserve for D-Day — but also about the possibility that the Germans had taken prisoners who might be forced to reveal secrets about the upcoming invasion. Ten officers aboard the LSTs had been closely involved in the invasion planning and knew the assigned beaches in France; there was no rest until those 10 could be accounted for: all of them drowned.

A subsequent official investigation revealed two factors that may have contributed to the tragedy — a lack of escort vessels and an error in radio frequencies.

Although there were a number of British picket ships stationed off the south coast, including some facing Cherbourg, only two vessels were assigned to accompany the convoy — a corvette and a World War I-era destroyer. Damaged in a collision, the destroyer put into port, and a replacement vessel came to the scene too late.

Because of a typographical error in orders, the U.S. LSTs were on a radio frequency different from the corvette and the British naval headquarters ashore. When one of the picket ships spotted German torpedo boats soon after midnight, a report quickly reached the British corvette but not the LSTs. Assuming the U.S. vessels had received the same report, the commander of the corvette made no effort to raise them.

Whether an absence of either or both of those factors would have had any effect on the tragic events that followed would be impossible to say — but probably not. The tragedy off Slapton Sands was simply one of those cruel happenstances of war.

Meanwhile, orders went out imposing the strictest secrecy on all who knew or might learn of the tragedy, including doctors and nurses who treated the survivors. There was no point in letting the enemy know what he had accomplished, least of all in affording any clue that might link Slapton Sands to Utah Beach.

Nobody ever lifted that order of secrecy, for by the time D-Day had passed, the units subject to the order had scattered. Quite obviously, in any case, the order no longer had any legitimacy particularly after Gen. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, in July 1944 issued a press release telling of the tragedy. Notice of it was printed, among other places, in the soldier newspaper, Stars & Stripes.

With the end of the war, the tragedy off Slapton Sands — like many another wartime events involving high loss of life, such as the sinking of a Belgian ship off Cherbourg on Christmas Eve, 1944, in which more than 800 American soldiers died–received little attention. There were nevertheless references to the tragedy in at least three books published soon after the war, including a fairly detailed account by Capt. Harry C. Butcher (Gen. Eisenhower’s former naval aide) in My Three Years With Eisenhower (1946).

The story was also covered in two of the U.S. Army’s unclassified official histories: Cross-Channel Attack (1951) by Gordon A. Harrison and Logistical Support of the Armies Volume I (1953) by Roland G. Ruppenthal. It was also related in one of the official U.S. Navy histories, The Invasion of France and Germany (1957) by Samuel Eliot Morrison.

In 1954, 10 years after D-Day, U.S. Army authorities unveiled a monument at Slapton Sands honoring the people of the farms, villages and towns of the region “who generously left their homes and their lands to provide a battle practice area for the successful assault in Normandy in June 1944.” During the course of the ceremony, the U.S. commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Gen. Alfred M. Guenther, told of the tragedy that befell Exercise Tiger.

All the while, a detailed and unclassified account of the tragedy rested in the National Archives. It had been prepared soon after the end of the war by the European Theater Historical Section.

In 1968 a former British policeman, Kenneth Small, moved to a village just off Slapton Sands and bought and operated a small guest house. Recovering from a nervous breakdown, Mr. Small took long walks along the beach and began to find relics of war: unexpended cartridges, buttons and fragments from uniforms. Talking with people who had long lived in the region, he learned of the heavy loss of life in Exercise Tiger.

Monument to the dead of Slapton Sands

Monument to the dead of Slapton Sands

Why, Mr. Small asked himself, was there no memorial to those who had died? There was that monument the U.S. Army had erected to the British civilians, but there was no mention of the dead Americans. To Mr. Small, that looked like an official cover-up.

From local fishermen, he learned of a U.S. Sherman tank that lay beneath the waters a mile offshore, a tank lost not in Exercise Tiger but in another rehearsal a year earlier. At considerable personal expense, Mr. Small managed to salvage the tank and place it on the plinth just behind the beach as a memorial to those Americans who had died. The memorial was dedicated in a ceremony on the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

Mr. Ken Small rides the recovered Sherman up the beach.

Mr. Ken Small rides the recovered Sherman up the beach.

That ceremony prompted the first spurt of accusations by the British and American press of a cover-up, but they were soon silenced by publication of two detailed articles about the tragedy: one in American Heritage magazine co-authored by a former medical officer, Dr. Ralph C. Greene, who had been stationed at one of the hospitals that treated the injured; the other in a respected British periodical, After the Battle. Those were carefully researched, authoritative and comprehensive articles; if anybody had consulted them three years later, they would put to rest any charges of a cover-up and various other unfounded allegations.

Kenneth Small, meanwhile, wanted more. Although persuaded at last that there had been no cover-up, he nevertheless wanted an official commemoration by the U.S. government to those who had died. Receiving an invitation from an ex-Army major who had commanded the tank battalion whose lost tank Mr. Small had salvaged, he went to the United States where the ex-major introduced him to his congresswoman, Beverly Byron (D-Md.), who as it turned out is the daughter of Gen. Eisenhower’s former naval aide, Capt. Butcher.

With assistance from the Pentagon, Rep. Byron arranged for a private organization, the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army in Colorado, where the 4th Infantry Division is stationed, to provide a plaque honoring the American dead. She also attached a rider to a congressional bill calling for official U.S. participation in a ceremony unveiling the plaque alongside Ken Small’s tank at Slapton Sands.

Information about that pending ceremony scheduled for 15 November, 1987, set the news media off. There were accusations not only of a cover-up, but also of heavy casualties inflicted by U.S. soldiers, who presumably did not know they had live ammunition in their weapons, firing on other soldiers. Nobody questioned why soldiers would bother to open fire if they thought they had only blank ammunition … or why a soldier would not know the difference between live ammunition and blanks when one has bullets, the other not. Nor was there actually any evidence of anybody being killed by small arms fire.

There surfaced a new an allegation made earlier by a local resident, Dorothy Seekings, who maintained that as a young woman she had witnessed the burial of “hundreds” of Americans in a mass grave (she subsequently changed the story to individual graves). Dorothy Seekings also claimed that the bodies are still there.

At long last, somebody in the news media — a correspondent for BBC television–thought to query the farmer on whose land the dead are presumably buried. He had owned and lived on that land all his life, said the farmer, and nobody was ever buried there.

That tallies with U.S. Army records that show that in the first few days of May 1944, soon after the tragedy, hundreds of the dead were interred temporarily in a World War I U.S. military cemetery at nearby Blackwood. Following the war, those bodies were either moved to a new World War II U.S. military cemetery at Cambridge or, at the request of next of kin, shipped to the United States.
Yet many like Ken Small continued to wonder why it took the U.S. government 43 years to honor those who died off Slapton Sands. Those who wondered failed to understand U.S. policy for wartime memorials.

Soon after World War I, Congress created an independent agency, the American Battle Monuments Commission, to construct overseas U.S. military cemeteries, to erect within them appropriate memorials and to maintain them. Anybody who has seen any of those cemeteries, either those of World War I or of World War II, recognizes that no nation honors its war dead more appropriately than does the United States.

Only the American Battle Monuments Commission–not the U.S. Army, Air Force or Navy — has authority to erect official memorials to American dead, and the American Battle Monuments Commission limits its memorials to the cemeteries, which avoids a proliferation of monuments around the world. Private organizations, such as division veterans’ associations, are nevertheless free to erect unofficial memorials but are responsible for all costs, including maintenance.

Soon after the end of the war, veterans of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, which incurred the heaviest losses in Exercise Tiger, did just that, erecting a monument on Omaha Beach to their dead, presumably to include those who died at Utah Beach and those who died in preparation for D-Day.
At Cambridge, there stands an impressive official memorial erected by the American Battle Monuments Commission to all those Americans who died during World War II while stationed in the British Isles. That includes the 749 who died in the tragedy off Slapton Sands, and there one finds the engraved names of the missing.

Long before 15 November, 1987, the U.S. government had already honored those soldiers and sailors who died in Exercise Tiger.



Google doodle honors Mary Anning

Why Evolution Is True

If you don’t know who this person is, you should—especially if you’re a fan of science. Today’s Google Doodle (which I heard about from a UK friend last night), honors Mary Anning, whose 215th birthday is today (she died in 1847, 12 years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species).

She was the first well-known female paleontologist (in fact, I know of no other female paleontologists before her, though perhaps there were some who languished in obscurity), and made marvelous discoveries on the Jurassic Coast of Southern England, in Dorset. I’ve wandered the gorgeous shores where she prospected, and seen some of her finds in museums.  She was no gentlewoman naturalist with an independent income, like Darwin, for she came from the working classes and always had to support herself, which makes her accomplishments all the more remarkable.

And here is her Doodle:

Screen shot 2014-05-21 at 11.29.22 AM

Her most famous finds (

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New Meteor Shower on May 23 and 24


Is Comet 209P/LINEAR visible? You bet. It’s running through the realms of Ursa Major and headed toward Leo, and it’s about to do something spectacular!

On Thursday, May 29th, the icy traveler will pass just 5 million miles from Earth – one of the closest comet approaches in history. Even though it may reach an estimated magnitude 10 and be observable with mid-sized telescopes, this little comet is not going to be an easy target. Why? Experts have predicted it will be covering about a half degree of sky an hour!

But that’s not all it has to offer…

On May 23-24, just 5 days before it buzzes by us, we may encounter a stream of cometary debris left behind by Comet 209P/LINEAR in the 1800s. What will happen could be a shining meteor shower with a possibility of anywhere from a handful to thousands of “shooting stars” visible.

According to the International Meteor Organization: “Much is unknown about this comet, including its dust productivity and even its precise orbit. Consequently, while tentative proposals have been made that zenith hourly rates (ZHRs) could reach 100+ at best, perhaps up to storm proportions, based purely on the relative approach distances between the Earth and the computed dust trails, these are far from certain. The strongest activity could be short lived too, lasting perhaps between a few minutes to a fraction of an hour only. In addition, the number of dust trails involved means there may be more than one peak, and that others could happen outside the “key hour” period, so observers at suitable locations are urged to be vigilant for as long as possible to either side of the predicted event to record whatever takes place. Remember, there are no guarantees in meteor astronomy!”

So, do you want to know when and where to watch? The peak night of the shower is predicted for May 23-24, 2014. Models suggest that the best viewing hours are between 6 and 8 UTC on May 24. That is between 2 and 4 a.m., EDT.

Image courtesy of JPL/NASA

Image courtesy of JPL/NASA

According to “Because of the time predicted for the meteor display, observers in southern Canada and the continental U.S. are especially well positioned to see the meteors in the early morning hours of May 24 (or late at night on May 23). Will the predictions hold true? They are not always 100% reliable, which is why, no matter where you are on Earth, this shower is worth a try.”

Backyard observers won’t be the only ones watching. Notable experts such as the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Dr. Bill Cooke plan on viewing firsthand. “There could be a new meteor shower, and I want to see it with my own eyes,” says Cooke. “We expect these meteors to radiate from a point in Camelopardalis, also known as ‘the giraffe’, a faint constellation near the North Star,” he continues. “It will be up all night long for anyone who wishes to watch throughout the night.”

So just how many meteors might you expect to see? One thing in everyone’s favor is that the Moon is nearing its New phase, and won’t pose much of a light pollution problem. However, there are no guarantees that the new May Camelopardalid Meteor Shower will be prolific – it might just fizzle out.

When meteor experts Esko Lyytinen of Finland and Peter Jenniskens at NASA Ames Research Center announced that Earth was due for an encounter with debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR, they could only present modeling for the debris trail and not a 100% accurate representation of how much material the comet may have shed during that particular trip around the Sun. If the comet shed a huge amount of dust, it may be a 1,000 per hour shower, but it’s more likely you’ll just catch a bright streak every few minutes. Either way, it will be a grand time and another astronomy “first” for your observing records!

Also see: New Meteor Shower Predicted to be a Meteor Storm


Godzilla of Dinosaurs Found in Argentina


Godzilla has company with this newly discovered, seven-stories-tall marvel of nature. Fortunately for other dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous era, this titanosaur was an herbivore. The remains were discovered in Argentina, and about 150 bones have been unearthed.

PALEONTOLOGISTS in Argentina’s remote Patagonia region have discovered fossils of what was likely the largest dinosaur ever to roam the earth.

The creature is believed to be a new species of Titanosaur, a long-necked, long-tailed sauropod that walked on four legs and lived some 95 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period.

The dinosaur “weighed the equivalent of more than 14 African elephants,” or about 100 tonnes, said Jose Luis Carballido, a paleontologist at the Egidio Feruglio Museum in the southern Argentine city of Trelew.


Picture taken on May 16, 2014 showing a technician next to the femur of a dinosaur — likely to be the largest ever to roam the earth– in Rawson, Chubut, some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) south of Buenos Aires. Paleontologists in Argentina’s remote Patagonia region, near the locality of Las Plumas, have discovered fossils of a creature is believed to be a new species of Titanosaur, a long-necked, long-tailed sauropod that walked on four legs and lived some 95 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period. AFP PHOTO / TELAM – Museo Egidio FeruglioMuseo Egidio Feruglio/AFP/Getty Images

“This is a true paleontological treasure,” Mr Carballido said in a statement on Friday on the museum website.

“There are many remains and they were practically intact, something that does not frequently happen.”

Known fossils “of a giant Titanosaur are scarce and fragmentary.”

Largest ... the huge dinosaur would have weighed the equivalent of more than 14 African elephants. Picture: Egidio Feruglio Museum Source: Supplied

Largest … the huge dinosaur would have weighed the equivalent of more than 14 African elephants. Picture: Egidio Feruglio Museum Source: Supplied

Museum director Ruben Cuneo told local media that the remains belong to “the largest known specimen” of its kind and “the most complete find of this type of dinosaur in the world”.

The fossils were accidentally discovered in 2011 by a farm worker in a remote area in the Patagonian province of Chubut, some 1300 kilometres south of Buenos Aires.

The creature was plant-eating and measured some 40 metres from head to tail, Cuneo said.

Photos posted on the museum website show a fossilised femur larger than the paleontologist pictured next to it.

‘Most complete’ ... Jose Luis Carballido (right) says the discovery is a true paleontological treasure. Picture: Egidio Feruglio Museum Source: Supplied

‘Most complete’ … Jose Luis Carballido (right) says the discovery is a true paleontological treasure. Picture: Egidio Feruglio Museum Source: Supplied

King of the monsters ... paleontologist Pablo Gallina describes the long-necked, whip-tailed dinosaur fossils newly discovered in Argentina. Picture: Natacha Pisarenko Source: AP

King of the monsters … paleontologist Pablo Gallina describes the long-necked, whip-tailed dinosaur fossils newly discovered in Argentina. Picture: Natacha Pisarenko Source: AP

Experts believe that the remains of seven dinosaurs, as well as the broken teeth of carnivores, are among the 200 fossils found at the Chubut site where the giant femur was found.