Author Archives: Katie Curtis

Is it possible to detect Jupiter’s satellites with the unaided eye if Callisto and Ganymede appear when Ganymede is at greatest elongation from Jupiter?

I’ve heard it might be possible to detect Jupiter’s satellites with the unaided eye if Callisto and Ganymede appear together when Ganymede is at greatest elongation from Jupiter. Will this happen anytime soon? Jupiter is now setting soon after sunset. But three times in 2008, Texans (and North Americans generally) will have a chance...

What is a sundog, and how did “sundogs” get their name?

Why are "sundogs" called by that name? Before answering the why question, let me answer a what question, namely, What is a sundog, or mock Sun, in the first place? It’s a concentrated patch of sunlight occasionally seen about 22° to the left or right of the Sun. Sundogs form, often in pairs on...

Is it possible to use a 12-inch reflector at f/42?

I was amazed at Jim Melka’s beautiful picture of Mars on page 136 of the January 2006 issue but puzzled by the caption, which said that he used a 12-inch reflector at f/42. How is this possible? Knowing that a telescope’s f/ratio is its focal length divided by its aperture, you’re probably imagining poor...

Why are Kuiper Belt discoveries made at aphelion?

Why is it that so many of the recent Kuiper Belt discoveries — including the “10th planet,” 2003 UB313 — have been made while the objects are at aphelion? Timing and luck. Objects that orbit the Sun spend most of their time near the farthest point of their orbits, where they move most slowly....

How many digits are satisfactory in the measurement of pi?

In the 3rd century BC, Archimedes proved that the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is less than 3 1/7 but larger than 3 10/71. That’s about 3.141. Later mathematicians have computed what we now call p (pi) to greater and greater accuracy — but how many digits are “enough”? The answer...

What does the term “25 lignes” mean?

Paging through a reproduction of the 1909 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, I found a telescope with an aperture of 25 lignes. Are you familiar with that term? In short, no. We’re also surprised to learn that such an archaic measurement was attached to a “modern” telescope. A ligne is one-twelfth of the old...

When will (or did) the galactic equator cross the ecliptic very close to the latter’s northern and southern extremes?

As a teenager, when examining an equinox-1950 star atlas, I noticed that the galactic equator crossed the ecliptic very close to the latter’s northern and southern extremes (that is, the solstices at right ascension 6h and 18h). On equinox-2000 charts they are even closer. I’d love to know when the exact coincidence will (or...

How well defined is a meteor-shower radiant?

How well defined is a meteor-shower radiant? Is it a point on the sky or a several-degree-wide spot? Radiants are spots, not points. A meteor shower’s radiant is the location on the sky where all the meteors would appear to come from if we could see them approaching in the very far distance. However,...

What is the faintest object imaged by ground-based telescopes?

I know that the Hubble Ultra Deep Field imaging campaign reached a limiting magnitude of 31, but what is the faintest object imaged by ground-based telescopes? Furthermore, how is it that an amateur astronomer was able to reach magnitude 24 with a 16-inch telescope, when even Hubble has gone no deeper than 31st magnitude?...

What does “true color” mean in a deepspace photograph?

What does “true color” mean in a deep-space photograph? How would a galaxy or nebula actually look to the naked eye from close up? “True color” is how an object would look if you were nearby or were viewing it in a telescope under a dark sky, and if its surface brightness (the amount...

Is there a good test for optical quality?

In late October 2005 I hoped to see major surface markings on Mars, but my 10-inch scope showed only a uniformly yellow ball. Do I have an inferior mirror? The optics were well collimated. Is there a good test for optical quality? Starting in mid-October, dust storms on Mars spread a wash of yellow...

Can an O III nebula filter be called “oh-three”?

I have an ongoing dispute with everybody. I say an O III nebula filter cannot be “oh-three,” since O III stands for doubly ionized oxygen atoms. I call it an “oh-two” filter. Who’s right? Sorry Philip, you lose. Not only is “oh-three” the universal usage; it makes sense. Well, sort of. A neutral, non-ionized...

When will the last total solar eclipse occur?

With the Moon slowly receding from Earth, there will come a time when it no longer has sufficient angular size to cover the Sun completely. When will the last total solar eclipse occur? When the Moon’s at its closest and biggest and it can no longer cover the Sun at its farthest and smallest,...

Why do you need a hydrogen-alpha filter to see solar prominences?

If I can see solar prominences with the naked eye during a total eclipse, why do I need a hydrogen-alpha filter to see them at other times? During a total eclipse the Moon completely blocks the Sun’s photosphere, or visible “surface,” allowing prominences (and the corona) to shine in all their glory. Without the...