Faster and Faster.

We all know about the massive dust and wind storms on Mars (and Earth for that matter), but what about our evil twin Venus?

It turns our that the winds on Venus, at over 180Mph (300Km/h) are getting faster!

Over the past six years wind speeds in Venus' atmosphere have been steadily rising (ESA)

After analyzing more than six years of data collected by the Venus Express has shown that the winds on Venus are getting faster.

Long-term studies based on tracking the motions of several hundred thousand cloud features, indicated here with arrows and ovals, reveal that the average wind speeds on Venus have increased from roughly 300 km/h to 400 km/h over the first six years of the mission. (Khatuntsev et al.)

Two different groups studied the data and came to similar conclusions.  It seems that the winds on Venus have increase 30% to 400km/h.  Although Venus is already one of the most inhospitable places in the solar system, the high winds and sulphuric acid atmosphere aren’t going to make it into a garden spot resort destination any time soon.

Venus is unusual for more than just its wind increase.  A day on Venus is longer than its year.  A Venusian year is about 225 days and it takes 243 days to complete a single rotation on its axis (one day).  So a day on Venus is longer than a year on Venus.  So in this case, watching the clock does make time seem to go slower.  And it runs backwards, Venus rotates in the opposite direction of Earth.

The other unusual fact about Venus is that its atmosphere spins around it much more quickly than its surface rotates (known as super-rotation).  It only takes four days for something in the atmosphere to go all the way around the planet, thanks to those high winds.

Saturn’s moon Titan is the only other place in the solar system that has atmospheric superrotation.

All in all, Venus is a very strange planet.  It would be great to explore it more, but the heat, pressure and caustic atmosphere are bound to keep it a secret for a long time.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +




Good photo op in tonight’s sky.

If you missed the last conjunction between Jupiter, Mercury and Venus this past month, you’ll get another chance at a good photo tonight.

This time it is the Moon, Venus and Mercury.  If you look to the west-northwest horizon tonight you will see all three.

The show will last for about 45 minutes after sunset (Venus sets right after that).

You should be able to see all three with the naked eye and you might even want to try and take a photograph.  You shouldn’t need anything fancier than your cell phone and a steady hand.  Orion even makes devices for holding your cellphone in place for you.

I am going to try my hand at getting a few images and I will post the results (provided the weather cooperates).  Let me know if you take any images, I would love to see your shots!

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +


Images of our closest planet.

Earth of course.  We couldn’t be much closer if we tried.  And you thought it was going to be Venus, Mars or Mercury.

What's that dark spot on planet Earth? It's the shadow of the moon

A lovely view of Earth, with a Moon shadow in the north.  (Not to be confused with Moon Shadow by Cat Stevens).

Our planet is very interesting to say the least.  Luckily for us, we know almost as much about our planet as we do about the other planets in the Solar system.  In fact, in some respects we don’t know as much about our planet as we do others.

Why is that you ask?

Most of the planet is covered in water.  It really seems like a lot of water until you put it into perspective.

(1) All water (sphere over western U.S., 860 miles in diameter)
(2) Fresh liquid water in the ground, lakes, swamps, and rivers (sphere over Kentucky, 169.5 miles in diameter), and
(3) Fresh-water lakes and rivers (sphere over Georgia, 34.9 miles in diameter).
Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.

The picture above from the USGS shows how much water of various kinds are one our planet. It doesn’t look like much now, does it?  But, it does make the planet very nice to live on.

Lake Erie. Though Lake Erie looks beautiful in this image, the green swirls in the water are evidence of the worst toxic algae bloom the lake has suffered in decades. Image taken by Landsat 5 on October 5, 2011. (Photo by USGS/NASA)

An image of Lake Eerie in North America.

Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar. The Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea consists of more than 800 islands. This natural-color image of the center portion of the archipelago was captured by Landsat 5 on December 14, 2004. (Photo by USGS/NASA)

The beautifully blue and green Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar.

Erg Iguidi, Algeria. What look like pale yellow paint streaks slashing through a mosaic of mottled colors are ridges of wind-blown sand that make up Erg Iguidi, an area of ever-shifting sand dunes extending from Algeria into Mauritania in northwestern Africa. Erg Iguidi is one of several Saharan ergs, or sand seas, where individual dunes often surpass 500 meters – nearly one-third of a mile – in both width and height. Image taken by Landsat 5 on April 8, 1985. (Photo by USGS/NASA)

The pale yellow streaks are ridges of sand that make up Erg Iguidi in Algeria. Some of the dunes surpass 500 meters, nearly 1/3 of a mile, in both width and height.

Typhoon Bopha moves toward the Philippines, observed from the ISS, on December 2, 2012. (Photo by AP Photo/NASA/The Atlantic)

An angry planet sometimes, this is an image of Typhoon Bopha covering a lot of the earth as it heads toward landfall in the Philippines in 2012.

Dasht-e Kavir, Iran. The Dasht-e Kavir, or Great Salt Desert, is the larger of Iran's two major deserts, which occupy most of the country's central plateau. Located in north-central Iran, the mostly uninhabited desert is about 800km long and 320km wide. Once situated beneath an ancient inland sea, the arid region is now covered with salt deposits and is known for its salt marshes (kavirs), which can act like quicksand. From wild sheep and leopards to gazelles and lizards, there is a range of wildlife in the mountainous areas and parts of the steppe and desert areas of the central plateau. This 2000 Landsat 7 image shows the intricately folded sediments and colourful formations that now blanket the surface of this barren landscape. (Photo by NASA/GSFC/USGS EROS Data Center)

The Dasht-e Kavir, or Great Salt Desert, in Iran.  The most uninhabited area of the planet (that we know of).

Natural selection at its best.  Please review the Darwin Awards for a complete list.

The Milky Way above the telescopes

Today, we took a look down on our planet, but take the opportunity every once and a while to look up into the night sky.  There are some pretty amazing things up there as well.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +




Next up, the closest star to us.

That’s right, Sol our very own sun.  Like Terra for Earth, Sol is the Latin name of the Sun. That’s why we live in the Sol(ar) System.  The Sun is big compared to us, really big.  Actually, it is big compared to everything else in our system.  The Sun alone accounts for about 99.86% of all the mass in the neighborhood.  All the planets, asteroids and other cosmic visitors, like those comets, all together make up the other 0.14% of the Solar system.  Don’t you feel special now?

And, as you can see above, our sun is easily dwarfed by other stars in the Milkyway galaxy.  By the way, Antares isn’t the largest star we found that honor goes to:

Even bigger than that is all the space in between the stars and galaxies.  Technically, the Sun is is designated as a yellow dwarf star.  Sheesh, its enough to give you an inferiority complex!

But, it is our star and it is quite lovely.  All sorts of things happen on our sun that we are not even sure how or why.  Solar tsunamis, Solar quakes, coronal mass ejections, sun spots.


File:Sun projection with spotting-scope.jpg

It is interesting to note that although they appear black, sun spots are in fact about 3000–4500 K (2727–4227 °C).  But, because the surrounding material is at about 5,780 K (5,510 °C) they look black.

This is what we think how the Sun is made and operates, but until we can develop the technology to actually withstand the pressure and the heat, we will not know.

Compared to the Sun, landing on Venus is a walk in the park!

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +


JPL Open House 2012

WOW! I just got back from a day at JPL. I’ve heard from some of the volunteer’s that this year’s was the biggest event yet.  I will have some pictures as soon as I get them all into one place.  I had to use a variety of device (three in fact) to take all the pictures that I could.  I was only able to get about half way through all the exhibits and missed some of the ones that I wanted to see due to the amount of people.  It was like going to Disney or Magic Mountain.  The stuff I did get to enjoy was fantastic.  A big thank you to all the JPL volunteers that put this event on, you were outstanding!

I’ll have a more detailed report for you once I have rested awhile. It was 99 degrees F when I got back in my car.  Note to self, next year come earlier and wear a hat.

Love, love, loved this event.  If you ever get the chance I would plan on spending both days viewing all the exhibits.  Some people we talked to in line were coming back for their third trip to view the exhibits.  I must admit that I was tempted on a couple to get back in line and go around again.

Next year promises to be even better!  I can’t wait.


– Ex astris, scientia –



Image of the Venus Transit

Here are the results of my first (and last) Venus transit photos.  I had a terrible time with equipment.  None of my Canon cameras wanted to download an image.  Finally, I used Images Plus and was able to capture Live View video of the event and then stack them.  It seems, after some investigation, that the USB ports on my laptop do not supply power while it is one batteries.  So the Canon’s could not download images without power.  It would have been nice if I could control this “feature” and decide if I want the batteries to power the USB or not.  Come on man!  Anyway, the color isn’t the best, but I need to calibrate my monitor to get better color and I have not had a chance to do that yet.  Hopefully this weekend will give me the time to work on the images more.  You can view, or download the full size images here.

– Ex astris, scientia –



Venus Transit

Well, today was the big day and I got some great pictures from the event as you can see.  I spent the afternoon with K-8 kids showing them the sun and the transit.  My sun gun traveled to St. Andrews Catholic School where a fellow attorney’s child attends.  They asked if I would be willing to show these youngsters the event and, well, I can’t say no to any request like that.  I love help kids understand about the universe outside their windows. Luckily today there were also A LOT of sunspots making the display even better.  I was only able to snap a couple of photos with my smartphone during the lulls, but I must say it worked pretty well.  I was also able to get some images from home (thank the weather gods for a sunny day) so I will process them and, if any of them are good, I will post the results here for you to see.  So did anyone try for the contest from Southern Stars?  I would love to seen any pictures that you might have taken. I am exhausted, so its off to bed for me.  A couple of hundred kids and an afternoon in the hot sun has done me in.  Enjoy the photos.

– Ex astris, scientia –

Venus Transit iPhoto Contest

One more reason to view the transit…you could win an iPad!  details and instructions are here.  Be sure to protect your eyes.  There is a lot of good information for viewing and photographing the transit with a smartphone.  If you have checked out my previous posts I was actually able to capture this image with my smartphone during the eclipse.  So it can be done.  I think I will run a contest in my office for the event and see who can come up with the best photo.

This time I hope to capture better images with my smartphone and my solar scope!  Safe viewing!

– Ex astris, scientia –

The Sun – Safely

Well, I saw this article about making a Sun Gun (no, not the one envisioned by German scientists in WWII), but this one, and I just happened to see a Fry’s ad for a $129.00 Celestron 60mm goto telescope and I couldn’t resist.  So, after a quick trip to the penny less than a dollar store only I manage to get all the parts for this:

She’s a beauty, ain’t she.

Using the 9mm eye piece that came with the scope I was able to actually see 6 sunspots!

Despite the wind that kept moving my planter….er…sun viewing device around I could clearly make out the sun and the sunspots.  Although it is not very apparent in these shrunk down, web size pictures, the full blow images are great.  Visually it is rather stunning.  Next steps: I will reinforce the connection a little more, but I now have a safe, quick and easy way for children of all ages to view the sun safely!

Please remember to never look directly at the sun as it will make you go blind!

Venus transit here I come!

– Ex astris, scientia –

Using the Moon to View the Venus Transit

The astronomers in charge of the Hubble space telescope are going to try and use the sunlight reflected from the Moon to view the transit of Venus in June.  Because the Hubble cannot look directly at the Sun, this would make sense.  But what are they trying to do? Well the good folks over at Hubblesite have the explaination…extra-solar planets.  What?  That’s right, by looking at the atmosphere of Venus in this fashion scientists hope to be able to use this technique on extra-solar planets to determine what they are made of, their atmosphere and other important data.

I, however, am preparing myself to view this months annular eclipse and then use the techniques I learn to photograph the transit in June and the total eclipse in November.  If this is the last year for planet Earth (NOT!), it will be a fun one.

P.S. the Mayan calendar is probably a perpetual calendar so everything just starts over again at the year zero.