Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Motoring down the Rhine river, Astronomical Watch and old sundial show timekeeping and sky watching through the ages

Greetings from Palmia Observatory Staff, currently somewhere on the Rhine River,

Well we are offsite this week and haven't much luck with the weather when it comes to seeing anything but clouds in the night sky.  Astronomer Assistant's Danny and Ruby are off visiting with Got a Whole House Full of Dogs, Bob and Resident Astronomer's Peggy and myself are free to enjoy the cruise ship, Viking Eir, and don't need to worry about
anything, what with the major assistants away on their own vacation and Observatory Sitter, Lavonne, looking after Astronomer Assistant, Willow, and also piling up the correspondence and stacking up the Amazon deliveries.  Thanks Bob and Lavonne.

Unfortunately, as I said, the clouds have not helped out much with any astronomical viewing.  On our first night in Switzerland, I did take one image of the nearly full, mostly covered by clouds, moon, with my IPhone,  See attached. Tonight, I looked out through the clouds and was able to see Jupiter, but no other stars were visible.  Luckily we were so busy seeing the other sights that not seeing the night sky was not so bad.  

Since we started in Switzerland, and it is known for its timekeeping capability, I found a watch that might be of interest to amateur astronomers, called the Astronomia Sky.  It has a really neat mechanical movement which apparently shows correct moon position and sidereal time.  Just take a look at the attached image of that watch. 
Switzerland and the Astronomia Sky Watch
Where else would you find the Astronomia Sky watch if not in Switzerland
Doesn't that look really cool?  The sad news is that it is really expensive, being built from real gold and assorted jewels and is only being made in a limited edition of 18 pieces.  So even if we could afford it, only about half of you readers would be able to get one of these beauties. 

So even though it is a mechanical marvel, it's not capable of competing with the simplest astronomical algorithms running on our phones.  I can report that the Go Sky Watch IPhone App worked fine here in this hemisphere and correctly identified where Jupiter was to be found.  Yes, mechanical marvels as nest as they are can't keep up with software.

Even now as we continue down river to the Black Forest area, where cuckoo clocks reign supreme, I found a cuckoo clock app for my IPhone which offers all the thrill of experiencing a cuckoo clock without the need of shipping and finding a place on a crowded observatory wall for the mechanical marvel.  Yes, as you can probably tell I'm an old electrical engineer, not a mechanical engineer.

But what are we to do during a power failure or lack of battery charge?  Well maybe for daytime observing, we can rely on a sundial, such as the attached photo of a sundial on the bell tower of a local church. 
Sun dial on old church along the Rhine
Sun Dial on old church along the Rhine
The shadow reads about 10:30 AM, which agreed pretty well with my IPhone display of local time.  Unfortunately, when I tried to point this out to Resident Astronomer, Peggy, a cloud covered up the sun and the time was not displayed anymore at all.  So, I guess that we amateurs maybe need several backup timepieces to be sure we can tell what time it is no matter what comes up.  Ok, ok, we don't need to get our own mechanical cuckoo clocks or backup sundials, but the history of timekeeping is pretty interesting stuff.

Until next time,

If you are interested in things astronomical or in astrophysics and cosmology
Check out this blog at www.palmiaobservatory.com

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