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I hate that people take their Christmas decoration down so early. What happened to keeping them up until Twelfth Night?

I hope everyone had a nice New Year. Sister 9 and I made a day of it. We went to the U.S. Botanic Gardens to see the model train sets. The theme this year was World Fairs. They had all these models from old World Fairs made out of plant materials. We also took a walk around looking at the orchids and palm trees.

Then we went over to the American Indian Museum for lunch at the Mitsitam Cafe. A few of you have been there. The food is scrumptious. She had maple-cured turkey, I had Brunswick stew, and we split the Indian corn pudding. That pudding was outstanding! I want to try making it. Oh, so good.

We went to a couple of floors of the museum, including a short film about Indian tribes. (Jenn and I saw it a couple of years ago). We also went through some sections of what tribal life used to be like and what it's like now. Very interesting.

Then we went over to the Air and Space Museum. When she saw they had a movie about the Hubble Telescope in 3D in IMAX, we had to see it. It was fantastic. It's probably the closest I'll ever get to being in space, but it felt so real. It was so crisp and sharp. Afterwards we had a nice conversation about how "Gravity" contrasted with the real thing and how the photos are enhanced.

There will be photos soon I hope.
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I went to a very interesting lecture at Air and Space yesterday. Four panelists discussed the shift in viewpoints going into space causes but how hard it is to share that experience. Two were astronauts and two were philosophers. One astronaut talked about the impact of returning to gravity. How do we get anything done? A common thought is how very thin the atmosphere is. All four agreed we live on a spaceship, we just don't realize it. They talked about how shocking that first look out the window is. All four are proponents of commercial space flight, so more people might experience it someday.

They showed a video. One thing that surprised me was seeing how fast they book it around the earth. At 92 minutes a circuit, they are really moving.

Here is the link. Take a look.

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Seems somehow inappropriate to wish people a happy Memorial Day. But there it is.

The weather's been chilly but clear so it should be nice for the Rolling Thunder bikers. It's grown every year and they are estimating up to 900,000 bikers this year and more than 1.5 million spectators. They've been zooming around the city a couple of days. Today there's a steady faroff rumble that will last for a while, as it takes a couple of hours for them to cross Memorial Bridge. Tonight is the Memorial Day Concert hosted by Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna. I'll likely watch it on PBS.

Tonight is also supposed to be the planetary alignment with Jupiter, Venus and Mercury. Sister 9 and I plan to look for a spot with enough open space to see it, if the weather stays clear.
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A meteorite hit Russia. A video from a weather satellite shows the Russian Meteor trail. You can see the shadow on the ground!

Fortunately no one was killed. A number of people were injured, mostly from glass shattered by the sonic boom.

Someone observed that if this had happened 30 years ago, it might have been taken as an attack.

ETA: Here's another video from a car's dashboard camera
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I was watching a PBS series on NASA and they showed the video from Columbia just before it broke up. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I got a little teary there for a bit.

We've had a couple days of wretched cold weather. They are predicting "conversational snow" for this evening. I never knew snow could be chatty :) Actually it seems that's the new term for a dusting to one inch. Enough to have a conversation over and maybe spoil a few commutes.

I've been working on a photo thing inspired by the Washington Post. For inauguration day, they listed sites that they associated with the 43 presidents. I had about 28 of them, so I've been hunting down the others. In a few instances I've substituted some better options. Really, the State Department for Harry Truman. Boring and fenced in with Jersey barriers. Blair Lee House was a much better choice. It's a work in progress. Here's how far I've gotten

And finally Amazon is selling the weirdest thing I've seen all week. Faux jeans and CHAPS! Just the Valentine's Day gift we've been looking for.
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If you are on Twitter, I strongly urge you to subscribe to Chris Hadfield's account @Cmdr_Hadfield. He's on the ISS. He posts the most amazing pictures of the Earth from space. On Australia Day, he posted pictures of the brush fires, Queensland and the Outback that looked like brush paintings. I also love his posts about basic station maintenance and cleaning. He cleans ALL THE THINGS and tells us about it. Of course, cleaning for him and his crewmates is a little more life-or-death than mine.
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Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky, reaches its highest point at midnight on New Year's Eve. I will be looking at it and wishing all of you the best and brightest of New Year's. I hope 2013 brings you all every good thing!
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This month's lecture on astronomy covered Africa's role in space. The closer launch sites are to the equator, the more fuel efficient they are. The lecture was a little unfocused - the speaker spent too much time on the earth's formation and not enough on current events - but it was still interesting.

Afterwards, I saw African Cosmos, Stellar Arts at the National Museum of African Arts. Really interesting. Some were artifacts from ancient times and some exhibits were modern art. I saw this and instantly thought of a stargate.

African Cosmos, Stellar Arts

Actually, it's the Yoruban equivalent of Ouroboros, the worm that eats itself. It's made from gasoline cans. To the right is a fabric hanging entitled "Starkid" The print was made using ancient adinka techniques. They also had a couple of short films from South Africa modeled after the ones done by Georges Melies.
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I spent another wonderful afternoon at the NMAI.

The south side of the museum is a functional garden. They use the peppers in the Mitsitamm Cafe.

They had demonstrations for the Days of the Dead, which I think is a nice way to remember those who have gone before.

Days of the Dead )

I was there for a lecture on cultural astronomy. It's fascinating to hear the stories other cultures create about the stars. The Southern Hemisphere has a very different view of the Milky Way and hence different stories about it. One presenter talked about the Inca and how important the Pleiades were to them. The Anishiinabe speaker told stories, including ones about the Thunderbird (Cygnus), the Fisher (Big Dipper), and the Underwater Panther (Leo).
star stories )
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I went to an interesting lecture at the Library of Congress. NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati talked about “Looking Homeward Toward Earth: The Power of Perspective.” He was an engaging speaker, with great slides and video clips.

He started and ended with with the Christmas Eve picture from Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders of Earth over the lunar horizon. He showed how we've gotten increasing capability to analyze events here on Earth. What we do with the information is up to us. Some slides showed how clearcutting is affecting Brazil while others showed ice mass changes in the Arctic. One fascinating clip showed airplane flights around the globe as the day moved on. The more information we analyze, the better the perspective on problems.

The auditorium was standing room only, so people were interested in the topic.
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I went to the final Evening Parade of the season at the Marine Corps Barracks Friday night. I managed to get this photo

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So do something you'd only do once in a blue moon!

Today is also the private memorial service for Neil Armstrong. The Astronomy Picture of the Day is the first photo he took from the moon. In these days of Curiosity, it's good to stop and remember what came first
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Goodbye to the Shuttle Discovery! It did two flybys of the Mall before heading to Dulles and its new home at Udvar-Hazy. People were watching all over the Mall. It was quieter than I expected.

I fell in love with the escort plane shadowing it. Like a very small mom with a very large chick :)
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A quick reminder that Venus, Jupiter, and the crescent moon should be presenting a lovely triangle tonight. I hope the weather is clear where you are so you can see it. It's clear but very breezy in DC today. I'm hopeful of getting a peek.
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I walked outside after sunset. The sky was so clear and I had a great view of the Jupiter-crescent moon-Venus alignment. They aren't making a smiley face this time around but they do look lovely. And the planets are still moving closer together. Should be nice next crescent moon.

If you have binoculars, Uranus is visible just to the south of Venus.
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Actually it was a rainy July evening when I was born.

You were born during a New moon

The moon is dark in this phase, because the half that's illuminated by the sun is facing away from Earth.

- what it says about you -

You want to leave an impression on people and make your mark on the world. When you love an idea, you'll work hard for it, sometimes even dropping whatever it is you're doing to go on to the next new great thing that's captured your imagination. The more freedom you have to chose what you're doing, the busier you'll be.

What phase was the moon at on your birthday? Find out at

The page also has a link to the Naval Observatory's page for finding the actual details. As I am a sucker for such details, I had to look it up.

USNO page is here. I was born under a waning crescent moon, with 2% illuminated. New moon was officially 11 hours later.
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The Toronto skyline, over a year.

The photo that took a year to make

So basically, the man left a pinhole camera on the roof for a year. He hoped it would be there and that there would be an interesting photo. He then destroyed the paper in the process of creating the photo, so he only got one try at it. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

The photo is beautiful. Love the sun trails and the CN Tower as the fixed point.
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This is a mindboggling timelapse video of the Earth at night from the ISS:

The ISS is moving relatively quickly. I kept pausing it to see where I was. There are terrific shots of the aurora and lightning storms. Just gorgeous!
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From Peter Caltner: Night flight on board of the ISS from NW USA to Florida and beyond
Starting just before Vancouver and Seattle the ISS flies over Central US to Florida. The trip ends just south of Cuba.
The 279 photos were taken by the NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, aka Astro_Aggie, on Oct. 15, 2011, from 083054 GMT to 084547 GMT. Therefore, the actual duration of the flight is 15 minutes. Camera: Nikon D3S with 50 mm lens, f 2.8, exposure 1 second (for the maximum capture of light).

I love seeing the lightning flashes from above.
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Watch Mars Rover Opportunity’s Three-Year-Long Journey in Less Than Three Minutes
Herky-jerky of course but oddly interesting. And the soundtrack is nifty too. Those little rovers have the Little Engine That Could and the Energizer Bunny beat all hollow. They just keep going. A new rover is set to be launched next month, too.


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