Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm starting to feel a little like Han Solo here...

You know...every time he desperately needs to get away in the Falcon, the darn hyperdrive fails.

Well, as I was anticipating writing a long, lustrous update this week...circumstances conspired against me again.  There's been major flooding here in our part of the world...including right here at the Virginia Living Museum.  We took a very serious flash flood last weekend, with water flooding the lower level of both of our museum buildings.

Water pours over the tops of our floodgates and through the doors to the lower level of the museum.  Approximately a foot of water entered overall in the main museum building.  The Wason Education Center took on about 3 feet of water.
Fortunately, the planetarium was spared any major damage.  Unfortunately, little else was.  We've reopened the museum to the general public, but the lower level exhibits remain closed.  To offset this, admission has been reduced by $5 and the planetarium is included in your general admission ticket (that saves you another $4!).  So if you've ever wanted to stop by and check out a's a great time.  Plus your admission fee and any donation you can make will help us rebuild the lower level of the museum.  Estimates of the total damage are still being made, but believe you me, there's been a lot of damage.  Another great way to support us is to come on out to our Star Party & Laser Light Night on September 8th!  The planetarium and observatory are still in great shape, so we'll be open and hopefully enjoying some clear skies and some great music.

Also uppermost in my mind as I hastily update is the painful loss of Neil Armstrong this past Saturday.  Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the Moon, and his death at age 82 has made me realize that soon there will be very few people left who remember seeing the Apollo Moon landings, and even fewer who actually participated in them.  In fact, of the 12 men who walked on the Moon, only 8 are still alive today (besides Neil Armstrong, James Irwin died in 1991, Alan Shepard died in 1998 and Pete Conrad died in 1999).  As this generation passes, and the American space program shrinks into obscurity,  we run a greater and greater risk of forgetting how to accomplish these amazing achievements...or even disbelieving that we ever did.  Already polls show that some 6% - 20% of Americans do not believe we ever landed on the Moon.

Neil Armstrong 1930 - 2012.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

Such numbers are a slap in the face to the 12 brave men who actually did indeed walk on the lunar surface.  I hope we'll be able to get ourselves back into the space race in the not too distant future.  I hope that our first tentative steps out into the solar system won't turn out to be our last.

And finally, Godspeed, Neil Armstrong.

I'll try again in two weeks.  You hear that, ship?  Hold together!
Carpe noctem!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beautiful...exciting...and short

Much better than nasty, brutish and short, don't you think?

Forgive my absence, dear readers, but I've been traveling for several weeks and the internets have not always been kind to me.  I couldn't get internet at all for the first few days, and then once I could, no power in the universe was allowing me in to my blog.

But back home again and trying to get caught up, I had to take a minute to share this with you in lieu of the post I should have made a week ago and more.  Please enjoy, and watch for regular postings beginning again this coming Wednesday!

Curiosity photographs itself (at least in part) on Mars.  Courtesy NASA.
Be sure to click the link above and watch the video.  And to think some people believe scientists are boring.
Carpe noctem!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

We are experiencing operating difficulties...please stand by...

Okay, so not really.  What I am experiencing is my final week of teaching class here at the Virginia Living Museum before hitting the road for a conference and then a little vacation time.  So needless to say, it's been a little crazy.

In fact, it's been so crazy that I totally forgot that yesterday was Wednesday.

So...this week I've been teaching kids about the solar system.  We've been having a great time, and they seem to be really enjoying our tour of our local neighborhood.  Why don't you do the same while we wait for the landing of Curiosity?  Try here, and here.  You also might enjoy this.  If you're local to the area, and looking for something fun for the kiddos to do, we offer some really excellent classes, if I do say so myself.  Check them out!

The solar system, with a bonus nebula at the bottom. Courtesy NASA.

I'll certainly be updating again after the August 5th (August 6th for some of us) landing of Curiosity.  So hang on for just a few more days...

Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror.  If it can get through this, it will be home free. Courtesy NASA.

Until then,
Carpe noctem!