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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Politics - The Art of the Possible

The titular phrase of this post references a saying by Prince Otto von Bismarck, Germany's fabled Iron Chancellor.  It's also a wonderful song in the musical "Evita."  It's also something I wish our Congress would get around to remembering.

Politics, at its best, should be a way of blending together various viewpoints to bring about compromises that please the vast majority of the people our case, us, through our elected representatives.  Sadly, right now, our Congress is behaving like a toddler who's been told he has to eat his Brussels sprouts - mouth tight shut, eyes closed, head in the air, and completely refusing to listen


I've seen numbers estimating the number of people affected by the government shutdown at around 800,000.  Sorry, I think that's a gross underestimation.  Though I guess it depends on how you define "affected."  My guess is they are thinking only of federal workers furloughed.  But the shutdown trickles down into everything.  Here's a case in point.

This Saturday, here at the Virginia Living Museum, we are hosting our monthly Star Party and Laser Light Night.  We were planning on a big event, in celebration of International Observe the Moon Night, which is also Saturday October 12.  NASA Langley planned to join us, with some awesome exhibits about current missions to the Moon and what we hope to do in the future.  The Blue Aces Air Force Band was also going to come out to play some great music on the lawn and get everyone in a great mood for the evening.

Sadly, because of the government shutdown, neither of those things can happen.  NASA is effectively closed (except for essential ongoing mission operations) and the Air Force can't really say that having a band play a local event is essential either.  But it is going to affect us, as many people who might have come out to enjoy these things will now stay home.  We're not federally funded here at the VLM...but we're affected, nonetheless.

On the good side, we'll still be here, doing our regular Star Party thing!  We're hoping to have some extra help on hand viewing the Moon (assuming the weather cooperates!) from the good folks of the Langley Skywatchers and the Virginia Peninsula Astronomy Stargazers.  And there will be the usual slate of planetarium and laser shows to enjoy (ticket purchase required for shows - stargazing is FREE!).  I hope we'll see some of you here for the fun!

In other news,  Comet ISON is improving, and may soon be visible to the unaided eye!  It is a wonderful target for backyard telescopes at this time, and is beginning to show color!  Check it out...

Comet ISON as photographed by Michael Jaeger of Weissenkirchen Austria.  The greenish glow is caused by cyanogen and carbon in the comet's coma.  Courtesy 

Look for ISON in the early morning, just before sunrise.  You'll need a telescope, as it is not yet visible to the unaided eye.  Mars will serve as a wonderful guide to finding the comet over the next few days.

Finder chart for Comet ISON on October 9, 2013.  Courtesy

Enjoy! Hopefully by next month we will be enjoying a naked-eye comet and a reopened government.
Until next time,
Carpe noctem!

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