Planet Jupiter - Elton Moonshine Observatory

Planet Jupiter – Elton Moonshine Observatory

Jupiter, with a diameter of 89,000 miles (compared to 8,000 miles for Earth), is by far the largest planet in our Solar System. Because of the eccentricity of their orbits, the distance between the Earth and Jupiter varies from 365 million miles to 600 million miles. A very small distance on an astronomical scale. Jupiter is sometimes referred to as the amateur’s planet because of the ease with which it can be observed with moderate sized telescopes.

The most prominent features of the planet’s atmosphere (it has no solid surface) are the dark belts and the lighter colored zones. They are well seen with a 6 inch reflector. The larger the telescope the more bands can be seen, as well as the detail between them. The above image was taken with a 9.25 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

Globular Clusters

Globular clusters are, as their name implies, round aggregations of stars. There are about 100 known and they all orbit about the central bulge of the Milky Way galaxy. (Other galaxies have them as well.) They vary considerably in size with the largest being comprised of hundreds of thousands of stars. Interestingly, all of the stars are approximately the same age.

M13 The Great Cluster of Hercules - Elton Moonshine Observatory

M13 The Great Cluster of Hercules – Elton Moonshine Observatory

Messier 13 in the constellation Hercules is probably the largest globular cluster visible from the northern hemisphere and contains about 300,00 stars crowded into a space only 150 light years in diameter. The stars near the center of the cluster are packed so closely together that even through a telescope they appear to be a solid ball of light.


Asteroids are the rubble left over from the formation of the Solar System. They range in size from bits of dust to bodies several hundred miles in diameter. Most of them orbit in the “Main Asteroid Belt” between Mars and Jupiter – and, to a lesser extent, the “Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt” beyond the orbit of Neptune.

2015-0327aBecause so many of the asteroids as quite small, their true numbers can never be known. After all, how does one detect a 2 ft. rock that is 200 million miles away? As for the more sizeable asteroids, there are approximately 440,000 known asteroids that are larger than 1 km; with the total number that size estimated to be between 1 & 2 million.

Contrary to popular belief, the main belt is not a dangerously crowded region where one would have to be dodging asteroids at every turn. Within the main belt the average distance between asteroids is at least 1 million km or 600,000 miles – about 2-1/2 times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Rotifer Egg

When you are exploring the world with a microscope it is not unusual to come across a biological that you cannot immediately identify. When you eventually put a name to the critter is can be interesting – but rarely earthshaking. But every once in a while one does encounter something that knocks your socks off. So it was with this specimen. It was a Rotifer egg and I had never seen one before.


Rotifer Egg - Macrotrachela ehrenbergi

Rotifer Egg – Macrotrachela ehrenbergi


The initial difficulty was in identifying it as a Rotifer egg; after that, because of its unique appearance, I could easily assign a genus (and even a species). Had I found the adult creature, I would have immediately known that it was a Rotifer, but would have had a much more difficult time classifying it further.

In any event, this is the kind of experience that gives you the thrill of discovery and provides you with the impetus to pursue the identification of unknowns to their ultimate conclusion.

Dealing With Unknowns

I am working on a project to document the micro-organisms I find in moss. The organisms are so numerous, varied, and vital to the project that I must attach a scientific name to each one that I find ….. no matter how long the identification takes, no exceptions.

The identity of the types of moss that I find them in is also important, but not to the extent of the critters themselves. There may be a correlation between the two so I can’t just ignore the moss. Moss identification happens to be rather difficult so I deal with the problem by assigning my own form of ID to the various specimens. I call them “Type A”, “Type B”, etc. That way I can keep the information until I have a more serious label to attach to it.

When I am lucky enough to find the proper scientific name I can always insert it into my notes or simply create a key that equates “Type A” to whatever ID I have just discovered. That way I can continue with my investigation with losing information, time or enjoyment on a second tier of data. This may be a form of laziness, but I think that it is justified and not injurious to the project.

Moss - "Type A"

Moss – “Type A” – (Later identified as Genus: Bryum)

New Lunar Crater Discovered

Two days ago Arizona State University announced the discovery of a new, large lunar crater. Although 200 km (124 miles) in diameter, it was never seen before because it is almost completely obliterated by the debris from other nearby impacts. What made its discovery now possible are new techniques based on the crater’s gravity signature.

Arizona State University placed a red dot on the LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) image of the Full Moon (below) to indicate the location of the new crater. I added the names of two prominent nearby craters. I also added those names to a close-up image I took several years ago of the area in question.

The preliminary name given to the crater is “Earhart” to honor Amelia Earhart the American aviator. It must, however, be approved by the International Astronomical Union that is in charge of such things.


Image by Elton Moonshine Observatory

Image by Elton Moonshine Observatory

Protozoan Culture (9)

Except for the microbes seen in earlier “dips”, and several new but non-descript protozoans (see below), there was little of interest in today’s sample. Perhaps I will have better luck in a day or two. Not because the passage of time will cause new microbes to emerge (although that is possible), but because a cup of water is a large place to search a drop at a time. What one sees in a single drop is often not representative of the entire sample.


Protozoan Culture (7)

Small amoebas do not usually exhibit the long pseudopods we associate with this class of protozoans. Rather, they will propel themselves by extending large portions of their bodies. A sample of water from the bottom of the Culture (where amoebas are most likely to be found) yielded this small critter which moved along at a fairly slow but steady pace.


Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove - Zenaida macroura  (Roadkill)

Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura (Roadkill)

Now that our road is free of snow and the midday temperatures have climbed into the 40’s, I was able to take my first walk of the year. It will still be some time before Spring plants and insects make their appearance, but Nature never really goes away. Today’s point of interest was a Mourning Dove (unfortunately, a roadkill).

Mourning Doves (also known as Turtle Doves, though not locally) are year round residents. Only the males make their familiar “mournful call”, but the sound I find most interesting is made by both sexes. When they take to flight a very distinctive whistle can be heard. It is not generated by the throat of the doves but is a mechanical product of their wings. They are, in fact, called “wing whistles”.