Be Careful When You Feed the Lunatics

One of the hazards of being an outreach-minded astronomer is having to deal with a never-ending stream of lunatics.  Whether it be the overly-fervent gal who got supper-pissed when I failed to agree with her that asterisms were galaxy-sized corporeal beings or the octogenarian who called  out the cops because he was sure that I was using my telescope to peep at him through his solid walls, I’ve had more than my fair share of encounters with both the grossly misinformed and the all but barking mad.  As a rule, though, I tend to take such crackpots in my stride.

The people who drive me bonkers, though, are the supposedly sane and well educated; fellow citizens who hold the most outrageous and improbable beliefs even though a modicum of sense and introspection should serve to dispel them one and all.

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Ore-oh (ORRERY OH!)

I’ve always loved Laurel & Hardy’s 1934 film “Babes In Toyland,” and have certainly been known to intone the toy soldier’s signature phrase to myself during any number of odd—and usually inappropriate—moments.  Ore-oh, OREO, indeed!  If I could only fit myself out with one of those natty enameled uniforms then I’m quite sure that I’d be styling with the best of them.

But I digress.  On this day, my purpose is to discourse on orreries; not ore-ohs, nor even oreos.  For the uninformed, an orrery is (to quote Wikipedia): a mechanical device that illustrates the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System in a heliocentric model.  In this somewhat mod-ern era, mechanical orreries have fallen out of fashion, particularly since online orreries like “The Planets Today” are so easy to use, and exceedingly more accurate.

The problem with electronic orreries is that they lack my favorite component: gears!  Continue reading

2003 UB313 was seen by actual human eyeballs!

(Note: this article was originally published in 2005 on my defunt astronomy tourism site: ScopeSeeing.com.  A related press release may be found here.  2003 UB313 was ultimately named Eris, and in the process helped to dethrone Pluto to “dwarf-planet” status.)


On the morning of October 9th, 2005 a small team of amateur astronomers visually observed the 10th planet using McDonald Observatory’s 2.1m Otto Struve Telescope. Keith Murdock completed the first observation at 1:08 AM CDT. Louis Berman made a second confirming observation at 1:15 AM CDT. Over the next hour the planet was subsequently observed by seven additional team members and two McDonald Observatory staff. Continue reading