Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

October 15th, 2009:

Three and a Half Planets Tomorrow Morning

If you’ve got clear weather for the next 18 hours or so and a good eastern horizon, set the alarm a little early for tomorrow and head outside just before dawn. Mercury, Venus, and Saturn will be lined up in a vertical row, with the Moon off to one side a little toward the south. There’s nothing historical or unprecedented about the conjunction (which isn’t hugely close) but it’s a chance to take in three planets at one tight glance, assuming you can see clear down to the horizon. Mercury never gets very high nor very bright, but it has two unmistakable pointers aiming right at it: Follow the line from Saturn toward the horizon past Venus a little more than twice the distance between Saturn and Venus, and it’ll be there.

My horizons have been lousy in recent days, but, ever hopeful, I’ll be out on the small deck with binoculars about 6:30 tomorrow morning. Mercury will be the first of the group to drown in the rising light, so don’t wait too long!

Odd Lots

  • Gizmodo has a decent overview of the jungle of Intel CPU chip families. Core, Atom, and old reliable Pentium are compared and contrasted. Good short brushup, even if you’ve been following along as best you can. (I cop to not paying as close attention to Core i7 as I should have been.) My one objection: Late-build Pentiums are not nearly as bad as the author suggests.
  • With 225 sunspotless days, 2009 just edged past 1867 in its climb up the Most Spotless Years Since 1849 hit parade. 2009 is now in position 11. Two more spotless weeks and we’ll overtake 1855 and enter the Top Ten. 2008 was a killer, now standing at #4, with 266 spotless days. Will 2009 beat that? Unlikely; there are only 77 days left in the year, and while the Sun is sleeping, the old guy isn’t dead. (He throws up a few sunspecks now and then just to keep his hand in.)
  • An article in today’s Wall Street Journal reminded me that American author/poet Stephen Vincenet Benet wrote the postarmageddon short story “By the Waters of Babylon” in 1937, before even the possibility of nuclear weapons was understood by the general public. It stands in my mind as one of the finest SF shorts of all time, and certainly one of the most prophetic. (The story’s been posted on the Web and is easily Googleable, though how legal those postings are is unclear.)
  • Very nice summary of what we know about the second-largest asteroid Pallas here. Interestingly, Pallas has its own “death star” astrobleme, which can be found on most of the smaller bodies of the solar system, suggesting that during the solar system’s formation everybody got pounded, and the biggish moons that survive just barely missed being turned to gravel. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Google just clarified its plans (a little) for Google Editions, an ereader-agnostic ebook store that will offer ebooks in a universal format based on HTML. Books will be readable offline. One suspects that Google Gears will be involved, but what sort of DRM will be slathered onto the binaries is still an open question, and in a lot of people’s minds (including my own) that’s the only significant question there is.
  • From Michael Covington comes the suggestion (from one of his grad students) that if a coral snake were a resistor, it would have a value of 24 ohms at 20% tolerance. (Determining the snake’s power dissipation we leave as an exercise for the grad student.)