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Clear skies! Mark Steven Williams, the StarGeezer 

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January 15, 2013

Check out these handy astronomy references

Just before Christmas I visited a local hobby store looking for some art supplies for a gift for a friend. I found the art stuff I was looking for and decided to check out the rest of the store for interesting goodies

In one corner of the store I found what can best be described as the “science” section where there were puzzles, games, a few inexpensive starter telescopes (avoid them) and a display that contained a variety of “Laminated Reference Guides” from


There among guides on mathematics, languages, geography and computers I found two very interesting reference guides backyard astronomers, educators or anyone who is interested in watching the night sky will enjoy. The first is Astronomy: A Comprehensive Guide to the Universe which is a 6 page reference on 3 panels that covers the history of astronomy, the dimensions of space, the solar system and planets, the jovian planets, the Sun, stars, atoms and properties and cosmological concepts

A second reference guide is Astronomy: Stargazing which includes guides to the night sky, binoculars and telescopes, the Moon, the Celestial Sphere, Constellations, the Sun & Planets. Either of these handy, laminated, references would be a great starter for the budding young backyard astronomer and a handy tool for the seasoned amateur. The format is 8 1/2 x 11 inches, on 3 concise panels. They are compact, robust and laminated so they’ll stand up to dew and normal use for years. I recommend the “Stargazing” version for casual observers and kids

I am so impressed with these products that I contacted and ordered a quantity of them for awards at my outreach presentations. The folks at BarCharts were kind enough to offer a special 25% discount on all of their products to visitors here at

Visit and use the coupon code of CMP000959 at checkout for a 25% discount on your order

The BarCharts references cover topics as diverse as Art & Music, Computers, Law, Mathematics and Language Arts and are very reasonably price at $3.95 to $6.95, so check out and save a couple of bucks on some really nice reference guides

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June 6, 2012

Reflections on the Venus transit

I arrived at Granny’s restaurant, the site of our Venus transit party, later than I had planned Tuesday afternoon. I worked much too late into the night Monday night putting finishing touches on my pre-transit presentation and was giddy anticipating the transit. The manila folder safety viewers still had to be made, but that would have to wait until morning.

Taping pieces of aluminized mylar into the folders and sealing them with glue would be the first order of business on Tuesday morning. Tuesday was beautiful and mild with temps in the mid 70s but the cloud cover was a concern. I arrived at Granny’s around 2pm. Our guests started arriving at 3.

dscn7045.JPG We began with the pinhole viewer workshop. There were shoeboxes of all sizes and fortunately Alan, who was there with his daughter, brought the all important duct tape which was needed to seal light leaks in some of the boxes. We must have made about 20 pinhole viewers. There were shoebox versions, oatmeal boxes and just plain boxes. Granny’s Elise had set aside oatmeal and other boxes in case we needed them. Once the pinhole viewers were complete and “first lighted” we enjoyed Venus transit cupcakes the Granny’s crew prepared. There were chocolate and white cake cupcakes which were topped with yellow frosting accented with “Red Hots” candies depicting Venus.

Next it was time for the “Who wants to be an astronomer” quiz. Isaiah, James, Jared and Hannah were prize winners in the quiz. Granny Carol was our scorekeeper and Hunter, Kathryn and the other kids joined the fun.

15 year old Austin who works part time at the restaurant was on assignment as my assistant. He helped with the construction of the pinhole viewers and learned how to “drive” the telescopes by the time we finished.

About 5:30 we walked over to the observing field where the scopes were set up. I was in “low tech” mode using a 50 mm “Galileoscope” with a cardboard shade screen and cardboard shadow box for projection. The other scope was a 10 inch Orion Dobsonian with Kendrick full aperature white light solar filter.


Since I was hosting a crowd of about 50 people there wasn’t much time for “serious” observing but I had resolved that I was going to try to time first and second contact or at least when Venus’ disc ingressed the solar disc. I logged the planet’s penetration onto the Sun at 21:06:05 UT and second contact at 21:21:27. Prior to second contact I was amazed to see an arc of refracted sunlight over Venus’ western limb while it was still off the Sun’s disc. Venus’ atmosphere! We were not able to detect Venus’ shadow with the pinhole viewers. With “eclipse glasses” and manila folder/aluminized mylar viewers we were able to discern Venus’ shadow on the solar disc. We did manage to do some imaging with a hand held camera on the Galileoscope projection viewer. I put the Galileoscope together over the weekend and configured it with a 20mm Meade Plossl eyepiece. The scope made a very good account of itself. Image above left: Just before sunset I captured this image with the Galileoscope projection

I managed to quiet myself for a few moments to take in the amazing sight we were experiencing. Clouds were intermittent and obscured our view as old Sol lingered at the horizon around 00:25 UT Wednesday. I took a break about 20 minutes later. Quite a few guests expressed an interest in observing Mars, Saturn, the Moon and an ISS pass which concluded our evening at 02:05 UT.

After packing up the gear I got back to the house a little after 11pm local time. The transit would continue for another hour and fifteen minutes. Exhausted, I plopped in my favorite chair, clicked on the TV and switched to NASA TV. I was pleased to see they were carrying the Sun-Earth transit feed from Mauna Kea. As I sat there enjoying the waning moments of the transit I felt a profound connection with Horrocks, Copernicus, Brahe, Halley, Kepler, Galileo, Franklin, Mason and Dixon. I reflected on Le Gentil, Cook and Green who sailed on year long journeys around the world two, three or four centuries ago to observe the celestial spectacle and David Peck Todd who imaged the 1882 transit from the building site at Lick observatory. I was able to watch part of the 2012 transit from the comfort of my living room.

I am very grateful to Carol, Elise, Margey, Jane, Suzie, Austin and everyone at Granny’s. The experience of this transit was made all the more special by our guests. The kids: Hunter, Hannah, Isaiah, James, Jared, Kathryn and others whose names escape me now. Among the “big kids”: Jennifer, Katie, Jessica, Jan, Alan, Frank, Ernie, Ray, David, Terry, and John. There were others but I’m tired and still a little overwhelmed by it all. I was also great to see my long time friends Tim and Alan who made the transit all the more special by stopping by. Finally a shout out to my assistant, Austin, who wants to be a meteorologist. Austin was a great help and quickly learned how to aim the scopes.

I’m already thinking about the next Mercury transit which is only 3 years, 11 months away!

Next: Venus marches east of the Sun for a morning dance with Jupiter

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June 29, 2007

Observing Highlights for July, 2007

CD Project Master 001.jpgHighlight: Venus and Saturn are dramatically close above the western horizon at sunset the weekend of June 30-July 1st. On Saturday and Sunday nights the two planets will be observable within the same field of view in a low power eyepiece (30 mm or greater). This planetary conjunction will bring the two planets within less than a degree of each other during the weekend. The two will separate quickly but still be within less than 2 degrees of each other on July 3rd. Venus and Saturn are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart, but this apparition is due to our line of sight across the solar system. Watch the western horizon at dusk July 15-17 as the Moon’s apparent motion moves it eastward past Saturn, then Venus and the star Regulus which will be separated by about 2 degrees at mid-month.

Monday, 2 July. Middle day of 2007. The second half of the year begins today.

Friday, 6 July. Earth at aphelion, furthest distance from the Sun for the year.

Saturday, 7 July. Last quarter Moon. “Lucky Stars” star party, New Albany, IN (see events above)


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Monday, 9 July. Moon 5 degrees  northeast (upper left) of Mars. Look to the east southeast before dawn.

Thursday, 12 July. Venus at greatest brilliancy, magnitude -4.7

Saturday, 14 July. New Moon. Watch for the thin crescent Moon on the 15th and 16th to the west at dusk.

Wednesday, 18 July-Saturday, 28 July. Morning apparition of Mercury. Go out a half hour before sunrise with binoculars and look for Mercury about 10 degrees above the east-northeast horizon. Greatest western elongation is July 20

Sunday, 22 July. First quarter Moon.

Tuesday 24 July-Tuesday 31 July. Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower. Minor shower.

Sunday, 29 July. Full Moon




cpilogoblack.jpgObserving Highlights for July are presented courtesy of Celestial Products. Celestial Products publishes and distributes popular reference materials, calendars, charts, note cards, and gifts designed to stimulate understanding of our universe. Order by telephone at 1-800-235-3783 (from outside the U.S./Canada: 540-338-4040). Celestial Products, a Universe of Wonder Right Here on Earth!


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March 1, 2007

Welcome to StarGeezer Astronomy.Com

CD Project Master 038.jpg

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