08:51 – Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month. Barbara’s recovery continues. She’ll continue practicing driving over the next few days before returning to work on Monday. I just got back from walking Colin. It’s 23F (-5C) with a stiff breeze.
Congratulations to our friend Steve Childers, who just completed the Herschel 400 list. Barbara and I started working this list more than ten years ago, but quickly gave up on it. From our light-polluted region and using only a 10-inch telescope, it quickly became obvious that we had no chance at bagging all 400 objects on this list. Even the brighter objects were extremely difficult to see. Steve’s 17.5-inch telescope gave him a chance at bagging all 400 objects on the list, but even with three times the light gathering ability of our 10-inch it must have been extremely challenging, to put it mildly. But Steve’s persistence over the last ten years or so let him get it done. Steve joins a very small group of amateur astronomers who have successfully observed and logged all 400 of these objects.
09:13 – The high today is to be 68F (20C), but that’s the last of the warm weather for a few days. Tonight is to be below freezing.
Meanwhile, there are not one but two comets visible in the pre-dawn sky, ISON and Lovejoy. ISON is very low in the east, and Lovejoy, which is nearly as bright, is considerably higher. Here are finder charts for the two of them. ISON is currently a dim naked-eye object, around fifth magnitude. Both are visible with binoculars. ISON has been hyped as the comet of the century, possibly to be visible during the day. We’ll see what happens. I remember Kohoutek, back when I was in college. It was touted as comet of the century, to be visible during the day. Technically, that was true. At maximum brightness, Kohoutek was brighter than Jupiter, which is visible during the day, if you know exactly where to look for it. But the implication of the news reports at the time was that Kohoutek would be as bright as the moon, which is 12 or 15 magnitudes brighter than Kohoutek turned out to be. Personally, I think these comets are a sign, sent to tell the world that Obamacare is a disaster.
08:18 – Barring a miracle, it looks like Romney will take on Obama in November. Paul never had any real chance, and he knew it. Romney is a horrible choice, but at least he’s not as bad as the contemptible Gingrich. And neither of them are remotely as bad as the Ayatollah Santorum. If I were forced to choose between Obama and Santorum, I’d vote for Obama. What has the American electorate done to deserve only choices like these?
Paul Jones has a new toy. “Bought a Coronado PST in preparation for the transit (and, just ’cause). Here is a shot from this morning. -Paul”
The Coronado PST is a small telescope that’s specialized for Solar observation. It blocks all of the light except the H-α wavelength, revealing details that are otherwise invisible. The transit Paul refers to is the transit of Venus across the Solar disk. Venus transits occur in pairs separated by eight years. The last was on 8 June 2004. We tried to observe that one, but were clouded out despite chasing it across two states. The next is on 6 June this year. Paul hopes to view that one, because the next one won’t occur until he’s 146 years old.
12:21 – Well, for anyone who’s keeping tabs on the Greek “voluntary” debt swap, with only about 24 hours left until the deadline we’re currently at 40.8% of the eligible debt being held by those who have approved the deal. The absolute minimum required is 66%. Less than that, and Greece won’t go ahead with the deal, which means a catastrophic default on 20 March. If holders of between 66% and 90% agree to the deal, Greece will enforce its so-called Collective Action Clauses to force all holders to accept the deal. Once again, that means catastrophic default. Only if more than 90% of debt holders agree will things proceed without the CACs being triggered. It’s unclear at this point what would happen to the < 10% of debt held by hold-outs. In theory, Greece could avoid formal default by paying off those bonds at face value, but the chances of that happening (or of the 90% level being reached) is so close to zero as not to matter. The real bitch is that even if the 90% level is reached, it's still insufficient to meet the terms required for the bailout to proceed. So, no matter what happens, Greece is going to default, one way or another. The next few weeks are going to be exciting.