Welcome to Driftway Observatory

Prime Time: Your Journey
through the Astronomical Year

tinyglob.jpg A basic introduction to observing the night sky and building a familiarity with it.

Rapt in Awe: My Journey
through the Astronomical Year (current blog)

blog_galaxy.jpgMy earlier blog - no longer updated - is here.

Awe, awareness, and astronomy

An essay on why I do what I do . . . I think ;-)

A venture into Video Astronomy

Click for Westport, Massachusetts Forecast Driftway Clear Sky Clock
Click for details!

Resources for Teachers

tinyglob.jpg A collections of posts developed as handouts for a presentation to area school teachers.

Quick Links

My favorite astronomy links

These links are here first for me. I hope others find them useful, but I use this page as my home page - the page my browser opens to first - and I created this list so I could quickly find what I want. They're annotated because I forget what's what. And this first mini-list of just links is here because these are the places I visit most often. But I annotated them below as well for the benefit of those who like to have some idea of where they are going to land before they leap.

This is a good site for a more complete picture of what's going on with the sun, solar flares - possible aurora - or as they say, anything that's happening today in the sun-earth environment. I find it a good starting point.
Sky Tonight
This is the home of Sky and Telescope, IMHO the most reputable and useful astronomical journal - though they irritate me at times with their online approach, there is a wealth of astronomy news, observing ideas, and other timely information here of use to both the beginning and experienced amateur.
You need to create a free account here and this site is best known for its predictions of when and where to see satellites, but it also has very useful tools regarding data on the planets, etc.
Astronomy Picture of the Day
This is the daily "fix" for astronomy addicts - candy for the eye and mind. Frequently surprising, almost always fascinating, APOD is a good habit to get into - and if it's new to you and you just want to wander, browse their archives.
Yahoo Discussion Groups
If you're not familiar with Yahoo Groups, this is the starting point for really learning about different aspects of the hobby. You can get this stuff by email, but I would rather read it on the Web. You need to search a little to find the group that you want. The ones I visit depend on my interests and needs of the moment. To me such groups are one of the real strengths of the Internet and an incredible resource for beginners and experienced amateurs.
SOHO - the Sun Right Now!
After the Hubble, SOHO has become my favorite artifical satellite and one of the reasons is it can give you up-to-the-moment image sof what's going on witht he Sun without anyc oncern about weather. Since the sun changes so rapidly, this is a great way to see if there's a good reason - or not - to bring out the Personal Solar Telescope.
This is where to go when looking for astronomy news with a space exploration emphasis.

For the new enthusiast

If you're just getting started, some of the links on this page may give more information than you want. Here's a collection of links especially helpful to new observers, although Iurge you to pick and choose from the others as well.
Lots of helpful information from McDonald Observatory - very good for planning observing sessions on a night-by-night basis. Start with their Sky Almanack page.

Knowledge bases


Observing aids

These are sites I consult when planning an observing session, or revieweing what I observed and trying to learn more.

Know where you are!
For some Web activities and many astronomical ones, you should know your latitude and longitude, or at least the coordinates for a nearby city. If you don't, go here to find out. (Very useful for the most precise setting in a computer-controlled telescope.)

Know when you are!
Get the correct time right now, right to the second - also very useful in astronomy.

and know the Star Time
Go here for a Sidereal Clock. Once you start to understand astronomical coordinates - right ascension and declination - you'll appreciate how knowing the sidereal time helps you know what's up in your area on any given night.

Sunrise-sunset, Moonrise - moonset.
Sun or Moon Rise/Set table for one year for your location courtesy of the US Naval Observatory.

Moon phase calendar
Whether you're studying the moon or avoiding it's star-stealing glare, knowing the phase is a must.

"Your Sky"
This is an interactive planetarium that you adjust to your location. With it "you can produce maps . . . for any time and date, viewpoint, and observing location. If you enter the orbital elements of an asteroid or comet, Your Sky will compute its current position and plot it on the map. "

Messier Objects
Images and essential data helpful for observing - visuals all from Digital Sky Survey, so consistent.

Messier Objects Plus
For a much more detailed look at the Messier Objects - and many other astronomical objects - visit the SEDS site and search for a particular object by name or number. (SEDS is Students for the Exploration and Development of Space)

Double Star Maps
100 maps in groups of 10 related with Telrad finder charts and basic data - relates to Astronomical League Double Star Award,

Transparency is clear, but 'seeing'?
Astronomical "seeing" - what is it? Look here for a visual demo and explanation. Then if your mind is still spinning from the technical explanation - mine is - go to this site for a simple and practical scaleyou can use to evaluate seeing on any given night.

CalSky Astronomy Calendar
I was enthuasiastic when I first saw this, but I now consider it too techy for my uses.

Abolute Astronomy
> Look up almost any astronomical object.

The Lunar 100
Hey - if you don't have the book - the Modern Moon - go here. Well, if you do have the book, go here. I recommend the book. In nearly half a century of amateur astronomy it was what at last awakened me to the fascination of the moon and the "Lunar 100" is an excellent observing list developed by the author. Charles Wood. Honestly - I'm not a list kinda guy - but if you like checking things off in a systematic fashion, this is a must! Very well done. Go here for the article introducing the idea.

Lunar Atlas (quick view)
This I like - very useful tool for planning. obsering or identifying what caught your eye in an observing session.

Lunar Atlases (everything)
For complete lunacy - oh well, for those who are really into this stuff and neeed to look at several image resources to find what they want, this is the starting point. (I haven;t gotten to this stage yyet - but one of these days ;-)

Jupiter's Moons (What's where, right now!)
Invaluable utility, very well done. Of course it's useful only when Jupiter is in the night sky, but then you can have a lot of fun. I like to check Jupiter, mak anote of the moon, and see if by their brightness and position I can determine which is which - then I check my observations against this site.

Saturn's Moons (What's where right now!)
Just like the Jupiter moon utility and just as useful - especially when Saturn gets into a section of the skyw ith lots of background stars easily mistaken for moons.

Minima of Algol
What gets me about Algol minima is they happen nearly every three days - so you would think observing one would be a piece of cake. Not so. Finding a minima that fits your sleep pattern and the weather - and, of course, the position of Algol in the sky, makes seeing one not nearly as common as you might think. This is a great place to start, though.

Astronomy News

Interactive Messier Object Chart

Mouse over an image, wait a moment, and you'll see the identity of that object. If you want more information about it, click on the image. DeepSkyObserving.com M1 M2 M3 M4 M5 M6 M7 M8 M9 M10 M11 M12 M13 M14 M15 M16 M17 M18 M19 M20 M21 M22 M23 M24 M25 M26 M27 M28 M29 M30 M31 M32 M33 M34 M35 M36 M37 M38 M39 M40 M41 M42 M43 M44 M45 M46 M47 M48 M49 M50 M51 M52 M53 M54 M55 M56 M57 M58 M59 M60 M61 M62 M63 M64 M65 M66 M67 M68 M69 M70 M71 M72 M73 M74 M75 M76 M77 M78 M79 M80 M81 M82 M83 M84 M85 M86 M87 M88 M89 M90 M91 M92 M93 M94 M95 M96 M97 M98 M99 M100 M101 M102 M103 M104 M105 M106 M107 M108 M109 M110

Mind-expanding astronomy sites

As I've said, it's all about awe. And as Einstein has said - if you're not in awe of this stuff, you're dead - or at least sleep-walking. Sorry - but that's the way I see it too. What keeps me awake is the night sky. (For others it may be something else - there are many, many paths to awareness.) But I want to be out there with the universe raining starbeams on me. I want the real experience. Still every once in a while the virtual world turns up something really cool that captures some of the awe. Here are a few site I think are in that league put together by folks who are way out of my league.

The Universe in Color
Connecticutt physician and amateur astronomer, Robert Gender, has to be one of the best, if not the best, astrophotographers working today - and he does most ofhis work in his driveway, ina typical suburban, light-polluted area! His site is load with wonderful pictures thtare more artistic than scinetific, but as such simply awe-inspiring image sof our universe. Oh - and don;t miss his essays. He also provides plenty of information about the objects he's photographed.
Atlas of the Universe
Their description: "This web page is designed to give everyone an idea of what our universe actually looks like. There are nine main maps on this web page, each one approximately ten times the scale of the previous one. The first map shows the nearest stars and then the other maps slowly expand out until we have reached the scale of the entire visible universe. " Good place to start to get a grip on the big picture.
John Dobson - a real hero
I like everything about this guy's life - and I suspecthe's done more to make astronomy accessible to folks than anyone. He also thinks outside th ebox and while I don;t know how much to agree with, I do find his thinking stimulating. Here a little of what is said about him on this site: "John Dobson is a co-founder of The Sidewalk Astronomers, a pioneering builder of telescopes, and a teacher. His theories in physics and cosmology boldly break new ground and significantly challenge the scientific orthodoxy. John Dobson's scientific musings are very thought provoking and, like Einstein's Relativity, require us to re-examine our view of many things." uh-huh!
The Best of the Hubble Space Telescope
Great collection of Hubble Space Telescope shots can be found here - with explanations. OK - fantastic image slike these tend to overload my snyapses. I can't absorb them and my mind tends to shut down. I have to sneak up on them and take them in small sips, not gulps.
The Nine Planets
As described: "This website is an overview of the history, mythology, and current scientific knowledge of the planets, moons and other objects in our solar system. Each page has my (Bill Arnett's ) text and NASA's images, some have sounds and movies, most provide references to additional related information." We're in an astronomical golden age and exploration of the planets is one small part of it, covered very well here. What fascinate sme most is th emoons - I was ready for the planets to be different - I was not ready for the incredible differences among the major moons.
Solar System Live
Web-based, interactive Orrery. I like to know where things are - now - and how those positions relate to what I see in the sky, and when I look at the sky, I try to do the mental gymnastics that allows me to see the reality from a different perspective - and this site sure helps. Their description: "You can view the entire Solar System, or just the inner planets (through the orbit of Mars). Controls allow you to set time and date, viewpoint, observing location, orbital elements to track an asteroid or comet, and a variety of other parameters."
Size 'em up
I'm always looking on a better way to get a handle on the size of astronomical objects - this site does a wonderful job in that respect. Go there and just be patient. Stuff happens and after a few minutes you've had a mind-bending tour.