Astronomy for Casual Observers
Old 12-23-2011, 09:33 PM   #1
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Default Astronomy for Casual Observers

On the summer solstice, I stood at my back door and marked on the horizon where exactly the sun set. We planted a tree at that site. Did the same for the fall equinox. Today (because yesterday was too foggy) we marked the winter solstice (we think - it was cloudy today!) and will plant a tree there.

Due to my sheer geekitude, I wondered if the angles were the same from equinox to summer as equinox to winter. I got out my trusty transit



and measured the angles. I got some pretty strange numbers (fall to summer was ~45 and fall to winter was ~30). So I geeked out and Googled that shit.

See, for every place on Earth, True West is exactly where the sun sets at both equinoxes. The earth tilts 23.5 degrees every "season" - 23.5 degrees South of True West at winter, and 23.5 degrees North of True West at summer.

But that all changes depending on your latitude. My latitude is 46.56N, so I divide 23.5 by the cosine of 46.56 and get 27.8 degrees. That should be the deviation of the sun for me, from my doorstep, for each solstice from the equinox. That means that either I marked my spots wrong, my transit is wrong, or my math is wrong.

Tomorrow during actual daylight I'm going to go out and remeasure my angles, and try to get a decent sunset marking, since we're only 2 days out from the solstice. Then I'll remark the spring equinox, and next summer I'll do the solstice again.

I love watching the year go by, seeing the sun move across the sky. Somehow it marks my place in the world a little better.

Any suggestions on my methods?

Any cool stuff you're doing?
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Old 12-24-2011, 01:56 PM   #2
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I swear to God, sometimes it's like being married to Aimee.
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Old 12-24-2011, 02:15 PM   #3
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I swear to God, sometimes it's like being married to Aimee.
If that were the case, and you swore to God, there'd be Hell to pay!





No, wait...
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Old 12-24-2011, 10:21 PM   #4
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She set a transit up on our back porch to measure the angles of the sunset, then checked her work with an scientific site of some sort. That told her our exact latitude and longitude, then she used a calculator with a whole ton of extra (and, imo, superfluous) buttons to sort out some sort of equation that eventually proved that your shadow is longer in the Winter than it is in the Summer. I'm almost certain that I could have proven this while we were outside with the transit looking at the fence, but my proof wouldn't have included cosines.

Honestly. I have no idea what a cosine is or what it does. I'm absolutely certain it has no practical application in my life.

However, she was awfully cute while she was doing it, and she's incredibly tolerant when I try out arguments on her for trials and hearings, so I completely support this extraordinarily complex method of observing the sunset. In fact, I support it so much that I'm going to go pour her a vodka martini. (ok...that's sort of self-serving, since I'm pouring me one as well, and if I get her tipsy enough, sometimes good things happen in my life. But nonetheless, I still support back yard astronomy)
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Old 12-24-2011, 10:53 PM   #5
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Honestly. I have no idea what a cosine is or what it does. I'm absolutely certain it has no practical application in my life.
A cosine is when the bank won't give you a loan on your own so Mom and Dad have to stand good for your mortgage.

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Old 12-24-2011, 11:23 PM   #6
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...lots of stuff I didn't understand... and then....."Any cool stuff you're doing?"

Cooked a nice dinner. It wasn't rocket science.

Or even astronomy.

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Old 12-25-2011, 12:32 AM   #7
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Honestly. I have no idea what a cosine is or what it does. I'm absolutely certain it has no practical application in my life.
Beware Angry Cale

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Old 12-25-2011, 09:41 AM   #8
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In a somewhat parallel realm of thought, I've been reflecting about the purposes behind Mayan pentagonal terraces [in Georgia and elsewhere].

Our short term project of building the ziggurat here at the Little Heap and the longer term project of building the passive-solar-underground-permaculture etc etc place, later on down the road, both have planting terraces involved in the designs- not necessarily pentagons of course, but definitely part of the whole plan.

So I was thinking about the fact that farmers are always pretty practical and do things for a reason, and about those pentagonal terraced planting systems the Mayans built.

I realized that they built them in that shape because every side of the planting structure would get some sun during the course of the day, no matter what time of year it was. This wouldn't happen with a circle or a square- only a pentagon has the angles [72*] that ensure that the sun will reach the plants at some point during the day even on the north side. And the terraced build ensures maximum efficient use of any water toted for purposes of irrigation- the one true application of "trickle-down".

So I'm liking the Mayans right now for a number of reasons, and am messing around with tweaking my underground house designs [in my head, so far] with that in mind.

It cracks me up that you're so scientific about it, Oryx [with the transit, etc] because while I am just happy to "wing it", parts of me can totally relate.
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Old 12-27-2011, 02:31 PM   #9
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It's too bad that our yard is the wrong shape, and that our house is aligned East/West, because I would plant 2 more trees: one each at True North (not Magnetic North) and True South. I just think it would be cool.
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Old 12-27-2011, 10:31 PM   #10
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That planting arrangment has the makings of a Sherlock Holmes mystery like The Musgrave Ritual, par example. Have you decided where you'll hide your treasure away from Crowell's Roundhats?
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Old 12-27-2011, 10:47 PM   #11
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That planting arrangment has the makings of a Sherlock Holmes mystery like The Musgrave Ritual, par example. Have you decided where you'll hide your treasure away from Crowell's Roundhats?
I assume next to the dead bodies
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Old 12-28-2011, 02:47 PM   #12
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That planting arrangment has the makings of a Sherlock Holmes mystery like The Musgrave Ritual, par example. Have you decided where you'll hide your treasure away from Crowell's Roundhats?

Well lessee. We could draw imaginary lines between the trees and a fixed point, like the point at which I observed the sunsets (the back door of the house), then draw a line between the winter tree and the summer tree, giving us a bisected isosceles triangle. Then, by drawing lines between the winter tree and the southern tree, and the summer tree and the northern tree, we create a square. At the intersection of the diagonals (which is also the midpoint of the bisection line), we draw a circle with radius equal to the distance from this main intersection to the intersection of a diagonal with the line from the fixed point to the summer tree. The western most point of this circle will be where we bury the loot. Easy enough, eh? If I drew my map right, it should be roughly 3/4 of the way from the door to the equinox tree.
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Old 12-28-2011, 02:50 PM   #13
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Well lessee. We could draw imaginary lines between the trees and a fixed point, like the point at which I observed the sunsets (the back door of the house), then draw a line between the winter tree and the summer tree, giving us a bisected isosceles triangle. Then, by drawing lines between the winter tree and the southern tree, and the summer tree and the northern tree, we create a square. At the intersection of the diagonals (which is also the midpoint of the bisection line), we draw a circle with radius equal to the distance from this main intersection to the intersection of a diagonal with the line from the fixed point to the summer tree. The western most point of this circle will be where we bury the loot. Easy enough, eh? If I drew my map right, it should be roughly 3/4 of the way from the door to the equinox tree.
From the sky, our backyard will look like a giant Illuminati symbol. We'll probably have the Knights Templar kicking in our door and beating us to death with the Holy Grail.
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Old 12-28-2011, 02:55 PM   #14
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From the sky, our backyard will look like a giant Illuminati symbol. We'll probably have the Knights Templar kicking in our door and beating us to death with the Holy Grail.
They're going to beat you to death with Mary Magdalene?



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Old 12-28-2011, 03:07 PM   #15
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From the sky, our backyard will look like a giant Illuminati symbol. We'll probably have the Knights Templar kicking in our door and beating us to death with the Holy Grail.
It's better than having a piano fall on you, as far as memorable ways to die go.
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