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Enjoy the skies, from a campsite or anywhere

Aug 14, 2013 - By Carl Manning

Another month has gone by and August is upon us. Last month we did a little camping, watched a full moon rise, and sat around a campfire roasting marshmallows for s'mores.

There were a couple of cameras and couple of smartphones and we all tried our hand at taking a picture of the moon, tree silhouettes and the mountains.

The smartphones didn't have cell service but they actually have a pretty good camera. Everyone seems to have a cell phone these days, and it must have a camera that takes a good picture as well as have a fair video component.

Technology has given us so many amazing things, and they seem to come at us with an amazing speed of change and new developments. Many times I feel like smartphones are obtrusive and down right obnoxious -- or is that actually the user?

It was nice not having everyone holding a cell phone, checking tweets, e-mail, text messages and whatever else they seem to be addicted to. I don't have a smartphone, just an old cell phone, and I am glad there was no cell service up in those parts of the mountains -- yet. I am not saying smartphones aren't useful but come on sometimes they seem attached to the user and if they aren't attended to there will be some dire repercussions.

Taking pictures, on the other hand, was fun and handy for the user.

I guess I have just turned into an old (fill in the blank). Meanwhile, August has lots to offer, so happy star gazing.

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A monthly look at the night skies of the northern Rocky Mountains, written by astronomers Ron Canterna, University of Wyoming; Jay Norris, Challis, Idaho Observatory; and Daryl Macomb, Boise State University.

"In August, always a good time for viewing the Milky Way, one can easily explore myriad faint stars, dark dust clouds and many star clusters with the naked eye and binoculars.

"Visible on the lower southern horizon around 10 p.m. is Scorpius, the scorpion, and its brilliant red star, Antares. Located near the center of the Milky Way, Scorpius is one of the oldest and most-interesting constellations. With its inverted "question mark and curlicue" formation, Scorpius houses many intriguing stars, star clusters, dust-forming regions and gaseous nebulae. In Greek mythology, it was the scorpion that killed Orion the hunter.

"Antares, the red star "rival of Mars," is so large its visible surface would reach outside the orbit of Mars. There are many star clusters and nebulae within the constellation. One of the is the "Cat's Paw Nebulae," which is a vast region of concurrent star formation. Get out those binoculars and small telescopes, and view the Scorpion's wonders.

"The Perseid meteor showers will last up to four days and is centered around its peak dates, Aug. 13-14. You may see up to 60 meteors per hour. Look in the direction of the constellation Perseus, in the northern sky after midnight.

"You can see Venus on the western horizon and Saturn in the southwest near Spica, in Virgo, right after sunset. Jupiter and Mars will rise in Gemini after 4 a.m.

"Astronomy from Orbit: Gamma-ray Bursts -- BeppoSAX and Swift

"For 30 years (1967-1997), gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) were observed by space instruments that did not have the capability to image the burst positions to better than to about a degree accuracy. Hence, no association had yet been made between the gamma radiation and possible counterparts in the X-ray, ultraviolet, visible, Infrared or radio portions of the spectrum.

"At these longer wavelengths, many object classes with arcsecond-sized positional error boxes are known, and their astrophysical properties are relatively well understood. On Feb. 28, 1997, the Italian/Dutch satellite "BeppoSAX" detected a GRB with one of its wide-field cameras -- coded aperture X-ray /low-energy gamma-ray instruments with fields of view 40 degrees square and angular resolution as good as one arcminute.

"Rapid communication to the ground and follow-up of the GRB position by large optical telescopes revealed a faint, long-lived optical afterglow coincident with a galaxy at a redshift of 0.695, corresponding to a distance of 8 billion light-years. BeppoSAX continued to detect many GRBs with X-ray, optical and radio afterglows until the satellite fell into the Pacific Ocean in 2003.

"BeppoSAX's discovery that GRB sources are in galaxies at cosmological distances led to a competition for a new dedicated GRB satellite that would map the distribution of GRBs as a function of redshift, or distance. The winner was "Swift," selected by NASA for construction in 1999. It was launched in November 2004 and is still operating."

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