A Tail of Two Cetaceans

Just when you thought the NOVA implosion was history, along comes a new one, this time exploding right from the start. It’s a real blast from the past – perhaps a millenium ago – whose light was discovered less than a week ago by an astronomer in Yamagata.

Nominally visible to the naked eye, Nova Delphini, in the minor constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, is the first such unaidedly eyeable cosmic event in six years. If you look toward the Summer Triangle, find the apex, the bright star Altair. Continue past the apex, and the Dolphin is basically swimming a short distance beyond (“above” the isosceles triangle vis-a-vis its short base between Vega and Deneb).

I harbor no illusions that the flecks in this iPhone photo are much of anything but “noise,” but the four-star diamond shape in the cloudy area does have a resemblance to the Dolphin. The nova itself probably isn’t visible here.

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I used a delayed shutter release, long-exposure app called SlowShutter, mounting the phone on a stable surface before the shutter opened, then deliberately covering the lens before “releasing (not plunging) the plunger” (picking the phone up to tap the shutter closed; the longest automatic alternative to the open-ended “bulb” setting is only 15 seconds). This exposure was 102 seconds at ISO 3200 (also set in the app), edited again afterward in the iPhoto app for exposure, resulting in the purple hue.

This was a couple nights back. Now that the moon is rising later, Nova Delphini might be visible until midnight or beyond. If you’re really interested, getting out into the country where there’s less ambient light would be worthwhile.

Are We Having Fun?

Jumping from one dolphin dispatch to another, the caption/comment on this Facebook post resonated with me, though some subsequent commenters jumped to the conclusion it was anti-science in tone. It wasn’t necessarily. And though there is potentially great value in analyzing phenomena like fun and play, I think there is something to the comment. I don’t know about the actual porpoise of the writer, but there are a least two kinds of people who might say what the writer did: those who are indeed making a facile anthropomorphic assumption, and those, in all likelihood a little more educated, who with affected humbler-than-thou self-effacement tend to assume only humans are capable of whimsy, or for that matter, evil. And let’s face it: Fun is generally not so fun when you stop to over-analyze it, though the devil of “over-” may be in the d(olphins’) tails. For now, I do think one thing we can rest assured humans fortunately maintain a sovereign, inalienable right to is the bad pun. No other species would touch that.

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