Getting ready for a Hungry Dragon

Posted By Pamela on Jul 16, 2009 | 6 comments

p10009671I’m currently in Shanghai, China. The city is undergoing a truly amazing amount of construction as it prepares for Expo 2010 (a version of the world’s fair I believe). Everywhere there are young trees and new landscapes growing up along roads still being built and building from ancient times that are being refurbished in a frenzy of labor.

20 million people in one place; it is amazing. There are the negatives: exceedingly aggressive beggers, horrible smog, frightening traffic. But at the same time there is an awesomeness to the sheer scale of humanity at this high a density.

ShanghaiI’m here to see the July 22 Solar Eclipse. In Chinese lore this is a Dragon consuming the Sun. In pre-modern times, people would bang pots and launch fireworks and otherwise make a fuss and a commotion to get the Dragon to give the sun back.

The image of an eclipse ending in a dragon essentially vomiting the sun is a bit disturbing, but it is still one of my favorite non-scientific explanations for what is going on.

In a few hours I’ll be boarding a cruise ship, the Costa Allegra, to head out to sea. Here is to clear skies and hungry dragons.


  1. Have a good eclipse! We’re jealous as all get out over here in the ol’ US of A! I hope you have clear skies and calm seas!

  2. Hope you had a good veiw of the eclipse! Whats up with poor jupiter getting smacked again. Good thing for us, I guess Jupiter is kind of our solar systems vacuum cleaner!

  3. Yeah, ol’ Jove’s just doin’ his job. I tried to have a look-see at the bruise last night with UVa’s 26″ Clark refractor but the planet was swimming in turbulence and the small spot just couldn’t be seen. I had McCormick Observatory to myself, too.

    The summertime planets are low in the night sky for the same reason that the summertime sun is high in the daytime sky. It’s simple geometry. This explains why an Aussie discovered the thing, with his planets high in the night sky and way easier to image than here.

  4. must be nice to have an entire observatory to yourself! I wish! I am stuck with my 8″ dob. Oh well better than nothing I suppose. You must get some good viewing in virgina.

  5. Actually the best view of Jupiter I’ve ever had was with a 12″ dob in my driveway. I had borrowed the scope (a month prior to buying my 10″ Atlas-mounted Newtonian) and Ken Harker, who loaned it to me was picking it up to take it back to his home. I was grousing about the skies being murky and only 30 or 40 stars total were visible. It was late Spring, so the early evening planets were still fairly high in the sky. Ken said “I’m getting out an eyepiece!” and we had a look at Jupiter.

    I was gobsmacked!

    The murky skies had cut down the transparency and hidden dim objects from view, sure enough. But bright Jupiter had no problem poking through the murk and was spectacular. The murkiness indicated steady laminar airflow, making for superb viewing. I could easily see the festoons of turbulence at the edge of the belts.

    Sure taught me a lesson!

    I had tweeted to Nicole (The Noisy Astronomer) and another UVa astronomy student earlier that I might go up there, but they went to sleep before I made the decision final to actually go and tweeted that news. It would’ve been nice to have had the company.

    If there is a university observatory near you that does public outreach, visit them and volunteer. Then you too can have fun in the middle of the night with a giant scope!

  6. Sorry, Richard! I was a sleepy head, I know. What can I say, radio astronomy knows no night vs day…

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