Sunday, May 31, 2009

The New Telescope (new astro toy) Curse

There are a few laws in nature that we all must put up with: gravity, inertia, come to mind. Then there are a few things that happen to us which cannot be explained but are as true and rigid as any law of nature. For example, if you wash your car it will rain on it within hours or at most a day. This was the very first truth I learned. I just bought my first car, a 67 Plymouth Fury III. I was so proud of it (it was a piece of poop) I went out and washed it and waxed it (polished a turd). Within minutes of finishing, I noticed a huge squall line forming to the west. How can this be they called for clear skies. I started to think back and it became clear to me there is a power at work here I remember my first telescope. The weather was cloudy for days after I got it. Hmmm wait and then there was that 6"Cave Astrola I got for a song. It was a year old and I got it for half of what it was new. It came with Abbe Orthos 10 and 20mm eyepieces! It rained for a week solid starting the day I got it. That was just the beginning of it. A couple of years later I decided to get a C8. I had saved up and bought a used C8 that someone had used for Halley's comet then put it away. I also got that scope for a song. This telescope nearly beat the curse. I set it up which took almost two hours since I did not know the C8 at all and I had no instructions. Note: Do not put a telescope together that you are not familiar with in the dark.This is a recipe for disaster. I did finally get it together without breaking anything. It was clear when I started but within 2 hours, thin cirrostatus clouds covered the sky. They were blow off from the thunderstorm that was headed my way. In the words of my cartoon hero Charlie Brown, Rats!!! I was foiled again. My next telescope purchase came a few years later. It was a Celestron 114gt. Yep you guessed it clouds. Then a Televue Ranger. Oh yeah the same... clouds. My latest scope to buy was a Celestron CPC 800. It was late arriving by two weeks in March. I had a star party to go to in 3 days so I loaded it up and took it with me to the party. I would play with it there. This was the Smoky Mountain Star Gaze and it poured out a record amount of the wet stuff that week. I never turned the scope on once. Forward a year later to Friday May 29th. It is clear as a bell!!! I helped play host to a Pack of Cub scouts and a Boy Scout troop. All went very well. We saw many cool things that night. M13 the Ring Nebula, Saturn and even M81 showed up in those light polluted skies. Saturday arrives and with that so does a box from Astronomics. It was a new 2" star diagonal by Astro Tech. I had come into a little money so I spent it on something I could get the most bang for the buck and this was it. You know without thinking about the public viewing I was attending that evening I opened the box up and must have set in motion, the events for the evening. It was clear for most of the day puffy cumulus clouds floated by without a care in the world. By 7:00 that evening(2 hours after opening the box) all that remained were sucker holes in the sky. By 8:30 I was sitting with my fellow astronomers watching the clouds darken and here came the rain and lightning and hail! So in short, we left and went to a local eatery where shot to poop about astronomy and recent trips we had. It was then it dawned on mesitting with my peers, that I had opened the box and somehow opened the Pandora's box for astronomy. I never realized I wielded so much power. I must be careful with this new super power I have and use it wisely. I will be very careful about when I open my new "toys" up. Note to all non super heroes: I promise to use my powers for good.

I have one box yet to open. It is a blue filter and I am saving this for a drought .

Clear Skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Officer That guy right there started it!

This is the perfect time to do the International Year of Astronomy tribute to my all time hero of science , Galileo Galilei He did not invent the telescope but he did turn it skyward first and the world was never the same. In the time of Galileo, the world /universe was a tiny place as far as human understanding went. Europe was out of the "flat" stage but seemed to be locked into the geocentric mode. "The earth was the center of the universe and no matter what facts you bring forth and discrepancies the earth centric theory had, you are wrong and we are right". This was the Catholic church mantra of the time. Nicholas Copernicus found this out earlier when he proposed a treatise: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. This was a theory depicting a Helio-centric cosmos(sun centered) This was poo pooed by the church and his book was put on the forbidden list of books to read. That was until it could be corrected. Well the cat was out of the bag by then and in the modern 1600s The theory would not go away. There were a lot of Copernicans out there and one was Giordano Bruno He was burned at the stake for it in 1600. Wow so with this being the going rate for Copernican thinking, a mathematician by the name of Galileo hits the spotlight.

He is making big waves in the Scientific world since about 1588 or so He gets a Gig at the University of Padua Chair of Mathematics. It is here he gets a telescope. Now by today's standards the telescope was pretty bad optically but it worked. He turned that puppy on the moon and Katy bar the door, the moon is rough, has craters, mountains. He thought Hmmm that stuff is not supposed to be there according to the current thinking. Boy did Galileo run with it. He made observations of Jupiter and noticed Jupiter had moons that definitely were orbiting the Planet.That did not fit with the current Ptolemy thinking either. He wrote a book about it in 1610 :Sidereal Messenger, and moved to Florence to take a really cushy job for the Grand Duke of Tuscany.Things were really moving forward and upward for Galileo, but there seemed to be stuff that kept cropping up with observation after observation. The Geocentric deal is a dud! But how does one kindly and thoughtfully tell the Catholic church they are wrong wrong wrong and have been for a long time.

Having gotten wind of the questions Galileo was having, Cardinal Bellarmine met with Galileo and warned him not hold with Copernican theory. So Galileo met with his good buddy of the past Maffeo Barberini now Pope Urban. He thought and may very well had permission to write a book about the questions in the: Dialogue Concerning the two Chief World Systems in 1632. He painted the Church(Urban) as a slow thick tongued man named Simplicio defending the Ptolemy system. The Pope even recoginized one of his own arguments used during many long visits with Galileo. Oh yeah! called the Pope a simpleton to get his point across. I am guessing Galileo never heard the timeless saying: Never poke a stick at the mean dog. Well he did and was put through the Inquisition by his ole pal Urban in 1633. They produced a document (unsigned and unnotarized) and kept in the archives. Remember the Chat Bellarmine and Galileo with Bellarmine warning Galileo to never tout Copernican thinking and with this "Dialogue" he did, boy did he! The document showed Galileo promised not to write about Copernican teaching. It makes me think setup. He was condemned on suspicion of heresy. He had to denounce Copernican thinking and spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

OK that book did not go well and Galileo could have used a publisist. Instead of giving up Galileo did observations of the moon in fact noting that the moon had a slight wobble to it in 1637 This was one of his last observations. He went totally blind in that year.He was also able to smuggle out of the house and publish a manuscript: Discourse of the two New Sciences. This was the beginning of modern physics.It was published in 1636. So what is the point of this history lesson? If you believe in something and every fiber of your being says it is right then go for it write that book. Prove that point. Make sure you do not really tick off the guy that has your life in his hands. With out Galileo setting the stage for Keppler,Newton, Einstein and other great scientist, The telescope might have been the pet Rock of the 1600s came and went. What a lesser place this world would be without men like Galileo.

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Saturday, May 16, 2009

All Aboard!! Next stop,Moonville

The single biggest thing to look at during a Public stargaze is the Moon. When our club or really just about any club schedules an event they try to make it on a quarter or slightly bigger. People love to look at the Moon. There are so many reasons. Romance certainly has a part in it. Ancient peoples look to the Moon for time, to hunt by, to plant by. How about superstition, Werewolves? They all fall under the influence of the Moon. Old Luna has been a faithful companion for billions of years. 4.6 to put a number on it. That is pretty close to how old I feel rolling out of a sleeping bag placed on the frozen ground after a long night of gazing skyward. We know tons and oodles about our dear satellite except maybe how it formed. The one theory I hang onto is the giant impact theory where something (planet sized object) made its mark on the earth waaaay back when the earth was still forming. Add a glancing blow from said object, then factor in the planetary object and a chunk of earth vaporizing causing a huge debris cloud circling the earth and thus pulling together and forming the Moon. Sure I could see that happening. Just keep in mind there are a few theories out there. so look around and see which one makes sense to you.

We choose a quarter moon to gibbous for a good reasons The moon is not as bright so you will not be as affected by the glare. the terminator will show a lot of detail. The terminator is the line of dark and light at the edge of the lit up side of the moon. There is a lot of contrast there so you can see mountains/valleys better. There are so many craters on the Moon's dark side as well as the lit side facing us on earth. Most historians will tell you that in 1609, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei was the first person to use a telescope to study the Moon. Using a telescope with a magnification of about 2o, he was able to see the mountainous areas, craters, and rough surface of the Moon. During the time of Galileo, people believed that the Moon's surface was smooth, so his observations caused many arguments. The argument was the quality of the lens made it appear rough. Cameras did not exist at the time, so Galileo drew what he saw through his pretty crude telescope. He was right. They were wrong. The Church did not like being wrong but that is another story for later

How do we look at the Moon? A telescope is probably the best instrument for this task and it can be a small refractor and not a giant 11" Celestron Schmidt -Cassegrain scope. I think the less light gathering the better. I do not want to be blinded by the glare of so much light baking my eyeball. I used my 60mm scope for a good long while surveying the Moon. An 80mm can do a heck of a number on the Moon.I always use a filter when looking at the Moon. My very first filter was the Green glass filter. It worked but by turning the moon green, it made it hard to dispel the notion that the Moon is not made of cheese! I wish to recommend a filter for the Moon. A filter keeps the glare down so you can look at it longer with out going moon blind which is similar to snow blind. My favorite for lunar viewing is the Variable Polarizing Telescope Filter. I like it better because I can adjust the brightness level of the Moon and thereby pickup more detail. There are 13 % neutral density filters filters out there and they do a fine job. They are just not as flexible for the deed.

What exactly is there to look at on the Moon? Can we see the Apollo landing sites? Ugh No but you can explore the areas where the sites are located. Take a look at the Sea of Tranquility Apollo 11 first touched down there and men got out and set foot on the Moon. I will be working on a series of blog posts concerning that very feat.Titled: The Road to the Moon. This will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first man on the Moon. Back to what to look for. Craters abound so look for newer craters, the ones that have lines or rays coming from them. the lines are ejecta (the stuff that flew out of the crater when it hit. search the mare (dark spots) These are craters that went deep enough to crack the crust of the moon millions and millions of years ago when the Moon was geologically active and brought lava to the surface spilling out and filling in the crater area.

A Moon map is great thing to have along you can print one online you can get a free program to help with your Moon gaze. Free ware which I love include the Lunar Calculator lite. A very simple and cool tool to see the current phase and identify crater mare and more. Another I like is the Virtual Moon Atlas by the guy that did Cartes du Ciel, Patrick Chevalley and Christian Legrand. It comes in three versions good, real good and way over the top good. Like books? Me too and I like the Atlas of the Moon by Antonin Rukl. You can find it on Amazon. It is by Sky publishing and they do not put out junk. Knowing some of the bigger craters as well as the mare will make you a better astronomer or at the very least impress the heck out of your teacher/ instructor. I know mine were dumbstruck by the fact I knew exactly where the Sea of Tranquillity was back in the spring of 1969. That was before it became a hot destination in July.

Clear Skies and great seeing too,
Steve T

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Raise the Roof Y'all It's Time to Party!!! Star Party that is!!!

Oh Yes Ladies and Gentlemen the time is upon us already. The season of star fests, star parties, even a star stare is in full force and surging. What is that you say? You have never been to a star party? This is your lucky day then . You have the duty to your love of Astronomy to go to one. You will not regret it(weather permitting), but I got to tell you I had a wonderful time at the Smokey Mountain Star Gaze in 2008, which was a one and done affair. It Rained the entire week. Copious amounts of rain but I got to sit around and talk to a very great group of guys that all share the same love of our hobby. I did take my son into Cherokee North Carolina to sample the local fare and hit a museum. Not all was lost. Between the spectacular views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the local flavor we drank in, my son and I had a great time despite the deluge.

Like just about anything in life, you need to have a plan or at least a rough idea on how things should go, how things do go and last but not least, how things could go and believe me those three things are never the same. How things should go means getting the schedule from the star event of your choosing.From there you need to build this great escape. Really there are three parts to the plan .The first part of the plan begins with a list of what to pack that means doing the homework, like see what kind of temps occurs where you are going. You venture up the hill 8'000 feet and you will find it is not the same by a long shot temperature wise. There are many lists out there of what to take along, almost every website for a star fest has one already sitting there for you to use. They all are pretty much the same, you just need to be tuned into what might be star fest site specific. OK you have the list and and all is packed or will be soon enough.Tip!!! Supervise the packing yourself or just do it all yourself because when you delegate this out you go missing stuff. Having kids help with the packing has taught me this ugly lesson.The next step is the route to get there. Now believe me when I tell you the route your GPS tells you to go is not always the best route nor is Map quest. I believe that the GPS knows that you have a 3000 dollar scope in the back so it picks the roughest goat path it can find just to mess with you.With that in mind, take a moment and check the chosen route and determine if it a wise one. When choosing when to leave keep in mind arriving at dusk or dark to set up your tent and getting situated will definitely make you the topic of conversation. Make sure you arrive with plenty of daylight left to setup and meet your neighbors You will be way ahead of the game. Something I always bring in addition to my tent is a pop up canopy. It keeps you cool in the day and somewhat protected in the night plus it is a great place to keep your scope during the day, it keeps the heat off of it and if it starts to rain (forbid the thought) you have a nice place for folks to gather and talk about the evils of goto or the best eyepiece ever made (I have three go to scopes. I guess I am evil).

The second part: Great we are there !!! This is when the event schedule kicks in. Take a look at who is speaking and what the subject is. Sounds like something you want to do? Then do it. Now if it is about "Quantum physics, the mathmatic side" taught by someone like Ben Stein, then maybe not. This is the very funny man with the dryest monotone deliveries on the planet. It might be a great time to take a stroll around the scope orchard, take a day trip to somewhere interesting in that part of the country. You will have several oportunities to do your own thing. Make sure you get back before dusk with that car or you will make everybodies list again. Usually there will be a parking lot for late arrivals, just check and follow the site specific rules when it comes to white light.Speaking of white light, it is a No No. Red LED lights are the best with white flashlights with a red film over them, an acceptable but not preferred solution.Concerning red LEDs try and find one that dims. I have been dark adapt blinded for 45 minutes by the triple red LED light with no dimming feature. Basiclly just use common sense here. No light is good light if it is dark sky heaven then you will be able to get around by the starlight. I don't always keep my light on. I use it just when I need it. Be prepared to stay up late and be wowed at the dark sky and what can offer you. If you thought you knew what the Omega(Swan) nebula looked like from home, you will have the opportunity to see a completely "new" Omega nebula from the dark site. Just keep it quiet say after 12 midnight till noonish there will be rules on times to make noise. This gives all people a chance to sleep some. This will turn into a sleep deprivation experiment if you let it albeit a satifying one.

Step three, what could happen> that means in Layman's terms what is your plan "B" When it rains or wind or what ever, what will you do? Research the area find something to do just to keep in your hip pocket for just such a day. There is nothing more boring than to sit in your tent or motel room waiting for it to stop raining. Find a conversation find a museum find a card game. There are sites that have wireless Internet your kids and some of you will be in heaven for sure I can get a blog out if I have to. Life is good. You can work on your next nights observing plan, say the Hershel 400 in one night on a Dob. That might be pushing it a tad but you get the picture. You will have a great time if you put the effort into the party. Chances are friends will be made that will last a lifetime. and memories to share with all that will listen. Make sure you continue to go to star parties as we do not want to hear the same story from you every time we see you! So Get out there and see what you have been missing. Life is too short to miss out on great opportunities to share astronomy with others

Clear skies and great seeing too


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Astronomy Day should be every Day!!!

Another public event has come and gone and the world is a better place as a result. That is always the way I see it. I and several other astronomers had the honor of giving presentations on everything from Archeoastronomy to the search for Exoplanets to good number of folks at the beautiful Cincinnati Astronomical Societies headquarters last night. We had planned to do some observing through the fine scopes the club owns but the sky gods sought fit to deny us by delivering a blanket of clouds that covered the sky completely. Not even a sucker hole was to be had. Fun was the word still as we gave tours of the club's Clark 8 inch refractor as well as the 16 inch and 14 inch newts and LX200 12inch SCT. The event was two fold as we celebrated Astronomy day as well as Cincinnati State day. It was an opportunity to picnic on our grounds get some great presentations and participate in a raffle.

I had the honor
of being first up to sort of warm the crowd up so to speak My presentation was on Exoplanets. It was a PowerPoint presentation. I touched on the methods used to find those hidden wonders as well as possibilities of life and where to look for it. I try to be entertaining as well as deliver enough information to get the audience peaked about looking for more. I received a big applause when it was over so I hope I did my job and there will be a lot of Google searches today on exoplanets. Next up was Bill and he did a hands on presentation about spectroscopy and how important it is to astronomy and just what we as small fry in the astronomy world can do to contribute to the research being done right now. All had opportunity to look through a spectroscope to see the light from different sources split. That got some very cool wows from the crowd. The final presentation was by Tom and I love this presentation. It is about a culture of ancient peoples that had pretty crude tools for today's standards but managed to build incredible earthworks to determine seasons for planting, positions of sun, moon as well as conquering geometric equations.

It completely blows me away to think these people with limited knowledge of space etc. figured out all of this. These cultures were very atuned to the earth and its way of doing buisness. I recomend reading this book to give you a hint into the world of the Hopewell. Click the book for more information. To sum up the night, it was fun, informative and above all entertaining. The staff at the end of the night when all had cleared out, sat around and talked about bad Scifi movies. That was a great time as well. When you get a chance go to your local club as see what is going on. You will be wowed almost every time. Get out and do something!!!

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T