Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ok Now I Am Sure Cycle 24 Is Real

We have been tracking Cycle 24 for a few weeks now with minimal activity The polarity of the wee little spots say that yes we are in cycle 24 but I just was not buying it until we had a significant sun spot. Well Folks, yesterday about thirty minutes before the sun set into the trees of Dater Montessori school. I had Sunspot 1029 in my sights. The Cincinnati Astronomical society was doing a public outreach on the 24th and I had brought my Telescope out to show to the 200 plus that came for this fall festival. I thought hey if the clouds clear out enough I will setup and see if we can take a look at ole Sol. We were set up right next to the Live animal display and we thought oh boy great... as the kids darted right past these Old fat guys with Telescopes and right to the Black Vulture held by one of the parks people. It turned out to be OK as they would come back to us and would marvel at our scopes and ask questions about our club and what we do. We were thinking we needed a box of Puppies named Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa! Next year for sure... We were inside doing the meet and greet answering questions from parents and kids alike. We had a very powerful presentation on the solar system with up to the minute updates on the happenings in our corner of the Universe. This summer as I had told you in previous posts, My sun filter was going to waste as we were in a huge minimum. I was informed that the clouds had parted . I grabbed my scope and took off for the parking lot. A fellow Astronomer had brought his Orion 80 out with a solar filter and was also setting up. I swung my scope over to the sun and Holy Mole We had spots ! I told Ralph my partner out on the side walk, " Get moving ole buddy we gots spots!" I was up and running and I had an immediate crowd that were wanting to look at the sun. It was a glorious time. I know that at least 60 kids had the opportunity to see the sunspot sitting almost dead center of the Sun. I saw the set of spots as a small string just getting up to speed and It looked beautiful after all these months of coming up empty. The plus here right after the sun sank into the trees was we had a quarter moon hanging in a good spot. I immediately went there and gave the folks a grand show of the Moon . They soon forgot about missing an opportunity to see the sunspot. As the darkness slowly crept into this town of Cincinnati, Jupiter began to shine through the last glow of day and we now had a third target of the evening. The seeing was average. I could make out 4 belts and 4 moons this night. We were joined by Bill, another astronomer. He brought his home grown 6" Newtonian. and had also locked onto Jupiter as well. all in all we had four scopes there and a steady stream of people. Almost without fail, as the people left the Fall Festival they paused to get in line at each scope to have a look at the Moon or Jupiter. Terry a fourth Astronomer that was giving the solar system presentation earlier was there floating in between scopes answering question after question about the sky. The world was whole again. We had spots! Until next week,

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Birthplace of American Astronomy

Greetings to all. Today it is my pleasure to regale you with a tale about America's First Public observatory and the oldest observatory in the western hemisphere and....home of the oldest continuously operating telescope in the world. It all started in a small metropolis in the mid west. Cincinnati was a city of hard working blue collar folks mostly of German decent. This town housed Cincinnati College. In 1836 the College had been rebuilt because of a fire and was looking for Teachers. A man by the name of Ormsby Mitchel McKnight took a position there teaching mathematics, civil engineering, mechanics and astronomy. It did not take long for the public to hear about this great lecturer. McKnight was asked to give a series of public lectures on astronomy which was met with so much enthusiasm that McKnight proposed forming the Cincinnati Astronomical Society. Mitchel continued to give lectures on astronomy and began to dream of bigger things for Cincinnati. Mitchel wanted the first pulic observatory in the nation built right in Cincinnati. To raise capital for this grand undertaking, Mitchel began selling stock in the Cincinnati Astronomical Society at 25 dollars a share. This was a LOT of money in the 1840'sAlthough Mitchel got backing from 300 or so wealthy families. a lot of money came from the common folk of Cincinnati mostly because McKnight was selling something he believed in and secondly the promise that this observatory was to be used by all. when he had acquired enough funding Mitchel set foot abroad in search of a first rate instument that would put Cincinnati and the USA on the map astronomically. One of his first stops was England. there were no telescopes of sizable aperture to be found here. But one thing he did find was a friendship with George Airy a world renown astronomer and engineer. With George's advice he set out for Germany. While there in Munich, he found the Merz-Mahler Optics company. Mitchel went in and said he was looking for a good telescope. So he was shown some 6" and an 8" objectives but he was not going to build an observatory of world class caliber toting a 8" telescope back to the people of Cincinnati. The fine folks there had just made an objective lens that measured 11 3/4 inches of Franhaufer design ( two lens of Crown and flint glass). With one look he said that's the one. The only problem was he did not have enough money for the lens/scope ($7500) so he gave them all he had($5000) and told them not to sell it till got back to Cincinnati to raise the additional capital. He made that mad dash for the States and to Cincinnati to once again go to the well and door to door he went until he had the difference. The complete telescope with mount and eyepieces cost about 10,000 dollars back in 1842! Mitchel raced back to Munich and procured the lens and arranged for the shipment to Cincinnati. Then once more he stopped in England to ask Geoge Airey a favor. He asked for a crash course in observatory management which George Airy was all too happy to give. For a few weeks he stayed with Airy and learned the ropes. Mitchel was then Cincinnati bound and ready to start the process of making it all come together. During this time of waiting for the telescope to arrive he started the building process for the building that would house this new scope. The problem was he did not have enough monies to complete the building and this is where the fine people of Cincinnati stepped up and came to the aid of a world class dream. The remaining work was "donated" by the craftsmen of Cincinnati in exchange for stock in the Cincinnati Astronomical Society. Mitchel himself used his own funds for this project as well.

The corner stone was to be layed soon and Mitchel needed a big name to do it. He settled on asking John Quincey Adams, former President of the United States and a real friend to the science community. Adams had always believed that having a national observatory would give the USA international prestige. The funny thing was Adams did not like Mitchel the man. He called him a snit . One thing was undeniable and that was Mitchels conviction. President Adams was hooked and on November 9, 1842 John Q. Adams laid this Cornerstone and then gave the last public speech of his life. In this speech he called this observatory a tribute to the people of Cincinnati. He was right. The scopes home was Mount Ida but in Adams honor it was changed to Mount Adams. Now keep in mind there was no money to pay anyone so Mitchel became the director. He relied on the salary from teaching at Cincinnati College. When the College burned down again. Yes again. He was without gainful employment. To his credit he stayed on anyway.

When this scope was built, it was one of the largest refractor in the world. Mitchel and the scope went on to discover the companion to Antares. Mitchel also discovered a formation on Mars (Mountains of Mitchel) named in his honor. He started the "Sidereal Messenger", the first astronomical publication in the US. Unfortunately the messenger was stopped a few years later due to lack of funds. Mitchel was having a hard time with the telescope as Cincinnati was becoming a major industrial center and the Soft coal used to heat was throwing smoke and ash into the air. Mitchel moved on to start the Dudley Observatory and to teach at that University.

The Cincinnati Astronomical Society decided to close the Mt Adams site The scope was donated to the city of Cincinnati to later be given to the newly formed University of Cincinnati and further that an observatory would be built. The descision was made to move the observatory to the present day grounds back in 1873. since the move there have been some rather notable additions such as the 1904 Alvin Clark and son's'16" refractor. There have been lots of firsts from those hallowed halls. The first weather service was formed here. Cleveland Abbe Director of the Observatory would telegraph western points to get weather readings and then noticed similar weather would show up two or three days later. he would publish this and Washington DC took notice and asked Abbe to start the National weather service! after World War II the IAU placed the minor planet research center at Cincinnati under the guidance of Dr. Paul Herget. He became the internationally known leader in this field. As all other directors be fore him he had a keen interest in the public and as all previous directors the building was open to the public on a regular basis. The Cincinnati Observatory Center (COC) was formed in 1997 to preserve the heritage and the buildings. and start a vigorous outreach/education program. It continues to this day. So if you ever get the chance to stop in Cincinnati take an hour of two out of your day and visit the COC Just to get to see the Merz und Mahler scope is enough reason. It is a functioning work of art. You can see all the time keeping instruments used to make precise calculations back in the mid 19th century.There is so much to see. Until then...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Sunday, October 11, 2009

And The Hits Just Keep Coming!

Just when you think we got our solar system down pretty well, all heck breaks loose and we end up dumbstruck to the fact that we really do not know diddly do about our little world. Headlines from the last few weeks read Mars may have had a thicker Atmosphere, Saturn has Giant ring Water found on Moon. So let's take a look at these for a moment and see where they fit in the big picture of things.

Ah Mars... This is the planet that launched their armada against us and then succumbed to a bad cold. This and countless other stories have been told about this intriguing red next door neighbor of ours. What do we know about Mars? Until recently, not very much. 50 years ago, it was all about what we could see in a telescope. Then came the probes. We have answered a lot of questions about who our neighbor is. The problem is for every question we answer we ask two more. The latest question asked by the Mars Rover Opportunity is: How could a meteor the size of a large watermelon have survived a fall to Mars without exploding and or leaving a large crater? Opportunity found this Iron Nickel meteorite in 2005 Some scientists have proposed that Mars had a much thicker atmosphere at one time this might have slowed the meteor down of that size and allowed it to land there as few as a thousand years or so ago. the atmosphere is trapped in the CO2 frozen at the poles. On the other hand this could be a meteorite that hit the surface tens of thousand of years ago and has come to the surface through erosion. Both are plausible answers. I tend to believe this meteor might have landed on Mars similar to how the Hoba Meteorite made it's way to Earth. The meteor took a low trajectory and skipped to a stop in front of Opportunities camera.This would answer many of the questions about this meteorite. I am interested to see how this turns out so stay tuned...

Saturn has a super-duper ring. The Spitzer Telescope locked onto it recently. This ring is huge with the bulk of the ring materials artist's rendering released by NASA shows the biggest but
never-before-seen ring around Saturn, spotted by NASA's Spitzer
Space Telescope
Photo: AP
start about 3.7 million miles from the planet and extends outward about another 7.4 million miles. The ring is very thin and loosely filled with ice and dust. The temp goes about 316 below zero F. but still has a thermal signature Spitzer can "see" This ring is also tilted 27 degrees to the ring system. The ring might also answer: Why the heck is Iapetus shiny on one side and dark on the other? The ring circles in the same direction as

Phoebe, while Iapetus, ,the other rings and most of Saturn's other moons go the opposite way. Scientists think material from the outer ring moves inward and slams into Iapetus.

Read more at: It has long been suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus This new ring provides real evidence of that relationship."
They have never seen the ring because no one has put a infrared scope on Saturn before. There it was... We are always just that close to another big discovery.

The last but not least headline lately was Water Found on Moon! Not Earth shattering if you will excuse the pun. Water or Hydroxyl has been found on the moon in several experiments performed by NASA Probes including looking at some Apollo 15 rocks again. Water was found locked inside these rocks. Who would have thought? The real question was how much? Finding a substantial amount of water on the Moon would go a long way to establishing a base there. The water can be made into fuel and also provide potable water for crews etc...But Steve how will they extract this water if found? the good folks at Huntsville have been working on this problem and have come up with a very doable solution. They will use microwaves to extract the water from the moon "dirt" They have done experiments and have been able to get 95 % of the water back from the simulated lunar soil and using a cold trap. We will not know for two weeks or so how much water might be up there. On the outside looking in, the LCROSS probe seemed to have drilled a dry hole... The word is all the instruments were working. The pictures were a bit on the anticlimactic side. I am looking forward to finding some answers. but untill then...

Clear skies and Great seeing too!

Steve T

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Travel Companions That Never Let You Down

I love to travel and when I go I always try to take some kind of an instrument to look through to the heavens above. I had a Televue Ranger (telescope) that went with me everywhere I went and did what I needed for it to do. it was small compact and delivered very good images. There was one drawback for that scope. It had a helical focuser which some folks like but for me it was not quite my cup of tea. I eventually sold that beautiful scope for that reason. I broke a golden rule of mine. I never quit a job until I have one lined up and never sell a scope unless I have one to fill the void. I now limp along traveling without a travel scope. Right now I am out of town and through some circumstances I have my 8" Celestron CPC with me. This a very grumpy travel companion. Large and bulky but it is what I have with me now.

It had been raining every day fora good week but on Saturday the clouds parted and I was treated to clear skies for a few hours. I grabbed my scope and lugged it down stairs of the Hilton to my Truck and off I went to see what I could see. On the drive I was thinking of what travel scope I would get when I get back home. I have it narrowed down to a couple of brands now Astronomy Technologies and Williams. when I got to the site I set up and got out my two travel companions that I rely on every time I hit the road. They are the Sky and Telescopes Pocket Sky Atlas and the Deep Map 600. Those two items are small, very user friendly and jammed with great information.

I use the Map alone sometimes. because it gives the big picture and has many targets on it to look at. I use it as an overall strategy builder for the night. After I have located what are I will be taking a peak in I open up the Pocket Sky Atlas (PSA). The PSA gives much more detail for the region of space I wish to explore. The People down at the Sky publishing building took a few months to get all the input of what to put in this small atlas and then went about producing it in house totally. My hat is off to the fine folks at Sky Publishing. You will find enough "stuff" to look at for the rest of your days using this atlas alone. Not only does this atlas have great Maps, It also has many lists of objects in the back. So... if you hear your comrades in scopes going on about NGC 3190 and how beautiful it was last night, you pick up the Atlas go to the list in the back look up NGC 3190 and Ah they are talking about a Galaxy located in Leo. Then you can ask: Did you get a good look at 3193 as well? ( in the same field of view) This book can make you look good!
Seriously, you can learn a lot about the sky using this atlas. It is laid out very well . The maps in the atlas are big chunks of the sky so constellations are still recognizable. I have always said if you want to learn the sky take it one constellation at a time and explore it completely. This atlas helps you do just that.

The Deep map 600 is well made using plastic that feels like slick paper. So if you forget to take it in for the evening no worries the de will dry off then you fold it and put the map away again for the next big outing. The Deep Map 600 has many lists on the back as well. Say you like gazing at Variables (Stars that brighten and dim on schedule) there is a list. I have traveled to many different lands using this combination and they have never disappointed me. and If I have a real hankering for Galaxies of magnitude 12 or more (dimmer) I have an Atlas on my Computer that can and does deliver. So as for how the observing went last night? I got a look at the face on Spiral M33 then the clouds came ... But I had a look at it! I have confirmed it is still there. Alas there will be other night and other targets for me to check out. One thing is for certain. My two little companions will be with me no matter what scope or binoculars I have, showing me the way. Until then My friends...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T