Sunday, November 29, 2009

Just How Big Is Our Sun Anyway?

I get that question a bunch when I am doing public out reach for astronomy. When you are dealing with numbers so big, one can lose the scope of things really fast. Your ole buddy Steve T will try to give you an idea of where we stand in the pecking order of size when we consider the the universe.
You are going to find out we are pretty itty bitty in the grand scheme of things.

Let's look at the Earth first. When I am standing atop Mauna Kea,at 14,000 looking out into the distance of the Pacific Ocean, I get a good idea of how big Earth is. The Pacific Ocean fills the view for as far as the eye can see. Perhaps better of an idea is when you are standing atop Pikes peak in Colorado at 14,000 and look east and see the rolling plains stretch out forever.  Turn around and look west only to see endless mountain ridges all the way to the horizon. It does tend to take ones breath away. Of course that could have been the fact I was at 14,000 feet too.

To the common Joe or Joan the earth seems pretty big but when you compare Earth to the other planets you start getting a picture that we are not quite the king of the planets. This diagram above gives one a good comparison of the inner planets of our Solar system and let's throw in Pluto just for fun. Oh yeah! Earth is sitting pretty tall in the saddle in this comparison.

Now let's compare it to the outer planets. Earth is looking kind of puny now! Jupiter dwarfs our little Earth and almost all of the other planets as well. Remember these models are all of the same scale. We are looking at all of the planets in our solar system and yes Pluto too. Easily Jupiter is large and in charge as it would seem.  There is just one more "big" item to compare Jupiter to in the Solar system.

Wow! The sun is huge compared with the those dinky planets; the planets that just a image ago were large and in charge. So now the Sun is the big dog on the block? I would say yes but we are talking about a very small block.

The Sun is a main sequence yellow dwarf star. The Yerkes classification is a G2V. Go tell your teacher or your kids that. That will surely impress them.Well maybe... We seem to be throwing that word dwarf around quite a bit. That should give you a hint about how big our brethren in starland get. Let's take a look so you can get a visual reference.

Here we are comparing  our Sun to some main sequence stars. Sirius is a very hot white star. The Sun is starting to look smaller and smaller Try to remember how we (the Earth) looked in comparison  to the Sun. Arcturus is a giant orange star. So Arcturus is the man huh ? Not even in the ball park. As big as Arcturus is here it'll look minuscule in the next image. Are you hanging in there with the scale so far? I think it's time to show you a really big star.

Please note that Betelgeuse is actually larger than Antares
Can you spot Arcturus in the image? It sits right in the middle of the lower row of stars.(the orange one)These super giant stars (top row) are just that, Super Giant. In fact these two stars are near the end of their life cycle. They have burned through most of their hydrogen. Betelgeuse is the big Kahuna? Well not really for there are stars of greater size than the shoulder or Orion (Betelguese)  The Pistol Star comes to mind as well as VY Canis Majoris with VY being the holder of the crown so far.  So now you have an idea of how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Keep in mind that we live in the Milky Way Galaxy which contains some 200/400 billion stars . Now let us add that to the 200 billion or so galaxies out in the universe and Oh my stars we are Itty Bitty!

Until next week,

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Carnival of Space is Up

What is the Carnival of Space? It is a collection of blogs about Astronomy and space hosted by a different blog each week. The Carnival is sponsored by Universe Today. If you like to see what is going on in the space community then by all means click here and you will be transported to the Chandra Space telescope blog for the Carnival of space installment #130. You will not be disappointed. I meant to send a blog entry this week but did not get to it. Have Fun!
Steve T

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2012 The End of the World!!! Not Even Close...

As 2012 quickly approaches, I am in constant awe of the fact that there are those out there that believe the Gobbledygook floating out there about the end of the world coming. I try to keep my Blogs fairly short to be a quick read and entertaining so I will lightly touch on all of the imminent death scenarios stacking up for Dec of 2012.

Let me start this out with a warning to all parents. If your child believes that the world is really going to end in Dec of 2012 then do not give them a credit card!!! do not lend them yours, in fact this a perfect opportunity to say NO to what ever they ask for because after all the world is going to end so why do you need it? Needless to say my kids are firm believers that the world is not going to end in 2012 (I am not sure this is due to the reams of empirical evidence to support that position or that they just want to borrow the Card) but I better not get a huge bill in Jan of 2012. On to the debunking...

Lets hit the big one first. The Mayan calendar ends; Dec 21st is the end of the long count calendar so that means the end of the world. Bad stuff will surely happen to us all or... is it just followed by and so on till it reaches about 8000 AD and then it resets.This is because the caleandar is based on base 20 so each column is 0-19 so just do the math 20 days would look like In Fact yes Fact there are Dates found on Mayan markers denoting celebrations in 4000 and something AD. Hmmm so someone in the Mayan nation did not get the memo that the world would have long been ended by then. There is no empirical evidence to support a disaster that will doom the world. When our Calendar turns over on Dec31 to Jan 1 does the world end? I have had a few hangovers that felt like the world ended but no it did not. Keep in mind that the Mayan Calendar also incorporates religion etc in it and every day was sponsored by a God How confusing would that be... so some scientist believe that the Mayans believed in some spiritual awakening might happen but if you ask the Mayans here right now in central America, They do not know what you are talking about. In fact they are kind of miffed that Hollywood is doing that to their culture.They still have no problem selling you a fine reproduction of a Mayan Calendar for $29.95. There is no better way (and easier way) to make money than by using fear. It is a formula that works and works quite well. with that aside and you still believe... let's look at the scenarios of Death and destruction that surely await us on that fateful date or not.

Planet X, a Comet and oh yes and now we have some kind of comet/planet now and wait almost forgot a Brown dwarf could be out there lurking. Planet X/ Sumerian Nibiru (they are not the same ) Planet X is pretty much no more as the calculations for Neptune were redone and the discrepancy in Uranus's orbit disappeared so scratch that. Nibiru, wow... This planet has a master race of folks that came down did there magic and made Humans to slave away for them they left and will be back in 2021 to wreak havoc amongst their slaves. That would make a great movie (like Star gate) but there is no basis in fact. all creatures on earth share the same basic gene structure. so I am pretty sure we originated from here. Oh yes let's chat about the brown dwarf. With all the eyes we have out there (satellites, telescopes) Something that big and that energetic (yes brown dwarfs bleed energy) our whole sky infrared surveys would have picked it up by now. not there... how about a comet We are constantly looking for comets and we can spot them pretty far out there are no indications of any comet or asteroid of planet killer size due to come close in 2012. We get a brush in 2029 then again in 2036 but at 45000 to one odds I am taking all bets for that. This can be my retirement... but again that is not 2012.

Next up is a reversal of the poles. Oh dear me No... It has happened a lot in the past but there is no pattern to suggest that it will happen in 2012 plus there will be BIG signs of it starting. ones you have a hard time missing. With the data mined so far we can expect a pole shift in about 5000-10,000 years or so but take note when these have occurred in the past no mass extinctions have occurred at the same time so I am not too worried if that does come. I will have to buy a new compass Grrr.

Let's talk about a solar flare ending our little corner of paradise. The short answer is No the long answer is, could a flare cause communication damage? Then Yes that could happen but there is no direct evidence to support a flare a (Solar flare of any type)causing mass extinction. Yes There are theories about a possible mass extinction eons ago due to a possible flare but It is a bit hard to swallow for me . To begin with our Sun is oh so stable; It just keeps going and going. In fact with Sunspot cycle 24 starting out so slow and quiet I am starting to wonder if another Maunder minimum is not a better prediction.But Our Earth is well positioned with it's ionosphere, magnetosphere and Van Allen radiation belts in place to fend off some very wicked flaresif they ever happen.

There are probably some more items up for killing off our planet but I said I would keep this short so in Short, Relax! Nothing is going to happen on Dec. 21 2012; You can bet me on it and if I am wrong by some slimmest of slim chances and the world does turn into a burned Marshmallow how would you collect ? until then guard your credit cards and...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Great Night To Watch A Shower

Saturday came early for me as it usually does. My internal clock will not let me sleep past 4:30 in the morning. I was busy about the task of finishing Honey do items for my wife and it hit me this was the 14th and I had an astronomy thing to do tonight. The Leonids are here and it was clear well clearish if you want to count thin cirrostratus clouds as clear. As the day wore on I had an eye on the sky. It was not looking too good for telescope work but one might be able to see some meteors looking through that thin soup aloft.

The Radio had been telling everyone to come out to Stonelick State Park for meteor watching and star gazing. Heck you could even get a free hot beverage and cookies. What a deal! How could one pass that up? I told the wife that the skies warranted going out and taking a look. I was issued a pass for the night and off I went! I landed there with plenty of time to set up my scope and get ready for the night. Then it started. The people came and came. I know there were at least 150 to 200 people there last night. Obviously free coffee will do that for an event! The crowd had nearly twenty scopes to choose from. Big light buckets to tiny refractors were to be found at this offering.

I was struck by this kid of no more than ten or twelve. He had this tiny refractor. I believe it was an Edmund. The tripod was so spindly and shaky it seemed more of a exercise in futility than in observation but there he was looking at star after star as he did not really know what to look for. The child would sight on one and call his Mom over who would patiently take a look and say oh that's a nice one and move back for the son to locate another. That made me smile for a lot of reasons. His Mom encouraging him, his determination, and the fact that he had not set that shaky thing on fire yet! I had a gentleman come up to me and ask if I could help him with his scope and I said sure thing. It was a cheap Galileo Reflector with a nice focuser on it with a filter wheel attached. It also had a hand paddle to move the scope around. It was his dad's and he had it for about two weeks. He got it because his Dad had passed away. I showed him some tricks to get the most from that shaky mount and tripod. He was very interested in looking through my scope so we started to cruise all the eye candy available on a crisp but very hazy November night.Some folks arrived at my scope to take a look and he told them That's my scope over there pointing to his Newtonian But I am having a hard time leaving this one. That has got to make you chuckle inside.

I had such a great time showing what limited items I could show as the high cirrus did not yield except for small pockets. (sucker holes) I had opportunity to show a boy really interested in astronomy, Jupiter Uranus and Neptune. He had never seen the outer two planets before. I hope the advice I gave on new scope purchase went well for those two couples I talked to.I have done so many of these star parties I have a standing list in my head of "stuff" that makes one's jaw drop. When they came over to me I would ask them what they had seen so far then I would say Ok How about we take a look at this... I always explain what it is they are looking at so they can get a feel for the object in the eyepiece. I had many return visits by folks that night. As meteors went we did not rack up too many. 6 was the number when I left at midnight. The die hards were still there but I could see thicker cover coming so I left. It was a great night. What did you do last night?
Until next week ...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Getting The Little Crusties Off Of Your Eyepieces

Cleaning eyepieces is an easy and essential step to getting the most out of your scope. Eyepieces, if dirty, will provide downright ugly images. While care should be exercised to prevent scratching the coatings, the eyepieces can be cleaned for decades without problems. Most eye

pieces don't come with cleaning instructions but take heart! An eyepiece is basically the same as a quality camera lens, the same cleaning techniques can be used. I have camera lenses and

eyepieces that have received regular cleanings for nearly thirty years with great results.

Important Side Note here: I don't know the effects of these cleaning techniques on telescope mirrors or fluorite elements. Follow your manufacturer's directions for cleaning those products.

Eyepieces need more frequent cleaning than objectives because they see more People interaction and so collect fingerprints, eyelash grease, etc. It is still best to not clean an optics that are not dirty, as then there is no chance of causing any scratches. But the oils in fingerprints and eyelash grease contain acids, and all sorts of other "Stuff" can collect on the eyepieces during normal use, and it is necessary to get these materials off your eyepiece to provide the best possible views and to prevent damage to the coatings. I had a child touch my eyepiece with a used sucker Oh yeah! I was loving that !!!

I have an eyepiece cleaning kit that is very portable. It is comprised of an anti-static brush, a microfiber cloth,Q-Tips, and a small bottle of alcohol (91% or better). We want alcohol and water as the only ingredients.The alcohol is stored in a small bottle.

To start cleaning, make sure the eyepiece is free of dirt, dust and grit. (I would not go this far Look at photo!) I examine the eyepiece under a good light I carefully blow on the surface, then lightly brush the surface with the anti-static brush. Once the surface of the eyepiece is free of dust and grit, examine it for smears or streaks of oil. If there are any, lightly moisten a Q-Tip with alcohol. Starting from the center, lightly rub the Q-Tip in a circular motion from the center out, until you are at the edge of the eyepiece element. Don't use a lot of alcohol, as you don't want the alcohol to pool and run under the edge of the eyepiece lens.Once you have cleaned the lens on the eyepiece, use the dry end of the Q-Tip and mop up the alcohol on the surface. Discard this used Q-Tip. It is important to mop up the excess alcohol as if it fully evaporates, it will redeposit the oils and grease back on the lens. You can safely perform the alcohol cleaning again with a fresh Q-Tip if necessary. feel free to change out Q tips regularly

Next up, I will reexamine the eyepiece again under a bright light. Often it is impossible to get all the grease and oil off the lens without irrigating the eyepiece with alcohol. This is where the microfiber cloth comes in. If necessary, I gently polish the surface of the eyepiece with the microfiber cloth, after again examining for dust, which traps any residual oil and grease within the cloth. Once you are done cleaning, recap your eyepieces

Remember, the only thing that is going to scratch your eyepieces is dust and grit. Remove that first. Keep your anti-static brush, Q-Tips, and cleaning cloth or tissues in a dust free container so that they can't cause any scratches. Use gentle pressure with the Q-Tips and cloth. Rubbing harder won't pick up more grease. i hope this helps as You well know by Now My scope does a lot of public duty and hence needs a lot of eyepiece cleanings Until next week ...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cleaning Your Schmidt Cassegrain Corrector Plate

Oh yes the day will come when you look through your scope and say I have discovered Dark Matter ! (all over my corrector plate). That's right. Demon Dust, the scourge of the astronomical world and it's sidekick Pollen have descended upon your corrector lens. What to do? What to do? Have No fear People of SCT land. The solution is in hand. How did it get to this stage you say? The biggest contributor to a dirty corrector lens is dew. I have lived in some oh so very humid places where my dew zapper and shield were no match for the dewing forces of Mother Nature.When that dews dries off eventually it tends to "glue" down the dust that was present on the lens during the dewing event. Here are a couple of preventative tips for not ruining your corrector plate. Never put your wet scope in its case and close it The reason is the insidious Nair-do-well, Fungal growth might come a calling. Folks this is a bad thing. Fungus can ruin the coatings on the surface of the Corrector as well as any other optical surface. Do not cap your corrector plate let the morning take care of drying it out or if you have a dew gun (akin to a hairdryer)Take care of the dew in that manner. You could just take it inside and set the scope up pointed down to attract less dust and let it dry out that way. The big thing here is knowing dew is your enemy. One last thing do not wipe the dew off. the impurities will not go away and you will take a chance on scratching the lens and you do not want or need that in your life.

Before cleaning your lens off, you may ask: Just how much dust warrants cleaning your Corrector? That is a splendid question and I see you are on top of your game but the answer is simple or not so simple. Only you will know when enough is enough. Some folks are anal about dust way more than others. A small amount of dust is not going to affect your scope very much at all. The only exception to that rule is if slap on the Solar filter and take a gander at the sun . You might find a few "extra" sunspots that seem to move when the scope moves. I had a child point that out to me last weekend. So in that case you might want somewhat of a pristine lens for your solar work.

Step one in the cleaning process is getting the BIG stuff off. There are two major schools of thought here. The first school of thought is to use canned air to dislodge any particles from the corrector. I do subscribe to this method if all of the safety precautions are used. Number one the Can-O-Air must be for optical surfaces and not for electronics etc... You do not know if the propellant in the electronic cleaner might just "clean" your coatings right off the lens which you might have guessed would not be favorable. With Optical air can in hand and your telescope parallel with the ground (corrector is perpendicular to the floor) Use 2-4 second bursts spraying at an angle to the corrector plate and about 12 inches away from the lens. make sure the can is upright when spraying to insure propellant is not splattered onto the lens This might be all you need to do. In most cases that is all you need to do. Throw the lens cap on it and go get on that Honey "dew" list. A second school of thought is to use a camel hair brush to lightly brush away the offending mote. Yes I have used this method many times if I did not have my Can-O-Air handy and always with success. the third school of thought is using a lens pen to take off the big chunks.

For those that find themselves with stuff that did not come off or a film of impurities from a dew event it is onto step two. For this step you will need Lens cleaning tissue I recommend the Kodak brand I have used them for years with no regrets do not skimp here. Do not use the tissues used to clean eyeglasses also Do not use stuff that is reusable like the soft cleaning cloth. I never know when they need laundered and I never know if the stuff in the cloth all came out in the laundry. There are too many variables here to make me comfortable using them. I do use Kleenex brand white no additives "Plain Jane" tissues They are soft and work very well. They are actually softer than Kimwipes. First thing is to use the tissue with your breath condensation on the lens. Wipe in a linear path and change the area of the tissue every time you make a pass to insure a new section of tissue is doing the wiping. If the breath condensation does not do the trick for the spots smudges etc use of a cleaning fluid is next in the progression. Again Kodak makes a fine cleaning solution or you could make your own and some folks do. (I do) If this is something you want to have a go at then visit Clay Sharrod's site for an RTF version of his cleaning method. Please note Clay does not like compressed air and uses a brush to dust. working in small areas and always following with a dry tissue and always in a straight path will insure a clean corrector with no streaks remember to do this type of cleaning sparingly only when it really needs it You can ensure many years of great observing using these simple methods. Next week we will touch on eyepiece cleaning, and let me tell, you when you have the public take a look through your scope you will have everything from suckers to mascara smearing the eyepiece!!! until then'

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T