Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Messier Marathon

The time is spring when a young man's fancy turns to love, or in my case the annual Messier Torture Session er... I mean Marathon. I have bested this yearly quest a handful of times in my many years at the eyepiece. The Messier Marathon is a catalog of 110 or 109 plus a duplicate deep space objects(depending on who you are talking to)They range from double stars to galaxies.Throw in some gorgeous nebulae, globulars and some open clusters and you can see what I am talking about when I say wondrous stuff.

This particular catalog has a funny story in that Charles Messier was a Comet hunter and back in the 1700's that was a very good thing to be. In his endeavors to find these elusive frozen snowballs traveling to and fro he kept on being fooled by these objects that never seemed to move within the framework of the stars. Most were fuzzy looking balls or disks just like his target of choice but they were definitely not comets. Charles set pen to paper and started to catalog these objects so that he would not waist his time on them again. Little did he know that he was cataloging many of the most beautiful objects that can readily be seen from earth using a small telescope! The catalog was finished after his death. His notes were gone over and over until the final 110 objects were published. Now, we here in the 21st century use his catalog more than any other catalog when we are describing a night sky wonder to the general public.So much for the short history lesson.

Mid March till the beginning weeks of April are the best times to chase these items down in a single night if you live in the mid to northern lattitudes! So how do you do it? Number one consideration is to have a plan to hit them all. Now as for me? Yes I do have a plan but I have seen folks make a plan that just sucks the fun right out of the Messier madness.For this here if it is going to be fun then I am not all that hot on doing it. That said if you are amped up on Nodoze  or monster energy drink, love sleep deprivation and are easily frustrated by not finding your quarry right at first then this my friends is your lucky day. You will have gobs of fun.Now I know Some old-timers are going to drop their teeth when I say this but I really do not care if you use a GOTO scope or not when you are doing the Messier Marathon. I say anything that gets you out under the stars and looking at the wonders of the universe is OK with me Most old-timers in this thing we call astronomy did the Messier Marathon on a manual scope. They Star hopped using a star chart and a finder scope to track down those beautiful adornments of the night. So did I!  there is nothing better in the world than to get that chart out and line those stars in your finder and start scanning the sky then...Whooo Hoo Man when you find it! I then did a little sketch of it. That way you can verify what you have seen and it makes you a better observer.

There are many plans and sequences out there to follow but the one I use and always have used is the Astronomical league Messier Observers log and You can find it here.  This Logbook is great It has a sequence to follow and has room to do a sketch and fill in information about the object. Keep in mind You will be at this list from sundown till sunup. There will be times that you will be huffing and puffing trying to get all of the targets down in that area. Following that melee you will have a break for a few minutes to get something to eat and shoot the breeze with the other annual slaves to Messier's list. Then it's back to the eyepiece, (Jolt cola in hand) and off you go to nab another twenty of those elegant orbs of wonder.Those with a GOTO scopes might get a ribbing but here is the thing... The GOTO guys get more time on target than the searchers and that my friends is the name of the game. Now a word to those GOTO guys out there.  Please give the manual method a try. It will sharpen your skills and really make you appreciate that little brain hiding in your scope     Until next time...
Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Weekend Full Of Fun And Fond Remeberances

Whew!What a weekend. I had Friday started off with a meeting of the Cincinnati Astronomical Society. I was getting prepared for my meeting with the board ( I am a Vice President) When I got copied on a curious email. The 19th was a scheduled event for the Hamilton county parks district spring night hike. The hike ends with people gathered around a telescope or three to look at the amazing Heavens above. I was blessed with the opportunity to host the winter night hike in Dec .It was a 20 degree night but my scope performed flawlessly. The event being held at the same time as the monthly meeting made for a little problem of staffing the event.I thought we had it staffed going into the afternoon... The email came reading that the point guy may not make it because he was feeling ill. The one thing that I have found in life is you need to be a man of your word and if the Club promised to be there then we would be there . I called the president and canceled my appearance at the meeting and got my gear loaded. I showed up as they were taking the first group out yes first group there were three groups total making about 40-50 people in attendance. I was a little worried about eye/ scope time.I informed the directors Jen and Lynette of the personnel change and she just could not get over the fact that I would drop club business to come and do the event. I simply told her that the event was my business and the club's. The CAS has been doing public events for 100 years. We are dedicated to bringing astronomy and all it's wonders to the public. The other astro-volunteer, Joe showed up a little late but was set up in no time. He had brought two scopes with him. So in the end we had three scopes setup and swinging all over the sky. The biggest crowd pleaser was The Moon followed by the Orion Nebula. Mars was a treat as well for everyone. It was a fantastic night for all that came to the Night Hike. This is just the first of many opportunities between the Hamilton Parks Outdoors program and the CAS for 2010!

Saturday brought to us International Sidewalk Astronomy Day! I am sure you have celebrated it in style like me! The Cincinnati Observatory had several site set up around the city  The skies did not look promising. I kept a weather eye out all day long wondering if it was going to be a washout. 7:00 PM rolled around and the Skies started to clear out as if on cue. I was to turn eye after eye to the sky at my site on the Northwest side of town. People started coming by saying they had seen the advertisements Over a hundred pairs of hungry eyes looked through my scope and got a show even in the bright light polluted sky. I was able to get my scope on Venus  hanging low in the sky and looking quite dreadful . But She was greeted by wow and cool which is just what the beautiful Venus loves to hear. Mars was also out and at nearly the zenith  it was a crowd pleaser as well. But the item that stole the most hearts this night was the Moon. I had so much foot traffic going to Blockbuster. Little did they know this night they would get a movie and a show!I had a woman of about mid twenties coming out of Blockbuster and going to her Car when I asked excuse me  would you like to see the moon?  She stopped in her tracks  and looked at me  then said:"You know I have never looked through a telescope. Why sure!" she walked right over and took a look  at the moon and she said Oh MY God that is soo beautiful. So I invited her to come by the COC one night to look through one their big scopes. She just might  Oh and then  I had a boomerang also this night. By that I mean I had a family come by and look at the planets and Moon  They said thank you  as they were probably my most excited family of the night about an hour later  The Dad shows back up and asked do you remember me? I said sure why? He said he had been contemplating getting a scope but wanted to ask me a couple of questions about mine. I told him that is a fine approach to have. I had time to go over a few thing about my scope and scopes in general. He then left with a better understanding of what a scope could do and how much is a good price for a scope.  So was the international sidewalk astronomy day a success? Well here at Blockbuster it sure was!

Sunday brought a final farewell to a great man in astronomy. Dick Wessling was celebrated on this day and so many folks came out to see his life and remember him as one with so much talent. I heard story after story about Dick from his favorite beer, MGD, to skiing, to playing The base fiddle  and drumming. His mirrors are legendary and there were plenty of pictures touting his telescope making. I was glad I came to get to know this man a bit better even after his passing. Dick will be missed greatly by all.  I was a little late in posting this. I have been very busy with work and astronomy events.  I have two more blogs I am working on and will try and crank them out this week.
until then ...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Moon Struck!!!

That's right the Tunnel reads Moonville. It was built in 1806 The town is long gone but the tunnel still remains. This particular tunnel is located in South Central Ohio near Hope Lake.

The single biggest thing to look at during a Public stargaze is the Moon. just last night in fact...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. 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 application I really 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 Tranquility 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

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dick Wessling Has Passed His Legend Carries On In His Mirrors

The world is a less colorful place now that Dick Wessling has passed. Dick left us on St. Patrick's day. He loved the stars and skiing and beer and pushing glass. The term pushing glass referrs to making Astronomical mirrors and he was good at it. One of the best I have ever met. This is short but I did want you to raise a glass of stout to the memory of Dick Wessling tonight He would have loved it. BTW Here is Dick cleaning a lens of the 12" F/15 Brashear refractor for the University of Illinois@Urbana/ Champaign Another Mike Lockwood photo.

Until the next time

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dick Wessling : A Tribute To Gifted Hands

When the weekend rolls around I can hardly wait to sit down and crank out a blog for this site I love writing about all things Space but this my friends is a very sad day in that I have to report that Richard Wessling of Pines Optical has suffered a massive stroke. It is one that he will not recover from, in fact he is slipping away as I write this. My heart goes out to all of Dick's family. I am here to celebrate the Man and his gift for pushing glass.

There are few people that could create mirrors for telescopes like Dick Wessling.(pictured on the right) He just had the touch. I have looked through some very fine telescopes with mirrors ground to as fine as 1/ 20 wave or better, all of Wessling origin . If you were an amateur
telescope maker you could always and I do mean always count on Dick for advice.

Dick worked at the 3M Precision Optics plant on the east side of Cincinnati for many years as senior specialist
for analysis and testing. He started making astronomical mirrors as far back as 1965. His uncompromising quality has carried through all these years. In 1991 Dick started the Pines optical company Grinding mirrors for customers all over the world. The greatest compliment can be found when competing Telescope companies would offer the option of installing a Wessling mirror.Dick was a busy man knocking out Glass in his spare time while working still at 3M. The orders started to pile up (what a pleasant problem to have) so he retired from 3M in 2006 to devote his full attention to making superb mirrors.When Dick had a moment or two he helped to clean the Lenses on the Cincinnati Observatory's two big scopes, the 1904 16" Alvan Clark and the 1842 11.25" Merz und Mahler

Some of Dicks accomplishments are as follows:
Ground hundreds of astronomical mirrors
Built from scratch over 25 telescopes
Provided advice, counsel, encouragement and friendship to hundreds of ATM'ers
Recognized on a national level as an outstanding ATM'er
Assistant Coordinator Instruments Section-Association of Lunar & Planetary Observers
Contributed several articles to ATM magazines
President of the Cincinnati Astronomical Association-the Telescope Making Organization
President of the Cincinnati Astronomical Society

I wish someday to have a list of accomplishments. I can only hope to get in the same county of the ballpark with this great man

Until the next time,

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dark Matter... Riddle Me This

When looking at the theories for Dark matter from afar, it seems kind of humorous in a way when none of our instruments can detect it yet.(Current picture of Dark matter as shown on a black background) Sorry could not resist... Scientists are not 100% certain it exists. Dark matter is one of the few theories that is being used to explain the problem of unaccounted for mass in observed galaxies. Kindly note that mass is not weight in the way we describe it here on Earth. Mass is the quantity of matter an objects consists of. Weight is the effect gravity has on it. Since, by nature, dark matter is not detectable with conventional technology due to it's inability to emit radiation or light It is essentially invisible. To see Dark "Stuff" astronomers look at the behavior of objects near the dark matter.

One of the first to recognize something just wasn't adding up was Fritz Zwicky a Bulgarian born Swiss but worked in America astrophysicist. His "observations" of dark matter were done while studying the motions of faraway galaxies in 1933. Zwicky estimated the mass of the observed galaxies by measuring their brightness. He then used a different computation method to determine the mass. Hold the Phone! The result was 400 times larger than his initial method. Oddly enough Zwicky's research results were a lot like Dark matter. They were unnoticed until the 70's of the 20th century - losing decades of potential research in this field. Scientists realized that Zwicky's observations could explain some of their own. Today , dark matter is being taken seriously.

Some astronomers believe that over 20% of our universe is made up of what we call "dark matter", and another 67% of dark energy. Oh and the stuff we are familiar with and can actually look at only takes up 10% of the universe. Our universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy, whatever they may be. The number might even be closer to 95% for Dark matter/energy.

Recently (2006) British researchers from the University of Cambridge made some interesting discoveries. Their calculations show that dark matter particles are moving at an amazing speed of 9 kilometers per second, a lot faster than previously thought. The researchers have also been able to determine the temperature of this particular dark matter, 10,000 °C.

Enough of all that... what is dark energy/ mass? The club seems to be getting crowded with MACHOs (MAssive Compact Halo Objects) and WIMPS ( Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) and Nonbaryonic particles This is mass but not Electrons Protons or Neutrons. Other candidates include Neutrinos and the evil twin,Massive Neutrinos, Axions, and supersymetric particles like Neutralinos . I do have to say that MACHOs have pretty much been voted out of the club since they do not come in large enough numbers to be a player but I love the acronym so I included it.WIMPS are making a case for the lead so far. Image Credit: Sky & Telescope / Gregg Dinderman

Right Now we are all over the map but Scientists have come to some conclusions. Dark Matter is most likely Nonbaryonic in nature, so generally the dark matter debate falls into one of three camps ( I will get to the alternate theories in a few ) Hot Dark Matter, Warm Dark Matter and oh yes, Cold Dark Matter. Each one right now has some of the questions answered but not all of them. Every day we are learning something more about the world we live in. I will lightly touch on alternate theories, well some of them.

The biggest line of reason to scrap the whole dark matter thing lies in our possibly incomplete understanding of gravity. Several system are being proposed but all have problems that cannot be answered yet.The MOdified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) is one such theory. That theory has trouble reconciling the gravitational lensing events as Light is bent around galaxies from further out sources. Other systems trying to answer the problem of who hid the mass in the universe include The Tensor-Vector-Scalar which answers a bunch of the question of early models. Quantum mechanics has a candidate in there too and there is the Dark fluid answer. So far nothing is certain except we do not know yet. I suspect we will in the mid future. I look forward to that day when one team takes the prize and gets the Nike endorsements! All of the others start working on the next big thing... Until then ...

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fun with Dr. Heidi Hammel

I had the privilege to sit down and be wowed by Dr. Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder Colorado. She was in Cincinnati for a couple of days and was kind enough to pay the Cincinnati Observatory a visit and give a presentation on the Ice Giants, Uranus and Neptune. Dr. Hammel is the senior research scientist at the SSI.

A little back ground might be in order here so here goes...She received her undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982 and her Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the University of Hawaii in 1988. After a post-doctoral position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California), Hammel returned to MIT, where she spent nearly nine years as a Principal Research Scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. Hammel primarily studies outer planets and their satellites, with a focus on observational techniques.An expert on the planet Neptune, she was a member of the Imaging Science Team for the Voyager 2 encounter with the gas giant in 1989. Her latest research involves studies of Neptune and Uranus with Hubble and other Earth-based observatories like the Keck 2 Telescope and the NASA infrared Telescope located on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Dr.Hammel is also an Interdisciplinary Scientist for Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled for launch in 2011. She is designing the workings of the Webb Space Telescope. Hammel received the 2002 American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (AAS/DPS) Sagan Medal for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public.

I have heard a lot of PHD speak before. Dry stodgy and overhead of all but two people in the room. You know them well I suspect. Well Heidi Hammel was none of those things. The Sagan Medal is well deserved I can tell you. Dr. Hammel has a wonderful delivery of the facts that are wrapped in her personality. She is entertaining and engaging. Because of Heidi Hammel, we now know so much more than ever about Uranus and Neptune. When Voyager took some pictures of Uranus and sent them back to the JPL in Pasadena for study there just wasn't much to study. After weeks of careful study they were able to come up with ten clouds mixed in the haze that is Uranus. The Hubble Space Telescope and the Keck Telescope with its new adaptive optics changed how we look at Uranus and Neptune. For Uranus, the surface came alive with dark spots, clouds and even subtle banding showed up. The rings of Uranus came alive showing more detail than one would even have hoped for.

We now know Uranus and Neptune are very dynamic. A lot of questions are being raised because of these new discoveries, like what makes Neptune warmer than Uranus? How about Why do the Huge Dark spots on Neptune disapear and then reapear at other areas? These stochastic changes shouldn't happen within a year or so time frame. Let's try a 100 years for these big changes to occur. That is, with our current models. It looks like our current models might need a slight tuneup.

There are no other flybys till 2015 by New Horizons on its way to Pluto. (Does poor Pluto still need to be capitalized or have the powers that be stripped Pluto of that dignity also?) Just kidding there IAU! There is nothing more scheduled for the future so ground based telescopes will start picking up the slack more and more. Hubble will not be around forever maybe 5 -8 more years?

The James Webb Telescope set to launch into space in 2011 may be a help. It is a massive 6.5 meter space telescope looking at the universe in infrared.I believe infrared is really the next big thing. We can see farther back in time. We can see temperature changes using Infrared which is a big deal as far as research is concerned it tells a lot about what is going in on with the target.

I did get a one question interview with her. Yeah I know, Steve! You carry some clout! I told her about my blog and that I would make her famous. That made her laugh and she granted me the Mini-interview. After all, we had to eat some cake for the Cincinnati Observatory Center's director Craig Niemi's birthday. My Question was of all the things Dr. Hammel has had a hand in, what was the single thing that she is most fond of? Her answer was the Shoemaker Levy 9 comet impact on Jupiter. You might remember her. She was the media goto person for the science community when all this was happening. I think I saw her on all of the channels at one point or another describing this event. It was unexpected and for her to witness it while it was unfolding was amazing to say the least. That was her biggest wow. One thing that touches me about Dr. Heidi Hammel is the fact that she loves public outreach. She gets it, she really does about making astronomy and its related fields come alive for people. Out reach that might one day start the dreams of the next Kepler or Galileo. Until next Time...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Torn Between Two Loves

Ahhh the love of adventure! That's the life for me... If you are an Astronaut, (or a pirate) you either said those very words or at the very least, think them on a daily basis. Man is a curious beast and will stop at nothing to be the first to see what is around the next bend. That very essence of mankind runs deep in the bowels of NASA. In the early 60's NASA launched an unprecedented program to get a man on the Moon but not just to do a walkabout up there but to establish a base there (by 1980) and from there set forth on even more adventures reaching out to Mars and beyond. Them was some big plans I tell you! Driven by a political undercurrent, the NASA group did succeed in their first goal. They had men playing golf on the Moon! OK maybe THAT was not one of their goals but they did have men doing the exploring on our closest neighbor. Things were moving along fairly well. NASA was always pushing the envelope which is just exactly where Mankind feels at home.

Enter political change and a couple of this and thats and the Moon budget dried up. There was a sense of "been there done that " going on in congress and they do indeed write the checks. Man has a deep seated need to reach out and find the unexplored from the depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of our Solar system. Man just has to know what is out there and why. It needs to be hands on with our own eyes. We have a need to be the first to see the Lunar regolith up close and personal or hopefully one day to set foot on Mars. It's just what we do.

This is unfortunately where Romance meets Reality. I am a romantic at heart; I live for the next big adventure but when you live on or in a giant gravity well such as Earth it gets a bit pricey to send people anywhere. NASA so gets that. Just one look at the launch budget for the Space shuttle tells that tale. So where to turn? The simple fact that the money dried up in no way quenched that deep burn in Mankind to get out and explore. What it did do for NASA was to bring robotics and remote controlled orbiters and landers and explorers and surveyors to the front and boy did they come to the front.

This is where my Second love comes into play, The Love of Gizmos! I am a full fledged dues paying member Fully vested member of the Man Club and I love Toys. One look at my telescope room will tell you that. From making telescopes accessories to collecting all those bells and whistles, Oh and do not get me started on tools that's me! For a Guy who has got it bad (and I do ) Nothing beats making something and actually have it work! Just making it is enough for me but when it actually works? That makes it all the better. That's when it is time to do the victory dance. So when I see the pictures sent by the Cassini probe streaming back from almost a Billion miles away to my TV there is only one thing to be said here. I got to get me one of those!

Mars is starting to look like the Atlanta flight pattern. The ESA, NASA, Russia... have hardware flying and sending back data about our neighbor. The continuing development of Gizmos is growing by leaps and bounds. Cameras are getting better and smaller. Detectors looking for life are getting more sophisticated by the day. Developing these new technologies for space have some very usable applications here on Earth as well. From exploring the depths of the ocean to keeping soldiers safe on the battlefield, these technologies are here to stay. Right now, Scientists are struggling with data interpretation but in a very few years our means to detect life from a handful of dirt on a planet millions upon millions of miles away will be a walk in the park.

Yep,That's where I am, torn by the love of adventure. (to boldly go where no man has gone before) Reaching to touch the face of God kind of exploring versus the mind bending discoveries made by the armada of space probes headed to and fro in search of the next big thing.They are cheaper to send and basically more bang for the buck. Right now, I am leaning towards the Doodad Gizmo front for the sciences to be conducted. But now here is a thought for you. Is manned space flight a thing of the past? Private companies are saying no and are banking on it as well. The applications of private carrier space flight are nearly limitless from satellite hauling for governments to tourism to eventually Asteroid mining to on and on... So take heart my sea /sky faring souls. There is hope for our adventures to continue Until then I will just have to watch my Star Trek video collection...

Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Carnival of Space #140

I love this shirt!
Greetings. The fine folks over at Universe Today sponsor a Carnival of Space. You might ask what is a carnival? This Carnival is a collection of very noteworthy Astronomy/Space blogs from all over the internet. Catch up on what is going on at several blogs at once by just going to one site. Ahhh T that's technology at its finest. The host of this great Carnival hails from the blog, Lights in the Dark. Jason Major is an avid lover of all things Planet ! Take a look at this wonderful Carnival Oh and I have an article in there as well.

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Blog Is One Year Old!

Wow! Has it been a year already? I have been plugging along with this blog for a whole year and now have people taking a look at it on a regular basis. I am honored that you do. I have very much so enjoyed sharing with you the wonders and beauty that astronomy holds. This year is going to be a real fun time. I look forward to sharing so much more . This blog is possible because of you. Your comments good or bad are always welcome. This year let's all of us take some time to get out and look at the stars. For me there is no better stress reliever than to gaze at nebula and galaxies galore till the cares of the day drift away. Hey I am easily entertained . Keep in mind I think erasers are magical. Feel free to leave a birthday greeting on my blog. Until the next time,

Clear Skies and great seeing too

Steve T

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tackling a 16 " Alvan Clark and Sons Refractor

I just got back from learning to master a beautiful telescope at the Cincinnati Observatory Center.the Telescope was a 16" Alvan Clark and Sons Refracting telescope built in 1904. If you are doing the math , that makes this scope about 106 years old and it is still going strong! There were so many stories to go along with learning an old scope operation from the Pre electric drive system to the Clocks stored in the basement that send signals to a chronograph (also weight driven ) to note observations happening to the tenth of a second. This was a research telescope back in the day. This is what the Cincinnati Observatory believes is a picture of its own 16" being put together in the shops of Alvan Clark and sons. This telescope is used on a regular basis by the public here in Cincinnati. The days of using this instrument for research have passed or have they? The support group of the Observatory FOTO friends of the observatory have acquired a new camera and have started on the road to discovering exoplanets using the photometry method. Research is back in the Clark dome and feeling very at home doing it too. The Cincinnati Observatory is run pretty much by volunteers. In keeping with a promise made by the founder of this great observatory Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel , every Thursday night is free to the public. I am proud to serve as a Presenter at the COC. Using this scope and being able to share not only the richness of the night sky with folks but also regale the public with the history that is the Observatory. From Presidents laying the cornerstone to the many wonders discovered right here in these buildings The Observatory has something for everyone. The training took some 2 hours to complete and it seemed like two minutes as time flew by I was very much taken with this Scope. It has served Cincinnati well these 106 years and shall serve another 106. Until next time,

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hard Stuff Made Easy! Distance

Today I am posting from a remote site which some how seems appropriate since today's topic is on astronomical measurements. The first thing to consider when talking about anything in space is the distance between two objects is usually insanely far apart.

Within the Solar system we usually stick to miles or kilometers. Even the far out ice ball called Neptune is measured in km all 4,553,946,490 of them. Now that is a whole lot of kilometers to be sure. the real problem is to get that distance to a manageable number. Enter the AU or Astronomical unit. This unit has been many different Values throughout history. Aristarchus of Samos Greece had first stab at it. He said it was about 20 times the distance to the Moon. the ratio is about 390 times! He was wrong about that distance but he was right about a heliocentric system. Ptolemy by the second century had the distance at about 20 radii of the earth. We now have come to the conclusion and standardized by the IAU the distance of149,597,871 km (92,960,000 miles) to be the winning number Using this AU value Neptune at 4.5 billion and change converts to 30.1 AU. Ahhh much better.
  • The Moon is 0.0026 ± 0.0001 AU from the Earth
  • The Earth is 1.00 ± 0.02 AU from the Sun
  • Mars is 1.52 ± 0.14 AU from the Sun
  • Jupiter is 5.20 ± 0.05 AU from the Sun
  • Pluto is 39.5 ± 9.8 AU from the Sun
  • The Kuiper belt begins at roughly 35 AU
  • Beginning of Scattered Disc at 45 AU (10 AU overlap with Kuiper Belt)
  • Ending of Kuiper Belt at 50-55 AU
  • 94 AU:Termination shock between Solar winds/Interstellar winds/interstellar medium
  • 100 AU:Heliosheath
  • 110 AU: As of June 2009, Voyager1 is the furthest of any human-made objects from the Sun: it is currently travelling at about 3½ AU/yr
  • 100-1000 AU: Mostly populated by objects from the Scattered Disc
  • 1000-3000 AU: Beginning of Hills cloud/"Inner Ort cloud"
  • 20,000 AU: Ending of Hills Cloud/"Inner Oort Cloud", beginning of "Outer Oort Cloud"
  • 50,000 AU: possible closest estimate of the "Outer Oort Cloud" limits (0.8 ly)
  • 100,000 AU: possible farthest estimate of the "Outer Oort Cloud" limits (1.6 ly)
  • 125,000 AU: maximum extent of influence of the Sun's Gravitational field (Hill Roche sphere). beyond this is trueInterstellar medium. This distance is roughly 1.8-2.0 light-years
  • Proxima Centari(the nearest star to Earth, excluding our own Sun) is ~268 000 AU away from the Sun
  • The mean diameter of Betelgeuse is 5.5 AU (822 800 000 km)
  • The distance from the Sun to the centre of the Milky way is approximately 1.7 × 109 AU

But even the AU has its limits. When we talk about how far a star or even better a galaxy is to Earth, the AU starts looking like those numbers followed by a thousand Zeros! well not quite that bad but you get the picture. BIG! The answer was hidden in the speed of light. Light travels at 186,000(approx) miles a second. so after one year of travel how far could you go? How about about 5,878,630,000,000 miles or so. Just about 6 trillion miles equals 1 light year. that sounds pretty doable as far as distance to the way out stuff. The light year was hardly embraced by the science community.

But hang on what about the Really far out stuff that made the Light year value look crazily huge?Enter the Parsec. the parsec arrives at its figure using the parallax of the Sun- Earth and distant objects through trigonometry. The Parsec has a value of 3.26 Light years. Well that helps a bit more to get some of those Galaxies that are so far out a little more manageable. I know this is a short post but Sometime you just have to drive two hours on no notice to shovel snow off your parents drive. I will post more tomorrow
Until then ,

Clear skies and great seeing too


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hard Stuff Made Easy!

Have you ever walked in to a Foreign language class that only spoke the language being taught? I had the misfortune of doing that in College. I had no idea what anyone was saying and it was very confusing for me. After a week of that assault, I dropped the class. It was not profiting me in any way and was way over my head. That's a whole lot like astronomy in many ways. I was fourteen at the time and I had found this Astronomy club to go to. I had been in the astronomy game for half of my young life so I knew my way around the sky pretty well. I came in to the club meeting and sat down to listen in on the goings on of this club. I remember a giant argument ensuing over proper motion or something. I am judging by the looks around the room it was over the heads of 95 % of the people sitting there. I left and called my parents for a pickup. I made a promise to my self that night that I would try to make astronomy easy for people to understand. So with that in mind...I am going to go over some words commonly used in astronomy and explain them so you can get a clear understanding of the word and it meaning. Right now, I am working on a primer for new amateur astronomers. For new astronomers entering the game we love so well it is a difficult thing to grasp if you have no frame work from which to build your knowledge. So let's take a look at where we live and learn a few words that will make us look good when we throw them out there in a conversation with your fellow starry eyed friends.

Every thing in the Solar system orbits (circles) around the Sun. You might say now hold on! The Moon orbits around the Earth and I would say that is correct but Mother Earth drags the Moon right with her as she makes her way around the Sun. In the bigger picture the Moon does orbit the Sun also. This truth can be applied to all the planets as well as comets asteroids. So Now you have an idea of what is going on in the Solar system. Let's talk about the orbits of these planets for a minute.

The orbits of the planets are not circular They are really ellipsoidal ( a stretched out circle) and the ellipse is not centered around the Sun. That means sometime the Planet is closer to the Sun than other times. For a planet, the closest approach to the Sun on it's orbit is called Perihelion and of course if there is a closest, there must be a farthest point of the orbit also and that is known as Aphelion. That's pretty easy to follow for the most part. Each planet has their own aphelion and perihelion but when we are observing them there are other terms that pop up.

For the inner planets from Earth, Venus and Mercury never seem to too far away from the horizon. From Earth's vantage point, the farthest away from the Sun mercury gets is 28.7 degrees. Venus is 47 degrees. Earth's orbit and inner planets has to be just in the right spot and that spot for Mercury or Venus to briefly hang is called Greatest elongation. Since Mercury is orbiting the Sun in 88 days and Earth orbits in 365, the angle of separation for viewing mercury changes quickly. In other words sometimes Mercury is in front of the sun or behind it in relationship to earth. In either case, we can not see the fleet afoot Mercury. These spots in the orbit where this happens when observing from Earth are called Superior conjunction and inferior conjunction (inferior means Mercury or Venus is between the earth and the Sun while Superior means the Sun is directly between the Earth and either Mercury or Venus) Another interesting feature of Venus and Mercury are that they have phases like the Moon. (crescent, quarter, gibbous and full. Astronomers will give a percentage of the disk illuminated for these two.

The Outer planets(Superior planets), Mars and beyond play a little different. These planets have no phases. They show a full disk at all times towards Earth. Alas there are times when you can't see them due to their position in relationship with earth and the Sun (sound familiar?) Sometimes the planet is directly behind the sun and that is definitely a no see (They are in Conjunction with the Sun) but after it clears the Sun's disk it could be seen if it were not daylight. When it is dark and we are looking away from the sun any planets that are on the same side of the solar system as earth can be seen at night! When the orbits are as close as they are going to get for the year the two planets are said to be in Opposition. Mars will be in Opposition to Earth on Jan 29th, 2010.It is a great time to get to a Telescope and take a look. Saturn will be in Opposition on March21st, 2010.

A curious thing happens at Opposition the Planet appears to start working its way to the east then it starts to move west again. This odd happening is called Retrograde motion. Most of the time The outer planets seem to orbit just fine in Regular motion. The appearance of going backward is caused by The earth passing the outer planet and by doing this, gives the illusion of the reverse course. So now we know where we are in the solar system compared to the other planets and how it works generally. That is a frame work. Next week we talk about distance...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Astronomy on a Budget

In this climate of economic chaos, budgets for astronomical gear have taken a hit. I get that I have 5 kids and if it came down to feeding the kids or getting one of those new Ethos eyepieces then I would have to choose... OK let's choose something else, like a new diagonal. I would have to choose feeding my kids in that case! So with that in mind, let's look at some options that have a future for expansion later when we have some extra cash laying around.

Telescopes and binoculars both serve the astronomical community well. I have friends that swear by binoculars. I have friends that swear by the telescope. For those of you who are budget minded and new to astronomy then choose a good set of binocs. One very good reason is if you find that astronomy just is not your bag (perish the thought) and you stop looking up at night then you still have a good set of binocs to take to the game or the lake or any where else you care to go. The same can not be said for a telescope. It will set in your study for awhile until the spouse gets tired of looking at it. The scope then will migrate to the garage or closet or even worse the basement never to see the light of day except when it is thrown out.

Binoculars can see a bunch of stuff. The Astronomical league has a Binocular Messier Award so obviously you can see some pretty good looking items out there. With binoculars in hand, will you be able to split Antares into a double star? Uh No... but you will get to see some clusters that clamor for a wide field of view to appreciate them. You can pick up a very serviceable pair of binoculars for 75 to 200 dollars. Something with say 8X50 or better 10X50 is all the better. 7X35 in my opinion will not deliver some of the eye candy you are wanting to look at. I have a pair of 7X35 that I just can't see the Galilean moons of Jupiter. On the other hand I have a pair of 10X50 binoculars that serve up those four moons with good detail. Do some research on them. Those 7X35 I have, never get outside unless I need extra pairs for folks to look through.

What if you are still underfunded and still have that champagne taste? A telescope is what you want and a pair of binocs will just not cut it no way no how. Then by all means let's look at a usable telescope for not a boat load of money. The first telescope that comes to mind is an Meade ETX90 goto scope. The optics on these scopes are fantastic considering the cost. The mechanics and electronics are a bit suspect. Remember you are going to have to live with some headaches considering the minuscule cash outlay. I chose the ETX for a good reason. when you get more toys later on like a 8" or bigger Schmidt Cassegrain telescope you can demount the ETX and use it for a guide scope or keep it intact and use it for a grab and go scope. You have a few options here and when we are talking frugality, options are good! For roughly the same price of an ETX 90 you can get a 6" Newtonian telescope on a Dobsonian mount. ^' dobs come in all kinds of flavors the Orion Starblast 6" is a tabletop size affair or a regular size newt can go about 4-5 feet long. The bigger the more problematic they are for travel but the trade off is they are more forgiving in mirror alignment (collimation) than a faster scope /shorter tube. You will have to learn the sky but that is not such a big deal and it is very rewarding as well. Dobs are not go to scopes at the entry level. As options go for me I get the starblast because it can act as a grab and go later on when you graduate to the 14" Celestron. Lugging that behemoth around will make you appreciate a grab and go scope for sure! The Celestron nexstar SLT family of scopes are amazing as well and they are not very problematic either. You can defork the scope for other duties and use the mount to carry a solar scope. Now that is some great options. I could go on with some cheap but good options like the Astro Tech AT66. This is a great little refactor that everyone should own.

Accessories are very addictive. You can spend over a grand and not get started so I am going to give you a few choices that are indispensable and cheap.

First and foremost get a map and atlas I am a huge fan of the Orion deep 600 map and as for books, you cannot go wrong with the Pocket Sky Atlas by Sky Publishing. these will always be used no matter what scope you drag out. They will be indispensable when it comes to a Dobsonian mounted scope. A goto needs to know what to go to! These will help and they will be the best money spent.

Next up is a decent eyepiece. Any scope you buy will come with an eyepiece. Some of those barely qualify as an eyepiece. This is where the money can be spent like a drunken sailor on shore leave. I am going to suggest a zoom eyepiece by Baader. Their 8-24 mm zoom will give you the most bang for the buck. Later you can get that Ethos but right now we are trying to save money but... have something adequate to look through at the same time. This is always a fine line to walk but with Baader you can almost never go can zoom in on planets or take in a galaxy all it takes is a couple of clicks and you are set.

The next item not everyone will agree with but for a fast setup with a Schmidt or any Goto really to star hopping with a Dob there is no better finder than a Telrad finder. It will be the best 40 dollars you will spend no matter what scope you are toting out there.There are even star charts out there with a Telrad target on the chart so you know what you are looking for as you hop across the sky with your Dob. I have one on my Schmidt-Cass and my set up for goto takes about 6 minutes. That is hard to beat!

The last item I think you need to have is an observers chair. You will see better with one. You will see more detail in your scope. They are adjustable they go about 100-160 dollars (US) or you can make your own even cheaper! It will take the back strain out of bending over trying to remain motionless while you sketch that 10th magnitude galaxy.

One last thing you will need is a dew shield if you choose a Schmidt- Cassegrain scope. A shield will allow one to stay out a bit longer keeping the dew at bay for awhile which is a good thing. You can make one of these also. Anytime you get stay out and look through your instrument a little longer is a very good thing indeed!

So there you have it You can have a very serviceable setup and not pay a king's ransom. Do some research and find what suits your needs. Only you know what you will tolerate until you can get the big toys in the shopping cart!
Until then...

Clear skies and great seeing too!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

1610 Gallileo And His Earth Shattering Discovery of Moons Orbiting Jupiter

I have been very ill as of late and did not get a blog out last week. A sinus+ an ear infection will do that to a blogger. I feel Oh so much better. So with all that aside, let's get cracking !!!

400 years ago in Italy there was a discovery made that rocked the foundations of the church, science, even the calendar industry! Jupiter had moons and they were in orbit around Jupiter. Now I know you might be thinking OK so what Why is that a big deal? 400 years ago for most folks on this planet everything and I do mean everything revolved around the Earth. Sun all planets you name it, it had a path that traveled around the third rock from the Sun. Earth had a fixed position in the heavens.

There had been many scientists of their day that did measurements of the whole geocentric system but kept coming up with problems like retrograde motion (planets that seem to move backwards for a time then continue their orbit) or changing of brightness at opposition. To answer these big ole head exploding problems, Tycho Brahe came up with a crazily complex set of epicycles for each offending item in the geocentric system This system was even more complex than Ptolemy's original Geocentric system complete with epicycles. The only thing that really did was just present more questions. Here is the deal folks. The church had the geocentric system firmly entrenched in there core beliefs so it pretty much boiled down to "Never let the facts get in the way of what you believe" And that was the way the church looked at the universe.

It would take a miracle to change that way of thinking. Say like if Someone discovered moons orbiting something other than the Earth... Ah you start to get the picture now of what a pivotal moment it was for Science. Now if you are Galileo what do you do after making this discovery? Before you answer that Let me point out the church had just burned someone at the stake for spreading that Heretical idea of a Heliocentric (Sun centered system). Even Copernicus was excommunicated from the church for proposing it many years earlier. So now with full knowledge of what might happen . Galileo published the findings anyway!

The real question here is did the church take notice of the discovery? As a matter of fact they did and they were less than pleased with the findings the point that the church said Galileo's observations are wrong. He is using a wildly inaccurate instrument. The church deep down knew it was only a matter of time until the science would come to the fore front. Scientist like Copernicus would be vindicated and scientists like Tycho Brahe would be left in the dust with their decades of incorrect calculations. Wow, that had to be devastating to Tycho. The only solace he might have had was to tell folks that guy over there Johannes Kepler was a student of mine.

That leaves one question for this week unanswered Why did the Calendar industries world get rocked? Here is a really good bit of trivia for you. Simon Marius discovered the moons of Jupiter on December 29th 1609 and Galileo discovered the moons on January 7th 1610. So why did Galileo get the credit? They did not use the same calendar! Galileo used the Gregorian Calendar while Marius used the Julian calendar. The Julian date would coincide with the 8th of Jan.1610. Simon wrote in his book that he had actually looked at Jupiter in November of 1609 and had seen the moons but did not draw anything Unfortunately for Simon, that observation was unrecorded. Do you think Simon Marius had any regrets?

Until next time,
Clear skies and great seeing too

Steve T