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

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 The Carnival of Space #135

Happy New Year to all! Have you broken your New Years resolution yet? My resolution for 2010 is to keep breathing and I just couldn't live with my self if I broke it... It is my honor to host the very first Carnival of Space for 2010. If the blogs sent in are any indication of what is to come this year, we are in store for a great time. A carnival is a collection of blogs from all over the internet that you can find in just one site. We have a lot of entries for the carnival and every one of them has something good to offer. Let the carnival begin!

Once in a Blue Moon we get to see a lunar eclipse. Now that statement is true on so many levels and if you take a stroll over to Cumbrian sky you can see why. Stuart Atkinson wants to share a partial lunar eclipse with us on the eve of a New Year from his perch in the United Kingdom. For those of us that are clueless as to what a Blue Moon is exactly, It is the second full moon within a month. December had a full Moon on the 2nd and again on the 31st.

Stuart was not the only one taking a peek at that lunar eclipse. On the other side of the world in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, Teoh Hui Chieh was also taking some snapshots of this wonderful event. Wander over to My Dark sky for a look at some great pictures. Please make sure you click the moon for a nice composite shot.

Speaking of moons, we have a fascinating look at the chemical composition of Io. If you are a geologist or just like volcanoes in general there is probably no better place to be than Io. Io is Jupiter's little hot head moon and volcanoes abound there. With the help of the Galileo spacecraft some sense is being made of the data and we now are closer to knowing what it is that Io is made of. Head on over and see Jason Perry at the Gish Bar Times for the details.

So far the moons seem to out number us here at the Carnival this week and t
o prove it we have Paul Scott Anderson giving us a tease about the Titan Mare Explorer. Wow! Life on Titan. That will be something if we find that. Right this way to Planetaria

I think we need to get away from the moon thing and there is no one better qualified
than the always entertaining Phil Plait. His Bad Astronomy blog contemplates the timeless question, which is warmer the Sun or a human. Now I know this seems like an easy question to answer. but there is a truth about scientists and accountants you need to remember and that is If you give a set of numbers to any one of the two they can pretty much make it add up to what ever they want. As Paris Hilton would say: Some people are hotter than others. That's right I somehow got Paris in a science blog. Who would have bet that would happen? Get right over to Bad Astronomy and find out the Real answer.

21st Century Waves waxes about lessons learned from the Panama canal and how they relate to human space trav
el. Dr. Bruce Cordell has 10 lessons from which to learn from. There are some fine parallels to be gleaned.

Senior Editor Nancy Atkinson of Universe Today has a resolution for 2010; That is to find the wreck of the Mars Polar Lander. If you have conquered Where's Waldo and you think Eye spy is a piece of cake then you might want to take this task on. There are high resolution images for you to scour as well as instructions as to how and what to look for. Lost for 10 years is long enough. Wander on over to Universe Today and get your search on. As for me? I can't even find my car keys when I need them.

I always thought I was into the whole Sunspot thing until I read about the Spacewriter's Dad Now that guy is into the whole solar thing from plotting minimums to maximums and drawing all not some of the sun spots for 11 years straight. I am officially unworthy to carry that man's solar scope. You need to read this story about a remarkable man and his passion for the Sun. This way if you please to the Spacewriter

Time draws near for the end of the shuttle missions with just 5 left and all to be flown this year. What better way to celebrate a successful program of 134 missions than with a patch created by one of NASA's own. From the Desk of Collect Space we can see the 85 entries for this last mission patch. The entries vary from High Tech productions to Crayon and everything in between. Picking the 15 finalists will be a daunting task. Walk on over to Collect Space and take it all in. This is a great piece about a great group of folks.

Over at MSNBC Science editor Alan Boyle has a real basket of goodies for you to peruse. They range from the ballet of Saturn's moons which is mesmerizing to say the least to views of Enceladus and its water
ice geysers spewing into space. I have to say the picture of the flying yam Prometheus looks good enough to eat. Swing on over to the MSNBC Cosmic Log and get treated to some great stuff. Are you just on pins and needles waiting to learn Na'vi? Alan has some great advice on how to go about it. Get the full scoop Here

WETA / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. In the film "Avatar," Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) teaches the Na'vi language to Jake
(Sam Worthington), a "dreamwalker" who is mind-linked to a human controller

Have we found Dark matter? well something is going on in the disused iron mine in Minnesota Brian Wang takes a look at the possible detection of Dark matter and if this is the real deal we have just taken a huge step forward. Go on over to Next Big Future and see what is cooking and if you like that blog piece then take a peak at this one. This is about a thruster that just might be the ticket for trips to Mars. Run over here and check out Next big Future

Last year was a great year for the world of astronomy. The International Year of Astronomy (IYA) was in full swing from day one of 2009. I started my blog in 2009 thanks to IYA and the many good people here in Cincinnati that nudged me in that direction. Well Way Down under Steve Nerlich of the ever popular Cheap Astronomy was starting the podcast game. He is a hoot to listen to. This week's offering is dedicated to his efforts in 2009, IYA and his name dropping abilities! You go Steve! By all means make your way to Cheap Astronomy and listen in!

t but not least, Steve's Astro-corner serves up the International Year of Astronomy in review. I could not possibly mention every event that went on. That would be a novel sized post. I did try to hit some high points. I hope you got a chance to take a look up in the heavens this past year. I am ready for 2010 to begin and carry the momentum of IYA forward and into the future. Thanks for stopping by. Until next week... Oh by the way thanks Galileo you got us really rolling 400 years ago!

Clear skies and great seeing too!


Friday, January 1, 2010

The International Year of Astronomy Success

The year 2009 will go down in history as one of the most successful years for astronomy. This is due to the efforts of International Year of Astronomy (IYA) program. The mission for the IYA was: The International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) will be a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture, highlighted by the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The aim of IYA is to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among youth, in astronomy and science under the central theme: "The Universe: Yours to Discover". Boy! did they ever...

I do not always throw a bunch of figures at you but this world wide experience warrants it so hang with me for a bit. the most impressive figures for the IYA2009 have come from the national activities that have brought hundreds of thousands of people together in many countries for astronomy-themed events. For example, more than 400 000 people gathered for the Sunrise Event on New Year’s Day in Busan City, South Korea. The 2009 Brazilian Olympiad of Astronomy and Astronautics saw more than 750 000 students participate from 32, 500 schools. In Paraguay, the IYA2009 launch featured a concert with more than 1600 musicians and an audience of over 15 000. In Norway, every student from grades 5-11 will soon receive a free astronomy kit, including a Galileoscope and an educational guide. For the first time in postal service history, and in just six months, more than 70 postal agencies around the world have issued over 140 new stamps inspired by astronomy.

In April, the highly anticipated 100 Hours of Astronomy extravaganza kicked off. This planet-wide celebration involved over 100 countries and thousands of events, with more than two million people taking part in observing events. Widely regarded as an outstanding success, 100 Hours of Astronomy brought people from all seven continents together with the help of a live 24-hour webcast called “Around the World in 80 Telescopes”. This groundbreaking broadcast was watched by over 150 000 individuals. The Hundred hours kicked off the event at My Home Observatory in Cincinnati Ohio. Home to the oldest Continuously used telescope The 12" Merz und Mahler (1842) You need to step up to this scope in your lifetime. I feel very fortunate to be associated with this scope even in a small way. Lord Rosse scope is another that brings goose bumps to me.

160,000 Galileoscopes, Low cost telescopes that actually do a better job than Galileo's telescope were gobbled up by the public. I did a meteor presentation in August and had the honor and privilege to put one of these beauties together for a Scout leader. They wanted to have something to take out in the field and show their scouts the wonders of the night sky. I just had to help this lady out! I was impressed with the scope and for 20 dollars US? Galilean Nights was a complete success in October with with meteor watches to star parties to even Food and Stars party in Australia! Just like the 100 hours of Astronomy, Hundreds of thousands were reached and shown a good time

On the internet side of things,The Cosmic Diary Cornerstone project continues to flourish. Professional scientists are blogging about their lives and work, giving the public an insight into what it is really like to be a researcher. Since its launch on 1 January 2009, the Cosmic Diary has recruited over 60 professional astronomers from 28 countries. There have been well over 1000 blog posts, attracting more than 100 000 visitors. In fact I started my Blog site dedicated to the IYA. I have enjoyed every minute of the experience.

IYA was right up my alley because I speak to thousands of people every year about astronomy through presentations at the Fernald Nature Preserve (pictured), to schools, to Star parties, to you name it. I look forward to another great year in astronomy. My resolution this year is to increase the visibility of astronomy and the sciences. We have so many things happening in astronomy. New discoveries of exoplanets on nearly a daily basis, Seeing to the center of our galaxy, I could go on for a week on new discoveries logged this year. My question for you is: What are you going to do to share the beauty of the night skies with your kids or fellow Man? Your mission is to get out and do something! until then...

Clear skies and great seeing too!

Steve T