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