First Time In A Long Time

This winter has been fairly tough on the amateur astronomers of upstate-NY. It has been cold, and I mean the “near dangerous to be observing” kind of cold. With that in mind, not much of my gear has been used this year. It was so nice to just get out there in tolerable temperatures, and to get some fresh air out in nature. I just grabbed my grab and go rig, and setup. A 5” Explore Scientific Triplet Refractor on a Vixen Porta-Mount. The scope is a bit too heavy to get a great balance on the mount, but it just barely works for a quick setup.

Credit: Niccoló Bonfadini — This is how my driveway felt most of the winter of 2014. These photos are actually from Finland, click on the image for the originating source…amazing photos – these are trees in subzero weather

A really amazing two hours of observing tonight. Nice to not have it be horrifically cold out there. Soon the sessions can be longer as the spring nights warm up! So tonight I spent a good amount of time hopping around the constellation Orion, and lots of time on the Orion Nebula. A really amazing view using the Lumicon OIII filter attached to a Televue 6” Delos eyepiece. There were lots of wispy, nebulous features to be seen tonight. I then shifted over to the Pleiades, it was close to the moon, so there were no detections of nebulosity there, but still great to observe Atlantia as it hit just above the tree line. Then panned and scanned through the constellation Auriga, admiring many of the brightly colored stars in its open star clusters.

For a change I spent a good amount of time on the moon. The seeing was very stable, and I was able to push a lot of magnification on the craters there. The quarter moon terminator ran just perfect to really show off the 3-D nature of the many interesting and diverse craters. Not being a student of the moon, I can’t name all that I saw tonight, but there were many interesting features that almost lead me to spend some time learning all the craters I was looking at tonight.

2014-03-07_23-13-02

IO is shown just to the right of Jupiter, notice IO’s shadow just above the Great Red Spot! Image captured from Sky & Telescope’s iPad app ‘Jupiter’s Moons’

After taking a warm-up break, I went back out and brought Jupiter into view. Wow, was the seeing really great tonight, which is not common for upstate NY. I was able to push a 4.7mm eyepiece with perfect clarity on the Jovian giant. I was delighted to see the Great Red Spot just to the side of center. At first I saw three moons: Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. I admired the the Great Red Spot and the detailed features of the stripes, wisps and shadows in the gassy atmosphere. I had thought IO was behind the planet, and then I thought I saw it birth. All of a sudden there it was…just barely visible off the disc of Jupiter. Then the thought occurred to me, hey maybe it was in front of the great gas giant. I immediately looked back into the eyepiece, and sure enough, there was IO’s shadow hanging just above the Great Red Spot. Wow! Such detail tonight using a refractor – really makes me wish we had steadier skies every night here in the Northeast US.

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Implications of China’s Space Program

So China is possibly within 24 hours of sending a rover to the moon. Maybe a bit longer, but imminent. Now if you read this article, and there are many analysts who agree, China is likely to have humans on the moon in 10 years, and possibly a base/mining operations in 15 years.  You can check out the BBC News article below for details

The Moon could be a “beautiful” source of minerals and energy, a top Chinese scientist has told the BBC…

Now reflect on this: Yesterday, millions of American went out into the world to go shopping on Black Friday. Probably 92.7% of all goods purchased were manufactured in China. That’s right folks, we are the ones funding efforts like this.

It just seems to be our culture to pay someone else to do things for us…why not pay the Chinese to do our space program for us? I mean after all they stock up Walmart, and they get a space program…seems fair? :-| Most things, cost way less in the long run if you do them yourself. The power gain for getting a foothold in space is a price we are going to regret in the future, if we give it up.

Now don’t get me wrong, I wish no ill will toward the Chinese space program, I think what they have accomplished in the past 20 years is staggering.  Much of the technology was likely “imported,” to get them started, but so was ours back in the WWII days.  I think it’s impressive the premium and priority their culture is placing on a space program.

However, I’m fairly disappointed in the directions the American space program has taken over the past 30 – 40 years.  I believe we are starting to get on a decent path forward again, assuming our economics and declining culture will support it. But this new path will only work if our economics and culture place a premium on it. These next adventures into space could easily be the beginnings of the United States’ next epic journey which defines our future and ushers in a new golden age. However, that won’t be the case if we aren’t the ones willing to step forward. But don’t fret, we can easily watch the Chinese do it on our behalf (on TV’s they made for us).

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2013 KAS Trip To NEAF

Credit: Rockland Astronomy Club

On April 20th – 21st, The Northeast Astronomy Forum and Telescope Show will be held.  There is a lot of buzz going around related to the event.  So far, about 10 KAS members have committed to going.  Some KAS members go down for two days, and others for one day or the other.

This year should be especially great, as the KAS has many NEAF activities planned.  For the third year in a row, the KAS will have a table at the event.  Once again this year we will be on the showroom floor, and sharing a booth with the great folks from the Adirondack Public Observatory.  Everything is all set…stop by the KAS booth for a chance to win a Kopernik AstroFest T-Shirt.

Also, members of the KAS are considering volunteering some of their valuable NEAF time and equipment to help the legendary Barlow Bob with the NEAF Solar Star Party (NSSP).

Many KAS members will also be participating in the 4th annual NEAF Posse Tweetup.  Throughout NEAF, members of Twitter attending NEAF meet up in various locations of the conference to hang out with one another in person.  Also on the Saturday night, there will be the annual NEAF Posse Takeover of Applebees and an exclusive  tour of the Lower Hudson Valley Challenger Center. For information regarding this event check out this page: http://www.kreegan99.org/2013neafposse/

Please feel free to contact kas’at’kopernikastro.org if you are interested in joining us in our venture to NEAF 2013.


 

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“This is Our Planet” video by Tomislav Safundžić

Now the truth is, as an amateur astronomer, I spend a lot of time looking up in the sky just to catch a glimpse of some faint point of light. A faint point of light that could be bursting with some form of energy transfer or with life. Maybe that faint light is already gone, and I’m mesmerizing at some distant historical event, that I can barely tell one way or the other. Then videos like this one come along, and show me that my home is just some faint point of light on the landscape of this blueish planet. And I long to go here…to see this with my own eyes, and look down.

This is Our Planet from Tomislav Safundžić on Vimeo.

Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center
http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/Videos/CrewEarthObservationsVideos/
Music: The XX – Intro
Enjoy

Today a friend of mine asked me why if we have so many problems here on Earth, why should we spend the money looking away from the Earth. My answer was simple, we need to both. They are NOT mutually exclusive events. Human beings will likely always have similar problems as we have today, it’s part of what makes us get out of bed in the morning. However, someday, this delicate blue planet may be destroyed, it may become uninhabitable, we might chew through most of its natural resources, or it might just get too darned crowded. My answer to this person was, my goal, along with many other people, is to see that humanity needs to struggle with problems on both this planet, and maybe another. Then those of us here on Earth can watch a video similar to this one for another planet far, far away!

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2012 Venus Transit – What Great Luck!

NOTE: this is a cross posted article I wrote for kopernikastro.org.

Of the worst ways to start an astronomical visual observing blog entry is with, “It was a cold and rainy evening.”  I was the primary support person at the observatory tonight, and I have to say I wasn’t in much of a hurry to get to the observatory.  Due to the cloudy and rainy forecast and current weather conditions, I didn’t think many people would come to the observatory, and definitely didn’t consider rushing to a small crowd watching NASA TV a high priority.

Considering the “Just in Case” scenario, when I arrived at the observatory, I placed the Baader Herschel Wedge into the 6” Astrophysics F/12 Refractor with a 40mm eyepiece.  Turned the scope on, and placed it roughly where Sol would be if the dreaded upstate NY cloud cover wasn’t there.  It looked hopeless out there, but it looked good to the crowd that was amassing, and it gave me something to do other than wallow in my sol-less pity.  I even prepped the dome for rapid opening in the weird chance of a clearing.  But the clear sky clock said something like “keep dreaming” across the Kopernik Observatory banner (I think I saw that there).

To my surprise, and delight, there were about 225 eager enthusiasts amassing at the observatory to learn some about the Venus Transit, the Sun, and the importance of this event.  I was “wow’d” given the horrific weather we had.  I can’t believe that this many folks came all the way up to see our solar observing equipment and watch part of the transit on NASA TV.  Fantastic!  An awesome outreach reflection.

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My Planning for the 2012 Messier Marathon

Planning is underway for the 2012 KAS Messier Marathon.  This is a great opportunity to view all the objects catalogued by Charles Messier 1771 – 1773 that took him 24 years to observe.  Messier catalogued objects that he originally thought were comets, but could not confirm them as such.  Basically these objects appeared to him as “faint fuzzies” but unlike comets, they never moved.  Basically, his list of 110 objects were considered a hinderance by him.

Messier Object Chart

Today, this list of objects are the most accessible and easiest to view objects in and around our galaxy.  About 10 of them can be spotted with the naked eye, and the rest are al findable with even a fairly modest telescope.  Every year during the new moon dark window in March, all but a few of these great objects is observable in just one night.  The window this year runs roughly between March 19th and March 28th.  It takes the entire night to see them all, and we here in the upstate NY area can see all but 1-2 objects that rest on the extreme southern skyline.

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Check Out Mars As It Makes Its Close Approach

Note: I originally posted this article on www.kopernikastro.org on 2/20/2012

Coming up: check out the view of Mars, the reddish-orange object, just below the constellation Leo.  Mars will be making its close approach between February 24th thru about March 9th or so.

Daily observing of the 2012 Mars close approach will occur at Kopernik Observatory & Science Center, clear skies permitting.  Check out the event info here.

For those of you advanced astronomers with high end equipment, check out this challenge by Astroguys.com to spot the Martian Moons Phobos and Deimos - http://bit.ly/wDbUai.

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Gebel Kamil and Mundrabilla Meteorite Additions.

From time to time, I stumble upon Meteorite Specimen that I just can’t walk by.  These rocks from space often times grip me in ways that are hard to explain, and I often feel compelled to purchase them.  Sometimes it’s from a significant fall, sometimes it’s due to a fascinating shape or color, and sometimes it just fulfills the compulsion of the moment.  This time around, I’ve chosen two specimens to add to the collection.

Gebel Kamil

This is a beautiful acquisition.  This rock is relatively flat with only about 21mm thickness.  It has this really cool snakeskin texture on the one side, and an amazing sheen over a dark brown patina on the front side. The regmaglypts (thumbprint shapes) are teeny structures that measure smaller than a single millimeter.  There are a variety of melting indicators, fractures, and bends on the rocks’ edges.  These features indicate that the sample is a shrapnel from a larger event.

Gebel Kamil 220.1g

Photo Credit: Suzanne Morrison/Geoff Notkin/Aerolite Meteorites

220.1g Gebel Kamil Meteorite

Photo Credit: Suzanne Morrison/Geoff Notkin/Aerolite Meteorites


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My 2011 Kopernik AstroFest 2011 Experience

This year at Kopernik AstroFest 2011, the skies were just down right mean to us.  It never really rained (as far as I can remember) but we were socked in with clouds for 49 of the total possible 54 hours of AstroFest from Friday September 30th until Sunday October 2.  We’ve come to expect this living in upstate, NY.  That’s why our fantastic leadership team booked so many great speakers and guests to present and attend AstroFest 2011.

With this in mind, I first point to the time I spent with Barlow Bob.  I have to admit, I was a bit leery about what magic Barlow Bob would pull out of the van with such dismal daytime skies.  I’ve attended Barlow Bob’s NEAF Solar Star Party to observe “Bob’s Only Star he cares about.”  And I know he has a VERY amazing inventory of solar observing equipment. When I previewed the weather forecast, I was a bit bummed out that I would not be able to play with these wonderful solar observing toys.

But as I’ve come to expect from Barlow Bob’s reputation – I wouldn’t be disappointed.  We spent the better part of Friday and Saturday playing with different spectrascopes and spectragraphs.  We observed a variety of different gases contained in small light bulbs that emitted different types of spectra.   We observed everything from some elements similar to those in our sun to the ever-puzzling spectra produced by Iodine.

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March 2011 – Deep Sky Target List

I have posted my March/April 2011 target list for your perusal (as exported from Astro Planner).  The list shows about 1800+ deep sky objects in the easy to intermediate skill range.  A variety of types, sizes, rise/set times, and other variables as well.  Feel free to let me know if you have any questions and/or comments.  The file linked here is an Excel file, let  me know if you would rather a raw csv file.

201103-MarchTargetList

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