A Beginner’s Guide to Observing from the Armchair

Volunteering at Kopernik Observatory in public outreach activities, I have never seen a member of the public not be amazed at what we show them through our telescopes.  People, no matter what their background are always amazed at what the heavens have to show us.  There is a good reason for this, it is just simply amazing to observe and ponder the vastness of space, and to come to the realization that the wonders which surround us here on Earth are just one small part of the cosmic equation.

Some Screenshots of Computer Resources

I have only been active in the local astronomy community for about five years now, but I have been “observing” in one fashion or another for most of my life.  Furthermore, I have only owned my own telescopes for about five years.  Before I purchased my first telescope, I spent many years “observing from the armchair.”  Well more specifically, from my computer chair since the mid 1990’s.  There is a wealth of information, images, computer software, and groups of people one can interact with without leaving the home.

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Let’s Go Observing at a Light House!

OK there are two things that never go well together.  Serious amateur astronomical observing and light pollution.  The most irritating form of light pollution is something that is cyclical and periodic, but not constant.   For this very reason, the last place one would imagine to go observing would be at a lighthouse.  The periodic flares of light are the worst irritant to an observer, as the eye never adjusts to any particular steady state.

Bodie Lighthouse (credit - Carolina Light)

Bodie Lighthouse - Bodie Island, Outer Banks, NC (credit - Carolina Light)

It just seemed fairly ironical that the icons which signify the start of global light pollution would end up being an astronomical observing location for a night.

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Crazy Little Moon Moth…


Just walking by my back deck today, saw this crazy little guy. I have seen moon moths that are weird glowing green, dark green and even white before, but never have I seen a brown one. He is pretty cool!

Then he up and flew away shortly after. Neat to look at while he was there!

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The STS-132 Space Shuttle Atlantis #NASATweetup – Day L-1

One full week has passed since my return from the Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-132, launch tweetup at Kennedy Space Center.  I think everyone knows what a tweetup is at this point and time, and those who don’t soon will.  Now NASA is not new to the tweetup business, and they have been doing this for just over a year and a half now.  But when they throw a bash, they really know how to do it, and a lot can be learned from their efforts.

So I will do my best to keep my buzz on the activities at hand, and to post some relevant info about the event and its impacts on me.  Not that I have ever taken a simple blog entry and turned it into a novel.

The night before the tweetup, I could barely sleep.  I was about to go and sit in the very spot that the press has been going to cover NASA launches for nearly half a century.  The very spot where the history of human spaceflight had been recorded as our space program had evolved from unmanned orbiters, sending manned missions to the moon, and the era of the space shuttles and the International Space Station.  I would watch the third to last shuttle flight launch from that very historic spot.

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Kopernik Winter Star Party – February 6th, 2010

So what do a bunch of up state New York Amateur Astronomers do in the heart of winter?  Well they throw an outdoor astronomical observing party for the public.  I mean why not?  What’s a little cold anyway?  Ok so we aren’t talking 40 degrees F out there, but rather something more like, well ok, 10 degrees F.  But hey we are a hearty bunch right?

The day started out at around 4 PM, when we began the event with a special family workshop to build a small telescope.  The gist of the program was to accomplish two goals.  First, to teach families about how telescopes work, and then to also get them to look through the scopes.  We had 19 families, for a total of about 60-70 people including moms, dads, children, and other family members.

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Peering At the Milky Way’s Cousin

In my latest observing session, I had setup my C-11 on the Losmandy mount, and it was a nice, clear brisk night. A little transparency and seeing issues but that just pushed me to check out some deep space objects. However, on this night, I had no plan in mind, and had to “get creative“ on the fly.

NGC 7331 & Company - Credit: Vicent Peris, Calar Alto Observatory, Spain

NGC 7331 & Company - Credit: Vicent Peris, Calar Alto Observatora, Spain

I really wanted to observe some far off galaxy to get my imagination into things. I guess I wanted to look at some very distant land, thinking that maybe someone or something was observing me right back. Seeing nothing but a fuzzy object with little definition and a bit of structure, my mind drifted to the orientation at which they would be observing the Milky Way Galaxy. The three dimensionality of space and our orientation in the Milky Way has always intrigued me. I long for a three dimensional model of the universe to ask such questions of.

I had never looked at NGC 7331 visually, just observations from the armchair admiring other’s photographic efforts. Hey Pegasus was up in the sky, so why not observe what many people refer to as the Milky Way’s Twin. Looking at TheSkyX, I noticed that there are other more faint galaxies in the that region of space. Maybe I would get lucky, and see some of these more faint galaxies as well. So be it, syncing the Losmandy to the stars Sheat and Matar in Pegasus, I then punched in NGC 7331. The scope did its job, and there was a faint fuzzy in my 55 mm EP.
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Endless Supply of Oil? Well maybe not!

Here is an email I sent out to a group of friends related to the following article:

Is there an endless supply of oil? – by Russ Vaughn

Now I am not schooled enough either way, but had a little fun, and possibly poked a few holes in the idea…

This was my response to the email thread going on about this among my friends:

Hmmmm…i feel a bit puzzled after reading the article. I had always been taught the deep crust theories. However, the truth probably lies somewhere between the two. The argument for running out, I had thought, was always based on what we can cheaply get at? I guess i had never considered that the deep crust activities could be flowing up to the top re-plenishing at the rate of what we are consuming. Of course the author/theory stops short of making that claim.
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Looking Into A Crystal Ball, well nebula that is…

Cruising around Taurus, checking out the normal targets, I wanted to hunt down a challenge object. Awed at the Pleades and Hyades clusters (both naked eye and through a 4” f/9 refractor)m and then barely squeaking in a peak at M1, visible, but more of my imagination was needed. I thought there had to be an object in this region that I could view with an 8” SCT, and yet had a bit of a challenge factor to it.

source: www.insidesocal.com

source: www.insidesocal.com

A fuzzy snowball was in order. Being a fan of the spent matter from a star that didn’t have the “stuff” to go super nova is always intriguing to me. A quick reference to the SkyX, resulted in quite a few targets. The first ones were listed as planetary nebulae of unknown magnitudes, and I know what that normally means…not with an 8” SCT ☺.

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Getting “WISE”er by the day….

On December 9th, NASA will launch the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) aboard a Delta II rocket. WISE brings with it the most sensitive Infrared detection capability that has ever been used. Infrared detection will allow us to see objects which have very low amounts of visible light, and the WISE craft will survey the entire sky in IR over a six month time, which is something that has never been done before.

The craft houses a 16″ telescope with four IR cameras on board to survey the sky in four different IR wavelengths.

It is believed that WISE will uncover hundreds of thousands of asteroids (hundreds of them being Near Earth Objects), possibly hundreds of thousands of brown dwarf stars, some of the most luminous ancient galaxies, and with a little luck stars which have planetary discs around them.

Also, who knows what unexpected things will appear as we view the universe in a whole new way!

Follow the WISE mission at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/main/index.html

One of the more intriguing aspects of this mission, is that the craft must be kept super cooled so as to minimize its own IR emissions. If left at normal temperatures, it would be like shining a flashlight into the barrel of a telescope. Therefore, the craft is cooled by frozen hydrogen, which slowly evaporates away over a period of about 10 months.

This mission is going to be “cool”, and i for one am very excited about this NASA Science mission!

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Re-Invigorating Our Space Faring Ways – Part II – Public Outreach

The Augustine Report was released this month, and there isn’t much good news for those of us who want to see NASA accomplish all of its goals in human space flight. The choices are all tough, many folks employment future at NASA has been placed in uncertainty, and no tangible results will be reached until nearly 2020 under the best of options. One Twitter Spacetweep said it best, “I guess we are all bogged down in trivia, and don’t have the same curiosity and excitement anymore.” Therein lies the problem with human space flight…it doesn’t carry with it the excitement anymore.

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