Monthly Archives: December 2013

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AAVSO Writer’s Bureau Digest For 20 December 2013

2013dec20_aavso_logoThe AAVSO Writer’s Bureau, hosted by the American Association of Variable Star Observers (, is a selective aggregator of high-quality science content for the amateur astronomer. Several astronomy bloggers, science writers, and official astronomy publishers and organizations provide articles free-of-charge for redistribution through the AAVSO-WB. The five most recent Writer’s Bureau posts are presented below with direct links to the full articles on the author’s own website. CNYO thanks the authors and the AAVSO for making these articles available for free to all astronomy groups!

Will This New Technology Transform Astronomy?

By Monica Young, Sky & Telescope

2013dec20_Arp147_341pxBack in my former life, I was an X-ray astronomer. While optical astronomy charged ahead with camera technology that benefitted from commercial investment (hello, smartphones), the X-ray detectors I worked with were of a more “homebrew” variety (really good homebrew). 

If I point an X-ray telescope at, say, a distant quasar for a few hours, I might get a few hundred photons if I’m lucky. Compare that with an optical image, where the same quasar might emit millions of photons. As a professor of mine once joked, X-rays are so few and far between, they should have names: “Look, there go Peter, Jill, and Harry.”

Read the full article at:…

This Neutron Star Behaves Just Like The Hulk

By Elizabeth Howell, Universe Today

2013dec20_transformWhen Bruce Banner gets angry, he gets big and green and strong and well, vengeful. The Hulk is the stuff of comic book legend and as Mark Ruffalo recently showed us in The Avengers, Banner’s/Hulk’s personality can transform on a dime.

Turns out rapid transformations are the case in astronomy, too! Scientists found a peculiar neutron star that can change from radio pulsar, to X-ray pulsar, back and forth. In the Hulk’s case, a big dose of gamma rays likely fuelled his ability to transform. This star’s superpowers, however, likely come from a companion star.

Read the full article at:…

Fomalhaut Star System Actually A Triple

Monica Young, Sky & Telescope

2013dec20_Fomalhaut_planet_341pxFomalhaut itself is a regular A-class star, twice the size of the Sun, accompanied by a smaller, K-class companion. The system made headlines in 2008 when astronomers discovered the controversial exoplanet candidate Fomalhaut b. Even after the dust mostly settled, the planet’s highly elliptical orbit remained unexplained.

It’s unclear whether the planet’s orbit is aligned with the far-out debris disk that rings the young star. And stranger still, the debris disk itself is off-kilter, its center offset from Fomalhaut A by 15 times the Earth-Sun distance.

Read the full article at:…

Power Of Multiple Amateur Telescopes, UNITE!

Phil Plait, Bad Astronomy

2013dec20_uniteTaking pictures of astronomical objects is a lot like collecting rainwater in buckets. Photons from your target are the rain, and your telescope is the bucket. The bigger the bucket, the more rain you collect. You get more water if you leave the bucket out longer, too.

So astronomers like to use big telescopes and long exposure times to get faint detail in their cosmic portraits. However, there’s a third option: Use more than one bucket.

Read the full article at:…

Old, Fat Stars Flicker

Mark Zastrow, Sky & Telescope

2013dec20_solar_granulation_341pxWhen you look through a telescope at a star glowing red, you might ponder: is it skinny or fat?

Although so-called red dwarfs and red giants have the same temperature, the distinction between them is profound. Red dwarfs are half the mass of the Sun or smaller. A red giant can be many times the mass of the Sun. It’s also about to die — low on energy, it’s bloated to as much as 1,500 times the radius of the Sun.

Read the full article at:…

NASA Space Place – The Big Picture: GOES-R and the Advanced Baseline Imager

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in December, 2013.

By Kieran Mulvaney

2013february2_spaceplaceThe ability to watch the development of storm systems – ideally in real time, or as close as possible – has been an invaluable benefit of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) system, now entering its fortieth year in service. But it has sometimes come with a trade-off: when the equipment on the satellite is focused on such storms, it isn’t always able to monitor weather elsewhere.

“Right now, we have this kind of conflict,” explains Tim Schmit of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). “Should we look at the broad scale, or look at the storm scale?” That should change with the upcoming launch of the first of the latest generation of GOES satellites, dubbed the GOES-R series, which will carry aloft a piece of equipment called the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI).

According to Schmit, who has been working on its development since 1999, the ABI will provide images more frequently, at greater resolution and across more spectral bands (16, compared to five on existing GOES satellites). Perhaps most excitingly, it will also allow simultaneous scanning of both the broader view and not one but two concurrent storm systems or other small-scale patterns, such as wildfires, over areas of 1000km x 1000km.

Although the spatial resolution will not be any greater in the smaller areas than in the wider field of view, the significantly greater temporal resolution on the smaller scale (providing one image a minute) will allow meteorologists to see weather events unfold almost as if they were watching a movie.

So, for example, the ABI could be pointed at an area of Oklahoma where conditions seem primed for the formation of tornadoes. “And now you start getting one-minute data, so you can see small-scale clouds form, the convergence and growth,” says Schmit.

In August, Schmit and colleagues enjoyed a brief taste of how that might look when they turned on the GOES-14 satellite, which serves as an orbiting backup for the existing generation of satellites.

“We were allowed to do some experimental imaging with this one-minute imagery,” Schmit explains. “So we were able to simulate the temporal component of what we will get with ABI when it’s launched.”

The result was some imagery of cloud formation that, while not of the same resolution as the upcoming ABI images, unfolded on the same time scale. You can compare the difference between it and the existing GOES-13 imagery here: [Poster’s Note: This is a 67 MB gif. It might take a while to load but is well worth the view!]

Learn more about the GOES-R series of satellites here:

Kids should be sure to check out a new online game that’s all about ABI! It’s as exciting as it is educational. Check it out at

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Caption: The Advanced Baseline Imager. Credit: NOAA/NASA.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website:

Shopping For The Holidays? Consider A Trip To The MOST Gift Shop!

Greetings fellow astrophiles (and fellow holiday shoppers)!

From the unsolicited-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-place-sooner kudos department:

I am in that 30-to-40 range where many of my friends have kids in that 5-to-10 range. Spending my days in the hard sciences and very aware of the issues surrounding S.T.E.M. education in the U.S., I make it a point (when not specifically sent a request) to buy presents that fool those children into learning about the world around them (although I find they are generally much hipper to fun science gifts than that). One might imagine this to be a considerable task given the preponderance of molded plastic figurines at most of the local toy stores. I am pleased to report that the situation is far less dire in Syracuse than one might imagine, due in very large part to the good people at The MOST.


The MOST Gift Shop, including 4.5 billion years of toys.

If you’ve been to The MOST for TACNY Jr. Cafe lectures, the old NASA-funded Space Science Series of years past (we hardly knew ye!), IMAX movies, any of the space science exhibits downstairs, or just to hang out near the olfactory display, you’ve invariably passed through the MOST Gift Shop on your way out. If you haven’t yet, make sure to stop and take a look around in the near future!

2013dec11_most_gift_shop_binosScience books specifically geared for kindergarten through middle school, minerals of all kinds, science tools and instructional toys galore, one really neat soda (or pop, whatever) bottle science demo set (viewable HERE), construction kits of all kinds, stuffed birds (and their associated bird calls), space mission models, and a wide assortment of other science demos, how-to guides, your requisite combo binos/magnifying-glass/compass/mirror/leaf-destroyer (you bet I have one!) techie knick-knacks, and much more. The damage I did to my shopping list will not only put a bunch of developing minds into overdrive, but it also supports The MOST (which I call a significant win-win).

And if that weren’t all enough, I even managed to buy a small piece of the Berlin Wall (and there are pieces left at a ridiculously low price for you history buffs).

Long-short, if you’re still looking for gift ideas and want to keep someone’s brain grinding away during winter break, do consider a stop at The MOST.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique: “STEMagedden II – Robotics Pod Invasion”

Saturday – December 21, 9:30-11:00am

Milton J Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology – Syracuse, NY

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Ages 9 and up can enjoy a morning of hands-on robotics exploration! Interactive pods of activity will grab the attention of young and old. Participants can jump right into working with robots with the assistance of student mentors. Move through various stations to take part in the demonstrations or just hang back and watch the action. High School robotics teams will provide hands-on, interactive demonstrations and instruction on the use of FIRST® Tech Challenge, FIRST® LEGO® League and LEGO® MINDSTORM® NXT creations. Featured pods include: FTC robots, Sumobots, RC Car bots, ball shooting robots, holonomic drive, self-balancing, and FLL tournament bots along RobotC and NXTG programming. Pod presentations by the RoboSpartans Robotics coaches on their experience with FIRST® will emphasize how robotics has transformed their team members and created a pathway to STEM majors in college. Interested students and parents can pick up information on upcoming FIRST® events.

People interested in learning more about robotics are invited to attend the FREE Junior Cafe presentation on Saturday, December 21, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse’s Armory Square. Walk-ins are welcome, but we ask that people RSVP by emailing by November 13, 2013.


RS_HEAD_NO_NH_2Robert A. Payne III, M.S., is a Manufacturing Engineering Manager at Utica Metal Products and Coach of the RoboSpartans #4082 FIRST® Robotics Team. Lisa M. Payne, M.S., is a Marketing Communications & Human Resource Development Consultant and Manager of the RoboSpartans #4082 FIRST® Robotics Team. The Paynes became involved in robotics in 2008 through FIRST® – For Inspiration & Recognition of Science and Technology. The couple started a FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) competitive robotics team for 9 to 14 year olds, the “RoboSpartans,” in New Hartford, NY (twitter: @RoboSpartans). Their team won over a dozen awards in 2 seasons at a U.S. Open Championship and a World Championship, including the US Open Championship Rising Star Award. In 2010, the Paynes and RoboSpartans competed in the FIRST® Tech Challenge as the first competitive FIRST Tech Challenge team within 50 miles of Utica, NY.

As committee members and volunteers for CNYFIRST®, the Paynes propel regional growth of FLL and FTC teams. The RoboSpartans, an FTC World Championship Team, won the Inspire Award at the Northern New York Championship; 1 of 128 teams competing from 11 countries in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, MO. At the World event, the team achieved 4th Place Finalists for the Inspire Award, the highest & most prestigious FIRST Award, the Think Award for crafting their Engineering Notebook, & the Connect Award (connecting local Engineering and FIRST communities). The team has received Congressional Proclamations for their work, recognition by the Mohawk Valley Engineers Executive Council, and the Paynes were awarded the E. Quint Carr Award for Engineering Excellence for championing student STEM activities.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique, a program for middle-school students founded in 2005, features discussions about topics in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an informal atmosphere and seeks to encourage students to consider careers in these areas. Students must be accompanied by an adult and can explore the MOST at no cost after the event.

Technology Alliance of Central New York

Founded in 1903 as the Technology Club of Syracuse, the nonprofit Technology Alliance of Central New York’s mission is to facilitate community awareness, appreciation, and education of technology; and to collaborate with like-minded organizations across Central New York.

For more information about TACNY, visit