Monthly Archives: February 2014

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Three Local Science Fair Judging Opportunities In March: Science-y Adults Please Take Note!

Greetings fellow astrophiles (and other readers)!

March is increasingly looking like a very busy month for CNY science. On top of CNYO’s Liverpool Public Library Session on the 6th, upcoming Sidewalk Astronomy event on 8th, and the Regulus Occultation on the 20th, March also sees three big Science Fairs being hosted on the SU and OCC campuses (with some CNYO participants set to act as judges again this year).

If you’re a science-inclined adult, please consider participating as a judge for one or more of these events. While some of the categories at each event may require/prefer people in the sciences with Bachelors or advanced degrees for judging, many do not. Your interest in what the kids… er… researchers are doing is plenty for being able to support the efforts of these three science fairs.

Ryan Goodson and I participated in the Ying Tri Region Science & Engineering Fair last year and had an excellent time touring the projects and talking shop with many of the presenters. Of specific note for you astronomy buffs was the presentation shown below by Tyler Mucci, featuring a dual optic design for a telescope that lets two people observe the same object simultaneously. Better still, he brought the fully-functional prototype with him (and the results of his optics testing. We should have flown Bob Piekiel in from Marcellus for advanced topics).


You never know what to expect at a science fair (such as Tyler Mucci’s presentation above from the 2013 YingTRSEF event last March), but you’ll definitely be impressed.

The three upcoming science fairs are listed below with links to their home and registration pages.

Thursday, March 13

SUNY ESF Environmental Challenge at ESF and the Carrier Dome
The Info PDF for this event can be downloaded here: 2014feb26_envirochallenge_JudgeFlyer

Sunday, March 23

Ying TRSEF at OCC’s Gordon Student Center
The Info PDF for this event can be downloaded here: 2014feb26_yingtrsef_JudgeRecruitment

Sunday, March 30

The event info can be found at

For those looking for the quick summary, below is the judge invitation letter for the Ying TRSEF Fair…


Dear Colleagues:

Onondaga Community College is once again hosting the Dr. Nelson Ying Tri Region Science and Engineering Fair the weekend of March 22 – 23. This two-day science fest celebrates student interest in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and promotes and nurtures hands-on experience in Science and Technology.

We’re inviting you to judge at the Ying TRSEF, interviewing students in either the Senior (Gr. 9-12) or Junior (Gr. 5-8) levels.

Junior level judges only need a sincere interest in encouraging middle school students. In fact, we encourage college students in STEM fields to judge the younger students.

For the Senior level, we are looking for judges with at least a bachelor degree in a STEM field or Education, who will interview students competing in their own area of expertise.

This year, we are aiming for surpass last year’s record attendance! That means we need even more judges. JUDGES are the MOST IMPORTANT part of the Science Fair, because it is that personal contact with sincerely interested adults that encourages students. Student feedback consistently rates judging at the core of their fair experience.

The commitment? Only a few hours on March 23rd, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the latest (and we feed you really well).

Please fill out an online application at The Ying TRSEF website also has details about the Fair, judging, and pictures from earlier Ying TRSEF fairs.

Please forward this message to anyone you think might be interested in judging. For this you can think “distribute widely.” And, of course, feel free to contact me with questions.

Phone: (315) 445-1527
Date: Sunday, March 23
Time: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. latest
Place: Gordon Student Center at OCC

Marcy Waldauer
Chair, Judge Recruitment
Ying TRSEF Committee

… and below is introductory material for the SUNY-ESF Environmental Challenge…

What: 2014 Environmental Challenge Science Fair
When: March 13 from 9 am to 1 pm (breakfast 8:30 am)
Where: SUNY-ESF Campus and the SU Carrier Dome

What is the Environmental Challenge?

The Environmental Challenge is a science fair and career exploration opportunity designed especially for all Syracuse City School District 7th and 8th grade students. 500 student participants are expected!

What does a Judge do?

Judging is EASY and FUN, and we are looking for at least 100 judges. No experience is necessary. Join us in the new ESF Gateway Center at 8:30 am for breakfast and a chance to mingle with other judges. A brief orientation will follow promptly at 9 am in Gateway. Each judge will be assigned to assess the projects of a group of students. As a judge you don’t only get breakfast and lunch, but the opportunity to influence the lives of the young student participants! The encouragement and interest shown by volunteer judges is an essential part of the Environmental Challenge experience.

How do I sign up? Questions?

Contact Maura Stefl at
Phone: (315) 470-6811

… and, finally, an announcement email to the TACNY listserve about the CNYSEF from Earl Turner of Lockheed Martin MST:

Dear Colleagues,

Volunteers are needed to judge projects at the Central New York Science and Engineering Fair to be held on Sunday, March 30, 2014 at the SRC Arena. Students from Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties will compete in two divisions, the junior fair for 4th-8th graders and the senior fair for 9th-12th graders. Judges don’t need to be experts in science to listen as the students demonstrate how much they have learned and accomplished. A continental breakfast, lunch and training will be provided for the judges and volunteers. Those interested in serving as judges or volunteers can apply online here. If you have registered with the MOST online in the past, you do not have to register again. Send an e-mail to or call (315) 425-9069 x2141 indicating what fair assignment you would like (junior judge, senior judge, special awards judge, volunteer). For more information, contact me or the CNYSEF Director at

The encouragement and interest shown by volunteers and judges is an essential part of the student’s science fair experience. Help inspire our future generation of engineers and scientists.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique: “Inspirations In STEM: Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

Saturday – March 8, 9:30-11:00am

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

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Share in Olivia Sheppard’s excitement as she tells her story of becoming a young scientist, eager to make discoveries. She will discuss how she became involved in science, why she chose to pursue a career in research, and where she hopes it will take her. Olivia will share how competing in science fairs has been life changing and afforded her even greater opportunities.

People interested in learning more about preparing for a career in scientific research are invited to attend the free Junior Cafe presentation on Saturday, March 8, 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 March 5, 2014.



Image from

Olivia Sheppard is a junior at Manlius Pebble Hill School in Dewitt, and science is both her passion and her future. She discovered this intense interest in science as she made new and interesting discoveries, finding answers that lead to new questions, on research for competition in science fairs. Miss Sheppard has conducted seven major science experiments specifically for science and engineering fairs over the last six years. Along the way, she has identified her own strengths, and how she can be a better scientist. In 2013, Miss Sheppard won first place at the Central New York Science and Engineering Fair. Her project focused on using alternate energy using Nano science to transfer the bioluminescence of firefly proteins. She then advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ. Meeting other kids who are interested in research and passionate about science is an amazing experience and motivates her to learn and do more! The advancement in science and technology, how we can research issues and the ways in which we can measure, record, and understand results of our experiments is moving forward at a lightning pace. Come and learn how you can be a part of this and find what ignites a passion in your heart and mind about science!

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

Barlow Bob’s Corner – The Balmer Series

The following article has been provided by Barlow Bob, founder & organizer of the NEAF Solar Star Party and regional event host & lecturer on all things involving solar spectroscopy. You can read more about Barlow Bob and see some of his other articles at

The February 2014 issue of Astronomy magazine contained an article about the fate of the Sun. There was an illustration showing the differences between the various types of dark Fraunhofer absorption lines in the spectrum of the Sun, a hot blue star and a white dwarf star.

The solar spectrum consisted of many thin dark lines of different elements. The hot blue star spectrum consisted of only thin dark lines of the Balmer Series of hydrogen. The white dwarf spectrum also contained only the Balmer Series lines. In the white dwarf spectrum, however, these lines were very thick.


The spectrum of the Sun, a white dwarf, and blue giant. Image taken from:

Reference books and articles about spectroscopy state that the Fraunhofer lines in the spectrum of hot stars with a high-pressure atmosphere are thin. The lines of cool stars with a low-pressure atmosphere are thick. Why does a white dwarf with an extremely high-pressure atmosphere have wide Fraunhofer lines in its spectrum?

Sue French provided the explanation below, which is reprinted here with permission.

“It’s a question of density and pressure differences between the different luminosity classes of stars. Hydrogen lines broaden from luminosity class I (luminous supergiant) to luminosity class V (main sequence). The lines are generated by collisions in a star’s photosphere. Close-passing atoms can slightly disturb an electron’s energy level such that the electron can absorb at a wavelength that is a bit offset from the center of the line. Whole bunches of these interactions put together broaden the line, and higher photospheric density (class V) promotes more interactions. For example, a B5V star and a B5I star would have about the same photospheric temperature, but the lines would be broader in the former because of its higher photospheric density. Thus for the white dwarf, where the photospheric density is very high, the lines are broadened with respect to stars of similar photospheric temperature.”

From 1859 until his death at age 73, Johann Jakob Balmer (1825-1898) was a high school teacher at a girl’s school in Basel, Switzerland. His primary academic interest was geometry, but in the middle 1880’s he became fascinated with four numbers: 6,562.10, 4,860.74, 4,340.1, and 4,101.2. These are not pretty numbers, but for the mathematician Balmer, they became an intriguing puzzle. Was there a pattern to the four numbers that could be represented mathematically? The four numbers Balmer chose were special because these numbers pertained to the spectrum of the hydrogen atom. By the time Balmer became interested in the problem, the spectra of many chemical elements had been studied and it was clear that each element gave rise to a unique set of spectral lines. Balmer was a devoted Pythagorean: he believed that simple numbers lay behind the mysteries of the universe. His interest was not directed toward spectra, which he knew little about, nor was it directed toward the discovery of some hidden physical mechanism inside the atom that would explain the observed spectra. Balmer was intrigued by the numbers themselves.

In the mid-1880’s, Balmer began his examination of the four numbers associated with the hydrogen spectrum. At his disposal were the four numbers measured by Anders Jonas Angström (1814-1874): 6,562.10, 4,860.74, 4,340.1, and 4,101.2. These numbers represented the wavelengths, in units of Angströms, of the four visible spectral lines in the hydrogen atom spectrum.


The Balmer Series for hydrogen. Image taken from

In 1885, Balmer published a paper in which his successful formulation was communicated to the scientific world. Balmer showed that the four wavelengths could be obtained with the formula that bears his name: wavelength = B x (m^2)/(m^2-n^2), with B = 3645.6 Angströms. He had found a simple mathematical formula that expressed a law by which the hydrogen wavelengths could be represented with striking precision. He further suggested that there might be additional lines in the hydrogen spectrum. Other spectral lines with their own wavelengths were predicted by Balmer and later found by other scientists. Angström measured the wavelengths of the spectral lines of hydrogen, but Balmer showed that the wavelengths of the spectral lines are not arbitrary. The values of the wavelengths are the expression of a single mathematical formula – and this Balmer Series equation altered how scientists thought about spectral lines. Before Balmer published his results, scientists drew an analogy between spectral lines and musical harmonies. They assumed that there were simple harmonic ratios between the frequencies of spectral lines. After Balmer’s work, all scientists recognized that spectral wavelengths could be represented by simple numerical relationships.

Balmer disappeared from the ranks of working scientists and continued his classroom work teaching young ladies mathematics. Neither he nor his students recognized that his paper on the spectrum of hydrogen would bring him scientific immortality. The spectral lines of hydrogen that were the focus of Balmer’s attention are now known as the Balmer Series.

IOTA Official Press Release: Best And Brightest Asteroid Occultation Ever To Be Visible Across New York State

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

Below is the official press release by the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) on the upcoming occultation of Regulus by asteroid Erigone on March 20th. CNYO will have more to announce about our efforts to monitor this occultation in the next week or two. Meantime, this is your one-month warning!

Public invited to help measure size and shape of distant asteroid

Media contact: Ted Blank,
Alternate contact: Steve Preston,

Just after 2:05 a.m. EDT on March 20, 2014, anyone with clear skies along a 70-mile-wide belt running diagonally from Long Island and New York City up through New York State into Canada may be able to see the bright star Regulus simply disappear from the sky for up to 14 seconds as an invisible asteroid glides silently in front of it.

A chance alignment of orbits is predicted to cause Regulus to “wink out” as the mammoth asteroid Erigone passes directly between Earth and the star, temporarily blocking its light from reaching us (the asteroid itself remains in its normal orbit which never comes anywhere near Earth). Regulus (the star which will wink out) is in the constellation Leo the Lion and, as one of the brightest stars in the sky, is easy to find.

An event where an object in space blocks the light from a distant star is called an “occultation,” from the Latin word meaning “to conceal or hide.” The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), a group of volunteers, collects observations on about 200 asteroid occultations per year. However, this is the first time that such a dramatic and obvious occultation will be visible in such a heavily populated area without the need for any kind of optical aid like a telescope or binoculars.

What makes this asteroid event more notable is that the public is invited to assist scientists in recording the event to measure the size and shape of the asteroid. Just by using a video camcorder, a digital SLR camera with video capability, or just a smartphone or a stopwatch, anyone can contribute to the scientific study of the asteroid in question. “In addition to the opportunity to share in a moment of celestial drama, we hope to enlist thousands of ‘citizen-scientists’ to time this event, allowing us to document it more thoroughly than any other asteroid occultation in history” said Steve Preston, President of IOTA. “The more observers scattered across the path of the shadow who time the disappearance and reappearance of the star, the more accurately we can measure the asteroid’s size and shape.”

IOTA has created a “Frequently Asked Questions” page at Here, detailed information may be found on the recommended techniques that the public may use to record and time the event, as well as how to submit their observations for analysis after the event.

Although the asteroid will remain a safe 100 million miles from Earth, as it passes in front of the star its 70-mile-wide shadow will sweep from southeast to northwest across Nassau and Suffolk counties, all five boroughs of New York City and the Hudson River Valley, with the center of the predicted shadow path following a line roughly connecting New York City, White Plains, Newburgh, Oneonta, Rome and Pulaski before crossing into Canada. See Illustration 1 for the current prediction of where the shadow will pass.


Ill. 1. Estimated path of the shadow of the asteroid Erigone during the occultation of Regulus on March 20, 2014. The green line represents the predicted center line of the ~50 mile wide asteroid shadow. The blue lines represent the width of the asteroid, where edges of the shadow would fall if the actual center of the shadow followed the green line. The red lines represent the uncertainty in the path, meaning that the actual shadow will most likely pass somewhere between the red lines. There is a smaller chance that one edge could be slightly outside one or the other of the red lines.

At the time of the occultation, Regulus will be about 40 degrees high in the southwest, or about half-way up from the horizon to a point straight overhead. Illustration 2 below is a “sky-map” showing the star’s location in the sky along with some convenient reference points to help get oriented.


Ill. 2. Finder chart for March 20, 2014, looking southwest. The red dot at the top represents the point directly overhead. Regulus will be approximately half-way up in the sky, at the bottom of the reversed “question mark” that makes up the “mane” of Leo the Lion. Saturn, the Moon, Mars and Jupiter are shown on this map in the positions they will occupy on this date, as are the twin stars of Gemini (Castor and Pollux) just above Jupiter.

To choose an observing location, members of the public can refer to Illustration 1 and select any place between the outer lines. Since the path the shadow will follow may change slightly, observers should check the online zoomable map at in the days before the event for any last-minute adjustments to the path prediction. Additionally, people situated as far as 10 path-widths on either side of the center line are encouraged to make an observation in case Erigone has a moon which might momentarily block the star’s light. Video recordings will be needed to confirm the fleeting disappearance that a tiny moon of Erigone might cause.

After the event, the public may report their timing observations at, including reports of a “miss,” or no occultation. “Both actual timings and ‘miss’ observations are extremely valuable,” said Preston. “Timings of the disappearance measure the asteroid’s diameter in the dimension along its orbital path, but ‘miss’ observations improve our understanding of how wide it is across its path. Furthermore, both types of reports improve our understanding of the asteroid’s orbit.”

Typically only a few observers see these types of events, allowing the diameter of the asteroid to be measured at just a few places. However, with a large number of observers, the opportunity exists to categorize the asteroid’s entire silhouette, as seen for asteroid (234) Barbara in Illustration 3 below.


Ill. 3. Outline of asteroid (234) Barbara obtained by multiple observers timing an occultation in 2009. The observers were spread out across an area over 40 miles wide. The horizontal white gaps in the solid lines represent the period of time when the asteroid blocked the light from the star for that observer. The gaps between the lines themselves represent the distance between observers on the ground. Each observer saw the star pass behind a slightly different portion of the asteroid, allowing the asteroid’s diameter to be measured at multiple locations. Note the large crater at the south end of the asteroid. This level of resolution is far greater than anything possible with ground-based telescopes, but more observers would have allowed even finer details to be measured.

Members of the public with additional questions should refer to the FAQ page at, email or see the article in the March, 2014 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine.

About IOTA

The International Occultation Timing Association, with its worldwide sister organizations in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia/New Zealand, Japan, S. Asia/India, Mexico, Latin America and South Africa, provides free occultation predictions and planning and analysis software, sponsors online Internet discussion groups and publishes the Journal of Occultation Astronomy. The main IOTA webpage is The Yahoo discussion group can be found at and is open to all with an interest in this topic.

A PDF copy of an article from the March, 2014 issue of Sky and Telescope Magazine on the occultation is linked HERE. Permission to include this article has been granted by Sky and Telescope.

CNYO Joins Sidewalk Astronomers Around The World In Honor Of John Dobson – Saturday, March 8th (7 to 9 p.m.) Near Armory Square In Downtown Syracuse

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

CNYO is organizing a Syracuse session for the seventh International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN 7) being held in honor of John Dobson. We’ll have weather and event updates as we approach March 8th (the 7th and the 9th are official weather-alternate dates) and will be setting up next to Walt the Loch West Monster, the same place several hundred Syracusans observed the Transit of Venus in 2012 and a few of us participated in solar observing for the NASA Climate Day in 2013 (map below). Please spread the word and consider stopping by to celebrate John Dobson’s contribution to amateur astronomy. Several Dobsonians built by West Monroe’s own New Moon Telescopes will be on hand to show you their workings and, of course, show you the sights!

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Walt, just above the center green oval between Walton and W. Fayette.

A little background…

The 20th century was, by far, the most important century for amateur astronomy, as it was the first in which telescopes were mass produced for the consumer market (ours wasn’t much of a busy field for all of the rest of human history). The great science aside, it was the major jump in technology for our field that really grew our numbers.


John Dobson, 1915-2014. Image from

While the list of names responsible for this transition is considerable, a few names are easily recognized as prime movers. John Dobson, who passed away this past January 15th, made one of the great contributions to amateur astronomy by taking the technology back to its foundations, synthesizing a number of great ideas in the amateur building community, throwing in some of his own ingenious ideas, and laying the groundwork for the scope we know today as the Dobsonian.

2014feb18_johndobson_sidewalkastronomersThe “Dob” made it possible for anyone to do large aperture, deep space observing by allowing builders to use very large mirrors in very (well, relatively) portable, reasonably light-weight designs. It is also a much simpler scope for a person to build compared to the many other varieties that used to dominate star parties. As the quality of the scope is limited by the quality of the builder and parts, this also means an expert builder can put together a world-class scope in their own garage that will absolutely compete with the best high-end company-built scopes (a fact that many of us Dob owners are thankful for!).

Better still, John was the world’s leading exponent for sidewalk astronomy, having effectively started the trend as the co-founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. In his honor, CNYO members are joining other astronomy organizations and sidewalk astronomers around the world in the seventh International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN 7) on March 8th. In our case, we’re fortunate to have a prime piece of the Onondaga Creekwalk just at the edge of Armory Square and will be setting up, as always, next to Walt.


You know, Walt (twitter). Image from

While not the best place in the world to observe, there is plenty to see in the Night Sky even from well-lit Syracuse. Attendees will be treated to views of a first quarter Moon (and if you’ve never looked at the Moon with any kind of magnification, you are in for a real treat), Jupiter (worth the trip out itself!), the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, possibly the Andromeda Galaxy (at least a small sampling), and a medley of assorted star clusters (which means we’ll find out what we can see when we’re set up). On top of all that, it’ll be a great chance (weather permitting), to hang out with local amateur astronomers and space enthusiasts in an easy-to-get-to location.

For more information about John Dobson, check out his wikipedia page. For more information about ISAN 7, check out one of several sidewalk astronomy sites, including and And, of course, join our Facebook Group, add our twitter feed, or keep track of for more information as March 8th approaches.