Author Archives: Damian Allis

NASA Space Place – Exploring the Water World

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 April, 2013.

By Diane K. Fisher

2013february2_spaceplaceIn some ways, we know more about Mars, Venus and the Moon than we know about Earth. That’s because 70% of our solar system’s watery blue planet is hidden under its ocean. The ocean contains about 98% of all the water on Earth. In total volume, it makes up more than 99% of the space inhabited by living creatures on the planet.

As dominant a feature as it is, the ocean—at least below a few tens of meters deep—is an alien world most of us seldom contemplate. But perhaps we should.

The ocean stores heat like a “fly wheel” for climate. Its huge capacity as a heat and water reservoir moderates the climate of Earth. Within this Earth system, both the physical and biological processes of the ocean play a key role in the water cycle, the carbon cycle, and climate variability.

This great reservoir continuously exchanges heat, moisture, and carbon with the atmosphere, driving our weather patterns and influencing the slow, subtle changes in our climate.

The study of Earth and its ocean is a big part of NASA’s mission. Before satellites, the information we had about the ocean was pretty much “hit or miss,” with the only data collectors being ships, buoys, and instruments set adrift on the waves.

Now ocean-observing satellites measure surface topography, currents, waves, and winds. They monitor the health of phytoplankton, which live in the surface layer of the ocean and supply half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Satellites monitor the extent of Arctic sea ice so we can compare this important parameter with that of past years. Satellites also measure rainfall, the amount of sunlight reaching the sea, the temperature of the ocean’s surface, and even its salinity!

Using remote sensing data and computer models, scientists can now investigate how the oceans affect the evolution of weather, hurricanes, and climate. In just a few months, one satellite can collect more information about the ocean than all the ships and buoys in the world have collected over the past 100 years!

NASA’s Earth Science Division has launched many missions to planet Earth. These satellites and other studies all help us understand how the atmosphere, the ocean, the land and life—including humans—all interact together.
Find out more about NASA’s ocean studies at Kids will have fun exploring our planet at The Space Place,

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


Caption: This image from September 2012, shows that the Arctic sea is the smallest recorded since record keeping began in 1979. This image is from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio at Goddard Space Flight Center.

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:

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 5 April 2013


Bob Piekiel’s monthly session at Baltimore Woods featured crystal clear skies, increasingly cold conditions (a recurring theme this year for all of the previous sessions), and one large scope.

This Baltimore Woods session was the last scheduled event before our Winter constellations all-but disappear from our nighttime skies. To this pressing deadline was added the last reasonable observation of Comet panSTARRS (C/2011 L4) from the same location, as the return of the foliage through May will all-but obscure the parts of the North/NorthWest horizon that are not already obscured by naked branches. The event itself was scheduled from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., ending an hour before any first observation of Saturn for the evening. The ever-dropping temperature that evening found us ending the session promptly to the sound of running (with heat on full-blast) cars and depleted propane.


Bob Piekiel and the author post-assembly.

With a confirmed heavy lifter attending (me), Bob opted to bring out a 16” Meade SCT on a homemade tripod that is (minus the scope) transported in the open – the whole considerable contraption hitches to the back of the car. After a bit of heavy lifting and careful coordination to get the scope up to the mount, the completed assembly was ready for the first signs of bright stars (in this case, Sirius and Capella) to perform the alignment. The time waiting for bright star arrivals was passed with the help of a pair of Zhumell 25×100’s that saw (1) clear views of Jupiter and all four of its largest moons and (2) Sirius in Canis Major to the West.


Bob Piekiel putting the finishing touches on a 16″ Meade SCT.

The height of the tripod combined with the extra 8” of wheels on the mount’s base meant that a step ladder was required for nearly all viewing throughout the night. With the 16” SCT aligned, the first official view (pre-dark sky) was of Jupiter, which was bright and clear in Bob’s 40 mm Meade eyepiece. The second object was Trapezium in the Orion Nebula (M42), which was also crisp and clear despite our observing it only minutes after sunset.

The third object observed combined low brightness with near-horizon position just past dusk. Bob managed to find Comet panSTARRS almost due North of the Andromeda Galaxy just as it was about to hit the bare tree line. The view was excellent for several minutes as everyone had a few looks at this increasingly difficult-to-observe object (comet’s center was reasonably well defined, but this was a 16” scope with a 40 mm eyepiece). And, it should be noted, the object database in Bob’s GOTO computer is not only older than the discovery of Comet pan-STARRS, but also quite a bit older (decade? maybe two?) than the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) that originally identified the comet. So, extra kudos to Bob for the timely find!

The cold set in quickly after these first three objects, meaning the last four objects for the evening were approached with haste. In a return to the objects of his last session, Bob treated attendees to excellent dark views of M65 and M66 in Leo, M108 (a faint edge-on galaxy near the Owl Nebula in Ursa Major that was as bright in the 16” as it was with Bob’s 11” scope + image enhancer), and the Owl Nebula (M97). Bob and I saw this final object as a confirmation that it hadn’t flown the coop during our last session, where the image enhancer failed to produce any particular view of this object (see the last session notes for details).


New supernova in M65. Photo by Felipe Pena.

NOTE: I wish I had known earlier that a new supernova was discovered in M65! As a general point of reference, those looking for the most complete and up-to-date information about supernovas are directed to David Bishop’s excellent Bright Supernova database and log at Details and many, many images of the new supernova in M65 can be found at:

The totality of views through the Zhumell 25×100’s were limited to Jupiter (as a sampling for the attendees before the 16″ was properly GOTO’ed), Sirius (just to the left of Orion and the brightest star in our Night Sky), the Double Cluster in Perseus (bright and densely packed), and the Pleiades (M45), the object for which I assume 25×100’s were originally designed to observe (near-perfect fit of the whole cluster in the field of view).

A few street lights and distant clouds to the East reflecting Syracuse back down provided all the illumination that the stars didn’t as we began to pack up the gear at 9:30 p.m.

And did the 3rd Quarter Moon affect the viewing? For those observing at “reasonable” hours, it is the case that the 3rd Quarter Moon doesn’t rise until midnight, meaning the week before a Full Moon, the week of a Full Moon, the few days before a 1st Quarter are excellent for getting outside to observe deep sky objects at “reasonable” hours (reasonable being relative, of course).


Not a lunar landing scene. Mid-way through the 9:30 pack-up.

Next session is scheduled for May 4 (Saturday) – 5 (Sunday), 8-10 p.m. and will feature Jupiter, Saturn, and hopefully a few shooting stars from the Eta Aquariids meteor shower. For details and registration, see the details on this CNYO page.

CNYO Observing Log: NASA Climate Day, 2 April 2013


Tuesday April 2nd marked the Museum of Science and Technology‘s hosting of NASA Climate Day in Syracuse, NY. For CNYO members and attendees attempting to observe the Sun, April 2nd also marked one of the more remarkable mixtures of weather patterns to hit CNY.


Patient attendees waiting for a clearing. Photo by Simon Asbury.

CNYO solar scope setup at Walt the Blue Dragon commenced promptly at 5:00 p.m. Given the expectation of snow and considerable cloud cover over the next few hours before the 7:31 E.D.T. p.m. sunset, I left my Dobsonian at home and Larry Slosberg opted to keep his Meade SCT in the car. Our equipment for the event consisted of a pair of 25×100 and 10×30 binoculars (both with homemade Baader filters) and one Coronado PST. Also in tow were several garbage bags for rapid covering of all the equipment.


The author looking for a clearing through Baader’d Zhumell 25×100’s. Photo by Simon Asbury.

The sky was windy, cloudy, patchy, and fast-moving, intermixing light snow with perfect blue patches near (but not always overlapping) the Sun. Over the course of about 80 minutes, only 10 good minutes of solar observing were had, and most of these involved some amount of cloud cover obscuring prominent Sunspot 1711 and several smaller Sunspots. The Coronado revealed a large triangular prominence and plenty of surface detail with a 20 mm Plossl and a TeleVue 3mm-6mm Nagler Zoom. It was during the Coronado observing that Bob Piekiel mentioned a certain tweak that can be performed to the PST (and other models) to improve the view (a forthcoming article documenting the procedure is in the works!).


View of the Sun on April 2nd, 2013. From

The outside part of the NASA Climate Day festivities ended as a massive grey cloud approached from the distant East (that proved to drop the largest amount of snow on Syracuse not 30 minutes later), instigating the packing up of equipment and migration into the MOST itself to see the rest of the event. In all, only a few left the climate-controlled confines of the MOST to see the filtered Sun, but we did get a few passers by to look, at least one of whom made it onto our facebook page recently.

LESSON FOR THE SESSION: When it’s freezing cold, blustering-ly windy, dark-grey overcast, and only a slight hope for long patches of clear skies exists, keep the solar scopes close to the exterior doors of the building where the main event is going on.

The indoor part of the CNYO session consisted of a small presentation area for showing a few videos of solar events, how the Baader and Hydrogen-alpha filters (in the Coronado) work (having stolen an incandescent light bulb from a bicycle-powered demonstration for the Baader demo), and the relative sizes of the Sun and planets in our Solar System. We moved inside just as Dave Eichorn began his keynote lecture and unfortunately missed his presentation, but that did give us time to walk around the displays near our little setup (appropriate placed next to the vision display).


The indoor presentation setup.

The demo of the Baader film with the incandescent bulb (to easily see the spring inside) was one of the indoor highlights (well, I thought is was interesting), then we finished the evening with a few students asking some very good questions about solar activity, the dangers of space flight, and potential plans for Moon and Mars Missions (which is always the real highlight of any CNYO session for me).