Category Archives: Cny Science

Central New York: Take Note (And Help Out)! – The Occultation Of Regulus By Asteroid Erigone On March 20th

Furthermore! CNYO members will be performing a test run of the occultation event for those attending both our lecture at Liverpool Public Library this Thursday (March 6th) and our session of the International Sidewalk Astronomy Night this Saturday (March 8th, weather-pending).

The official IOTA Press Release can be read on the CNYO site HERE.

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Our daytime skies are (often) filled by starlight from our blindingly bright Sun, while our nighttime skies are a very sparse but more complicated arrangement of the Moon, planets, artificial satellites, stars, and a precious few galaxies and nebulae that can be seen without anything more than the 1x7mm binoculars built into our heads.

Occasionally, events happen “up there” that remind us that we live in a busier part of the Milky Way than the quiet regularity of our own Solar System lets on. All were treated to a nova in the constellation Delphinus last August, where a star otherwise invisible to the naked eye grew bright enough to see without optics, only to fade again weeks after. Comet ISON, heralded as a possible “comet of the century” almost a year before anyone had actual data, at least qualified for “comet of the year” as a dim fuzzball visible away from city lights in November (before fizzling out more dramatically in NASA images). The real winner of 2013 was unquestionably the meteor over Chelyabinsk, a 20 meter/14,000 ton near-Earth asteroid that surprised everyone (most especially the people of Chelyabinsk) last February 15th. The world benefited from the general mistrust of the police in Russia by its citizenry, as thousands of dashboard cams otherwise used to record traffic stops instead provided thousands of high-def videos and images of atmospheric entry.

Technology has dramatically changed amateur astronomy in the past decade, with CCD cameras and commodity telescopes in the hands of trained amateurs providing images that would give many NASA images a good run for their money. Amateur astronomers are now at the vanguard of the space monitoring movement, discovering near-Earth objects, watching the evolution of impacts on Jupiter, identifying supernova in our own and nearby galaxies, even tracking satellites that governments don’t acknowledge existing.

With all that in mind, CNY is going to have front row seats this coming March 20th as the Main Belt asteroid (163) Erigone slides briefly between ourselves and Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion. This event, called an occultation, will dim or completely block the light coming from Regulus for up to 14 seconds, simultaneously giving scientists a chance to learn more about Erigone.

If you’re an amateur astronomer, citizen scientist, or just someone willing to look to your South at 2 a.m. once this year, fellow observers in CNY extend an invitation to you to report your findings to an organization that will use everyone’s data to determine the shape of Erigone.

2014mar4_erigone_path

The path of Erigone’s shadow on CNY. Highest confidence of observing the occultation is between the blue lines, some additional confidence of observing it between the blue and red lines.

The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) has been planning for the Regulus occultation for many months, from mapping out the best places to observe the occultation to corralling amateur astronomers to help in the data collection. On the morning of March 20th (in the 2:00 to 2:10 a.m. EDT range), observers along a very thin stretch of our planet will point their scopes, cameras, and eyes to the sky to see the star Regulus either dim or go out completely for several seconds, only to reappear unscathed. Those few seconds mean everything to members of the IOTA planning to calculate the shape and size of Erigone, and they will not complain if more observers provide more data.

And just how will this timing data be used to estimate the shape of the distant asteroid Erigone? Consider the old Indian story of the blind men and the elephant. The elephant, being much larger than the stationary men, is believed to be very different things depending on where the measurement is taking place. One old man thinks the trunk is a snake, while another thinks that the leg is a pillar, while yet a third thinks that the tail is a rope.

Instead of a large, stationary animal, Erigone will be a swiftly moving rock that will cast a Regulus-powered shadow on the Earth, and CNY in particular. If Erigone were that elephant, observers at the trunk edge of the shadow would see Regulus disappear for only a second, those at the tail edge for less than a second, those at the center line of the belly for 10 seconds, and those lined up with the legs for 15 or so seconds. Consider the series of images below, showing the elephant’s shadow overlaid on blue lines that represent an observer seeing light from Regulus (Figure 1), red lines marking when those observers didn’t see the light from Regulus (Figure 2, and note that observers on the trunk side would have seen Regulus blink twice!), and finally the estimated shape of the elephant (in green) as taken from everyone’s submitted data (Figure 3).

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Figure 1. The hypothetical elephant’s outline over the light (blue) of Regulus.

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Figure 2. The locations and timings of when the light from Regulus was NOT observed (red).

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Figure 3. The outline of the hypothetical elephant (green) as estimated from the occultation measurements (red). You see? It works!

Taking the disappearance times and the locations of the reports, IOTA members can put together a complete disappearance map of the asteroid like that shown below for asteroid (234) Barbara. In the case of Erigone, the shadow it casts will almost certainly be visible from Utica (east edge) to Auburn (west edge) and might be observable from Little Falls to Seneca Falls. This approach to determining the asteroid’s shape means that people who DON’T see Regulus disappear are just as important as people who DO see it disappear, as the “DON’T”ers help narrow the maximum estimated width of the asteroid. All measurements are important measurements!

2014mar4_234_barbara

The shape of asteroid (234) Barbara from occultation data.

The Solar System is a kind of shooting gallery of small and not-so-small objects, a fact we can only rarely appreciate given the distances involved. As technology improves and more people keep eyes on the sky, we may find more direct evidence of just how busy things are just in our own Solar System. Meantime, CNY observers can appreciate that we’re finally the best place to be to both study and enjoy an astronomical rarity (weather-permitting, of course).

But wait! There’s more! Only in the past few weeks have IOTA members stepped up their game, proposing to expand the range of observers here on the ground to look for evidence of a moon (or more) around Erigone. The process is the same, measuring any dips in the brightness of Regulus as Erigone approaches to occult. The difference here is that the dimming by a body orbiting Erigone may dip the brightness only slightly before or after Erigone does depending on its size. If the object is too small to obstruct our view of Regulus completely, it will drop Regulus’ brightness by what might be a pebble’s worth placed on top of your smartphone screen compared to Erigone’s cement block’s worth. If the object is large enough, it may occult Regulus completely as well, making the data processing all the more complicated. As you might expect, measuring that small change in brightness is not a task for lousy equipment, but is within the realm of possibility of local observers with good quality CCD cameras on their scopes. If any caught moon is significant in size, it will be easy for all to see and time.

Provided the sky is clear, anyone in CNY should be able to see the occultation with or without binoculars. Those interested in reporting their timing and dimming data are encouraged to check out the occultations.org/Regulus2014 website for all there is to know about the event, then the www.occultwatcher.net/regulus-erigone/ website to see what data the IOTA is looking for. To be kept in the orbital loop about the occultation and any observing plans around CNY, you can contact members of CNY Observers (www.cnyo.org) or check in with any of the other local astronomy clubs in CNY, all of whom have members planning on observing (and, hopefully, recording) the occultation.

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).

2014feb26_tylermucci

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

CNYSEF at OCC’s SRC Arena
The event info can be found at www.most.org/cnysef/.

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

2014feb26_yingtrsef

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 www.YingTRSEF.org/judges/. 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.

Email: trsefjudges@gmail.com
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

Sincerely,
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
Email: mhstefl@esf.edu
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 volunteer@most.org 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 CNYSEF@most.org.

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.

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media contact: Ted Blank, tedblank@gmail.com
Alternate contact: Steve Preston, stevepr@acm.org

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 www.occultations.org/Regulus2014. 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.

2014feb20_erigone_path

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.

2014feb20_erigone_location

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 tinyurl.com/regulus2014map 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 tinyurl.com/regulus2014report, 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.

2014feb20_erigone_barbara

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 www.occultations.org/Regulus2014, email regulus2014@occultations.org 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 www.occultations.org. The Yahoo discussion group can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/IOTAoccultations/info 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.