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Partial Solar Eclipse Update – 23 October (Thursday), 10:00 a.m.

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The skies are currently 20% clear over downtown Syracuse with predictions of worsening cloud cover as the day progresses. Accordingly, we’ll be waiting until 4:30 p.m. to make the final call on the Onondaga Lake Parkway session (for more details, including the location, see the previous link HERE).

In the meantime, there are routes to seeing the eclipse (and, very likely, the massive sunspot currently pointed near our way) in real time from the comfort of your own internet connection. The good amateur astronomers at the Slooh Community Observatory will be live streaming the event starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

That said, we await the afternoon skies to see if our session will happen. Stay Tuned!

CNYO Observing Log: Cherry Springs Star Party, 26 – 29 June 2014

This past June 26 – 29, the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg PA hosted their annual Cherry Springs Star Party (CSSP) at, appropriately, Cherry Springs State Park – the second location to be designated an International Dark Sky Park (wikipedia entry). The park’s about 3.5 hours from Syracuse and, by most metrics, in the middle of nowhere (if you find petrol as you approach the park, get it).

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Some light and relevant U-Haul reading on the way to CSSP.

There’s quite literally no basic cellular service anywhere after the 3 hour mark (certainly the case for AT&T customers), leaving the park wifi and, of course, AstroGizmos to provide all the connectivity one should otherwise be trying to get away from for a weekend of observing (but definitely couldn’t get away from, so both wifi’s were much appreciated!). And for those wondering “does anyone make those?” – AstroGizmos had available 12 V hair dryers (with varied powering options) for those looking to evaporate eyepiece condensate on dewy nights (I now have mine).

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Cherry Springs State Park – first sign in the park.

Besides the great dark skies, the CSSP also provides CNY clubs a chance to hang out and do nothing for a few days. I set up shop with fellow Kopernik members at the usual Kopernik location (the first left after the “Nova” signpost). My vehicle was extra full this year with a special delivery of New Moon Telescope Dob #17 to Pedro Gomes, known previously on the CNYO Facebook Page as the hardest working observer in Watertown (now at points south).

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A panorama from the Kopernik site. Click for a larger view.

For those roughing it on the site for the entire party, a not-untypical Saturday schedule might involve (1) staying up as late as the caffeine will allow, listening to angered attendees when someone accidentally turns on their car lights (which is less funny when you’ve waited a half-hour for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, moonless sky), (2) sleeping in until the Sun cooks you in your tent or vehicle, (3) listen to someone (Pedro) tell you about the black bear that passed by his scope and tent the night before (the presence of a few black bears also explained the gunshot fired by camp rangers the night before), (4) going to the vendor tent, (5) making a trip to catering (well, trucks and tent) to wait in line to eat, (6) going back to the vendor tent, (7) attending one or more of the scheduled lectures and checking out the raffle donations (to pass the time until nightfall), (8) vendor tent, (9) raffle!, (10) caffeinate and apply bug spray (although it wasn’t too bad this year), and (11) See 1.

Observing Tip: If you want to make the most of a Star Party, consider taking a break from your usual caffeine intake a few weeks in advance. That first cup of coffee will feel like rocket fuel.

I’m pleased to report that the raffle was a complete success for your’s truly. Not only did I score free admission to the upcoming Kopernik AstroFest in October, but I also managed to walk away with the 8 mm Delos graciously donated to CSSP directly by TeleVue Optics. The company rep, John, and I even had a good exchange Sunday morning (he having done some imaging of the Veil Nebula that night, I having passed around my trusty OIII-filtered 26 mm Nagler to others wanting to observe the same in the Kopernik camp). Admittedly, my bias towards TeleVue eyepieces is strong (and in the official record at Astronomy Technology Today), so the Delos was a very welcome addition (one should not observe Saturn without it!). And it will be present at CNYO events for those wanting to compare and contrast. Many thanks to TeleVue, Kopernik, and all of the CSSP donors (amateur astronomers take their raffle prizes very seriously)!

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Patrick Manley (left) and Pedro Gomes listen as collimation guru Howie Glatter (right) talks shop. Click for a larger view.

I was told that Thursday night was great but very wet. Friday night (my first night there) was a patchwork of clouds and less-than-thrilling seeing conditions. Saturday night was out-and-out fantastic. Going from about 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., my list included Saturn and Mars, 35 Messiers, 20 NGCs (including my personal favorite, NGC 4565), and a lot of just staring into “nowhere particular” just to enjoy the visual peace and quiet.

Blazar-3c424.3-pic-SDSS-credit-580x485The one object I did want to take a stab at seeing was Blazar 3C 454.3 in Pegasus, having seen the announcement cross the CNYO Twitter Feed in the form of a link to universetoday.com (image at right from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey). Blazars are so bright that astronomers didn’t know until the 1970’s that they weren’t actual stars in our own Milky Way. Blazars are the cores of galaxies where matter is being sucked into a supermassive black hole, releasing in the process jets of energy perpendicular to the plane of the galaxy and right in our direction (so these host galaxies would appear to us like the Whirlpool Galaxy, where we’re seeing the whole galaxy face-on as we stare down its rotation axis).

The blazar in Pegasus recently peaked at around 13th magnitude and has been dimming since. That’s dim. That’s far dimmer than binoculars and small scopes will reveal, but is just fine for a 12” Dobsonian (where 15th magnitude is possible under ideal conditions – which Cherry Springs almost certainly is). While not particularly impressive in any kind of scope, this blazar is noteworthy for being 7 billion light years away. When the photons beaming through that new 8 mm Delos left their home galaxy, the Sun and Earth were still more than 2 billion YEARS away from being ANYTHING. That, to my mind, compensates for the dim.

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The view to the East at Sunset on Saturday night. Click for a larger view.

By 2:45 a.m., the Kopernik crowd had thinned to just Keith Werkman and I. I packed up the scope and pulled out the camera for a few long-exposure shots just in time to see a few randomly-oriented bright meteors (not affiliated with the Boötids Meteor Shower, which peaked the night before) and a Milky Way band bright enough to read by.

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Another view of the Kopernik site at the CSSP. Click for a larger view.

Groggy and sore from our respective sleeping arrangements, the gang began to split just after breakfast and a final clean-up of the grounds. Having now survived my second CSSP with quite a bit of excellent viewing (and viewing tools) to show for it, I and others await next year’s CSSP and next month’s Black Forest Star Party at the same location.

AAVSO Writer’s Bureau Digest For 22 April 2014

2013dec20_aavso_logoThe AAVSO Writer’s Bureau, hosted by the American Association of Variable Star Observers (www.aavso.org), 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!

Starbirth in the Neighborhood

C.C. Petersen, The Spacewriter

2014april22__5_M83Galaxies are huge collections of stars, gas, dust, black holes, and planets. The Milky Way is a good example of a spiral galaxy. It also happens to have a bar of gas and dust and stars across its center, and many places where stars are being born. It turns that when astronomers look at other galaxies, particular spiral galaxies (and many colliding galaxies), they also see regions of starbirth.

Hubble Space Telescope has been astronomy’s “go to” machine in space when astronomers want to look at something like a distant galaxy. This Hubble image shows the pinwheel (spiral) galaxy M83, which lies in our southern hemisphere skies in the constellation Hydra. It’s about 15 million light-years away, and, as you can see here, is ablaze with starbirth regions spread across 50,000 light-years of space.

Read the full article at: thespacewriter.com/wp/2014/01/26/starbirth-in-the-neighborhood/

A Cosmic Bubble That’ll Soon Pop. Hard.

Phil Plait, slate.com

2014april22__4_jeffhusted_sharpless2_308Sometimes, I’m pretty happy our planet circles a relatively calm, normal star. Because when I look at stars like EZ Canis Majoris (aka WR 6, HR 2583, HD 50896, and other aliases), I think that things around here could be a lot less conducive for life.

Why? Because this:

Pretty, isn’t it? But the beauty belies a true monster.

This photo was taken by Jeff Husted, an astrophotographer who observers in the western US. It shows the star EZ CMa (for short), the star just left of center of that ethereal glowing bubble of gas. It’s what’s called a Wolf-Rayet star, one of the more terrifying beasts in the galaxy’s menagerie. It’s a star that started out life with more than 40 times the mass of the Sun, which made it super-hot and extraordinarily luminous. Stars like that can be hundreds of thousands of times as bright as the Sun! A planet orbiting it as close as the Earth to the Sun would be cooked to a vapor pretty rapidly.

Read the full article at: www.slate.com/blogs/…cosmic_bubble_from_a_galactic_monster.html

The Final Countdown Before a Supernova

Phil Plait, slate.com

2014april22__3_hst_sbw1I’m sometimes asked what I think the next exploding star in our galaxy will be. Most people expect I’ll say Betelgeuse, the red supergiant marking Orion’s right shoulder.

But Betelgeuse may not go supernova for another million years, which is a long, long time. There are several stars much closer to The End, and I recently learned of a new one: SBW1.

The star is a blue supergiant, a hot, energetic beast probably about 20 or so times the mass of the Sun. Stars like that don’t live long, just a few million years tops. But we know (we think) it’ll explode much sooner than that, because of that ring you see in the Hubble picture above. How does that ring tell us anything? Ah, glad you asked.

Read the full article at: www.slate.com/blogs/…/sbw1_a_star_on_the_verge_of_supernova.html

A Superluminous Supernova

CfA News, Harvard

2014april22__2_su201401Supernovae are the explosive deaths of massive stars. Among the most momentous events in the cosmos, they disburse into space all of the chemical elements that were produced inside their progenitor stars, including most of the elements essential for making planets and life. Astronomers have recognized for decades that there are several different kinds of supernovae, most fundamentally those that originate from a single massive star and those that develop when one member of a pair of binary stars becomes massive by feeding on its neighbor. Other factors like the stellar composition also come into account. Sorting out all these various complications is critical if astronomers want to be able to reliably classify any particular supernovae and thereby infer its intrinsic brightness, and then use its observed brightness as a measure of its distance.

Recent wide-field surveys searching for supernovae have found that the conventional schema for classifying supernovae may be even more complicated than previously thought. A few years ago a new class called superluminous supernovae was found, characterized by their emitting total radiated energies equal to about ten billion suns shining for a year. Some of these new objects were discovered at cosmological distances, helping to cement the notion that new types were being discovered, and further studies have found even more subdivisions, also based among other things on composition. These new superluminous supernovae can be identified and characterized by the particular way their light fades away after the brightness peak, driven in part by the radioactive decay of elements manufactured in the explosions.

Read the full article at: www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/su201401

New Cutoff For Star Sizes

John Bochanski, Sky & Telescope

2014april22__1_Brown_DwarfAstronomers have found a gap between “real” and “failed” stars.

What does the smallest star look like? This question is deceptively difficult to answer. Stars spend most of their lives fusing hydrogen in their cores, a prime time of life called the “main sequence.” As you go down the scale of stellar sizes on this sequence, stars become dimmer, cooler, and less massive. But determining the absolute properties of the smallest stars — their mass, radius, temperature, and overall light output — is challenging for at least three big reasons.

Read the full article at: www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/new-cutoff-for-star-sizes/