CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 9 February 2013

Ryan Goodson, Larry Slosberg, and I joined Bob Piekiel for his monthly New Moon observing session at Baltimore Woods on his weather-alternate session (having lost Friday’s session to Snow Storm Nemo). What started as a remarkably cold session, which then progressed to a bitterly cold session, and then finally to an intolerably cold session (forcing us to close shop up around 8:30 p.m.), still provided some excellent views of the Winter Sky, including the Solar System‘s largest planet Jupiter right between the Hyades and Pleiades.

For those who haven’t ventured for a session, the view from the Baltimore Woods parking lot includes a clear zenith (what luck!), a tree to the North that extends almost up to Polaris (so one must walk around it to get the view of constellations below our North Star), low-lying trees to the West, then the warm orange glow (the only thing warm on the 9th) of Baldwinsville and Syracuse to the East-Southeast. As we’re mid-winter, the evening observing was obstructed occasionally by blindingly bright snowmobiles (but one had plenty of lead time to take cover).

The evening started early with a fly-by of the yellow-orange ball that is (from the ground, anyway) the International Space Station (ISS), right on schedule with the predictions from heavens-above.com:

Date Brightness Start Highest point End Pass type
[Mag] Time Alt. Az. Time Alt. Az. Time Alt. Az.
09 Feb -3.3 18:55:57 10° SW 18:59:16 68° SE 18:59:56 51° E Visible

Reaching a total session count of eight, the evening included several observations of Jupiter, noting specifically how quickly Io rushed from Jupiter as even 10 minute intervals progressed (the slow cooling of mirrors resulted in many returns of increasingly crisp views). A comparison of eye piece magnifications and field-of-views was performed with the Pleiades in Bob’s 11″ Schmidt–Cassegrain and Ryan’s 16″ NMT Dob. In both cases, one my my favorite doubles, Tyc1800-1961-1 (blue) and Tyc1800-1974-1 (orange), jumped right out from the center of the tea cup. The lesson learned from such an exercise is that magnification is not the key to observational astronomy – it is seeing all that you want to see in the field of view that is key to enjoying the Night Sky.

A second highlight of the evening included M35, an open cluster in Gemini that, at 2,800 light years away, still covers an area the size of the Full Moon. Clearly visible as a slight “smudge” in the upper-left corner of the eyepiece (so the lower-right corner of M35) at low magnification is the compact open cluster NGC 2158.

After Jupiter, the night belonged to the massive Orion Nebula (M42), a hydrogen cloud doubling as a stellar nursery. At a magnitude of +4.0, the fuzzy patch in Orion’s Belt is visible to the Naked Eye, increasing in density with small binoculars, and leading to magnificent views of filamentous nebulosity at low magnification in both telescopes. The splitting of the main binaries in Trapezium was trivial in Ryan’s 16″ NMT Dob even without a completely cooled mirror.

I noted to Ryan that, given the usual CNY winter conditions, “It’s a rarity to see Pegasus in the West.” The quintet of Sirius, Orion’s Belt, the Hyades, Jupiter, and the Pleiades was worth the visit with or without equipment. After 90 minutes of observing in cold, continually patchy skies, the temperature dropped precipitously, instigating a rapid retreat and scope packing by all attendees. The lessons learned – your gloves are never thick enough & always have a headlamp in the car for the end of the evening!

Asteroid 2012 DA14 (& Little Hope For CNY (Viewing))

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

I begin with a little bit of history from the NASA Voyager website: voyager.jpl.nasa.gov

The Voyager delivery accuracy at Neptune of 100 km (62 mi), divided by the trip distance or arc length traveled of 7,128,603,456 km (4,429,508,700 mi), is equivalent to the feat of sinking a 3630 km (2260 mi) golf putt, assuming that the golfer can make a few illegal fine adjustments while the ball is rolling across this incredibly long green.

I include this piece of historical content to put into context any discussion about a 2012 DA14 impact (which, at this point, falls clearly into the conspiracy theory regime). The world has a very good handle on Newtonian Mechanics and, when it is reported by NASA physicists that something is going to miss the planet by 27,000 km (OK, fine. 27,000 km from the Earth’s center. As the point on the Earth’s surface farthest from the Earth’s center is 6,384 km away, DA14 will miss by “only” 20,616 km), you can believe it. If we can be off by 100 km after 12 YEARS in space, be assured we can be within that same 100 km with a year’s worth of data collection.

With the good news out of the way…

As the newest reports about 2012 DA14’s path make clear, its passing within geosynchronous orbit will be a treat for observers in Indonesia and an otherwise great view for Europe, Asia, and Africa. And by great, I mean that the predicted apparent magnitude will not reach smaller than 7.4 (smaller = brighter. Naked Eye viewing trails off rapidly after magnitude 4, making 2012 DA14 a “big binocular” object even at its closest approach. The Sun, on the other hand, is at magnitude –26.74 from Earth), so it will be great with the aid of optics. CNY, and the Americas in general, will only be able to observe 2012 DA14 on its “way out,” after closest approach. As it will be moving at quite a clip away from us, it will be quite a difficult object in CNY to find for anyone outside on the night of the 15th. Reports seems to indicate it will be at magnitude 11 by the time the East Coast could see it, which is a heroic magnitude for most any amateur telescope).

2012february8_2012DA14_path_v2

CAPTION: Path of 2012 DA14 (in Universal Time (UT) and as viewed from the Earth’s Center) on February 15/16. Click for a full-sized version. From www.virtualtelescope.eu.

And, if you’re still freaked out about impact, note that we (CNY) will STILL be on the wrong piece of Terran real estate. That said, its trajectory is even wrong for colliding with geosynchronous satellites, so your cell phone service won’t be impacted, either.

I am pleased to report that the best 4 minute discussion of 2012 DA14 has been put together by an organization I’ve been a member of for over 15 years – The Planetary Society (co-founded by Carl Sagan, currently CEO’ed over by Bill Nye, the list of activities in space science and public outreach is considerable). Bruce Bett’s youtube video is provided below. If Snow Storm Nemo has anything to say about it, you’ll have plenty of time this weekend to watch and take notes.

CAPTION: Planetary Society Director of Projects Bruce Betts reassures us in this brief and fascinating explanation of what will happen–and what WON’T happen–when this big asteroid comes closer to Earth than many satellites.

You can read a full article about 2012 DA14 at the Planetary Society website: www.planetary.org/explore/projects/neo-grants/2012da14.html. A thorough FAQ can be found at www.planetary.org/explore/projects/neo-grants/2012-da14-faq.html.

TACNY Junior Cafe Scientifique: “Where Is the Science in Hollywood’s Sci-Fi Blockbusters?”

Saturday, February 16, 9:30-11:00am

Milton J Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology, Syracuse NY


People often walk away from well-advertised Hollywood blockbusters, such as Avatar, Armageddon, Star Trek, Harry Potter or Hunger Games, believing that what they have observed on the big screen is real. Where do the fantasy and reality begin and end? Can life be found on other worlds? Is it possible to stop an asteroid on its way to impact Earth? What is warp speed? How do witches and wizards move from one place to another? Again, where does fiction end and reality occur?

People interested in learning more about the science in movies are invited to attend the free Junior Cafe presentation on Saturday, Feb. 16, 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 jrcafe@tacny.org by Feb. 13, 2013.

Presenter: Walter L. Sharp, “Len,” MS, CAS, is a Member of the TACNY Board of Directors, and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Education at LeMoyne College. Len was a science teacher for 40 years and enjoys sharing sci-fi films that are related to earth science topics with his students. Len is a Past President of the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS), the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA), and the National Association of Presidential Awardees in Science Teaching (APAST). He was a Presidential Awardee in Science Teaching, which was cited by President Carter in 1996, and a National Science Teacher Association (NSTA) Distinguished Teacher. Twice named a National Association of Geoscience Teachers Outstanding Earth Science Teacher, Len is also a Christa McAuliffe Fellow, a Fulbright Memorial Fund Fellow to Japan, and a two-time Earthwatch Fellow. Len was a presenter for Vice President Al Gore’s Project Climate. Len has hiked all seven continents, 21 foreign countries, and 114 National Park monuments, parks, historical areas, battlefields and the like. His hobbies include collecting sci-fi films (1902-present), hiking, photography, travel, fossil collecting, golf and pool.

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 www.tacny.org.