Barlow Bob’s Corner – Think Outside Of The Box – NEAF 2014 & Occultation Email Highlights

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

I am very happy to summarize some recent emails and a new article from 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 www.neafsolar.com/barlowbob.html.

NEAF 2014 Dates

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The 23rd Anniversary edition of the Northeast Astronomy Forum, America’s Premiere Astronomy Expo and certainly the largest event of its kind on the East Coast, will be April 12 (Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and 13 (Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) at Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY. Both days of the event feature the NEAF Solar Star Party and its organizer Barlow Bob. Get those taxes done early!

See www.rocklandastronomy.com/neaf/index.html for more info.

Occultation Of Regulus – March 20, 2014

Barlow Bob forwards the following from Glenn Chaple on the occultation of Regulus by asteroid Erigone. Better still, CNYO members may be helping the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) with their monitoring experiment. We will keep you posted as March 20th approaches. Meantime, check out the video below to see what to expect.

And, without further ado…

Think Outside Of The Box

By Barlow Bob

 
There are a wide variety of amateur astronomy products available today, manufactured by astronomy suppliers including Celestron and Meade. These types of companies are a great resource to amateur astronomers.
 
However, if you think outside of the box, there is an even larger variety of other suppliers of amateur astronomy products including Stanley, Cabela’s, L.L. Bean, Gander Mountain, Eastern Mountain Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Home Depot, Sam Ash Music, Ritz Camera, Bass Pro Shops, Titleist and most any art supply store. These other companies supply a wider variety of padded, rugged, waterproof cases to hold expensive guns, tools, cameras, golf clubs, music instruments, and fishing equipment. They also supply warm waterproof sportswear and camping equipment. 
 
Some stargeezers are downsizing their amateur astronomy equipment. The 25” Obsession bought for their 30th birthday is now too hard to use on their 60th birthday. It has become a problem to move my variety of heavy amateur solar astronomy equipment at various amateur astronomy events, like NEAF – The Northeast Astronomy Forum – each year.
 
I use a padded drum case to hold the top cage of a Dobsonian telescope, then small cases for mount parts.  I store my Herschel wedge in a diced foam camera  equipment case.  I store the wooden legs of a mount in padded rifle cases. The tripod legs are covered with knitted gun socks. Shorter knitted gun socks cover PowerMate lenses and imaging extension tubes. Padded pistol cases hold smaller toys. I use a two-wheel golf bag cart to move heavy surveyor tripod mounts. I use a large art carry case to hold a big square piece of heavy duty clear plastic.

A smaller art carry case holds a TV swivel stand. Large sturdy plastic food storage containers hold mount weights. A large canvas tool bag holds the head of my equatorial mount and mount parts. Several small Stanley canvas tool bags allow me to store all of the parts of one astro toy in each separate bag, each bag labeled with the contents enclosed. When I go to an event, I can just take a toy and the small bag containing the parts for the toy – no more lost toys or parts.

Larger bags carry more equipment, but become extremely heavy.
 
You probably have already found many other similar products that you use.

I encourage you to think outside of the box and make it easier for you to move your own astro toys.

Poster’s Note: Great minds have thought alike! During our last phone call, I had mentioned to the Barlow’ed One that I not only use a molded, hard floor tom case (you can get locally from Guitar Center or, my personal preference, The Music Center on James St.) for the secondary cage of my New Moon Telescope Dobsonian (and the case doubles as a table and storage bin during observing sessions) and a drum stool for my sitting duties, but I also put together my own custom Coronado PST case from a Sterilite container and green foam from Michael’s (shown below, at a savings of $70 over the official case).

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About The Perseid Meteor Shower (“Perseids” For Short)

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

This article has been posted in preparation for our Perseid Session and International Starry Night event at Baltimore Woods this coming Monday, August 12th (with the 13th as the weather-alternate). We might even get a view or two of the Perseids at our Thursday, August 8th Beaver Lake Nature Center lecture!

The Perseid Meteor Shower is an almost perfect combination of location and timing for amateur astronomers and the general public, as the Earth grazes a rich debris field from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle during the peak of the Northern Summer. We’ll cover the details of this confluence below so you know what makes the Perseids the most anticipated (and observed) meteor shower of the year.

One Thousand And Thirty Words (And Two Numbers)

Comedian: “Ask me what the key to comedy is.”
Assistant: “What’s the -”
Comedian: “Timing!”

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The image above shows all of the important pieces of the Perseid puzzle. We find the Earth in its orbit around the Sun as it approaches a mid-August position (the 10th to the 14th, although one may see meteors at the fringe of Perseid territory several nights before and after) that finds Earth (and us) scraping against the edge of a debris field produced by Comet Swift-Tuttle on its 133-year orbit around the Sun. Last seen in our vicinity in 1995, observers will have to wait until the 2120’s for another good view of its flaring core. Fortunately, it leaves enough tiny pieces of itself as it draws close to the Sun to provide us with a brilliant reminder of its existence every mid-August.

Unlike Halley’s Comet, which passes close to Earth’s orbit on its way toward (producing the Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower in early May) and away from (producing the Orionid Meteor Shower in late October) the Sun, Comet Swift-Tuttle’s eccentric orbit finds it passing close to Earth only at one point, like a snapshot capturing a hula-hoop (Swift-Tuttle’s orbit) as it touches the belt buckle (Earth) of a gyrating dancer whose waist is Earth’s orbit in circumfrence.

What’s In A Name?

We refer to this meteor shower as the “Perseids” because the meteors associated with Swift-Tuttle appear to streak across the sky from a point (known as a “radiant“) originating in the direction of the mythical constellation Perseus. The shower itself has nothing to do with the stars of the constellation Perseus, only the part of the sky that Perseus occupies on the late nights and early mornings in mid-August. One might even consider Perseus the beneficiary of this shower, as the constellation has taken on a new-found importance to astronomers over the last several millennia as the marker for this shower in the August skies.

It’s All Relative

Anyone caught driving late at night during a snow storm knows the sensation of making the Millenium Falcon’s “jump to lightspeed” as the snowflakes appear to shoot towards, then past or onto, your windshield. To the driver cruising at 65 mph on a highway, the snowflakes appear to have no motion but the one directly towards the windshield. If you were standing on a snowflake, you’d notice the very slow decent to the Earth’s surface, the rapidly oncoming car headlights, then the swift rush across the windshield as the aerodynamics of the windshield combined with the high speed of the car.

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This same state of “relative observation” occurs during all meteor showers as the Earth revolves around the Sun. The meteors, themselves mostly no larger than grains of sand, are not moving rapidly towards the Earth’s atmosphere. They lie scattered about the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, a result of the comet heating enough as it approaches the Sun to lose small pieces of its surface. If Swift-Tuttle were a massive gravel delivery truck (to continue the driving analogy), these small grains would be the random pieces of rock that fall to the ground as the truck bumps over uneven pieces of highway.

Clash Of The Tinys

It is the Earth, revolving around the Sun at a dizzying 110,000 km/hour (that’s 30 km/second!), that powers the meteor shower we see on the ground. As the Earth rushes through the debris field of Comet Swift-Tuttle, these tiny grains of comet come into contact with our atmosphere at speeds so great that they ignite the air around them, causing brilliant streaks of light as the tiny grains are incinerated.

The number of meteors one can observe over a Perseid session is determined by (1) your looking at the right place at the right time (no long blinks!) and (2) the density of tiny Swift-Tuttle-ettes in the comet’s orbit as Earth passes through it. There are some meteor showers where one is lucky to see a few per hour. Because the Earth passes through a generally rich part of Swift-Tuttle’s orbit, two or three per minute may not be uncommon for a “usual” Perseid session. Those outside for the 1972 Perseid Meteor Shower were treated to what many believe to be the best meteor shower in recorded history (and those outside for the 1998 Leonid Meteor Shower (a close second by all metrics) know what it’s like to see thousands per hour raining down on dark skies).

Finding Perseus

The Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus. For your best chance of seeing Perseid meteors, it is not your eyes that should be transfixed on the heart of Perseus. Instead, you should anchor the bottoms of your toes towards Perseus, then find a comfortable piece of ground (or reclining chair) that gives you a clear view of the sky right above you. Perseid meteors will then, with a thick patch of debris field and a bit of patience, appear to blaze across the night sky from your toes (Northeast) past your head (to the Southwest).

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Perseus will appear to rise above the Northeast horizon after 9:00 p.m. Directly above the stars of Perseus resides Cassiopeia – a giant and prominent “W” in the night sky that, for many hours after sunset, will appear as a West-facing throne for this ancient Ethiopian queen. Those familiar with the many tricks amateur astronomers use to learn the Night Sky will simply find Polaris, perhaps using the two end stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper and an imaginary line along these stars in the direction of the bowl’s open face to pick out the dim North Star. Polaris does not shine with the brightness one might have imagined for the second most important star in the sky (after our own Sun), but it is in a piece of sky that contains few brighter stars, making it the most obvious member of a very modest piece of northern sky.

If you’re still too new to constellation hunting, the solution is simple! Grab a compass (or a compass app in your smart phone) and find Northeast the new-fashioned way. With luck, the Perseids will race to the Southwest at a rate of a few per minute, increasing in count, then decreasing, from around 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. local time. With the good fortunes of all the Olympian Gods, we’ll all be treated to many, many more.

Additional Information

The Perseid Meteor Shower

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perseids
earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-perseid-meteor-shower
solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/perseids.cfm

Comet Swift-Tuttle

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Swift%E2%80%93Tuttle
ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=109P

Meteors And Meteor Showers

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteor_shower
leonid.arc.nasa.gov/meteor.html

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 13 July 2013

One month from the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, Bob Piekiel’s monthly Baltimore Woods session this past July 13th was a study in summertime CNY observing – that is, a study in patience, persistence, and bug spray.

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Caption: Scopes and observers at the ready.

The evening started with an expectation of partly-cloudy skies according to all forecasts. The setup of of Bob’s 16″ Meade SCT, 25×125 Vixen binoculars, Larry Slosberg’s 12″ New Moon Telescope Dobsonian, and my 12.5″ NMT Dob went slowly as we watched the clouds move fast and move in. What might have been an early observing crowd at BW turned out to be an evening Frog Walk program that had the attendees hopping into the distance from the parking lot.

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Caption: Elaine, Bob, and a 16″ Meade SCT.

Scope setup and cloud cover were complete by 8:45 p.m., leaving a group of eight of us to strain to see Vega, Deneb, Altair, and Arcturus (the four brightest stars in our sky this session). Their appearance at all produced the call of their individual names for well over an hour. We were lucky enough to catch a few early glimpses of Saturn and the Moon, but even they were no match for cloud formations approaching from the West. While no one complained loudly about the mosquitoes in the air, no one appreciated their presence either. One of the benefits of a non-DEET (or, at least, more natural) bug spray is that, with a spray and rubbing-in around your head and neck (that you are more hesitant to do with the DEET variety), you can stare into an eyepiece unencumbered by the ever-louder buzzes in your ear.

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Caption: The author waiting impatiently for clear skies (photo by Larry Slosberg).

With the hopes of later clearer skies (and because the scopes were set up anyway), the group engaged in the time-old tradition of assorted conversations under an overcast nighttime sky while waiting for clearings between clouds.

With 20 minutes to go in the “official” BW session, dark patches finally began to appear at our zenith. Within 10 minutes, these small patches had grown into large spans of dark sky, from which observing began in earnest at 10:50 p.m.

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Caption: A view of the southern sky (featuring Sagittarius and Scorpius).

The official session lasted another hour or so and included a few Iridium Flares and one pair of unwanted car headlights directly in our path (if you see a scope in the middle of nowhere, PLEASE dim your lights).

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Caption: A very close double – car headlights raining on our session.

My observing list included Albireo (the head of Cygnus the Swan and one of the great double stars in the Night Sky), Alcor and Mizar in the handle of the Big Dipper (in the tail of Ursa Major), the great globular cluster M13 in Hercules, the “Double-Double” binary star pair in Lyra (Epsilon1a and Epsilon2a Lyrea, making up the handle of the lyre with Vega), The Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra, the Veil Nebula (a supernova remnant quite obvious in an O III filter) in Cygnus, and M5 (which I think is a slightly crisper globular cluster than M13) in Serpens. In the search for M5, the skies were dark enough that NGC 5921 in Serpens (the half of Serpens known as Serpens Caput, to be specific) became ever-so-slightly prominent. This galaxy, dim and featureless but still bright enough to notice in a scan of the skies around M5, is shown in Hubble images to be a fantastic barred spiral galaxy.

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Caption: NGC 5921 (from NASA/Hubble).