Kopernik Winter Star Party – This Saturday, February 23rd

The Kopernik Astronomical Society is hosting its 2013 Winter Star Party this coming Saturday (Feb. 23) from 6:00 p.m. to as late as people are likely to observe from the best equipped society observatory in CNY. A few with CNYO will be there for an evening of lectures, twizzlers, and what we hope will be clear skies. Directions to Kopernik (which also hosts year-long Friday Night observing sessions from March to November) are provided below:


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Event details are reproduced below. But see the Kopernik website for all of the event information!

Winter Star Party

Featuring NASA Scientist Michelle Thaller!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

6:00 PM – Members-Only Reception (light refreshments provided)

KOSC Members are invited to attend this informal reception to meet other members, get some early views through the telescopes (weather permitting), and kick off the Winter Star Party!

6:30 PM – Doors Open to the Public

Enjoy telescope observing (if clear) or tours (if cloudy). Take a tour through part of our galaxy with GeoWall, our special 3D projection system. Kids get to make and take home their own miniature Jupiter model.

7:00 PM – Comet Preview 2013

Roy Williams, KOSC – Enjoy a short presentation about two comets heading this way and learn how to get ready to observe these rare heavenly sights. See a comet made right in front of your eyes!

7:30 PM – Mikolaj Kopernik Birthday Celebration

Polish astronomer and mathematician Mikolaj Kopernik, known in English as Nicolaus Copernicus, was born February 19, 1473. Help us celebrate his 540th birthday with cake and special Polish desserts.

8:00 PM – Things That Go Bump in the Dark

Dr. Michelle Thaller, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center – Astronomers think that everything we see in the universe makes up less than 4% of what actually is in the universe. How could this be? Is regular matter really such a small part of the universe? Newly discovered dark matter and dark energy are seriously mysterious things, however, experts are getting better at detecting and mapping both. What they are finding out is astonishing. These dark matter maps raise questions about the entire history of the universe, including how galaxies, stars, and planets formed in the first place. Dark energy may determine the fate of all matter, dark or otherwise, that exists.

Come find out about these things that go bump in the dark!

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Click on the image for the event PDF

NASA Space Place – A Cosmic Tease: Trials Of The Herschel Space Telescope Science Teams

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 October, 2012.

By Dr. Marc J. Kuchner

2013february2_spaceplaceVast fields of marble-sized chunks of ice and rock spun slowly in the darkness this week, and I sat in the back of a grey conference room with white plastic tables spread with papers and laptops. I was sitting in on a meeting of an international team of astronomers gathered to analyze data from the Herschel Infrared Observatory. This telescope, sometimes just called Herschel, orbits the Sun about a million miles from the Earth.

The meeting began with dinner at Karl’s house. Karl charred chorizo on the backyard grill while the airplanes dribbled into Dulles airport. Our colleagues arrived, jetlagged and yawning, from Germany, Sweden, and Spain, and we sat on Karl’s couches catching up on the latest gossip. The unemployment level in Spain is about twenty percent, so research funding there is hard to come by these days. That’s not nice to hear. But it cheered us up to be with old friends.

The meeting commenced the next morning, as the vast fields of ice and rock continued to spin—shards glinting in the starlight. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t exist at all.

You see, this team is looking at a series of images of stars taken by a device called a bolometer that is blind to ordinary starlight. Instead, the bolometer inside Herschel senses infrared light, a kind of light that we would probably refer to as heat if we could feel it. But the idea of pointing the bolometer at the stars was not to collect ordinary starlight. It was to measure heat coming from the vicinity of these stars, like an infrared security camera, in case there was something else to be found lurking nearby.

And lo and behold, for a handful of stars, the bolometer measurements were off the charts! Maybe something was orbiting these stars. From the details of the bolometer readings—which channels lit up and so on—you would guess that this stuff took the form of majestic fields or rings of icy and rocky particles. It would be a new kind of disk, a discovery worth writing home to Madrid about.

There are several teams of astronomers analyzing data from the Herschel Space Telescope. They call themselves by oddly inappropriate sounding acronyms: GASPS, DUNES, DEBRIS. For the time being, the scientists on these teams are the only ones with access to the Herschel data. But in January, all the data these teams are working on will suddenly be released to the public. So they are all under pressure to finish their work by then. The team whose meeting I was sitting in on would like to publish a paper about the new disks by then.

But it’s not so simple. The stars that this team had measured were relatively nearby as stars go, less than a few hundred light years. But the universe is big, and full of galaxies of all kinds—a sea of galaxies starting from maybe a hundred thousand light years away, and stretching on and on. Maybe one of those background galaxies was lined up with each of the stars that had lit up the bolometer—fooling us into thinking they were seeing disks around these stars.

The team argued and paced, and then broke for lunch. We marched to the cafeteria through the rain. Meanwhile, vast fields of marble-sized chunks of ice and rock spun slowly in the darkness. Or maybe they didn’t.

What else did Herschel recently uncover? Find out at spaceplace.nasa.gov/comet-ocean.

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner is an astrophysicist at the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA’s Astrophysics Division works on big questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, galaxies, and planetary systems. Explore more at www.science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/.

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Caption: Samuel Pierpoint Langley, who developed the bolometer in 1878. His instrument detects a broad range of infrared wavelengths, sensitive to differences in temperature of one hundred-thousandth of a degree Celsius (0.00001 C). In 1961, Frank Low developed the germanium bolometer, which is hundreds of times more sensitive than previous detectors and capable of detecting far-infrared radiation.

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: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/

NASA Space Place – It Takes More Than Warm Porridge To Make A Goldilocks Zone

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 November, 2012.

By Diane K. Fisher

2013february2_spaceplaceThe “Goldilocks Zone” describes the region of a solar system that is just the right distance from the star to make a cozy, comfy home for a life-supporting planet. It is a region that keeps the planet warm enough to have a liquid ocean, but not so warm that the ocean boils off into space. Obviously, Earth orbits the Sun in our solar system’s “Goldilocks Zone.”

But there are other conditions besides temperature that make our part of the solar system comfortable for life. Using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, along with theoretical models and archival observations, Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, have published a new study suggesting that our solar system and our place in it is special in at least one other way.

This fortunate “just right” condition involves Jupiter and its effect on the asteroid belt.
Many other solar systems discovered in the past decade have giant gas planets in very tight orbits around their stars. Only 19 out of 520 solar systems studied have Jupiter-like planets in orbits beyond what is known as the “snow line”—the distance from the star at which it is cool enough for water (and ammonia and methane) to condense into ice. Scientists believe our Jupiter formed a bit farther away from the Sun than it is now. Although the giant planet has moved a little closer to the Sun, it is still beyond the snow line.

So why do we care where Jupiter hangs out? Well, the gravity of Jupiter, with its mass of 318 Earths, has a profound effect on everything in its region, including the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt is a region between Mars and Jupiter where millions of mostly rocky objects (some water-bearing) orbit. They range in size from dwarf planet Ceres at more than 600 miles in diameter to grains of dust. In the early solar system, asteroids (along with comets) could have been partly responsible for delivering water to fill the ocean of a young Earth. They could have also brought organic molecules to Earth, from which life eventually evolved.

Jupiter’s gravity keeps the asteroids pretty much in their place in the asteroid belt, and doesn’t let them accrete to form another planet. If Jupiter had moved inward through the asteroid belt toward the Sun, it would have scattered the asteroids in all directions before Earth had time to form. And no asteroid belt means no impacts on Earth, no water delivery, and maybe no life-starting molecules either. Asteroids may have also delivered such useful metals as gold, platinum, and iron to Earth’s crust.

But, if Jupiter had not migrated inward at all since it formed father away from the Sun, the asteroid belt would be totally undisturbed and would be a lot more dense with asteroids than it is now. In that case, Earth would have been blasted with a lot more asteroid impacts, and life may have never had a chance to take root.

The infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope contributes in unexpected ways in revealing and supporting new ideas and theories about our universe. Read more about this study and other Spitzer contributions at spitzer.caltech.edu. Kids can learn about infrared light and enjoy solving Spitzer image puzzles at spaceplace.nasa.gov/spitzer-slyder.

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

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Caption: Our solar system is represented by the middle scenario, where the gas giant planet has migrated inward, but still remains beyond the asteroid belt.

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: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/