CNYO First Official Outing – Messier Sprint, Jupiter, And (Maybe) Comet Pan-STARRS – Friday March 8 – Syracuse Inner Harbor

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

CNYO is pleased to announce a first chance for 2013 to get outdoors and do some late-winter observing. Members and their scopes plan to convene at the Syracuse Inner Harbor on the evening of Friday, March 8, combining what we expect to be a Messier Sprint with observing of Jupiter (perhaps Saturn if we stay late enough) and, hopefully, an early evening view of Comet Pan-STARRS in our Western Sky.

Jupiter is high in the Night Sky and has been an excellent sight at Bob Piekiel’s Baltimore Woods observing sessions (with his next session slated for next Friday). Saturn will just clear the Eastern Sky around 11:00 p.m., which may or may not be too late for our first session (temperature-depending). The real treat for this weekend is Comet Pan-STARRS, which will be just at the edge of the Western Sky around sunset. At a predicted brightness of +1.5 magnitude, it will be Naked Eye (and one of three bright comets in our skies this year) for several days (provided Syracuse skies stay clear enough to observe it).

The Messier Sprint – A longer explanation of what amateur astronomers know as a “Messier Marathon” is provided below. As a full Messier Marathon (observing all 110 objects) is an all-night endeavor and we’ll be running our first session from a less-than Dark Sky location, our sprint will focus on several bright clusters, binary stars, and other reasonably bright objects just to get our scopes outside and focusing.

Our location for the event will be a high mound just off the parking lot to the west of the amphitheater, just south of Destiny USA and a location easily accessible from many different routes. A google map centered on the exact location is below:


View Larger Map

With that, keep track of the website and facebook page around 4:00 p.m. Friday afternoon for the official word on the start of our event. We hope you can join us!

Messier Marathon – A Brief Overview

Who

The marathon owes its existence to Charles Messier who, by all accounts (and to the best of my google efforts), never engaged in what he would have simply referred to as “The Me Marathon.” Messier was a famed French comet hunter (the search for comets in the 17th and 18th centuries was THE original “Space Race,” as such discoveries were sure to bring fame and prestige) who, with his assistant Pierre Méchain, catalogued what we know today as the Messier Objects specifically because he wanted to avoid these confusing objects in his cometary searches. Yes, the man who dedicated his life to finding comets is now best known for the catalogue of non-comets he generated. C’est la vie.

What

The Messier Objects are simply a collection of clusters, nebulae, and galaxies that are visible through binoculars and low-power telescopes (and some are naked-eye objects). In effect, they are a collection of the “closest of the bright objects” that one might confuse with a comet, with the “closest/brightest” set including clusters and nebulae within the Milky Way and many galaxies far beyond our spiral arms. As massive, distant, and bright objects, they are stationary in the sky, making them easy for Messier to catalogue in his comet hunting efforts and, for us, making them useful guide posts both for their identification from Constellation markers and for the identification of far fainter objects based on proximity. There are 110 counted Messier Objects but, according to Pierre Méchain himself, only 109 actual objects, as M101 and M102 (the Pinwheel Galaxy) are the result of double-counting (on the bright side, when you’ve found it once, you’ve found it twice!). While the majority of the list goes back to Messier’s time, the last object added, M110, was included in 1960.

Covering the second important “what,” the Messier Marathon is simply a fun way to see how well you know the “photons in your neighborhood… the ones you don’t know you see each night.”

Where

Up! Well, more specifically, up in the Northern Hemisphere. As a French astronomer, Messier’s catalogue contains only objects observable from his Observatory. Accordingly, all 110 objects are visible from Northern Latitudes. That means that (1) a multitude of objects in the Southern Hemisphere that WOULD have made the Messier list are not included because he simply could not point his scope into the ground to look at them and (2) those in the Southern Hemisphere do not engage in Messier Marathons as much as they engage in Messier Sprints, as they have fewer objects to identify (and, the further South they are, the shorter their list is).

When

Members of the Messier list grace our skies all year, with nearly every Constellation visible in the Northern Hemisphere hosting at least one object. Only two things in the Night Sky can obscure Messier objects. The first of these is “whatever else you want to see” that keeps you from looking for the Messiers. The second is the Moon, which can, in fact, obscure the Messier objects considerably (those that are naked-eye Messiers then require binoculars to see, those that are binocular Messiers then require either patience or higher power).

There is one reasonably broad “sweet spot” in the calendar year during which it is POSSIBLE to see every Messier object, with the rotation of the Earth responsible for bringing the entire list to your tripod. This is, of course, only possible because clouds, the irregularity of the horizon (such as our trees to the South and Syracuse to our North), and your ability to remain awake all factor considerably in your success. This time of year is mid-March through early April.

Why

For the reason for the catalogue, see the “What.” For the reason for the Marathon, well, why not? Despite some criticism of the Marathon you can find online, the Marathon provides a way for amateur astronomers to test their memorization of positions in the Night Sky and, important to those of us in CNY, pull out our optics and dust off our notebooks after two or three winter months of missed practice. Again, the Messiers are not simply a set of goals for an observing session, they are invaluable tools as guide posts for the identification of other objects. If the Constellations are “feet” in an astronomical ruler, their associated stars and the nearby Messier Objects serve as the “inches.”

How

An experienced Messier hunter can find the complete set of objects in a pair of 10×50 binoculars. As the goal to some Marathoners is “quantity, not quality,” a low-power pair of binoculars are best for both speed and movement (although your neck will begin to object to objects at your zenith). If I may sneak in a “tortoise and hare” comparison, there’s nothing wrong with finding 20 objects and enjoying the view. You have ALL YEAR to complete your Marathon. They’re not going anywhere!

NASA Space Place – Tackling The Really BIG Questions

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 February, 2013.

By Diane K. Fisher

2013february2_spaceplaceHow does NASA get its ideas for new astronomy and astrophysics missions? It starts with a Decadal Survey by the National Research Council, sponsored by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. The last one, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics was completed in 2010. It defines the highest-priority research activities in the next decade for astronomy and astrophysics that will “set the nation firmly on the path to answering profound questions about the cosmos.” It defines space- and ground-based research activities in the large, midsize, and small budget categories.

The recommended activities are meant to advance three science objectives:

1. Deepening understanding of how the first stars, galaxies, and black holes formed,
2. Locating the closest habitable Earth-like planets beyond the solar system for detailed study, and
3. Using astronomical measurements to unravel the mysteries of gravity and probe fundamental physics.

For the 2012-2021 period, the highest-priority large mission recommended is the Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). It would orbit the second Lagrange point and perform wide-field imaging and slitless spectroscopic surveys of the near-infrared sky for the community. It would settle essential questions in both exoplanet and dark energy research and would advance topics ranging from galaxy evolution to the study of objects within the galaxy and within the solar system.

Naturally, NASA’s strategic response to the recommendations in the decadal survey must take budget constraints and uncertainties into account.

The goal is to begin building this mission in 2017, after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. But this timeframe is not assured. Alternatively, a different, less ambitious mission that also address the Decadal Survey science objectives for WFIRST would remain a high priority.

The Astrophysics Division is also doing studies of moderate-sized missions, including: gravitational wave mission concepts that would advance some or all of the science objectives of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), but at lower cost; X-ray mission concepts to advance the science objectives of the International X-ray Observatory (IXO), but at lower cost; and mission concept studies of probe-class missions to advance the science of a planet characterization and imaging mission.

For a summary of NASA’s plans for seeking answers to the big astrophysics questions and to read the complete Astrophysics Implementation Plan (dated December 2012), see science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/. For kids, find lots of astrophysics fun facts and games on The Space Place, spaceplace.nasa.gov/menu/space/.

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: Clusters of galaxies collide in this composite image of “Pandora’s Cluster.” Data (in red) from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory show gas with temperatures of millions of degrees. Blue maps the total mass concentration (mostly dark matter) based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Japanese Subaru telescope. Optical data from HST and VLT also show the constituent galaxies of the clusters. Such images begin to reveal the relationship between concentration of dark matter and the overall structure of the universe.

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/

TACNY John Edson Sweet Lecture Series – Technology That Enables The IIBMST To Conduct Medical Research…

Wednesday, March 13 2013

SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, 146 Baker Hall


2013march1_tacnygoodmanDr. Steven R. Goodman, Executive Director, International Institute of Biomedical Sciences and Technology (IIBMST) will present “Technology that enables the IIBMST to conduct medical research and the development of biomedical products without walls, geographic, or scientific boundaries.” People interested in learning more about biotechnologies are invited to attend the free TACNY Sweet Lecture presentation on Wednesday, March 13, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 146 of Baker Hall on the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry campus. Networking starts at 5:30 p.m., the speaker is introduced at 6 p.m., the presentation is slated to run from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and the event ends at 8 p.m. following questions from the audience. Admission is free and open to the public. Walk-ins are welcome, but we ask that people RSVP by emailing sweet.lecture@tacny.org by March 8, 2013.

Dr. Goodman is also currently the Vice President for Research/Dean, College of Graduate Studies, a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as well as Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University. He has over 35 years of collaborative international medical research from molecular and cell biology to infectious diseases. He has patented a novel Sickle Cell Anemia Treatment technology, authored a long list of books and research papers, and advised dozens of post graduate and postdoctoral researchers who are making significant contributions to understanding and solving medical challenges. In 2011 Dr. Goodman was the recipient of the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. Dr. Goodman earned his PhD in biochemistry at the St. Louis University Medical School and his BS in Chemistry at SUNY Stony Brook.

The IIBMST is a diverse group of international faculty that integrates expertise in basic and applied biological, physical, computer and engineering sciences to advance science, medical research and the development of biomedical products. It is an institute without walls, geographic or scientific boundaries that facilitates collaborative research within the areas of overlap among academic discipline. The IIBMST includes focus groups for cancer; diabetes; disorders of the nervous system; infectious diseases and emerging pathogens; pharmacogenetics and personalized medicine; and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

2013march1_tacnysweet

Click HERE for a full-sized PDF.

Click HERE For An Event Parking Pass.

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.