Tag Archives: Dwarf Planet

CNY Skeptics Lecture: “A Big Year For Dwarf Planets – Highlights Of The NASA Missions To Ceres & Pluto”

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Our fellow pro-science (and some fellow overlapping members) CNY’ers in CNY Skeptics are hosting a hopefully-informative lecture on dwarf planets (I heard it was OK). Details are provided below.

A Big Year For Dwarf Planets – Highlights Of The NASA Missions To Ceres & Pluto

Presentation By Damian G. Allis Ph.D.

Sponsored by CNY Skeptics, TACNY member group

Fine this event on the CNY Skeptics meetup.com page or the CNYO meetup.com page.

Time: Wednesday, January 20, 2016, 7:00 PM

Where: Dewitt Community Library, DCL Friends Room, Shoppingtown Mall, 3649 Erie Blvd. East, DeWitt, NY 13214

Event is Free and Open to the Public and light refreshments will be served

Please contact 1-315-636-6533 or email info@cnyskeptics.org for more information.

Presentation Summary:

2016jan12_plutoPluto’s demotion to dwarf planet status suddenly made more people aware of its fellow dwarf planet Ceres in the Asteroid Belt. With Ceres a snapshot of a planet that might have been, and Pluto the most famous member of the Kuiper Belt, both are of special interest to scientists studying the history and complexity of our own Solar System as a way to better understand the many extra-Solar Systems now being discovered by professional and amateur astronomers. This lecture will feature some historical background and as-recent-as-the-web-will-allow views and findings from both the New Horizons and Dawn NASA missions.

Presenter Bio:

Damian G. Allis Ph.D. is a Research Professor of Chemistry, Research Fellow with the Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute, bioinformaticist with Aptamatrix, Inc., and High Performance Computing Evangelist, all at Syracuse University. A crazy/overly-optimistic local amateur astronomer, he is a NASA Solar System Ambassador, long-time member of many CNY amateur astronomy clubs, and a founding member and webmaster of CNY Observers (www.cnyo.org). When/because it’s cloudy, he’s also the drummer for a half-dozen local bands. He is always happy to talk shop and can be found and contacted at www.somewhereville.com.

About CNY Skeptics:

Central New York Skeptics (CNY Skeptics) is a community organization dedicated to the promotion of science and reason, the investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims, and the improvement of standards for science education and critical-thinking skills.

CNYO Observing Log: A Summary Of The Last Few Months Of 2015 In Rapid Succession

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

In the interest of full documentation of the year’s events (but because we’re running short on time), a brief post summarizing all of the unsummarized Observing Logs for the past few months (we’re done with observing for 2015 unless something really interesting happens tomorrow night!). Despite mostly unfavorable conditions, we did manage to get a few decent sessions in.

Mid-to-Late 2015 Library Lectures

1. Hazard Branch Library, Syracuse – 20 June 2015

In advance of International SUN-Day on June 21st, CNYO hosted a combined solar astronomy lecture and nearly clouded-out observing session. Provided the sky is clear (which was mostly NOT the case for the 2015 SUN-Day festivities), we’ll be running a session for International SUN-Day 2016 somewhere around town.

2. Seymour Library, Auburn – 6 October 2015

A “general introduction to astronomy” lecture was the staff request for this session, including a bit about getting around the CNY Nighttime Sky (courtesy of CNYO’s handy-dandy brochures) and a little sneak-in of the New Horizons (Pluto!) and Dawn (@ Ceres!) missions. For the record, one of the aesthetically pleasing libraries in CNY.

3. Liverpool Public Library, Liverpool – 23 November 2015


After a rescheduling of the October 22rd lecture due to pending social obligations, CNYO returned for our twice-yearly (or more) LPL lecture, featuring a more complete session about Ceres and Pluto and all that it means to be dwarf planets in our always-interesting Solar System.

4. CNY Tech User Group @ LPL, Liverpool – 7 December 2015

CNYPCUG (but by “PC,” they mean “Tech”), which meets monthly at LPL, saw the announcement for the November 23rd session and asked for a tech-centric lecture of their own. Mixing up some of the recent dwarf planet discussion with the flurry of missions already active (with an extra emphasis on Hubble imagery), this session ran over 90 minutes and had lots of good discussions to boot.

Late 2015 Observing Sessions

2015 wasn’t a truly bad year for observing, but trying to get clear skies, little-to-no Moon, and short-notice organizing all together for some of our hoped impromptu sessions just didn’t work out too well. The four official sessions on the books are listed below.

1. Total Lunar Eclipse @ Baltimore Woods – 27 September 2015

This, THIS session was a treat. Driving out to Baltimore Woods around 8:00 p.m., the sky was completely overcast with only a few patches of anything clear-like in the distance. Within 5 minutes of BW, however, the sky just opened right up, with some of the last cloud cover making for some excellent final views of the obscured Moon before the whole sky went clear. Over 50 people were at the session, which culminated in a beautiful full lunar eclipse.


The best part of the whole session – and the one I made mention of for people to take a second look – was just how bright the restive the sky becomes when the Moon is dimmed so significantly. One could have had a full New Moon observing session, complete with galactic views and all the subtle highlights one could wish for, all while having this dark orange/red Moon *right there* in the sky. Bob Piekiel was kind enough to make a montage of the event, which I include above (click for a larger view).

2. North Sportsman’s Club, West Monroe – 10 October 2015

This session was mostly organized on our Facebook Group and even received a small but active (8) attendance (including a guest appearance by New Moon Telescope’s own Ryan Goodson) despite a clerical error in the organization itself not allowing us to make it through the gate (so, not wanting to waste a clear sky, we unloaded and observed from the long NSC driveway – the field being too far away to want to risk carrying scopes around).

3. Joint Nottingham/Corcoran Observing Session @ Corcoran High School – 6 December 2015


A shining example of Murphy’s Law of Astronomy – “If you schedule it, it will be cloudy. If you cancel, it will be clear.” The session was scheduled for December 4th, with the 5th and 6th as alternates. The 4th was a wash, and the 5th looked to be – until we cancelled the session, after which those who still attended reported having an hour of clear skies for observing. We set the 6th as a make-or-break session – which mostly broke. Despite a busy 70 minutes with 18 attendees, we were only able to catch a poor view of the Andromeda Galaxy and a moderately washed-out view of the Pleiades. The discussion more than made up for the weather, however, and we plan to return again to try our luck near the heavily lit Corcoran High School football field (sadly, Nottingham High School does not fare much better).

4. Geminid Meteor Shower @ Baltimore Woods – 13/14 December 2015

As far as reported observing, this session went solely to Bob Piekiel at his special session at Baltimore Woods. With a one hour clearing on the evening of the 13th, Bob and his two attendees managed six bright meteors and a number of deep sky objects before packing it up. The 14th, sadly, was not an option for observing due to increased cloud cover, meaning CNY, yet again, largely missed out on one of the great meteor showers.

The 2016 calendar is getting populated and plans are in the works for more sessions. Stay tuned and Happy New Year!

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 26 March – 6 April 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these news announcements directly from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to:


NASA Asteroid Hunter Spacecraft Data Available To Public

RELEASE 15-051 (Click here for the full article) – 31 March 2015

15-051_0Millions of images of celestial objects, including asteroids, observed by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft now are available online to the public. The data was collected following the restart of the asteroid-seeking spacecraft in December 2013 after a lengthy hibernation.

The collection of millions of infrared images and billions of infrared measurements of asteroids, stars, galaxies and quasars spans data obtained between December 13, 2013, and December 13, 2014.

“One of the most satisfying things about releasing these cutting-edge astronomical data to the public is seeing what other exciting and creative projects the scientific community does with them,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California.

To view the NEOWISE data, visit: wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/

For more information about NEOWISE, visit: www.nasa.gov/neowise

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at available online at: www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch

For more information about the Asteroid Redirect Mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative

Curiosity Sniffs Out History Of Martian Atmosphere

RELEASE 15-055 (Click here for the full article) – 31 March 2015

15-055NASA’s Curiosity rover is using a new experiment to better understand the history of the Martian atmosphere by analyzing xenon.

While NASA’s Curiosity rover concluded its detailed examination of the rock layers of the “Pahrump Hills” in Gale Crater on Mars this winter, some members of the rover team were busy analyzing the Martian atmosphere for xenon, a heavy noble gas.

Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) experiment analyzed xenon in the planet’s atmosphere. Since noble gases are chemically inert and do not react with other substances in the air or on the ground, they are excellent tracers of the history of the atmosphere. Xenon is present in the Martian atmosphere at a challengingly low quantity and can be directly measured only with on-site experiments such as SAM.

“Xenon is a fundamental measurement to make on a planet such as Mars or Venus, since it provides essential information to understand the early history of these planets and why they turned out so differently from Earth,” said Melissa Trainer, one of the scientists analyzing the SAM data.

For more information about SAM, visit: ssed.gsfc.nasa.gov/sam/

SAM experiment data are archived in the Planetary Data System, online at: pds.nasa.gov/

For more information about Curiosity, visit: www.nasa.gov/msl

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Passes Critical Milestone

RELEASE 15-056 (Click here for the full article) – 31 March 2015

15-056NASA’s groundbreaking science mission to retrieve a sample from an ancient space rock has moved closer to fruition. The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has passed a critical milestone in its path towards launch and is officially authorized to transition into its next phase.

Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D) occurs after the project has completed a series of independent reviews that cover the technical health, schedule and cost of the project. The milestone represents the official transition from the mission’s development stage to delivery of systems, testing and integration leading to launch. During this part of the mission’s life cycle, known as Phase D, the spacecraft bus, or the structure that will carry the science instruments, is completed, the instruments are integrated into the spacecraft and tested, and the spacecraft is shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the rocket.

“This is an exciting time for the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now proceeding with the start of flight system assembly. I am grateful for the hard work and team effort required to get us to this point.”

For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex and asteroidmission.org

For more information about the ARM and NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, visit: www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative

NASA Celebrates Earth Day With #NoPlaceLikeHome Event

RELEASE 15-055 (Click here for the full article) – 6 April 2015

m15-055_0This Earth Day, April 22, NASA is asking people around the world to share pictures and videos on social media that show there is no place like home – planet Earth.

NASA’s Earth Day #NoPlaceLikeHome project seeks to get the public involved in highlighting the great diversity of the places, landscapes and ecosystems of our home planet. Participants are invited to post photos and videos that answer a simple question: What is your favorite place on Earth?

Images can be shared using the hashtag #NoPlaceLikeHome on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Google+ and Flickr. Leading up to Earth Day, NASA will participate by posting its own images and videos.

For more information on the #NoPlaceLikeHome project, visit: www.nasa.gov/likehome

NASA Extends Campaign For Public To Name Features On Pluto

RELEASE 15-060 (Click here for the full article) – 6 April 2015

nh-pluto-approaches-charonThe public has until Friday, April 24 to help name new features on Pluto and its orbiting satellites as they are discovered by NASA’s New Horizons mission.

Announced in March, the agency wants to give the worldwide public more time to participate in the agency’s mission to Pluto that will make the first-ever close flyby of the dwarf planet on July 14.

The campaign extension, in partnership with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Paris, was due to the overwhelming response from the public.

“Due to increasing interest and the number of submissions we’re getting, it was clear we needed to extend this public outreach activity,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This campaign not only reveals the public’s excitement about the mission, but helps the team, which will not have time to come up with names during the flyby, to have a ready-made library of names in advance to officially submit to the IAU.”

To find out more information about how to participate in the Pluto naming contest, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

Detailed IAU guidelines for acceptable names submissions are available online at: www.iau.org/public/themes/naming/#dwarfplanets

For images and updates on the July 14 Pluto flyby, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and pluto.jhuapl.edu