Tag Archives: John Dobson

Remembering The Godfather Of Solar Astronomy, Robert “Barlow Bob” Godfrey

The field of amateur astronomy hosts many different personalities. Some love to know anything and everything about astronomy equipment. Some prefer the study of astronomy through the ages. Some enjoy the banter around a large scope with others at midnight. Some enjoy the quiet solitude of a small dome or open field. Still others enjoy setting their equipment up in the middle of the chaos of a large group of people to show them the sights. Some take their love of outreach well past the observing field, taking it upon themselves to educate others by taking what they know (or don’t yet know) and making it accessible to the larger audience of amateurs and non-observers alike.

Amateur astronomy has seen a few key players pass this year, starting with John Dobson this past January and the noted comet hunter Bill Bradfield just a week ago. Both are noteworthy in their passing in that, amongst a large, large number of astro-hobbyists, their names are held in higher esteem because of their unique contributions to amateur astronomy. In the case of Bill Bradfield, he singly was responsible for finding 18 comets that bear his name, making him responsible for helping map part of the contents of our own Solar System from his home in Australia (reportedly taking 3500 hours to do so). In the case of John Dobson, he not only synthesized many great ideas in scope building with his own to produce the class of telescope that bears his name, but he also made it part of his life’s work to bring the distant heavens to anyone and everyone through his founding of what we call today “sidewalk astronomy.”

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Barlow Bob at the center of the 2014 NEAF Solar Star Party. Click for a larger view.

The CNY amateur astronomy community learned of the passing of Barlow Bob on June 13th through an email from Chuck Higgins of MVAS. I suspect most people in the community didn’t even know his real name was Robert Godfrey until the announcement of his passing. The announcement of his passing had much farther to go, as the list of people and clubs that Barlow Bob had made better through his own outreach is as large as his many contributions to solar astronomy. For the record, below is a snippet of his contributions to the CNY astronomy community generally and to me specifically.

The Postman And Telephone Operator of Northeast Astronomy

I have a decent handle on all of the astronomy clubs in the Northeast thanks to Barlow Bob’s habit of forwarding newsletters and email announcements around to his email list. Those who’ve not edited a club newsletter do not know how much this simple gesture was appreciated! In my 2008 reboot of the Syracuse Astronomical Society newsletter the Astronomical Chronicle, the biggest problem facing its monthly continuation was new content. Not only did Barlow Bob provide a steady stream of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner,” but I learned about several free sources of space science news from these other newsletters (the NASA News Feed and the NASA Space Place being chief among them – still sources of news and updates freely available to all). He saved myself, and the SAS, several months of organizing content and finding relevant material. Those newsletters remain available in PDF format on the SAS website, many peppered with varied hot topics in solar astronomy that Barlow Bob chose to write about for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.”

As part of his aggregative exploits, amateur astronomers in his email loop were also treated to a yearly events calendar of nearly all of the East Coast star parties and special events. His and Chuck Higgins’ 2014 Events Calendar makes up the majority of the non-celestial phenomena listed in CNYO’s current calendar.

I also had the pleasure of being one of the recipients of his many (many!) phone calls as a regular of his “astro-rounds” call list, during which I learned early on to have a pen and paper ready for all of the companies to check out and solar projects to search for. Barlow Bob loved being on the edge of solar observing technology, both in pure observational astronomy and in solar spectroscopy (his Solar Spectroscopy History article is among the most concise stories of the history of the field). A number of his voice messages lasted little more than 15 seconds, but provided enough detail for a requisite google search and email exchange after.

“You keep writing them, I’ll keep publishing them.”

Barlow Bob was, by all metrics, a prolific writer on the topic of solar astronomy. My Barlow Bob CD contains at least 50 full articles along with pictures, equipment reviews, and society newsletters including his articles. Barlow Bob took great pleasure equally in his own understanding some aspect of solar astronomy and his committing that understanding to keyboard and computer screen for others. While many amateur astronomers delight in knowing something well enough to be able to talk about it with authority, precious few in the community actually take the next step and distill all they know into something others far beyond their immediate sphere can appreciate. Even those who’ve never been to NEAF likely knew of Barlow Bob through his writings. Along with his founding of the NEAF Solar Star Party, his many articles will serve as his lasting contribution to the field. We will continue to include Barlow Bob’s articles on the CNYO website and we hope that other societies will consider doing the same. Some of those articles are available on his dedicated webpage at NEAF Solar, http://www.neafsolar.com/barlowbob.html.

The Bob-o-Scope Comes To Syracuse

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Barlow Bob and “the works” at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

While Syracuse only managed to have one solar session hosted by Barlow Bob, that one session provided a number of lasting memories. After a few months of planning around available weekends and Barlow Bob’s own vacation schedule, we finally settled on the early afternoon of 30 July 2011 for a solar session (with a lecture by CNY’s own Bob Piekiel to follow that evening, making for one of the better amateur astronomy weekends in Syracuse) at Darling Hill Observatory, home of the Syracuse Astronomical Society.

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Very likely him at Darling Hill Observatory. Click for a larger view.

Our initial plan was for an 11 a.m. set-up and a noon to 3-ish observing session. Saturday morning started a bit earlier than I expected with a phone call at 9:30 a.m. – Barlow Bob, ever ready to be out and about on a clear day, was outside the locked front gate of Darling Hill Observatory. A frantic prep and drive out later, Barlow Bob and I set up and placed his many scopes on the observing grounds to the delight of about 30 attendees. I myself took one look through the Bob-o-Scope and began calling people, telling them “you have to come and see this.” A full day of observing in, Barlow Bob didn’t end up leaving Darling Hill until just before 5 p.m. The hour we took to leisurely pack his station wagon with all of his gear was full of shop talk, people and equipment to be made aware of, and plans on a similar event at some point in the future. That hang and the view through his Bob-o-Scope are two of my favorite memories during my tenure as SAS president.

Barlow Bob and a spectroscopy mini-lecture at Darling Hill Observatory, 30 July 2011.

The Sun, being the excellent, usually accessible target that it is, is ideal for hosting impromptu observing sessions at most any location. Members of CNYO now do as a small group (and with cheaper equipment) what Barlow Bob would do single-handedly – set up and observe “with attitude.”

Not Just NEAF

Barlow Bob is known to many in the community as the founder of the NEAF Solar Star Party and as the author of articles for “Barlow Bob’s Corner.” To those of us with a bent towards public outreach, Barlow Bob is an example of someone who could take some fancy equipment and his own know-how and run a one-host show. Barlow Bob committed a great deal of his own time and talent to doing for our nearest star what those like John Dobson did for far more distant objects. Despite the many, many amateur astronomers in the world today, it’s still a field where a single person can have a strong influence simply by being a perfectly-polished primary mirror that reflects their own love of the field for others to appreciate. Amateur astronomy outreach can learn a lot from Barlow Bob’s example and CNYO will continue in his footsteps of making safe, variously-filtered solar sights available to the public as part of our observing efforts. May we all become a bit more familiar with our nearest star, following in Barlow Bob’s footsteps to observe it “with attitude.”

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“It’s like looking in a mirror!” Barlow Bob and I at Kopernik’s 2013 Astrofest.

* Announcement of his passing on Cloudy Nights: cloudynights.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/6581115/Main/6578514

* David Eicher’s announcement at astronomy.com: cs.astronomy.com/asy/b/daves-universe/archive/2014/06/16/solar-astronomy-guru-quot-barlow-bob-quot-dies.aspx

* A memorial webpage at forevermissed.com: http://www.forevermissed.com/robert-a-godfrey/

CNYO Hosts The Syracuse Version Of The First International Sun-Day At The Creekwalk, June 22nd

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CNYO is pleased to join a whole host of other astronomy clubs, companies, and other organizations as we take an afternoon off to appreciate our nearest star. The inaugural International Sun-Day, held on June 22nd of this year, is a chance for amateur astronomers the world over to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Ramsden, who has brought amazing views of (and no small amount of information about) the Sun to many, many thousands of students and adults as the founder of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project. Those who might be members of his Facebook page (or a Facebook friend) know the frantic, globetrotting schedule Stephen keeps as he does for Solar Astronomy what John Dobson did for Sidewalk Astronomy.

From the International Sun-Day website:

“scientia vincere tenebras”



The phrase means “Conquering Darkness Through Science”. It is the essence of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project and all of the groups below who have partnered together to bring you this event.

Kaleidoscopic-SunThe Sun and its composition, energy producing mechanisms and relationship with our little rocky planet is, by far, the most important influence in the Universe on our daily lives as human beings.  It’s never ending, natural, clean production of and subsequent bathing of our planet in life sustaining radiance is directly responsible for the continued existence of every living thing on this world, yet most people on Earth take it completely for granted and rarely ever learn anything about it.
   

The world of social media has brought together people from all over the world, regardless of nationalist, political or religious affiliation, who share a common passion for astronomy.  These dedicated people are especially tuned into the natural beauty of the world around us so we thought it would be a great idea to try and get everyone on our various internet portals to plan for one day out of the year to recognize and share their vision of the immense power and subtle beauty of the Sun.   Then share it with the general public on a common page to inspire more science in the community!! 


International Sun-Day 2014 will be held on the Sunday nearest to the summer solstice.  It is a day where we are encouraging all users of social media to share what they love about our star. You can go out in to your communities and share it through traditional outreach methods, give us your thoughts and images of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, share a poem or story about the Sun, take a funny picture of what the Sun means to you or how you like to relate to it, basically any creative way you can come up with to share your view of  the Sun on social media.  
No advertisers, no sponsors, no fees, nothing for sale, no donations, just pure science for science’s sake  and appreciation for the beauty of nature.  Please join us on June 22nd, 2014 for International Sun-day.

The process is simple! CNYO members will be set up from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 22nd at our favorite downtown location – right next to Walt The Loch West Monster near the southern end of the Onondaga Creekwalk. With Baader, H-alpha, and whatever-else-shows-up scopes in tow (and copies of our Solar Observing Guide), we invite you to come and take in what has been, until recently, an unfortunately rare, direct glimpse of the Sun. Just as nighttime astronomy underwent a great transition with the production of affordable and portable telescopes in the later-half of the 20th century, the equipment needed for Solar Astronomy is becoming more prominent and less expensive, hopefully ushering in a new era of special solar attention and study. Perhaps the 2nd Annual Sun-Day will have us moving to a larger venue!

Stay tuned to cnyo.org for weather updates as we approach next weekend.

We hope you can join us!

CNYO Observing Log: International Sidewalk Astronomy Night, 7 March 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

CNYO members Larry Slosberg and Michelle Marzynski, John Giroux, and I used the available clear skies of Friday, March 7th (and forecasts of far worse conditions on the official night of March 8th) to host the CNY branch of the International Sidewalk Astronomy Night (ISAN 7). ISAN 7 was made more significant to the amateur astronomy community with the passing of John Dobson on January 15th of this year (instead of reproducing more content about John Dobson in this post, I will instead refer you to the official announcement of our ISAN session. Needless to say, he left quite a legacy).

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Our session was held at our favorite downtown location – along the length of the Creekwalk between the MOST/Soundgarden and the Syracuse University Architecture School/Warehouse, on the same block as Walt the Loch West Monster. The location is definitely bright, but this limitation to observing can be overcome with the judicious selection of Messier Objects and planets (no galaxies!). The last two astronomy events held at this same location – the 2012 Transit of Venus and 2013’s NASA/MOST Climate Day, featured an easier target (the Sun), but also gave us plenty of on-the-ground time to find the Creekwalk a great spot to have both reasonable parking and a regular stream of passers-by to coax into looking into strange telescopes.

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“And so,” you might ask, “how long was your observing list for the evening? And what’s the point of observing from such a bright location?” I’ve run into such questions a few times in my own travels, and I assume that some other outreach-centric amateur astronomers have been asked the same questions. The answer for ISAN 7 over a +2 hour session was the Moon, Jupiter, the Pleiades (M45), and the Orion Nebula (M42). That’s it. Didn’t try for anything else, didn’t want to.

And, importantly, those four were plenty.

At the heart of sidewalk astronomy is getting people who’ve never looked through a scope before to take in a detailed batch of photons a few seconds (the Moon), several minutes (Jupiter), or even several light years (M42, M45) older than the ones they’re usually exposed to. As some people are hesitant to even get their eye near the eyepiece, the very best way to run a sidewalk astronomy session (or any public viewing session) is to put the easiest, most obvious, and brightest nighttime objects into the field of view to draw the observer in. Any fuzzy object, 16th magnitude asteroid, or even Uranus and Neptune are the last things a trained observer should try to expose a new observer to (IMHO) given that the passers-by at a sidewalk astronomy event will only stick around (as we discovered) for about 4 minutes (a few definitely stuck around longer, while a few others we surgical about their inspection of the Moon and Jupiter before continuing on. I think they half-expected us to “pass the hat”).

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The Moon to a new observer is a jaw-dropper. Assume wow-factor imminent as soon as you see the Moon’s light projected out the eyepiece onto the face of someone slowly making their way to the focuser. Jupiter (and Saturn, for that matter) is also a treat at the right magnification (enough to see surface detail, but not so much that the image becomes dull and unsteady. A Barlow’ed 6 mm is NOT the way to go without a very large aperture and rock-solid mount). The Orion Nebula was our “advanced topics for the persistent observer” object, as it was bright enough to still show some nebulosity and additional detail.

Over the course of about two hours, we put the total count at about 60 (which wasn’t bad, given the temperature and the fact that we were on the far side of the restaurant-heavy part of Armory Square). Larry, John, and I made our way into a few pics (intermixed in this post – we were mostly too busy to stop and take snapshots. Thanks to Brad Loperfido for taking them).

And then there was Pedro Gomes, who single-handedly brought ISAN 7 (and CNYO) to Watertown on March 8th. Some of his image gallery from Facebook is reproduced below and we thank him for sharing his excellent scope run with us!

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Look for future Creekwalk sessions in the near future, including a few solar sessions and the next NASA Climate Day at the MOST.