Tag Archives: Mars

Bob Piekiel Hosts Observing Sessions At Baltimore Woods (And More!) – 2014 Observing Schedule

I’m pleased to have obtained the official schedule for Bob Piekiel’s growing observing and lecture programs for the 2014 season and have added them to the CNYO Calendar. For those who have not had the pleasure of hearing one of his lectures, attending one of his observing sessions, or reading one of his many books on scope optics (or loading the CD containing the massive Celestron: The Early Years), Bob Piekiel is not only an excellent guide but likely the most knowledgeable equipment and operation guru in Central New York.

Notes On Baltimore Woods Sessions:

The Baltimore Woods events calendar is updated monthly. As such, I’ve no direct links to the sessions below. Therefore, as the event date nears, see the official Calendar Page for more information and any updates on the event.

Also…

* Registration for these events are required. Low registration may cause programs to be canceled.
* $5 for members, $15/family; $8 for nonmembers, $25/family.
* To Register By Email: info@baltimorewoods.org
* To Register By Phone: (315) 673-1350

Green Lakes:

* February 8 (Fri.)/9 (Sat. weather alternate), 1-3 p.m.

Solar viewing session at the main office parking lot. See the Green Lakes website for directions.

Baltimore Woods:

* February 21 (Fri.)/22 (Sat. weather alternate), 7-9 p.m.

The giant planet Jupiter will be in prime viewing position all night long, as well as the brilliant winter skies surrounding the constellation Orion. Uranus and Neptune will also be visible early.

* February 22 (Sat.)/23 (Sun. weather alternate), 1-3 p.m.

A solar viewing program, featuring our nearest (and favorite) star! Come and enjoy safe views of the Sun through a variety scopes and several wavelengths.

* March 21 (Fri.)/22 (Sat. weather alternate), 7-9 p.m.

Jupiter will be visible high in the sky for excellent viewing in the evening, then come and bid farewell to the Winter Skies.

Montezuma Wildlife Refuge:

* March 28 (Fri.)/29 (Sat. weather alternate), 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Come and enjoy the late Winter / early Spring skies, featuring views of Jupiter.

Baltimore Woods:

* April 15, VERY Early Tuesday A.M. – Midnight to 2:30 am

Again, assume this starts at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April 14th and goes through about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. This is the first Lunar Eclipse CNY has had in several years, and it will be visible in its entirety for all in NY State. Watch the Moon get covered by the Earth’s shadow and turn a deep shade of orange or red. Saturn and Mars will be in good viewing positions as well for scope viewing.

Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society:

* May 14 (Wednesday)

Bob Piekiel gives the lecture “Collimating Cassegrains and Two-Mirror Scopes” for our friends in the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society (MVAS).

Baltimore Woods:

* May 23 (Fri.)/24 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:30-10:30 p.m.

Join Bob Piekiel for a possible Meteor Storm! In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 24, the Earth will pass through the debris field left behind by a small comet known as P/209 LINEAR. Astronomers are predicting that this interaction may result in a brief but intense burst of meteor activity that could range from dozens to hundreds of meteors per hour. Nothing is certain, but many mathematical models are predicting that this could be the most intense meteor shower in more than a decade. Saturn will also be at its biggest for its best viewing of the whole year, plus good views of Jupiter and Mars are to be had. Come and say “hello” to the Spring Skies!

* June 6 (Fri.)/7 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:30-10:30 p.m.

Join Bob Piekiel for an in-between Baltimore Woods sessions during this weekend’s Mars and Moon Conjunction.

Baltimore Woods:

* July 18 (Fri.)/19 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:30-10:30 p.m.

Look into the heart of our Milky Way galaxy to see the finest examples of rich star clusters and gaseous nebulae. Also fantastic views of Mars and Saturn.

Green Lakes:

* July 25 (Fri.)/26 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:30 – 10:30 p.m.

Summer Milky Way, at the Frisbee Golf field.

Baltimore Woods:

* August 12 (Tues.)/13 (Wed. weather alternate), 8:30-11:00 p.m.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, one of the year’s finest, plus Summer Skies and the Milky Way. Look into the heart of our Milky Way galaxy to see the finest examples of rich star clusters and gaseous nebulae. Also fantastic views of Mars and Saturn.

Green Lakes:

* August 15 (Fri.)/16 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00 – 10:30 p.m.

Summer skies and left-over Perseids.

Baltimore Woods:

* August 16 (Sat.)/17 (Sun. weather alternate), 1:00-3:00 p.m.

Solar observing program

Seneca Meadows:

* August 22 (Fri.)/23 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:30-10:30 p.m.

Summer skies

Clark Reservation State Park:

* August 29 (Fri.)/30 (Sat. weather alternate), 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Baltimore Woods:

* October 8 – EARLY MORNING 4:30 – 6:30 am.

Lunar Eclipse, NO BACKUP DATE.

* Monday, November 17 (backup Tuesday 18th) 8 – 10 p.m.

Leonid meteor shower and hello to fall skies. Also the planets Uranus and Neptune.

* Saturday, December 13 (backup Sunday the 14th) 7 – 9 p.m.

The Geminid meteor shower and hello to winter skies.

CNYO Observing Log: Star Search! At Green Lakes State Park, 26 July 2013

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The gathered crowd at Green Lakes.

July 26th saw the yearly return of Bob Piekiel, his 11″ Meade SCT, and 25x125mm Vixen Binoculars to Green Lakes State Park for his yearly “Star Search” observing session (original post HERE). Also in attendance were Ryan Goodson (representing CNYO and New Moon Telescopes with his fantastic 16″ Dobsonian) and myself (with “Ruby,” my equally fantastic 12.5″ NMT Dobsonian). I’ve been to Green Lakes many, many times over the last few decades, but I’ve never “seen” the place after sunset. I am pleased to report that CNY has an excellent piece of flat, maintained ground, low horizon, and reasonably dark sky just 20 minutes from downtown Syracuse – a place that I hope sees much more observing activity in the future.

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Local flora and fauna in the parking lot.

Ryan and I arrived around 8:00 p.m. to the sight of 40-or-so kids and adults huddled around a well-spaced campfire that doubled as a s’mores factory. Also in attendance were two caffeinated dogs and a few deer in the parking lot. The location of the session was just near the camping ground, with the parking lot and flat grounds centered in the google map below (a “right” and a “left,” a little meandering, and you’re there).


View Larger Map

The session started just after sunset with the identification of Venus in the Western sky as it began to settle behind trees. This served as an opportunity for everyone to see how the scopes work (and have them demonstrated so everyone knew where the eyepiece was later), to see the appearance of phase in this inferior planet (not to belittle Venus or Mercury – “inferior” refers to them being closer to the Sun than Earth. All other planets are “superior” to Earth in this respect, and we are one of Mars‘ inferior planets), and to see just what a thick, damp atmosphere does to bright pinpoints of light. In this case, the atmosphere acts like a prism, splitting the light from Venus slightly into subtle reds and blues on opposite sides the planet. Not a pretty view for an astronomer looking for sharp detail, but an excellent lesson in optics nonetheless.

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Bob (right) on Venus, Ryan (middle) discussing advanced optics design.

With the dogs corralled into nearby cars and Bob unable to shout louder than mezzo-piano for the session, I gave a brief introductory greeting around 9:00 p.m. that stressed the few important points we wish everyone going into a public observing session would know beforehand (but are happy to explain prior to observing through the scopes). These same points appear on one of the fold-out plaques we bring to each session:

1. If You Don’t See Something, Say Something!

During Mars’ 2003 closest-approach at Darling Hill Observatory, people waited in line for nearly an hour to catch a glimpse of Mars they wouldn’t have from Earth’s surface for quite some time to come. One woman looked quickly, then came down a bit put off by the poor sight she had waited so long to see. I snuck back up the ladder to find Mars nowhere in sight – the scope had moved off of Mars by some unseen event (it was dark after all). We put Mars back in, found the woman walking out of the observatory room, and escorted her right back up the ladder to a sight that was definitely worth the wait. Sidewalk astronomers are there for YOU, so ask questions, ask for clarification, make comments about the view, whatever it takes to make sure you don’t inadvertently miss a great sight.

2. Bright Lights = Bad Lights

Smart phones are the new bane of amateur astronomers, having taken over the role white-light flashlights once held. The first thing we tell people (and the first thing we re-tell late arrivals) is that the dark adaption of your vision is a sensitive and time-consuming thing. 15 to 20 minutes are required for your eyes to adjust to the dark enough to see more detail in the Night Sky (and any detail on the ground). One camera flash, one answered phone, one slip of the flashlight can set a whole group’s dark adaption back to square one. Whether by intention or accident, it is a disservice to other observers to set their observing back, so we always ask that people take extra care to spare attendees from bright lights. If your flashlight has a red mode, use it(!), as our vision is largely insensitive to red light (meaning no real dark re-adaption is necessary).

3. Dobsonians Move In A Stiff Breeze

One thing I’ve noticed among some young (younger than 10, that is) observers is a tendency to want to bring the view to them – which they do by dragging the eyepiece to their eye instead of walking up to see what the scope is focused on. We love the enthusiasm, but we don’t know what they’re seeing after they’re done moving! Because Dobsonians are designed to move very smoothly in all directions, we tell people that the best way to observe is to:

“Put your hands behind your back and walk up to the eyepiece.”

I see kids and adults do this after I mention it – and it works great.

4. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Eyepiece!

A final tendency I see among some new observers (especially with glasses) is to find a comfortable spot 2 or 3 inches from the eyepiece. And some young kids have it even worse as their parents try to hold their kid’s head near the eyepiece. No good! When I see someone doing either, I take over the observing, hand them my red flashlight, and show them just how to get that excellent view. Everyone’s done something new that they clearly didn’t know the procedure for. A bit of demonstration goes a long way (especially when you see the same person back in line for a new object and they walk up to the eyepiece – hands behind their back – like a pro).

An Education-First Session

The session itself ran quite smoothly for several hours, with Bob, Ryan, and I mostly sticking to easy-to-see objects. Another important aspect of a sidewalk astronomy or public viewing session is not to tax the new observer’s imagination by asking them to focus on dim, faint objects that might be totally invisible to someone who doesn’t know how averted vision works. Like an opening band trying to get their best material out in 30 minutes before the headliner, a session for new observers should emphasize big, bright objects where what you describe to them is obvious after a few seconds’ time. If you want to introduce new observers to a taste of everything, I recommend finding the best of each of the objects below to have at-the-ready and ready to describe (I include my choices with each for the Green Lakes session):

* (Hopefully) One PlanetVenus and Saturn
* One StarVega in Lyra
* One BinaryAlbireo in Cygnus
* One Open ClusterThe Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus
* One Globular ClusterM13 in Hercules
* One NebulaM57, The Ring Nebula in a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyra”>Lyra
* One GalaxyM31, The Andromeda Galaxy in Andromeda (but I started with M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici just off the bowl of the Big Dipper, to stall until Andromeda cleared the horizon)

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A 15-second exposure of the Big Dipper from the grounds.

I was fortunate to have as my last set of public observers two near-teenagers who were attentive enough to my description of Andromeda and the mechanics of Dobsonian motion that I let them take Ruby’s reigns to find M110, a satellite galaxy just outside of the field of view of M31 and M32 in my scope. After both Bob and the crowd took off for the evening, Ryan and I spent another 30 minutes or so observing (pulling out the Veil Nebula in Cygnus – and still near Fayetteville’s lights!), where we decided that Green Lakes is an excellent, reasonably dark sky location in Syracuse’s direct suburbs – a location we would very much like to make a more regular CNYO observing hotspot.

NASA Space Place – Doing Science with a Spacecraft’s Signal

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 David Doody

2013february2_spaceplaceMariner 2 to Venus, the first interplanetary flight, was launched August 27 fifty years ago. This was a time when scientists were first learning that Venus might not harbor jungles under its thick atmosphere after all. A Russian scientist had discovered that atmosphere during the rare Venus transit of 1761, because of the effects of sunlight from behind.

Mariner 2 proved interplanetary flight was possible, and our ability to take close-up images of other planets would be richly rewarding in scientific return. But it also meant we could use the spacecraft itself as a “light” source, planting it behind an object of our choosing and making direct measurements.

Mariner 4 did the first occultation experiment of this sort when it passed behind Mars as seen from Earth in July 1965. But, instead of visible light from the Sun, this occultation experiment used the spacecraft’s approximately 2-GHz radio signal.

The Mariner 4 experiment revealed Mars’ thin atmosphere. Since then, successful radio science occultation experiments have been conducted at every planet and many large moons. And another one is on schedule to investigate Pluto and its companion Charon, when the New Horizons spacecraft flies by in July 2015. Also, during that flyby, a different kind of radio science experiment will investigate the gravitational field.

The most recent radio science occultation experiment took place September 2, 2012, when the Cassini spacecraft carried its three transmitters behind Saturn. These three different frequencies are all kept precisely “in tune” with one another, based on a reference frequency sent from Earth. Compared to observations of the free space for calibration just before ingress to occultation, the experiment makes it possible to tease out a wide variety of components in Saturn’s ionosphere and atmosphere.

Occultation experiments comprise only one of many categories of radio science experiments. Others include tests of General Relativity, studying the solar corona, mapping gravity fields, determining mass, and more. They all rely on NASA’s Deep Space Network to capture the signals, which are then archived and studied.

Find out more about spacecraft science experiments in “Basics of Space Flight,” a website and book by this author, www2.jpl.nasa.gov/basics. Kids can learn all about NASA’s Deep Space Network by playing the “Uplink-Downlink” game at spaceplace.nasa.gov/dsn-game.

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Caption: In this poster art of Mariner 4, you can see the parabolic reflector atop the spacecraft bus. Like the reflector inside a flashlight, it sends a beam of electromagnetic energy in a particular direction. Credit: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste. Click to see full-size version.

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/