Tag Archives: New Horizons

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

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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.

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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

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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 4 November – 12 November 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 announcements from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to: hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

Be An Astronaut: NASA Seeks Explorers For Future Space Missions

RELEASE 15-216 (Click here for the full article) – 4 November 2015

In anticipation of returning human spaceflight launches to American soil, and in preparation for the agency’s journey to Mars, NASA announced it will soon begin accepting applications for the next class of astronaut candidates. With more human spacecraft in development in the United States today than at any other time in history, future astronauts will launch once again from the Space Coast of Florida on American-made commercial spacecraft, and carry out deep-space exploration missions that will advance a future human mission to Mars.

The agency will accept applications from Dec. 14 through mid-February and expects to announce candidates selected in mid-2017. Applications for consideration as a NASA Astronaut will be accepted at: http://www.usajobs.gov

The next class of astronauts may fly on any of four different U.S. vessels during their careers: the International Space Station, two commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by U.S. companies, and NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.

From pilots and engineers, to scientists and medical doctors, NASA selects qualified astronaut candidates from a diverse pool of U.S. citizens with a wide variety of backgrounds.

The agency will accept applications from Dec. 14 through mid-February and expects to announce candidates selected in mid-2017. Applications for consideration as a NASA Astronaut will be accepted at:

For more information about a career as a NASA astronaut, and application requirements, visit: www.nasa.gov/astronauts

NASA Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

RELEASE 15-217 (Click here for the full article) – 5 November 2015

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.

MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the Nov. 5 issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

“Mars appears to have had a thick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Understanding what happened to the Mars atmosphere will inform our knowledge of the dynamics and evolution of any planetary atmosphere. Learning what can cause changes to a planet’s environment from one that could host microbes at the surface to one that doesn’t is important to know, and is a key question that is being addressed in NASA’s journey to Mars.”

To view an animation simulating the loss of atmosphere and water on Mars: svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?4370

For more information and images on Mars’ lost atmosphere, visit: svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?4393

For more information about NASA’s MAVEN mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/maven

Four Months After Pluto Flyby, NASA’s New Horizons Yields Wealth Of Discovery

RELEASE 15-214 (Click here for the full article) – 9 November 2015

From possible ice volcanoes to twirling moons, NASA’s New Horizons science team is discussing more than 50 exciting discoveries about Pluto at this week’s 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Maryland.

“The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It’s why we explore — to satisfy our innate curiosity and answer deeper questions about how we got here and what lies beyond the next horizon.”

For one such discovery, New Horizons geologists combined images of Pluto’s surface to make 3-D maps that indicate two of Pluto’s most distinctive mountains could be cryovolcanoes — ice volcanoes that may have been active in the recent geological past.

To view more images and graphics being presented by New Horizons scientists at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences, visit: pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Press-Conferences/November-9-2015.php

For more information on NASA’s New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, videos and images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

As Earth Warms, NASA Targets ‘Other Half’ Of Carbon, Climate Equation

RELEASE 15-219 (Click here for the full article) – 12 November 2015

During a noon EST media teleconference today, NASA and university scientists will discuss new insights, tools and agency research into key carbon and climate change questions, as the agency ramps up its efforts to understand how Earth’s ocean, forest, and land ecosystems absorb nearly half of emitted carbon dioxide today.

Carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by human activities influences the amount of the sun’s energy trapped by Earth’s atmosphere. These emissions are the subject of a United Nations climate conference in Paris later this month. To improve the information available to policymakers on this issue, scientists are grappling with the complex question of whether Earth’s oceans, forests and land ecosystems will maintain their capacity to absorb about half of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions in the future.

“NASA is at the forefront of scientific understanding in this area, bringing together advanced measurement technologies, focused field experiments, and cutting-edge research to reveal how carbon moves around the planet and changes our climate,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “Understanding how the planet responds to human carbon emissions and increasing atmospheric CO2 levels will position our nation to take advantage of the opportunities and face the challenges that climate changes present.”

To learn more about NASA’s efforts to better understand the carbon and climate challenge, visit: www.nasa.gov/carbonclimate

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission To International Space Station

RELEASE 15-224 (Click here for the full article) – 20 November 2015

2012nov22_39a_aerial1NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

For the latest on Commercial Crew progress, bookmark the program’s blog at: blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew

CNYO Observing Log: Friends Of Rogers, 8 August 2015

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

“It goes to show you never can tell.” – Chuck Berry

As of 10 a.m. On Saturday, August 8th, it was pretty clear that the late evening and early night time sky wasn’t going to be. The usual complement of forecast websites and Clear Sky Clock all indicated that the night was going to go from Mostly Cloudy to Partly Cloudy after midnight. A generally bad sign for amateur astronomers on both counts:

1. There would likely be enough cloud cover to distract from observing

2. There would likely be just enough clear sky to make you regret setting up the scope

Our Friends of Rogers (FoR) session in Sherburne was scheduled as an Observing-Only event. If the sky was completely overcast, there likely wouldn’t have been any confusion as to what wasn’t going to happen that evening. The forecast of Mostly Cloudy, coupled with (1) a one-hour drive for most of us from here to there, and (2) FoR having done plenty of advertising for the event but not having an RSVP list or any way to contact people that the session wasn’t going to happen, made for a small conundrum.

For those not in the know (from the Friends of Rogers website)…

Operated and run by Friends of Rogers as a non-profit to provide outstanding educational opportunities that excite, inspire, and motivate people of all ages to enjoy, understand, and protect our natural environment.

FoR is a beautiful facility and grounds pocketed away in Sherburne, NY. Similar to our more local Beaver Lake Nature Center. The place includes lecture facilities, equipment rentals, plenty of walking space, summer classes of varied kinds for kids (for which we may host an astro-specific event next summer), and a very friendly staff (frankly, it isn’t often that staff is still ready for more at 11:00 p.m. at many of the placed we hold sessions).

The solution was for our Observing event to be announced as cancelled, but I’d head down anyway to provide some kind of indoor astronomical program for anyone who showed. I arrived around 7:40 p.m. to three staff and one visitor, followed soon by a half-dozen more attendees. With my honest-ta-goodness-totally-legit Mars and Ceres rocks and various meteor fragments and consequence pieces (desert glass, tektites, etc. I’ve also promoted Kopernik’s own Patrick Manley’s daughter’s discovery to near-legendary status in these parts) in tow, plus a 30-or-so minute lecture on 2015 Astronomy Highlights, we ended up having a two hour discussion indoors before stepping outside to talk a little bit about finding prominent constellations, navigating the circumpolar constellations, orienting ourselves in preparation for the Perseid Meteor Shower peaking this week, and then observing a total of 30 stars in the same single 26mm Nagler field of view through my NMT 12.5” Dob and the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae through one attending’s pair of binoculars.

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The little teapot, short and stout, in the body of Sagittarius.

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Pluto, threading the 4/5 mag. needle at the tip of the teaspoon (the “needle” stars are easy in low-power binoculars. Pluto, not so much). Click the image for a larger view.

That set of 30 stars in the same field of view was crystal clear for a few minutes, and fortuitous given the lecture content. With a clear shot of the handle of the Teapot that is the body of Sagittarius, you can find your way to the teaspoon (well, to me, anyway) just above and to the left of the handle. The end star of the teaspoon is actually 2 stars, one a pure white (ksi 1) and the second a deeper orange/red (ksi 2, with a small companion off to one side). As it so happens, Pluto is threading the needle hole at the moment right between those two stars (see the image below).

While none of us actually “saw” Pluto given the conditions (and that would be a Herculean effort in a 12.5” Scope with a few surrounding lights), we all did have more than a few photons from Pluto, Charon, Kerberos, Nix, Hydra, and Styx, hit our retinas (technically, even a few from the New Horizons spacecraft itself. Isn’t statistics wonderful!).

The lesson learned for any and all future sessions (provided no rain) are as follows:

1. Always be prepared to say something (handing people a piece of another planet and/or dwarf planet makes that pretty easy).

2. An attending registry can be very helpful. In CNYO’s case, we’re going to make sure that our Facebook and Meetup events list are always up-to-date.

And, with that, we await what the weather holds for this coming week’s Perseid Meteor Shower. If it’s clear, several of us will be out most of the week hoping to spot a few at local parks. See our official announcement post for details. We hope to see you!