There are two things to keep an eye on today. First, there is a fine sunspot grouping on the sun right now, and if you have proper solar filters to use (very important! Don't even try unless you do!), this is an uncommon treat. Sunspot group 1029 shows several large spots and should be worth a look. After all, it could be a while before we get another one!
After dark be sure to look to the south, where the Moon joins Jupiter in a lovely pairing that will be eyecatching even without optical aide. Only 4 degrees apart, the two should fit in the field of most standard binoculars. Of course, with a telescope the Moon will show fine detail along the terminator, being just past first quarter, and Jupiter is always amazing!
Whenever you have a free moment today or tonight, enjoy the sights the sky has to offer.
Ann, Alex, Steve and Don went to the Oakville Sixers-Seconds camp last Friday to assist with the Astronomy Badge for the Cub Scouts, aged 8-10 years old. Brenda Frederick, HAA member and also the Akela, was there in her official capacity, running the camp, and was very helpful making sure we were well supported by the leaders. It was raining, so the skies were not inviting, but in the spacious indoor chapel, a pair of stations were set up.
At one end of the room, Don had Stellarium running on the projector, and was able to give the kids a sky tour, and help them learn their constellations, finding north, etc. The program conveniently can be configured to omit the lines that are often found in sky charts. Meanwhile, Ann, Alex and Steve set up at the other end of the room, to present information about the Solar System, meteorites, comets, and asteroids, legends, and astronomy equipment.
It was encouraging that most of the kids could already name the 9 planets in order (but they knew about Pluto, whose goofy name has got it disqualified from the list).
There were 40 cubs at the camp, and they were divided into 2 main groups. One group was doing uniform and badge work elsewhere, and the other group was doing the Astronomy badge with us. For the astronomy part, we divided them further in half, so we presented to small groups of 10 or so, for about 20 minutes, then switched to the other half. Then we did the whole thing again for the other main group.
The Cubs had never seen comet Hale-Bopp. They missed a treat. I hope we see another great comet in a few years.
Ann and Alex had brought a chunk of a meteorite that fell in Argentina, for the Cubs to handle and pass around while we talked. They were rightly impressed with the weight of the meteorite. Ann explained that meteors look fast, but comets move very slowly indeed by comparison, and the kids understood that it was due to parallax. She also talked about meteor showers, being dust that is found along a comets orbit, that the earth happens to pass through once a year.
Comets and asteroids can sometimes hit the earth, but not often. Ann mentioned that the Sudbury Impact Crater had lots of nickel because of a meteor.
We then discussed some Iroquois legends about the constellations. Suffice it to say that the legends of the Iroquois are pretty cool. Especially the one about Orion. I would like to see it presented with more detail sometime. According to the legend, Orion works 6 months of the year keeping the sun high in the sky. When the sun is far from Orion, he rests, and his son does the job, not nearly as well, so the sun rides low in the winter sky, but Orion is seen at night resting.
There's truth and lessons there at several levels.
I brought along some equipment we use during astronomy, partly on the off chance the skies would clear. The Cubs had a great time with my 25x100 binoculars, looking both forward and reverse through them. It was important to explain that we don't touch the lenses of optical equipment, and why. I explained how binoculars magnify, but are large because otherwise the magnified image would be very dim.
We also showed them star charts, and explained that Messier collected a list of non-comets, that were actually pretty interesting to look at.
Don's green laser was a hit for pointing at his projected star charts. Mine was out of service (needed a battery charge) but got the idea across. We explained how pointing in the sky with a laser makes it easier for a group to see where you are pointing.
Several of the leaders also tried the Binoculars. After the presentations were done, we packed up and then went for 'mug up' in the dining hall, where timbits (an HAA necessity; thanks, Brenda) and hot chocolate with marshmallows, and Rice Crispies Squares, were to be had. We also had a chance to listen to the leaders talking to the Cubs. It's a well organized event and well worth attending. I had a great time, and got home a bit after 11 PM.
If you have volunteered at public events, and are interested in participating in this valuable scientific and cultural outreach, contact me and I can let you know when these invitations come up.
It appears that at least one fragment of the meteorite that lit up night skies over southern Ontario last month has been found. It was responsible for breaking someone's windshield!
Check out the story by the Hamilton Spectator: http://www.thespec.com/News/Local/article/654095 and the St. Catharine's Standard : http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2127299
Today's Hamilton Spectator is reporting another fragment of the meteorite has been found. Check it out: http://www.thespec.com/article/655154
Tonight's episode of NOVA, the PBS science series, is about the most recent mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. You can catch it at 8:00 pm on PBS. Here is the synopsis provided:
"NOVA was on hand from the beginning of training onwards when NASA decided to send a space team up for a final repair on the Hubble Telescope. See the footage of in-space repairs to the telescope on one of the most intense space walks ever."
This episode will repeat Thursday night at 11:30 pm
As Steve posted the other day, NASA's LCROSS satellite will impact near the Moon's south pole on Friday morning in an attempt to detect ice.
Based on strong circumstantial evidence from earlier missions, scientists believe that some of the Moon's craters at the poles, which are permanently in shadow, may harbour ice from ancient comet impacts. Being in shadow, they never receive light/heat from the sun which would cause the ice to sublimate. This could be very significant as we head back to the Moon, hopefully on a permanent basis since water is heavy to transport and essential for life. Plus it can be used to create oxygen and rocket fuel.
The impactors, actually consist of 2 parts. The spent Centaur rocket booster which sent the main probe to the moon, will hit first before the main satellite meets the same fate. This booster, with a mass of 2200kg, is expected to raise a plume of water ice and dust up to 10 kilometres high, clearing the shadow of the crater and once exposed to sunlight, will be visible from Earth. Earth based telescopes, mostly in western North America and the Pacific will be trained to capture this event.
Four minutes later the main sensing probe will enter the plume and examine the contents for any elements, and then plunge into the surface. With a mass of about 700kg, it won't raise as much of a plume, but it's still expected to provide useful science.
What's interesting about this event is that amateur astronomers have a chance to observe this event. It is expected to be visible in scopes of at least 10 inches and we have several that meet this requirement in our club. Unfortunately the impact is going to take place at 7:30am local time and it will be bright (assuming we're not covered with clouds). This will make picking out the flash very difficult. Possibly with enough aperture, the right filtering and recording exposures, plus some post-processing, it may be possible to capture this event from our area. (I know, sounds like a long shot doesn't it?)
There are lots of resources to find out more about this event. Here's a good one to get started with lots of info, including a lunar image showing the impact location.
Regrettably the weather is not looking too promising for our area in the morning (considering this year, it shouldn't be a surprise). So if we can't observe through our own scopes, the next best option will be NASA TV (online and cable). NASA has coverage of the event starting at 6:30am (local) and will be providing live images from the Moon and Earth.
Good luck and enjoy however you end up experiencing this fascinating event.
After last weekend, i was mildly surprised to see HAA members back under cloudy skies, for our annual Public Observing Night in Burlington.
It was actually raining at 7:29 PM when i arrived, but presently the rain abated, and Brenda, Don and I proceeded to set up our stuff. The sky was cloudy but there was the odd dark spot implying that clearing was possible.
Ann came and in 2 seconds had her 6 inch Dob set up, and i decided to set up the GWS, with a tarp at the ready, should the rain return temporarily.
Don managed to get some photos of us admiring Ann's scope, as night fell.
I was happy to see a few people who had been at Binbrook last week back for an actual look through telescopes.
They brought family members, and had a good hour of the Moon and Jupiter.
As the night got darker we started reaching for Messiers, and found M57, M15 and M31. In some cases, we had to wait a few minutes for clouds to pass, but it was not too bad.
I had a nice chat about astrophotography equipment, and telescope buying considerations with some of the visitors. As usual, the best answer is binoculars and sharing, until you know exactly what you want.
The street lights at that location are a bit annoying, but by casting a shadow in the right direction, it was possible to view the sky through the scope without too much glare.
The last of us packed up at about 11 PM. We had about 25 visitors, which is not bad for a night people would have thought was cloudy.
If you have a telescope, i suggest you set it up and see if you can spot the flash of light and rising plume of dust and gases as the booster stage of LCROSS kicks up a few hundred tons of dust and water vapour.
Then have a nap and plan to attend our AGM the same evening, when John will do an extended Sky this Month presentation.
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