Observatory improvements stellar

by William Murmann, CAA President

Observatory Director Jay Reynolds recently reported the good news about our Letha House Park observatory.

Jay told me that he and Bruce Lane went out last week and made the final adjustments on our 16-inch Meade.  This scope and the recently donated 8-inch Celestron are now fully operational and user-friendly.

When I became club president nearly four years ago, one of my goals was to get our observatory up and running so it would be an asset to our club.

For years, our observatory sat largely unused.  It was full of mice, dead bugs, and spider webs.  Parts of it were literally rotting away.  During the past two years, this has all changed.

I contacted the Medina Park District’s executive director and asked for help getting our building repaired.  He graciously agreed to help, although he didn’t have to because the building belongs to the club and we are responsible for its maintenance.

The park staff replaced the building’s rotting south wall, fixed the leaky roof, and replaced the rotting door frame and door.

We paid for materials; the park district staff donated the labor free of charge.  And, recently, the park maintenance staff restored the fold-down sections of the south wall at my request.  All the labor and materials for this job were donated to us free of charge.

And last month, we installed a new door lock on the advice of the park district’s locksmith, who warned me that the old lock was about worn out and could simply stop working.

The park district, under its current executive director Tom James, has been very supportive of our club. We owe them our thanks, and thanks to the park district’s maintenance supervisor Rick Perry for the excellent work he and his staff have done in repairing our observatory.

Jay Reynolds, who I appointed last year as our observatory director,  has played a key role in restoring our observatory.  He has spent hours and hours cleaning and organizing the building, getting rid of junk, installing the 8-inch Celestron that was donated to our club, and repairing and mounting our 16-inch Meade in a new spot on the old Byers mount that had sat basically unused for years.

Jay, with help from Suzie Dills and others, has made all the difference in giving us a “new” observatory.  Many thanks to all.

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Lake Hope and The Milky Way

The Milky Way and galactic center by Alan Studt.

Milky Way by Alan Studt

by Alan Studt, CAA Member

About a year and a half ago I ran across a guy in Grand Teton National Park who photographs the night sky using beautiful landscapes as the foregrounds for his “Nightscapes.” I was hooked and wanted to learn how to do that. When I got home to cloudy Ohio I took advantage of the rare clear nights and started learning how to go about it and also learning what it was I was seeing up there. At the time, all I really knew was the Big and Little Dippers, and that the Milky Way was our galaxy and that fuzzy streak you could see in really dark sky places.

My interest in photography has helped me learn about the constellations and other objects in the sky. I’ve shot areas of the sky not knowing what was there, then I’d study the photos and find the constellations by looking at charts. There is so much up there and I find it all fascinating.

On March 5-8 we spent some time in southern Ohio at Lake Hope State Park and also hiking around the various parks in Hocking Hills. It’s very dark out that way and we were fortunate enough to have two very clear nights and a clear early morning. Despite the very bright half-moon in the evenings you could see many things impossible to see in Parma.

I have an app on my iPod called “Star Walk” and I can see what position the stars will be in on any given date and time so I knew the Milky Way would be visible in the southeast a couple hours before sunrise. I woke up one morning around 4:15 AM, looked out the window of our cottage, and could see Cygnus very clearly. So, I packed up my stuff and headed down by the lake and got my best shots to date of the Galactic Center, and a few other nice shots as well.

Specs for the photo: Nikon D600, Nikkor AF-S 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR, 20 seconds, f/3.5, ISO 6400. Processed in Lightroom 5.3 for Windows.

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So… is there really a NEW PLANET? Nope!

by Jay Reynolds, CAA Observatory Director

So… is there really a new planet? Nope, at least not by the current definition of a planet.**

Thanks to new technology and techniques, the astronomy community has been making interesting finds recently. Our telescopes are becoming more sensitive and allow us to see more & more dimmer and smaller objects. These objects aren’t new, they’ve just been discovered.

The object called Biden (2012 VP113) is big, but does not meet the test for being labeled a planet.

**Definition of a planet
As of 2006, a planet must meet these qualifications:

    1. Must orbit the sun
    2. Must be large enough to be a sphere
    3. Must be free of major gravitational influences of its orbit
    4. Must not revolve around another planet

This newly-discovered object does orbit our Sun, is a sphere, does not revolve around another planet, but its orbit is greatly influenced by many other objects, including Neptune.

Its orbit is 24 degrees off of the planetary plane; Pluto’s is only 17 degrees. This suggests a different developmental history than “planets”

Try to refer to Biden as a DWARF PLANET.

Why is it called Biden? It’s easier than calling it 2012 VP113. The letters VP remind you of U.S. Vice-President (VP) Biden, 10 years ago they may have referred to it as Cheney or Gore. Biden is a temporary, informal name; the I.A.U. would never allow it to stick. About eight years ago, the dwarf planet Eris was referred to as Xena (The Warrior Princess). I’m sure Lucy Lawless was disappointed when her character was dropped.

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A new pockmark on the face of Mars

Photo: New crater on Mars. Image Credit: NASA

A dramatic, fresh impact crater dominates this false-color image taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013.

NASA-JPL: Space rocks hitting Mars excavate fresh craters at a pace of more than 200 per year, but few new Mars scars pack as much visual punch as one seen in a NASA image released February 5, 2014.

The image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a crater about 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter at the center of a radial burst painting the surface with a pattern of bright and dark tones. (See a high-resolution version of the image here.)

The scar appeared at some time between imaging of this location by the orbiter’s Context Camera in July 2010 and again in May 2012. Based on apparent changes between those before-and-after images at lower resolution, researchers used HiRISE to acquire this new image on Nov. 19, 2013. The impact that excavated this crater threw some material as far as 9.3 miles (15 kilometers).

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the Context Camera.

For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying Mars from orbit since 2006, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mro .

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Water vapor detected on Ceres

Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Dwarf planet Ceres is located in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Observations by ESA’s Herschel space observatory between 2011 and 2013 find that the dwarf planet has a thin water-vapour atmosphere. It is the first unambiguous detection of water vapour around an object in the asteroid belt.
Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.

Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up periodically from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet, a solar system body bigger than an asteroid and smaller than a planet.

Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions.
“This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.

The results come at the right time for NASA’s Dawn mission, which is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year orbiting the large asteroid Vesta. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.

“We’ve got a spacecraft on the way to Ceres, so we don’t have to wait long before getting more context on this intriguing result, right from the source itself,” said Carol Raymond, the deputy principal investigator for Dawn at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high-resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity.”

For the last century, Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union, the governing organization responsible for naming planetary objects, reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size. It is roughly 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter. When it first was spotted in 1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Later, other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found, marking the discovery of our solar system’s main belt of asteroids.

Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of Earth. The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system’s existence and accumulated before the planets formed.

Until now, ice had been theorized to exist on Ceres but had not been detected conclusively. It took Herschel’s far-infrared vision to see, finally, a clear spectral signature of the water vapor. But Herschel did not see water vapor every time it looked. While the telescope spied water vapor four different times, on one occasion there was no signature.

Here is what scientists think is happening: when Ceres swings through the part of its orbit that is closer to the sun, a portion of its icy surface becomes warm enough to cause water vapor to escape in plumes at a rate of about 6 kilograms (13 pounds) per second. When Ceres is in the colder part of its orbit, no water escapes.

The strength of the signal also varied over hours, weeks and months, because of the water vapor plumes rotating in and out of Herschel’s views as the object spun on its axis. This enabled the scientists to localize the source of water to two darker spots on the surface of Ceres, previously seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes. The dark spots might be more likely to outgas because dark material warms faster than light material. When the Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres, it will be able to investigate these features.

The results are somewhat unexpected because comets, the icier cousins of asteroids, are known typically to sprout jets and plumes, while objects in the asteroid belt are not.
“The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids,” said Seungwon Lee of JPL, who helped with the water vapor models along with Paul von Allmen, also of JPL. “We knew before about main belt asteroids that show comet-like activity, but this is the first detection of water vapor in an asteroid-like object.”

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Cluster galaxies to be subject of January 13 meeting lecture

The first club meeting of the New Year will take place this coming Monday (January 13), 7:30 PM, at the Rocky River Nature Center.

As usual, our speaker’s lecture will come first at 7:30. We will welcome Dr. Chris Mihos, professor of astronomy at Case Western Reserve University, who will discuss “The Violent Lives of Cluster Galaxies.”

The business portion of the meeting will take place following the lecture and a brief intermission.

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Busy 2013 for CAA educational outreach

CAA President Bill Murmann recently reported on the club’s efforts in programming activity to the membership.

“Thanks to our members,” Murmann wrote, “we have done a great job meeting this goal in 2013. During this year, we have presented a total of 25 public programs that include:

  • 13 programs for the Cleveland MetroParks.
  • 6 programs for the Medina County Park District
  • 4 programs for the Cuyahoga County Public Library System
  • 1 program for the State of Ohio at Findley State Park
  • 1 program for the Avon Public School System

“In addition, thanks to Jay Reynolds and Suzie Dills we have made great strides this year in improving our club observatory at Letha House Park. If our plans work out, we possibly may have three working telescopes in our observatory in 2014.

“Our success has been made possible through the help of our members who have been generous in giving their time, their experience, and the use of their telescopes for our programs. Many thanks to all!”

He concluded, “Best wishes for the New Year!”

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