October 8: Monthly Membership Meeting

The October meeting of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) will take place Monday, October 8. Speaker for the evening will be CAA member and club secretary Trevor Braun on the topic, “Astronomical Tools.” There have been a variety of important astronomical tools dating from antiquity to the present. Trevor will give us an overview of the history of astronomical tools, show us how they have been and are being used, their impact on our knowledge of the Universe and ourselves, and best of all, how to make some of your own!

The CAA’s monthly meetings are held on the second Monday of every month (except December) at 7:30 PM at the Rocky River Nature Center; 24000 Valley Parkway; North Olmsted, Ohio, in the Cleveland Metroparks.

Following the presentation and a brief social break, the club will conduct its membership business meeting.

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Cassini: A parcel of papers published

The Cassini spacecraft ended its mission on Sept. 15, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This natural-color view is a composite of images taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft ended its mission on Sept. 15, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

October 4, 2018 — New research emerging from the final orbits of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft represents a huge leap forward in our understanding of the Saturn system — especially the mysterious, never-before-explored region between the planet and its rings. Some preconceived ideas are turning out to be wrong while new questions are being raised.

Six teams of researchers are publishing their work Oct. 5 in the journal Science, based on findings from Cassini’s Grand Finale. That’s when, as the spacecraft was running out of fuel, the mission team steered Cassini spectacularly close to Saturn in 22 orbits before deliberately vaporizing it in a final plunge into the atmosphere in September 2017.

Knowing Cassini’s days were numbered, its mission team went for gold. The spacecraft flew where it was never designed to fly. For the first time, it probed Saturn’s magnetized environment, flew through icy, rocky ring particles and sniffed the atmosphere in the 1,200-mile-wide (2,000-kilometer-wide) gap between the rings and the cloud tops. Not only did the flight path push the spacecraft to its limits, the new findings illustrate how powerful and agile the instruments were.

Many more Grand Finale science results are to come, but here are some of today’s highlights:

  • Complex organic compounds embedded in water nanograins rain down from Saturn’s rings into its upper atmosphere. Scientists saw water and silicates, but they were surprised to see also methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The composition of the organics is different from that found on moon Enceladus — and also different from that on moon Titan, meaning there are at least three distinct reservoirs of organic molecules in the Saturn system.
  • For the first time, Cassini saw up close how rings interact with the planet and observed inner-ring particles and gases falling directly into the atmosphere. Some particles take on electric charges and spiral along magnetic-field lines, falling into Saturn at higher latitudes — a phenomenon known as “ring rain.” But scientists were surprised to see that others are dragged quickly into Saturn at the equator. And it’s all falling out of the rings faster than scientists thought — as much as 22,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) of material per second.
  • Scientists were surprised to see what the material looks like in the gap between the rings and Saturn’s atmosphere. They knew that the particles throughout the rings ranged from large to small. But the sampling in the gap showed mostly tiny, nanometer-sized particles, like smoke, suggesting that some yet-unknown process is grinding up particles.
  • Saturn and its rings are even more interconnected than scientists thought. Cassini revealed a previously unknown electric-current system that connects the rings to the top of Saturn’s atmosphere.
  • Scientists discovered a new radiation belt around Saturn, close to the planet and composed of energetic particles. They found that while the belt actually intersects with the innermost ring, the ring is so tenuous that it doesn’t block the belt from forming.
  • Unlike every other planet with a magnetic field in our Solar System, Saturn’s magnetic field is almost completely aligned with its spin axis. The new data shows a magnetic-field tilt of less than 0.0095 degrees. (Earth’s magnetic field is tilted 11 degrees from its spin axis.) According to everything scientists know about how planetary magnetic fields are generated, Saturn should not have one. It’s a mystery that physicists will be working to solve.
  • Cassini flew above Saturn’s magnetic poles, directly sampling regions where radio emissions are generated. The findings more than doubled the number of direct measurements of radio sources from the planet, one of the few non-terrestrial locations where scientists have been able to study a radio-generation mechanism that is believed to operate throughout the universe.

For the Cassini mission, the science rolling out from Grand Finale orbits more than justifies the calculated risk of diving into the gap — skimming the upper atmosphere and skirting the edge of the inner rings, said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker.

“Almost everything going on in that region turned out to be a surprise,” Spilker said. “That was the importance of going there, to explore a place we’d never been before. And the expedition really paid off — the data is tremendously exciting.”

Analysis of Cassini data from the spacecraft’s instruments will be ongoing for years to come, helping to paint a clearer picture of Saturn.

“Many mysteries remain, as we put together pieces of the puzzle,” Spilker said. “Results from Cassini’s final orbits turned out to be more interesting than we could have imagined.”

The papers published in Science are:

On Oct. 4, as the Science publication embargo lifts, articles describing research complementary to these findings will post online in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

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September 10 Meeting: Dancing on the Moon*

Image: Solar cells power a moon base and the surface mining operations. (Artist's concept by Pat Rawlings of SAIC for NASA/Lewis)

Solar cells power a moon base and the surface mining operations. (Artist’s concept by Pat Rawlings of SAIC for NASA/Lewis)

The September meeting of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) will take place Monday, September 10. Speaker for the evening will be NASA Engineer Bryan Palaszewski who will bring us close to home (astronomically) and discuss plans and ideas for humans to “live off the land”, establishing a permanent base on the surface of our nearest neighbor, the Moon!

The CAA’s monthly meetings are held on the second Monday of every month (except December) at 7:30 PM at the Rocky River Nature Center; 24000 Valley Parkway; North Olmsted, Ohio, in the Cleveland Metroparks.

Following the presentation and a brief social break, the club will conduct its membership business meeting.

* Okay, “Living on the Moon,” but we couldn’t resist a reference to an ancient Max Fleischer cartoon.

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Saving the Dark

Photo: An awe-inspiring night sky! The night sky could look like this in Northeastern Ohio if we would simply control our lighting. Image Credit: "Saving the Dark"

The night sky could look like this anywhere in Ohio if we would simply control our lighting. Image Credit: “Saving the Dark”

What do we lose when we lose sight of the stars? Excessive and improper lighting robs us of our night skies, disrupts our sleep patterns, and endangers nocturnal habitats. Saving the Dark explores the need to preserve or restore night skies and what we can all do to combat light pollution. This film will be shown October 5 & 6 at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival

Click here for more information and to view the film’s trailer.

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Looking out the window

Photo: Craters on the Moon's Terminator. An iPhone photo taken through a telescope at 600X. Converted to monochrome.  Photo Credit: Lowan Laws.

Craters on the Moon’s Terminator. An iPhone photo taken through a telescope at 600X. Converted to monochrome. Photo Credit: Lowan Laws.

CAA member Lowan Laws was using his eight-inch Meade Dobsonian telescope at our Letha House Park observing site one very clear night this July. Pointing his scope at the Moon, he marveled at how sharp the image was. He said the atmosphere was so clear and steady — the seeing extraordinary — that he kept increasing the magnification to see how far he could go. Finally, at 600X, he snapped this image using his Apple iPhone at the telescope eyepiece (afocal method). It’s almost like looking out the window of a spaceship in lunar orbit.

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2018 Perseids meteor shower

Photo: Perseids Composite: Images combined to show 22 meteors viewed from Salt Fork State Park, Ohio. Photo Credit: Frank Shoemaker.

Perseids Composite: Images combined to show 22 meteors and radiant direction, viewed from Salt Fork State Park, Ohio. Photo Credit: Frank Shoemaker.

Note: This post will be updated with additional photos and narrative as provided by CAA members.

The 2018 occurrence of the annual Perseids meteor shower was not particularly outstanding but among sky watchers the event’s timing offered some promise; it peaked on a weekend and Earth’s Moon offered no interference! Overall, members enjoyed the experience but were not impressed by the Perseids’ performance!

A few intrepid members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) spent late nights into early mornings at darker sites around the area ranging from Observatory Park in Geauga County, to Letha House Park in Medina County, Findley State Park in Lorain County, and Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County.

Photo: The night wasn't stellar Saturday for the 2018 Perseids Meteor Shower as viewed from Letha House Park West, Medina County. This fisheye view of observers leaving at 12:35 AM. Photo Credit: James Guilford.

The night wasn’t stellar Saturday for the 2018 Perseids Meteor Shower as viewed from Letha House Park West, Medina County, as clouds and light pollution hindered observations. This fisheye view of observers leaving at 12:35 AM. Photo Credit: James Guilford.

Saturday night observers were largely frustrated by clouds moving over the Northern Ohio area though some did report seeing meteors. The passing clouds were illuminated not only by city light pollution but also by flashes of lightning from thunderstorms over Lake Erie!

Member Lonnie Dittrick, out Saturday night, reported, “Spent about 2.5 hours out near Wellington and snagged 23 meteors (about 1 every 9.6 minutes). Conditions fair with lots of high clouds and a cloud-out for 30 minutes. Reoccurring lighting north over the lake. Three very bright shooters that left trails. 11:10 to 1:40 AM.”

Joining the crowd at Observatory Park, Nancy Whisler wrote, “We counted 34 up until midnight, then we left because it was getting so cloudy and moist. We had a great time!

Some folks tried watching from their own back yards. “Stayed home in Brunswick on my backyard patio Saturday night and Sunday,” wrote Jon Salontay. “Saturday started out with promising skies and weather but the sky got very hazy and smoky early and cloudy later. Saw only one sporadic meteor around midnight and didn’t catch any with my camera. Limiting magnitude was at best 3rd magnitude, probably 2nd. Sunday night saw better conditions; much darker and clearer.”

“Saw only two Perseids though: one early at 11:30 PM, and another around 4 AM, in an early and later session. Three meteors, in two days, in five hours observing.” Reflecting the feelings of many observers, Salontay concluded, “I’ve had better nights.”

Watching from his home’s deck in Brunswick Hills, Matt Franduto wrote, “The last two nights (2 – 3:00 AM) have been awful. Zero on Friday. Three (Saturday) night.”

Sunday night, inconvenient for many due to Monday work schedules, offered better skies and a nice selection of fireballs (exceptionally bright meteors) in addition to more ordinary “shooting stars.”

Watching the sky from “the lovely skies of North Olmsted,” was Steve Korylak. “I took about 200 15-second exposures covering Cygnus and Cassiopeia starting at 1:30 AM and caught not 0ne. However the next half-hour I saw three Perseids and four sporadics. Some shower, more like a drizzle!”

Photo: Sword of Mars: A Perseid fireball meteor streaks past the brilliant planet Mars in the skies over Findley State Park, Wellington, August 12, 2018, 1:03 AM. Photo Credit: James Guilford.

Sword of Mars: A Perseid fireball meteor streaks past the brilliant planet Mars in the skies over Findley State Park, Wellington, August 12, 2018, 1:03 AM. Photo Credit: James Guilford.

From Findley State Park, James Guilford watched and photographed from twilight until 1:30 AM Saturday to Sunday. He did not keep count as photography was his main interest. “I saw a few dim Perseids and several fireballs and captured one as it passed Mars,” he wrote. “The main problem became dew; one after another the camera lenses fogged up and I had to keep swapping them out. The camera and tripod were dripping wet by the time I had to call it quits!”

Dark skies matter when it comes to spotting meteors. Member Frank Shoemaker, who went to Salt Fork, reported, “My daughter and I went down to Salt Fork state park and were out from 11:30 PM to 4:30 AM on Sunday night/Monday morning. The clouds completely cleared out about 1:30 AM and we eventually lost count of Perseids in the 70s. I think we saw at least 80 of them.” That was a good night! See his composite photo at top of this story.

Photo: Singular Streak: A close-up view of a Perseid as it passed through constellation Cassiopeia Sunday morning. Photo Credit: John D. Burkett.

Singular Streak: A close-up view of a Perseid as it passed through constellation Cassiopeia Sunday morning. Photo Credit: John D. Burkett.

Member John Burkett took a different approach in making his meteoric image: as an experiment he attached cameras to a CGEM which tracked with background stars. The image above was produced from a Nikon D810, Nikon 35mm f/1.4 @ f/4, ISO-200, single-frame 76-Seconds, cropped. It was just below and to the right of the big “W”. He was three miles out of Seville, time stamp is 5:29 AM.

 

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At Monday, August 13 meeting: Crewed American space missions: 2018

The program for the August 13 General Membership Meeting will cover American Crewed Space Missions: 2018. The talk will be delivered by Tom Benson, a retired NASA aerospace engineer.

SpaceX Falcon 9 - Credit: SpaceX

On July 8, 2011, the final Space Shuttle mission was launched from Cape Canaveral.

For the last six years, the United States has paid the Russian Space Agency to deliver crew members to the International Space Station (ISS). That process is about to end as Americans will once again ride on American spacecraft launched from U.S. soil!

The Commercial Crew Program of NASA has contracted with SpaceX and Boeing to each develop a spacecraft which can deliver and return astronauts to the ISS. The first flights are scheduled for this year. Tom Benson, retired from NASA Glenn Research Center, will report on these missions and share with us any breaking news from the “high frontier!”

The CAA’s monthly meetings are held on the second Monday of every month (except December) at 7:30 PM at the Rocky River Nature Center; 24000 Valley Parkway; North Olmsted, Ohio, in the Cleveland Metroparks.

Following the presentation and a brief social break, the club will conduct its membership business meeting.

Illustration: Falcon 9 booster with Dragon crewed spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

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