Deaths: Ray A. Paul

We are sorry to report the passing of Ray A. Paul, husband of past CAA president Lynn (Laux) Paul. We offer our condolences to Lynn and her family and friends. Ray was active in amateur astronomy in Cleveland and in Akron, where he served as observatory director of the astronomy club of Akron. Ray and Lynn were very active amateur astronomers and experienced astro-photographers. They enjoyed trips together out West for stargazing and photography.

Ray, age 65, was a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran and Bronze Star recipient. Services were held at St. Peter and Paul Church in Doylestown, OH. Burial was in the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.

The following obituary was published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on March 5, 2012:

PAUL RAY A. PAUL, age 65. Beloved husband of Lynn (nee Kuhel). Loving father of Ryan Paul, Katherine Laux and Christopher Laux. Dearest son of Claire (nee Trunk) and the late Stanley Paul. Dear brother of Anita Stanners (Bob), Elaine Paul-Muelas, Jeff Paul (Linda) and Robert Paul (Tina). Dear son in law of Jim and Irene Kuhel. Also survived by aunts, uncle, nieces, nephews, great nephews, cousins and many dear friends. U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran and Bronze Star recipient. Member of Cuyahoga Astronomical Association and former observatory director of the astronomy club of Akron. Mass of Christian Burial Wednesday March 7, 2012 St. Peter & Paul Church, 161 W. Clinton St., Doylestown, Ohio at 11:00 AM. Final Resting Place Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery. Arrangements entrusted to the A. RIPEPI & SONS FUNERAL HOME, 18149 BAGLEY ROAD, MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, OHIO 44130, 440-260-8800 (WEST OF I-71).

The Earth is also a planet: A Big Blue Marble

Photo Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
Big Image from New Satellite Captures Amazing Detail

A ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA’s most recently launched Earth-observing satellite – Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed ‘Suomi NPP’ on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin.

Suomi NPP is NASA’s next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth. Suomi NPP is carrying five instruments on board. The biggest and most important instrument is The Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite or VIIRS.

Various sizes of this awe-inspiring image are available through NASA’s Flickr site including the astonishingly big 8,000 X 8,000-pixel original size! Be warned… it may be too much for your browser to handle!

Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Star clears away birth clouds

Photo: Hubble Space Telescope image of star-forming region Sh 2-106, or S106 for short.
Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera-3 has captured this image of a giant cloud of hydrogen gas illuminated by a bright young star. The image shows how violent the end stages of the star-formation process can be, with the young object shaking up its stellar nursery. Click here for a much larger image!

Despite the celestial colors of this picture, there is nothing peaceful about star forming region Sh 2-106, or S106 for short. A devilish young star, named S106 IR, lies in it and ejects material at high speed, which disrupts the gas and dust around it. The star has a mass about 15 times that of the Sun and is in the final stages of its formation. It will soon quieten down by entering the main sequence, the adult stage of stellar life.

For now, S106 IR remains embedded in its parent cloud, but it is rebelling against it. The material spewing off the star not only gives the cloud its hourglass shape but also makes the hydrogen gas in it very hot and turbulent. The resulting intricate patterns are clearly visible in this Hubble image.

The young star also heats up the surrounding gas, making it reach temperatures of 10 000 degrees Celsius. The star’s radiation ionizes the hydrogen lobes, making them glow. The light from this glowing gas is colored blue in this image.

Separating these regions of glowing gas is a cooler, thick lane of dust, appearing red in the image. This dark material almost completely hides the ionizing star from view, but the young object can still be seen peeking through the widest part of the dust lane.

S106 was the 106th object to be cataloged by the astronomer Stewart Sharpless in the 1950s. It is a few thousand light-years distant in the direction of Cygnus (The Swan). The cloud itself is relatively small by the standards of star-forming regions, around 2 light-years along its longest axis. This is about half the distance between the Sun and Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor.

This composite picture was obtained with the Wide Field Camera 3 on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. It results from the combination of two images taken in infrared light and one which is tuned to a specific wavelength of visible light emitted by excited hydrogen gas, known as H-alpha. This choice of wavelengths is ideal for targeting star-forming regions. The H-alpha filter isolates the light emitted from hydrogen in gas clouds while the infrared light can shine through the dust that often obscures these regions.

Pillars of the Sun

Photo: Brilliant sky with a sun pillar rising over trees. Photo by James Guilford.
A sun pillar rises into a firey December morning sky.

In the mornings and evenings of the cold seasons we are occasionally favored with glorious sunrises and sunsets. A few of those beautiful moments boast something beyond colored clouds and sky; they host sun pillars! Unknown Object

Sun pillars are the result of low-angle sunlight reflected from flat plate-shaped ice crystals suspended high in the air. Pillars can extend from approximately where the Sun sits, near the horizon, to points straight up and high above.

Monday morning, December 13, presented one of those fleeting moments as I drove to the office. I hurriedly pulled into a parking lot, extracted my camera from its case, and shot a few photos of the beautiful sky. A few minutes later, with the Sun slightly higher and the clouds slightly heavier, the fiery colors had faded and the sun pillar was gone.

Pillars, such as I saw, can also occur at night in the colder months. Lights from streetlamps, parking lots, buildings, and so forth can be reflected by atmospheric ice and produce delicately beautiful light pillars that are often mistaken for auroras.

So as you start or end your day, take the occasional glance at the sky. Perhaps you, too, will see the pillars of the Sun!

Yes, we’ll see no eclipse :-(

NASA Night Sky Network Lunar Eclipse Image
A glorious lunar eclipse during totality.

POST-ECLIPSE UPDATE: Others from the Western US and other parts of the world were treated to a marvelous eclipse. See a growing gallery of images at SpaceWeather.com.

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On the morning of Saturday, December 10, 2011 there will be a total lunar eclipse. While much of North America will be in a position to see this natural wonder, those of us east of the Mississippi are pretty much completely out of luck! Timing is everything in this case.

Those who have seen total lunar eclipses know that they are wonderful astronomical experiences. They occur when the Moon passes through the shadow Earth casts out into space, away from the Sun. The colors of Earth’s sunrises and sunsets act as filters giving the darkened Moon hues ranging from copper tones to deep red. Lunar eclipses are safe to view (never any brighter than the full Moon), don’t require telescopes or special optics to enjoy, and are visible over a wide area.

Total lunar eclipses can only happen when the Moon is in its Full phase –on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun– which often results in local observers seeing only part of the event. Locally we might see the beginning or end of an eclipse, or be totally out of luck because the Moon has set and the Sun has risen. On rare occasions at a given locale, the entire eclipse cycle, covering a period of several hours, can be seen; those eclipses take place in the mid-night hours rather than just before Sun- or Moonrise.

For those of us in Northeastern Ohio, the December 10 eclipse will barely have begun when the Moon sets just as the Sun rises. The thin shade of Earth’s outer shadow or penumbra will only just have begun to cover our Moon as it sets slowly in the west. Those on the West Coast will be able to enjoy more of the show, being a few hours behind our time.

In today’s world of Internet-connected telescopes and Web broadcasts there will be opportunities for remote eclipse watching. Learn more and possibly watch a “webcast” at the following URLs:

NASA’s Night Sky Network

NASA’s Eclipse Chart for December 10, 2011 (PDF)

Farmer’s Almanac

Season-ending open house November 12

The CAA will host their last program and star party of the year for the Medina Park District Saturday, Nov. 12, starting at 8 PM at the Letha House building.

Club president William Murmann will give a presentation about the European Southern Observatory at 8 PM, followed by a public star gazing program if sky conditions permit.

If the skies are clear, observers will see the 17-day waning Moon offering great edge-of-terminator views of some large craters on the eastern limb including floor-fractured Petavius.

Io should be crossing Jupiter around 9:30 that moon casting its shadow on Jupiter’s cloud tops — a good target for larger scopes. All of the Galilean Moons will be visible. The Pleiades and Hyades star clusters will be up, and Orion will be rising in the east.

Club members are asked to please bring their telescopes and join in the star party.

Asteroid is just passin’ through

Tuesday, Nov. 8 at about 6:28 PM, a space rock a little over 1,300 feet in diameter will pass within about 202,000 miles of Earth. It will not hit our home planet nor will it have any other effect on us; it’s just passin’ through. Designated 2005 YU55, it is a potentially hazardous asteroid because of its size and near-Earth orbit. It was discovered on December 28, 2005 by Robert S. McMillan at Steward Observatory, Kitt Peak, Ariz.

Spotting chart for asteroid 2005 YU55 in November 2011. WikiPedia
Spotting chart for asteroid 2005 YU55 in November 2011. Source: Wikipedia

The main reason the flyby is known to the public is that this large asteroid will be closer to us than is our own Moon and that’s a neat science headline. When good-sized asteroids come close to Earth, news of the event has different effects in different quarters.

Amongst astronomers asteroid fly-bys offer an excellent opportunity to study small “worlds” usually too far away to see clearly with telescopes. NASA and other agencies are already scanning the space rock with high-powered radar systems in an effort to learn more about the object. The data can be used to learn something about the texture and composition of the object and a bit about its history. The asteroid’s orbit will also be highly refined through tracking by observers from around the world allowing improved prediction of its future movements.

Amongst conspiracy and doomsday fanatics, the close passage is another opportunity to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) through pseudoscience and false prophesy. The Web is abuzz with gloom, doom, and gobs of misinformation already. What will they be saying Wednesday morning after 2005 YU55 has floated clean by Earth and left us unscathed? Those folks do have rich imaginations.

Here are some facts about our visitor from space and asteroids in general:

  • The word asteroid literally means “star-like object.”
  • Asteroids come in sizes ranging from small stones to a body about 3,300 feet in diameter: Ceres, the largest known object of that type.
  • The last time a space rock as large as 2005 YU55 came as close to Earth was in 1976, although astronomers did not know about the flyby at the time. The next known approach of an asteroid this size will be in 2028.
  • Asteroid 2005 YU55 will pass through the constellations Aquila and Pegasus glowing like an 11th magnitude star (very dim) when closest, not visible to the unaided eye. You’d need a good-sized telescope and clear dark skies to see the tiny star-like object.
  • This asteroid orbits the Sun, roughly as close as Venus to as far away as Mars. Along the way it crosses Earth’s orbital path, one factor that makes it potentially hazardous.
  • Large asteroids pass closer to Earth than the Moon about every five years; smaller ones pass close more frequently and often enter Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Asteroids nearly the size of a house collide with Earth about once a year with no harmful effects to us — they ordinarily explode in the upper atmosphere and the fragments burn up.
  • Though a good-sized ball of rock, 2005 YU55 does not have enough mass to have any gravitational effect on Earth.
  • Asteroid close-encounters do not cause earthquakes, high tides, or any other geological or weather events.
  • Asteroids are cataloged, their orbits calculated, and the objects tracked regularly both for scientific study and planetary protection ends. Those data are publicly available and often incorporated into home astronomy software.
  • The approach of asteroids cannot be kept secret. They are “out there” and potentially visible to all who care to look. Any truly dangerous situation would quickly be confirmed by scientific authorities from around the world.

Asteroids are but one small part of our fascinating solar system. Enjoy the real adventure and wonder of our corner of the universe that is yours through astronomy!