CAA at Lakewood Summer Solstice Celebration

Photo: After sunset scopes pointed skyward and offered views of planets Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. Photo by James Guilford.

After sunset scopes pointed skyward and offered views of planets Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. Lakewood Solstice Celebration 2016. Credit: James Guilford.

The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) will, once again, be a major activity at the city of Lakewood’s annual Summer Solstice Celebration. The event takes place in Lakewood Park and on the park’s lakefront Solstice Steps feature on Thursday, June 21 from 6:00 to 10:30 PM.

Operating within the constraints of sunlight and twilight viewing conditions, club members will set up their telescopes and offer public viewing of Sun, Moon, and planets. Planets Venus and Jupiter will be readily visible, given clear skies, as will be the Waxing Gibbous Moon. Some fainter objects may be viewed later.

CAA member Jay Reynolds is coordinating the club’s participation with organizers of the very popular celebration.

An event flyer is available here: Lakewood Summer Solstice Celebration

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June 11’s monthly meeting and upcoming programs

Coming up on Monday, June 11 is the monthly meeting of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA). The evening’s program will feature several members showing their favorite telescopes and what they appreciate about them and is appropriately entitled, “Telescope Show and Tell.”

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.

Here is a list of programs scheduled to take place at upcoming meetings of the CAA:

June 11, 2018
“Telescope Show and Tell”
Speaker: Members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association
Tonight, various club members will display their favorite telescopes and explain why, how, and how much!”

July 9, 2018
“Journey to Another Solar System”
Speaker: Jay Reynolds, Club member and Research Astronomer at Cleveland State University
Research astronomer and host of WKYC’s “In The Sky,” Jay Reynolds will discuss how scientists are working now on a project to send high-speed probes to our nearest neighboring star, with data results in less than 40 years of launch! (This is a make-up talk originally scheduled for January that did not take place due to illness!)

August 13, 2018
“American Crewed Space Missions: 2018”
Speaker: Tom Benson, Retired NASA Aerospace Engineer
On July 8, 2011 the last 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 American soil! The Commercial Crew Program of NASA has contracted with Space-X and Boeing to each develop spacecraft that can deliver and return astronauts to the ISS. The first flights are scheduled for this year. Tom Benson, retired from NASA Glenn, will report on these missions and share with us any breaking news from the high frontier!

September 10, 2018
“Moon Bases”
Speaker: Bryan A. Paleszewski, NASA Engineer
NASA Engineer Bryan Palaszewski will bring us close to home and discuss plans and ideas for humans to “live off the land,” i.e. establish a permanent base on the surface of our nearest solar system neighbor, the Moon!

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Ancient organic material, mysterious methane on Mars

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin" on lower Mount Sharp. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called “Buckskin” on lower Mount Sharp. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

From a NASA News Release

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.

“The Martian surface is exposed to radiation from space. Both radiation and harsh chemicals break down organic matter,” said Eigenbrode. “Finding ancient organic molecules in the top five centimeters of rock that was deposited when Mars may have been habitable, bodes well for us to learn the story of organic molecules on Mars with future missions that will drill deeper.”

Seasonal Methane Releases

In the second paper, scientists describe the discovery of seasonal variations in methane in the Martian atmosphere over the course of nearly three Mars years, which is almost six Earth years. This variation was detected by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite.

Water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins. Methane previously had been detected in Mars’ atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes. This new result shows that low levels of methane within Gale Crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year.

“This is the first time we’ve seen something repeatable in the methane story, so it offers us a handle in understanding it,” said Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, lead author of the second paper. “This is all possible because of Curiosity’s longevity. The long duration has allowed us to see the patterns in this seasonal ‘breathing.'”

Finding Organic Molecules

To identify organic material in the Martian soil, Curiosity drilled into sedimentary rocks known as mudstone from four areas in Gale Crater. This mudstone gradually formed billions of years ago from silt that accumulated at the bottom of the ancient lake. The rock samples were analyzed by SAM, which uses an oven to heat the samples (in excess of 900 degrees Fahrenheit, or 500 degrees Celsius) to release organic molecules from the powdered rock.

SAM measured small organic molecules that came off the mudstone sample – fragments of larger organic molecules that don’t vaporize easily. Some of these fragments contain sulfur, which could have helped preserve them in the same way sulfur is used to make car tires more durable, according to Eigenbrode.

The results also indicate organic carbon concentrations on the order of 10 parts per million or more. This is close to the amount observed in Martian meteorites and about 100 times greater than prior detections of organic carbon on Mars’ surface. Some of the molecules identified include thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains, such as propane or butene.

In 2013, SAM detected some organic molecules containing chlorine in rocks at the deepest point in the crater. This new discovery builds on the inventory of molecules detected in the ancient lake sediments on Mars and helps explains why they were preserved.

Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface.

These results also inform scientists’ decisions as they work to find answers to questions concerning the possibility of life on Mars.

“Are there signs of life on Mars?” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, at NASA Headquarters. “We don’t know, but these results tell us we are on the right track.”

This work was funded by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington. Goddard provided the SAM instrument. JPL built the rover and manages the project for SMD.

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Star Trails and Space Station Track

Photo: Star trails around Polaris are interrupted by a pass of the International Space Station. Photo by Alan Studt.

Star trails around Polaris are interrupted by a pass of the International Space Station. Photo by Alan Studt.

On a seemingly rare clear night recently in Northeastern Ohio, Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) member, photographer Alan Studt traveled to Hinckley Lake for a bit of stargazing. CAA members can access Cleveland Metroparks for after-hours astronomy.

“Gale and I watched the nice ISS pass on Thursday night. Since it was clear Friday night we went to Hinckley Lake Reservation and sat by the lake while I shot a star trail. Nice surprise – the ISS flew by and photo-bombed the star trail!” — Alan Studt

Technical Items:

  • 102 shots, 20 seconds each
  • Tamron 15-30mm @ 15mm, f2.8
  • ISO 200, Nikon D810
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Monthly Membership Meeting Monday May 14

The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) will conduct its monthly membership meeting on Monday, May 14, beginning at 7:30 PM. The evening’s program is entitled “The Inflationary Hot Big Bang Theory.” The universe is 13.7 billion years old. Our best current understanding of the universe’s origin is called the Big Bang Theory. GaryKader, CAA member and director of the Burrell Memorial Observatory at Baldwin Wallace University, will present a lecture on the science and history of the Big Bang Theory, taking us back to within a trillionth of a second after that beginning.

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

Our 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.

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Impressive early efforts of a beginning telescope user

M42 - The Orion Nebula - by John Burkett

M42 – The Orion Nebula: Two exposures, “…a minute at 400 ISO and a minute at 100 ISO. One each. I just erased the center from the ISO 400 on top of the ISO 100 layer.” – John Burkett

CAA member John Burkett writes about how he, a person who says he has used a telescope only six times in his life, created images that would be the envy of many a veteran amateur astronomer.

Wanting to do astrophotography for many years, I could never justify the expense if I rationally totaled the equipment costs; clearly, the only solution was to be irrational.  Feeling time-pressured in July ’17 to acquire a longer DSLR camera lens for the {total solar} eclipse, I bought a used Stellarvue 130 instead. 

The first time I used the goto mount, I didn’t know if it was polar-aligned or not, and gave up at 3 AM.

The second time, I had acquired a magical device called PoleMaster.  It says “click on Polaris”, but how do I know if I’m clicking on Polaris or not? 

The third weekend, I was more confident of the polar alignment but only then realized the need to know names of stars to align the mount. After an hour or so with an app, I found Altair and confidently  pressed “enter” on the hand controller. Wow, this was exciting, the mount started moving, the scope is spinning around and when it stopped, the telescope  was pointing below the horizon. I spent an hour or two, staring at the equipment wondering if I put something together backwards or selected the wrong hemisphere, or broke it. I released the clutch and pointed it at the moon so I could say I captured something.

The 4th time I set up the CGEM, I went through the motions of a three-star alignment, repeatedly. This took all night, since I didn’t know any star by name yet.

Photo: Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) in Orion. Photo by John Burkett

The Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) in the upper-right, is located just to the south of the star Alnitak in Orion’s Belt, and part of the much larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The large glowing cloud to left of center is NGC 2024 – the Flame Nebula. Photo by John Burkett.

Finally, on the 5th CGEM weekend, being frustratingly entertained, I was able to align everything. I selected the Dumbbell, took a shot and captured it. I continued to do the tour of random DSOs (deep-sky objects). I noted the same length of trails in a six-minute exposure as in a two-minute exposure.  The camera body to mount had uncorrectable play, so I determined its natural sitting and wrapped the intervalometer cable around the camera so that it would dangle in the desired direction, using its weight to avoid the unintended motion of the less than ideal mounting.

Just in time for some use-it-or-lose-it vacation, I wanted to spend a week at this. To be honest, I’ve been a self-described night sky [amateur] photographer for many years, so once I had the mount figured out, exposing and {image editing} was second nature.  As in DSLR camera photography, I shot both over and under exposures, choose the best two and just erased the over-exposed center of one layered image, on top of the other image in Photoshop. And that is my beginner M42 with a DSLR on a goto telescope adventure. I think I’m going to enjoy contributing and learning astrophotography.

Burkett notes that his digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) is a Nikon D810 not modified for astrophotography. He shot the images from Kissimmee, Florida in February 2018. And yes, we are among those awestruck at his first efforts. — ed

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Member’s handiwork helped Hawking view the universe

Photo: Stephen Hawking post from his Facebook

Stephen Hawking and his Specially-Equipped Telescope. – Stephen Hawking post from his Facebook


The recent death of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking brought back a happy memory for CAA member Joe Golias. Among the accounts of the famous scientist’s life, a photograph and story resurfaced showing Hawking next to a specially-equipped telescope; a system Hawking could operate himself, to view and image celestial objects. The local tie-in? Golias owns and operates Astrozap, a respected manufacturer of telescope accessories, dew shields particularly.

Golias writes, “I was told by the Celestron folks that the Hawking team purchased a special system to enable Mr. Hawking to do Astrophotography from his home. While the Celestron folks do carry their own line of dew shields, they wanted Mr. Hawking to have the best on the market. Celestron purchased the Astrozap dew shield and Astrozap dew controller during a UK imaging conference.” Shields and heaters (controllers) help prevent formation of fog and dew on telescope lenses.

There, in a photo posted to Hawking’s Facebook, is the Celestron telescope wearing its handsome dew shield emblazoned with the Astrozap name! What a wonderful milestone and memory for our own Joe Golias! {Here’s the Full-Size Image}

Here is a link to a detailed story of the telescope as told by the good folks at Celestron: Building a Telescope for Stephen Hawking


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