Voyager 2 enters interstellar space

Image: This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.

Voyager 2 now is slightly more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but information – moving at the speed of light – takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

The most compelling evidence of Voyager 2’s exit from the heliosphere came from its onboard Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), an instrument that stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980, long before that probe crossed the heliopause. Until recently, the space surrounding Voyager 2 was filled predominantly with plasma flowing out from our Sun. This outflow, called the solar wind, creates a bubble – the heliosphere – that envelopes the planets in our solar system. The PLS uses the electrical current of the plasma to detect the speed, density, temperature, pressure and flux of the solar wind. The PLS aboard Voyager 2 observed a steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles on Nov. 5. Since that date, the plasma instrument has observed no solar wind flow in the environment around Voyager 2, which makes mission scientists confident the probe has left the heliosphere.

“Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we’re seeing is new,” said John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument and a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data. So we’re still seeing things that no one has seen before.”

In addition to the plasma data, Voyager’s science team members have seen evidence from three other onboard instruments – the cosmic ray subsystem, the low energy charged particle instrument and the magnetometer – that is consistent with the conclusion that Voyager 2 has crossed the heliopause. Voyager’s team members are eager to continue to study the data from these other onboard instruments to get a clearer picture of the environment through which Voyager 2 is traveling.

“There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

“Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

While the probes have left the heliosphere, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have not yet left the solar system, and won’t be leaving anytime soon. The boundary of the solar system is considered to be beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun’s gravity. The width of the Oort Cloud is not known precisely, but it is estimated to begin at about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and to extend to about 100,000 AU. One AU is the distance from the Sun to Earth. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

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Member Photos: Solar Eclipse 2017

This is a gallery of eclipse photographs made by members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA). Some members traveled to various places along the path of totality to experience the total solar eclipse. Some CAA members stayed behind, photographing the deep partial eclipse. We are fortunate to have a number of talented photographers and astrophotographers as members and pleased to be able to exhibit their amazing work here. We will add new images to this post as they are received so check back on occasion! Please note: these images are the property of their individual creators and may not be used without the photographer’s expressed permission.

Photo: Total Solar Eclipse by David J. Watkins
The solar corona visible at totality. Photographed from Lebanon, Tenn., Monday, August 21, 2017. Credit: David J. Watkins
Photo: Total solar eclipse. Photo by David J. Watkins.
The diamond ring effect prior to second contact. You can also see some of the chromosphere along with some prominences (orange-red color). Photographed from Lebanon, Tenn., Monday, August 21, 2017. Credit: David J. Watkins
Photo: Early eclipse with sunspots. Credit: Alan Studt
Early eclipse with sunspots. Credit: Alan Studt
Photo: Partial eclipse progression. Credit: Alan Studt
Partial eclipse progression. Credit: Alan Studt
Photo: Partial eclipse at maximum. Photo by James Guilford.
Maximum Eclipse – Hiram, Ohio. Northeastern Ohio witnessed an 80 percent coverage partial eclipse on August 21, 2017. Several sunspots were visible before the Moon covered them leaving only one in sight at the left end of the crescent seen here. Credit: James Guilford.
Photo: Edge of lunar disk against Sun. Photo by James Guilford.
Before Maximum Eclipse – Note the “bumps” on the edge of the Moon’s dark curve: silhouettes of lunar craters and mountains against the brilliant Sun. Canon EOS 50D: ISO 320, f/11, 1/1600 sec., 800mm telephoto. Credit: James Guilford
Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse. Credit: Bruce Lane.
Partial eclipse taken east of Glendo State Park, Wyoming on Highway 270, about .7 mile north of the center line for totality. Technical: Canon EOS 60Da, ISO 320, 1/160 sec., ETX-125 telescope with polar alignment. Credit: Bruce Lane
Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse. Credit: Bruce Lane
Nearing Totality: Partial eclipse taken east of Glendo State Park, Wyoming on Highway 270, about .7 mile north of the center line for totality. Technical: Canon EOS 60Da, ISO 320, 1/160 sec., ETX-125 telescope with polar alignment. Credit: Bruce Lane
Photo: Totality with Venus. Credit: Ted Sauppé
Totality with Venus: From southern Illinois, where he took a shot of the totality, Venus showing to the right. Taken with a Samsung Galaxy Note5. Credit: Ted Sauppé
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse by Steve Koryak.
Totality, Casper, Wyoming. Credit: Steve Koryak
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse. Credit: Steve Koryak
I took these two photos in Casper, Wyoming. These are the first and the eighth in the sequence made under thin clouds! I missed the diamond ring at first and second contact because of helping five other people seeing their first eclipse! Technical: Nikon D5100,ISO 800, 6-inch f/4 telescope on clock drive, starting at 1/4000 sec. down to a few seconds. Credit: Steve Korylak
Image: Temperature Plot, August 21, 2017; Medina, Ohio. Credit: James Guilford
Temperature Plot, August 21, 2017; Medina, Ohio. Credit: James Guilford
Photo: Colander as Eclipse Projector. Credit: Matt Franduto
Colander as Eclipse Projector. Credit: Matt Franduto
Photo: Totality with Earth Shine - Handheld. Credit: Matt Franduto
Totality with Earth Shine, Regulus to the Left – Handheld Photograph. Credit: Matt Franduto
Photo: Diamond Ring Effect. Credit: Chris Christe
Diamond Ring Effect. Credit: Chris Christe
Photo: Totality Composite showing Corona, Prominences, and Earthshine. Credit: Chris Christe
Totality Composite showing Corona, Prominences, and Earthshine. Credit: Chris Christe

It’s Happening August 21: Edgewater Eclipse Watch

The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA), in cooperation with Cleveland Metroparks, will host an Eclipse Watch event at Edgewater Park, on Cleveland’s western Lake Erie shore, from 12:30 to 4:00 PM, Monday, August 21. The event will be free and open to the public, no reservations required, to observe the day’s solar eclipse. In case of rain, the event will be canceled.

Image: Eclipse at Maximum - Edgewater Park, Ohio, August 21, 2017 - SkySafari 5 Simulation
Eclipse at Maximum – Edgewater Park, Ohio, August 21, 2017 – SkySafari 5 Simulation

The Edgewater Eclipse Watch will include:

  • Telescopes equipped to safely view the eclipse, tended by CAA members
  • Eclipse viewing glasses provided by AstroZap, one per group, please!)
  • Non-profit organizations, including Cleveland Metroparks, with family activities.
  • Additional activities to be announced!

The venue for the Edgewater Eclipse Watch will be at the west end of Edgewater Park’s lower level parking lot (see map below). Telescopes and other activities will be in the grassy area adjacent to the parking lot. Visitors may come and go as they please during the event.

Image: Here is where the Eclipse Watch will take place.
Here is where the Eclipse Watch will take place. Click to visit Google Maps for a more complete map and directions.
Image: Timing of Our Partial Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017 - Via SkySafari 5
Timing of Our Partial Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017 – Via SkySafari 5

Millions of people will enjoy this eclipse of the Sun, some portion of which will be visible from everywhere in the continental United States; it’s even been dubbed “The Great American Eclipse” and “The National Eclipse.” Locations along a relatively narrow strip of land stretching from Oregon and the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic off South Carolina will enjoy the full glory of a total solar eclipse. Here in Northeastern Ohio, we will see a deep partial eclipse with, at its peak, the Sun reduced to a brilliant crescent in our early afternoon sky.

CRITICAL: Vision safety is a major concern: It is important to note: even during the maximum point of our partial eclipse it is not safe to look at the Sun without proper vision protection. According to a statement from NASA, “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed Sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as ‘eclipse glasses’ or hand-held solar viewers. Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun.Here’s a quick video about how to safely view the eclipse via WKYC and our own Jay Reynolds.

A solar eclipse takes place when our Moon comes between Sun and Earth casting its shadow on Earth’s surface. The illustration below shows how the depth of Moon’s shadow varies depending upon how much of Sun is covered. The small black dot indicates the area where all of the solar disk is covered and where a total solar eclipse is in progress; outside of that dot, a large shaded area shows where various levels of partial coverage — the partial eclipse — is visible.

Image: Diagram of the Solar Eclipse - Image Credit: NASA
Diagram of the Solar Eclipse – Image Credit: NASA

This video from NASA shows how eclipses work and why they don’t happen every month. Spoiler: Moon’s shadow “misses” the Earth most of the time…

Solstice Celebration a huge success

The night of June 21 the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) participated in the city of Lakewood’s Summer Solstice Celebration. The event, featuring food, music, dance, and frivolity, really focussed on the solstice sunset and the beginning of summer. Representing the CAA, CSU astronomy instructor Jay Reynolds worked with city officials to coordinate safe solar observing through club member telescopes. Reynolds also convinced officials to extend Celebration hours slightly to allow attendees to observe nighttime objects through telescopes.

Reynolds reported that, “In the end, the event drew more than 4,000 to watch a sunset, do some crafts, eat at a food truck (with Lakewood Hospital “Stroke Truck” next to them), look through some awesome telescopes and interact with some really inspiring, kind and generous representatives of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association!  Really well done!”

A tremendous crowd was present, parking up city streets for blocks and covering the Lakewood Park Solstice Steps at the lakefront. There were lines at food trucks and, later, at telescopes, but plenty of space for families to spread out and enjoy the show — both natural and human-made.

To view a brief video via Twitter, click here.

Here are some photographs made during the celebration….

Photo: Celebration attendees cover the Lakewood Park Solstice Steps as they watch the Lake Erie Sunset. Photo by James Guilford.
Celebration attendees cover the Lakewood Park Solstice Steps as they watch the Lake Erie Sunset.
Photo: Girl views Sun through a CAA member's telescope. Photo by James Guilford.
Girl views Sun through CAA member Tim Campbell’s telescope.
Photo: Two young ladies view the Sun through a rather short telescope. Photo by James Guilford.
Two young ladies view the Sun through a rather short telescope brought by David Nuti for kids smaller than these!
Photo: Oh yes, the sunset! The Celebration was blessed with a gorgeous Lake Erie sunset. The crowd broke into applause as the last bit of red-orange sun disappeared below the horizon! Photo by James Guilford.
Oh yes, the sunset! The Celebration was blessed with a gorgeous Lake Erie sunset. The crowd broke into applause as the last bit of red-orange sun disappeared below the horizon!

“Immediately after the sun dipped below the horizon, we were mobbed with people,” according to Reynolds. “…they saw very good views of Jupiter and its moons, Mars with polar ice cap and dark regions, and Saturn with its rings, and a lot of people saying WOW!”

Photo: Jay Reynolds, gesturing as attendees view Jupiter, coordinated CAA's participation in the Celebration. Photo by James Guilford.
Jay Reynolds, gesturing as attendees view Jupiter, coordinated CAA’s participation in the Celebration.
Photo: CAA President Bill Murmann watches as young woman views Jupiter. Photo by James Guilford.
CAA President Bill Murmann watches as young woman views Jupiter.
Photo: Long line of folks wanting to view Jupiter through Suzi Dills' big Meade. Sorry about blocking your smiling face, Suzi!
Long line of folks wanting to view Jupiter through Suzi Dills’s big Meade. Sorry about blocking your smiling face, Suzi!
Photo: A long line to view planets through an 1874 Alvin Clark & Sons refractor. Nope, the scope isn't bent, it's only fisheye lens distortion! {whew!} Photo by James Guilford.
A long line to view planets through an 1874 Alvin Clark & Sons refractor, brought by Gary Kader. Nope, the scope isn’t bent, it’s only fisheye lens distortion! {whew!}
Photo: A Dobsonian light-bucket affords views of Saturn to a little girl. Photo by James Guilford.
A Dobsonian light-bucket affords views of Saturn to a little girl.

“Towards the end of the night, the representative of Lakewood came and remarked what a nice group we were and it looks like everyone had a great time. She also remarked how appreciative they were, that CAA supported their event and brought these wonderful telescopes.” Reynolds said, “My comment to her was: “this is who we are, this is what we do”.

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. Bob Wiersma’s large home-built refractor was a crowd favorite.

Jay Reynolds and the CAA express their thanks for bringing the scopes to the following: Rich & Nancy Whistler, Bill Murmann, Gary Kader, Chris Christe, Dave Nuti, Tim Campbell, Carl Kudrna, Bob Wiersma, Steve Spears, and Suzie Dills. Thanks, too, Anita Kazarian who helped coordinate viewers among the scopes and provided information.

CAA member photographs Indonesian eclipse

Photo: March 9 Total Eclipse by Steve Korylak
March 9 Total Solar Eclipse by Steve Korylak
CAA member and eclipse chaser Steve Korylak followed the Sun to Indonesia for the March 9 total solar eclipse. He viewed and photographed the event from the deck of a ship positioned for an optimal view of totality. Here are his photographs and his story….

“Not bad for being on a moving ship! The eclipse lasted two minutes, forty seconds; I planned to photograph for one minute, look at the sun visually for one minute and take a movie for the last 40 seconds. I had rehearsed this the day before so I would be prepared. Timing the interval between shots so I did not overload the camera buffer. I had a solar filter on the lens to record the partial phases. Near totality, I looked for shadow bands on the side of the white ship and did not see them. When I took off the filter the focus changed, even though I had it taped so it would not move; this caused me to miss the diamond ring and bailey’s beads. I had to refocus — still slightly off — and started taking pictures. Then the eclipse was over; no visual, no movie. Learning experience!”

Photo Info: Inner corona – Nikon D1500 (APS-size sensor) 1/4000 sec., f/11, ISO 1000, 300mm lens with 2X teleconverter. Outer  corona – same hardware, 1/60 sec., f/11, ISO 1000. The lens was f/5.6 but with the teleconverter it is equivalent to f/11. shot in raw mode for maximum detail.

Photo: March 9 Total Solar Eclipse by Steve Korylak
March 9 Total Solar Eclipse by Steve Korylak – Note Red Prominences over the Sun’s Limb

Sun lights up day and night (some places) in early November

Photo: Train of Sunspots, November 4, 2105. Photo by James Guilford.
Train of Sunspots, November 4, 2015. Credit: James Guilford

An impressive train of sunspots has been making its way across the face of our nearest star this week. In the photo above: Designated AR2447 (small group to the left), AR2443 (bigger and darker, near center), and AR2445 (far right), the “Active Regions” have the potential of unleashing flares. In fact, AR2445 was the source of a flare that caused this week’s “northern lights” sighted across northern latitude locations around the world. Now rotating over the Sun’s limb, AR2445 won’t be aimed at Earth for a while — if ever again — but AR2443 has potential for high-energy flares.

Photo credit: James Guilford. Canon EOS 7D II: ISO 400, f/11, 1/1250 sec., 400mm lens with Astrozap film solar filter, heavily cropped, November 4, 2015.

Partial solar eclipse gets great exposure, reviews

Photo: Solar eclipse sequence by Stan Honda.
Solar Eclipse Sequence from Voinovich Park, by Stan Honda

Members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) were present across the Greater Cleveland Area both hosting and participating in observation of the October 23 partial solar eclipse. The club hosted an event at Voinovich Park in Downtown Cleveland, assisted with an event at Gordon Park with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and observed from the Chapel Hill Mall parking lot (Cuyahoga Falls), Mapleside Farms (Brunswick), Bradstreet Landing (Rocky River), and the Avon Lake Boat Launch. Members watched and, in some cases, imaged the sunset eclipse.

Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse, October 23, 2014, by Dave Watkins.
Note the Large Sunspot Group Near Center, Long Filament Near Top – Image by Dave Watkins

Member and event organizer Jay Reynolds wrote, “At Voinovich Park, I had so many compliments about the quality of the event and the generous members ‘letting us use their equipment’ and ‘sharing with us’. Six people commented ‘how nice everyone was’, ‘What a great group to do this’, ‘We are so lucky to have such a proactive group’, ‘They really connected us with something special, I had no idea’, and ‘This was great’.”

Photo: Observers at Voinovich Park, by Jay Reynolds.
Observers at Voinovich Park, Cleveland, by Jay Reynolds

The eclipse and the CAA received widespread media coverage, according to Reynolds, including pieces on WTAM, Fox 8, WKYC, and others. Channels 3, 8, and 19, during their evening news broadcasts, credited the club with the event. Reynolds also learned that WKYC (Channel 3) was streaming the event live via the Internet and recorded more than 1,000 viewers.

Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse. Photo by Dave Nuti.
Eclipse Image Through the Eyepiece – Christopher Christie’s Telescope, Photo by Dave Nuti

Carl Kudrna: “I can report a nice turnout at Bradstreet’s Landing too. I had about 20 folks/children at my scope, and using the transit viewing filter too. We had a good view all the way to maximum then the sun started hiding behind trees along the cliffs. We had great views of the huge sunspot area at low center. Couldn’t see the sunset but we watched there till around 7:00. One young lady and her daughter had the only other scope there – a nice scope from the ’70s – a 60mm Unitron with a handsome wooden tripod. Due to the absence of a filter for it, they used the projection method of viewing the sun…. It was a great time.”

Dave Watkins: “I ended up at the north west corner of the parking lot at Chapel Hill Mall in Cuyahoga Falls. There were about 10 people there. Somebody called security on us, so we got a visit by the mall security. They said they got a call about a large group of people behaving strangely.”

Photo: Partial Solar Eclipse with airplane. By Matt Franduto
Lucky Catch – See Airplane Near Bottom of This Image! – by Matt Franduto

Matt Franduto, observing from Mapleside Farms with another club member, wrote of his photo (above), “It was late, Carl and I were getting a little frustrated with the clouds and I was having a little trouble keeping the sun centered for my imaging.  I snapped off a few shots, not really expecting much.  Then I got home and saw the {airplane}.” He believes this may be a “once in a lifetime shot!”

Astronomy enthusiasts often complain about Northeast Ohio’s often less-than-perfect skies (being polite here) but one man disagreed with that assessment.

Photo: Suzie Dills and Stan Honda, by Jay Reynolds
CAA Member Suzie Dills with New York City Visitor Stan Honda, by Jay Reynolds

“A special guest, Stan Honda, came all the way from New York City in an 8-hour drive to see the eclipse and to take photos at Voinovich Park,” reported CAA President William Murmann. “Stan is in a club that has star parties in New York’s Central Park, where he said they basically can just see the Moon and a few bright objects. Stan emailed me earlier this month about coming to Cleveland to see the eclipse. It was great to meet him!”

Photo: Eclipse Viewers in Avon Lake. Photo by James Guilford.
Eclipse Viewers at Avon Lake Boat Launch’s Fishing Pier. Photo by James Guilford.

Steve Korylak and James Guilford viewed and photographed from the Avon Lake Boat Launch fishing pier along Lake Erie. A good-sized crowd of perhaps 100 gathered there and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, Bay Village, led public viewing.

Streaks of Cloud and a Giant Sunspot Group Cross Sun's Face - Photo by James Guilford
Streaks of Cloud and a Giant Sunspot Group Cross Sun’s Face – Photo by James Guilford

Lakefront viewers were hoping for a colorful sunset with the eclipsing Sun sinking into the waters of Lake Erie. That didn’t happen. Instead, as the eclipse progressed, it descended into a bank of Lake Clouds streaking, at first, the brilliant crescent-shaped Sun, then covering it entirely. The clouds made for a dramatic and mysterious view, memorable in its own way.

Photo: Eclipsing Sun sinks into Lake Clouds. Photo by James Guilford.
Eclipse Ends in Clouds, by James Guilford