The June star party started off cloudy, ended up with some rain that required us to pull the instruments inside, but then afterwards - well it cleared up gloriously, with great views of the Milky Way and other deep sky objects!
We're going to give it go on Thursday, July 20! We'll start expecting people at 8:30, though it really doesn't get usefully dark until 9:30, and go as long as people stick around. Let's cross our fingers and hope for "Clear Skies!"
We're going to bit the bullet, and try a star party this coming Wednesday, June 28, 2017. The weather looks iffy, but there's a chance of clearing later, and it's the only time in a while that looks promising without running into a relatively full moon.
So, we'll start at 8. If nothing else, we can look around at the telescope operations for people who are interested. If it is clear, we should have some moon observation to play with, and later in the evening, if it does clear, Saturn will be the main player for the planets, along with all of the other wonderful summer deep sky objects. We'll go as late as people have energy for!
Hope to see you then!
A very busy, informative and exciting week of presentations and conferences culminated with an informal planning session exploring questions for future consideration, next steps, and potential next conferences.
The primary focus of the final two days was "The Research Seminar", which in the many variations that were presented involves students (from middle school up to college, including adults) in learning the basics of astronomy and remote telescope operation, using the remote telescope system robotically to gather astrometric data on binary star systems, and then using the data and analysis to produce a publishable paper to submit to a recognized journal, typically the Journal of Double Star Observations. Binary star observations are chosen as the target for the program because the data reduction and analysis are relatively simple, but in principle this program could be extended (and plans are being made to do so) to variable star photometry, spectroscopy, asteroid light curve analysis, and more.
The original concept for this originated with Russ Genet, from California Polytechnic University, and has achieved its most complete realization in the San Diego area under the auspices of Boyce-Astro, a non-profit foundation dedicated to enhancing astronomy education (this should sound familiar to those of us at NKAF!). Under the leadership of Genet and Boyce-Astro, the Research Seminar, making use of the iTelescope robotic network, has resulted in the publication of over 70 student-written science papers. Very exciting, and a potential direction for us, couple with work at the elementary level to introduce younger students to the amazing world of astronomy!
Of course, one of the major challenges we experience here at NKAF and NSO in Peacham is the large number of cloudy days compared to San Diego. We have a wonderful research telescope and great viewing when clouds don't interfere, but it seems pretty advisable for us to become affiliated with a network of telescopes so that our students will have the ability not only to use NSO, but also other telescopes on the network that have more consistently clear skies. By joining our telescope into one of these networks, we gain the ability to make use of the entire network - NSO provides an entry into this world that otherwise would require a subscription! We will be examining various options for this as we continue to explore ways to accomplish our educational mission!
I'm in San Diego attending a conference of about 150 people from all over the world who are interested in using robotic telescopes (such as NSO!) for student research and education. There are some big names here - Bob Denny, the head of DC-3 Dreams and the author of the ACP control software that runs our telescope; Frederick Hessman, who wrote the astronomical plug-ins that we use with ImageJ to do the bulk of our image processing work; John Briggs, the head of the long-running Summer Science Program; Joseph Haberman, one of the founders of PlaneWave instruments, the maker of our telescope; Stella Kafka, the head of AAVSO; and many, many others. Many people here have worked with and know each other for many years (though, often only via email!)
The big robotic networks - Sierra Remote Observatory, iTelescope, Las Cumbres Observatory, Dark Sky Observatory, SkyNet - are all represented, and give pause for thought, which leads to this question: with all of these incredibly high quality, robotically-controlled telescope networks, located in places that have 250 clear nights per year (or more), often using 1 or 2 meter telescopes, what is NSO's place in the world of robotic telescopes?
We are still developing a full answer to this question, but part of the answer certainly will include our wonderful facility and excellent viewing (when the clouds don't interfere!), our local ties to the Northeast Kingdom, and the personal connection and contact we can provide to those interested in astronomy and astronomical imaging.
On the van ride to the hotel I was fortunate to meet David McKinnon, the leader of the Charles Sturt University (in Australia) Remote Telescope Project. He and his colleague Lena Danaia are passionately interested in exploring the question of how astronomy education in particular, and science education in general can be improved so as to engage and benefit all students. This may hold the key to how NSO and NKAF can really contribute to this wonderful endeavor!
More reflections tomorrow!
We know it's been a while since we've had a star party! The reason is not hard to find - look up in the sky! This has been a historically difficult spring in terms of clear skies. Since January 1st, we've been able to use NSO to its full capabilities less than ten times! Then, if we factor in evenings in which the moon has not been full or near full, the number drops even more! I taught an astronomy class, and, to my great regret, was not able to schedule a SINGLE observing night that happened when the temperatures weren't frigid and the skies were clear! (I also plotted an analemma - the path that the sun traces in the sky from day to day when looked at the same time - in my classroom and was only able to get five data points!)
That having been said, we're going to really try to schedule one the week of June 26, probably near the end of the week. Watch for an announcement here! And, if you're on our email list, you'll get a message announcing the star party! Let's all hope for....
As we move into the late fall, the weather gets more cloudy and the temperatures less forgiving. For both of these reasons, we will not be doing a star party this November (best night would've been Nov 4), and it will be April or May until we start up again...
...do watch out for any open houses, and we are going to be hosting meetings of the Northern Skies Observers astronomy club in the very near future so as to make plans for the coming year!
A couple of things to watch for:
1) On November 14, the moon will be full and because it will be closer to the earth than usual - thus, it will be slightly larger in the sky than usual!
2) Do go to Skymaps.com (button below takes you there) and download the November sky map, which includes lists of many objects to observe!
And, as Brad says, "Clear Skies!" (WV)
We had a wonderfully successful star party on Friday, October 7, in conjunction with "International Observe the Moon Night." Because of weather, the event was held on Friday instead of the official Saturday. About 30 people came to join us to observe the waxing moon and to look at some of the deep sky objects that the moon didn't wash out. A beautifully clear evening allowed us to expose some young 'uns to the joys of astronomy, and some older folks joined in, as well!
Many thanks to the Peacham Library for providing handouts and some refreshments (phases-of-the-moon Oreos, anyone?).
This may be our final star party of the year, but we'll see what the weather looks like in November and keep you posted (it was pretty brutal last year!). Clear skies!
Click on the button to go to the National Geographic blog article on our inaugural GIV astronomy institute! A great week with 25 wonderful Vermont high school students!
This video was created by taking a series of 53 stills at about 5 minute intervals through an Olympus E510 DSLR at the prime focus of my 120 mm f/5 refractor in Waterford, VT. Exposures ranged from about 1/2000 sec for the brightest full moon to 2 sec for totality. The images were aligned and rotated, and adjusted for brightness and contrast.
The telescope mount lost its calibration near the middle of totality, and I didn't dare take the time to re-calibrate; thus some of the long-exposure images ended up a bit blurry.
Notice that the angles of the shadow at the start of the eclipse and at the end of the eclipse differ. Most of the motion is due to the moon moving through the shadow of the earth, and the diameter of the earth's shadow is about 4 times larger than the moon. The moon did not pass through the middle of the shadow - if you think of the shadow as a clock face, then the moon entered the shadow at about "2:30" on the face (edge of shadow almost vertical) and left the shadow at about "7:00" on the face (edge of shadow almost horizontal). This off-center trajectory also led to the bright glow around the lower edge of the moon during totality. (Bill Vinton)
CHANGE IN DATE FOR INTERNATIONAL OBSERVE THE MOON NIGHT - NOW SCHEDULED FOR FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7th AT 7 PM!
NKAF and the Peacham Library are co-sponsoring our own local version of "International Observe the Moon Night" on FRIDAY, October 7th, starting at 7 PM - the weather maps tell us that Saturday looks rainy and Friday clear! We'll have telescopes and binoculars and refreshments. Please check here for late breaking weather news. Friday looks great right now, but this is New England, so keep posted!
The official website for IOMN is http://observethemoonnight.org/, which includes an "Activities" link which you might find interesting.
There are many moon maps available online, but here is a link to one of our favorites: http://bit.ly/MapoftheMoon
In addition, go to www.skymaps.com and download their September and October sky maps! Each includes information on interesting objects to observe - well worth the effort for your own observing!
We hope to see you on October 7th. Again, check these pages and our Facebook page for late-breaking weather news!
Entries written by NSO Docents and Educators
Operators of the NSO and teachers in local high school and middle schools.