Archive for the ‘Night Skies’ Category

August observing report – What’s Up ?

Much like in this photo from 2004,  Members of Gove astronomers gathered at our Dhupma Rd site for an observing night on Sat 18th Aug 2012. Using a refracting telescope that is similar (but shorter focal length) than the one pictured, we took in some classic deep sky targets.

  • The first constellation visible on the night was, as is usual this time of the year, the bright stars of Alpha & Beta Centaurus. They point the way to the southern cross & this was our first target .
  • The sparkling stars of the aptly named Jewel Box adjacent to the blue/white star Beta Crux and its dim red companion Ruby Crux made a fine trio in the wide angle low power view offered with the combination of a 600mm Refractor and a 32mm pan-optic eyepiece. Giving a magnification of just 18.75x allowing all 3 targets to be easily seen.
  • With the obvious pairing of Mars, Saturn & Spica this was clearly our next target. The rings of Saturn being just visible at this low magnification.
  • The fully dark sky now beckoned us to look at the dim fuzzy ball that is Omega Centuri, the faintest object to the naked eye in Centaurus. However with the scope a  ball of 1000’s of stars is revealed as a fuzzy cotton ball. Just a hint of what through a larger aperture telescope, is a sparkling bowl of diamonds.
  • Pointing the little scope almost straight up to the Zenith revealed the dual star cluster’s & Nebulas of the Trifid & Lagoon nebulae in Sagittarius, again easily fitting in the field of view.
  • Some searching along the rich star field of the Milky Way revealed many star clusters and some interesting “asterisms” of stars making chain like patterns against the myriad of stars of the spiral arms of our grand galaxy.
  • Stretching the little scope to its limits I sought out the dim smoke ring of the well named Ring Nebula, a stellar remnant in the constellation of Lyra ‘The Harp”

Much of the night was spent relaxing in camp chairs looking at the glorious vista of the Milky Way stretched out before us. This time spent patiently looking at the clear night sky was rewarded several times with some spectacular Meteors. One of which was orange in colour and lasted for several seconds.

Its was great to see so many members of Gove Astronomers out under the night sky (about 20) several of whom are new members in the club. 

The next observing night for GAA will be on Saturday the 15th of September, with I hope by then our large aperture (18″) scope “Big Blue” back in action for an observing session up at the Gun Club, where we plan to establish a more permanent observatory for Gove Amateur Astronomers.

August Skies 2012

The month of August has already proved interesting with the Perseid meteor shower putting on a good display on the 12th and 13th.

Jupiter & Venus

Jupiter and Venus continue to make a good pairing in the morning sky after their close conjunction on the 12th with the moon. Venus is always worth a look through the scope to check out it’s current Phase & the constantly changing face of Jupiter with the dancing moons, Io, Ganymede, Callisto & Europa providing a constantly changing visual feast.

Mars & Saturn

The western early evening sky hosts two other planets in close conjunction with the bright star Spica in Virgo. On the 21st Spica, Saturn and the Moon have a close encounter, followed by the Moon and Mars the next night on the 22nd. Mars is little more than a small red dot as it recedes from the earth in its orbit. However Saturn never fails to impress with it’s gossamer thin glowing rings.

Blue Moon

There is a “Once in a Blue Moon” event this month, well literally, as there is a “Blue Moon” on the 31st. Well not actually Blue, but being the second full moon for the month it is classified as a Blue Moon.

So there you go, lots to see, so rug up and get out under the night sky with your Star Disc and Red light to discover the Secrets of the night sky this month.

Not The End of The World – Mayan Calendar revealed

This is the clincher; it’s not the end of the world on the 21st of December as some would have us believe. The Mayan Calendar DOES go beyond the 21st of December 2012.

My mind is made up, I will certainly be having a “NOT the end of the World” – Summer Solstice Astronomy Festival.
Come on Conspiracy theorists tell us that somehow it is coming, I will be there waiting with telescopes pointed skyward !

Full Story:

The Lyrids Meteor Shower Report

Well I made the effort and got up at 4am on the morning of Sunday the 22nd of April 2012 for a look at the Lyrid Meteor shower. Easy to here in the top end of the NT as the mornings are barely even cool.

In an observing session that went for an hour from 4:15 to 5:15 am I saw 5 bright Lyrids and an equal number of bright sporadics (or perhaps another shower?) as they all moved from east to west and noticeably faster than the Lyrids.

Well worth the effort despite the low numbers.

A little further reading has alerted me to the Pi-pupids which peak on the 23rd (tonight) and continue till the 27th April. The Pi Pupids have low rates of just several per hour but are noted for the high numbers of yellow meteors and persistent “Trains”  (lingering smoke trails)

I hope you were able to see the Lyrids and I look forward to your comments.

Mars Science and Climate Change

Techniques pioneered by the European Space Agency (ESA) for use on Mars are set to have a very down to earth use here on planet Earth and beyond to the Icy moon Europa, circling the Gas Giant Jupiter as well as another Ice moon Titan, the biggest of Saturns Moons.

ESA’s Mars Express has aboard some pioneering radar experiment currently investigating the Red Planet and searching for any evidence of sub-surface reservoirs of water and ice.

The technology used by Mars express cannot be used directly here on earth, as the frequency of 5 Mhz used for Mars would quickly interfere with radio communications.

Experiments are currently underway to adapt the technology for use at 435 Mhz where the radar will not cause disruption to earth based communications.

So what are these experiments all about ?

In a boost for earth science research, funded by ESA’s General Studies Program, the new study has been dubbed the Advanced Concept for RAdar Sounder (ACRAS)

This technique has been proposed once before by ESA in the late 90’s, however at that time the technology was not available to filter out false signals. These false signals come firstly from the earths Ionosphere and then secondly from terrain outside the radar’s target area.

ACRAS appears to have found a way around this problem by the use of multiple radar beams, in this case 3 beams, each with slightly different properties, using the principles of the Doppler effect .

The Doppler effect is best demonstrated by the changing pitch of siren on a fast moving vehicle, as it first moves towards you then away from you.

This new study is meeting with success and opens the doors for even more precise instruments that could work around Earth. A satellite fitted with this type of radar could accurately estimate the ice sheet thickness of the Antarctic and other ice covered regions. The data coming back would reveal the three-dimensional internal structure of the ice sheets, the contours of the underlying terrain and give information right down to the bedrock. Watching how this changes over time will give climate scientists invaluable data.

Currently work such as this is largely done by expensive and difficult drilling programs.

As we all hear in the news day after day, melting ice from the polar regions is set to have a huge impact on climate change

The most recent example of this is the large scale break up of the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica.

The ACRAS study is set to conclude in October this year. Although a fully-fledged satellite mission is a long way off yet. Florence Hélière, the ESA study officer, says, “We hope to conduct an airborne test of the technique.” Source: ESA.

As you go out to gaze up at the night sky, looking at the prominent planets Mars and Saturn in the early evening and Jupiter late in the evening. Spare a thought for the hardworking scientists who have made it possible for this pioneering work to be done.

Not only could this make a real difference to our understanding of the effects of climate change here on the lovely blue green planet we call home, it could unlock the doors to the search for life in our own solar system.

The Best Telescopes for Kids

Discovering astronomy with your first look through your first telescope at one of our major planets such as Saturn or Jupiter and even our very familiar moon is the beginning of a lifetime of pleasure, in discovering the wonders of the night sky. However if the first telescope you get is a standard tripod mounted refracting telescope (one using lenses not mirrors) as found in most department stores, the experience is usually one of frustration and disappointment instead.

It is very tempting I know, when you see the telescope for maybe $90 to $150 with claims of “Magnifies 600 times” or “See galaxies and nebulas” to think that this will delight your children. The reality is one of these telescopes will have a wobbly tripod that will not allow you to see anything at 60 times, much less 600. The aperture (that’s the diameter) of the lens will typically be 70 to 90 mm and this will never gather enough light to see faint and distant galaxies, most of which are millions of light years away.

So what can you do? Well, in my experience of almost 10 years of showing 1000’s of children and my own 3 kids around the night sky, the best way to start is in fact with a Star Disc, a red light and a pair of low powered binoculars. The reason is that for starters you will need to find something worthwhile to look at. A Star Disc will show you a few bright deep sky objects that are easily seem with binoculars on any given night. The red light will allow you to see the Star Disc without ruining you night vision. Your night vision takes at least 20 minutes away from white light to adapt to the darkness. A low powered pair of binoculars (EG: 8×50 – 8 times magnification and a 50mm lens) will show you many faint galaxies, nebulas and star clusters. A picnic blanket is a good idea to lay on as well. What a great way to get the family together!

Perhaps you have already done this and are ready to make the next step, and really want to get that telescope. What should you do? My experience and that of my astronomy peers from around Australia and across the world have shown me that the telescope that is (a) Quick to set up and pack up (b) Easy to use and (c) has preferably at least 200mm (8″) of aperture will get the most use and provide many years of observing pleasure. Not just for the kids but the whole family and many friends.

What does one of these telescopes look like? Well, it is not a refractor and it is not on a tripod. It is a Dobsonian mounted reflector. A reflector is much like the telescopes used in professional observatories (only much smaller!) Put in simple terms the telescope is mounted on a horizontal (azimuth) turntable close to ground level allowing you to move the telescope to all points of the compass and a vertical pivot point allowing you to move the telescope from the horizon to directly overhead (the zenith) through 90 degrees. The eyepiece (this does the magnifying) is in the side of the telescope tube at about 1.3 meters above the ground, an ideal height for kids. A 200mm (8″) Dobsonian is lightweight enough that a child of perhaps 10 years old can easily move and set it up in the park or backyard. Confused about what it looks like? Just imagine a cannon that spins around and can point straight up.

How much is one of these going to cost you? You may be thinking thousands of dollars. In fact, a 200mm Dobsonian can cost as little as $550 in Australia and a similar amount in the USA. So start into astronomy the fun and easy way and your Christmas present will live on for many years to come.