Late Night Astronomy’s Editorial Board: Presidential Endorsement

In the 76 year history of Late Night Astronomy, the editorial board has never made an endorsement in a presidential election. That ends tonight. After two debates and over a year of campaigning, it is obvious that only one candidate has the judgment, temperament and stamina to be President of the United States. Through these criteria and after great deliberation, we are throwing our support behind “Giant Meteor 2016”.

Image result for giant meteor 2016 poll

Only “Giant Meteor 2016” has the ability to wipe out the national debt and take America back to the glory days of our early republic. While some in the mainstream media will attack “Giant Meteor 2016” for bringing instant death to millions and a slow death to tens of millions more, we simply find these results preferable to a Trump or Clinton presidency.

In fact, a recent poll found that 13 percent of Americans prefer “Giant Meteor 2016” when given the option.

Image result for giant meteor 2016 poll

If you’re tired of politics as usual and want something that will truly shake up the system, we urge you to vote for “Giant Meteor 2016” this November. Our children’s future depends on it!

Advertisements

RVAS Telescope Loan Program

Bringing someone new into the hobby of Astronomy can be a daunting task. Expenses ranging from telescopes to eyepieces are just the start of frustrations that can be expounded upon by the complexity of telescope maintenance. Due to these factors, various astronomy clubs around the country have started a telescope loan program, where people can go to their local library and rent a telescope to test their hand at the hobby without having to endure the frustrations of expenses and difficulties of telescope maintenance.

Dan Chrisman, the President of RVAS, invited several club members to his home to help with our club’s telescope loan program. The goal of our meeting was to simplify the mechanics of an Orion StarBlast down to a point where the average person could use it with limited hassle and maintenance. To do this, we had to tear the scope down and rebuild it, removing some features and adding others, all with the goal of making the it more user friendly. Our hope is that these telescopes, soon to be in local libraries, will be a person’s first step into the hobby of amateur astronomy.

The following pictures are a brief overview of the tear down and rebuilding process.

img_9051img_9056img_9061img_9065img_9079img_9080

Exploring the Summer Sky

The summer months can be a tricky time for observing. The nights are short, the weather is erratic and dew starts to build up on the telescope as soon as the serious observing begins. Nights that are clear, calm and cool are rare to come by and should be taken advantage of. I did just that on the night of July 10-11 from 10:45 pm to 1:30 am.

Starting with the Solar System
Mars:
Viewing conditions were difficult, looking through the turbulent summer atmosphere, views of Mars were less impressive at high magnifications. Also, Mars continues to move farther from us, having made its closest approach to Earth on May 30, 2016 at a distance of 47 million miles, making surface detail harder to make out each night.

Saturn:
One of the highlights of the night, as usual, came from Saturn. With the Cassini Division in full view, this planet always tends to be more forgiving of rough atmospheric conditions, particularly compared to Mars and Jupiter. I was able to try out my new iPhone adapter with the telescope and after some initial alignment difficulties over the eyepiece was able to get a short video.

After being processed through Registax 6 and Adobe Premiere Elements, this image was the final product.

Saturn, 7-10-16

Into Deep Space
The main targets of the evening were Deep Sky Objects. I’ve been chipping away at the Messier List for about six years. These 110 objects are considered some of the best to view and most are attainable with affordable binoculars and telescopes if you are in an area with low light pollution.

Globular Clusters:
Of all the views from this night, the globular clusters were the most difficult to find and disappointing to see. These dense collection of stars were partially drowned out by light pollution and the Moon that had yet to fully set. M80 and M92 were two new ones that I was able to mark off my list. M13 was an impressive show, even with the viewing conditions working against it. The Hercules Cluster is one of the most impressive globular clusters in the sky. I find it hard to focus the object correctly because of how dense the star field is. Various levels of focus almost seem to bring out new layers of detail.

Open Clusters:
M18 (2)These collections of stars always impress me with their elegance and simplicity. Not nearly as dense and “fuzzy” as globular clusters, open clusters can be difficult to find but rewarding to discover. Take M18 for example, to verify that I had the correct collection of stars, I had to consult my star chart (Sky Safari 4 Plus on my iPhone) that I was in the correct region of the sky.  I did this by counting stars and comparing patterns between what was in my eyepiece and what the chart on my app showed. M23, M26 and NGC 6633 rounded out the list of open clusters viewed.

Supernova Remnants:
One of my favorite sights of the summer sky are the five to eight thousand year old supernova remnants of the Eastern and Western Veil Nebula. I wasn’t sure if NGC 6960 and NGC 6995 would show up from my viewing site, but sure enough with the help of an O-III filter they did. The scale of these two objects is an impressive sight and their ghostly outlines are fitting for the remnants of a dead star.

One last Planet
Neptune:
By around 1:30 am, I started to get tired but noticed that there was one planet which had just moved high enough for me to view. Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun, making it one of the more difficult ones to spot, excluding dwarf planets, sorry Pluto. At 400x magnification, I could make out a faint circular disc with a blueish gray tint. Not bad for something 2.8 Billion Miles away.

Adapting a Flashlight for Astronomy

Night vision is key to astronomy. On moonless nights when galaxies, nebulae or globular clusters are at the top of your observing list, properly adapted eyes can be as important as the aperture of the telescope for spotting a “faint fuzzy”. The June and July editions of Sky & Telescope each have articles detailing how to adapt a flashlight for astronomy. Inspired by these articles, I decided it was time to put together my own red flashlight. Since red light is more forgiving to the eye when it is dark-adapted, this is the preferred way to light up an area while still keeping most of your night vision. While red flashlights can be found from companies such as Celestron and Orion for fifteen to thirty dollars, I didn’t care much for their designs and decided to build my own.

Step 1:
After a trip to Target and Advanced Auto Parts,
I had an LED Flashlight and Red Tail Light Repair Tape.IMG_8936

Step 2:
Cutting out a small piece of the red tape, I placed it over the light.
IMG_8937

Step 3:
Using a pair of scissors and a sharp knife from “Cutlery Corner”, I trimmed the tape and carefully cut it down to size, only covering the lens.
IMG_8954

After using the flashlight to set up and organize equipment, I realized the beam was a bit more pink than red, so I added another layer of tape which turned it into more of a solid red beam. While the brightness, at 37 lumens, is slightly more than is recommended, I’m not too concerned about it because I already am contesting with neighborhood light pollution which will hurt my night vision long before this red flashlight will. For only about fifteen dollars, I now have a stylish LED red flashlight that will hopefully keep my night vision a little more intact on those nights of deep sky observing.

A Visit to the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society

On Monday, April 18th I attended a meeting of the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society in downtown Roanoke. It is often suggested in astronomy books and online forums that a great way to get more involved in the hobby is to attend and join a local astronomy club. After several years of delay, I decided to do just that.

Upon entering the meeting, I was greeted by Dan Chrisman, the RVAS President, along with several other members. To start off the meeting, they introduced me as a new visitor and began with people discussing any recent observations . The man sitting next to me talked about tracking the ISS over its past few flybys. I jumped in, mentioning how I was able to observe the ISS recently, as well, and had been doing some views of Jupiter. The meeting then shifted to a nice overview of upcoming sky events for May with Frank Baratta going through a Stellarium type program highlighting great targets for the month. The main discussion of the night was presented by Dan, who walked the group through an upcoming May 8th transit of the Sun and Mercury. To set up the main idea of what a transit is, Dan got the help of a few members to create an in-room model of the Sun, Mercury and Earth. The math of how these events are predictable is fascinating, and Dan did a nice job of making it practical to understand.

I had a nice time at my first meeting of the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society. I plan on becoming a member at the next meeting, which will be a nice step forward in becoming more involved in the astronomical community. Regardless of where you live, there is probably a similar society set up with like-minded hobby enthusiasts. The best part about these groups is that they have members that match all levels of experience. Whether you consider yourself a beginner, intermediate or experienced amateur astronomer, there will be someone with your level of experience attending these meetings. So, even if you are new to the hobby and don’t have a set of binoculars or a telescope, stop by the next meeting of the RVAS or your local astronomy club to meet some nice people who are interested in expanding interest in the hobby.

For more information on the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society,
please visit their website: www.rvasclub.org

Exploring the Early Spring Sky

Returning to Deep-sky objects
Even though Roanoke County has a decent amount of light pollution, probably a 4 or 5 on the Bortle Scale, there are still a great deal of Galaxies, Star Clusters and Nebula visible in the night sky. These DSOs (Deep-sky objects), provide challenging yet rewarding targets for most amateur astronomers. With the assistance of Skysafari 4’s “Tonight’s Best” guide and the Intelliscope Computer Object Locator of the XT8i, the location of some of these more difficult to find highlights of the early spring sky came into view.

March 29, 2016: Highlights
Beginning in the Western portion of the sky, M38, the Starfish Cluster, was visible around 9:05 PM. While observing M38, a satellite passed through the field of view. These kinds of events are pretty common seeing as how many objects are in orbit. To the upper right of the Starfish Cluster, NGC 1907 barely registered as a slight blur at low magnification using averted vision. Moving over to the South West, the Rosette Nebula continues to refuse to reveal itself, but the open cluster that makes up the heart of it, NGC 2244, was a nice sight. Shifting down towards the neighborhood of Orion’s Nebula brought Sigma Orionis, the highlight of the night, around 9:30 PM. What appeared to be a triple star system revealed a 4th star at 200x magnification. In actuality, it is a quintuple star system, but the 5th star is difficult to pick up with amateur equipment. Attempts at viewing the Crab Nebula came up as disappointing as usual, it was barely visible in the Western sky around 10:25 PM. Finishing out the night was the always impressive pair of galaxies known as Bode’s Nebulae, M81 and M82. At magnitudes +8.39 and +6.90, they never disappoint as distinctive galaxies even if they are around 12 million light years from earth.

FullSizeRender
ISS Passing Near NGC 2395

March 30, 2016: ISS Fly Over
From 8:53 PM to 9:03 PM the International Space Station sailed over Roanoke, Virginia from SW to NE. In an attempt to view it, SkySafari 4 was used to see if the station would appear near any objects during it’s 5 minute pass. This would allow the Computer Object Locator to know where the telescope needed to be pointed before the ISS reached this object, so there could be a quick view of it flying through the eyepiece. Thankfully, at 8:57:51 it would cross near NGC 2395. Right at that time and location, with Lauren looking through the eyepiece and myself looking through the finder scope, we viewed the ISS through the telescope. Traveling at 17,000 miles per hour and being viewed at 48x magnification, the station only appeared in the eyepiece for a second, but the details were impressive. As detailed before from a previous viewing in 2010, the solar panels and cabin compartments of the Space Station were visible. The only difference noticed was that the panels appeared more tilted than on the previous sighting of station back. After the initial contact at NGC 2395, the stations was tracked for another minute or two, on and off, providing additional views as it raced across the sky.