Supermoon Eclipse!

Finally!! A celestial event that is both at a reasonable hour and visible from home. How often does that happen? I’m of course talking about the upcoming total lunar eclipse! I think Universe Today said it best by calling it the “Super-Harvest-Blood-Moon Total Lunar Eclipse.

Graphic from Space.com
Graphic from Space.com

So let’s start with Super. The moon’s orbit around the sun is elliptical, not circular. This means that it’s not always the same distance from the earth. On Sunday evening it will be at what is called Perigee, or at its closest to the earth. It will appear about 14% bigger than at other times.

Supermoon

 

Next up – Harvest. The Harvest moon is simply the closest full moon to the Autumnal Equinox which is when day and night are each about 12 hours long and the sun rises exactly due east and sets exactly due west. This was September 23.

Now the creepy – Blood. I have to confess  – I don’t really know much about this term. It has something to do with prophecies and apocalyptic whoo ha and frankly if you really want to know more about that you’re on your own!

And finally the big one – Eclipse!! This occurs when the sun is opposite the moon, and the moon, earth and sun are lined up so that the moon will pass through the earth’s shadow, temporarily blinking it out. The shadow has two parts, the Penumbra which is the dimmer outer shadow, and the Umbra which is the darker center. The moon will pass through both the penumbra and the umbra during this event.

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Hopefully Lynn and I will be watching and recording all the necessary contact information and feverishly making sketches for our Luney II observing program. Or maybe we’ll just kick back in our lawn chairs and enjoy the show. Either way – it should be a great show!

Amy

Another Soggy Night

Friday was another day filled with astronomy, humidity, dave-faulknerand excessive heat. Ninety-one Fahrenheit with a dew point in the low 2,000’s. So of course you know what THAT means. Dew, dew, dew!

The Northern Nights Star Fest has been a challenge for Amy and me, although the skies have been mostly clear. Last night we again abandoned the 8” club scope and the 20×80 binoculars because they only seemed to work with the hair dryer blowing constantly. Guess it’s time to break down and do something about dew heaters. It’s been really, really frustrating for us.

But fortunately, there were over 60 telescopes of all flavors and sizes on the observing field (WITH dew heaters) and we got to see some pretty incredible stuff. I saw the Andromeda galaxy naked eye for the first time, and that was exciting.

Another of my faves (although hardest to see) was Stephan’s Quintet, a group of five faint galaxies in Pegasus. Four of them are in a cosmic dance. I’ll warn you though, even in a 30” Obsession they were pretty hard to make out. I also got to see Jacques comet in the 30”, tail and all. How cool is that?

Amy loved Draco’s Cat’s Eye Nebula in Kevin’s 18” Teeter. She said it had a turquoise jewel-like center that was very cool. She also renewed her interest in radio astronomy and is now talking about trekking out west to the Green Bank observatory.

Lots of astrophotography lectures yesterday and today that we played hooky from since we don’t have any fancy cameras or processing software. Maybe we’ll get to that hobby later.

Lynn

Star Party Time

Despite two harrowing near-misses and a wrong exit in Duluth, the 20150813_154840Astro Babes safely rolled into Palisades Minnesota yesterday for the start of the Northern Nights Star Fest. Unfortunately, we got clouded out on the first night, but we weren’t complaining because we were both snoring by 9:30.

Today was the first day of organized programs. First, we heard a lecture by Dave Falkner, a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and former president of the Minnesota Astronomical Society, our host club. His presentation was about the 2004 Mercury’s Messenger Mission to learn more about how our Solar system was created. Research included studying why Mercury’s iron core is so large and so dense, as well as understanding Mercury’s unusual magnetic properties. The mission ended in a decayed orbit in 2012.

The next presenter was a fellow club member, Kevin Nasal. He had recently bought a Teeter’s 18” truss-tube Dob telescope, and he shared his comparisons with an Obsession telescope of equal size and quality.

Following that, a group of us got some training on how to use the MAS’s 25″ Dob. The training was interesting, but it was so hot and humid out in the observing field that it was hard to focus. And I won’t even mention the pesky, angry bees who lost their home in the observing field yesterday and are still buzzing around looking for revenge. Good thing they sleep at night!

Tonight we’re expecting clouds and possibly rain again, and the plan is to just to hang out, maybe watch a movie with the group, and get ready for tomorrow and Friday nights’ clear skies.

Lynn

Happy 100 to Us!

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1914 patent for backless bra

Even though we’re living in a country with a 17 trillion dollar debt, Amy and I still think a hundred of anything is a pretty big number. For example, we were impressed when we learned that Smucker’s, the backless bra, Wrigley Field, and Mother’s Day all reach the century mark this year.

Just think about working a hundred-hour work week. Eeek! Or maybe needing to lose a hundred pounds. Would you like to commute a hundred miles to work everyday, or shovel a driveway that’s a hundred feet long? How about trying to do a hundred sit-ups, carry a hundred bricks into the backyard for the patio, or pay for that hundred gallons of gas you just pumped into your truck? Yep. A hundred is still a pretty big number.

smuckersTo bring this sudden fascination with 100 down to a personal level, Amy and I are excited because, besides 100 being written by the Roman Numeral “C” (which always stands for chocolate) this is a time of celebration for the Astro Babes because this is our 100th Astro Babe blog!

The first 100 blogs have been challenging but loads of fun, too. We’ve written about a lot of different topics and learned a lot. Hopefully you’ll be with us, dear reader, to see where the next 100 blogs takes us.

Lynn & Amy

Cosmos Finale Was a Big Hit

Hope everyone enjoyed the Cosmoscosmos2 finale as much as the Astro Babes did this past Sunday. We began the series with a party at Amy’s house and ended it with a party at Lynn’s house. There were plenty of munchies (including Ships of the Imagination, meteoroids, spiral galaxies, planets, stars, and shuttle tiles). We even had a celebrity appearance by one of the Astro Babes’ guest bloggers,  Barbara Millicent Roberts (aka Mars Barbie).

There’s been a lot of speculation in the media about the possibility of a second season of Cosmos, especially after Fox began referring to current episodes as “Season 1.” Ratings have been up and down, but the show consistently brought in more than 3 million viewers each week. The second-to-last episode beat out NBC and CBS in the

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Cosmos munchies included meteoroids, spiral galaxies, planets and stars. Yumm! Luckily our spouses were there to help us with the celebration.

coveted 18-49 demographic with 1.3 million viewers, and the finale reached 3.52 million viewers in that same demographic with some stiff competition from the other networks and cable channels.

If Cosmos returns, it might not be the same show we’ve grown to love because Fox might be shopping for another host. In mid-March, Neil deGrasse Tyson said in an interview with Space.com that he currently has no plans to host another season because it took a lot of time and kept him away from his family. He could change his mind though.

In the meantime, we’ll just keep our fingers crossed and watch for the official announcement from Fox.

Lynn

Photographing Cool, Distant Planets Now Possible

Back in 1985, I lived in Arizona and attended Arizona State University. My favorite

Image taken by the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) shows a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris.

classes were (of course) a mid-level class in astronomy and in physics.

Many evenings after dinner, my friend, Hol, and I would float around in the pool and discuss all sorts of heady topics, such as surface tension, pulsars, light spectra, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Hol helped me take the leap into converting science into mathematics.

On one of those nights 29 years ago, in one of those heady discussions, the topic was astrophotography. In the retelling of something that I had learned in class that day, I misspoke and said that we were close to actually photographing planets outside of our solar system in visible light. Time has erased what I actually meant to say, but my friend got a good chuckle out of that.

“How absurd is THAT,” he blurted (or something quite similar to that). I, of course, immediately got defensive and said, “What? Well I didn’t mean to say that we could photograph planets today, but I’m sure we will someday.”

“HA! That’ll NEVER happen!” he insisted, and he was not one to say the word ‘never’. “They’re too far away and too small and too buried in the visible light of their sun. What a ridiculous idea.”

When he put it that way, it did sound rather implausible, but I dug in my heels and announced that yes, I believed it WAS possible and that it would happen in my lifetime. In my memory, he sneered at me for weeks after that, but he probably just snorted and said that I was totally wrong. A $10 bet ensued.

So here we are, nearly 30 years later, and it’s finally happened using a charged couple device (CCD). The new technology is called Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO). The first planet recently captured was Beta Pictoris b in the constellation Pictor, which has a mass 12 times that of Jupiter and orbits its sun at nine A.U. (equivalent to the distance from here to Saturn).

The exciting thing about this advancement is that unlike infrared, which only picks up “hot” planets today, we can use CCD to detect planets that have cooled. Cooled planets have a much greater likely to be habitable.

So ha HA Mr. Hol. Looks like I get the last laugh after all. I’ll be watching for that ten-spot in the mail.

Lynn

Women in Astronomy

 

Maria MitchellTo celebrate Women’s History month I’d like to share a little about my favorite historical woman in astronomy,  Maria Mitchell.  Maria (pronounced with a long i) was born in 1818 and grew up on the island of Nantucket. There she studied the stars with her father. As a young girl, Maria learned to navigate by the stars and was able to fine tune marine chronometers.

In 1947 she became famous as a ‘comet sweeper’, discovering what came to be known as ‘Miss Mitchell’s Comet’ for which she was awarded a gold medal from the king of Denmark.

Maria said “In my younger days when I was pained by half educated, loose, and inaccurate ways which we all had, I used to say, ‘How much women need exact science.’ But since I have known some workers in science who were not always true to the teachings of nature, who have loved self more than science, I have said, ‘How much science needs women!”

She truly was a women before her time!

Maria went on to be a champion for women, protested against slavery and co-founded the American Association for the Advancement of Women.  Please visit www.mariamitchell.org to learn more about this amazing woman!

Amy

Cosmos Remake Didn’t Let Us Down

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Cosmos party at Amy’s house.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this blog, you’re the type that thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of Cosmos last night. (If you missed it, watch it here). It had an estimated 5.8 million viewers. How cool is that??!?

The show opened with Neil deGrasse Tyson taking us on a tour of the solar system in an updated version of the Ship of the Imagination (much cooler than the 1980 version). The show also included the story of Giordano Bruno, the first man to see a vision of a limitless universe. The Cosmic Calendar followed, which started with the big bang and put the timeline of our universe into perspective.

Needless to say, Amy and I really enjoyed the show. To commemorate the event, we threw a Cosmos Party that included our respective spouses. Chocolate wine, strawberries, cheese, homemade cookies, chips – all on a table that usually holds our star charts and binoculars. Who says astronomy is boring??

It turned out that Cosmos wasn’t the only spacey thing going on last night, either. As soon as Cosmos ended, the local PBS station aired Apollo 17: The Untold Story of the Last Men on the Moon.

We also peeked in on a live web cast from Slooh.com, who was tracking asteroid 2014 CU13 from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. This asteroid, approximately 623 feet wide, whizzed by us today about 1.9 million miles (a mere eight times the distance between the Earth and the moon). Slooh hoped to draw attention to the asteroid so amateur astronomers will help efforts to pinpoint its orbit.

A good time was had by all, and it was nice to do some indoor astronomy for a change. Hope you got all of Amy’s tweet’s during the show!

Lynn

Dark Matter

Slide from astro.unl.edu
Slide from astro.unl.edu

Some of my favorite talks at our monthly astronomy club meetings are the ones that really stretch my imagination. The kind that twist my brain into a knot and send me straight to the computer to find out more. This month’s presentation did just that.

One of our favorite presenters, Jim, gave a great talk on dark matter (dark energy to follow sometime next year). Here’s the one thing that I know for sure about dark matter. No one really knows what it is or how to explain it’s existence.  Dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of our universe, leaving only 5% as visible matter.

quantumdiaries.org
quantumdiaries.org

So far one of  the best candidate for dark matter are particles called “weekly interacting massive particles” or WIMPS. On October 30th the Large Underground Xenon dark matter detector (LUX) proudly announced that they found…..nothing. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just one step in finding the elusive particles. While we live in a world of  fast moving technology and instant access to just about everything, it may be hard for us to wrap our brains around the fact that these things just take time.

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“This all-sky image shows the distribution of dark matter across the entire history of the Universe as seen projected on the sky. It is based on data collected with ESA’s Planck satellite during its first 15.5 months of observations. Dark blue areas represent regions that are denser than the surroundings, and bright areas represent less dense regions. The grey portions of the image correspond to patches of the sky where foreground emission, mainly from the Milky Way but also from nearby galaxies, is too bright, preventing cosmologists from fully exploiting the data in those areas.” From: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

 

We’ve only just begun our search for the answer to dark matter. Maybe WIMPS  are the answer, maybe not I don’t know. I do know that we need to keep looking, keep trying to understand our universe. To me, the more we discover the more amazing our universe becomes and the better we can understand our place in it.

To people like Jim who bring these topics to us, I have only this to say…….more please!

Amy

A Trip to Mars

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An actual piece of Mars rests on my lap during a visit to the UW-Madison Geology Museum. I was so nervous someone had to hold me!

Could their be a more exciting way to kick off my new collaboration with the Astro Babes than to bring you photos of an actual piece of Mars?!

On Sept. 24, I accompanied the Astro Babes to a lecture in Madison that was part of the “Biosignatures: What Does Life Leave Behind?” exhibit that hopes to excite public curiosity about astrobiology research at UW-Madison. A presentation entitled “How to build an Astrobiology Exhibit in 1,272 Easy Steps” was followed by a reception in the museum that not only featured a piece of Mars, but a rare opportunity to hold a piece of it in your hands.

The main attraction for this event was a viewed fall of the Tissint meteorite that is thought to have broken off the Red Planet around 700,000 years ago and witnessed landing in Morocco in 2011.

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Here I’m looking at the 700,000-year-old piece of Mars that the museum recently acquired. This is one of the five rare observed falls from Mars.

The collector that sold this piece to the museum also lent a piece to the museum that lecture attendees could hold in their hand. Unlike most meteorites found on Earth, this piece was very light and had no real fusion crust. It was identified Martian by testing the “atmosphere” that was trapped inside air pockets in the rock.

NASA funds the Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium and other teams to develop new tools and methods for detecting evidence of past life on Earth. This research will then help scientists recognize signs of life in other places such as Mars or Titan because we won’t find any dinosaur bones there.

Martian rocks are a rarity here on Earth today, but I plan to personally bring back many more rocks for research on my first round-trip mission to Mars.

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By Barbara Millicent Roberts
Astro Babe Mars Correspondent