Comets, Asteroids and Astrophysicist Or Graur visits from the American Museum of Natural History!
By Dan Wright
The elusive Comet PanSTARRS has been on our wish list for some time now and after multiple tries and clouds we were able to make it out on our last public night March 13. At the time, it was nearing 1st magnitude but since it was still so near to the Sun’s glare it was impossible to pull out naked eye. However, everything else from small binoculars to the Dome Telescope pulled it out beautifully! As the comet moves away from Earth it will dim quickly but as it slowly pulls away from the sun it should actually be much easier to see in the days ahead. Now if we could just get the weather to cooperate!
As the world still digests it’s close call from the meteor that exploded over Russia last month and the very close pass of asteroid 2012 DA14 the very same day it quickly became Asteroid Awareness Week. And to add insult to injury, we were visited by 3 more very close passes of asteroids that no one expected the very next weekend. NASA directed $5 million to a new project in Hawaii called ATLAS to discover these rogue rocks before they put us in danger. The system should be operational in 2015 and will offer a one-week warning for a 50-yard diameter asteroid or “city killer” and three weeks for a 150 yard-diameter “county killer.” Feel better?
Mars has been in the news for several reasons lately. First, the new rover Curiosity, after testing the soil for the first time determined that it could have easily supported some form of microbial or primitive life at some distant time. Curiosity didn’t find any fossils but it’s becoming clearer that Mars history is very robust.
Dennis Tito the very first “Space Tourist” who spent $20 million of his own money to spend a few days on the International Space Station has a new venture called Inspiration Mars and it’s pretty incredible. He’s looking for a couple to send on a round trip, 501 day free return ride to Mars in 2018! In a capsule no bigger than a small Winnebago. You don’t get to land but you do pass within 100 miles of the surface after traveling 140 million miles… And then, using a gravity assist from Mars you’re sent another 140 million miles back to Earth for a (hopefully) safe landing! Any takers? It’s certainly exciting and before we landed on the Moon we did free return trips. But 501 days in a Winnebago with your other half? That could easily be the deal breaker.
A new comet (C-2013 A1 Siding Spring) has been discovered that will not get very near Earth but it could get very close to Mars in October 2014. In fact, this icy dustball is expected to come within 30,000 miles of the Red Planet; so close it could actually IMPACT Mars! Sure, right now it’s a 1 in 600 chance and after more observations that will probably decrease as more data arrives. But, should this happen, it’s a once in a species type impact. I mean we’re talking apocalyptic. The nucleus could be anywhere from 9 – 30 miles wide. It’s a rare beast orbiting the Sun in “reverse” and could be traveling as fast as 125,000 miles per hour. Putting this on the high end of everything (speed, size) you could end up with an impact crater several miles deep and hundreds of miles wide, rivaling the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs on Earth and blowing away the impacts of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 on Jupiter in 1994. This explosion would be 25 million times more than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated on our planet. So yeah, pretty big.
Should this actually happen, what would this impact mean to us on Earth? Nothing as far as safety. It is completely likely that it will wipe out all of our technology currently orbiting or crawling along the surface of Mars. While it would be a huge loss to lose our rovers just think about how incredible it would be to see something of this magnitude smack a rocky planet.
We had a visit from our new friend John Stetson from Portland Maine who grew up just a short distance away from the Rolnick Observatory. John has become pretty well known in the amateur astronomy world by photographing the International Space Station flying in front of the Sun and Moon. While he was visiting he let us know that the ISS was going to transit the sun near Fairfield University and invited us out to see how he captures this very fast event. And it’s fast! The ISS passed in front of the Sun in just .9 seconds… John managed to capture 15 frames of the transit from his 5″ refractor using a web cam. It’s truly one of those “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it” appearances.
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Our warmest thanks to member Dan Bernstein for his incredible donation of a pristine 10″ Meade LX-200 GPS f/10 with all the bells and whistles! We’ll be taking this out regularly this summer for our Meetup Groups and private, members only star parties. Thanks so very, very much Dan!
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I’m going to keep asking! If you can help us find some decent, used office furniture for the Warm Room, all of us that use it regularly would be incredibly grateful. It’s about 140 years over due. We’re not looking for even more horrible junk but a donation of some gently used, comfortable office chairs would be fantastic. Please check with Bob Meadows or I if you have something to donate before you drop anything off!
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NEXT FREE MEETING: Tuesday, March 19, 8:00 pm
Or Graur: – The Universe is My Lab
What, exactly, do astronomers do? Like other physicists, astronomers conduct experiments in order to answer fundamental questions about the Universe we live in. But how do you conduct an experiment in astronomy? And where, exactly, is an astronomer’s lab? In my talk I will answer these questions and explain how, for every astronomer, the Universe is a different kind of laboratory.
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Astro Web Site Of The Month
by Cal Powell
The Sky Live is a web site that provides real-time data, position, and finder charts for selected solar system objects. The objects include the (major) planets, some dwarf planets, brighter asteroids, and comets, and even a few spacecraft. Each object’s position and orbital path is indicated and updated on a photographic background from the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS-2) that is roughly the size of the full Moon. At http://theskylive.com, The Sky Live will be especially helpful in locating comets such as PANSTARRS and ISON.
Thanks to WAS President Dan Wright for bringing this site to my attention. Please send e-mail on your own personal web pages, or astronomy links that you find interesting or noteworthy to me at email@example.com
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Upcoming Events at the Rolnick Observatory
Next Month:Professor Jacqueline van Gorkom, Professor of Astronomy, Columbia University: April 16 – Galactic Neighborhoods How galaxies are influenced by their surroundings Galaxies are like people. Ones that grow up in the suburbs tend to be different from those that are raised in the city. Moreover, just like people, they can change dramatically when they move from one place to another. I will discuss the different evolutionary paths of galaxies in different environments and the trauma they experience upon moving into a large metropolis, i.e., a dense cluster of galaxies.
Soon:Professor Matthew Pappas: May 21 – Exoplanets WAS Pre-Summer Solstice Picnic & Elections: June 18, 6:00 pm Bob Meadows: August 20 – The Bob Meadows Annual Stellafane Report
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He dances upright
I’m a poor underdog,
Robert Frost, 1928
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by Bob Meadows
Blizzard Nemo dropped over 20 inches of snow on the observatory on Feb. 8 and 9. Norman Nash who plows our driveway and parking lot said it took him 2 and a half hours to plow it. Bob used the snow blower to clear the paths on Feb. 11, and shoveled the deck and used the snow blower to enlarge the parking area on Feb. 12.
The observatory was open on Friday Feb. 15 to view the close passage of asteroid 2012 DA14. We opened at 5:30, and viewed the asteroid from 6:30 to 7:30. In addition to the public, Westport Now, News 12, and NBC crews were there. Thanks to Bob Meadows, Dan Wright, Franco Fellah, and Evan Tilley for helping out.
The Astronomical Society of New Haven is doing a postponed Messier Marathon on April 19th & 20th at their location in Goshen CT. Our members are invited.
In the Spring, Bob Meadows will be giving classes on how to operate the telescope in the dome, including opening and closing procedures, and the use of the “Sky” program. If you are interested, email Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org or see Bob at the next meeting.
A new phone was purchased for the observatory with a second hand-set for the classroom. The old one had a distorted outgoing message and the display didn’t work.
We bought a Sky-Fi unit for the 25 inch telescope. It will allow a device running a “Sky” type program to control the telescope wirelessly.
Mike Misiukiewicz, who is making the pier for the 16 inch Meade, made a trial mounting plate out of 1/8 inch aluminum. We tested the plate, and he will now make the real one from ½ inch steel.
20 Tom Davis David Ives *Dan Wright
27 Bob Blasko Evan Tilley
3 Bob Tobin K. Moskovitz * Franco Fellah
10 Mike Bellacosa Frank Cirino *Bob Meadows
17 Tom Davis Quintin Brantley *Dan Wright
24 Bob Blasko David Ives
1 Bob Tobin Evan Tilley *Franco Fellah
8 Mike Bellacosa K. Moskovitz *Bob Meadows
15 Tom Davis Frank Cirino *Dan Wright
22 Bob Blasko Quintin Brantley
29 Bob Meadows David Ives
Call Bob or make arrangements for someone to cover your shift if you can’t make it. We’re counting on you.
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Phil Harrington’s Binocular Universe: Northern Exposure
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We are an all volunteer society that is financially responsible for everything at the Rolnick Observatory, and we can always use your help. Please donate and renew your membership today!
Check out the WAS Wear Store! Incredible custom gear made for the Star Parties! Show your WAS pride!
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|Board Members at Large:||David Ives
|Web Master:||Adam Yates|