Friday, October 10, 2014

About tonight

Usually about this time of day I send out an email to the folks registered for the observatory guest night concerning the weather and what to expect for the evening. I've been told that my emails are often ending up in spam folders (the horror!). Therefore I'm posting here for those of you who are registered, didn't get my email and are wondering what happens if the weather doesn't cooperate. (The forecast is calling for clouds and rain tonight.)

Here's the deal: We hold the event no matter what. We drink coffee, eat cookies, and I give a brief presentation about our observatory and some upcoming celestial events. We tour the observatory so you at least get to see the scopes, even if you can't see anything through them.

We also set up smaller scopes inside the Science Center. I know this sounds weird, but the hallways are really long. If you've never played with a telescope, or if you are interested in purchasing a scope it's a nice chance to see how they work.

The student astronomy club (MC Stargazers) will be available with me to answer any burning astronomical questions you may have.

To sum things up, if it's cloudy, and it looks like it's going to be cloudy tonight, we won't be able to see anything through the telescopes. I totally understand if you don't want to make the trip out tonight because of the weather.

Regardless, I look forward to meeting you tonight, or at another event. Thank you so much for your interest in astronomy and the MC Observatory!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October / November 2014 Starmap

The latest starmap is here: MCAO October / November Starmap.

The next observatory guest night is this Friday 10 October from 8-9 PM. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. There are still a few open spots open for both the 10 October and 24 October events.

Reserve here: mcobservatory.eventbrite.com.

Friday, September 5, 2014

September / October 2014 Starmap

The latest starmap is here: MCAO September / October Starmap.

Just a reminder, there is no observatory night tonight (Friday 5 September). The next event on Friday 12 September is completely booked, but there are open spots for the 26 September, 10 October, and 24 October nights.

Reserve here: mcobservatory.eventbrite.com.

Friday, August 15, 2014

About Tonight

The forecast is looking good for public night this evening. Hopefully any clouds will hold off until much later.

If you are interested in attending tonight, there's still space. Head to:

mcobservatory.eventbrite.com

Regardless of the weather, we'll be at the observatory tonight (9:30-10:30PM). We'll start on the fourth floor of the new science center in room SC400. I'll give a brief presentation on upcoming celestial highlights, and then we'll head to the observatory and see what we can see. The student astronomy club (MC Stargazers) will be here with me to answer your questions about the universe or anything else.

Events have been scheduled for September and October.

Clear skies!

Friday, August 1, 2014

About Tonight

Usually about this time of day I send out an email to the folks registered for the observatory guest night concerning the weather and what to expect for the evening. I've been told that my emails are often ending up in spam folders (the horror!). Therefore I'm posting here for those of you who are registered, didn't get my email and are wondering what happens if the weather doesn't cooperate.

Here's the deal: We hold the event no matter what. We drink coffee, eat cookies, and I give a brief presentation about our observatory and some upcoming celestial events. We tour the observatory so you at least get to see the scopes, even if you can't see anything through them.

We also set up smaller scopes inside the Science Center. I know this sounds weird, but the hallways are really long. If you've never played with a telescope, or if you are interested in purchasing a scope it's a nice chance to see how they work.

What is this? It's a low-power view through one of the indoor telescopes, with a cell-phone camera. Looking at pictures of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Vera Rubin. Upside down. Thanks to Ryan Fitzgerald for the image.

The student astronomy club (MC Stargazers) will be available with me to answer any burning astronomical questions you may have.

To sum things up, if it's cloudy, and it looks like it's going to be cloudy tonight, we won't be able to see anything through the telescopes. I totally understand if you don't want to make the trip out tonight because of the weather. There will be other events in the Fall. There is one more in August, and as soon as I get the go-ahead from the college, I'll post the September and October dates.

Regardless, I look forward to meeting you tonight, or at another event. Thank you so much for your interest in astronomy and the MC Observatory!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Finally a clear evening!

There were just a few wispy clouds in a moonless sky for last evening's observatory night. It was a full house, therefore we didn't get to transition to too many objects. Nevertheless, everyone got a look at Saturn and Mars at different magnifications, the double star Albireo, and Brocchi's Cluster (Collinder 399).

Saturn
We observed with one of the 14-inch scopes (the partner scope is still in California), an 8-inch scope mounted on the deck, and two sets of binoculars.

Before going to the telescopes, I talked a bit about the constellation Cygnus- in particular the beautiful bright star Deneb. The handout with the information I presented can be found as a pdf here.

Many thanks to everyone who came for the evening. It makes me so happy to see such interest and curiosity about astronomy! And of course special thanks to the bright and brilliant MC Stargazers for their hard work before, during, and after the event.

Albireo A (amber) and Albireo B (blue)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July / August 2014 Starmap

The latest starmap is here: MCAO July / August Starmap.

The weather has been a bit disappointing for the past few observatory guest nights, but I'm feeling optimistic for Friday. Accuweather.com is saying conditions will be "good" for stargazing.

I would love for a clear night. There's so much celestial goodness to see this month and next that I could barely fit everything on the latest starmap.

The starmap itself is from the heavens-above website, as are the dates for planetary oppositions, elongations, and conjunctions. The additional sky and planet information is obtained from Stellarium. (I simply set the location to Rockville and look at the sky throughout the relevant months with an eye towards interesting groupings of the Moon and planets.) The meteor shower dates are obtained from EarthSky.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Astronomy Night on the National Mall

Astronomy Night on the National Mall
Friday, June 6, 2014 from 6 PM – 11 PM
Washington Monument NE, 15th Street and Constitution Ave.

This Friday 6 June 2014 is Astronomy Night on the National Mall. This is a free public stargazing event organized by Dr. Donald Lubowich, Coordinator of Astronomy Outreach at Hofstra University. The event runs from 6 PM to 11 PM and will be located near Washington Monument NE, 15th Street and Constitution Ave. Details can be found by following the above link.

Even though it is a "first Friday", the Montgomery College Observatory will not be hosting an Observatory Guest Night this Friday. Instead we will be at the Astronomy Night on the Mall! As of this posting, I do not know exactly where our table will be. If I get more information before Friday evening, I will post here. If you go to the Astronomy Night on Friday, I hope to see you. :)

The next MC Observatory Guest Night is Friday 20 June 2014 from 9:30 PM to 10:30 PM.

Friday, May 16, 2014

May / June 2014 Starmap

I realized today that I had not posted the link to the May / June Starmap. Here it is:

MCAO May / June Starmap

The starmap itself is from the heavens-above website, as are the dates for planetary oppositions and elongations. The additional sky and planet information is obtained from Stellarium. (I simply set the location to Rockville and look at the sky throughout the relevant months with an eye towards interesting groupings of the Moon and planets.) The meteor shower dates are obtained from EarthSky.

I hope you enjoy!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Boötes & Arcturus

During tonight's observatory guest night I talked about the constellation Boötes and its brightest star, Arcturus. The document we handed out at the guest night about Boötes and Arcturus can be found here, and below is additional information about Arcturus and giant stars in general.

Giant Stars

Arcturus is an example of a red giant star. To understand giant stars, we need to know a little bit about stellar evolution. Stars spend the majority of their lives fusing hydrogen into helium, and it is these nuclear reactions that cause stars to shine so brightly. Our Sun has spent about 4.5 billion years fusing hydrogen in its core and will spend roughly another 4.5 to 5 billion years doing so until its supply of core hydrogen begins to run out. (Yes, our Sun is middle-aged.)

As hydrogen fuses in the star's core, it is transformed into helium. Eventually (as in billions-of-years-eventually) the star will have a mostly helium core surrounded by a shell of not-yet-fused hydrogen. At this point the hydrogen supply in the core is getting low, so the nuclear reactions slow down and the core shrinks. As the core shrinks, it gets really hot- hot enough for the not-yet-fused hydrogen in the shell surrounding the helium core to, well, fuse. At this point we have a star with an inert helium core (helium that isn't fusing into anything), and a hydrogen shell that is fusing surrounding the helium core.

The intense heat from the hydrogen fusing shell pushes the star's atmosphere out to an enormous size, causing the outer atmosphere to cool. Because the star is bigger, it becomes more luminous, and because its cooler, it appears red, or, like Arcturus, a lovely shade of stellar orange.

Arcturus will keep up the red giant situation for roughly a billion years. The giant name is apt. Arcturus currently has a diameter just over 25 times that of the Sun. This is enormous, but there are stars that can become even larger. The larger giants are called, not surprisingly, supergiants. A star has to start out with more mass than than the Sun (or Arcturus) to become a supergiant star. Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion, for example, is a supergiant. It has a radius 950 times that of the Sun and would engulf Mars if it was put in the place of the Sun.

And speaking of the Sun, our parent star will eventually become a red giant like Arcturus in about 5 billion years. It's outer atmosphere will cool making it appear reddish, and its larger size will give it a luminosity 1000 times what it is today and Earth will be cooked, literally.

Really, though, things will get bad for Earth before the red giant phase. The Sun is getting gradually hotter, and in about 3 to 4 billion years the Earth's oceans will boil away. Hopefully we'll be able to find another place to live. Saturn's moon Titan is looking awfully good right now.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Summer Guest Night Schedule

We have the dates pinned down for the Summer Observatory Guest Nights! Yay! Reservations can be made on the Eventbrite website. Please note that the schedule departs a bit from the first and third Friday of the month in June and July.

The first Friday in June is 6 June, and that is Astronomy Night on the National Mall. The MC Rockville folks will be joining forces with our esteemed colleague from the Takoma Park / Silver Spring campus, Dr. Harold Williams. We will be there with telescopes and binoculars. Hopefully it will be clear!

In July, the first Friday is the fourth of July holiday, so there will be no observatory night. I still want to have two guest nights that month, but they will be held on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month. Things are normal for August.

Summer Guest Night Schedule:

Friday 20 June 2014 : 9:30 PM - 10:30 PM

Friday 11 July 2014 : 9:30 PM - 10:30 PM
Friday 25 July 2014 : 9:30 PM - 10:30 PM

Friday 1 August 2014 : 9:30 PM - 10:30 PM
Friday 15 August 2014 : 9:30 PM - 10:30 PM

Please note the later start. Civil twilight ends around 9 PM during the summer months and we want it to be nice and dark.

Make your reservation here at Eventbrite.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Been to an MC Observatory Guest Night? How did you like it?

Today I used the eventbrite software to send out an email to recent attendees of our Observatory Guest Nights at MC requesting feedback in survey form. I think I was able to successfully email folks who had already been to the guest nights, and not folks who are coming in the future. Long story medium, I may have missed some people, so posting a link to the (anonymous) survey again here:

MC Guestnight Survey

If you've been to a guest night, please let me know what you think. This is the first semester we have offered observatory guest nights in an official capacity at the new Science Center, and now that we've had a few months of guest nights, I am hoping to get some feedback so that we can continue to make them better.

It is a real joy to be able to share my enthusiasm for astronomy and the night sky with the college and local community. I really want to make the observatory experience at MC the best I possibly can, and your input will help a lot.

As an incentive, doing the survey will give you the chance to win an "MC Stargazer" tee shirt. You may have seen me or the astronomy club students sporting them during our events. The shirts are black with the MC Stargazer club logo in purple and white. (The shirts are American Apparel brand, made in the USA.) Please respond before 2 May 2014 to get entered for the shirt.

Here's the survey link again:

MC Guestnight Survey

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April events at the MC Observatory

It's finally starting to feel like Spring! I am very much looking forward to warmer nights at the observatory as we move into April and May. All we need are clear skies!

Events in April include the observatory guest nights on Friday 4 April and Friday 18 April, as well as solar observing on Rockville Science Day, Sunday 6 April. (The Sun sets a bit later now, so note that the guest nights begin at 9PM.)

Observatory Guest Night : Friday 4-Apr-2014, 9-10PM
Rockville Science Day : Sunday 6-Apr-2014, noon-5PM
Observatory Guest Night : Friday 18-Apr-2014, 9-10PM

As I write this Thursday afternoon, the weather for tomorrow night doesn't look promising. As always we'll be here regardless of what Mother Nature gives us, but if it is too cloudy or rainy to observe the skies, I'll give a brief presentation followed by a tour the observatory. We'll also have smaller telescopes set up inside the Science Center for guests experiment with. The MC Astronomy Club will be on hand with me to answer questions about the universe and everything else.

April / May 2014 Starmap

A few people have asked me for the starmaps we hand out on the observatory guest nights. I just put together the latest one for April and May 2014. So here you go:

MCAO April / May Starmap


The starmap itself is from the heavens-above website, as are the dates for planetary oppositions and elongations. The additional sky and planet information is obtained from Stellarium. (I simply set the location to Rockville and look at the sky throughout the relevant months with an eye towards interesting groupings of the Moon and planets.) The meteor shower dates are obtained from EarthSky.

I hope you enjoy!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Montgomery College closed today - Guest Night for 3 January Cancelled.

Montgomery College is officially closed today because of the weather.

Therefore the Observatory Guest Night for this evening is cancelled.

We will try again on Friday 17 January 2014 at 7PM. Registration is open on the Eventbrite site.

Stay safe and warm.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Heads up for Friday 3 January 2014 Guest Night

It's Thursday afternoon and the snow is coming down in Rockville.

If the roof is icy tomorrow we will have to CANCEL the guest night. We simply cannot be up on the roof in icy conditions. I will consult with our campus facilities folks so that a decision can be made early afternoon. I will post here, on our Facebook page, and send out emails via eventbrite.

Let's hope we get some major Sun tomorrow!