Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Sun Funnel

In preparation for the upcoming Venus transit on June 5th I was looking at cheap, but effective ways to view the sun with my telescope.  I wasn’t very interested in buying a full aperture solar filter for my 10″ scope so I was thrilled when I found www.transitofvenus.nl.  The accessory proposed on this site is the sun funnel, a rear projection, group viewing tool for the viewing the sun.  The sun funnel is very easy to make and costs just about $20 to make.

The funnel consists of a large fuel funnel, rear projection screen, two hose clamps, and an eyepiece.  I say it costs about $20 assuming that you own a telescope eyepiece already, if not you’ll have to pay a bit more.  You don’t need an expensive eyepiece, just one that fits the focal length of the telescope and the length of the funnel to give you an optimal image size.  More info on the eyepiece can be found on the website.  The rear projection screen can easily be ordered online and costs about $17 for one square foot.

I put my sun funnel together this past Monday and attached it to my scope but alas, the sun had almost set and was behind the trees in my backyard.  I had to wait until Friday evening after work to get another good viewing chance, but I was not disappointed!  Once the image is focused correctly my 25mm eyepiece projected an image about 75% of the funnel’s diameter!  The image is still rather bright, but is by all means safe to look at with the naked eye (although sunglasses might make it more comfortable).

EDIT:  I would also highly recommend building an aperture stop of some sort to reduce the amount of light gathered by the scope.  You can use any kind of material really, but all you do is cut out a circle about 2″ in diameter in whatever material you’re using (a cardboard box works well) offset from the center so that you don’t cover up the secondary mirror (for reflectors).  This reduces the aperture of your scope from say 10″ to 2″ which is perfectly fine for viewing an object as bright as the sun.

Once set up the image of the projected sun is razor sharp!   As the picture below shows, once the image is focused on my phone the detail on the disk is stunning!  Several sunspots are visible dotting the fiery surface of the star.  In the center left and clearly visible is the large sunspot 1459.  Three other pairs of sunspots form an isosceles triangle around 1459 in the center.  Not bad for my first attempt at viewing the sun.  I’m really looking forward to viewing the transit through the sun funnel in less than two months!

Focused image with sunspots visible

Earth Day 2012

Dear Bloggosphere and Interweb:

Earth Day 2012 is this Sunday April 22nd.  This is the 42nd year of Earth Day which makes this year’s Earth Day superior to all the rest, the answers to life, the universe, and everything hinge upon your participation in the celebration!  If you’ve never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy don’t worry about it.  But seriously, Earth Day is a global effort to raise awareness for nature conservation, green technology, efficient energy use, and much more.

As a lover of the cosmos I marvel at how vast, impressive, and beautiful the universe is through my telescope.  The wonders of the universe are simply too many to be counted, it’s beauty and complexity too immense for the human mind to fully comprehend.  All of the focus on celestial bodies and phenomena serves one massive purpose:  to fully and better understand the uniqueness and immense beauty of our home planet; our tiny blue dot!  Indeed when you spend but 10 minutes thinking of how vast and immeasurable the universe is, you begin to appreciate our home all the more.  Much of the universe is hostile and inhabitable, but here we are orbiting a star at just the right distance, a star that is just the right size, just the right temperature, and our planet is just the right size to to hold onto an atmosphere.  The conditions for life on planet Earth are perfect in every sense of the word!  We also exist in exactly the right time period in the universe’s life.  The window of opportunity for life to arise in the universe is so small that if the entire life of the universe was one 24-hour period, the conditions for life to arise would occupy less than a minute of that time!

Our planet is incredibly special and unique, not only in our solar system, but in the entire universe.  We’ve yet to discover any other alien planets that definitely have the correct conditions for supporting life.  We’re constantly searching and there are a lot of candidates, but so far we haven’t struck gold.  Once you understand the rarity of our planet and its unique nature in the universe a very profound experience of connection with the planet occurs.  We are merely stewards of this planet.  Our goal should be to live responsibly on the planet, not to greedily consume its resources and squander its beauty.  One look at the cosmos and we’re reminded that once Earth is barren there is no where else to go.  We live on an island travelling though the cosmos.  We are in complete isolation, even if there are other living creatures elsewhere we couldn’t hope of reaching their planets or moons.  Plain and simple, Earth is all we have.

This Earth Day make a pledge to, by the best of your ability, live a more environmentally-friendly life in 2012.  Be more conscious of how your every day life affects the planet.  Rethink your commute to work.  Begin recycling.  Commit to planting trees.  Talk to your lawmakers about environmental issues.  Let your voice be heard on behalf of our fragile planet!  For more information on Earth Day 2012 visit the website www.earthday.org/2012.

Our fragile island home taken by Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell on Christmas Eve 1968

Hubble’s Hidden Treasures

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 20 years (or on another planet) you’ve seen a plethora of beautiful images from the Hubble Space Telescope.  Many of Hubble’s images are some of the most iconic and awe-inspiring pictures of all time.  Since 1990, Hubble has been constantly observing the visible universe collecting scientific data for astronomers that has been used to determine the origin of our universe and further explore the vastness of the cosmos.  Hubble’s archive, however, is massive and many thousands of images have never been seen by anyone, save only a few scientists.  For a while now the scientists at the European Space Agency have been processing the data from the Hubble vault and producing mind-blowingly beautiful pictures of the data and releasing them as the Hubble Picture of the Week.  But the vault is just too large and there are thousands of hidden treasures still inside Hubble’s vault waiting to be unearthed.

The folks over at Spacetelescope.org have created a contest called Hubble’s Hidden Treasures to help plumb the depths of  riches of the archive of the world’s most well known telescope.  Between now and May 31st you can access the Hubble Legacy Archive website to search for images that Hubble has captured.  The browser-based image processing tools allow you to then adjust the basic properties of the image such as contrast, zoom, color balance, and more to turn the image into a spectacular photograph.  Prizes will be given away for the top images once the contest is over.

For those who own professional-grade image processing software there’s a contest for you too!  You can enter Hubble’s Hidden Treasures 2012 Image Processing Contest.  It works the same way as the normal contest but you can download the data from the Hubble Legacy Archive to your computer and use your favorite image processing software to create truly stunning photos.  For more information on both of these contests go to www.spacetelescope.org and happy imagulating!

The 9th Annual Dark Sky Festival at Harmony

Are you an amateur or professional astronomer looking for a great star party to attend?  Does the night sky fascinate you or intrigue you?  If you’ve ever wondered what’s out there in the universe then on April 14, 2012 you’ll want to be at the Dark Sky Festival in Harmony, Florida!  For nine years running the town of Harmony, about 40 minutes south of Orlando, has hosted a Dark Sky Festival to promote awareness of preserving the nighttime sky, our most spectacular of natural resources.  Every April the town of Harmony fills with astronomers professional and amateur alike, and tourists who are curious about the night sky.

As humans we are mysteriously drawn to the cosmos as we attempt to find our place in the universe.  It is the story of human experience to ask questions of the heavens and seek to relate to it.  The people in Harmony are passionate about the oldest science known to man, the study of the heavens.  The Dark Sky Festival is Harmony’s annual sharing of their love of astronomy and the night sky with the surrounding area and tourists.  Regularly attracting visitors from the Orlando-Walt Disney World area and the Space Coast to the east, Harmony’s Dark Sky Festival draws about 5,000 visitors each year and they are expecting even more this year!

Events for this year’s festival include science exhibits and demonstrations, NASA speakers and exhibits, a mobile planetarium, live music, food and drinks, glow in the dark mini-golf…and of course, stargazing on “Telescope Hill”.  Also featuring at this year’s festival will be the documentary film “The City Dark” by filmmaker Ian Cheney focusing on light pollution and its effects on our culture, our bodies, and the environment.  I had the privilege of seeing this film in D.C. a couple weeks ago and it is excellent and I would strongly recommend it for anyone interested in astronomy.

This year’s festival will take place on Saturday April 14, 2012 from 6 – 11pm.  The Festival is sponsored by several local astronomy clubs as well as the popular Star Walk app for iPhone and iPad and the International Dark Sky Association.  All events are free to the public.

If you’re wondering what the sky is like in Harmony I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!  For being only 40 minutes from Orlando and Disney World Harmony’s skies are rated as a class 4 on the Bortle Scale of light pollution.  The town of Harmony is master-planned with environmental intelligence as the goal, specifically reducing the town’s impact on light pollution which is caused from wasteful light that escapes from poorly designed light fixtures.  Energy efficiency is also highly valued by town residents as they seek to live responsibly towards nature and the night sky.  Harmony’s lighting standards are so impressive that the entire county eventually adopted them as a new lighting ordinance.  That is quite a feat since Orlando and Walt Disney World are a part of the same county.

If you are or will be in the Orlando area on Saturday April 14th do yourself a favor and visit the Dark Sky Festival in Harmony, FL.  If you’re an astronomer and would like to register to set up your telescope on Telescope Hill visit the astronomers section on the festival’s website.  For more information visit www.darkskyfestival.com.

If you’ve never looked through a telescope before, come to be amazed at the vast richness of beauty that is the night sky!  The 9th annual Dark Sky Festival at Harmony is free to the public and open to people of all ages.  It is a celebration of nature and education of cosmic proportions that will surely inspire and amaze you!

Portrait of the Galaxy

I stumbled across this REALLY cool picture on Friday and I want to make sure as many people see it as possible because it’s so cool!  A group of UK astronomers just recently compiling ten years worth of data and observations from two different telescopes to form a panoramic view of the Milk Way.  The panoramic is shot in the infrared wavelength which allows us to see past the dust that clouds much of the galaxy to reveal the detail of billions of stars!  If you want to be amazed for several hours check out the interactive version that lets you zoom in and out!

The Milky Way edge-on in infrared Mike Read (WFAU), UKIDSS/GPS and VVV

The data used to create this stunning portrait used two telescopes and ten years worth of observations.  The UK Infrafed Telescope compiled the data for the right side and the Vista telescope in Chile gathered the data for the left side and the galactic center.  You can use the interactive version to find many deep sky objects like globular and open clusters as well as nebulae.  The dark patches represent areas for which data has not yet been collected.  You can read the original BBC article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17539315.  Here’s to many happy hours of intrigue!

 

 

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