AAVSO Day 3: The Trip

No Spring/Summer AAVSO meeting would be complete without a field trip. Over the years there have been trips to the VLA, Star Parties, Yerkies, Mauna Kea – All manner of modern astronomy marvel has been oogled at by bus loads of sleepy, cheerful astronomers who have spent two days doing too much science and drinking to much (there is always a conference bar and I was actually introduced to Tequila by Phil Plait at the Las Cruses meeting several years ago.) For this year’s adventure we decided to take in a new type of astronomy site (or sites). We went to Stonehenge and Avebury. There are plenty of URLs dedicated to these two World Heritage sites, so rather then give you my take on the history of the sites, let me instead give you my impression. First...

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BAA/AAVSO Day 2: GRB Observations by Amatuers

BAA/AAVSO Day 2: GRB Observations by Amatuers

Every once in a while, statistically detected once a day or so, a GIANT star explodes as a hypernova (an over grown supernova) and channels its energy straight at us. This energy is mostly contained in an insanely powerful beam of gamma rays. That said, they also give off X-Ray and Optical light, and by observing the optical light we can get precise positions and understand the host objects that contain the poor star that just blew itself to bits. (see here for more info on these systems) When satellites detect these objects they beam their detection to a network of astronomers (academic and citizen scientists) scattered all around the planet. It is vital that optical telescopes get on these objects as quickly as possible to determine how the gamma-ray burst are...

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BAA/AAVSO Day 2: Women & Men

Earlier today I was talking with Rebecca Turner, another alumni of Slacker Astronomy and a staff member of the AAVSO. She and I are about the same age and often have our hair dyed the same random shades of red (I’ve let myself go to a boring auburn this semester). Looking around the room of predominately gray-haired men, I asked her (because she has this info), “Um, how many women are here?” 11 out of the 93 attendees are women. “Um, are we the youngest?” I asked. Initial answer was yes. Final answer was there is one other woman here who is our age, and then there is a significant gap of perhaps as much as 10 years or more between the three of us and everyone else. Now, I know there are young people who do astronomy. I get lots of...

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BAA/AAVSO Day 2: Observing the Sun with Small Scopes

The nearest star to the Earth is easily observed during the day. It just happens to be called the Sun. The problem is, it’s quite close and this can make it very hard to observe safely without hurting yourself or hurting your eyes. The current speaker, Lee MacDonald, is discussing several simple rules for attaining good results for anyone who wants to observe the Sun. Basic Rules: Don’t buy cheap filters or off brand filters. All because the Sun may not hurt to look at, you can’t know that it isn’t damaging your human optics until it is too late. If you are using a Cassegrain telescope of some type (A reflector with a front end corrector lens and rear eyepiece), you must must must use an aperture filter to prevent melting of necessary...

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BAA / AAVSO Day 2: Novae & Supernovae for all

The word Novae generally refers to a “New Star,” or a “Guest Star” – An object that springs up in the sky quite suddenly as a new but non-permanent object. Today we give these non permanent sky features a dozen or more names: Supernovae (types I & II with all sorts of extra letters), Recurrent Novae, Cataclysmic Variables and more. While observed and documented for about 2000 years, only for the last 100 years have we known that novae and supernovae are different objects, and that supernovae are stars blowing themselves to bits. Only in my lifetime have we known Novae are white dwarfs surrounded by accretion disks that periodically blow (some of) themselves to bits. These dynamic objects change dramatically in brightness. For...

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