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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AAVSO/BAA Day 1: Chasing Rainbows (or Spectra)

One of the hardest things you can observationally do in astronomy is spectroscopy. You have to guide really well to keep the light on the slit. You have to calibrate the sensitivity across you chip (flat fielding like you do in imaging), the sensitivity as a function of wavelength (using a hot standard star as a continuum source), and how the wavelengths are spaced (diffracted) as a function of wavelength (this is done with a standard lamp). If any step is screwed up, you are hosed. For this reason many people consider spectroscopy far to hard for any but the profs. They are wrong. Anyone with a penchant for details and a love of science can do spectroscopy with a telescope (12inch works, bigger is better). Currently I’m listening to a talk showing amatuer...

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AAVSO/BAA Day 1: Remote Observing

So, if you’re like, you may not own a telescope (story later, because I know you’ll ask). Like me, you may love looking through telescopes, taking images through telescopes, and just being able to intellectually get your hands dirty doing observational astronomy. If you are like me, you just can’t quite afford the scope you want. My personal way of handling this empty space in my life that a telescope could fit into is to find skilled amateurs to take data for me and to thief (or at least legally download) data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. When I’m lucky, I get to look through other peoples scopes. There are other options though, and a very humorous presenter, Martin Nicholson,  is giving a great presentation on his use of Global...

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AAVSO/BAA Day 1: Binary Adventures

AAVSO/BAA Day 1: Binary Adventures

Variable stars come in many forms – there are happy little regular stars, widely separated and merrily circling ones dancing an eon long dance. Some white dwarfs – dead stars, cooling into stellar embers of stars – become vampires as they gravitationally suck mass from their companion and heat themselves back out of the stellar grave. There are stars with touching atmospheres that are merging, spiraling, reheating in a marriage of materials, and stars where one covers the other in a layer of stellar soot as it exhales its spoke thin atmosphere as it sighs at its planetary nebula fate. Binary stars form beautiful, dynamic systems that provide astronomers some of their most necessary data (masses can only be measured in binary systems) and some of...

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To Texas, and Home Again

To Texas, and Home Again

Let me just say, I’m always looking for a good reason to go to Texas and especially the Houston area. My entire trip last week was wonderful, and the dessert in San Antonio was a special treat. After going to see Lucy Friday, Saturday was spent lazing around San Antonio’s river walk and then attending a San Antonio Astronomical Association Star Party at the Scobee Planetarium, which is next to, and much smaller than, the Temple Beth-El dome. (This led to a moment of confusion.) Once there, however, the large parking lot filled with telescopes told us we were in the right place. There were roughly 20 scopes of all types and sizes spread out with knowledgeable owners eager to explain their gear and point at a suggested object. I got to see a couple new...

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Getting involved! (and maybe even meet me :) )

Want to get involved in taking data? Visiting with researchers? Getting others looking up? Here are some ways: The GLOBE at Night:  Starting Monday February 25, the GLOBE at Night program is asking everyone in the world (which would include you) to go out, look up, match how many stars they see in Orion with comparison charts available online, and then report their observations through their website.   This data will be used to map the severity of light pollution around the globe. Lunar and Planetary Society Conferene: Interested in Solar System Science? Are you a Houston are Educator (formal or informal?) March 10-14 the 34th LPSC conference will be taking place in League City, TX (just outside of Houston) and on March 9 they will hold an...

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