The Great Hercules Star Cluster – M13

Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College will be open to the public on Saturday, May 30, from 9:00 to 11:00 PM. On the observing list for the night are: the Moon, star cluster M13 in Hercules, and, later, the Ring Nebula.

No reservations are required and there is no admission fee for observatory public nights. Cloudy skies at the starting time cancel the event and, in that case, the observatory will not open.

The Observatory is located on Wakefield Road (Rt. 82) less than a quarter of a mile west of Route 700 in Hiram. There is no parking at the Observatory. Visitors may park on permissible side streets near the Post Office, a short distance east of the observatory.

Watch here and via Twitter @StephensAstro for updates!


Photo: Robert Andress, Jr.

Robert “Bob” Andress, Jr. During a Visit to Stephens in 2008

We have received word that Robert Andress, Jr., former director of the Stephens Memorial Observatory, died on May 11, 2015. He was a 1953 graduate of Hiram College and active in astronomy for most of his life. Andress touched many lives as he conducted observatory sessions for the public and for college classes for many years, roughly from the 1970s to ’80s. Upon retirement, Andress moved from Ohio to Green Valley, Arizona where he was very active in the Sonora Astronomical Society and continued other astronomical pursuits. We will update this item as more information becomes available to us.

Photo: Robert Andress, Jr. with an Observatory Visitor.

Robert Andress, Jr. with an Observatory Visitor During a 1975 Meeting of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association.

Photo: Earth's Sun on May 7, 2015. Photo by James Guilford.

Earth’s Sun – May 7, 2015 @ 12:23 PM EDT

Our Sun is just past the peak of its 11-year activity cycle but has been unusually quiet of late. Many days we have seen few, if any, sunspots marking the star’s face. Over the past few days, however, there has been an uptick in activity including the passage of large sunspot region AR2339 (lower-right in our photo). The sunspot has been the source of major solar flares including one that interfered with radio communications in the Pacific region. This image is a single exposure made using a digital SLR camera held to the eyepiece of the Cooley Telescope at Stephens Memorial Observatory. A white-light filter was used for the protection of equipment and vision. A good article on the current solar cycle can be found here.

Photo: Waxing Gibbous Moon, Approaching Full. Photo by James Guilford.

Waxing Gibbous Moon – Day Before Full

Tonight’s Not-Quite-Full Moon. The Moon will reach its full phase in a little over 24 hours but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t big, bright, and beautiful Saturday night (May 2, 2015)! Phase in this photo is Waxing Gibbous with about 99% illumination … notice the shadowy edge along the bottom-left.

For the first time, images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft are revealing bright and dark regions on the surface of faraway Pluto – the primary target of the New Horizons close flyby in mid-July.

Photo: Motion GIF of Charon and Pluto. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

Click for Full-Size View – Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

The images were captured in early to mid-April from within 70 million miles (113 million kilometers), using the telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera on New Horizons. A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed images beamed back to Earth. New Horizons scientists interpreted the data to reveal the dwarf planet has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area at one pole that may be a polar cap.

“As we approach the Pluto system we are starting to see intriguing features such as a bright region near Pluto’s visible pole, starting the great scientific adventure to understand this enigmatic celestial object,” says John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “As we get closer, the excitement is building in our quest to unravel the mysteries of Pluto using data from New Horizons.”

Also captured in the images is Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, rotating in its 6.4-day long orbit. The exposure times used to create this image set – a tenth of a second – were too short for the camera to detect Pluto’s four much smaller and fainter moons.

Since it was discovered in 1930, Pluto has remained an enigma. It orbits our sun more than 3 billion miles (about 5 billion kilometers) from Earth, and researchers have struggled to discern any details about its surface. These latest New Horizons images allow the mission science team to detect clear differences in brightness across Pluto’s surface as it rotates.

“After traveling more than nine years through space, it’s stunning to see Pluto, literally a dot of light as seen from Earth, becoming a real place right before our eyes,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “These incredible images are the first in which we can begin to see detail on Pluto, and they are already showing us that Pluto has a complex surface.”

The images the spacecraft returns will dramatically improve as New Horizons speeds closer to its July rendezvous with Pluto.

“We can only imagine what surprises will be revealed when New Horizons passes approximately 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface this summer,” said Hal Weaver, the mission’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

From a NASA news release.

Photo: Waxing Gibbout Moon. Photo by James Guiilford.

The Waxing Gibbous Moon – Night Before First Quarter

Clear skies look unlikely for our planned Public Open Night scheduled for Saturday. So here’s a look at Friday night’s Moon. I captured this with my camera and a telephoto lens and it turned out pretty well. I must say, however, that visitors viewing Luna through the Observatory’s grand old telescope get a much better view than I’m displaying here! Still, we’ll point out a few things here that we would mention if we were looking through the telescope… First, look along the edge of the Moon’s disk as it is contrasted against the blackness of space; note how it’s a bit uneven? The lumps in the disk’s edge are actually mountains and crater rims on the sides of the Moon’s globe! See the “smile” line on the inner edge of the Moon? That line divides the lit and unlit portions of the Moon and is called the terminator. In this, the waxing gibbous phase, the terminator represents sunrise on the surface. As on Earth, sunrise shadows are long and those long shadows and low-angle sunlight bring out details in the craters and mountains (for even greater detail, see this image from last month). The bright ray-lines projecting from some of the craters are light-colored material “splashed” out of the crater sites as they were formed by asteroid hits; they mark newer craters. Also note the central peak in at least one of the craters – material thrust upward as shock waves from collisions bounded back, inward, from the forming crater walls. Old Luna is full of amazing sights, if only we will see them!

Photo: David Dunlap Observatory

David Dunlap Observatory

Richmond Hill, ON – In what astronomers might describe as “stellar news,” Corsica Development Inc. is donating the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) to the facility’s long-time stewards – the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre. The observatory is 80 years old this year. It houses what is still the largest optical telescope in the country with a mirror measuring 74 inches (1.9meters) across.

The decision was made in 2012 by Corsica to transfer the Administration Building and Dome to an agency that would honor the spirit of the Observatory and ensure its long-term viability. Members of the RASC Toronto Centre have been managing and operating the David Dunlap Observatory for the last six years and are the resident experts.

Corsica, which purchased the 190 acre Observatory property from the University of Toronto in 2008, is also donating nearly 100 acres of the land to the Town of Richmond Hill.

RASC Toronto Centre has been involved in public outreach programs at the Dunlap Observatory since it first opened in 1935. The registered charity took on full responsibility for the Observatory and Administration building in 2009, including maintaining and operating the largest optical telescope in Canada. “We’re honored by this incredibly generous gift,” says Paul Mortfield, President of RASC Toronto Centre. “Fred DeGasperis was very supportive of our work at the DDO and our commitment as stewards of the Observatory and telescope. We will always be grateful for the confidence he showed in us.”

The historic buildings will continue to be a centre for education and science literacy for the community.

For the last six years RASC Toronto Centre member volunteers have managed the facility and provided hundreds of award-winning educational and outreach programs to York Region families and students. They’ve done so without the use of local tax dollars.

Centre members say they’re looking forward to working collaboratively with the town on new programs and projects that will continue to benefit town residents.

Please see the announcement on www.theDDO.ca for more information.