Let’s hope for clear skies the evening of June 30 when the ongoing conjunction of Jupiter and Venus gets really cozy! Tuesday evening will see the two planets sharing a space only 1/3-degree apart in our sky; they will look like a brilliant double star. After Tuesday’s encounter, the planets will drift slowly apart night-by-night but will remain a beautiful sight in twilight. Chart courtesy Sky & Telescope – SkyAndTelescope.com
UPDATE: As it turned out, although the skies turned cloudy just as the observatory opened for the night, the overcast cleared in short order giving way to very good seeing! About 20 visitors came and enjoyed views of Saturn, its moons, and the Cassini Division within the ring system, the beautiful Hercules Globular Cluster (M13), and Messier 57 aka: the Ring Nebula. Our views of M57 were the best we have enjoyed from Hiram thanks to an eyepiece on loan for testing! Next Open Night is set for July 25.
The title to this posting ought to include a question mark! So far this year, the weather has been very uncooperative on our public Open Nights and Saturday’s forecast doesn’t look very promising. We shall hope for the best because our June 20 event features the beautiful ringed world Saturn. We also hope to spy the Ring Nebula and, to break the ring theme, the diamond-dust Hercules Globular Cluster (M13). If the skies are clear enough, we will be open from 9:30 to 11:00 PM Saturday. 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. 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. For updates and more information, return here or follow “@StephensObs” on Twitter.
The Hercules star cluster is one of the telescopic gems of the night sky. It is located in the constellation Hercules. Even in relatively small telescopes, the cluster’s appearance in the eyepiece is that of a globe of diamonds on black velvet. The cluster was discovered by Edmond Halley (of comet fame) in 1714, and is also known as M13, as cataloged by Charles Messier in 1764. M13 is a globular cluster, so designated because of its spherical or globe shape, and is composed of about 300,000 stars, 25,100 light-years from Earth. The stars in a globular cluster are of about the same age, having formed together from the same molecular cloud. The photograph shown here illustrates M13 as it may appear to the eye through the eyepiece of a small telescope — click on the image to enlarge. While larger telescopes and sophisticated imaging techniques reveal still greater detail and beauty in the Hercules Globular Cluster, it remains impressive without those enhancements.
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. He reportedly retired as a planetarium director in 2010. We last saw him in Hiram during Alumni Weekend about two years ago when he visited the Observatory for what was to sadly be the last time.
Associates in Arizona informed us that no funeral service was held and no obituary was found, “…(the) understanding is that he wanted everything done quietly.”
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.
UPDATE: Due to severe and inclement weather the scheduled May 30 Open Night has been canceled. Severe thunderstorms were reported in northern portions of Portage County along with strong winds and heavy rains. Radar was tracking other storms expected to reach the Hiram area.
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 for updates here and via Twitter @StephensAstro for the latest.
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.