Photo: Image showing granular structure of the Sun's photosphere. Photo by James Guilford, Stephens Memorial Observatory.

Granular Sun – July 20, 2015

Testing out a modified eyepiece adapter today, I had the vintage Cooley Telescope pointed at the Sun. Since everything was set up, I decided to see whether we could capture decent images of our nearest star, near noon on this clear summer day. While the sky was clear, the seeing — quality of the view — was not as good as I’d hoped. Apparently, midday heat was causing the image to “shimmer” in the eyepiece and the photographs reflected that. Examining the pictures on the computer screen, I was disappointed because I saw no details in the several sunspots visible. As I made some photographic adjustments, however, other features came into view: granulation and faculae! The granules, upwelling super-hot cells of solar atmosphere, are easy to see; they give the image above a “grainy” appearance. Faculae are a bit trickier but if you look along the darker right-hand edge of the solar image, you will see some light-colored patches — those patches are faculae! So a bit of disappointment changed to a sunny day surprise.

NOTES: Sunspots in this image are #2387 (L) and #2386 (R). For more information on the Sun’s photosphere and what can be seen there, visit this page at NASA/ Marshall Space Flight Center.

Stephens Memorial Observatory of Hiram College will be open to the public on Saturday, July 25, from 9:30 to 11:00 PM. On the observing list for the night are: the Moon, ringed world Saturn, and star cluster M4 in Scorpius.

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.

Pluto, at last!

StephensAstro —  July 14, 2015 — Leave a comment
Photo: Pluto as imaged by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 13, 2015.

Portrait of a Mysterious World – Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless — possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes.

After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. The three-billion-mile journey took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space — the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.

Photo: Clyde Tombaugh

Clyde Tombaugh

The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world. As a tribute to Tombaugh, who died in 1997 at age 90, a tiny canister of his ashes was placed inside the New Horizons spacecraft.

“Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer’s son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system.”

New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.

Image: Jupiter and Venus Converge June 30 - Chart Courtesy Sky & Telescope

Jupiter and Venus Converge June 30 – Chart Courtesy Sky & Telescope

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 Globular Cluster - M13 Through a Small Telescope. Photo by James Guilford.

The Hercules Globular Cluster – M13 Through a Small Telescope – Click to Enlarge

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.

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. 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.”

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.