My tools of the trade

I am not a professional astronomer, but I sure love stargazing – and I learn something new every time!  Beside my naked eye I don’t have a lot of tools, but those I do have I’m pretty proud of.  Which tools do you have?

When my Dobsonian telescope arrived

When my Dobsonian telescope arrived

Me with my Dob

Me with my Dob

I have the Orion XT10 Classic Dobsonian telescope.  The 10″ aperture lets in a nice amount of light.  I have never owned a computerized alignment system, but I love the way my manual Dob teaches me to navigate the sky and find things myself (with the help of a red laser finder and a good old-fashioned sky map.)

I love using a variable filter to admire the moon’s craters on a full moon-ish night.  When the skies are darker, I like to hunt for deep space objects.  Since I live in a big city, my boyfriend gave me a Narrowband filter last Christmas to cut out light pollution.

And when the scope is too big to pack around, I pull these out of my car trunk – a pair of binoculars from my Dad!

My binoculars

My binoculars

What would be on my wish list for the future?  Here are some items I’d love to have!

  • Solar filters for sun viewing
  • Color filters for enhanced planet viewing
  • An astro camera for solar system and deep space
  • An awesome lawn chair for binocular time

 

 

 

A Star is Born

Today I was thinking about stars.  Because…well, doesn’t everybody?  So I did a little reading to brush up on my knowledge of the life cycle of the star.  Since we see so many stars in the sky, we may think of them as commonplace.  But some pretty extraordinary stuff happens during a star’s lifetime.  

Baby Stars

A star is born when a large cloud (light years across) collapses under its own gravity.  Very cold temperatures soon warm up as atoms “fall” toward the center, growing closer together and rubbing against each other.  Some of the generated heat remains trapped inside.  The temperature and pressure ignite nuclear reactions.

Active Stars

The nuclear reactions produce fusion.  The star works at turning hydrogen into helium.  It produces energy.  All the heat and light we receive from the sun come from these fusion reactions.

Dying Stars

Eventually a star runs out of hydrogen to burn.  When this happens, a variety of deaths await the star – depending on its size.  Smaller stars “burn out,” cool down, shed outer layers (such as the red giant shedding a new nebula seen below.)  Larger stars end in supernovae explosions, sometimes forming black holes.

 

Changing of the Space Guard

This week three astronauts are returning from an approximately six-month mission on board the International Space Station. Commander Steve Swanson and flight engineers Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev will land the Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan. NASA TV will provide coverage of the ceremony where Swanson will turn over control of station operations to cosmonaut Max Suraev.  Mission Expedition 40 will be completed and Expedition 41 will begin. See here for NASA TV coverage: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#.VA9WtsJdW5I

Did you know what some astronauts on the ISS have live Twitter accounts? (@astro_reid and @Astro_Alex)

See this page for more information about living on the ISS: https://nightlightsabove.wordpress.com/misc-pages/what-is-it-like-to-live-on-the-international-space-station/

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, Expedition 40 commander, along with cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, both flight engineers with the Russian Federal Space Agency, return to Earth Sept. 10 after six month aboard the International Space Station.  Credit: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/september/nasa-television-to-broadcast-sept-10-return-of-space-station-crew/#.VA8_9sJdW5

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, Expedition 40 commander, along with cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, both flight engineers with the Russian Federal Space Agency, return to Earth Sept. 10 after six month aboard the International Space Station. Credit: http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/september/nasa-television-to-broadcast-sept-10-return-of-space-station-crew/#.VA8_9sJdW5

Curiosity Selfie

Last month I attended the public lecture series at NASA’s JPL in Pasadena.  They had a fun presentation about the current progress of the Curiosity Rover on Mars.    

Curiosity has fulfilled the goal of establishing that ancient Mars could have held life.  She keeps on rolling, drilling, and sending pictures daily.  I’m amazed at the collaboration that takes place to create and support this kind of device and mission.  Here’s a link to watch the filmed presentation:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures_archive.php?year=2014&month=8

Going to be outside this Labor Day weekend? Look for this summer constellation…

High above our heads in the summer evenings is the constellation Cygnus – the Swan.  It’s a memorable landmark of the summer sky.  It’s brightest stars form what look like a cross, so it is also known as the Northern Cross.

Though you can’t see them all with the naked eye, there’s some pretty amazing objects found in the sky space of this constellation.  The stars that make up Cygnus include supergiants and binary stars (two stars that orbit around each other.) There are remnants of a supernova explosion and some mysteriously possible black holes or quark stars.  Cygnus also has around 100 stars that have known planets orbiting them, including the first earth-like planet to be found in a star’s habitable zone.

So take a look upward tonight – look for the cross topped with one of the brightest stars in the evening sky (Deneb, a white supergiant!)  See Cygnus flying down the Milky Way.

The constellation Cygnus as it can be seen by the naked eye.  Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cygnus_(constellation)

The constellation Cygnus as it can be seen by the naked eye. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cygnus_(constellation)

25 years ago we met this beauty…

On August 25, 1989, Voyager 2 passed by Neptune, giving us the first pictures of this beauty, up close and personal.  Before then, all we had were pictures of a dot in the sky.  In fact, before the 1800s, Neptune was thought to be another star.  It was an exciting time of unexpected discoveries about the outer planets.  We learned that Neptune had active storms (including the Great Dark Spot) and that its cold moon Triton had active geysers.  Here is a picture of scientists at JPL looking at the new pictures coming in.

Voyager sends pictures of Neptune, August 1989, Credit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-288

Voyager sends pictures of Neptune, August 1989, Credit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-288

See here for memories from that day: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-288

Yesterday, (on the 25th anniversary of the Neptune flyby) the New Horizons spacecraft passed Neptune again, on its way to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.  Like the Voyager missions, New Horizons will keep pushing our knowledge of the farther edges of our solar system.

 

The Sun’s paintbrush

It’s on my life bucket list to see the Aurora Borealis or Aurora Australis.  This week, a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) hit Earth’s magnetic field, causing a beautiful light show as far south as Lithuania.  What makes the lights colorful?  Basically, solar wind from the sun collides with the Earth’s magnetic field.  The magnetic field is weaker in the poles and high latitudes, so some of the Sun’s charged particles get in and stir up excitement.  The excited gas molecules in our atmosphere emit light:  Low altitude oxygen emits green, high altitude oxygen emits red, low altitude nitrogen emits blue, and high altitude nitrogen emits purple.

Here are some pictures of this week’s light show, including one from astronaut Reid Wiseman on the International Space Station!  Check out this site for aurora forecasts: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/

 

Lights in Vabalninkas, Lithuania, Credit: Tadas Janušonis and spaceweather.com

Lights in Vabalninkas, Lithuania, Credit: Tadas Janušonis and spaceweather.com

 

Aurora Borealis from the International Space Station, Credit: https://twitter.com/astro_reid/status/501867289910992897/photo/1

Aurora Borealis from the International Space Station, Credit: https://twitter.com/astro_reid/status/501867289910992897/photo/1

Aurora forecast August 21, 2014, Credit: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/

Aurora forecast August 21, 2014, Credit: http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-forecast/

Lights in Kuusalu,Harjumaa,Estonia, Credit: Jüri Voit and spaceweathergallery.com

Lights in Kuusalu,Harjumaa,Estonia, Credit: Jüri Voit and spaceweathergallery.com