The World’s Oldest Working Planetarium

Eise Eisinga by Willem Bartel van der Kooi (1827).

The people of Denmark were in a panic in 1774. They felt that the world was about to end because of an conjunction of the moon and planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. The theory was put forward in a book, by Reverend Eelco Alta, that this conjunction would cause the earth to be pushed out of its orbit and life as the people knew it would end.

Self-educated Eise Eisinga did not accept the theory. Setting about to explain to his fellow countrymen why the theory was wrong, he constructed a planetarium in his home. He hoped to have his model built in six months to stop the panic that was quickly overcoming Denmark.

He would work as a wool carder for his father by day and return to his home at night to spend many sleepless nights building his model. In all, he used over nine tons of oak wood to construct the model. The model took seven years to construct!

During those seven years, Eisinga paid careful attention to all details. In the model the earth takes a year to rotate around the sun, while Saturn takes 29 years. Simply amazing is the detail that Eisinga was able to construct into his model using 10,000 nails to carefully control the planet’s movements.

The pendulum powered model is still working today and visitors are invited to tour the modest home where the planetarium can be found. Visitors will be amazed at the model, the many old astronomical tools on display and the photos of early life in Denmark.

Reference:

Eise Eisinga Planetarium. (n.d.). Welcome. Retrieved February 24, 2012, from http://www.planetarium-friesland.nl/engels.html

Hans Lippershey – Telescope Maker

Hans Lippershey applied for the first patent for a refracting telescope in 1608. He was a Dutch spectacle maker. How Lippershey came up with the idea to invent the telescope we will never know for sure but I for one am grateful for his contribution to astronomy.

Some people claim that he was watching two children playing with the spectacles in his shop when the children discovered that stacking the spectacles together and looking through them enlarged the weather- vane that they were looking at. Others claim that Lippershey’s apprentice came up with the idea while working with the supplies in Lippershey’s shop. Still others claim that Lippershey simply applied for a patent on someone else’s idea. As with much of history, the truth will never be known. Read More →

Getting Started with Astrophotography

Capturing the beauty of the universe presents a serious challenge for even the most experienced photographer.  No matter how beautiful the finished photograph may be, it often pales in comparison to the real thing.  Taking high quality astronomical photographs requires not only excellent general photography skills, but a fine eye, attention to detail, and of course the right equipment. The good news: with a little practice and patience, anyone can learn how to capture celestial bodies in all their glory!

Astrophotography participants range from amateur astronomers taking photographs of the moon, planets, and stars to professional astronomers mapping and documenting the heavens.  Many amateur photographers strive to capture the beauty of the world they see around them. The surrounding sky certainly provides a wealth of photo opportunities. And thanks to technological advances, the cost of equipment have dropped significantly in recent years so this is a great hobby for even the tightest of budgets.

Stuff to Consider

One of the chief challenges of astrophotography is of course, the relative lack of light.  While some celestial objects such as the moon and stars are sufficiently visible to produce quality photographs using basic equipment, other heavenly bodies are simply too gar away to generate much light.  Therefore most astrophotography is dependent upon the use of time exposures to accumulate a sufficient amount of light required.  Those photographers who are unaccustomed to using long exposures will need to do some experimenting in order to find the perfect balance.

Other photographic techniques can also make astrophotography more rewarding.  For instance, most photographers will need to mount their camera to the focal point of their telescopes in order to get a clearer view of the heavens and an accurate representation of what they see when they peer through the glass.  Many quality telescopes come with a camera mount built in, and this is certainly a feature to look for when shopping for a new model.

Special film can also help to capture the stars, moon, etc.  Film photographers can use special emulsions designed for low light conditions, while digital photographers can look for special cameras designed to overcome the challenges of night photography.  When shopping for a new camera, astrophotography buffs should look for models capable of supporting very long exposure times and multiple exposures.  Successful astrophotography can require multiple exposures up to 20 or more, so this is a particularly important feature to look for.

Last but certainly not least, photographers with an eye to the heavens will want to look at the array of filters designed to make astrophotography more rewarding.  Filters designed to reduce fogging and other distortion can make a big difference in the look of the finished photograph.  There are many filters designed for use in astrophotography, and it is a good idea for photographers to test several models in order to find the most effective solution.

The challenges encountered when trying to capture the night sky can vary from place to place, and it is important to choose filters designed to address those issues.  Amateur astronomers in some parts of the country may be troubled by light pollution, while others may live in areas prone to haze, fog and other atmospheric conditions.  Finding a filter designed to address these common problems can make the night sky clearer, and photographing your part of the universe a great deal more enjoyable.

Are you a current astrophotography enthusiast? Feel free to share your tips and insights below!

Recommended Resources:

Image Credit: astrophotography-tonight.com

Let’s Explore the Red Glow of Orion Nebula

Cavities, bubbles, fronts, bowshocks within the Orion Nebula as well as red glow.

For years astronomers have looked at Orion Nebula, known as the hunter. It is in this region of our wonderful sky that the newest stars are being born. The stars near the hunter’s shoulder are 12 million years old. Astronomers have also discovered stars in the Orion Nebula that are less than one million years old. What has astronomers excited is the red glowing dust that is part of the Orion Nebula. This area is where the new stars are forming.

The star with the most energy has been named Theta-1C Orionis. It is from this star that the red glow occurs. This star is expected to grow bigger and become a red supergiant over the next million years. It will explode much like a balloon that has been blown up with too much air. Upon explosion, t will make as many as 40 stars and 150 planets.It was through this same process that our own sun and planets were formed. That was 4.5 billion years ago. Keep watching this area as you explore the night sky and observe the red glow coming from the Orion Nebula. This red glow produces 210,000 times the light of our own sun. It is this ultraviolet light that gives the red glow.

Image Credit: 1) NASA/ESA

Reference:
http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php/111919-M42-s-Trapezium-Dust-Clouds-amp-Theta-1-Orionis-Cluster

Science Teachers – Enter to Win a STEMIE!

McGraw-Hill Education today launched the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math Innovative Educator Awards, to recognize and reward teachers who are finding innovative ways to reach today’s students. The awards, known as the STEMIEs, will acknowledge teachers who are pioneering effective techniques to engage their students in science, technology, engineering or math – fields of study critical to our nation’s economic growth. McGraw-Hill will award $25,000 in cash and prizes to the winners of the contest.

Read More →

Life on Europa: A Controversial Proposal on a Moon of Jupiter

An astrobiology research team from the University of Arizona has recently claimed that the ocean below a thick layer of ice on Jupiter’s moon Europa is probably lifeless. The research assumes that the ocean regions under the ice layer of the moon are simply too acidic to support life as we know it. In other words, perhaps life does exist as we don’t know it. Read More →

A Closer Look at Galaxy Cluster Abell 520

Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory show the hot gas in the colliding clusters colored in green. The gas provides evidence that a collision took place. Optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) in Hawaii are shown in red, green, and blue. Starlight from galaxies within the clusters, derived from observations by the CFHT and smoothed to show the location of most of the galaxies, is colored orange.

The blue-colored areas pinpoint the location of most of the mass in the cluster, which is dominated by dark matter. Dark matter is an invisible substance that makes up most of the universe’s mass. The dark-matter map was derived from the Hubble observations, by detecting how light from distant objects is distorted by the cluster galaxies, an effect called gravitational lensing. The blend of blue and green in the center of the image reveals that a clump of dark matter (which can be seen by mousing over the image) resides near most of the hot gas, where very few galaxies are found.

This finding confirms previous observations of a dark-matter core in the cluster announced in 2007. The result could present a challenge to basic theories of dark matter, which predict that galaxies should be anchored to dark matter, even during the shock of a powerful collision.

Source: NASA

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CFHT, CXO, M.J. Jee (University of California, Davis), and A. Mahdavi (San Francisco State University)

Supermassive Black Holes May be Shaping Galaxies Faster

Image Credit: Artist concept credit: ESA/AOES Medialab)

The understanding of the way in which supermassive black holes shape galaxies is quickly changing, considering that new data is helping astrophysicists to grasp ultra-fast outflows. There is apparently a correlation between central black holes in galaxies and the velocity of stars in the system. An international team at the Goddard Space Flight Center believes that they have identified a particular outflow model that forges a link between black holes and these velocities.

The current understanding is that supermassive black holes make up the center of most decent sized galaxies. Galatic systems that have additional large black holes seem to have bulges where there are faster-moving stars. There seems to be some sort of a feedback loop between star formation and the black hole. However, as of yet, there is no real solid correlation for why this is.

Recent data that was collected by the project, though, explains that ultra-fast outflows might be speeding up these processes. While they’re not as fast as particle jets, ultra-fast outflows are probably making quicker star formation systems. One can hope that the Astro-H X-ray telescope project will help people better understand these concepts when it is presumably launched in 2014. Until that time, the Goddard Center will continue to look into the physical models behind the outflows.

Reference:
Tombesi, F., Cappi, M., Reeves, J., & Braito, V. (2012). Evidence for ultrafast outflows in radio-quiet AGNs – III. Location and energetics Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-3933.2012.01221.x

Tombesi, F., Cappi, M., Reeves, J., Palumbo, G., Braito, V., & Dadina, M. (2011). EVIDENCE FOR ULTRA-FAST OUTFLOWS IN RADIO-QUIET ACTIVE GALACTIC NUCLEI. II. DETAILED PHOTOIONIZATION MODELING OF Fe K-SHELL ABSORPTION LINES The Astrophysical Journal, 742 (1) DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/742/1/44

Tombesi, F., Cappi, M., Reeves, J., Palumbo, G., Yaqoob, T., Braito, V., & Dadina, M. (2010). Evidence for ultra-fast outflows in radio-quiet AGNs Astronomy and Astrophysics, 521 DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200913440

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GRAIL Spacecraft Begins Collecting Lunar Science Data

NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft orbiting the moon officially have begun their science collection phase. During the next 84 days, scientists will obtain a high-resolution map of the lunar gravitational field to learn about the moon’s internal structure and composition in unprecedented detail. The data also will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.

“The initiation of science data collection is a time when the team lets out a collective sigh of relief because we are finally doing what we came to do,” said Maria Zuber, principal investigator for the GRAIL mission at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “But it is also a time where we have to put the coffee pot on, roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

The GRAIL mission’s twin, washing-machine-sized spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, entered lunar orbit on New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. GRAIL’s science phase began yesterday at 8:15 p.m. EST (5:15 p.m. PST). During this mission phase, the spacecraft will transmit radio signals precisely defining the distance between them. As they fly over areas of greater and lesser gravity caused by visible features such as mountains, craters and masses hidden beneath the lunar surface, the distance between the two spacecraft will change slightly. Science activities are expected to conclude on May 29, after GRAIL maps the gravity field of the moon three times.

“We are in a near-polar, near-circular orbit with an average altitude of about 34 miles (55 kilometers) right now,” said David Lehman, GRAIL project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “During the science phase, our spacecraft will orbit the moon as high as 31 miles (51 kilometers) and as low as 10 miles (16 kilometers). They will get as close to each other as 40 miles (65 kilometers) and as far apart as 140 miles (225 kilometers).”

Previously named GRAIL A and B, the names Ebb and Flow were the result of a nation-wide student contest to choose new names for the spacecraft. The winning entry was submitted by fourth graders from the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont. Nearly 900 classrooms with more than 11,000 students from 45 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, participated in the contest.

JPL manages the GRAIL mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The GRAIL mission is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center inHuntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.

For more information about GRAIL, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/grail

Source: NASA

Aurora Borealis Showing Her Stuff These Days

The aurora borealis has been putting on a stunning display of intense beauty the last few days in the southern hemisphere. These lights, also known as the northern lights, are produced when super heated plasma escapes from the sun’s atmosphere and travels for two to five days before it meets the earth’s atmosphere. The increased beauty of the aurora borealis is believed to be caused by a crack in the earth’s magnetic field that has allowed more of the plasma to be visible.

Aurora borealis is expected to become more visible over the next 11 years as the sun enters a period when solar spots are more frequent. As the earth experiences more sun spots, the sun will produce more solar winds. As more solar winds are produced more plasma will be drawn into the wind’s circular rotation. As these rotations become stronger plasma escapes from these rotations. The plasma then travels two to five days to meet the earth’s atmosphere. Currently, the earth’s magnetic field near the South Pole has a huge crack in it. This allows more plasma to pass through it. It is this plasma that we see as the aurora borealis.