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Amateur Astronomy
"Like buried treasures, the outposts of the universe have beckoned to the adventurous from immemorial times." - George Ellery Hale

Astronomy in the News

- Archives -

Astronomers Spot Record-Breaking Lunar ImpactAstronomers Spot Record-Breaking Lunar Impact

Hubble's First Frontier Field Finds Thousands of Unseen, Faraway Galaxies - Airplanes and RocketsHubble's First Frontier Field Finds Thousands of Faraway Galaxies

First 2014 Asteroid Discovered - Airplanes and RocketsFirst Asteroid of 2014 Discovered

Top Science and Space Stories of 2013 - Airplanes and RocketsTop Science and Space Stories of 2013

Plotting the Destinations of 4 Interstellar Probes - Airplanes and RocketsPlotting the Destinations of 4 Interstellar Probes

Chinese Lander Captures First Panorama on the Moon - Airplanes and RocketsChinese Lander Captures First Panorama on the Moon

South African Large Telescope (SALT) Will Inspire Science Boom - Airplanes and RocketsSouth African Large Telescope (SALT) Will Inspire Science Boom

Smartphone App Can Help Track, Identify Meteors Falling to Earth - Airplanes and RocketsSmartphone App Can Help Track, Identify Meteors Falling to Earth

Private Company Plans U.S.'s First Controlled Moon Landing in 40 YearsPrivate Company Plans U.S.'s First Controlled Moon Landing in 40 Years

How NASA Revived the Kepler Space Telescope - Airplanes and RocketsHow NASA Revived the Kepler Space Telescope

India Mars Mission - Airplanes and RocketsIndia Vies for Space Presence with Mars Mission

'Son of Blackbird': Plan for New Spy Plane

Arecibo Radio Observatory 50th Anniversary Special Event Set - Airplanes and RocketsArecibo Radio Observatory 50th Anniversary Special Event Set

Truck Driver Builds World's Largest Amateur Telescope - Airplanes and RocketsTruck Driver Builds World's Largest Amateur Telescope

Amateur snaps spectacular photo of Saturn's rings - Airplanes and RocketsAmateur Snaps Spectacular Photo of Saturn's Rings

Comet ISON's blazing green tail captured in stunning photo - Airplanes and RocketsComet ISON's Blazing Green Tail Captured in Stunning Photo

Astronomers confirm most distant galaxy ever - Airplanes and RocketsAstronomers Confirm Most Distant Galaxy Ever

Angry sun spits two million-mph tongues of fire - Airplanes and RocketsAngry Sun Spits 2 Million-MPH Tongues of Fire

Jupiter-Bound Juno Spacecraft Restored to Full Working Conditions - Airplanes and RocketsJupiter-Bound Juno Spacecraft Restored to Full Working Conditions

ESA Prepares to Awaken Comet Hunter from Deep-Space Sleep - Airplanes and RocketsESA Prepares to Awaken Comet Hunter from Deep-Space Sleep

SARA and Radio Jove Conferences to be held in 2014 - Airplanes and RocketsSARA and Radio Jove Conferences to be held in 2014

Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers Issues Call for Conference Papers - Airplanes and RocketsSociety of Amateur Radio Astronomers Issues Call for Conference Papers

Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar System - Airplanes and RocketsVoyager 1 Becomes 1st Human-Made Object to Leave Solar System

Third Mirror Casting Event for the Giant Magellan Telescope - Airplanes and Rockets (and Telescopes)Third Mirror Casting Event for the Giant Magellan Telescope

First Light for My
Celestron CPC Deluxe 800 HD

Celestron CPC 800 Deluxe HD First Light - Airplanes and RocketsIt only took 32 years, but I finally have the telescope I have dreamed of having since I first peered through an 8" Celestron telescope at a meeting of the Macon Astronomy Club of Macon, Georgia, while stationed as a radar maintenance technician at Robins AFB, Georgia. In September 2012, I made the decisions to purchase Celestron's high-end CPC 800 Deluxe HD telescope. It is a fine piece of work. A year and a half ago I bought the Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope as my first scope in 20 years. At the time it did not seem prudent to spend north of two thousand dollars on a telescope when I didn't know for sure whether the enthusiasm would still be there after so long. The single arm of the NexStar 8SE mount gave me pause, but after reading comments by many people on some of the astronomy forums, it seemed to be good enough for casual observing and entry level....

Radio Astronomy

Radio Astronomy, June 1954 Radio & Television News - Airplanes and RocketsSuper-low-noise-figure receivers are absolutely essential in radio astronomy work. The need has driven major advances in the state of the art of cryogenically cooled front ends with noise temperatures near absolute zero. Antenna technology has also benefitted from radio astronomy due to the need for precision steering and narrow beam widths. Phased arrays for interstellar targets requires that element spacing being large enough to require separate antennas as the elements, which creates a very large effective aperture, hence greater angular resolution. Networks located continents apart are synchronized with the use of atomic clocks to allow signal time of arrival and therefore phase to be accurately measured. This story gives some of the early efforts. 

Asteroid QE2 Close Pass
to Earth on Friday

Frank & Ernest Asteroid Comic, May 13, 2013 - Airplanes and RocketsYou have probably seen the news about asteroid "QE2" (1.5 miles wide, like the one which eradicated the dinosaurs) that will pass within 3.6 million miles of the Earth on May 31. That might seem like far, but it is only 15x the distance between Earth and the moon. Anyway, this Frank and Ernest comic strip appeared on May 13th and I cut it out to remind me to post it today, on the eve of QE2. QE2, BTW, is a nerd pun on the potential destruction to Earth that the government's Quantitative Easing policy might cause.

Amateur Radio Astronomy
in QST Magazine

Amateur Radio Astronomy Articles in QST - Airplanes and RocketsQST is the official publication of the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), the world's oldest and largest organization for Ham radio enthusiasts. Many amateur radio operators also have an interest in astronomy and as such, occasionally articles appear covering topics on amateur radio astronomy. There are also quite a few articles dealing indirectly with aspects of astronomy such as Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) communications where signals are bounced off the moon's surface in order to facilitate transmission (although it is really more of a hobby achievement). The October 2012 edition of QST had an article entitled, "Those Mysterious Signals*," which discusses galactic noise in the 10-meter band. Arch Doty (W7ACD) writes about the low-level background noise that is persistent in the high frequency (HF) bands. At HF, Cygnus A and Cassiopeia A are major sources of cosmic noise, for example. Low level signals come from pulsars...

Installation Video for
Feathertouch MicroFocuser
onto CPC 800 Deluxe HD

Video: Installing the Feathertouch SCT MicroFocuser on the Celestron CPC 800 Deluxe HD Telescope - Airplanes and RocketsAfter reading as many reviews on dual stage focusers, I finally decided on the Feathertouch SCT MicroFocuser for my newly acquired Celestron CPC 800 Deluxe HD telescope. I wanted a dual stage focuser with a light touch instead of an electric focuser. The instructions were available online and it looked like a cinch to install. In fact, it looked so easy that I decided to make a video in front of a live audience (the camera) without a dry run. Being fairly adept at such things, I figured that any departure from simplicity would be immediately obvious. Without rushing, it took 6 minutes and 15 seconds from beginning to end. The video is a little longer since I couldn't help editorializing for a couple minutes at the end...

Glowing Trees a Problem
for Astronomers

A Dream of Trees Aglow at Night - RF CafeA controversy brews over the merits of breeding plants that glow like a lightning bug. Proponents say glowing trees could eventually replace electric street lights, thereby reducing pollution created by generating stations. Opponents say messing around with tree genes is dangerous and should be disallowed since it could lead to unanticipated environmental ramifications on both plant and animal species. The unique aspect of this effort is that it is being pursued primarily by genetic hobbyists rather than corporations - at least for now. There is bound to be a huge financial potential for such a copyrighted line of plants. My opposition to the concept is primarily a concern for light pollution projected skyward. Astronomers have a difficult enough time with ever-encroaching sources of ambient light, but a planet overrun by cross-bred and mutated glowing plants (and possibly animals), especially if they are capable of emitting levels high enough to replace street lights, would effectively blind billions of dollars of investments in telescopes....

U.S. Department of State Says
Spacesuits Are Weapons

U.S. Department of State Says Spacesuits Are Weapons - Airplanes and RocketsWho would have guessed that you need the blessing of the U.S. Department of State if you want to make and sell spacesuits? Yep, spacesuits are classified as weapons since, by bureaucratic logic (yeah, a non sequitur), if you have the capability to attain a presence at an altitude that requires a spacesuit, you can be a strategic threat to the nation. Here is a story about a startup company in Brooklyn, NY, that found out the hard way about the spacesuit-weapon requirement. There is a rapidly growing demand for functional-yet-stylish spacesuits for safeguarding wealthy space tourists who will soon be blasting off to the top of Earth's atmosphere where space officially begins (at about 50 miles / 80 km). BTW, I tried finding the official policy on spacesuit production the Department of State website, but their search engine keeps failing - must be busy deleting files on the Benghazi massacre.

Notable Quote

"Jupiter's moons are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist" - Airplanes and Rockets Notable Quote"Jupiter's moons are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist." - Francisco Sizzi (Prof. of Astronomy), dismissing Galileo's sighting of the moons. Now there is a prime example of reductio ad absurdum absurdity.

Exoplanet Discoveries to Date
Are Just a Drop in the Bucket

Exoplanet Discoveries to Date Are Just a Drop in the Bucket - Telescopes & SkyScientific  American has a nifty interactive graphic showing the relative positions and distances of the 629 known exoplanets. According to a recent study, on average each sun owns 1.6 exoplanets.

In Memory of Neil Armstrong
Tranquility Base Photo

Neil Armstrong Commemorative Moon Photo, August 25, 2012 - Airplanes and RocketsApollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012. As most Americans over the age of 30 know, Armstrong was the first human to step foot on the moon. On July 20, 1969, in fulfillment of President Kennedy's 1961 challenge to put a man on the moon and return him home safely by the end of the decade, Armstrong made a giant leap for mankind. That day in 1969 I launched an model rocket as part of Estes' commemorative effort. Last night, in his memory, I took this photo of the Tranquility Base region of the moon. Thank-you, and rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong.

An Experiment with Gravity

An Experiment with Gravity, January 1970 Popular Electronics - Airplanes and RocketsThis is pretty cool. If I owned a good receiver, I would definitely give it a try. In 1970 when this Popular Electronics article was written, a lot of Hams were still using tube receivers so the recommendation to let the equipment warm up for several hours prior to making the fine frequency adjustments was good advice. Nowadays the warm-up time and stability of receivers should permit 30 minutes or so to suffice (even ovenized frequency references need time to stabilize when first powered up). Unless I missed it, the author does not explicitly state that the frequency change measured over time is due to gravity acting on the mass of the crystal reference,, but I suspect that is his intention since part of the experiment involves disconnecting the antenna and shielding the receiver from outside interferers. Over a lunar month period (29.5 days) we experience a leap tide and a neap tide which maximizes and minimizes, respectively, the vector sum of gravity and therefore should result in the greatest excursions. Maybe with a super-stable source, a larger scale phenomenon such as a planetary syzygy could be detected (but I doubt it).

Time-Lapse Videos
of the Night Sky

Goldpaint Photography Night Sky Time-Lapse Videos - RF CafeGoldpaint Photography has an amazing collection of time-lapse videos and still photos of the night sky. Shot from locations with very dark skies, these works are awe-inspiring. Living in a city environment as I do, it is hard to imagine seeing so many stars.

Squeal on CPC 800 Deluxe HD
Elevation Axis

My new CPC 800 Deluxe HD telescope has a loud squeal on the elevation axis when the clutch is loosened enough to rotate the OTA easily, but not enough to allow it to rotate under its own weight. Celestron claims this is normal. They graciously replaced my original telescope with another new one and it has the exact same squeal. I know it is not the same telescope that I returned because I had etched my initials on the bottom of the original.

I made a 35-second video demonstration of the squeal, which the Celestron agent viewed and determined it was OK.

II really like this telescope otherwise, and maybe I expect too much. Has anyone else noticed the squeal? Do you accept Celestron's claim that this is to be expected?

Telescopes from the
1969 Sears Wish book

Telescopes from the 1969 Sears Christmas Wish Book - Airplanes and RocketsHere on page 545 of the Sears 1969 Christmas Wish Book is a selection of three refractor telescope models. I can remember having an el cheapo (a little Spanish lingo there) telescope as a kid living in Annapolis, Maryland, and being dumb enough to screw the sun filter into the eyepiece to look at the sun during the total solar eclipse of 1970 (12 years old at the time),, when the path of totality ran just 50 miles or so south of my home. Telescopes usually don't include solar filters that screw onto the eyepiece anymore for safety reasons.

Home Planetarium from the
1969 Sears Wish book

Home Planetarium from the 1969 Sears Christmas Wish Book - Airplanes and RocketsHere on page 544 of the Sears 1969 Christmas Wish Book is a home planetarium setup. The 7" diameter star projector had over 60 constellations. For an extra $19.99 you could buy a plastic hemispherical dome that would actually make the star projector useful. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator, the total cost of the star projector and dome ($35.98 in 1969) would equal $224.61 in 2012 money.

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