Free Amateur Astronomy Software
There are some really excellent pieces of software available to amateur astronomers ranging in function from presenting the night sky in incredible detail and can even control your telescope (TheSkyX) to image processing (RegiStax). Screen shots and hyperlinks are given below. RegiStax is free to anyone, but to get TheSkyX free, you have to buy a Celestron telescope that bundles it with the hardware (as low as $80 for the PowerSeeker 70AZ). Stellarium is a totally free, open source sky chart program. It appears to do everything TheSkyX does, including …
Asteroid QE2 Close Pass
to Earth on Friday
You 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
QST 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
onto CPC 800 Deluxe HD
After 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...
Super-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.
Glowing Trees a Problem
A 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
Who 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.
"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.
Cosmic Radio Signals
from Sun and Stars
National defense needs have pushed back the frontiers of science and technology since time immemorial. Mechanics, chemistry, medicine, mathematics, psychology, astronomy, electricity, and as of the late nineteenth century, electronics. Astronomy was useful as a navigational tool and required a very sophisticated knowledge of geometry and algebra to make it accessible to seafaring men, cartographers, and land surveyors. Since the early 1900s, radio astronomy has played a huge role in the advancement of super-sensitive receiver designs. Most people think of information arriving to them in two or maybe three forms: sound, visible light, and some (but not many) even consider radio waves. As over-the-air AM and FM radio broadcasts die out, even fewer people are aware of radio …
In Memory of Neil Armstrong
Tranquility Base Photo
Apollo 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
This 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).
of the Night Sky
Goldpaint 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.