Richmond Astronomical Society

    News

    Jerry Hubbell - Remote Observatories 

       

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    The next meeting of the Richmond Astronomical Society will be on Tuesday, June 14, 7:30 PM at the Science Museum of Virginia. Jerry Hubbell, with the Rappahannock Astronomy Club and Vice President of Engineering at Explore Scientific, will present on a new book he has co-authored on remote observatory construction and operation and he will update us on activities at Explore Scientific. Please join us for the meeting and, if you can, for dinner before the meeting about 6:00 PM at Chicken Fiesta across the street from the Museum.

    News and events listed here.

    2016 star party info is here.

     

     

     

Events

Belmead in Peril!

Big news about Belmead in Powhatan!  As many of you know, we have developed a partnership over the past few years with Belmead in Powhatan, a beautiful, historic and relatively convenient dark sky location.  We have held joint observing and outreach education events at Belmead near the mansion and at more light-shielded sites on the property.  Unfortunately, the owners of the property, Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Philadelphia, have decided to sell the entire 2,200 acre tract.  The local Virginia staff at Belmead was not involved in the decision and this turn of events was very much a surprise to them.  More information is presented in this article by Laura McFarland in the RTD and Powhatan Today.

 

A Change.org petition has been created to request reconsideration of the decision to sell.  Please consider signing the petition to support efforts to preserve Belmead.  A link to the petition is here.

 

This decision is enormously disappointing on many levels. RAS was in the process of expanding our partnership with Belmead by installing within the month a telescope storage facility from which scopes could be deployed for visitor and member use.  We were also preparing an application to the International Dark Sky Association to secure Belmead’s designation as a dark sky reserve.  Aside from our specific interest in the property as an observing and outreach education site, Belmead is an absolute treasure. It has had a lifetime as an old southern plantation from the 1840’s into the 1870’s, followed by a second lifetime as a school for African American and Native American youth from the 1890’s into the 1970’s and yet a third rejuvenation as an environmental and community center and a model of land stewardship.  Most recently it has served us as a comfortable respite from urban light glow.

 

RAS has sent a letter to the leadership in Philadelphia registering our displeasure and concern over the lack of inclusiveness in making this decision. Hopefully there will be a positive outcome.

Dust off your blink comparators – there may be a Planet Nine!

When Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, he painstakingly photographed portions of the sky using a 13-inch telescope at Lowell Observatory and compared images from successive nights, looking for objects that showed movement between images.  Objects that moved over the course of a night would be within in our solar system.

13-inch Pluto Discovery Telescope (“Clyde Tombaugh,” Wikipedia.org)

Mr. Tombaugh used a device called a blink comparator which allows the operator to view two photographic images, rapidly switching between the two.  The human eye-brain combination is exceptionally good at seeing changes in the images.  Objects that showed movement could be noted for further investigation.  Any moving body that appeared where no object was known to exist would be a candidate for an undiscovered asteroids or planet.

Blink Comparator used by Clyde Tombuagh to discover Pluto (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blink_comparator)

After months of systematically photographing the sky and examining the photograhic plates in this way, Mr. Tombaugh recorded a moving object in the location where “Planet-X” was expected by Percival Lowell to be seen.  This object was subsequently identified as a new planet and given the name “Pluto.”

As we now know with the benefit of additional decades of observation and analysis, Pluto is better described a a member of a class of objects referred to as Kuiper belt objects, a belt consisting of tens of thousands of objects, similar to the asteroid belt, but extending approximately 30-50 astronomical units from our Sun. So, Clyde Tombaugh really discovered the first object in a whole new class of objects in an unknown region of our solar system.  While discovering a new planet is a great achievement in astronomy, reserved for only a few, discovering the first in an entire class of previously unknown objects is far more interesting and, frankly, worthy of greater recognition.

Mr. Tombaugh’s achievement speaks to the great power of carefully defining a question or problem and systematically looking for the answer by careful observation, documentation, analysis and adherence to defensible, logical interpretations of the data.  This is the power of science.

Well… it looks like we may have another shot at this.  Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin have hypothesized, based on the the orbital motions of various Kuiper Belt objects, that a large planet, 1o times the mass of Earth may exist in the region of space 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune.  While the hypothesis seems sound and is presented by respected researchers, the methods of science demand proof.  So the hunt is on for Planet Nine.   (more…)

A Good Feed Indeed

The RAS Fall picnic was a success thanks to our master chefs, kind visitors who brought an array of delicious items, grilling equipment, Belmead for hosting us and the clear dark skies of Powhatan County.  All conspired to make for a great picnic.  Thanks to all.  A blog post about the event with pictures captured by attending astronomers is here.

M42-14Nov2015 (Jim Browder) copy

VAAS 2015

VAAS 2015 was a success (except it was rainy, so we enjoyed all of the indoor activities).  A short slideshow appears here.  Many thanks to the Charlottesville Astronomical Society, University of Virginia and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Headquarters for supporting the event.

 

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Lunar Eclipse September 27

Total Lunar Eclipse, Sunday, September 27, 8:00 PM: Weather permitting, RAS will view the total lunar eclipse from the Science Museum of Virginia and will broadcast the event at http://ustream.tv/channel/richastro. The Museum will be open until midnight with indoor astro activities from 8 PM – 10 PM! Please join us if you can.  If the weather is favorable, this should be an excellent opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse – The events will be well placed at a convenient time to view.

 

– Eclipse begins: Sun, Sep 27, 2015 at 8:11 PM
– Maximum: Sun, Sep 27, 2015 at 10:47 PM
– Ends: Mon, Sep 28, 2015 at 1:22 AM
– Duration: 5 hours, 11 minutes. More details here.

 

Total lunar eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse – image courtesy NASA

Meteor Shower August 12

Be sure to go outside August 12, to see one of the best meteor showers of them all. The Perseids Meteor Shower will peak tomorrow morning around 2 am EST, but there should be plenty to see all night long.

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Staunton River Dark Sky Park

Staunton River State Park has been formally designated as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Skies Association.  Read the press release here.  Many congratulations and thanks to Staunton River State Park and the Chapel Hill Astronomy Club for making this happen (particularly Adam Layman, Park Manager and Jayme Hanzak, Chapel Hill Club President)!

Adam Layman and Jayme Hanzak speakingAfter ceremony

New Horizons!

The New Horizons spacecraft has reached Pluto and is transmitting data back to Earth.  This is an outstanding achievement.  Because of the distance to Pluto, it will take some time to receive all of the data collected during the flyby.  More information from NASA is here.

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Last image of Pluto before the flyby, courtesy of NASA and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory