||The next meeting of the Richmond Astronomical Society will be on Tuesday, February 9, 7:30 PM at the Science Museum of Virginia. Betty Wilson will present on “What’s New in the Solar System,” an overview of some recent discoveries and new theories. Please join us for the meeting and, if you can, for dinner before the meeting at Arby’s across the street from the Museum.
Information on 2016 star parties is here.
It’s Messier 42 season! It’s a great object to image whether you are a seasoned or beginning astrophotographer. The image to the left was captured by Madhup Rathi by combining 5-minute and 30-second exposures into a single composite.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
Ever been to a star party? They’re great. A star party is usually a multi-day event in a dark sky location that immerses participants in a sea of telescopes and astronomy enthusiasts. participants often camp near their equipment or stay in nearby lodging. One of the best in the eastern US is the Green Bank Star Quest coming up next week at the Green Bank Radio Observatory in West Virginia, June 17-20. Below is a link to a short video that attempts to show what a star party is like, but doesn’t do the experience justice. Another really enjoyable star party is the East Coast Star Party, held in Coinjock on the coast of North Carolina once or twice a year. The latest event was held in May. The weather was pleasant. The viewing was good. The astronomers were friendly and welcoming as usual. Please have a look.
RAS Board Meeting – November 16, 2015 – Extra Billy’s on West Broad St
Dinner starts at 6:00pm; Meeting starts at 7:00pm
Guy Ottewell Astronomical Calendar 2016 – $29.95
The 43rd, finest, and final issue of this famous yearbook.