Richmond Astronomical Society

Events

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

Jan 24th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog, Events

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

Nov 22nd, 2015 | By | Category: Events

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

Oct 11th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

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

Sep 5th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

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

Aug 12th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

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

Aug 2nd, 2015 | By | Category: Events

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!

Jul 3rd, 2015 | By | Category: Events

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



East Coast Star Party

Jun 11th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

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.

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Astronomy Day – April 25!

Mar 29th, 2015 | By | Category: Events
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Solar observing at Astronomy Day

Please join us at the Science Museum of Virginia for International Astronomy Day on Saturday, April 25 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  There will be special activities at the Museum including solar observing (weather permitting) planetarium shows, informative displays and water rocket launches.  Please join us if you can.



Skywatch at Belmead, March 14

Feb 9th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

RAS and Francis Emma Inc. will host a skywatch and a talk at Belmead on the James in Powhatan.  We will hear about the famous Messier objects cataloged by Charles Messier which represent some of the most spectacular deep sky objects visible in the night sky.  Astronomers and visitors are welcome to set up their telescopes in the paved area near the mansion and observe as long as they like, but no telescope is required, just an interest in the night sky.  Those that wish to observe all night may wish to attempt a “Messier Marathon” to observe as many Messier objects as possible.

The entrance to Belmead is located at 5004 Cartersville Road, Powhatan, VA.  A Google Map showing the location is at this link:  https://goo.gl/maps/IInF3.  Once you enter Belmead follow signs to the mansion.  Indoor session starts at 7:00 PM; RAS volunteer astronomers are invited to join a light supper at 5:00 PM at the mansion.