Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Big "Bang" !

Back around 1993, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) of Great Britain (the ONLY authority, on celestial nomenclature, naming of celestial objects, etc.)**, put out a sort of 'call for papers', in Sky & Telescope magazine (yup, we astronomers are sooo creative when it comes to magazine titles), to all astronomers, both amateur and professional, worldwide; it was a request (demand), to come up with a new name, for a long time, 'thorn-in-the-side' issue: "The Big Bang".

Image of Artist Rendition of the "Big Bang"
Artist Rendition of the "Big Bang"
Like all astronomers, the IAU wanted to crush it. It was childish, nondescriptive - and it had to go.

The specs for the new term: two words only - and, it had to be descriptive, in some way, of the current state of the universe....

So, after I read the call, I went outside to my telescope, threw my elbow, up onto the optical tube, looked up at the clear, dark night and asked myself, "OK - what is the universe doing, right now?"

Well, it was doing, basically, one thing - expanding. That expansion was the largest, most powerful event that had ever taken place - anywhere!

Instantly, I thought, "The Great Expansion!" (Ooo! - how clever). And, that was the term I submitted to the IAU....

Three months later, in Sky & Telescope, the IAU published the results of the request. They had adopted a new term, to replace "The Big Bang". This term had been submitted by only six astronomers, worldwide - and I was one of them: the term was, 'The Great Expansion'. I was afraid, for a moment, that I was going to launch into a performance of, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" - or something - right there in my living room - right in front of my wife! Thankfully, after a spell I regained my composure; then I told my wife.... Well, the public didn't seem to care much about the IAU's decision; once it gets something so "cute" stuck, in its collective craw, it becomes difficult to dislodge and, so, 'The Big Bang', remains the term, of favor, to this day....

Image of International Astronomical Union
International Astronomical Union
**(AUTHOR'S NOTE: The International Star Registry™, and similar organizations, charge a fee to "name a star" after you, or some loved one, and even present you with a certificate saying as much. However, that "certificate", is just an agreement between you and them - no one else. If that's OK with you then, go for it; you've bought yourself an agreement. In fact, competing companies market their own name catalogs, so, the 'name' of any given star, depends on which company you're doing businesses with! The IAU neither sells naming rights nor does it authorize any other company or organization to do so. The IAU cautions consumers that products and services marketed by other entities have no formal or official validity whatsoever. With a few exceptions of ancient, or Arabic names, all stars, are in fact, designated by Greek letter and catalog number only.)^

^(In 1998, the International Star Registry™ was issued a violation by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs for deceptive advertising, for claiming "official" naming rights, and have since discontinued this claim).

Outside of the IAU, no organization, an individual, or other entity can, technically, legally, or in any other respect, 'name' a star, for or, after, anyone.
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Monday, October 17, 2016

Remote Robotic Telescope Lab Notes: Part 1

This will be an ongoing series of articles focusing on the testing of our telescope and all the components that make up the entire imaging system. The goal of these exercises is to thoroughly test every component and the entire system together prior to installation at SkyPi in 2017. We want to hit the ground running when the scope is installed; fixing problems after final installation would not be impossible, but due to the remote location it would be time-consuming and potentially more expensive than if we identify all problems before hand.

Image of The Lab...
The Lab...
We recently acquired a second hand Finger Lakes Instruments ProLine 16803 camera: this large 16-megapixel camera will image wide field views through our fast 16" Dream Astrograph. The goal for this exercise is to simply test out the camera for basic functionality; as a second-hand camera, we need to be sure it still functions properly.

The first test was to install the FLI Software Installation Kit (with apps, drivers, etc) on a Windows machine (specifically Windows 10), connect the USB cable from the camera to the computer, and then attach the power supply to the camera. With the camera powered up the FLI software successfully connected to the camera. So far so good!

Our next test was to connect to the camera from TheSkyX Professional (again on Windows 10) and grab a test image...once again no problems.

Image of Test on Windows 10, Success!
Test on Windows 10, Success!
Now things got interesting: for our next test we wanted to connect to the camera from TheSkyX on Linux (Ubuntu). We wanted to test this scenario because we plan to use a Raspberry Pi device to run TheSkyX and drive the mount/camera at the observatory, and since I did not have a Raspberry Pi device immediately available, trying on Linux was the next best thing. After a few false starts and failure to connect issues, I got this to work by installing the FLI SDK and compiling an FLI module that could be loaded into the Linux kernel. Once this was done, we connected successfully and grabbed a test image.

Finally, we wanted to try connecting from Linux using INDI (KStars & Ekos: http://www.indilib.org/about/ekos.html)... We are not sure if we will use these tools or not in our final environment but it would be nice to know if it did work. The good news is we had no problems connecting to the camera with Ekos and capturing a test image. Hurrah!
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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Cool Nights and Clear Skies

Some of the clearest nights of the year arrive in late summer and early fall. In much of North America, September and October bring clearer weather than any other month. If that's not enough incentive for you to get out and do lots of stargazing, consider what comes next.

Last evening was one of those crisp nights with sparkling skies that urge me to take out the telescope and/or binoculars and do some observing. November tends to have increased cloud cover, which largely persists until mid to late spring. October is known to be the clearest of the 12 months throughout a wide span from New England through the South and lower Midwest to Texas and the Great Plains.

Image of The Pegasus-Andromeda area spans a huge area of sky Screenshot from Stellarium
The Pegasus-Andromeda area spans a huge area of sky
Screenshot from Stellarium
Much of the country is more that 70 percent cloudy in various months. In September and October, only bits of Maine and the Northwest are so obscured. However, from November through April as much as a quarter to one-third of the country is on the unfavorable side of the 70 percent "isoneph" (line connecting points of equal cloudiness).

A mere absence of clouds is one thing, a beautifully clear and transparent sky is another. In much of North America strong cold fronts in September and October often clean the air to superb transparency. At such times we get deep blue skies by day and some of the best observing nights of the year.

What stellar sights can we behold on these nights? In the early evening, there are fewer bright stars than usual. Arcturus is setting in the west-northwest, and the Big Dipper is getting low in the southwest. The only high and bright stars are those of the Summer Triangle: Vega, Deneb, and Altair.

Capella is peaking up in the northeast. Above it, the forked branch of Perseus is ascending. Much higher is the "W" of Cassiopeia, the queen.

Face east and look high and you will see the 2nd magnitude stars of Andromeda and Pegasus forming a very long, nearly horizontal line. It starts with Gamma Andromedae on the left, fastens to the Great Square of Pegasus, and ends with Epsilon Pegasi way over in the south.
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