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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Comet 41P/T-G-K Slingshots Across the Big Dipper

With St. Patrick's Day this week, green naturally comes to mind. I'm usually the one chastised by my co-workers for not wearing green. Just forgetful, that's all. When it comes to comets, we know that when one starts "greening up," it's a sign that it's getting closer and brighter. Only two weeks ago, before departing the evening sky, 8th-magnitude Comet 2P/Encke glowed pale emerald in my telescope. I hated to see it go.

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak pairs up with the beautiful  spiral galaxy NGC 3198 on March 14. Chris Schur
Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak pairs up with the beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 3198 on March 14. Chris Schur.

But as often happens, when one astronomical objects depart the scene, another takes its place. This week, periodic comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak begins the best part of its 2017 apparition, dashing across the circumpolar sky and brightening as it goes. Its timing couldn't be better. It's visible almost the entire night from anywhere in the northern hemisphere, so if you play your Moon-cards right, you can see 41P/T-G-K in dark skies part of every night now through about April 8th.

That's more than 3 weeks to catch the comet! And if you're like me, living in a region prone to spring clouds, you'll need it. A week ago, the comet shone at magnitude +9.2 and appeared moderately condensed with a 7′ coma. With a magnification of 64× in my 15-inch telescope, the nuclear region was a bright pip (not quite stellar) at center. Photographs are taken a few nights ago hint at a southward coma extension which may be the start of a tail.

By March 14-15, the coma had swelled to at least 12′ across but appeared less compact and more diffuse through my scope. Apparently, I was only seeing the core. Other observers using 10x50 binoculars and modest, wide-field instruments are now reporting coma diameter estimates of at least 30′ (Full Moon size) and a magnitude closer to +8. When you attempt 41P, know that its large coma will appear more obvious in a smaller, wide-field instrument than in a larger instrument with a smaller field of view.

Read the full source article at  http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/comet-41pt-g-k-glows-green-for-st-paddys-day/
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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Fighting for Visibility

In the heady days of the space race, the Mercury Seven astronauts were celebrities, and the Moon’s silver face seemed, for the first time in human existence, close enough to touch. For many, space was a tantalizing promise of a wonderful future, beyond the strife of an increasingly divided Earth. For others, supremacy in space was the answer to the Cold War. And for yet others, space was a sign of profligate spending of time and energy on dreams, when reality desperately needed America’s attention.

Melba Roy Mouton, pictured next to an electronic computer, was the leader of a group of human computers who helped track  Echo satellites in the early 1960s. NASA
Melba Roy Mouton, pictured next to an electronic computer, was
the leader of a group of human computers who helped track
 Echo satellites in the early 1960s. NASA.

NASA achieved its most spectacular first steps in those days, making heroes out of men and women who dared to push harder, dream bigger, and be smarter than anyone before them. Those moments created titans in American history, such as rocket pioneers Robert Goddard and Wernher Von Braun, or astronaut adventurers John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

But many of the actors in this play remain hidden in the wings. Now, decades after the work that should have made them legendary, the black women who helped put the United States in space are finally having their stories told.

These women, though not the faces memorialized in crowded mission-control room photos or seen waving from catwalks before launching beyond Earth's grip were nonetheless stars in their own right. And one of the brightest was Katherine Johnson.

Read Full Source Article at http://astronomy.com/bonus/hidden-figures
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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Introducing iTelescope Sky Tours

iTelescope.net, Insight Observatory's remote robotic telescope network partner, recently started a new program called Sky Tours. iTelescope.Net Sky Tours is a paid, weekly, interactive live video stream of the night sky using iTelescope.net remote robotic telescopes and hosted by Dr. Christian Sasse. In each episode, Dr. Sasse selects targets of interest that are visible from iTelescope.net telescopes and talks about these targets. He gives detailed explanations and tips for imaging the chosen objects. If weather permits, Dr. Sasse takes images of these targets to live, answering questions and describing how to best capture the targets.

iTelescope.net Live Sky Tour
iTelescope.net Live Sky Tour.

I was able to attend the first live Sky Tour back on January 23, 2017. The first event covered Dr. Sasse discussing imaging real-time deep-sky objects in the southern hemisphere. The session was greatly attended by interested folks from around the globe. The interactive chat feature is a plus as attendees are allowed to ask Dr. Sasse questions real-time during the imaging session. I found this new feature offered by iTelescope.net to be of value to the educational community. Episode 2 took place live on February 7, 2016, and covered exploring the biggest globular cluster in the Milky Way, Omega Centauri and one of the most amazing bright nebula Eta Carina. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend this session, however, iTelescope.net archives all of their Sky Tour episodes on Youtube so those who have missed it may view it at a later time.

Fortunately, a group of 6th graders and I were able to attend their Jupiter imaging session this past weekend. It was the first episode covering planetary imaging. The session was very informative and it inspired us iTelescope.net members to want to do planetary imaging with their network. That type of setup is a bit different than the normal setups their remote robotic telescopes have for deep-sky imaging. At the end of the session, I thanked Dr. Sasse for sharing his imaging session with us and he mentioned he would be interested in doing other imaging sessions with students in parallel with his Sky Tours. Needless to say that this was very exciting to hear and now we are working on a plan to execute this with science classes in various school districts.

iTelescope.net Sky Tours - A Closeup of Jupiter
iTelescope.net Sky Tours - A Closeup of Jupiter

iTelescope.Net Sky Tours are included with all of their monthly subscription plans, each of which allows you to take control of the iTelescopes to take your own images. They have also introduced a new subscription plan, SkyTour, which only grants access to the Sky Tours live streams, but at a quarter of the cost of their lowest imaging subscription plan. This new plan is available for $4.95 USD per month and includes access to the Sky Tours live streams, access to the archived videos of those streams (in case you missed the live show), and the ability to download images taken during the streams once they are uploaded. You can see a list of the dates and times of the streams, as well as which targets will be covered by checking the Sky Tours Schedule on their website, www.itelescope.net.

To sign up for iTelescope.Net Sky Tours, you must first register for an iTelescope.Net account. Once registered, you can sign up for the SkyTour subscription plan (or any of their other subscription plans) by following this step by step guide, and select SkyTour (or their other plans) from the menu. It really is that easy! We could also help you get set up and started with iTelescope.net and their Sky Tours by contacting us here at Insight Observatory.
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Pan: Saturn’s Ravioli-Shaped Moon

The universe served up a piece of Astro-pareidolia last week when humanity got its first close-up look at Saturn's tiny moon Pan. Appropriately named after the half-man, half-goat satyr from Greek mythology, Pan is nestled in the Encke (pronounced EN-key) Gap within Saturn's A ring. NASA's Cassini spacecraft flew just 15,268 miles past the moonlet (closer than the distance to the geosynchronous satellites from Earth) on March 7th.

Cassini's close-up of Saturn's moon Pan
Cassini's close-up of Saturn's moon Pan -  NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.

'Nearing its end, Cassini delights again,” says Carolyn Porco (Space Science Institute) on Twitter. “Here is 35-km Pan in mind-blowing detail with its unmistakable accretionary equatorial bulge.”

Mark Showalter (then at Stanford University) discovered Pan on July 16, 1990. Showalter and colleagues first inferred the tiny moon's presence by the waves it kicked up in the wake of its passage through the Encke Gap. After accurately predicting the moon's orbit, Pan was found in 11 images taken by Voyager 2 during its August 1981 flyby.

The moon orbits Saturn every 13.8 hours from an average distance of 134,000 kilometers (80,150 miles), equivalent to about one-third the Earth-Moon distance, and just 73,000 miles from the Saturnian cloud tops), the 34x31x21-kilometer moon carves out the Encke Gap in Saturn's outermost bright A Ring. On Earth, Pan would just barely fit inside Tampa Bay. The moon has an albedo (or reflectance) of 50%, equivalent to dirty snow.

Unlike the narrow 35-kilometer-wide Keeler gap occupied by the tiny moonlet Daphnis, the wider 325-kilometer Encke Gap also hosts a tenuous ringlet that Pan braids and modifies. While the Daphnis is slightly inclined to the plane of Saturn's rings by 0.0036 degrees and kicks up vertical waves in its wake, the orbit of Pan is nearly flat with an inclination of only 0.0001 degrees, and it induces spiral density waves in the ring plane.

Read Full Source Article at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/welcome-pan-saturns-ravioli-shaped-moon/
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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Don’t Underestimate Tiny Telescopes

In a period of ever-larger observatories, you may imagine that there's no longer a place for small-aperture ground-based telescopes. However, small ground-based telescopes have been in charge of the disclosure and portrayal of around 250 exoplanets so far — and these are the objectives that are particularly valuable for exoplanet science, as they are more effectively followed up than the swoon revelations made by telescopes like Kepler.

The KELT-North telescope in Arizona.  Courtesy Vanderbilt University
The KELT-North telescope in Arizona. 
Courtesy Vanderbilt University.

The Kilogree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) comprises two telescopes — one in Arizona and one in South Africa — that each has a 4.2-centimeter opening. Altogether, KELT watches around 70% of the whole sky hunting down planets travelling brilliant hosts. Furthermore, it's as of late discovered a significant intriguing one: KELT-16b. In a publication led by Thomas Oberst (Westminster College in Pennsylvania), a group of researchers introduces their find.

KELT-16b is what's known as a hot Jupiter. Utilizing the KELT information and follow-up perceptions of 19 travels, Oberst and colleagues assess KELT-16b's sweep at about 1.4 circumstances that of Jupiter and its mass at 2.75 circumstances Jupiter's. Its balance temperature is a burning 2453 K — brought about by the way that it circles so near its host star that it finishes each circle in an unimportant 0.97 days!

This brief period is amazingly irregular: there are just five other known travelling exoplanets with periods shorter than a day. KELT-16b is circling near its host, making it subject to extraordinary light and solid tidal powers.

In light of KELT-16b's circle, Oberst and colleagues gauge that the planet started a runaway inspiral by the age of 1 billion years. Presently, at ~3.1 billion years of age, KELT-16b is circling at a sweep of a little more than 3 stellar radii over its host's surface. The creators appraise that KELT-16b's proceeding with internal winding could end in the planet's annihilation by tidal powers in as meager as an additional 550,000 years.

Artist’s impression of a transiting hot-Jupiter planet. The recently  discovered KELT-16borbits so close to its host that it zips  around it in less than a day! - NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)
Artist’s impression of a transiting hot-Jupiter planet. The recently discovered KELT-16b orbits so close to its host that it zips around it in less than a day! 

This exceptionally lighted world makes for a particularly valuable focus because of its brief period (which implies we can watch many travels) and brilliant host (which implies follow-up perceptions are more advantageous and have a vast flag to-clamor proportion). Specifically, with follow-up perceptions of KELT-16b from missions like Hubble, Spitzer, and in the end the James Webb Space Telescope, we can take in more about open inquiries in exoplanet air forms — like how warmth is exchanged vertically through the air, or what occurs at the day-to-night eliminator line on such a profoundly lighted planet.

What's more, by studying KELT-16b, we can want to increase general knowledge into hot Jupiter arrangement and movement. The simplicity of watching this planet and the abundance of data it can give will probably make it one of the top considered exoplanets. KELT-16b has a ton to show us before it's torn separated!

Article Source: Thomas E. Oberst et al 2017 AJ 153 97. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/153/3/97
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