Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Blog Location and New Web SIte

Please check out our new blog location and test web site at:
http://richastro.org/index.php/category/blog/ .

The main web site is at:

Please let us know what you think.

Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Some News and Updates, Observatory Events, and Astronomy Podcasts

A few updates …

The next meeting of the Richmond Astronomical Society will be on Tuesday, July 14 at the Science Museum of Virginia at 7:30 PM. Chris McCann will be presenting on "General Archaeoastronomy 101: How ancient cultures understood celestial events and how they used astronomy in their lives." We also plan to have Terry Barker tell us about the Green Bank StarQuest by video link.

A number of us will be gathering at the Arby’s across from the Science Museum for dinner before the meeting. Please join us if you can – everyone is welcome to the meeting and the pre-meeting dinner.

Some exciting news in the amateur astronomy community: A story recently appeared about Michael Koppelman who is an amateur astronomer / musician / internet entrepreneur in Minnesota and who recently observed the visible light afterglow of a gamma ray burst from his personal observatory. The story of his observation is pretty interesting and was reported locally in Minnesota at:

http://www.dailyastronomy.com/Link.asp?ID=463105 .

And a link to an interview with Michael here.

Michael’s day job is a web design business called Clockwork (http://www.clockwork.net/), but in his spare time he acquired an undergraduate degree in astrophysics and in pursuing a doctorate in the same field. He also records an astronomy podcast called, “Slacker Astronomy" plus he observes from his observatory when he has a chance. At the Slacker Astronomy website (http://www.slackerastronomy.org) you can hear Michael’s podcasts and learn about his latest project called “Citizen Sky” which is a citizen science enterprise worth checking out:


Wish this guy could find something to keep himself busy.

More astronomy podcasts: A couple meetings ago, Tim Streagle provide us with a great review of astronomy podcasts that are available online and easily accessible through iTunes. I enjoy a number of them on my MP3 player during my commute to work. Thanks to Tim for the comprehensive review. His list and notes are here: http://portableastronomy.com/docs/astronomy_podcasts.doc .

Observatory open house: John Barnett, our observatory director, has been hosting open house events at our observatory. At the last event, we caught some nice views of the moon and Saturn before some clouds rolled in. Randy Tatum treated us to some of his outstanding recorded video of solar phenomena and planetary images. It was a lot of fun and good to see folks at the open house. Thanks to John for hosting the events.

The date of the 2009 meeting of the Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies is approaching. This year it will be sponsored by the Charlottesville Astronomical Society on Saturday, September 12, 9:00 AM at National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) auditorium, 520 Edgemont Road, Charlottesville.

Our outreach coordinator, John Raymond, has scheduled several skywatches. The first one will be at Brandermill on August 3 and John needs some volunteers. Please let John or me (president@richastro.org) know if you can help. This skywatch is a repeat performance of one we did with Brandermill last year and it was a great success - very well attended by lots of interested folks.

Also, at the request of Richmond Parks and Recreation, John has made arrangements to provide telescopes and astronomers for three skywatches at Bryan Park in the late summer and fall. As the dates approach, we will ask for volunteers to assist with the events. Thanks to John for coordinating with Bryan Park and for his all of his outreach work. Dates of the Bryan Park skywatches are as follows:

Wed., Aug. 26, rain date: Mon., Aug. 31
Thurs., Sept. 24, rain date: Mon., Sept. 28
Thurs., Oct. 22, rain date: Mon., Oct. 26

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson will be the opening speaker of the 2009-2010 season for the Richmond Forum, November 14, 2009, at 8:00 PM at the Landmark Theater. http://richmondforum.org/.

Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Astronomy Day at the Science Museum

Saturday, May 2 was Astronomy Day and the Richmond Astronomical Society volunteers supported the event by providing and staffing several displays.

Kathy Fatyga served as our greeter, Laura Graham. provided Dark Skies / Light Pollution information, Gary Cowardin set up his CCD video astronomy display, Bill Jeffries set up his mini radio telescope, Dick Ryan, Joanne Baker and Jim Blowers deployed and operated the water bottle rocket launch facility and I showed anyone interested Phil Robert’s excellent meteorite specimen. Neal Kinder supplied a quantity of plastic bottles to be launched as rockets and Prashant Reddy was on tap as were others for the lunar and solar viewing, but the weather cooperated for neither. Some rain showers also caused a few of the rocket launches to be scrubbed, but Dick, Joanne and Jim persevered and resumed launches when the rain subsided.

The Science Museum supplied space in the Rotunda for displays along with posters, flyers, signs, tables and some helpful volunteers. The StarLab mobile planetarium was set up in the RF&P Forum room and David Hagan, who served as the Museum’s coordinator for the events, also did the StarLab presentations. I did not get a chance to see the StarLab show, but I saw lots of kids crawling into the inflatable planetarium at showtimes. The Museum also offered a special planetarium show in the Ethyl Imax Planetarium as part of the Astronomy Day activities. Leslie Bochenski had planned to do her scale model solar system workshop which is a popular activity for the kids – a number of people asked specifically about it. Unfortunately Leslie was under the weather and was unable to do the workshop. We understand Leslie is on the mend and we look forward to her workshop at another time.

A reasonable number of folks attended. It was not a huge crowd, but given the fact that there were a number of other events in the area on May 2, it was a reasonable turnout. We even had a few people tell us that they had traveled some distance just for the Astronomy Day festivities.

We were also treated to the appearance of a wedding party who showed up unexpectedly to use the Science Museum as a backdrop for some of their photos. For some reason, they did not seem interested in the Astronomy Day activities, although I think that rockets in the background or maybe a bridesmaid holding Phil’s meteorite would have added character to their photos, but they didn’t ask my opinion.

One other item of news for those interested in bigger rocket launches: An orbital launch of a TACSAT-3 satellite is scheduled to occur at the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on Tuesday, May 5, between 8:00 and 11:00 PM EDT. If you have an unobstructed view of the eastern horizon in the direction of Wallops Island, you may be able to see the launch from the Richmond area. Wallops Island is to the east-northeast of Richmond. Web addresses for info about the launch and a webcast are below:



A story about the launch appears here:


Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

Sunday, April 26, 2009

An Impromptu Skywatch at the Scout Camp

Tim Streagle very kindly offered an open invitation to the RAS membership to attend a skywatch at the Heart of Virginia Scout Reservation Saturday night. Tim was hosting a number of scout groups and astronomy was on the agenda of many of them.

We set up on the observing field around dark and a large group of scouts and parents and leaders made their way up the hill to have a look through their telescopes. We had a combination of my Newt, some Dobs and a Schmidt-Cassegrain open for viewing. I also had a short slide show of astrophotos running as a continuous loop on a digital picture frame to entertain folks while they were waiting.

I’m not sure what everyone else was looking at while the scouts were at our scopes, but I focused on Saturn, which was nicely placed in the sky for moderately high magnification viewing and the atmosphere was steady enough to see some detail. As often happens, many of the kids had a “wow” moment when they saw Saturn for the first time. We had lots of interested people and lots of good questions.

The astronomers stayed late to do some observing after the scouts left and we were treated to an extremely pleasant evening. There was a warm breeze which kept the bugs and the dew at bay. Some early clouds dissipated as the night passed. We saw several objects we had not seen before and I was able to take a couple of images, although the wind limited the steadiness of my scope mount. The hold-outs ran out of steam after about 4:00 AM as the Milky Way and Scorpius were moving to high spots in the sky.

Thanks again to Tim for the invitation. It was a great night at the Scout Camp.

Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Virginia Solar Lunar Convention and Imaging Conference - WOW!


Many, many thanks to John Raymond and Tim Streagle for putting together a great star party.

The Virginia Solar Lunar Convention and Imaging Conference was well organized, the facilities were outstanding, the Heart of Virginia Scout Reservation was a wonderful host, the speakers were interesting, lots of door prizes were given and, best of all, the company was outstanding.

Someone was also kind enough to order beautiful weather. Not sure who handled that part of the event, but they did a good job.

John arranged for a number of speakers who included:
- Jim Browder / to kick things off
- Greg Redfern / NASA's 2-for-1 Return to the Moon
- Stu Beaber/ CCD imaging
- Jerry Hailey / Focus methods and Photoshop
- Dr. David Dunham / Lunar and Asteroid Occultations
- Peter S. Gural / Video Transient Detection
- Stephen Hamilton / Imaging

Tim arranged for the event to be held at the Heart of Virginia Scout Reservation, which is a great facility. It’s located well west of the lights from Richmond and has plenty of space to spread out and deploy telescopes (with AC power and rest rooms nearby). The large meeting hall / dining facility was perfect for presentations and meals to keep us energized.

A number of astronomers deployed solar scopes during the day – and one radio telescope. We were treated to views of solar prominences, even with the unusually quiet sun of recent months.

As night fell, more telescopes came out, Dobs, equatorial reflectors, refractors and at least one Schmidt Cassegrain. Using the club’s Stellacam video camera, we had some nice views of the moon, Saturn and its moons, the Orion Nebula in great detail and several star clusters. I took a few images of M13 after midnight and started to run out of steam about 2:00 AM. About that time, I checked with some other astronomers nearby, thinking they might be finishing up for the evening, but they were still going strong and treated me to even more stellar views. So I had to stay up a bit longer and hope for a second wind.

I just can’t say enough good about the event. John and Tim simply did a great job. Katie was a real trooper helping with the registration and Karen was good enough to put up with all of us. Thanks also to John and Prashant for the help with the RAS display; thanks to the RAS for supplying coffee, tea and snacks; and thanks to everyone who attended. I am really looking forward to the next event.

Please be sure to join us next time. We will be viewing some images of the event at the next RAS meeting on Tuesday, April 14 at the Science Museum. I have posted a short slide show on my web site at:

http://portableastronomy.com/vslc_2009.htm .

Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Virginia Solar Lunar Convention and Imaging Conference

April 4, 2009 will be a great Saturday.

At 9:00 AM on this day, the first Virginia Solar Lunar Convention and Imaging Conference will begin. The event will be held at Camp Brady Saunders Scout Camp in Goochland, VA and, as I write this, the weather forecast is looking good.

This star party will be a lot of fun. John Raymond has arranged for interesting speakers (myself excluded), displays and demos and it will be held at a great location. The Scout Camp in Goochland is an easy to find, very convenient site with lots of space to set up telescopes and camp.

There are great facilities at the site including a large dining hall / meeting space and an always popular item at star parties - real toilets with running water. The site is located in a rural area west of the city lights from Richmond. Tim Streagle, one of the camp rangers, has been kind enough to host the gathering. All of the efforts on the part of John and Tim are very much appreciated and we are looking forward to a great event.

More information about the event can be found at: http://mysite.verizon.net/vze10oyym/index.html. It will start at 9:00 AM on Saturday and continue through the day and into the night for a full range of day and nighttime observing.

Directions to the Scout Camp are here: http://bradysaunders.net/camp/direct.html.

The Richmond Astronomical Society is supplying refreshments along with some imaging displays and demonstrations. Be sure to stop by for snack and learn more about our group.

We are also going to try an experiment at the event – a live video broadcast over the internet (as long as the technology works). During the daylight and evening observing sessions, please check the following address for live video from the site: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/vasolcon.

I hope to see everyone there! This will be a great star party and very much worthy of our support. I encourage all in the area that are interested in astronomy at any level to attend.


Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Night at the Observatory

This past Sunday night, John Barnett held an open house at the Ragland Observatory in Western Chesterfield. For those that don't know, The Richmond Astronomical Society has an observatory equipped with a 7-inch f/15 refractor telescope. The 7-inch scope is mounted on a permanent pier and has a full set of eyepieces and solar filters.

It was built in 1962 at a location which was at the time a dark sky site, but Chesterfield County has grown since that time. Now the site is adjacent to a small shopping center, which reduces its usefulness for deep sky work, but still finds application in lunar, solar, and planetary observing and imaging.

Grace S. and I were in attendance and John was kind enough to host the event and treat us to some spectacular views of Venus, the moon and the Trapezium star group in the Orion Nebula. He even had the TV available in case someone wanted a Super Bowl update. Grace and I each tried some simple imaging tests.

We tried some "through the eyepiece" and prime focus images. The results were good given that they were done on the spur of the moment. The viewing conditions were not the best, but the temperature was very comfortable and, with the exception of a few passing contrails, the sky was clear.

It was a very enjoyable night at the observatory. Thanks to John for making it available to us. And thanks for the cookies, Grace!


Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society