The Kitt Peak National Observatory is not just home to professional telescopes and astronomers, it also has a fully operational outreach program and visitor center. The mandate of the center is to engage with the public, which they do in a variety of ways. They have an informative exhibit in the visitor center, daily tours, daily solar observing (which I wrote about in a previous post), and even night time observing programs. There happen to be a night time observing program for the public on the Saturday of my observing run. Normally, this would not have mattered much as they would observe with their own telescope and then send everyone home; however, there happen to be a lot of clouds this evening. Not only did this mean my colleagues and I couldn’t do any science observing, but the public couldn’t do any recreational observing either. As a result, they were looking for some other fun things to do. I happen to run into the staff organizing the pubic program in the cafeteria before I headed to the telescope to set up for the night and they asked if, should the weather prove cloudy and unusable, we wouldn’t mind giving a quick tour of the Bok ‘scope. I was happy to do so.
After arriving at the mountain after dark, I stayed up as long as I could to get used to a night time observing schedule. I only made it to 1am, which I suppose isn’t that bad given the day of riding I had. As a result, I ended up waking up relatively early the next day and so had some time to look around Kitt Peak. I was particularly interested in Kitt Peak’s outreach and visitor program. There are large number of volunteers that do everything from presentations, tours, observing, and even over night stays with visitors on the mountain.
The AstroNuts Kids Space Club is a group I’ve been working with for a few years now. Led by the intrepid Ray Bielecki, this group of space enthusiasts hold meetings once a month, and also travel to various places on field trips. This is actually the third time they visited the York Observatory for a tour and observing. This tour was run by myself and Rob Berthiaume. The weather was patchy clouds with big enough sucker holes to observe Jupiter, the Moon, Betelgeuse, and Rigel.
The York University Astronomical Observatory is an undergrad driven research and public outreach machine. Even located under the light-polluted skies of Toronto, it’s still able to do some pretty great imaging. A while back, I tested my hand at astrophotography with some decent results:
While they certainly aren’t Hubble quality, I was pretty happy with what I got. Note isn’t the best the York Observatory can do, the undergrads have some pretty serious talent. Check out the website (linked above) to see some of their great work.
Side story: The objects have the designation M51 and M64 because they are part of the original Messier Catalog created by Charles Messier, a French astronomer who lived from 1730-1817. Messier was a comet hunter. As he toured the night sky looking for comets, he would often run across fuzzy objects (nebulae, clusters, galaxies, etc.) that he didn’t want to mistake for comets in the future. As a result he compiled these objects into the now famous list of ‘Messier objects.’ His original final version of the list was 103 objects long; since then 7 more have been added to make a final total of 110. Nowadays, the Messier Objects are a bunch of fantastic targets for both amateur and professional astronomers alike.
I’ve posted on this before (here), but I still find it fascinating. The Moon takes about 29.5 days to orbit the Earth once. We don’t really pay attention, but it’s constantly (though slowly) moving through our sky. Here are two easy steps to noticing the movement of the Moon: 1, choose a point of reference and 2, observe at the same time two nights in a row.
It was lucky that the Moon was passing by Venus on September 8, 2013. I happen to catch it from my apartment, so I snapped a pic and tweeted it:
— Jesse Rogerson (@jesserogerson) September 9, 2013
The next day, September 9, 2013, I happened to look out my window and see the Moon and Venus again! It being 24 hours later, it was very easy to see that the Moon had moved. So I tweeted the follow up, haha:
— Jesse Rogerson (@jesserogerson) September 10, 2013
By comparing the two photos, you can see just how far the Moon moves in 24 hours! While planets do move, they move a lot slower than our Moon. As a result, we can use Venus’ position as a point of reference to see the motion of the Moon. cool right?
I know the pics aren’t the best. They were taken by my cell phone. I really should invest in a decent camera one of these days. BUT (in my defence), this shows how easy you can do simple astronomy science experiments at home without any expensive equipment.