© Norman Sperling, July 7, 2012
Part of a series on Educational Star Parties:
Trading Cards for Telescopes and Celestial Objects (September 20, 2012)
7 Spectral Types in 1 Big Loop (April 15, 2012)
Telescope Triplets (November 25, 2011)
I'd like my astronomy students to attend a star party that's designed for their education. They would see a richer variety of sights than at a star party intended for public enjoyment. An educational star party would be located for dark skies more than easy access. Students would observe over about 2 hours rather than 20 minutes. They would look through a greater variety of telescopes (educational in itself) at planned sequences of objects.
Designate part of the open field for naked-eye use. Have a teacher showing constellations and asterisms, and teaching skycraft. Show the Milky Way. "Earth" is a freebie: just look beneath your own feet.
Pre-plan and shout-out the appearances of satellites (especially the Space Station) and Iridium flashes. Keep alert for sporadic or shower meteors.
Select telescopes optimized to give the best views of:
* Each visible planet ... including, by popular demand, Pluto. About half are up at any time. Scope operators should point out noticeable moons.
* The Moon. One scope with a whole-globe synoptic view, followed by one with a high-magnification view near the terminator.
* Asteroids that are "up": Any that are labeled "dwarf planet"; major spectral classes S, C, and M; classes V and G because the Dawn spacecraft visits Vesta and Ceres; whatever other bright ones are available.
* The brightest comet that's up, even if very faint.
* Stars, by spectral type, as I described in 7 Spectral Types in 1 Big Loop, plus telescopes pointed at a red dwarf and a white dwarf.
* Multiple stars, preferably color-contrast
* Open cluster
* Globular cluster
* Pre-stellar nebula
* Planetary nebula
* Supernova-remnant nebula like the Crab
* HDE 226868 or another indicator of a black hole
* Elliptical galaxy
* Spiral galaxy
* Interacting, distorted galaxies
* Active galaxy like a quasar (3C 273), BL Lacertid, or Seyfert.
* Galaxy cluster
Assigning specific scopes to specific objects requires attention to available focal ratios, apertures, eyepieces, and the personalities of their operators. Depending on how long it takes the gathered students to see an object in each telescope, scopes can be re-pointed to other planned objects 2 or 3 times during the session. Several targets require fat light-buckets. 1 or 2 could handle them all, in sequence, during a 2-hour session.
The Telescope Triplets I advocate can also teach how telescopes and eyepieces affect the view.
The Trading Cards for Telescopes and Celestial Objects I advocate should be pre-planned and heavily distributed.
Asteroids, dwarf stars, several deep-sky objects, and galaxy clusters look tiny and faint. These teach the students to appreciate the views from giant observatories.
For this rich an experience, students could buy $5-$10 tickets. That should cover venue expenses plus honoraria for amateurs who bring their own scopes. Teachers would give credit for attending and filling out observing logs.
Most students can afford a $10 ticket. They would pay that for a night's entertainment anyway. It's similar to the expense of driving to the dark-sky site. They can save more by buying used textbooks instead of new. Someone may want to quietly handle "scholarship" discounts. The event definitely will cost something to run and that needs to be raised.
Cooperating instructors might be able to organize this kind of event, especially if they have access to appropriate scopes and operators, both student and amateur. Here in the San Francisco area, The Astronomical Association of Northern California might be able to organize it. It could also be a commercial venture.
Though designed for students in introductory astronomy courses, such a planned, organized star party should attract many amateur astronomers, and some of the public.
© Norman Sperling, July 3, 2012
One of the very few benefits of being near-sighted is that fireworks look bigger and more resplendent. That's because the out-of-focus image spreads out over a lot more cone receptors in the retina.
If you're nearsighted, try watching fireworks without your glasses. You might like the show even more.
© Norman Sperling, June 29, 2012
Technology has now improved so much that a coordinated observing campaign can reveal important new data about one of the Moon's most important features: The Straight Wall.
First, data-mine all spacecraft observations, including Chinese and Indian. Face-on, sunlit views from spacecraft should be able to identify distinct layers. I haven't heard of anyone specifically researching these about the Straight Wall.
Monitor the Moon from Earth, using high-magnification, high-resolution imaging, especially of sunrise and sunset along the cliff. Use several widely separated instruments, so that there should always be at least one with good weather and the Moon high enough in its sky. This requires global coordination. That would have been very unusual 30 years ago, but is clearly possible now.
Extremely detailed sunrise and sunset animation sequences, from different librations, should reveal nearby faulting, or prove there isn't much.
Use the animations to map the slope and its component boulders. Precision measuring at sunrise and sunset, boulder by boulder, should determine elevation as well as latitude and longitude. I predict the boulders should be very large compared to Earth's talus slopes. That's because the rocks should be about as strong as similar Earth rocks, but the Moon's lower surface gravity exerts less force to break them up.
Spectral differences should distinguish between pieces from the top stratum and pieces from lower strata, hopefully corresponding to understandable mineralogical differences between strata. Infrared observing after sunset might reveal different cooling rates, further revealing differences between boulders.
Examining the buildup of dust at the bottom will tell something about dust scattering rates (such as by electrostatic levitation on the terminator) since landslides.
All this is possible with the latest generation of electronic imaging and enhancement. It's time to try.
© Norman Sperling, June 19, 2012
Several panels I was on at BayCon last month tried to advise aspiring writers. Panelists would cite something from a story and point out how saying things that way made problems. I, for example, advocated for short, active sentences instead of long, passive ones tangled up in prepositional phrases.
We heard examples from many different authors, writing in many different ways. All those stories got published! Several, which had aspects that panelists didn't like, pleased scads of readers, and therefore pleased publishers. So, I told the audience, even those undesirable forms can work. For example, many writers, including my friends Terry Dickinson and Robert Sheaffer, write very well in passive voice. Do what you think works best for your story, and for yourself as a writer.