Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Monday, June 20, 2016

The American Astronomical Society meeting in San Diego and Society for Astronomical Science meeting in Ontario, If Iggy didnt show to teach you physics, check with your cat, and now you can do amateur radio astronomy too!

Greetings from Palmia Observatory

Well as we mentioned last time this week has been taken up with the AAS conference, sponsored by professional astronomers, in San Diego and the SAS conference, sponsored by amateur astronomers, in Ontario.  Resident Astronomer Peggy maintained the observatory and Astronomer Assistants Danny and Ruby, while I flitted about
listening and meeting with the astronomers.

Before reviewing some of the interesting findings I want to go back over the previous post about how Iggy Azalea was going to hold you down and teach you physics.  Was anybody out there lucky enough to get their own personal physics lesson?  Oh well, don't despair because now physics help is much nearer and easier to obtain.  Check out the Smithsonian Magazine article which describes how well your local tabby understands physics and could tach us a thing or two.  See:

I haven't been all that successful with Astronomer Assistant Willow, but she is fun and unlike Iggy, finds me personally fun and fascinating.

 Anyway, the AAS conference was really interesting, even if many of the presentations were to advanced for my amateur physicist wannabe brain.  I spent most of my time with Math Whiz, Dave, at the "Limits of Cosmology" sessions, which were high level and quite informative.  The final session brought all of that sessions speakers together for a final chance of audience questioning.  See the attached photo.  My current physics study curriculum is made up of video lectures and textbooks from some of the panelists including Joe Silk, Jim Pebbles, Sean Carroll (who also signed my copy of his latest book, The Big Picture), Virginia Trimble and Lenny Susskind and others.  Jim Pebbles wrote one of the first astrophysics texts I read, Sean wrote the general relativity text I use, Joe Silk wrote many books on cosmology and Lenny Susskind has many hours of advanced physics videos freely available online.

Pane Discussion at AAS Meeting in San Diefo
Resident Astronomer attends the 228th AAS Meeting and listens to panel discussion

I offer three comments that I heard that seemed significant and I'll repeat them here.  First Sean talked again about the "core theory" which is the current best physics understanding of everything in the world around us.  It is summarized by the equation, taken from his latest text, and attached here.  That one equation summarizes all of the currently known forces, from electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, gravity, quantum field theory, weak and strong nuclear forces and the Higgs mechanism.  Wow.  I'm still struggling to get through a couple of those subjects with more effort still required.
Sean Carroll's Equation
Sean Carroll's Equation

The second comment regards Lenny's statement regarding whether the laws of physics and the constants of nature are constant or do they change over the billions of years.  Mostly they don't seem to change much, but Lenny said that the single event, near the Big Bang, when the Higgs field turned on is the most obvious and glaring example that the laws of physics do change with time.  I had never heard that position before.  Surprisingly, none of the panel members objected and no questions from the audience either.

The third comment comes from a question from the audience regarding what would it take for everyone to agree that inflation is the best and most accurate theory to explain the state of the currently observed universe.  It seems that no one has a better theory, but that direct evidence that inflation is the correct way nature works seems to still be missing.  I guess Alan Guth will have to just keep waiting for his invitation to Stockholm.  The analogy used was that inflation was like a bridge that connected what we know about the universe to what is observed about the universe and works extremely well, but what is missing is what caused inflation to start and then what then caused it to stop.  Sort of like a floating bridge that works well, but what supports the bridge at the left end and then what supports the bridge at the fight end.  That was pretty neat in that the inflationary theory works well in explaining the state of the universe, but no one knows why.  Pretty neat!

Well after that conference it was off to Ontario for the amateur SAS conference.  Now these 100 odd folks (I mean only to say roughly a hundred attendees) are really, really, really serious and dedicated amateurs, who do really great work in photometry and spectroscopy of variable and eclipsing stars.  I took one picture of the crowd during one of the coffee breaks. See attached.  Our local OCA secretary and author, is now the president of SAS.  Congratulations Bob!
Resident Astronomer attends the Society of Astronomical Science Conference
Resident Astronomer attends the SAS Conference

I attended that conference and was lucky enough to run into Science Nerds and Theatre Impresarios, Scott and Sandra, Legacy Coder, Now studying physics full time, Larry, and Picked up and moved to dark skies on the mountain, David, all of which are interested amateur astronomers.  We had a good time hearing about what skill and dedication to gathering good data and the collaboration with the professional astronomers.  I even run into one amateur, Jerry, who had retired and moved to the little town of say a 1000 folks, in southern Utah where I grew up.  He and his have been there now for 17 years, which is just a bit less that I lived there.  Small world.

I was quite impressed by the skills I observed and yet at the same time I was a little depressed, discouraged and disappointed at the realization that I probably don't have the determination and will to do all the work necessary to gain the same level of confidence and experience.  I guess only time will tell.  Don't some of you also worry about how much time and effort is required to get good at something like this?  I'm still trying to find my level of participation in this hobby.

Ok,ok, enough of that, on to one of the most fascinating papers presented there by a team of amateurs, I'm collaboration with MIT astrophysicists, who are close to being able to make a prediction when a binary pair of stars is going to go supernova.  The amateurs, based on the data of the period of an eclipsing pair, SN V1309 Scorpio, measured several years before that pair was identified as the source of a supernova, were encouraged to look for another example, where the period of a pair could be measured to be decreasing in somewhat the same way.  They found an example in Kepler data, KC 9832227, which shows a similar rate of decrease in the orbital period.  The decrease in period even appears to be a creating, which is calculated to indicated the eventual merger of these two stars.  With the help of MIT theorist they were able to rule out other interpretations, such as the effect of a third orbiting companion.  So, it's still not clear if the results and measurements are correct, but they currently estimate the eventual merger in 2019-2022 time frame.  That is pretty neat and if correct will be apparently the first time a merger, resulting in a supernova will have been successfully predicted.  Pretty neat stuff that amateurs can do.  We I'll just have to wait and see.

So, that was quite a week of intensive study and hope to get out and do some observing, assuming the telescope and me won't melt in this huge heat wave we have here.  So, while I'm inside with air conditioning and martinis, I have one more photo for you other amateurs, especially the radio hams among you, who are looking for your next hobby toy. 
Amateur Radio Telescope
Resident Astronomer inspects amateur radio telescope now commercially available
Check out this 3 meter radio telescope dish that can be used to do radio astronomy.  It's pretty affordable, if you think laying down a little more that $12,000 is just supporting your hobby.  Well, I guess we can continue to dream.  Dream on and enjoy the universe!

Until next time

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