Well, this week we are waiting for the November 11 transit of Mercury but we can report on two upcoming astronomy meetings that might be of interest and also comment of OCA presentation of setting up your own remote observatory and a new easy to read book on cosmology.
First up on the astronomy meeting schedule is the 235th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), which meets this time in Hawaii. This is a professional astronomer meeting but amateurs can also attend, if you sign up as an "amateur affiliate" member. This way the meeting fee is reduced to $202 for the 6 day event. which is about 1/3 of what professional members have to pay. I have been many AAS meeting in the past and have enjoyed all of them, especially the plenary sessions where speakers address topics which are fine tuned for the general astronomer audience and not laden with extreme technical detail. Check it out and see you in Hawaii on January 4-8, 2020. Aloha!
|Let's head to Hawaii for AAS 235th meeting (Source: https://aas.org/meetings/aas235)
The second upcoming meeting is the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers' (SARA) Western Conference held in Socorro, New Mexico on March 27-29, 2020. I have wanted to attend this conference for several years now and each time something else comes up that keeps me away. I want to make it there this time for sure. The conference includes a tour of the Very Large Array (VLA), which I have seen and toured before, which is about an hour drive from Socorro. If you are interested in the details from that VLA tour check out the post of May 21, 2018. This time, the meeting takes place in the Socorro at the Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VBLA) offices and the correlator for the planet wide consortium of radio telescopes which make up the VBLA. Should be interesting to tour the correlator center and see how the signals from the 10 radio dishes are brought together and the conference fee is only $80. Hope to see you there! Amateur radio astronomy is alive and well and it should be interesting to hear what they are doing also. You can check out the details at the reference website in the screenshot below.
|Optical is ok, but let's look into amateur radio astronomy (Source: http://www.radio-astronomy.org/)
The VLBA is an interferometer, just like the VLA, but it has a much longer baseline. In the screenshot below you can see some of the details for the VLBA and see how some of the radio telescopes across the USA and even offshore islands too. Pretty neat! I remember when we toured the VLA we drove out to Pie Town, which is known for pie, but we did not have a chance to see the telescope there.
|Radio Telescopes that make up the VLBA (including Pie Town) Source: www.public.nrao.edu)
Next up OCA Dave Pearson made a presentation at the OCA Astroimagers SIG on his experience of moving telescopes from the Anza site to a hosted site in New Mexico. Wow, this is one way to get some darker skies and for me, I like the option of being able to do astronomy from my easy chair without the need to drive to a dark sky site and lug all of the equipment out and set it up so I was excited to hear from Dave how his experience went. Dave explained how it seemed to take a couple of days longer than expected, but at the end everything seems to be working ok. There is no one at the site normally, but with a telephone call, one of the technical support folks can show up and take a look at your own setup. He also mentioned that when his remote computer rebooted to install the latest Windows update, it lost communication with the mount and luckily the mount did not continue slewing, which would have driven the telescope into the floor.
Dave's slide below shows the arrangement at Deep Sky West near Rowe, New Mexico. It looks pretty neat and Dave seemed to be happy with the new setup. For me, maybe the best alternative is just to rent time on some available small telescope or maybe even better just do some citizen scientist work on publicly available data sets from the big profession scopes. As I get more and more reluctant to set up my scope in dark sky sites the possibility of just sitting in my easy chair and accessing images looks better and better! Anyway, thanks for the informative presentation, Dave!
|OCA Dave Pearson explains his remote setup at Deep Sky West, NM (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Another thing you can do while waiting for Monday and the transit of Mercury is check out Dan Hooper's new book, "At the Edge of Time." Dan is a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a professor at the University of Chicago. The book's subtitle is "Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe's First Seconds."
|This is a pretty good, easy read covering the first seconds of the universe (Source: Dan Hooper, "At the Edge of Time")
Now after checking out the first couple of chapters of Dan Hooper's new book, I found it easy to read and very informative. No equations so far! Normally, in the cosmology books that I currently study we find in the first 3-4 pages a table that shows the "notations and conventions" used in the remaining pages of the book. Well, I am sort of used to this type of stuff by now, but if you run across a book with the following screenshot of introductory material be sure to buckle your seat belt because you are in for a rough ride!
|Example from many books which includes this intro (Source: Kaboian Lozanov, "Lectures on Reheating after inflation")
But Dan Hooper's book is different and covers heavy topics in an easy and gentle way. For instance, in one of the first figures in the book we see right away what aspects of the first seconds of the universe after the big bang are included in this introduction to cosmology. I see that this diagram also shows "reheating" after "inflation." The reheating is when the field, which has caused the inflation, collapses and decays and all of the field's potential energy is converted into real particles and energy, which to me is point in time when the big bang occurs and we are able to measure its effects today.
Even though I haven't seen any equations in the book, yet, the author did generate some thinking about why the big bang is not like an explosion. The GR equations tell you that all of space expanded in every direction. Initially, when we hear that all galaxies are observed to be moving away from us, we might think that we are at the center of it all. But observations of the galaxies that are moving away from us are also moving away from each other also. This is not what would be observed if the universe started as a big explosion where everything would indeed move away from the point of detonation. So even though this thought is contained in the GR equations, it was really only since reading the first chapters of this book did I really come to recognition of the fact. So, just so far, thanks for all of that Dan!
Ok, so the transit of Mercury is finally going to be happening, but first we should review the practice section used to verify that all of the equipment to be used was charged up and that the "operator" remembered how to work all of the stuff. The photo below shows the transit setup with the Sky_Watcher tracking mount and the 600mm telephoto lens and DSLR. I can carry out the Sky-Watcher mount in one hand and the camera and lens in the other hand and be set up and aligned within about 5 minutes. Here you can see the lens pointed at and tracking the sun and the solar image visible in the camera LiveView screen.
|Practice run for transit of mercury with Sky-Watcher mount and 600mm DSLR (Source: Palmia Observatory)
This solar image was taken as a test of the setup. The solar filter is Neutral Density = 100,000 and the shutter speed used was 1/1000 seconds. The sun is still very quiet with no visible sunspots.
|Previous May 9, 2016 transit of mercury, with sunspot (Source: Palmia Observatory)
Ok, so Monday, November 11 morning finally arrives and we check the weather and find cloudy skies. Oh-oh! We were worried we might have to photograph "clouds transiting the sun" but about 9:00 PST, just one hour before the end of the transit, the clouds went away enough that we could see the transit. Hooray! Check out this image of the sun, without any visible sunspots, but the tiny black dot of Mercury can be seen at the lower right edge.
|Hooray, Mercury is seen transiting the sun, DSLR, 600mm, 1/1250 seconds (Source: Palmia Observatory)
One final image of the sun just as Mercury approaches the lower right edge of the solar limb.