June 23, 2012

Astronomy Open House

The 32 inch (0.8m) telescope atop the University of Victoria's Bob Wright Center. This is the telescope we use for our weekly open house on wed nights. In the picture you can see the main telescope itself. The eyepeice is the black tube sticking out the back of it. Above the main telescope there is also a 5 inch (12.5cm) finder telescope. In itself the finder is a very nice telescope, but we rarely use it because the tracking of the main telescope is so accurate.

In the background you can see one of the computer screens we use to control the telescope. That screen has all the vitals of the telescope displayed, and the other has a "map of the sky". The computer is connected to gps so it knows exactly where it is and what time it is, and from that it keeps track of exactly where everything is in the sky. We simply click on whatever we want to look at, and press go.

Since the earth rotates, the stars seem to move through the sky. If a telescope is pointed at something, that thing will slide out of view in just 10s of seconds. This telescope tracks through the sky. It has an incredibly accurate tracking system, the object you are looking at never moves from the exact center of the eyepeice.

The dome covering the telescope has a slit in it which opens so that we can see out. In order to look in all directions, we can rotate the dome all the way around to point the slit in any direction. The telescope is the largest on campus telescope in Canada, and the 5th largest in Canada overall.

At the open house we also have several smaller telescopes on our roof, as well as a projector for looking at pretty pictures of space stuff. We are open every wed night from 9-10 during the summer. We take september off, but then we are back in october 8-10 every wed night. Feel free to come join us rain or shine on the 5th floor of the Bob Wright Center.

June 7, 2012

A Very Long Flight

The sun. This picture is from just before second contact when Venus becomes entirely on the surface of the sun. Venus is most of the way onto the sun at about the 11 o'clock position. The image of the sun is from a projection telescope. The telescope is focused so that the image appears on a projection screen about a foot behind the telescope. It is one of the best ways to view the sun. One reason is you do not risk burning your eyes because of improper filtering, and the other is that it lets many people look at the image at the same time. The large smudgy bits are clouds, and the little black dots are sunspots.

To give you an idea of scale, the small sunspots you can see are around the size of the earth. Venus appears much bigger, but in fact it is just slightly smaller than earth. The reason it appears so large is that it is much closer than the sun. It is just over 1/4 of the distance from here to the sun, or about 30 million kilometers. That doesn't really mean much to us, but to give a sense of the distance, it would take an airliner 4.8 years to cover that distance. It takes light about 2 minutes to do the same trip.

June 5, 2012

Transit For Real

I took this photo just a few hours ago during the transit of Venus. I talked about it in my previous post, but here is a picture of what it actually looks like.

Venus is the big round dot on the sun. The little dots are sunspots.

I will write more later, I am exhausted at the moment.

June 3, 2012

A Little Black Dot

I don't actually have a picture for this post. I am instead going to write a bit about the events of tomorrow, June 5th. As I wrote yesterday, there happens to be a transit of Venus occurring this tuesday. This is one of the rarer astronomical events that we can easily predict and observe.

A transit is very simple. As seen from earth, the planet Venus passes directly in front of the sun. We see a small black dot which slowly moves across the face of the sun. It is very much like a very tiny solar eclipse. During the 2004 transit, Venus was in front of the sun for around 6 hours, and the same will be true this time around.

The transits happen on a 243 year cycle with pairs of transits 8 years apart, separated by first 121, then 105 years. The first transit to be predicted was the 1631 transit. Kepler predicted it in 1927, but his calculations were not sufficiently accurate to determine that it would not be visible from Europe. As such, there were no observations made during that transit. He had predicted that in 1639 there would be a near miss and not an actual transit.

Horrocks fiddled with the calculations and deduced that there would in fact be a 1639 transit. He and his friend Crabtree both observed the transit, but due to clouds and sunset, they were only able to observe a very short part of the transit.

The next pair of transits was 1761 and 1769. For these transits, observers were sent all across the world. The reason for this was that Halley had predicted that if you observed the transits from widely spaced points on the earth, one could use parallax to determine the distance from the earth to the sun. The earth is large enough that Venus takes a different path across the sun depending on where you observe from.

At the time, they had calculated relative distances to the planets, but they did not have a baseline to determine actual hard distances. The distance they came up with was 153,000,000km plus or minus 1,000,000. That is very close to the currently accepted 149,600,000km. During the pair of transits in 1874 and 1882, the distance to the sun was refined to 149,590,000km plus or minus 310,000km.

Anyhow, the transit on tuesday kicks off at around 3pm and goes on until sunset here in Victoria. If anyone is in Victoria there are many options if you would like to take a look at the transit yourself. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is putting on several observing sites around the city, the DAO out on Observatory Hill is having an open house and finally UVic is putting on a big open house on the 5th floor of the Bob Wright Building.

We will have welders glass and solar sunglasses to observe unaided, as well as several projection telescopes to look at projected image of the sun. There will also be several solar telescopes to look directly at the sun. We will also have our 32 inch telescope running looking at stars and other planets which we can see during the daytime. If the weather fails we will also have our projector set up to watch feeds of the transit from somewhere sunny...

Cross your fingers for clear skies!

My Apologies

My apologies for my absence for the last while. If anyone has been checking for new posts I apologize fore there not being any. I am going to make a real effort to get back into doing a post every day.

This photo is from much earlier in the year when Venus and Jupiter were cozy together in the sky. The reason why I chose this image for today is that on tuesday of this coming week, the planet Venus will transit in front of the sun as seen from earth. This is a very rare occurrence. The transits happen in pairs 8 years apart. These pairs though are separated by more than 105 years. The next time to see a transit happen will be 2117 and before 2004 it was 1882. More on this tomorrow

Another interesting event in the next couple days is a partial lunar eclipse visible from most of North and South America as well as East Asia.

On another note entirely, congratulations to SpaceX on their more than successful flight last week. More on that later as well.