Here is a link to the JCCC Astronomy Department blog. There, you will find updates on department news and activities, such as our semi-annual Evening With The Stars, as well as other special events!
After being a full-time faculty member here at JCCC for over a decade, I finally joined the JCCC Faculty Association. During my first year of employment, due to my family’s tight budget, the cost of membership seemed rather prohibitive and I decided not to join. I never was a huge fan of unions and it seemed at the time like the cost of membership outweighed the benefits.
I never gave membership further thought after my first year. Representatives spoke during semesterly faculty meetings and there were occasional emails from FA members that I would sometimes glance over before I deleted them. As the years began to roll by, I slowly came to realize that, thanks to the hard work of FA members, my salary was going up and my benefits were remaining at a manageably low cost. It was starting to seem that what I was receiving as a result of FA work would easily offset the yearly cost of membership. However, for whatever rational or irrational reasons, I was still hesitant about joining.
Recent events at JCCC, and my observations of the general directions that many colleges and universities around the country seem to be going, ignited a growing concern in me about what we at the college are doing and what we are going to become. I began to have conversations with FA members and follow FA email discussions in greater detail. Though it may be an impossible task to prevent JCCC from being swallowed up by some of the unfortunate trends that other colleges are being consumed by, it seems to me that the FA has presented a strong, facts-based voice regarding fiscal responsibilities while offering a voice of reason for the necessity of less-tangible and less-quantifiable aspects of our college that add value to our students, to our institution, and to our community.
A few weeks ago, I finally decided that I wanted to add my voice to that of the FA. Even with the salary increases we have had, my family isn’t much better financially than we were a decade ago, but considering the importance and volume of work the FA does, the cost of the FA membership now seems much less important. I’m in!
Although the most spectacular part of this eclipse wasn’t going to be visible in the Kansas City area, I made a last-minute decision to go ahead and try to get some photos of the partial phase. Since I didn’t plan ahead, I didn’t have a telescope at home with me. All I had was a pair of Binomite solar binoculars, a Canon 50D and a cheap Canon 75mm-300mm telephoto lens.
I included not only a couple of photos of the eclipse, but also a photo of what I did with the telephoto lens to allow me to take them. I went to Price Chopper and got an non-inflated Mylar balloon, cut the edges off so that I had a couple of round sheets of Mylar. Then I used my wife’s fingernail polish remover (acetone) and wiped off the paint off its outer surface. I covered the front of the lens and used a rubber band to secure it. I then trimmed off the excess Mylar. It was a total MacGyver job!
I am sitting out on my deck in Olathe, KS admiring the pinkish glow of an aurora from a CME from the Sun ejected days ago. Its not often one can see them this far south, especially with all the light pollution from Kansas City north of here. Unfortunately, I did not have time to set up my camera to attempt any photos of the aurora.
We are heading toward a solar maximum and we can expect more such events in the near future. There are many free iPhone and Android apps and web sites that give solar storm information, such as www.spaceweather.com.
It was announced today that the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics is being awarded to three astronomers for their work on the nature of the expansion of the universe. The following is an excerpt from nobelprize.org.
“The Nobel Prize in Physics 2011 was awarded “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae” with one half to Saul Perlmutter and the other half jointly to Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess.”
Dr. Patterson and I have been teaching our students about this discovery for years and we have been following the work and results for sometime. It was a stunning and very surprising discovery that countered everything we expected about the expansion of the universe.
They measured distances to galaxies using the measured brightnesses of type 1a supernovae (exploding white dwarfs) and measured the redshift of these galaxies. Using the apparent peak brightnesses of these supernovae, they could calculate the distances to the galaxies where these supernovae occurred. The redshift is used in the Hubble Law to calculate the speed at which galaxies are moving away from us. The finding wasn’t that the expansion of the universe was slowing down in its expansion, as one would expect, but is in fact speeding up!
The cause may be some kind of vacuum energy, often called “dark energy” or “the cosmological constant”. The nature of this energy is a complete mystery and is often referred to as the most important problem in physics and astronomy today.
There is little dispute about the correctness of the measurements. However, the finding all hinges on the idea that all type 1a supernovae explode with identical brightnesses and that nothing like the rotation rate of the white dwarf causes variations in these supernovae.
Today, there are astronomy projects out there that are designed to get the general public involved to assist in real research. Two such projects are Galaxy Zoo, and Galaxy Zoo Supernovae.
At Galaxy Zoo, hundreds of thousands galaxies in Hubble Space Telescope images need classifying. Astronomers need these classifications to help solve the puzzle of how galaxies form and evolve. People wanting to participate are run through a simple tutorial. After completing the tutorial they are given new images of galaxies to classify.
The Galaxy Zoo Supernovae project involves looking at images of galaxies where bright spots have recent appeared. Supernovae are exploding stars and there are different types of supernovae. Participants then compare the bright spots with older reference images to see if these spots are indeed supernovae. Like Galaxy Zoo, a simple and brief tutorial is completed before they are set loose on new images.
If you love astronomy or just want to be a part of professional astronomy research, check these sites out.
I was out on the deck about 9pm when the ISS became visible, flying almost directly overhead. Satellites become visible as solar panels catch Sunlight and reflect it back down to Earth. They are visible just after sunset and just before sunrise. This passover was very bright and with binoculars, one could see two lobes that were the two solar-panel arrays on the ISS. Needless to say, I not only rushed to grab my binoculars, but also called my step-sons to come out and enjoy it with me. It wasn’t long before it moved into the Earth’s shadow and disappeared from view.
If you want to see an ISS flyover, you can go to this site and put in your zip code and find the local times for flyovers and where in the sky to look.