All posts by dpatter

Archaeoastronomy: Between the Heavens and Earth

On Saturday, April 21st, at 7:30pm in the Craig Auditorium, the JCCC Astronomy Department will host its Evening with the Stars public open house event. The evening will begin with a talk by JCCC Professor of Anthropology, Dr. William McFarlane.

Archeoastronomy: Between the Heavens and Earth 
How did prehistoric peoples conceive of their place in the cosmos? What was their relationship with the sun, moon, stars and other celestial phenomena? In what ways did their interaction with the sky shape their lived experience? And, how do we know? We will attempt to answer these questions by reviewing the evidence, interpretations, and implications of the emerging field of Archaeoastronomy.

After the talk, and weather permitting, Professors of Astronomy Dr. Doug Patterson and Prof. William Koch, will lead a tour of the night sky at the Paul Tebbe Observatory (CLB rooftop). Notable objects to be seen include: The Orion Nebula, The Moon, The Beehive Cluster, and Mizar and Alcor.

This event is open to the public and admission is free.

For more information about Evening with the Stars, or the JCCC Astronomy Program, contact Dr. Doug Patterson,, 913-469-8500 x4268 or Prof. William Koch,, 913-469-8500 x3725.

Blue Blood Supermoon!

Tomorrow morning, we get to see a particularly rare treat.  We get to see the second full moon of the month (a blue moon) while the moon is at its nearest point to Earth in its orbit, perigee (supermoon), and the Moon will enter the Earth’s umbral shadow resulting in a total lunar eclipse (blood moon).  So we get to see a blue blood supermoon of awesomeness!

The Moon will enter the Earth’s penumbral shadow at 4:51am, so get up early!  At 5:48am, the Moon begins to enter the Earth’s umbral shadow marking the beginning of the partial lunar eclipse.  The total lunar eclipse, when the Moon is fully encased in the Earth’s umbral shadow, begins at 6:51am and reaches the center of the umbra at 7:25am, a mere three minutes before moonset.

Although we won’t be able to see the entire eclipse event, we will get to see the beginning partial eclipse and the first half of the total eclipse.  It does have a benefit for the photographically minded.  With the eclipse happening near moonset, we will see the eclipsed moon behind familiar landmarks.  This provides an opportunity to make some really engaging photographs.

You can see the full timing details at

We will have our own photographs to share after the eclipse, but we welcome your contributions as well.  Share you images in the comments section below or on our Facebook page,

Happy Birthday Kansas

Today is “Kansas Day“, commemorating Kansas’ official admission into the Union and the beginning of statehood on this day in 1861.  You might wonder why on earth the Astronomy Department is talking about Kansas state history, but there is a connection:  the state motto.  The Kansas State Motto is “Ad astra per aspera.”  The translation of which is “To the stars through difficulties.”  Of course at the time of adoption, there was no space program.  Abraham Lincoln dropped the ball on that one.  Kansas was, however, on the cusp of the western frontier, and many of the risks of spaceflight are inherently the same as the pioneers endured.  They were on their own.  When problems arose, and they did, they had to work a solution themselves.

Today, we do have a space program, and it is still difficult.  That’s one of the reasons we go, though.  The difficulty spurs our creativity and innovation, and through that difficulty we find ourselves and our society enhanced.  So we strive to explore the space, our new frontier, and search for our place among the stars knowing that we will face many difficulties in doing so, but through those difficulties, we will grow and be enriched.  Happy birthday, Kansas!  Ad astra per aspera!

Evening with the Stars — Spring 2015


“Year of the Dwarf Planets”
Saturday, April 25th, 8:00 pm
Craig Auditorium – GEB 233

This year, the two largest Sun-orbiting bodies outside of the eight major planets, will be visited for the first time by our robotic explorers. The DAWN spacecraft is moving into its final orbit around Ceres, the largest asteroid, and the New Horizons spacecraft will arrive at Pluto, the first known Kuiper Belt Object, this summer. Both spacecraft have sent back images and data on their targets and we will look at the new discoveries made by these two missions and how they’ve changed how we view small bodies in our Solar System.

Following the presentation, and provided the skies are clear, we will go to the Paul Tebbe Observatory on the roof of the Classroom and Laboratory Building (CLB) to view the night sky through a variety of telescopes. Some of the visible objects we will be able to observe are:

  • The Moon
  • Jupiter
  • The Orion Nebula
  • The Pleiades
  • M3 Globular Cluster

For more information about Evening with the Stars or our astronomy program at JCCC, please contact one of our astronomers:

Evening With The Stars – Yes, there WILL be a 2013

Presents an

“Yes! There Will Be a 2013”

Saturday, October 20th at 7pm
Craig Auditorium, GEB 233

Professors William Koch and Doug Patterson debunk many of the rumors and myths surrounding the supposed End of the World scheduled for December 21, 2012.

Following the talk, and weather permitting, Profs. Koch and Patterson will lead an observation of the Night Sky at the Paul Tebbe Observatory atop the CLB.  Notable items that will be visible are

The Moon
The Ring Nebula
The Great Cluster of Hercules
The Andromeda Galaxy

For more information, contact
Prof. William Koch at, 913-469-8500 x3725
Prof. Doug Patterson at, 913-469-8500 x4268

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Noon At Nerman Features Galileo’s Garden

The “Noon At The Nerman” program connects artwork throughout the Johnson County Campus to the scholarly activities of the faculty here on campus. This past month, Dr. Doug Patterson, Professor of Astronomy, was invited to lead off the Fall Semester with a discussion of the Galileo’s Garden sculpture that now resides on the south lawn in front of the new Sustainability Building.

During Dr. Patterson’s talk, he refered to Prof. Paul Tebbe’s work with the analemma when the Galileo’s Garden sculpture was next to where the fountain between the SCI and GEB buildings is now.  Thanks to Dr. Anita Tebbe, we rediscovered a video of Prof. Tebbe’s public talk demonstrating the analemma and the overlay he and his students made for the sculpture.

RBSP Finally On Its Way

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), after one delay and two scrubbed attempts to launch, lifted off of Space Launch Complex 41 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 4:05am this morning, right at the opening of its launch window. The two spacecraft, RBSP-A and RBSP-B, were stacked one on top of another, in the nose cone faring of an Atlas V rocket with a Centaur second stage booster to lift the two spacecraft into their final orbits.

It is RBSP’s mission to explore the trapped radiation belts, also known as the Van Allen Belts named after James Van Allen, an early pioneer in space science and exploration from the University of Iowa. Dr. Van Allen first predicted the existence of bands of trapped solar wind particles within Earth’s magnetosphere and his prediction was verified with our first mission to space, Explorer 1, for which Dr. Van Allen was the Principle Investigator.

You can find out more about the Van Allen Belts and the Radiation Belt Storm Probes at

Watch Party for the Launch of RBSP

NASA’S Radiation Belt Storm Probes

LIVE from Cape Canaveral – via NASA TV


Thursday, August 23, 3:08 A.M.

(yes, in the MORNING)


 HOBBS, 700 Massachusetts St.

Join us on the street in front of Hobbs at 700 Massachusetts St. to watch as NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) twin spacecraft take off aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Part of NASA’s Living with a Star program, the two-year mission will investigate one of the most hostile regions of Earth’s space environment: the radiation belts. Especially in extreme conditions, space weather can disable satellites, cause power grid failures, and disrupt GPS services.

RBSP’s instruments – the most advanced ever flown into the radiation belts – will let scientists solve the mysteries of how the belts change due to space weather. Fundamental Technologies, LLC, a Lawrence small business, is the Science Operations Center (SOC) for the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment (RBSPICE), one of four instrument suites on the spacecraft.

Dr. Ramona Kessel, Deputy Program Scientist for NASA’s initiative called “Living With a Star” (LWS), received her BS in Physics from Baker University in 1978, followed by MS and PhD degrees in Physics from KU in 1984 and 1986, respectively.

FREE DONUTS to the first 100 people – in honor of the donut-shaped radiation belts!

For more information, contact Heather Mull, Fundamental Technologies, 785-840-0800,

Brought to you by Fundamental Technologies, LLC and Hobbs, Inc.

Huge Crowds Come to See the Venus Transit

Photo by Josh Randel
Venus making its way across the face of the Sun imaged by former JCCC Astronomy student Josh Randel using his Nikon D80 and one of our 8" Celestron SCTs using a mirrored glass solar filter.
Our public open house for the Transit of Venus was surprising for a few different reasons. First, we had clear skies! Usually, when we plan a public observing events, that’s the signal for clouds to rush in from all directions and hover over the Paul Tebbe Observatory. Our second surprise after having clear skies was to have hundreds of people lined up to take a look at the Sun and Venus! Normally, we have a 50 or so people turn out for one of our events. For this past Spring’s Evening With The Stars program, we were elated to have 150 people come out. This past Tuesday, we EASILY had double that number if not more! People from the college and the community lined up down the stairwell from the roof and all the way down the hall on the 4th floor of the CLB, and all evening long, the line never shrank!

Photo by Don Bishop
A youngster taking a rare look at Venus and the Sun through our 12" Meade SCT. --Photo by Don Bishop
We apologize to those who weren’t able to make it to the roof before sunset, but for those who did, we got to see a fantastic and rare sight, Venus eclipsing the Sun! Venus is nearly as large as the Earth, and nearly four times the size of our Moon, but since it’s much further away from us, it’s angular size in the sky is much smaller than the Moon’s so when Venus passed directly between us and the Sun, it didn’t block the entire disc of the Sun, but only a part of it. Since Venus doesn’t orbit in precisely the same plane around the Sun as the Earth, it’s very rare that Venus ever passes directly between us and the Sun. Usually, Venus misses the Sun by a degree or two, but when the geometry is just right, we’re treated to a transit event like we were able to witness last Tuesday evening.

The dark disc of Venus passing across the face of the Sun wasn’t the only thing that visitors were able to see when they came to the Paul Tebbe Observatory. With the two different types of filters we were using to observe the Sun, we were able to see a number of sunspots, and some solar prominences, hydrogen and helium gas caught up in large magnetic arcs above the solar surface. After sunset, many stayed around and were able to see Mars and Saturn through the telescopes as well as the double-star Alberio.

All in all, it was a fantastic evening and we were overwhelmed and humbled by the magnitude of the turnout. We would like to thank everyone who came out to join us and look forward to our next observing event! To see more photos from the event, check out our page on Facebook.