Category Archives: Astronomy

Fall 2019 Evening with the Stars

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On the afternoon of October 8, 2019, the JCCC Astronomy Department, in collaboration with Jackie Beucher, Vice President of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, brought in former NASA astronaut Dr. Steven Hawley, to speak about the Hubble Space Telescope. The event was a limited afternoon edition of the Astronomy Department’s fall Evening with the Stars program. Unlike all previous functions provided by the department, which were open to the public, this event was open only to JCCC students, ASKC members, and JCCC faculty and staff.

Dr. Hawley flew five shuttle missions and logged 770 hours in space. Hawley also served as Director of Space Science at Johnson Space Center. He received numerous awards, including NASA Distinguished Service Awards and NASA Exceptional Services Awards. Dr. Hawley was inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2007. His career with NASA spanned nearly 30 years. He is currently an Emeritus Professor of Physics and an Adjunct Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas.

Dr. Hawley has some first-hand experience with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). His shuttle missions included the 1990 mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the 1997 mission to service Hubble. His talk very informative, and it gave the audience some unique insights into its construction and deployment, its problems, and its servicing. He also shared several humorous stories that one wouldn’t read or hear about anywhere else.

Because of poor weather, we were unable to have the customary open house at the observatory following the talk. We were prepared to set up special telescopes to observe the Sun. Since the Sun is very quiescent at the moment, we didn’t see the cancellation of the open house a significant loss. Given that we had a NASA astronaut as our speaker, the coolness factor of the event was already off the charts!

Alarming Astronomy: Strange Sights-Past, Present and Future

The JCCC Astronomy Department will once again open its doors and telescopes for an out-of-this-world evening on Saturday, April 13, 7:30 p.m. in Craig Community Auditorium (GEB 233). We welcome guest speaker Jay Manifold of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. Manifold will speak on “Alarming Astronomy: Strange Sights—Past, Present and Future, exploring such questions as:

  • How did we ever survive 2012?
  • Why didn’t the world end on March 10, 1982—or May 5, 2000—or May 27, 2003?
  • Will asteroid Apophis get us anyway in 2029 or 2036?

Manifold will explore these questions and more. What makes this stuff so popular even when nothing happens? And how can we dial down the looniness?

Afterward, join J. Douglas Patterson and William Koch, JCCC professors of Astronomy, at the Paul Tebbe Observatory for a tour of the night sky. They will train our telescopes on the Moon, Mars, the Pleiades Cluster and the Orion Nebula.

About our speaker

Jay Manifold is a current member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City and a former Vice-President, Board Member and Education Director of the organization. As a longtime volunteer and keyholder at Powell Observatory, he has delivered scores of presentations on astronomy to groups ranging from Cub Scout packs to JCCC classes, which he has assisted every semester since 2008. In fall 2009, he gave an Evening with the Stars talk titled “Asteroids, Black Swans, Global Catastrophic Risks, and How to Save Civilization.”

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,

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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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.

Evening With The Stars

The JCCC Science Division presents an EVENING WITH THE STARS to be held on April 28th at 7:00pm in the Craig Auditorium, GEB 233.

Dr. Thomas Armstrong, Retired Professor of Physics from the University of Kansas and Principle Scientist at Fundamental Technologies, LLC, will give a talk on the history of space exploration, Human History in Space, looking at the major events in space exploration and discoveries that shape our understanding of Earth, the Solar System, the Galaxy, and the Universe as well as discussing presently understood challenges and opportunities in space for present and future generations.

After the talk and weather permitting, we will have several telescopes set up to observe the night-sky at the Paul Tebbe Observatory on the roof of the CLB. Some objects of note that will be viewable are:

  • The Orion Nebula
  • The Beehive Cluster
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • and the Moon.

For more information, contact either William Koch,, at (913) 469-8500 x3725, or Doug Patterson,, at (913).

Lunar Eclipse Photos

This morning we got to experience a lunar eclipse! Unfortunately, the eclipse began as the Moon was setting, so we didn’t get to see the entire eclipse, just the beginning.

Anatomy of the Earth's shadow
Anatomy of the Earth's shadow
The penumbral eclipse began at around 5:30am this morning. During a penumbral eclipse, the Moon is in the penumbral shadow of the Earth, and from the vantage point of the Moon, you would have seen a partial solar eclipse as the Earth partially blocks the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon. At 6:45am, the Moon began to enter the Earth’s umbral shadow and we began to see a partial lunar eclipse. From the Moon looking sunward, if you’re in the Earth’s umbral shadow, the Sun would be completely blocked. You’d see a total solar eclipse! The total lunar eclipse began at 8:04am, but by then, the Moon had completely set. You would have needed to be further west to see the total eclipse, and all the way over in Japan to see the full duration of the eclipse. Next opportunity for us isn’t until 2014, but that eclipse we’ll be able to see fully.

Mystery of the Lunar Ionosphere

If you take an introductory course in Astronomy, such as the ASTR 120 or ASTR 122 courses here at JCCC, you’ll learn that the Moon is airless, that it has no atmosphere. As with most things in astronomy, and science in general, that statement is more or less correct, but when you examine the Moon more closely, there are a lot of complications that arise. The Moon doesn’t really have an atmosphere in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely devoid of a shroud of gas. Recently, more information has been discovered about the Moon’s ionosphere, something that shouldn’t exist for an airless world. Check out this video from Science@NASA for the details.

NASA Sets Mars Science Laboratory Launch Coverage

We headed back to Mars! This time, the new Mars rover, Curiosity, will be better equipped to discover signs of Martian life, either current or from the past. One of the things that NASA has been doing very well as of late is to promote its new launches and make video of those launches available through a wide variety of outlets. Most cable and satellite TV providers have NASA TV as part of their basic package, but if you don’t have NASA TV at home, you can always stream it from their website at Below is the official press release from NASA about the upcoming launch and details about pre-launch press conferences discussing the mission.

NASA Sets Mars Science Laboratory Launch Coverage

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft with the Curiosity rover is set to launch to the planet Mars aboard an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 25, 2011 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends from 10:25 a.m. to 12:08 p.m. EST (7:25 a.m. to 9:08 a.m. PST). The launch period for the mission extends through Dec. 18.

The spacecraft will arrive at Mars in August 2012. Curiosity has 10 science instruments to search for evidence about whether Mars had environments favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life. The unique rover will use a laser to look inside rocks and release their gasses so that a spectrometer can analyze them and send the data back to Earth.

Briefings about the mission are scheduled throughout the week leading to launch and will be held at the Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site.

Science Briefings and Prelaunch News Conference

Monday, Nov. 21, 1 p.m. EST (10 a.m. PST): “What Do We Know About Mars?”
Participants will be:

Michael Meyer, lead scientist, Mars Exploration Program
NASA Headquarters, Washington

John Grotzinger, project scientist, Mars Science Laboratory
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

Bethany Ehlmann, scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Assistant professor, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 11 a.m. EST (8 a.m. PST): “Looking for Signs of Life in the Universe”
Participants will be:

Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Jamie Foster, professor, Department of Microbiology and Cell Science
University of Florida, Gainesville

Pan Conrad, deputy principal investigator, Sample Analysis at Mars, Mars Science Laboratory
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Steven Benner, director, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution
Gainesville, Fla.

Catharine Conley, planetary protection officer
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 1 p.m. EST (10 a.m. PST): Prelaunch News Conference
Participants will be:

Colleen Hartman, assistant associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Omar Baez, NASA launch director
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Vernon Thorp, program manager, NASA Missions
United Launch Alliance, Denver

Peter Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Clay Flinn, launch weather officer
45th Weather Squadron, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Curiosity Mission Science Briefing: This briefing will immediately follow the prelaunch news conference. Participants will be:

Michael Meyer, lead scientist for Mars Exploration Program
NASA Headquarters, Washington

John Grotzinger, project scientist for Mars Science Laboratory
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator for Sample Analysis at Mars investigation on Curiosity
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

David Blake, principal investigator for Chemistry and Mineralogy investigation on Curiosity
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Michael Malin, principal investigator for the Mast Camera and Mars Descent Imager investigations on Curiosity
Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego

Roger Wiens, principal investigator for Chemistry and Camera investigation on Curiosity
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.

Wednesday, Nov. 23, 1 p.m. EST (10 a.m. PST): “Why Mars Excites and Inspires Us”
Participants will be:

Leland Melvin, associate administrator for Education
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Scott Anderson, teacher and science department chairman
Da Vinci School for Science & the Arts, El Paso, Texas

Clara Ma, student, NASA contest winner for naming Curiosity
Shawnee Mission East High School, Prairie Village, Kansas

Veronica McGregor, manager, Media Relations Office
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2 p.m. EST (11 a.m. PST): “Missions to Mars: Robotics and Humans Together”
(Originating from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston)

Doug Ming, manager, Human Exploration Science Office; Mars Science Laboratory Co-Investigator
NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston

Bret Drake, deputy chief architect, Human Spaceflight Architecture Team
NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston

Matt Ondler, assistant director, Advanced Project Development
NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston

Mike Gernhardt, NASA astronaut
NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston

John Charles, program scientist, Human Research Program
NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston

A post-launch news conference will be held at the NASA News Center approximately 2 ½ hours after launch.

NASA Television Launch Coverage
On Friday, Nov. 25, NASA Television coverage of the launch will begin at 8 a.m. EST (5 a.m. PST) and conclude after spacecraft separation from the Atlas V occurs 53 minutes, 49 seconds after launch. Live launch coverage will be carried on all NASA Television channels.

A post-launch news conference will be held at the Kennedy press site approximately 2 ½ hours after launch.

For NASA Television downlink information, schedule information and streaming video, visit: .

Launch coverage also will be available on local amateur VHF radio frequency 146.940 MHz broadcast within Brevard County.

Ustream Coverage
The Mars Science Laboratory news conferences, briefings and launch will be streamed live on Ustream at .

NASA Web Coverage
Extensive prelaunch and launch day coverage of the liftoff of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket will be available on NASA’s home page on the Internet at: .

A prelaunch webcast for the mission will be streamed on the Web on Wednesday, Nov. 22, at noon EST (9 a.m. PST). Live countdown coverage through NASA’s Launch Blog begins at 8 a.m. EST (5 a.m. PST) on Friday, Nov. 25. Coverage features live updates as countdown milestones occur, as well as streaming video clips highlighting launch preparations and liftoff.

To view the webcast and the blog or to learn more about Mars Science Laboratory, visit the mission home page at: and .

The NASA News Twitter feed will be updated throughout the launch countdown. You can follow the updates at: and and .

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Launch management is the responsibility of NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Atlas V launch service is provided by United Launch Alliance, Denver.

The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:

Nobel Prize in Physics 2011

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

“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.