Sky Scouting Out Astronomy Fun!


What happens when you mix a large group of kids with a telescope that talks? Chances are, you’ve got a recipe for loads of astronomy fun. Thanks to a generous donation of a Celestron SkyScout 90 telescope and more, the Outreach Team at Warren Rupp Observatory soon found out what it was like to take on more than 300 guests during a recent public night and just how valuable certain pieces of astronomy education equipment can be. Come on inside where it’s dark and let me show you what we’ve found…

skyscout_scopeSince the introduction of the Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium, amateur astronomers the world over have been delighting in its simple, easy to use format and ability to instantly identify and/or locate any celestial object visible to the unaided eye, providing educational and entertaining information, both in text and audio. Many times when you encounter a large group of people, you’ll find there are some that are just a bit too shy to ask questions, but desperately would like to explore… And handing them a Celestron SkyScout opened up a whole new world to them. But what exactly would happen if you gave them the equally easy ability to see the objects they had found with a telescope? That’s where the Celestron SkyScout Scope 90 came into play and opened up the wonders of the Comos…

NSN_logoLike all non-profit educational organizations, the Observatory simply couldn’t afford new equipment. We never charge for attending public nights – nor do we charge for giving educational programs. As a result? Well, we might always be broke… But that hasn’t stopped us from continuously being #5 in the NASA Night Sky Network Outreach standings and serving thousands of children and adults the very best in educational programming and sharing the night sky. And even as quiet as we try to be in the dark, sometimes our voice gets heard! Just like Celestron heard about UT reader Brian Sheen’s Outreach Expedition in “Canoe Africa” and donated equipment, so our need was also heard and OPT Telescope stepped forward with an equally astounding donation…

skyscout_outreach1With just a few gentle lessons from one of our Outreach Team Members, Bob Kocar, it wasn’t long until the kids soon took over our new Celestron SkyScout Scope 90. The easy to use alt-azimuth mount and tripod allows users of any age to move easily around the sky, but that wasn’t the only treat they had in store! Along with our donation package from OPT came the incredible blessing of the Celestron SkyScout Speakers. This amazing little device only took a few minutes to charge via a USB port and delivered big, big sound to anyone within the waiting circle around the scope! Now, while one child aimed the scope, another could produce the “program” to go along with it! Story after story played, but sky scouting out the astronomy fun didn’t stop there…

skyscout_outreach2With an easy to use telescope, a personal planetarium that worked like their familiar iPods, and a sky full of stars… What more could a huge group of kids and adults ask for? That’s right. More. And OPT had delivered more in the form of the Celestron Sky Scout Expansion Card – International Year of Astronomy. The next thing you know, we were hearing about all the celestial events that would be taking place this month, information on the International Year of Astronomy and highlights of important milestones in astronomy and space history. After a few bright Messier objects, a young man held up two more he had found in our box of astronomy toys and the crowd around the telescope soon grew larger as they explored the Celestron Sky Scout Expansion Card – Astronomy For Beginners and Celestron Sky Scout Expansion Card – All About The Stars.

skyscout_outreach3Does adding a dimension like the Celestron SkyScout Scope 90, the Celestron SkyScout, speakers and expansion cards really have an impact on both personal and public astronomy? You can see the results for yourself, but what you can’t see is the most important of all. For those of us who practice astronomy, we often tease that we never know a face – but we know the voice in the dark. That night the voices in the dark were busy talking about star colors and names, pointing out constellations to each other and talking about distances and facts like young Carl Sagans. For some folks, this type of equipment might not seem right – a recorded voice taking place of a live astronomer – a telescope that utilizes GPS technology and point and shoot simplicity… But for a huge group of kids who embrace new technology?

It was a night of Sky Scouting out astronomy fun!

Our many thanks go once again to Mr. Craig Weatherwax of Oceanside Photo and Telescope for your generous donation to Warren Rupp Observatory and your continued support of our UT readers. It means so very much to all of us…

Kid’s Astronomy: Sagittarius – Summer Central!


Ah, yes… The skies have long been dark and the constellations have been on the move since the last time we’ve visited! Hercules now stands overhead when darkness falls. Summer Bugs and Scorpius are already going west of the meridian and Ophiuchus, the “Snake Charmer” has taken its place. In the southern hemisphere, they are tolerating winter – but the nights are warm in the north and with them comes our finest times of viewing our own Milky Way galaxy’s spiral arm… Sagittarius.

Are you ready to learn more? Then for most of you, the journey will begin as the sky starts to darken. Do you remember the herdsman, Bootes? His marker star, Arcturus, has now moved from overhead to the high west for most locations. How about the Summer Triangle? Instead of waiting for hours for it to arrive, those three bright stars show clearly as well risen to the east and high east. Do you remember the Scorpion? It’s here, too… And as the sky gets truly dark, you won’t be able to miss sparkling red Antares or the distinctive pattern of Scorpius as it sits against the southern skyline slightly to the southwest.

But, we promised you summer, didn’t we? That’s right. And no summer would be complete without some starry nights and peering into the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy. We’ll begin by identifying the southernmost star of the Summer Triangle, Altair, and the Aquila constellation. Its distinctive “T” shape shows in even relatively light polluted areas! Beginning with Altair (Alpha Scu), count four stars down the back towards the south. At the end of this chain, you will see two stars close together. Starhop almost this same distance west with your binoculars and listen to the wind….

m11a“What Summer would be complete without looking for a beautiful flock of Wild Ducks taking flight against the starry night? You’ll find this sparkling open cluster just south of another sky-bird, Aquila. Count down four stars to Lambda Scuti…” In binoculars it will show as a distinctive diamond-shaped compression of star field and will begin some resolution. In the finderscope it will appear as a small hazy patch. Even in a small telescope it will resolve into a glorious open cluster and will show hundreds of stars to larger aperture. At around 220 million years old, Messier 11 is one of the richest and most compact of the known open clusters, containing about 2900 stars. Its brightest and hottest main sequence stars are of spectral type B8 and it also contains many yellow and red giant stars. Speeding away from us at 22 kilometers per second, a total of 82 variable stars have so far been discovered amidst its vast population!

m17a“If you like beach parties, then why not capture your own lobster? Although it is sometimes known as the Omega Nebula, Messier 17 looks like a ghostly green lobster just waiting on your pot!” How do you find it? For binoculars and image correct finderscopes, try starting with the constellation of Aquila and begin tracing the stars down the eagle’s back to Lambda – just like you did for M11. When you reach that point, continue to extend the line through to Alpha Scuti, then southwards towards Gamma Scuti. M17 is slightly more than 2 degrees (about a finger width) southwest of this star. If you are in a dark sky location, you can also identify it easily in binoculars by starting at the M24 “Star Cloud” north of Lambda Sagittari (the teapot lid star) and simply scan north. This nebula is bright enough to even cut through moderately light polluted skies with ease, but don’t expect to see it when the Moon is nearby. You’ll enjoy the rich star fields combined with an interesting nebula in binoculars, while telescopes will easily begin resolution of interior stars.

m8a“Summer nights mean a chance to swim, and what more peaceful way than in the Blue Lagoon? Get out your binoculars and explore M8 – the Lagoon Nebula….” Although the constellation of Sagittarius is recognized as the Archer, it is most familiar as an asterism known as the ‘teapot’. Where skies are dark, its simple house-like shape appears like a teapot in the sky and the steam escaping the spout in the Milky Way. Finding Messier 8 in binoculars or a telescope is easy in a dark location, because you only need to start at the tip of the teapot’s spout and move your optics due north until this large, bright nebula appears. However, not everyone is blessed with dark skies and finding M8 from an urban location can be a little more difficult. From a well-lighted situation, both the teapot lid star (Lambda) and Alpha Scorpii (Antares) show well. You’ll find M8 just slightly north about 1/4 of the distance between Lambda and Alpha. In binoculars it will be quite bright and you’ll see the beginnings of its embedded open cluster – while a telescope of any size will resolve the cluster and bring up wonderful details in the wispy nebula. Large aperture should also look for accompanying dark nebula, too. Be aware that although it is bright, well-lit situations will greatly reduce contrast and a moonlit night or city lights will make it very difficult to find. Because of the Lagoon Nebula’s large apparent size, use low magnification to see the full extent of the nebula, but be sure to up the power to study its many features!

Messier Object 8 is a giant interstellar cloud. An emission nebula is a localized region of ionized gas which emits light in different colors at wavelengths not always visible to the human eye. Its energy source is ionization from high-energy photons emitted from a nearby hot star, which causes it to glow – much like the heating coil on an electric stove. The colors you see photographically depend on the chemical composition and how much it is being ionized. Most nebulae contain an abundance of hydrogen, which doesn’t require much energy to be ionized and appears red. Where more energy is available from more powerful stars, other elements will be ionized and green and blue hues will appear. To our human eyes, we see nebulae like M8 is gray, or gray/green… Doubly ionized oxygen! Many emission nebulae like M8 often have dark areas in them where no stars or light seems to appear. We refer to these as ‘dark nebula’ but they’re really just clouds of dust which block the light.

The Lagoon Nebula is about 5200 light years away and covers an area of space about 140 by 60 light years. Its brightest portion is often called the “Hourglass Nebula” and it’s a region where new star formation is occurring. Inside you’ll also see young open star cluster NGC 6530. According to information, it may be situated just slightly in front of the nebula from our perspective, but interstellar reddening shows the nebula is also involved with the cluster. M8 is also famous for its Bok globules – dark, collapsing clouds of protostellar material!

m22a“Are you ready to go catch some lightning bugs? Then you’ll find a whole swarm of them just waiting for you near the top of the celestial tea kettle.” From its position almost on the ecliptic plane, bright globular cluster M22 is easy to find in optics of all sizes… The most important clue is simply identifying the Sagittarius “teapot” shape! Once you’ve located it, just chose the “lid” star, Lambda (Kaus Borealis) and look about a finger width (2 degrees) due northeast. In binoculars, if you center Lambda, M22 will appear in the 10:00 region of your field of view. In a finderscope, you will need to hop from Lambda northeast to 24 Sagittari and you’ll see it as a faint fuzzy nearby also to the northeast. From a dark sky location, Messier Object 22 can also sometimes be spotted with the unaided eye! No matter what size optics you use, this large, very luminous ball of stars is quite appealing. A joy to binocular users and an exercise in resolution to telescopes. Drifting along in space some 10,400 light years from our solar system, M22 shares common ground with a lot of other clusters of its type. It’s true that it is a gravitationally bound sphere of stars and that most of its stars are all about the same age. It’s also true that it’s part of our galactic halo and may once have been part of a galaxy that our Milky Way cannibalized… But it’s there that the similarities end. There’s a lot more to this ball of stars that’s receding away from us at 149 kilometers per second than meets the eye.

Messier 22 contains at least 70,000 individual stars – and out of those? Only 32 are variable stars. It spans an incredible 200 light years in diameter and ranks 4th in brightness against all the known globular clusters in our galaxy. And four is its lucky number… Because it is also one of only four globular clusters known to contain a planetary nebula. But is that all? Not hardly. Recent Hubble Space Telescope investigations of Messier 22 have led to the discovery of an astonishing discovery. It would appear that there’s planet-sized objects floating around in there about 80 times the mass of Earth!

catspaw_noao“Summer fun means including the whole family and it would appear a curious cat has been tracking around the center of our Milky Way Galaxy! Get out your telescope and look for the Cat’s Paw Nebula, NGC 6334, just above the Scorpion’s tail.” Nebulae are perhaps as famous for being identified with familiar shapes as perhaps cats are for getting into trouble! Still, no known cat could have created the vast Cat’s Paw Nebula visible in Scorpius. At 5,500 light years distant, Cat’s Paw is an emission nebula with a red color that originates from an abundance of ionized hydrogen atoms. Alternatively known as the Bear Claw Nebula or NGC 6334, stars nearly ten times the mass of our Sun have been born there in only the past few million years.

ngc6369_heritage“What Summer night would not be complete without telling a ghost story around the campfire!It’s time to take a look at Telescopium – the telescope – and find NGC 6369.” This pretty planetary nebula was discovered by astronomer William Herschel as he used a telescope to explore the constellation Ophiuchus. It’s called a planetary nebula because it is round and planet-shaped – but it’s far fainter. For that very reason, it’s often called the Little Ghost Nebula! What is is a sun-like star at the end of its life… shedding its outer layers and expanding into space. During this time, the star’s core begins to shrinks until it ends up as a white dwarf star. Once transformed, the white dwarf star then lights the “left over” nebula material. Over 2,000 light-years away, the Little Ghost Nebula shows us what make eventually become of our own Sun in another 5 billion years!

Enjoy your summer evenings….

Many thanks to these great resources for the images! Sagittarius Region Map courtesy of Bill Keel of the University of Alabama, M11, M17, M8, and M22 images courtesy of NOAO/AURA/NSF, NGC 6334 courtesy of Travis Rector, NOAO/AURA/NSF and the “Little Ghost” courtesy of the Hubble Heritage Team

Kid’s Astronomy: Summer Bugs


Howdy, kids! Over the last couple of months we’ve visited with a multitude of wonderful sky characters. We’ve located the Triangle, met the Dragon, visited in the Royal House, met a King and Queen and their children, a celestial Herdsman and his grandchildren, and we’ve even met an ancient Egytian! Now when we go out at night, we often find ourselves surrounded by bugs and other creepy crawlies in the night. Did you know that you can find them in the stars, too? Then sit back and listen to the voices on the wind as it tells you where to look…

scorpius_myth“One of the easiest of the summer creepy crawlers to find is the constellation of Scorpio high in the south after the Sun sets. You’ll recognize it easily by its many bright stars and long, graceful J-shape. If you’re not sure, look for the giant red star – Antares – whose name means the “Rival of Mars”. If you have good eyes or binoculars, look for the beautiful optical double star where Scorpio’s tail starts. That’s Omega, whose blue and gold colors stand out against the night. At the southern tip of the J is another beautiful double star – Shaula – whose name “the Stinger” is well earned!”

m6aAre you ready to go hunting for a blue moth? Then aim your binoculars about a fistwidth north of the “Stinger” and behold the “Butterfly”! It’s proper name is Messier Object 6, but on a warm and hazy night, it appears like a beautiful blue moth in binoculars. Do you see another hazy spot nearby to the south? This pretty open star cluster is Messier Object 7 and is often called “Ptolemy’s Cluster” but looks like a swarm of bright fireflies! Are you ready for more? Then take a closer look at Antares for the ants… In even small binoculars you will see a fine, powdery ball of stars that looks like tiny ants gathering near a red drop of Popsicle! These stars belong to Messier Object 4 – a globular cluster.”

MandM_Magrath

“If you stop to admire the constellation of Scorpius on a dark night, perhaps you’ll notice a silvery band that seems to curve down the sky towards its bright stars. That’s no cloud… That’s the Milky Way! The stars of Scorpius help to point the way to our own galaxy’s spiral arm. Doesn’t it look like a silver road? There is a legend that the sky god Helios allowed his son Phaeton to drive his Sun chariot along this road. When he encountered the Scorpion, he wrecked an caused an awful fire that made the deserts in Africa and caused the people’s skin to turn black.”

The Moon is now waxing and moving gradually east each night. It won’t be long until it passes through Scorpius and near Antares on a very special date – July 4th! For some lucky kids somewhere, this could mean an occultation event… a time when the Moon will “cover up” the bright red star as they pass each other in the night. For others, the pair will only be close, but what a treat to point out your new “star smarts” to others while you’re out watching fireworks!

Many thanks go these folks for their awesome images: Scorpius Map courtesy of Windows On The Universe, Historical Scorpius Image from Hevelius Maps, M6 image courtesy of N.A.Sharp, Mark Hanna, REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF, Moonlight, Mars and the Milky Way courtesy of Barney Magrath, NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day. We thank you so much!

Kid’s Astronomy – Ophiuchus: The “Snake Charmer”


Hey, Kids! Did you see the crescent of the Moon last night? With the heat and humidity much higher in the northern hemisphere, it looked wonderfully like a cool slice of orange cantaloupe hung in the sky! If you’re looking for something cool to do, then why not get out your binoculars and try a little star gazing? We’ve visited with a lot of different sky characters and it’s time to learn more. Whenever you’re ready, it’s time to head out into the dark shadows and listen to the voices on the wind…

Corona Borealis“As night falls, it’s time to look for more royalty in the sky as we locate Corona Borealis – the “Northern Crown” – whose faint main stars form a semicircular arc. Guarded by Hercules on one side and Bootes on another, some tales call it the royal crown of Dionysus. Why not? It’s brightest star’s name is Gemma. But, during the summer, why not think of it as the Native Americans once did? They believed Corona Borealis to be a campfire circle!”

ophiuchus_hev2“As you gather around our celestial campfire, let’s talk about the constellation of Ophiuchus. Many believe it to be the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac because it resides mainly on the ecliptic plane – the imaginary path the Sun and Moon takes across the sky. Some legends see Ophiuchus as the “Serpent Bearer” and picture him as holding a huge serpent in either hand – the constellations of Serpens and Serpens Caudia. However, there are more tales to be told about Ophichus!

The ancient Egyptians believed this large set of stars to be the incarnation of Imhotep. One of Imhotep’s legend was that of a doctor and it is often said that he introduced the art of healing and medicines to mankind. If you take a look at today’s modern medical symbol, you’ll see a large serpent! The snake symbol was also used to represent Imhotep.

Using your binoculars and our constellation guide to Ophiuchus, see if you can find a great cluster of Imhotep’s stellar jewels listed as NGC 6633. It takes up about as much area of sky as the full Moon and it is bright enough to be seen with even small binoculars. The light you see from it tonight left 660 million years ago!”

NGC 6633
NGC 6633

If you check out the Rho star, a triple, sort of a boat shape with a telescope, you will find, a beautiful blue reflection nebula, listed as IC 4665 that is sometimes known as the “The Fish Spear of Poseidon”.

IC 4665
IC 4665

“Does Ophiuchus look like a snake charmer to you? Or an ancient Egytian?”

Always be sure to pick a safe place to observe and let your parents know where you’ll be. Why not ask them to join you?! After all, you’ve got a lot of wonderful stories and plenty of “star sense” to share!

We like to thank the following folks for their wonderful illustrations: Ophiuchus map courtesy of Windows to the Universe, Corona Borealis and Ophiuchus Images from Hevelius courtesy of Chandra, NGC 6633: Palomar Observatory, courtesy of Caltech and IC 4665 courtesy of Wikipedia. We thank you so much!

Kid’s Astronomy: Bootes – The Ancient Herdsman


Hey, kids! Are you ready to spend another warm, northern summer evening out under the stars? Then perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself to the Celestial Farmer and his family. Before the Moon comes back and steals away our dark skies, begin when night falls and watch overhead for the appearance of a bright, orange-looking star. Congratulations! You’ve just found Arcturus and you’re on your way to learning our next constellation lesson. Now, sit back and listen to the voice of the wind and the night as it tells you a story…

Bootesurania“Some say that Bootes is the most ancient constellation in the sky, yet no one is quite sure where his legend came from. The set of stars that marks the ancient herdsman has played a role in many cultures and one of its first written histories belongs to “The Odyssey” – an epic poem by Homer written almost three hundred years ago. As a herdsman, he is accompanied by his working dogs, Asterion and Chara, who form the northern constellation of Canes Venatici. They are accompanied by the bright orange star called Arcturus, whose ancient name “Arktos” meant watcher of the bear. One legend says that egend says that Bootes was the son of Zeus and Callisto. Hera changed Callisto into a bear who was almost killed by Bootes when he was out hunting. Luckily, she was rescued by Zeus and he took her into the sky where she is now Ursa Major, the Great Bear.”

virgoAnother myth says Bootes was the son of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Supposedly he was placed among the stars for inventing the plow. It is also said that Bootes was a grandfather of Virgo, the goddess of the wheat or corn. Not far from the beautiful, bright, blue-white star that marks her crown is one of the most famous galaxies of all – the Sombrero. Perhaps it was Bootes who rescued the beautiful hair of Queen Berenices and placed it in the sky? After all, she gave up her long and lovely locks to see the safe return of her husband from war.”

hercules“The Romans called Bootes the Herdsman of the Septemtriones, that is, of the seven oxen represented by the seven stars of the Big Dipper, yet he is also associated with the constellation of Hercules, too. The ancient Greeks saw Hercules as a shepherd of great strength and a son to Bootes. He is most often pictured with a lion skin slung about his shoulders and holding an upraised club as he guards his flocks.”

We hope you had a wonderful time identifying these new constellations, but don’t go too far away… Because you’re about to learn some more!

Our awesome images are: Bootes map courtesy of Windows to the Universe, constellation chart courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries, Bootes Uranometria, Virgo Image by Johfra Bosschart and Hercules Uranometria. We thank you!

Kid’s Astronomy – The Cup and the Raven…

With the Moon now gone from the early evening sky and the lightning bugs beginning to twinkle in the summer fields, isn’t it time you stopped to do a little stargazing? If you’re outside when the skies begin the get dark, the first star you will see overhead is the brilliant orange Arcturus, which will point the way to blue/white Spica as the skies get dark. If you listen to the wind, you’ll hear the night birds beginning to call… and maybe even the voice of the stars telling you about the Cup and the Raven!

web_corvus_rot“Legend tells us that the constellation of Crater is the cup of the gods. A cup befitting the god of the skies… Apollo. And who holds this cup, dressed in black? The Raven… Corvus. Once upon a time, the Raven – or Crow – had beautiful silver feathers… so shiny they appeared almost white. They were the sacred birds of Apollo, god of the skies, and were able to speak in a human voice. Soon enough, Apollo fell in love with a beautiful maiden, Virgo, and he sent the Raven to spy upon her. When the Raven returned with the news that Virgo did not return his love, Apollo became very angry and turned the bird’s feathers black for bringing back such bad news.”

virgo__corvus

“With his beautiful silver feathers gone, the Raven became very hard to see among the stars. As night falls, only a star here and there appears to mark his place in the sky. Wanting to gain back favor, the Raven asked Apollo to set him a task. The great god of the sky then told the crow to fetch him a cup of water in his golden goblet – Crater.

However, the end of the tale is a sad one. It is the story of a creature sent to fetch water for his master, only to tarry too long waiting on a fig to ripen. When he realized his mistake, the sorry Raven returned to Apollo with his cup and brought along the serpent Hydra in his claws as well. Angry, Apollo tossed them into the sky for all eternity. The Raven’s beautiful voice was taken away as it is forever to be punished by being perpetually thirsty and thus its rough caw.”

hydra-corvus-crater

Virgo did not escape the wrath of Apollo either, for he decided if he could not have her? No man could. And so he tossed her into the stars to forever remain a virgin and it is to the south that all of this story’s players remain to this day.”

Can you find the stars that make up this sad tale? Then look for one of the brightest stars to the south this time of year, Spica. To its west you will see the the crooked box shape of Corvus and further west the faint U-shape of the goblet, Crater. On a dark night, look below them for the long, faint chain of stars that forms Hydra, the water snake. Explore it these constellations with binoculars! What treasures are hidden inside?

Many thanks to Torsten Bronger for the Corvus constellation map, Hubblesite for the historical Corvus image, Animation by Michelet B., and Constellation Mythology map courtesy of the University of Michigan. We thank you!

Kid’s Astronomy: Of Kings and Queens and Royal Things…

The month of May is a fine time for flowers and colors – and even getting married! There once was an old tradition where children took ribbons and ‘danced around the Maypole’ in circles, weaving patterns around a central focal point. Before the month is over, why not celebrate the flowers and the dance of the stars around the northern pole as well? Let’s take another look at a constellation that’s becoming very visible at this time of year as we visit “Kings and Queens and Royal Things”…

492px-cepheus_constellation_mapRight now, as evening begins, the constellation of Cepheus is directly below Polaris for the northern hemisphere. As the sky darkens, this collection of five moderately bright stars will slowly turn counter-clockwise around Polaris… moving first seeming eastward, only to rise high above the pole star during the late hours of the night and begin moving towards the west as the Sun rises. While you are looking for a place where you can see the northern horizon well, listen to the wind and you’ll hear the voice of of the night. It has a story for you…

cepheusurania“As legend tells it, there once was a king of ancient Aethiopia named Cepheus – whose Queen was the beautiful Cassiopeia. They had many children together and one of Cassiopeia’s favorite places was the royal garden. Now, Cepheus loved to please his wife, so in this garden he contructed her a temple with a pointed roof where she and the children could spend their days among the many flowers. Cassiopeia’s favorite bloom was the iris, and to this day you can still find the “Iris Nebula”, (NGC 7023) blooming nearby.”

iris_wood

714px-erakis_garnet_sidus“Over the years Cepheus and Cassiopeia had many children together and take their place among the stars. When their strong sons would go out hunting, Cassiopeia was said to have lighted a candle in the window the the garden temple to lead them home on a dark night. To this very day, its deep red glow can be seen as Mu Cephi, Herschel’s Garnet Star.”

cassiopeia_1_thTime passed and Cassiopeia gave birth to a daughter – Andromeda. So beautiful was the baby girl, that Cassiopeia would sit in her chair under a palm tree on the west side of the garden temple where she could show her daughter’s loveliness to the gods. Zeus thought Andromeda was beautiful as well, and so he bestowed upon her the “Little Cloud” we now know as the Andromeda Galaxy.

androa

However, Cassiopeia was far too proud of her daughter and she boasted once too often on her good looks – proclaiming her to be even more beautiful than Zeus’ wife, Hera. This did not sit well with the Queen of the gods, so she demanded that Andromeda be sacrificed to Cetus, the Sea Monster – or marry her monster son, Calibos.

In order to save her daughter, Cassiopeia called upon one of Zeus’ mortal sons, Perseus to save her… But first Perseus had to win his winged horse, Pegasus, and defeat the Medusa. In order to gain his opportunity, Perseus had to answer a riddle. What is joined together but has no end?”

doubleclusterThe answer was the double pearl ring worn by Calibos, and when Pereus retrieved the ring, the gods put it up in the sky where it remains as the fine double star cluster, NGC 869 and 884. Perseus then flew away on Pegasus to defeat the Medusa, and the gods placed her head in the sky. To this day, you can still see her eye – Algol – changing brightness rapidly and waiting to turn unwary watchers, and Sea Monsters into stone.”

So go out, before the Moon captures the sky in the nights to come and hides the faint stars. Are there any iris in bloom where you are? Can you find the Royal House of Cepheus? Watch as the night moves and see how it turns around the pole star, just like children dancing around a maypole. Did you know that for each night that passes, our sky progress by six minutes? For example, when you locate Cepheus, make note of the time you first spotted it and its position. Now, look again an hour later. This is where you will find Cepheus 10 days from now at the time you first located it! Check Cepheus’ position 3 hours later and this is where it will appear a month from now at your initial time.

Isn’t SkyWatching wonderful?!

Many thanks to Torsten Bronger for the Cepheus constellation map, Uranometria historical Cepheus image, the “Iris Nebula” courtesy of Kent Wood, the “Garnet Star” courtesy of Francesco Malafarina, Cassiopeia courtesy of the University of Florida, M31 courtesy of Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF and the “Double Cluster” courtesy of N.A.Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF. We thank you!

Kid’s Astronomy – Draco: Enter The Dragon

Kids of all ages! With no Moon around to light up the weekend skies, isn’t it time to spend an evening outside an enjoy the stars? With Spring in the air in the northern hemisphere, the nights are much warmer and a welcome time to observe the glittering jewels that turn around Polaris, the “North Star”. This time we’re off on an adventure to help you identify the eight largest constellation in the night – Draco the Dragon…

540px-draco_constellation_mapAs the skies get dark tonight, go out and do some stargazing. One of the brightest you will see will be almost overhead – the planet Saturn. Do you recognize the “Big Dipper” – Ursa Major – to the north? Good! Connect the dots of the two stars on the front of the dipper and they will point the way to Polaris. Once you have this star in site, you are ready to find the Draco constellation. It’s a long, glittering chain of faint stars that curls around between Ursa Major and Polaris on the east side. Watch as the night goes on and the Dragon climbs higher. By midnight its stars will have curled over the top of Polaris!

Listen… Do you hear a voice on the wind? I think it has a story for you…

dragon_egg“What “knight’s” tale would not be complete without a battle with a dragon? Almost every ancient culture has a dragon in its myths! These huge serpents were believed to have a body like a huge lizard, or a snake with two pairs of lizard-type legs, and able to emit fire from their mouths. Even our English word, dragon, comes from the Greek word “drakon” meaning huge serpent! Perhaps the largest of all known dragons is portrayed in stars… the constellation of Draco.”

“Finding Draco isn’t easy, but begin before dark and look to the north. As the stars come out one by one, look for a long ribbon of faint stars which encircles Polaris – the “North Star”. If you have a telescope, you can take a look into the eye of the Dragon! NGC 6543, is one of the brightest planetary nebula in the sky and you can find its small, blue green disc even with binoculars.”

“But, do dragons really breathe fire? No, but the constellation of Draco is host to six different meteor showers. The best of all occurs around the middle of September every year, so be sure to watch. Perhaps it is the Japanese dragon “Ryu” and he will grant your wish!”

Images that accompany this article are: Historical Draco Figure from Uranometria, Draco Map Created by Torsten Bronger, Dragon Eggs Screensaver, and Animation by Michelet B. We thank you!

Kid’s Astronomy – The Summer Triangle

The seasons and the constellations are changing – and so are the times that many of us go to bed! If you’re up late tonight, this would be a great time for you to spot some very special things going on in the night sky. You won’t need any special equipment – just your eyes and knowing where to look. Are you ready? Then step outside and listen to the wind as it tells us about the Summer Triangle and I’ll tell you what else to look for!

Credit: ESO
Credit: ESO
“There is something very magical and wonderful about knowing your way around the night sky. As the Summer nights grow shorter and the blanket of night falls later, perhaps you’ll look up with wonder as each bright star begins to appear one by one. Sometimes to Moon or city lights can hide the fainter stars, but there are a few that shine brightly no matter where you live or when you look.”

Credit: Steve Burgis
Credit: Steve Burgis

“You can learn the night sky easily by identifying a few bright stars that form a pattern. This pattern is known as an asterism, and one of the most famous of all is the Summer Triangle. You won’t need any special equipment, just use your eyes and look high overhead around midnight. Here you will see three bright stars spaced well apart – Vega, Deneb and Altair. Each belong to a different constellation and each are the brightest stars. Eastern Vega’s home is Lyra, northern Deneb belongs to Cygnus and southern Altair makes its home in Aquila.”

Credit: A. Fujii (NASA/ESA)
Credit: A. Fujii (NASA/ESA)

“Once you have found the Summer Triangle, visit it again on a dark night or from a dark location. Do you see what looks like a pale band of clouds running through it? Those aren’t clouds in our atmosphere, those are star clouds which make their home in the spiral arm of our own Milky Way Galaxy!

yourskyTonight, May 9/10, the Summer Triangle will be accompanied by a few very special visitors, too! If you look below to triangle to the south, you will see the almost Full Moon very, very close to a bright star called Antares – the “Rival of Mars”. Because the bright Moon will wash out faint stars, only the brightest will remain, so you will also see another, larger triangle of stars further west. That’s Arcturus, Spica and Regulus. For an added treat, the bright point of light you’ll see right in the center of that triangle is Saturn.

Have fun!!

Getting Astronomers Involved in the IYA: Astronomer in the Classroom Program

Teaching hands-on astronomy. Credit: N. Atkinson

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We just received some great information from Kris Koenig, the producer/director of the PBS documentary that is now airing “400 Years of the Telescope,” and we wanted to help get the word out to both astronomers and teachers about this new educational program called Astronomer in the Classroom. The project is being facilitated by the University of Hawaii Institution for Astronomy along with Koenig’s Interstellar Studios as an educational program for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). The program will be done via webcasts and is beginning today! They are looking for astronomers that are interested in volunteering 3 hours to this worthy activity, and want to let teachers know about the availability of this program for their classroom.

The Astronomer in the Classroom Program will provide astronomers with the opportunity to interface with school children across North America during the IYA2009. Using Abode® Connect, a web conferencing solution, Interstellar Studios will host three 20-minute webcasts every school day in 2009 starting in mid-April.

The webcasts will be conducted at the same time each day, to accommodate national time zone differences and grade levels (3-5, 7-8, 9-12) allowing educators to drop-in when their curriculum and testing schedules allow it. This flexible scheduling will afford convenience to the teachers while avoiding bandwidth congestion.

A schedule of participating astronomers will be posted at www.astronomerintheclassroom.org with brief descriptions of the lectures allowing both the student and teacher a chance to plan for webcasts that they would like to participate in.

The Adobe® Connect web-based interface will allow the astronomer to be viewed and heard over the web, as well as run a PowerPoint® presentation live. Students can interact by typing questions to the conference. A Moderator will be provided to help facilitate the follow-up Q & A period.

Graduate students, post docs and active researchers who can give three hours to this worthy cause are invited to volunteer. The program should only require one hour of prep to create the presentation, ½-hour to upload and test the provided webcam and 1 ½-hours to do the three webcasts.

IfA has donated the cost of the Adobe® licensing and Interstellar Studios is managing this free program. Volunteers need only provide a PC/Mac with a webcam and microphone. An Internet connection rated DSL or better is required

No special training is needed. Astronomers who are passionate about their research, and enjoy sharing their discoveries and news of their institution, have already met the most important criteria for participation. Participating astronomers are simply asked to keep in mind the grade levels’ attention capacity, and to describe the subject matter with grade appropriate vocabulary.

For astronomers whose institutions are expected to perform outreach, and /or participate in the IYA2009, the Astronomer in the Classroom Program offers a convenient, high-impact means to meet those objectives.

Make a difference during the IYA 2009! Inspire a child to look up and ask why!

Contact Information:

Interstellar Studios
11 Ilahee Lane
Chico, CA 95973
Telephone – (530) 343-5635

www.AstronomerInTheClassroom.org