Bringing the Solar System Down to Earth

As a part of NASA’s ongoing Year of the Solar System – which is actually a single Martian year long, or 23 months – the excitement of planetary exploration is being brought to people around the world through a enthusiastic science outreach program called From Earth to the Solar System (FETTSS). A continuation of the well-received International Year of Astronomy 2009 From Earth to the Universe program, FETTSS provides over 90 beautiful high-resolution images of fascinating locations around our solar system; from the ice geysers of Enceladus to the plasma arcs of solar prominences, the cold dunes of Mars to the hot springs of Yellowstone, the FETTSS collection showcases many wonders of many worlds – and helps bring them within view of as many people as possible.

The images are displayed in public locations, hosted by organizations that raise all the necessary funding to have them printed and installed. The FETTSS site exists to provide the high-resolution print images as well as offer guidance as to how to best plan, market and set up an installation.

What’s wonderful about From Earth to the Solar System – as well as its predecessor From Earth to the Universe – is how it brings the fascination of science and astronomy to people who may not have previously given it much thought. By presenting large-format images with descriptive captions in common places – such as in an airport or outside in a public park – FETTSS hosts are actively capturing the interest of viewers and engaging them in astronomy – many undoubtedly for the first time.

People around the world are being connected with the most recent work of scientists and researchers in a way that’s attractive, informative and yet accessible. This is the key to any successful outreach program.

The images are at once artistic and informative, weaving together themes in astrobiology, planetary science, and astronomy. Including contributions from backyard astronomers, large telescopes in space, and even point-and-shoot cameras of field researchers, the collection represents the current state of exploration as seen through the eyes of the scientific community.

Currently an exhibit is just wrapping up in Corpus Christi, Texas, at the Museum of Science and History and was very well-received by both people and the press! The next scheduled event will take place in June at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

A FETTU outdoor installation in Geneva

FETTSS looks to build on the success of the 2009 FETTU program.

“We are hoping to replicate some of FETTU’s success and bring a measure of sustainability to the FETTU concept. ‘From Earth to the Solar System’ is taking a similar grassroots-type of approach to exhibit creation, and will hopefully help remove the barrier to ‘seeking science out’ for some visitors and help make setting up an exhibit more efficient for organizers,” said Kimberly Kowal Arcand, Media Production Coordinator for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and FETTSS principal investigator.

“With FETTU – and what we hope to find with FETTSS – there was a wonderful response from both visitors and organizers,” said Arcand. “We found, unexpectedly, a sort of emotional and personal connection to the images in the FETTU project and I’m interested to see if we find that again with FETTSS. I was personally overwhelmed with the response to FETTU… it was the most inspiring thing I have ever worked on!”

Already, exhibitors worldwide have expressed interest in hosting FETTSS installations… from Argentina, Serbia, China, Colombia, Canada, UK, Ireland, Egypt, Spain, Armenia, as well as from numerous locations in the US – many of whom had previously hosted FETTU events.

So with such a great program and strong response, the question remains: what’s next?

“From Earth to the Sun? From Earth to the Galaxies?” suggested Arcand.

With all that’s being discovered, whatever it is it’s sure to be another success!


For more information about FETTSS or to host an FETTSS event in your area, visit the main site here.

Keeping the Spirit of the International Year of Astronomy Alive

As the International Year of Astronomy comes to a close, those involved hope to sustain the momentum gained during the year in communicating astronomy with the public. The IYA produced a number of excellent new media projects, creating fresh excitement and enthusiasm for astronomy and science. A new non-profit organization and website have been created to provide a brand- new “home” to sustain IYA projects such as the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast and Second Astronomy in Second Life ™, as well as other existing and new projects. Astrosphere New Media Association is dedicated to promoting science and skeptical thought through internet-based technologies and distribution. Its efforts are focused on the creation of technologies and content that enable better astronomy communications and greater astronomy content access for the public.

The projects encompassed by Astrosphere New Media include the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, Second Astronomy, the popular Astronomy Cast podcast and a new project for 2010, We Are Astronomers. Additionally, Astrosphere will be hosting the archival websites from the US IYA.

The Internet provides a new way for astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts to communicate and interact with the public. Astronomy communicators can use these new forms of communication — such as blogs, podcasts, social networks, interactive data tools, and community content sites (such as wikis) – to provide the public with dynamic web content through Web 2.0 technologies.

Astrosphere New Media Association will help facilitate this “new media” and new communications for astronomy.

“This project rose out of two needs,” said Dr. Pamela Gay, Executive Director of Astrosphere. “There are many of us working together in our spare time to communicate astronomy to the world. We’re building tools, writing content, and then giving it all away. What we needed was a central advocate who could work to find us a little funding for travel and servers and just help us get what we do out to the world. Astrosphere is here to be that advocate, and to provide IYA projects a home beyond 2009.”

The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is a community project that “airs” one podcast per day, 5 to 10 minutes in duration, for all 365 days of the year. The podcast episodes are written, recorded and produced by people around the world who donate a few minutes to share their passion for astronomy.

Second Astronomy, takes real world events into virtual realities, allowing the citizens of Second Life (TM) a way to experience projects such as From Earth to the Universe and The World at Night. Early in 2010 Second Astronomy will showcase John Gleason’s h-alpha astrophotography and roll out an island size Spitzer MIPSGAL/GLIMPSE walkable image. Later in the year, new virtual ‘as the eye sees’ telescopes will be rolled out, wrapped in a star party atmosphere and a cultural astronomy “sky stories” experience.

Astronomy Cast takes a facts-based journey through the universe each week with Fraser Cain (Universe Today) and Dr. Pamela L. Gay (Star Stryder). The podcasts are available online or through iTunes.

We Are Astronomers is a Beyond 2009 project that looks to capture the diversity of who we are as astronomers through pictures and videos. Astronomers include professionals, amateurs and armchair enthusiasts. To find out how you can help, email [email protected].

Other new media science and astronomy projects and even skepticism projects looking for collaborators, direction, support or a “home” are welcome to contact Astrosphere New Media Association at:

Astrosphere New Media Association
P.O. Box 804
Edwardsville, IL 62025
email:[email protected]

For corporations or individuals looking to support new media efforts, Astrosphere New Media Association is a non-profit organization, and your tax-deductible contributions will help make online astronomy possible, allowing above projects to continue and expand, as well as providing for other events such as live-streaming of astronomy meetings and conferences. Donations will pay internet hosting, provide salary for staff, and help cover the costs of the hardware and software used to make all programs possible. Contact [email protected] for more information.

365 Days of Astronomy to Continue in 2010

Calling all podcasters! The award-winning 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is proud to announce the project will continue for another 365 days, and is now accepting sign-ups for participants for 2010. Whether you’re a seasoned podcaster or if you have never picked up a microphone before, anyone with a love of space exploration and astronomy is welcome to sign up to do a podcast. If you’ve not yet heard of the 365 Days of Astronomy, it was a major project of the International Year of Astronomy, publishing 1 podcast for every day of the year. The podcast episodes are written, recorded and produced by people all around the world. As in 2009, the podcast team is looking to sign up a wide range of participants for 2010, from graduate students in astronomy to science bloggers to big media companies, to amateur and armchair astronomers. Here’s your chance to share why you love astronomy and space exploration! Check out the “Join In” page on 365 Days of Astronomy for more information

Have a Galileo Moment

Starting tomorrow (Oct. 22) professional and amateur astronomers around the world will be out in force to encourage as many people as possible to look through a telescope. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone project, Galilean Nights, will be a global experience, with more than 1000 public observing events in over 70 countries. If you participated in 100 Hours of Astronomy that took place in April 2009, this event is similar, but this time astronomers will be focusing on the objects that Galileo observed, especially with the Moon and Jupiter well-positioned in the evening sky.

Event map of Galilean Nights
Check out if there is an event near you at the Galilean Nights website. You can relive the revolutionary telescopic discoveries made 400 years ago by Galileo. There’s also an astrophotography competition that’s going on right now. There are two categories, “Earth and Sky” and “Beyond Earth,” and the last day to enter is October 27th.

Additionally, observatories are making their facilities available for remote observing sessions. Anyone with access to the internet will be able to control telescopes around the world by taking part in these sessions will be able to take photographs of astronomical objects from their own personal computers.

Galilean Nights is a truly global event, with hundreds of thousands of people discovering our Universe from all sorts of locations and settings around the world. Get involved, and experience your own Galileo moment!

Amateur Astronomer is “Chasing Galileo”

A collage of 21-day old Moons, sketched by Galileo, (left), an image from Jane Houston Jones’ telescope, center, and Jane’s sketch, right.

Amateur astronomers have different ways of documenting their observing sessions, such as taking astrophotos or keeping a logbook. Others, like Jane Houston Jones, employ an age-old method used by Galileo Galilei himself: they take pen in hand and sketch what they see through the lens of their telescope. During this International Year of Astronomy, Jones – an amateur astronomer who also happens to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory — wanted to do something special to honor the legacy of Galileo, and decided to follow through with something she has been considering for quite a while. Jones is recreating all of Galileo’s astronomical sketches as she looks through a telescope similar in size to the one used by the father of modern observational astronomy. “Every time I look through a small telescope at these same objects that Galileo did, it just gives me chills,” Jones said. “It fills me with wonder every time I think that I’m seeing the same view Galileo saw 400 years ago, and I wonder what was going through his mind as he made his observations.”

Sketching isn’t new for Jones, a Senior Outreach Specialist for the Cassini mission to Saturn. “When I made my very first telescope in 1989, the first thing I did was draw pictures of what I observed,” she said, “and I’ve just continued it. It makes a wonderful journal or diary of everything you do with a telescope.”

Jane Houston Jones' telescope alongside a replica of Galileo's telescope.  Credit: Jane Houston Jones
Jane Houston Jones' telescope alongside a replica of Galileo's telescope. Credit: Jane Houston Jones

Galileo’s first telescope had an objective diameter of 37 mm, a focal length of 980 mm, and the instrument’s magnification was 21.

Jones is using a small refractor, a Televue Ranger, which has an objective diameter of 70mm, a focal length of 480mm, and using a 25mm Zeiss Abbe Orthoscopic eyepiece, yields a comparable magnification of 19.
“My field of view is bigger than what Galileo had, but I have little less magnification, so in the end I’m getting about the same view that Galileo did. But 400 years later, with better optics, mine is easier to see,” she said. “For effect, I’m also using just a manual mount where I have to move the telescope myself up and down and side to side.”

But using a small telescope to make sketches is a challenging task, Jones is finding, and she has gained new appreciation for Galileo’s original astronomical drawings. “I’ve never observed and sketched through a small telescope before, so it’s a challenge,” she said. “I’ve always loved sketching the Moon, but I’ve usually used a much larger telescope and sketched one crater or a small feature on the terminator. I’ve never tried to sketch the whole Moon at once before, but I wanted to make the same sketches as Galileo. With his telescope, Galileo could only see a tiny portion of the Moon, maybe about 1/8 of the surface at once. And when he looked at a star cluster he couldn’t see, for example, all of the Pleiades in one view. So, I now wonder what kind of worksheet he prepared to try and connect the different views together into the larger view, because he certainly had to sweep through several views to make one sketch.”

Galileo's sketch of Jupiter and its moons, and also Neptune.
Galileo's sketch of Jupiter and its moons, and also Neptune.

Jones said her most memorable views during this Galilean exercise are some of the most basic things Galileo saw. “To me, the very coolest things I saw are the Galilean moons. Everybody who looks at Jupiter through a telescope sees the three or four little dots as the moons are orbiting around the planet. We take that for granted, seeing the moons lined up along the equator of Jupiter. But when Galileo looked at them, it was just amazing that he saw their movement and made the discovery.”

One of her most significant views included an object that Galileo didn’t realize was another, yet undiscovered planet. “Galileo also did a sketch showing the Galilean moons and one additional fixed star, which using modern astronomy software, we can go back to the same day of his observations, and now we know that fixed star was Neptune. To me, that was just so amazing to see all in one eyeview Jupiter, the four moons and another planet that at Galileo’s time, hadn’t been discovered yet, and wouldn’t be discovered for several hundred years.”

Jane Houston Jones' sketch of Saturn from 2002. Courtesy Jane Houston Jones
Jane Houston Jones' sketch of Saturn from 2002. Courtesy Jane Houston Jones

Now, she is working sketching Saturn, which is interesting given Saturn just went through equinox, meaning the rings have “disappeared” from our vantage point on Earth. “When Galileo first looked at Saturn, he thought he saw three objects – the planet and the rings on both sides of Saturn, And of course he looked at Saturn again a few years later and the rings had disappeared. I’m working on getting my sketches of Saturn over the years to try and match up what Galileo sketched.”

After Saturn, Venus is her next target for sketching.

Since Jones has been sketching for 20 years, she said she won’t quit after the IYA. “To me it makes a diary that follows a tradition that goes back centuries. I like to do that, because I can then take my sketches and look at Galileo’s or other centuries-old views of the same objects and I have a connection with those observers because we held a pen or pencil in our hand while looking through an eyepiece and made notes of what we see. I like that. Plus it’s such a fun project and I’m learning so much about Galileo’s observations, as well as some of the current scholars who are documenting his observations and researching his sketches. It’s a great learning experience, besides the artistic and personal satisfaction of drawing something. It’s a great history lesson.”

Jones and her husband Morris are members of the Old Town Astronomy group, which does “Urban Guerrilla Astronomy,” where they set up their telescopes on city sidewalks providing the public a chance to look through telescopes. Click here for a video about what they do.

In her day job at JPL, Jones does educational outreach for the Cassini mission, working with the public, museums, planetariums, astronomy clubs, and an international network of volunteers called the Saturn Observation Campaign. Additionally she is the Twitter voice of Cassini. But she also creates a monthly podcast for JPL called “What’s Up” about what is visible in the night sky each month. “It’s really neat to have astronomy part of my day job as well as my passion in life,” she said.

For more of Jones’ observations and sketches, check out her website, and this specific page about observing with a small refractor.

What’s Up podcast

Star Party at the White House and Other Upcoming Events

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, there will be an historic first at the US president’s home: a star party. From a White House press release:

“The President and First Lady will host an event at the White House for middle-school students to highlight the President’s commitment to science, engineering and math education as the foundation of this nation’s global technological and economic leadership and to express his support for astronomy in particular – for its capacity to promote a greater awareness of our place in the universe, expand human knowledge, and inspire the next generation by showing them the beauty and mysteries of the night sky.”

About 20 telescopes will be set up on the White House lawn focused on Jupiter, the Moon and select stars, and supporters of the International Year of Astronomy are encouraged to follow this event, and host their own star parties to follow the example set.

There will also be interactive dome presentations, and hands-on activities including scale models of the Solar System, impact cratering, and investigating meteorites and Moon rocks. If haven’t been invited, you can participate by watching on NASA TV, or streaming on the White House website, starting at about 8 p.m. EDT. Even if clouds or rain intervene to prevent telescopic viewing, attendees will still have plenty to do.

The White House Star Party is just one of many family-friendly astronomy events and activities happening this fall. Among the others:

* October 4-10 World Space Week

* October 9NASA’s LCROSS impact on the Moon

* October 13– Hubble’s Amazing Rescue premieres on PBS on NOVA

* October 9-23Great World Wide Star Count

* October 19-25 — Fall Astronomy Week, including Fall Astronomy Day on Saturday, October 24, organized by the Astronomical League.

* October 22-24 — IYA2009 Galilean Nights global star party ()

* November 10-30 NASA’s Great Observatories image unveiling

340 Million Pixels of GigaGalaxy Zoom

Last week the GigaGalaxy Zoom project introduced an interactive 360-degree panorama of the entire night sky, and they promised more zoomable images to come. The second of three images is now available, and it is a wonderful 340-million-pixel vista of the central parts of our galactic home. Taken by Stéphane Guisard, an ESO engineer and world-renowned astrophotographer, the image shows the region spanning the sky from the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer) to Scorpius (the Scorpion). This mosaic was assembled from 52 different sky fields made from about 1200 individual images totalling 200 hours exposure time, with the final image having a size of 24,403 x 13,973 pixels. Click on the image to get access to larger versions of the image. Jump right in and enjoy the views!

Guisard compiled this amazing mosaic from image taken at Cerro Paranal, home of ESO’s Very Large Telescope. This second image directly benefits from the quality of Paranal’s sky, one of the best on the planet. The image was obtained by observing with a 10-cm Takahashi FSQ106Ed f/3.6 telescope and a SBIG STL CCD camera, using a NJP160 mount. Images were collected through three different filters (B, V and R) and then stitched together.

The very colourful Rho Ophiuchi and Antares region features prominently to the right, as well as much darker areas, such as the Pipe and Snake Nebulae. The dusty lane of our Milky Way runs through the image, dotted with remarkable bright, reddish nebulae, such as the Lagoon and the Trifid Nebulae, as well as NGC 6357 and NGC 6334. This dark lane also hosts the very centre of our Galaxy, where a supermassive black hole is lurking.

The GigaGalaxy Zoom project was create especially for the International Year of Astronomy.

Credit: ESO