Winter/Spring issue is particularly oriented toward items that we hope school
children and their parents will find interesting. Page 3 has comments by Dave
Fye to help teachers find timely topics for classroom discussions. Page 4 has
comments by Loretta Brown for families with elementary school students, and
page 5 has a story picked from the large set of NASA items available on the
internet.MCOF members want to
learn from parents and teachers how we can help them enrich backyard family
viewing as well as classroom activities.Let
FROM DAVE FYE, THE SKY GUY
Step outside on a cold clear winter night when the sky seems clearer
than on summer nights. Then, look
to the south to see the brightest constellation in the sky, ORION the hunter.
What you notice immediately is the three second magnitude stars in a
row. This is Orion’s belt. Above these 3 stars is a very bright reddish
star, Betelguese.Betelguese is a
red giant star.Red giants use up
their energy much faster than other stars, and they burn out much sooner.Betelguese is about 460 million miles in diameter, and it is 2500 times
brighter than the sun.It is 270
light years away.Below and to the
right of Orion’s belt is the bluish star Rigel.Rigel is 540 light years away, even farther from us than Betelguese.
If you look at the lower of the 3 belt stars, and down from it, you
will see Orion’s sword.Here you
will see the most interesting object in the winter sky, M-42 The Orion Nebula.
This Nebula is a huge cloud of flourescent gas, mostly hydrogen, with traces
of carbon, helium, nitrogen and oxygen.It
is 40 light years in diameter and glows by the ultraviolet radiation from the
star Theta Orionis, the brightest of the 4 stars within the Nebula. All
of these hot young stars within the Nebula are no more than 1 million years
old.In contrast, our sun is 4.5
billion years old. Pictures taken
by the Hubble Space Telescope confirm that probably more than 1000 new suns
are being born within this Nebula from swirls of colorful churning gas.Forty billion mile long comets of dust and gas shrouding newborn stars,
and dark disks silhouetted against the nebula glow.
Above and west of the constellation ORION is the constellation TAURUS
the Bull.The bull is attacking
Orion, and Orion has his sword drawn and is prepared to defend himself.Near the right horn of Taurus is the first Messier Object, M-1, the
Crab Nebula. The Crab Nebula is the remains of a cataclysmic explosion in our
own galaxy in the year 1054 AD. Chinese skywatchers described it as a guest
star.It shined as bright as the
planet Venus, was visible for 23 days and was seen in the daytime. Then it
dimmed to become the 16th magnitude star that it is today.This neutron star is rotating rapidly which makes it a pulsar. The
illuminated gas that forms the Crab Nebula is what is left from that
Although the Crab Nebula is a telescopic object, not far from it is the
Pleiades, an open star cluster that is perfect for binoculars. The Pleiades ,
is acluster of about 1000 stars
about 490 light years away, and is commonly known as the seven sisters.It looks like a very small dipper in the constellation Taurus, and is
very beautiful in binoculars.Hundreds
of stars can be seen.
In mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas
and Pleione.It is said that they
were placedin the sky because of
the grief at the task imposed on their father of holding the world upon his
shoulder.Two stars to the
east of Orion are the Dog Stars, Sirius and Procyon, Orion’s hunting dogs. Along
with Betelguese, they make the Winter Triangle.Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, and one of the closest to the
earth at 8.7 light years.The
three stars in Orion’s belt point directly at Sirius. Procyon, yellow in
color, is about 10 light years away.
Jupiter and Saturn, the two giant planets, will both be in the evening
sky all winter.Saturn provides
the best view, because the rings are at their greatest tilt toward the earth
at this time.Look for the dark
space between the two sets of rings, the Cassini division.Jupiter will be in Cancer and Saturn will be in Taurus during the
winter months.Saturn will rise
first, followed about 1 hour later by Jupiter. They are both very bright and
should be easy to find.
The Foundation thanks the following new or returning members
and donators for their generous support: Evan & Lois Reichard, Jeff Pope,
Bob & Peggy Sclater, Brice Williams and DME Consulting.Thanks also to Mark Klosinski, NASA/JPL’s Solar System Ambassador and
all who came out to hear his presentation on Europa the Watery Moon given at
the Ice House on Saturday night. All donations of $50 or more will be
memorialized on Founding Members’ plaques to be displayed inside the
Observatory. More information about astronomy and MCOF can be found at the
Foundation website at http://www.nitesky.org.Thanks to Johnna Armstrong and Patuxent Software for their excellent
work donated to update the website.
Morgan County Observatory
Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit educational organization founded in 1999.Current officers are:Kevin
Boles, President; Brice Williams, Vice-president; Roger McIntire, Secretary ;
Karen Shoemaker, Treasurer.Additional
members of the Board of Directors are:Pat
Aragon, Robert Campbell, Warren Hart, Leigh Jenkins, BillLands.
MORGANCOUNTYOBSERVATORYFOUNDATION - - Notes
For Teachers and Students
Some objects easily seen in the sky during January, February and March
planets Jupiter and Saturn are in the evening sky this winter.Saturn rises first, Jupiter follows about 1 ˝ hours later.Both are very bright right now as the Earth is on the same side of the
Sun as Jupiter and Saturn.In
other words these planets are near opposition. Saturn presents the best view
because the rings are tilted at their greatest angle to the Earth this winter.
always interesting.The four
moons, Io, Europa, Ganemede and Callisto are easily seen in a small telescope.If you are lucky one of the moons will pass in front of or behind the
giant planet.Also look for the
permanent storm on the face of the planet Jupiter, known as the giant red
To find Jupiter and Saturn, face east at about .Saturn will be high in the East, almost overhead.Jupiter will be brighter and near- er the eastern horizon.They will be brighter than anything else in the evening sky, even
Sirius which shines to the south of Saturn.Also helpful in distinguishing a planet from a star is the fact that
the planet does not twinkle.You
can check this out.Look at the
bright star Sirius, watch it twinkle in the winter sky.Then look at Jupiter or Saturn. both shine with a steady bright light.
M-31 and M-32…..The Andromeda Galaxy, is our closest Glactic
neighbor.It is an elliptical
galaxy almost twice our size and contains about 300 billion suns spread across
130,000 light years.There are
about two dozen galaxies in our local group, of which our Milky Way Galaxy and
the Andromeda Galaxy are a part.It
can be seen with the naked eye on a clear night overhead in the constellation
Andromeda, as a fuzzy patch, and is an impressive sight even in binoculars.Photos of all the Messier objects are seen athttp://www.seds.org/billa/dssm/m03.html
NGC869 & NGC884…..The Double Cluster in Perseus.This is a wonderful object for the beginner, andshould be viewed with low power with binoculars.Look to the north of the Andromeda Galaxy near the easily seen“W” in the sky that is the constellationCassiopeia.
known as the seven sisters, is an open cluster of more than 200 stars in a
faint nebulosity.To see 7 stars
with the naked eye is a test for good vision.Look high overhead not too far from the planet Saturn for this open
cluster that looks like a very small dipper.This cluster is perfect for binoculars
Astronomy Concepts- -with Loretta Brown
Since we all develop complex skills by learning in sequential steps, it
is helpful to explore the building blocks of basic astronomy concepts. It
would not be reasonable to put a two-year-old on a bicycle or give a
five-year-old a novel to read or algebra problems to solve. A lot of skills
and knowledge need to precede an advanced task. To understand a black hole,
one needs to know about such things as mass, gravity, atoms and energy, etc.
This article may give some insight into which concepts should be learned in a
scaffold of the knowledge of our universe.
The most natural beginning for an interest in outer space is with the
observation of the moon and stars on a clear night. A key concept that can be
developed by observations is recognizing that the stars, sun and moon appear
to move. It is a major shift of thinking to understand that the earth is
moving. Observing a free-swinging pendulum is one demonstration of the effect
of the earth’s movement.Keeping
notes and charts and illustrations of observations can provide a record of the
Another basic concept to learn through observation is the changing of
night and day. Observing and recording a shadow for several hours during a day
give the concrete evidence needed to understand the complex idea.
Most of the understanding of the solar system is accomplished by means
of manipulating models. Using a flashlight and spheres, a student can emulate
phases of the moon, eclipses, and seasonal changes on the earth.Rotation and revolution are internalized when a student copies those
motions with his/her body. There are many useful hands-on activities to teach
astronomy and physics, but much information must be learned through reading
what others have observed or learned.
Astronomy is a complex and ever expanding science which impacts
everyone’s life. Understanding our Earth’s relationship to all the various
factors in the universe is crucial to providing for our Earth’s survival. We
must learn from the base of knowledge handed down by astronomers past and
present and strive to expand our understanding for the wonders still to be
When Pete Rossoni was a kid he loved to throw Frisbees. Most kids
do-it's pure fun. But in Pete's case it was serious business. He didn't
know it, but he was practicing for his future career Š in space exploration. Grown-up Pete Rossoni is now an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center. His main project there is figuring out how to hurl spacecraft
into orbit Frisbee-style.
The spacecraft are
small-about the size of birthday cakes. "This wouldn't work with
big satellites or heavy space ships like the shuttle," notes Rossoni.
But a cake-sized "nanosatellite" is just right.
for short--are an exciting new idea in space exploration. Ordinary
satellites tend to be heavy and expensive to launch. The cost alone is a
deterrent to space research. Nanosats, on the other hand, can travel on
a budget. For example, a Delta 4 rocket delivering a communications
satellite to orbit could also carry a few nanosats piggyback-style with little
extra effort or expense.
"Once the nanosats reach space, however, they have to separate
from their ride," says Rossoni. And that's where Frisbee tossing comes
in. Rossoni has designed a device that can fling a nanosat off the back of
its host rocket. "It's a lot like throwing a Frisbee," he
explains. "The basic mechanics are the same. You need to impart the
spin and release it cleanly-all in about a tenth of a second." (The
spinning motion is important because it allows the science magnetometer to
measure the surrounding field and lets sunlight to play across all of the
nanosat's solar panels.) The ST5 nanosats are designed to study Earth's magnetosphere-a magnetic
bubble that surrounds our planet and protects us from the solar wind.
But their primary goal, notes Rossoni, is to test the technology of miniature
satellites. "We haven't done anything like this before," says Rossoni.
Soon, however, the concept will be tested. A trio of nanosats is slated
for launch in 2004 on the back of a rocket yet to be determined. The
name of the mission, which is managed by JPL's New Millennium Program, is
Space Technology 5 (ST5). Can groups of nanosats maintain formation as they fly through space?
Will their internal systems-miniaturized versions of full-sized satellite
components-satisfy the demands of both the harsh space environment and
critical science measurements? Is Frisbee-tossing as much fun in orbit as it
is on Earth?
ST5 will provide the
answers. Read about ST5 at at http://nmp.nasa.gov/st5 .
Budding young astronomers can learn more at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/st5/st5_tortillas1.htm
Senior Moments - - - Enjoying A Sense of Place and Timeby BillLands
Thinking about things is one of my pleasures in life.They say “Take time to smell the roses”, and I do.Then I start thinking about their odors and colors - and the warm Spring
sunshine - and the shadows under the trees - - and how they stretch out across
the yard as afternoon changes to evening.A
nice way to spend the day!Those
shadows have shape and movement that links my yard (spinning around at 15
degrees per hour) to the sun radiating energy out there (about a hundred million
miles away). How fast things happen and how far the energy has to travel to make
me warm!The thought is enough to
make me sit down and think about that some more!You can tell that the last two snowstorms sure did turn my thoughts to
Thinking about things is probably a lot easier if things have
names and concepts with which we can discuss them with friends. But just knowing
names is pretty dull without some knowledge of size and distance and speed and
how they are measured. For many people, astronomy is truly “out of this
world”, and too distant to fit into their life and conversations.In spite of the truth of this, The Sun has a big effect on life on Earth,
and the Moon and stars are out there waiting to become part of your world. Loretta
noted on page 4 the first two basic steps in science, art, and literature:
observing and note-taking.A good,
detailed note-book or diary can be a great tool for learning.
During the past few months, Berkeley Springs students taught
me how hard it is to develop new interests when their friends and family do not
use the new words and concepts by which they can understand and talk about what
they learned. We all need to have
the words that can carry our interest forward to other people - - and people
need more and more words to handle new ideas that they never discussed before.Can anyone enjoy talking about things about which friends don’t know?New words are entry points to new understanding, but they also can seem
like barriers between friends who aren’t sure what the words mean.The value of learning a lot of new words and concepts isn’t so obvious
to students who are anxious about remaining close with their friends.Can the adventure of new concepts and new words ever be shared?Some ideas are fun. This issue of the MCOF newsletter includes several
short articles from members to explore the situation in several ways.
MCOF members are eager to know how local families would like
to share with us our enthusiasm for observing and interpreting astronomy.
Eratosthenes lived at a
time of Archimedes when mathematicians were also astronomers and geographers
active in interpreting distances and sizes of the Earth, Moon, and Sun.http://www-groups.dcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Eratosthenes.html
was followed later by Hipparchus who used eclipses to estimate the distance to