195 MAY 21, 2000:
The 100-Billion Mile Telescope Sale
An ad touting the sale of "Super-Powerful 100-billion miles Deep Space Telescopes" in last Thursdayís paper, D2, was the inspiration for this weekís article. The price of the telescope was only $29.95, reduced from $199.95, and it offered to bring "the moon, Mars, Venus, etc. right into your living room." Continuing, the promotional said that the telescope could "track comets streaking across the heavens." Comets donít streak or run. They donít even skip or hop. They move slowly against the background of more distant stars as their positions change and our observing platform Earth revolves around the sun. "See meteors flame through the skies..." Meteors can streak, flame, and sputter, but their rapid motion makes them impossible to follow through a telescope. Then came the real eye opener. "Be absolutely spellbound in your ringside seat as asteroids collide in fiery explosions..." There has never been a single real time observation in the history of astronomy which has detailed the collision of two asteroids. In July of 1994 telescopes were trained on Jupiter as 20 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fell into its atmosphere. This telescope may have barely seen the largest dark splotches made by the icy fragments, but the impacts were only visible through satellites that could image the nighttime hemisphere of the planet. Itís sad to think that telescopes are still being marketed with this old-fashioned type of hype. The ad ended with a disclaimer that "results vary depending upon weather and eyesight." Results will be disappointing regardless of how good your eyesight or the weather conditions are. Caveat emptor is the rule here!
196 MAY 28, 2000:
Telescopes in the Rose Garden
For the past 11 years a group of Valley enthusiasts have been creating and executing a marvelous annual kidsí event called the Rose Garden Childrenís Festival. It is suitably located at Bethlehemís Rose Garden, next to Nitschmann Middle School at Eighth Avenue and Union Boulevard. Itís a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday arts and sciences extravaganza, culminating this year with the sciences on Sunday, June 4th. For a decade members of the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society have been bringing their telescopes to the Rose Garden to give kids, as well as their parents, grandparents, and guardians, clear and safe views of our sun through properly filtered telescopes. This year will be no exception, but it will be an exceptional year for the sun. Currently speckled with an extraordinary number of spots, the sun is headed for solar maximum during the latter part of 2000 or early 2001. This means that now is one of the best opportunities for the public to take a look at our daystar, and see it with perhaps dozens of complex sunspot groups covering its face. Sunspots, which are the tops of cooler zones in the sunís light-emitting photosphere, result from increased solar magnetic activity. The auroral show that bathed Valley skies in red during the early evening hours of April 6th is hopefully just a precursor of perhaps a half dozen other Northern Lights events which will happen during the next two to three years of heightened solar activity. This enhancement in the sunís magnetic field averages 11 years between peaks, and enormously increases the visual appeal of our sun. Why donít you come see for yourself? Thatís June 4th, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.