StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MAY  2011


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767    MAY 1, 2011:   NEAF: Shop Until You Drop
Last week, I spoke about the Meteorite Men and how I was nearly tempted into bankruptcy by an attractive woman touting rocks from outer space. What I didn’t tell you was that in addition to that attraction, there were nearly 150 other dealers selling astronomical gear at this year’s Northeast Astronomical Forum, the biggest vendor convocation in the US. Sponsored by the Rockland Astronomy Club and held in the spacious Rockland Community College gym in Suffern, NY, this year marked NEAF’s 20th anniversary. Last year was my first experience, a real jaw-dropper. I honestly felt like a kid in a candy shop, so much “stuff” and so little time. I wandered aimlessly from booth to booth until it was time to leave. I didn’t buy anything, but I spent a great deal of energy, time, and some money putting into motion the ideas that I had garnered from this event. One of those concepts was to refurbish and upgrade several different telescopes that I own so that they would all work with one mount. That project continues into 2011 and has met with much success. A great benefit in participating at NEAF is that there is no junk being sold. There are no K-Mart Specials or Wal-Mart telescopes being marketed that were recently mass produced in China and most likely will break upon first contact with a human. That doesn’t mean a consumer can’t find bargains. Many of the vendors have a reduced price structure because this is the ultimate telescope and gear competition anywhere in America. What will happen if you spend a thousand dollars on a telescope, mount, and a few additional eyepieces, is that you will walk away with genuine astronomical equipment capable of producing great views of the universe. NEAF is an event truly worth considering if you are thinking about making astronomy a serious hobby and purchasing the gear that will produce memories to last a lifetime.

[Rudy Garbely]
The Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) represents the largest assemblage of astronomical vendors in the nation. Held in Suffern, NY this past April 16 and 17, it offered the thousands of attendees the opportunity of seeing and purchasing the latest in astronomical gear, as well as gaining valuable insights into an ever changing hobby. Gary A. Becker composite from the 2011 event...

768    MAY 8, 2011:   One Shift Two Shift Redshift Blueshift
As a railroad buff for most of my life, I was ecstatic when the company that I worked for offered me the opportunity to own a real locomotive air horn. When I hooked up the horn to an air compressor in my Moravian College dorm room and proceeded to impair the hearing of a significant number of students, I noticed that the stationary horn lacked the familiar higher to lower pitch shift of railroad horns as they pass an observer. This change of pitch is called the Doppler effect. In the case of locomotive horns, a moving engine compresses the sound waves in front of the horn and stretches them in the back. This causes the number of wavelengths per second (frequency) to be greater if standing in front of the train and fewer if in back of the engine. The pitch of the sound goes from higher to lower. However, the Doppler effect impacts astronomy as well. Shifting sound waves can also be applied to light waves, even though they are not the same phenomenon. Visible light is compressed as a luminous object in space, such as a galaxy, moves towards the Earth, and stretched if the object is traveling away from our planet. As light waves are compressed, the frequency increases, and the color shift is towards the blue. The light is said to be “blueshifted.” When an object moves away from us, light waves are stretched, decreasing the frequency and moving the light towards the red end of the spectrum. These waves are said to be “redshifted.” Astronomers can measure the amount of redshift of an astronomical object with extreme precision and use this data to calculate the approach and recession velocities of objects relative to the Earth. Virtually all of the light that is seen from galaxies is redshifted, with the amount of cosmological redshift increasing with distance. The universe is expanding, actually accelerating. Even the super hot energy of the Big Bang can be identified, redshifted into cool, invisible microwaves. This article was written for StarWatch by Rudy Garbely of Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA.

[Rudy Garbely]
Kudos, Rudy! Rudy Garbely is a railroad historian, photographer, writer, and modeler, and is currently a Junior at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA taking my astronomy course. Rudy is majoring in history with minors in both political science and art and works part-time as a railroad mechanic for the Morristown & Erie Railway. An active member and volunteer in both the Conrail Historical Society and the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society, and a volunteer at the archives of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Rudy is also involved in both restoration and archival work at the National Museum of Industrial History. In his “spare time” Rudy Garbely owns and operates Rudy's Trains, an HO scale model customizing business. The biographical information was taken from Rudy’s homepage, The Hotbox Terminal. Rudy Garbely images...

769    MAY 15, 2011:   Big Eclipse Just One Year Away
In a year from this week on May 20, 2012, the West Coast and Southwestern parts of the US will experience the first central solar eclipse since 1994. Solar eclipses occur when the moon covers all or part of the sun, and central solar eclipses require the center of the moon to pass in front of the center of the sun. Unfortunately, this eclipse will not be total anywhere along its path because the moon will be too far from the Earth and will appear smaller than the sun. If situated along the path of annularity with the proper filtration system, you will observe (for about 4-1/2 minutes) a ring of sunlight surrounding the sun. The ring is called an annulus and gives this event its name, an annular eclipse. What makes this eclipse chiefly interesting for me is that 18 years, 10 days earlier, on May 10, 1994 a sister eclipse occurred across the US from Texas to Maine. It was also an annular eclipse. I took Allentown (PA) School District pupils on one of my first field experiences to Texas to witness this event. We actually had planned to view the eclipse in New Mexico, but morning storms forced us to relocate south and west to Canutillo, Texas, a small border town within a mile or so of Mexico and New Mexico. There we set up in a local schoolyard and viewed the eclipse from start to finish under a flawless, deep blue sky. Later that day after driving to Ft. Davis, Texas, we heard CNN reports that extreme western Texas had received up to one foot of hail in a particularly violent storm. Yes, that’s 12-inches. While the 1994 and 2012 annular eclipses are related, their paths will not have much of an overlap. The May 20 annular segment of the eclipse first makes landfall just south of Crescent City, CA at 6:24 p.m. PDT and ends just 13 minutes later, two time zones east in the dry Texas plains, NW of Snyder at sundown, 8:37 p.m. CDT. I’ll talk about safe sun observing in next week’s StarWatch.

[Rudy Garbely]
The path of the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse is shown projected onto a Google map prepared by Fred Espenak, NASA's GSFC. Now is the time to start preparing for this event. See the StarWatch article below. The inset photo is a projected solar image from the May 10, 1994 annular eclipse photographed from Canutillo, Texas.

770    MAY 22, 2011:   Safe Solar Observing
On all Christmas Eves into my late 30s my family would gather at my grandparents’ apartment. My grandfather, Ewald Marcus, would always have his shortwave radio tuned to a station in Germany. It was six hours later there, early on Christmas day. Inevitably during the course of our vigil he would say, “In just 24 hours it will all be over.” Often with tears in his eyes he lamented the end of Christmas before it had even begun. In just one year the annular (solar) eclipse will be just a memory. The moon covers the sun during the late afternoon of May 20, 2012. It happens across a relatively narrow path from northern California southeastward to the central Texas plains. Here during mid-eclipse, a smaller moon will be placed in front of a larger sun, forming an annulus (ring), around the moon. If you are planning to watch this eclipse, you will need some type of apparatus to project the sun or a filtering system to guard your eyes from dangerous infrared radiation which is what causes blindness if you stare at the sun. Projection systems can be as simple as being near a tree with leaves in motion or crisscrossing your fingers. In both instances tiny pinholes are created which will easily project the eclipsed sun. A long tube, similar to those used for wrapping gifts, can be made into a projection system by capping one end with tinfoil perforated by a pinhole. Light projects down the tube to fall on a white “screen” at the other end. Near the bottom of the cylinder, a much larger hole is placed in the tube which allows the observer to see the screen. Another very inexpensive way to observe the eclipse is to buy solar glasses. These glasses will not only diminish the sun’s brightness to a comfortable level but prevent harmful IR and UV light from entering the eye. Go to to purchase these glasses for safe solar watching.

771    MAY 29, 2011:   Gravity Trains: Jules Verne's Version of Amtrak
Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, contains many misconceptions and beliefs that have been proven false since its publication in 1864. However, the idea of going to the center of the Earth has remained a fascinating concept to both scientists and fiction readers alike, and the plausibility of getting there has been debated for years. At the focus of this debate is the theoretical concept of gravity trains. A shaft could be bored from one point on the surface of the Earth straight through the center and out to the surface on the other side of the planet. People in a capsule could freefall through the shaft and continue to accelerate due to gravity until they reached the center of the Earth, where they would begin to decelerate at the same rate due to an opposing gravitational force. At journey’s end, they would attain a speed of zero at the surface on the other side of the planet. This would provide a new and efficient mode of transportation, taking only 42.2 minutes to get from any point on the Earth to the point directly opposite it. However, the theory of gravity trains is impossible for several reasons. There is no known material that could line the tunnel walls and withstand the heat and pressure from the mantle or molten rocks of the outer core. Also, air resistance would play a significant role in slowing the train, making it necessary to evacuate all gasses from the tube. Additionally, in the 42.2 minutes that the train would take to get from one side of the Earth to the other, the Earth would continue to rotate, but at continuously changing speeds with depth. The train when released would start its downward journey with its surface velocity intact. In its plummet through the tube, the capsule would be diverted in the direction of Earth’s rotation and crash into the walls. All of these complications have relegated the concept of gravity trains to a Jules Verne/mathematical type exercise. This article was written for StarWatch by Rudy Garbely of Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA. Rudy's biography can be found under his photo in the May 8, 2011 StarWatch.

[Gravity Train]
Gravity trains offer an interesting, albeit theoretical means of traveling anywhere on Earth. In fact, any straight line distance between any two points on the Earth’s surface would take a passenger on a gravity train only 42.2 minutes to traverse, thus putting airlines out of business once and for all. Gravity Train illustration from Wikipedia...

[ISS and Endeavor]
The International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Endeavor can be seen respectively as the bright and dim streaks in this extraordinarily bright (-3.9) flyover on May 31 at 3:38-45 a.m. A Canon 60D camera with a 70-200 mm Canon zoom lens at an EFF of 112mm was used at F/2.8, ASA 1000 for this guided 90 second image. A Borg-Hutech light pollution filter was mounted onto the front of the lens. The night was hazy clear, but by 3 a.m. clouds began to appear. About two minutes before the event the sky was mostly cloudy. Then it cleared in the area that I was photographing just as the ISS became visible in the morning sun. I was lucky. Gary A. Becker photograph, Coopersburg, PA...

[May Star Map]

[May Moon Phase Calendar]