Astronomy Night Liveblog!

7:05 PM –

A beautiful, crisp, cloudless day has turned into an equally clear evening, and now all that’s left to do is wait for it to get just a bit darker. There’s not much to see just yet, according to Professor Vold, but the Hercules Cluster should be visible soon along with other objects. It should shape up to be a great night for the Meade telescope to be put to good use! For now, there’s general chatter in Small 122… about breathing fire with cornstarch?

We’re a safe bunch here at the SPS.

(We are also providing tutoring, as is always done on Thursdays at 7 PM, which is a great resource to take advantage of!)

7:14 PM-

We’re on the roof! Setting up scopes, the big dome is open- things are starting to get well under way! It’s also still a beautiful night, so it’s quite pleasant just to be outside. A discussion of where the North Star is under way (we THINK we found it) so that we can aim in that general direction, but first the scopes need to come out. Professor Vold and Professor Hancock are on hand setting up five different telescopes in addition to the dome (the large telescope on the roof). The first stars are beginning to make themselves readily apparent so we’ve got something to aim for.

EDIT: Turns out those telescopes were set up for an astronomy class. Whoops. Well, we helped set them up anyway!

I assure you the dome is FAR less creepy looking in person- ah, the joys of using a camera phone in the evening! Still, pretty fitting for October…?

7:26 PM –

Whether you’re a professor or a student, it’s still always useful to keep in mind that telescopes work best with the lens cap off. Further vital advice is to always focus the telescope, but to be gentle with it; cranking the focus knob one way or the other does much more harm than good, as typically the telescopes are roughly focused and just need a bit of fine tuning (keep this in mind, GER Astro students!). Also, how do you know if the star you’re focusing in on is the North Star a.k.a. Polaris? Answer: it doesn’t move too terribly much.

8:13 PM –

Apologies for radio (internet?) silence, but I’ve been in the dome! It’s a fascinating mix of computer-reliant tracking (I’ll explain that in a minute) and manual fine-tuning to get the best possible focus. I was in there for approximately 45 minutes, and in those five minutes we utilized the computer tracking software to observe two star clusters and a double-double star system, as well as an initial bright star that the telescope had been tracking for half an hour constantly keeping it in the center of the scope.

8:38 PM –

Note to self for future liveblogging endeavors: ALWAYS remember your charger. Now that I have power again, I can continue, with one quick aside. As I was walking back to my dorm I was struck by just how noticeable the difference in star visibility was between the roof and the walkways. Now we definitely have non-negligible light pollution- Williamsburg may not feel like a city, but it still has the light pollution of one -but it really is apparent how just getting above it a bit can help. On the ground, I was lucky to spot five or so stars; on the roof? Whole different story. No Milky Way spottings, let’s not get carried away here, but definitely far more than a handful or so.

Anyway, returning to the recap! One of the really impressive things regarding the telescope in the dome is that since it’s hooked up to a computer it can be set to track on one star and stay tracked all evening. As I was saying regarding the North Star, it can be determined because it doesn’t travel in the sky; it’s the North Star and it’s a pretty fixed point. Other stars, however, do move across the sky- if you get one perfectly centered in your telescope’s sight and come back a half hour later it won’t be there anymore. The program used by the telescope in the dome is pretty fantastic as once it’s calibrated (which Professor Vold did by cataloging as many stars as he could identify which provided the program with a star map basis) and locked on to a star it will track. To ensure that it’s visible, “slaving” the dome to the telescope is necessary. This means that the dome’s opening is locked on to the direction the telescope is pointing and follows it.

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