Gloucester Area Astronomy Club Holiday Party!

On Friday night, December 13, for our 16th annual Holiday Party, we are fortunate to once again have with us the celebrated Kelly Beatty, Senior Editor of Sky & Telescope Magazine (see more of Kelley’s bio below). This year Kelly’s presentation asks the perennial question “Are We Alone?

Our galaxy, Kelly writes, “likely contains more planets than stars — so what are the odds of finding distant Earth-like worlds that teem with life? After surveying the amazing diversity of life on Earth — and the theories of how it started here — we’ll sample the kinds of worlds around other stars that astronomers have discovered and explore whether any of them might be suitable for life. And we’ll catch up on efforts to contact alien civilizations directly, via radio transmissions and other means.”

This will be a very entertaining and richly informative night, so come early and grab a good seat and some great food and conversation before all the festivities begin.

The Gloucester Area Astronomy Club meets at 8:00 pm on the second Friday of the month, at the Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan Street in Lanesville. There is plenty of off-street parking. All are welcome, there is no cost, and no special knowledge is required to have a great time.

A little bit of Kelly Beatty’s bio: 
Kelly has been honored twice by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society. In 2005 he received the Harold Masursky Award for meritorious service, and in 2009 he was honored with the inaugural Jonathan Eberhart Journalism Award. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Astronomical League Award (in 2006) for his contributions to the science of astronomy and the American Geophysical Union’s Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism (2009).

Kelly hails from Madera, California. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology from the California Institute of Technology and a Master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University. During the 1980s he was among the first Western journalists to gain firsthand access to the Soviet space program. Asteroid 2925 Beatty was named on the occasion of his marriage in 1983, and in 1986 he was chosen one of the 100 semifinalists for NASA’s Journalist in Space program.

Apollo 11 Moon Landing 50 Year Celebration Saturday Night 7/20

The 50th anniversary of the first human footsteps on the Moon will be celebrated on Saturday, July 20 from 8 PM to 10 PM at the Lanesville Community Center (8 Vulcan Street). 

There will be sharing of memories, along with a presentation by former Navy Seal Earl Kishida who helped retrieve the Apollo astronauts at sea. Astronomer Bill Waller will then discuss what we have learned from lunar exploration, and what lies ahead. 

The evening will end with a toast to the Apollo astronauts and to the thousands of people who supported their pioneering missions. The event is free with donations accepted in support of the Rockport Community Observatory Project being led by the Educational Foundation for Rockport.  For more information, please contact Bill Waller at williamhwaller@gmail.com.

July 12 Meeting of the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club: How do Stars and Planets Form?

This month we’re fortunate to have Catherine Zucker of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as our guest speaker. Catherine will show us how we have begun to derive accurate distance measurements to large, star-forming molecular clouds in the Milky Way galaxy, and what that means for astronomy.

Why go to all this trouble? Obtaining accurate distance measurements to molecular clouds is important for understanding the star and planet formation process. The advent of large photometric surveys and the Gaia mission offer an unprecedented opportunity to derive the distances and properties of hundreds of millions of stars, as well as the molecular clouds between them. 

Without resorting to scary math, Catherine will explain how we have combined these data with statistical methods to create a new 3D map of molecular clouds in the solar neighborhood (the nearest 10,000 lightyears). As it turns out, these phenomena are surprisingly interrelated — using interactive visualization software, we can find new connections between long-studied molecular clouds that reveal a link between individual star-forming regions and the larger Galactic environment.

The Gloucester Area Astronomy Club meets on the second Friday of every month (except August) at 8:00 pm at the Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan Street in Lanesville. There is no cost, and all are welcome. For more info on the club, see the website or Facebook page, and you can follow us on Twitter, @GAACster.

June 14 Meeting of the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club, with Steve O’Meara

“Spoke” markings in Saturn’s rings are visible in the lower left.

Our speaker for the June 14 GAAC meeting will be none other than Steve O’Meara, the very accomplished astronomer and writer who, very unexpectedly, observed apparent “spokes” in Saturn’s ring system in 1976. Steve reported observing these phenomena with the 9 inch refractor at Harvard (an interesting account of the reception of O’Meara’s observations is available here, in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage). His observations were discounted by colleagues and professionals, who pointed out that no such thing could persist due to differential rotation of the rings.

Then in 1980 the Voyager 1 spacecraft visited Saturn, reported spokes in the rings, and got credit for the discovery. Some speculate that this may be because of an inherent distrust of visual observation as opposed to photographic astronomy. In his talk, Steve will speak about his observations of Saturn and the events that followed. This is sure to be a fascinating and colorful account, and, incidentally, a welcome affirmation of the value of careful visual observational astronomy — a good story all around.

Come and hear this riveting tale of discovery and professional and scientific intrigue. GAAC meets at 8:00 pm on the second Friday of every month except August, at the Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan Street in Lanesville. More information can be had at the club’s website, Facebook page, or on Twitter, @GAACster. There is plenty of off-street parking, and all are welcome. There is no cost.

May 10 Meeting of the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club: the Leviathan of Parsonstown

At our May 10 meeting, Amateur astronomer and perennial GAAC favorite Dwight Lanpher will speak about his visit last September to Birr Castle, County Offaly, Ireland to examine “the Great Telescope.” Any review of the history of astronomy will likely discover this large telescope called the “Leviathan of Parsonsonstown.” Built in Ireland in 1845 by the 3rd Earl of Rosse, it was the largest telescope in the world for 70 years. Each of two 72″ speculum-metal mirrors were alternately mounted in a 54′ long tube, suspended between two purpose built castle walls.

Dwight’s dynamic presentation will show details of how the telescope was operated and the modifications that were made during a $1,200,000 renovation in 1995. Images will also include the last remaining of the two, 3-ton, speculum mirrors examined during the return trip at its current location at the Museum of Science in London.

When not visiting ancient telescopes, Mr. Lanpher travels throughout New England and eastern Canada attending astronomy meetings as liaison for clubs in Maine, New Hampshire and a few, including GAAC, in Massachusetts, and observing at their star parties when the opportunity avails. Professionally, Mr. Lanpher works as an Electrical Engineer.

This will be a fun, informative meeting, full of large telescopes, a large chocolate cake, and large but thoroughly graspable ideas. We hope to see you there!

The Gloucester Area Astronomy Club meets on the second Friday of every month except August. There are no dues or fees, and there’s plenty of free parking.

For more information on the club, see the website, Facebook page, or Twitter, @GAACster.

Nov 9 Meeting of the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club: Stars and Exoplanets

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This month GAAC is pleased to have as its speaker Sarah Blunt from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Sarah’s presentation is titled “Know thy Star, Know thy Exoplanet.”

Sarah’s talk is based on the simple fact that nearly every known exoplanet (a planet around another star) has been discovered indirectly; that is, in order to detect and characterize the planet, we make measurements of its host star.

Because of these relationships, many exoplanet measurements have been limited by our knowledge of their stars at the time the planets were detected. In this talk, Sarah will discuss exoplanet discoveries that have now been made possible by more precise stellar data, and will introduce ongoing stellar research that has the potential to improve our understanding of exoplanets.

There are more planets out there than stars —  hundreds of billions just in the Milky Way alone.

See you there, 8 Vulcan Street in Lanesville, 8:00 pm on the 9th — lots of good things to eat, lots of fun stuff to know, and great conversations to be had! All are welcome, there is plenty of off-street parking, and there is no cost. No special knowledge or equipment is needed to have a great time.

For more info on GAAC, see the club website, Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter, @GAACster.

Gloucester Area Astronomy Club Halloween Meeting Friday Oct 12

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At our Friday night October 12 GAAC meeting we are pleased to have with us Phil Orbanes, the North Shore’s preeminent astrophotographer, with “Tales from the Cosmic Dark Side,” a Halloween-themed presentation illustrated with Phil’s excellent photos, touching on all sorts of dark objects — Dark Nebulae (and Bok Globules), Molecular Clouds,  Integrated Flux Nebula, Dark (“Rogue”) Planets, “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy.” Calling on examples from the Pipe nebula through the possible eventual heat-death of the universe, Phil will elucidate the universe of dark phenomena all around us.

We’ll see you there, 8:00 pm at the Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan St in Lanesville. There is no cost, and all are welcome. There will be goodies of every stripe, friends old and new, and just a generally good time to be had by all.

For more information on the club you can check out the website, the Facebook page, and follow us on Twitter, @GAACster.