New Venue

So, what’s the latest IPAS news? We have a new venue. Where? Bartow, FL.
And what do we do there? Just what we do everywhere, sort of. It’s called sidewalk astronomy.

So, what is sidewalk astronomy? Sidewalk astronomy is no more than amateur astronomers, like us, setting up our telescopes in a public place (like on a busy sidewalk) and letting anyone who comes by look through the scopes at whatever we find in the night sky to see. We answer any questions about astronomy and the celestial objects we’re viewing.

Our purpose is to educate anyone interested in the basics of astronomy, let them see the wonders of the universe and hopefully, find a few new amateurs who may want to join us.

So come on out to Bartow, visit the many vendors there to see what they have to offer and visit us and see the universe up close. It will be an experience you won’t forget. See you there.

Lunar Eclipse, January, 2019 in Lakeland, FL

I suspect that Lunar and solar eclipses occur more frequently than a lot of people think. But what I think doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that there will be a total Lunar eclipse in January of 2019, January 20-21 to be precise. The really good news for us here in Lakeland is that the total eclipse will be visible from Lakeland, Florida, from start to finish. I hope you all are as excited about this as I am. If not, maybe this will help spur you on. We, the Imperial Polk Astronomical Society, will be doing a Lunar Eclipse Watch that night.

Here are the details:
Florida Southern College will host the event for the night. The college is located at 111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr., Lakeland, Florida. We will do a presentation beginning at 7:00 pm in the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. We’ll tell (and show) you how and why eclipses happen and what to expect from this one. After the presentation, we’ll have time for a short Q & A session. Then we’ll move outside where we’ll have telescopes set up to view some of the wonders of the universe before the eclipse begins. We’ll view galaxies, far, far away, nebulae in our own galaxy, and our own solar system planets. Then, when the eclipse begins, we’ll “focus” our scopes on the Moon and track it through the stages of eclipse. We’ll be there from start to finish.

So, when does it start and end? The presentation starts Sunday, January 20 at 7:00 pm sharp. The eclipse starts at 9:36 pm. The eclipse ends Monday, January 21 at 2:48 am. Obviously, Lunar eclipses occur at night. One good thing about this one is that Monday, the 21st is a legal holiday, so maybe you’ll have the day off.

Our thanks to Florida Southern College.

If you have any questions, you can contact us right here through our website.

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower is underway!

We know a meteor shower is going to be good when it produces dozens of fireballs a week before the shower peaks. This is the Perseids. The best meteor shower of the year peaks Aug. 11th-13th when Earth passes through a stream of debris from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.  37 Perseid fireballs were counted during the weekend of Aug. 4th-5th. One was almost as bright as the Moon.

The Perseid meteor shower is always good, but this year should be super-good. We’ll have a New Moon at the shower’s peak, giving us a dark sky, giving us as many as 100 meteors per hour. As usual, the best time to look is during the dark hours before sunrise, so check it out on Sunday, August 12th, and again on Monday, August 13th. At those early hours , the shower’s point of origin will be high in the sky, and meteors will appear to go in all directions.

If you can, get away from city lights to a dark place, and look up. The Perseids can appear in any part of the sky, but all of their trails will point back toward the constellation Perseus.

If midnight to 5 am is too late (or early) for you, try looking for Perseids around 10 pm when the point of origin (radiant) is just at the northern horizon. At that time, meteors skim the top of the atmosphere, producing long colorful fireballs called “Earthgrazers.” There won’t be many, but even one is impressive. Enjoy the show!

How We do Things

Back in March, I posted an article about what we do. But I also want you to know a little bit about how we do things.

I hope you will allow me to be honest with you, and I hope no one takes offence at what I say. Some have described me as being “brutally” honest, and I admit that I am. I usually like to get right to the point and much of the time, I don’t know what diplomacy/tact means. So, if I may express myself, I’ll try to get diplomatically/tactfully to the point.

I, we, at Imperial Polk Astronomical Society love what we do, whether its looking through a telescope at a distant galaxy under clear skies, learning about a new astronomical discovery, or standing in front of a group of people, explaining the wonders of the universe; it’s a passion.

When it comes to our presentation/observing sessions, I personally enjoy every aspect of these sessions. I enjoy having a group who are eager to learn more about all of the “stuff” out there. I especially enjoy having the kids in attendance. They always ask the most challenging questions. And after the presentation, when the weather permits, we get our scopes out and view the wonders of the universe “up close and personal”. It’s always a thrill to see the expressions on faces as they look through a telescope, especially when it’s for the first time, and hear the familiar “Oh wow!” when they realize they’re looking at something millions of light years away, or just billions of miles away.

A few people come to our events because they’re amateur astronomers and want to join a group of like-minded people. Others come to learn something about astronomy from the presentation and enjoy the view through the telescopes. Some bring a telescope to have us check it out or to learn how to use it. Others come mainly to get a view through the scopes (and that’s OK), but usually enjoy the presentation anyway.

Recently, I’ve had some calls asking if our event is cancelled because the weather doesn’t look good. And I know that people don’t come when the weather is not so conducive to looking through a telescope. But let me urge you to come anyway.  The presentations are educational, basic enough that anyone 6 to 96 (or more) can understand it, and entertaining as well. We encourage participation in our presentations. We welcome any questions about the presentation or astronomy in general, and we’ll tell you what is fact and what is theory.

So, what’s my point? Just this: Our “regular” Astronomy Night presentation is always indoors or at least under cover where the weather doesn’t bother us and can’t stop us. Most are indoors with A/C or heat so its comfortable. This means that the show goes on whatever the weather may be. Obviously, if the weather is bad, we won’t be getting the scopes out for viewing. They don’t take too well to rain. But the presentation goes on “rain or shine”! So don’t let the weather stop you from coming out. Obviously, for observing sessions only, if the weather is bad, there will be no viewing. But if you live in our Central Florida area, you’re familiar with our weather, especially in the Summer months. But, just because it’s raining where you are now, that doesn’t mean it’s raining a half mile away. Nor does it mean that it will be raining a half hour from now. We have seen the rain and clouds dissipate within 30-45 minutes and yield to clear (or clear enough) skies. So, brave the weather, come out, and hope for the best. It has happened.

Well, there it is. I just want everyone to know that weather doesn’t stop us. We’re serious about what we do and a little rain won’t stop us. A hurricane, yes. A little rain, NO!

So, I hope no one has been offended, I’ve been as “diplomatic” as I know how.  I welcome any questions or comments you may have.

Thanks for your time,

Cleve, President, Imperial Polk Astronomical Society

Parker Solar Probe Update

Back in mid-March, we posted an article about sending your name to the Sun on the Parker Solar Probe. The probe successfully completed a round of tests mimicking the conditions the spacecraft will face in space throughout its seven-year mission.

Parker, shown here inside half of its fairing in Titusville, FL,  went through its final  encapsulation at Astrotech Space Operations before its move to the Cape Canaveral complex. Parker’s launch vehicle was a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy.,  the second largest payload delivery system in the world. Only the new SpaceX Falcon Heavy is larger.

The Delta IV uses two liquid fuel boosters and a second stage to achieve orbit. The first stage and two boosters produce 710,000 pounds of thrust each. That’s a lot of horsepower.

The probe is designed to travel through the Sun’s corona, the outer layer of its atmosphere, at a temperature of 2,500 degrees F, 4 million miles from the Sun’s surface. The shield protecting the four groups of instruments is like nothing designed before. The probe will travel at a speed of about 430,000 mph.

The Parker Solar Probe’s launch date was Sunday morning, August 12 at 3:31 am. On Aug. 20, 2018. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe successfully completed its first trajectory correction maneuver (known as TCM-1), achieving a near-perfect firing of its propulsion system and putting the spacecraft on course to “touch” the Sun.

The probe will use seven Venus gravity assist maneuvers to increase its speed to make 24 solar orbits through the Sun’s corona. As of August 20, Parker was 5.5 million miles from Earth, travelling at 39,500 mph. If you think that’s fast, just wait. The fastest is yet to come.

Stay tuned, we’re sure you’ll want to know more about the Sun as the data comes in.

Flying Spiders? And Space Weather?

Believe it or not, some spiders “fly”, it’s called ballooning, and apparently it’s due partly to space weather. So, how do they do it and what does space weather have to do with it?

This comes from the spaceweather.com website: Our thanks to Dr. Tony Phillips and spaceweather.com.

SPIDERS AND SPACE WEATHER: Did you know that spiders can fly? Biologists call it “ballooning.” Spiders spin a strand of silk, it juts into the air, and off they go. Airborne arachnids have been found as high as 4 km (2.5 Mi) off the ground. Originally, researchers thought spiders were riding currents of air, but there’s a problem with that idea. Spiders often take flight when the air is calm, and large spiders fly even when air currents are insufficient to support their weight. It’s a mystery.

Scientists from the University of Bristol may have found the solution. In a paper published in the July 5th edition of Current Biology, they proved that spiders can propel themselves using electric fields.

“We exposed adult Linyphiid spiders (Erigone) to electric fields similar to those which naturally occur in Earth’s atmosphere,” explains the paper’s lead author, Erica Morley. “Spiders showed a significant increase in ballooning in the presence of electric fields.” A remarkable video of their experiment shows one spider flying when the fields were switched on, then sinking when the fields were off again.


Above: This diagram, borrowed from K. A. Nicoll’s review paper “Space Weather influences on Atmospheric Electricity,” illustrates the role of thunderstorms and cosmic rays in creating Earth’s electric fields.

The electric fields spiders use for propulsion are part of Earth’s global atmospheric electric circuit (GEC)–a planet-sized circuit of electricity that researchers have known about since the 1920’s. In a nutshell, thunderstorms help build up a charge difference between the ground and the ionosphere 50 km  (31 Mi.) overhead. The voltage drop is a staggering 250,000 volts. This sets up electric fields linking Earth to the edge of space. Cosmic rays ionize Earth’s atmosphere, turning it into a weak conductor that allows currents to flow through the GEC.

Peter W. Gorham of the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii notes that “the complex protein structure of spider silk includes charge-bearing amino acids glutamic acid and arginine, which might be generated in a charged state as part of the spinning process.”

Spiders have been observed using multiple strands of silk that splay out in fan-like shapes. Instead of tangling as they move through the air, the strands remain separate. Are they repelled by an electrostatic force? The work of Erica Morley and her collaborator Daniel Robert provides insight.


Above: Hairs on the legs of spiders called “trichobothria” twitch when electric fields are present–a signal to the spider that ballooning may commence. From “Electric Fields Elicit Ballooning in Spiders.” 

All of this raises the possibility that spiders may be affected by space weather as electric fields are perturbed by cosmic rays and solar activity. Research groups have demonstrated connections between space weather and atmospheric electricity on a variety of time scales:

  • Days: Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the sun can sweep aside cosmic rays as they pass by Earth, causing temporary reductions in atmospheric ionization as large as 30%. Our own Spaceweather.com/Earth to Sky cosmic ray balloons have measured these events. [ref]
  • Months: Measurements at the Reading University Atmospheric Observatory in the UK have shown that voltages can fluctuate +-15% as Earth dips in and out of the heliospheric current sheet (a huge corrugated magnetic structure centered on the sun) every ~27 days. [ref]
  • Years: During the 20th century, fair weather atmospheric voltages at sites in Scotland and the UK decreased by factors of ~25% due to a long-term decrease in cosmic rays. [ref] That slow trend is now reversing itself as cosmic rays intensify again.

Could the migration patterns of ballooning spiders be affected by space weather?

“It’s entirely possible, but we simply don’t yet know,” says Morley. “The experiments we have carried out are mostly lab-based, which helps eliminate confounding variables. A next step in the project is to take this all into the field and look for patterns. Factoring in solar activity could be very interesting.”

Who would’ve thought?

Solar Minimum Update

Updated September 12, 2018:

Has anyone noticed anything different about the Sun? Anything unusual? Well, there’s nothing different, nothing unusual. The Sun is just going through its normal cycle. So, if you’ve looked lately, you’ve probably noticed that Sunspots are becoming rarer. The Sun goes through cycles. These cycles are measured by the number of Sunspots seen on the Sun’s surface, that is, the Earth-facing side. Each cycle lasts for about 11 years, with slight variations of time in each cycle.

The solar cycle was discovered in 1843 by Samuel Heinrich Schwabe, and using other observations, reconstructed the cycle back to 1745. Prior cycles were reconstructed from observations going back as far as Galileo and others in the early 1600’s. We are presently in cycle 24.  Right now, the Sunspot number is decreasing, and it has been for some time. Let’s look at the numbers.

Cycle 24 peaked in April, 2014 with 101 Sunspots, the weakest in a hundred years. There was only 1 day in 2014 with no Sunspots. 2015 had 0 spotless days. 2016 had 32 spotless days. 2017 had 104 spotless day. As of September 12 of 2018, there have been 142 spotless days this year, yielding a yearly percentage of 56% so far. This was weird, well, unusual anyway. After a 9 day spotless stretch, a small group of Sunspots popped up near the Sun’s center of the Earth facing side on Sept. 9, then disappeared on Sept 11 before rotating off the Western limb (edge). And then, today, on the 12th, another small group popped up near the center of the Earth facing side. It’s anyone’s guess how this will play out.

The minimum is expected to “peak” some time in 2019-2020.

But even with this minimum, there is still activity to be observed. There are still the occasional flares and CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections). And then there are the “holes” in the Sun’s atmosphere (coronal holes) that let stronger than normal streams of solar wind, charged particles, target the Earth’s atmosphere and produce those awesome auroras in the high latitudes. So if you have a solar telescope, keep watching, it’s not hopeless.

Keep checking back, we’ll keep you updated weekly.

Parker Solar Probe

Back in mid-March, we posted an article about sending your name to the Sun on the Parker Solar Probe. The probe successfully completed a round of tests mimicking the conditions the spacecraft will face in space throughout its seven-year mission, including checking the spacecraft’s functions under hot and cold extremes, cycling the temperatures in a thermal vacuum chamber back and forth between hot and cold, making sure Parker Solar Probe’s systems and components operate properly.

Parker, shown here inside half of its fairing in Titusville, FL,  went through its final  encapsulation at Astrotech Space Operations before its move to the Cape Canaveral complex. Parker’s launch vehicle will be a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy.,  the second largest payload delivery system in the world. Only the new SpaceX Falcon Heavy is larger.

The Delta IV uses two liquid fuel boosters and a second stage to achieve orbit. The first stage and two boosters produce 710,000 pounds of thrust each. That’s a lot of horsepower.

The probe is designed to travel through the Sun’s corona, the outer layer of its atmosphere, at a temperature of 2,500 degrees F, 4 million miles from the Sun’s surface. The shield protecting the four groups of instruments is like nothing designed before. The probe will travel at a speed of about 430,000 mph.

The Parker Solar Probe’s launch date is now set for August 11, 2018.

Stay tuned as we get closer to launch date and thereafter. We’re sure you’ll want to know more about the Sun as the data comes in.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Man of Extraordinary Talents

I’m sure everyone has heard the name Leonardo Da Vinci, an extraordinary man in anyone’s book. As one can easily see by his drawings (below) of the late 1400’s into the early 1500’s, he was a visionary. Many “modern” inventions sprang from his concepts. Consider his concepts of flight, warfare (a tank and a submarine), his knowledge of the human anatomy, botany and the list goes on.

 

 

One that you may not know, or suspect, was astronomy. He even has an astronomical effect named after him. Have you ever noticed the crescent Moon within a few days after a new Moon and you can actually see the entire face of the Moon in subdued light?

Leonardo was the first one to offer a theory on the phenomena. He believed the “glow” of the unlighted portion of the Moon was due to a reflection of Sunlight off the Earth. And he was right. Hence, this is now called “The Da Vinci Glow”.  As with his other many ideas, this one is recorded in his “notebook”.

So, if you didn’t know, you can add this to your list of astronomy trivia. For more information and a nice picture from Iowa, visit www.SpaceWeather.com.

And the next night or two will be the time to watch, otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the next new moon.

What We Do

Anyone who has paroused our website, probably has an idea of what we are about. But you may not know as much as we would like you to know. So, I thought I would let you in on the real workings of the Imperial Polk Astronomical Society.

Here’s what we do (and have done):

You can see by our schedule that we do public presentations and observing sessions at Circle B Bar Reserve, Colt Creek State Park and Mackay Garden and Lakeside Preserve in Polk County, FL. We “rotate” between these parks on a regular basis.  Our presentations are on basic astronomy, basic enough that ages 5 to 95 can understand. We want all to be able to understand the basics of astronomy and enjoy the beauty and wonders of the universe.

Beside the three local parks, we also do presentations and observing sessions at private communities, groups such as the Civil Air Patrol, Homeschooling groups and the Seminole Nation State-wide Pow Wow. We work with Scouts and Royal Rangers to get their Astronomy Awards.

Our events at Circle B have included their Summer Camp for kids, during which we do presentations and solar observing. We participate in their “Water, Wings and Wild Things” for kids, with a booth displaying information on light pollution and its effect on animals, plants and people. We do solar observing there also.

At Bok Tower, we participate in their Harmony Dark Sky Celebration, along with other astronomy groups, to treat hundreds of people to the wonders of the universe through telescopes. Bok also puts on special observing events, such as meteor watches during meteor showers and family camp-outs and we are there with our scopes. Bok hosts an Earth Day event for school children and we are there to talk about how the Sun affects our climate and, of course, do solar observing.

We have done Astronomy Night at Florida Southern College in Lakeland and presently are working with them to help get their Frank Lloyd Wright designed planetarium back into peak operating condition for public use.

At the Sun-n-Fun Fly-in and Expo in Lakeland, the second largest air show in the U.S., we do daily solar observing, showing everyone how to track Sunspots as they cross the face of the Sun, using this as a teaching tool relating to solar activity. We teach about the Sun and what it means to us. Then at night, we again use our scopes to introduce people to the wonders of the universe.

Wherever we go, our mission is to introduce people to the wonders and beauty of the universe through teaching and observing. Our scopes are open to the public and our knowledge is there for the taking. So if you want to learn about the universe and see it up close, come out to our events and join in the fun. If you’re looking for a group with a common purpose (astronomy), we would gladly have you join us. So, if you were wondering about us, now you know.

Until later, clear skies and keep looking up.