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

Updated October 18, 2018.

Back in mid-March, we posted an article about sending your name to the Sun on the Parker Solar Probe. If you got your name in, you’re about to “touch the Sun”, as the mission says. The Parker Solar Probe launched on Sunday, August 12 at 3:31 am.

The probe, designed to travel through the Sun’s corona, the outer layer of its atmosphere, at a temperature of 2,500 degrees F, at a distance of 3.83 million miles from the Sun’s surface, just completed (on October 3) its first Venus fly-by for the first gravity assist to gain speed. Parker is scheduled for its first solar encounter from October 31 through November 11.

Over the course of its planned seven year  mission, Parker will use seven Venus gravity assist maneuvers to increase its speed to 430,000 mph and make 24 solar orbits through the Sun’s corona.

Some of the questions they’re seeking answers to are: Why is the corona of the Sun hotter than the surface? What causes “holes” in the corona? Why is the magnetic field different strengths at the equator and the poles?

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 website: Our thanks to Dr. Tony Phillips and

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 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?

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

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.

Messier List with Location Maps

Our mission as an astronomical society is to educate the general public in the basics of astronomy in order to appreciate and enjoy the wonders and the beauty of the universe. To stay true to our mission and our vision, as you can see by our schedule and other posts, we also provide various kinds of astronomical information from time to time.

If you have a telescope or binoculars, here’s a little something to help you in your quest for observing the Messier objects. It’s the M list and star charts to help you locate them. Of course, if you have a “Go To” telescope, all you need is the list so you can simply input the M (Messier) number into the telescope, and have it “go to” your choice. But, some say that’s no way to learn. “Star hopping” by using charts is the “only” way to go. Well, whatever method you want to use, here’s the list and charts. Just click on the link, and you can download the PDF.

Messier list and chart

Here’s a suggestion: because the list is by number, you have to “jump around” the list to find objects in the same area of the sky. If you don’t mind doing a little work, make a spreadsheet with all of the given information, then alphabetize the list by constellation. That way, you’ll have all objects in each constellation grouped together so you can stay in one area to find several objects before moving to another area of sky.

Just in case you don’t know about Messier, here’s the history:
Charles Messier was a French astronomer (26 June 1730 – 12 April 1817). Charles’ interest in astronomy was stimulated by the appearance of a six-tailed comet in 1744 and an annular solar eclipse seen from his hometown on July 25th, 1748. He was encouraged to keep records of his observations. Messier’s first documented observation was that of the Mercury transit of 6 May 1753. In 1764, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society, in 1769, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and on 30 June 1770, he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences.

Messier’s passion was comets, so he devoted his astronomy occupation to “hunting” for comets. Although he did discover 13 comets, most of his discoveries were other fixed diffuse objects in the night sky which could be mistaken for comets. His discoveries were all from his vantage point in Paris, France using a 100 mm (4″) refractor. Although not all of the discoveries cataloged were actually his, there was no objection to attributing them to him. His catalog contains 110 objects, including galaxies, planetary nebulae, other types of nebulae, and star clusters (open and globular).

The Messier catalog has long been used by amateur astronomy clubs as an aid in learning how to locate celestial objects. It very well may be the best known catalog today. We hope you use it and enjoy the view.

Send your name to the Sun

Want to take a trip to the Sun? Maybe you can’t go, but here’s how you can send your name.  NASA is inviting people worldwide to submit their name to be placed on a microchip on the Parker Solar Probe to be launched in the Summer of 2018.

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.

NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names online to be placed on a microchip aboard NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission. And your name will go along for the ride.

You can register on the NASA website:

Register now and send your name to the Sun. Deadline is April 27, 2018.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17, will soon be upon us.

And you’re wondering what a “green blooded” leprechaun has to do with astronomy, right?

Well, there’s no pot of gold at the end of the celestial rainbow. At least, none has been discovered yet. The closest we have come to it is the probability of diamond “rain” in the atmosphere of Uranus. Maybe that’s better, but it’s not a pot of gold.

But maybe there is a better connection. If you’re a “Trekkie”,

You may have thought about this: Take your typical leprechaun, for instance. And take your typical Vulcan (of Star Trek fame).

See any common trait here? Check the ears. And don’t forget the Vulcan copper-based green blood.

Got it?

Live Long and Prosper