Planet-palooza This Week!

ssw-45-minutes-after-sunsetLooking south after sunset

Four planets are visible in the early evening sky this week. Look for the brightest, Venus, low in the west right after sunset. If you have a small telescope or binoculars, check out the four largest moons of Jupiter and see if you can discern Saturn’s rings. Mars is the hardest to see detail on – look for a slight brightening on the top and bottom due to the polar ice caps.

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Outreach on Breezy Hill, Vermont

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Sara Poppa and Angelia Colella working the registration gate

On the weekend of August 10-12 CCSU faculty and students brought astronomy down to earth for families attending the annual Stellafane Amateur Telescope Makers Convention on Breezy Hill in Springfield, VT. Geological Sciences majors and astronomy minors Sara Poppa and Angelia Colella took families on a tour of the solar system both days, using a mile long scale model of the solar system to demonstrate the layout of the planets.

Top left: identifying meteorites; Top right: filters; Bottom: simple telescopes

In two children’s workshops on Friday, Dr. Kristine Larsen gave hands-on explanations on how to tell a meteorite from a “meteor-wrong”, and children explored how simple telescopes work and the use of filters in astronomy.

Far left: using glitter to make the nucleus of a comet; middle left: completed comet model; middle right: Saturn model; Far right: Harry Potter starfinders

On Saturday, children made models of comets and Saturn, as well as Harry Potter starfinders.

Outreach is Central to all that we do at CCSU. It was an honor to spark an interest in science in these young people and their families.

Got Binoculars? Channel Your Inner Galileo

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Have you ever wanted to be Galileo for a day? If you own a pair of binoculars (or a small backyard telescope), now is the time to channel your inner Galileo! Galileo’s 17th century telescopes were very small by today’s standards, with a similar magnification to a pair of common binoculars today. So why not dust off those birdwatching binocs and turn them skyward over the next few weeks?

Our first stop is the planet Venus, now hard to miss in the western sky after sunset. Galileo noticed that Venus shows phases like the moon. The phases won’t be as obvious as shown in the above diagram, so you need to be patient, and hold your binoculars very steady. Use a camera tripod, or try steadying your arms by resting your elbows on a hard surface like a picnic table. Another trick is to hold the binoculars near the far end, where the light enters, rather than putting your hands close to your eyes. This will hold them steadier, because most of the binoculars’ weight is on the far end where the main lenses are.

 

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Our second stop is more towards the south, a “star” that is a little dimmer than Venus, but still rather obvious to the unaided eye. This is Jupiter. Galileo discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter (as shown in a page of his observations reproduced above), which we now collectively call the Galilean moons in his honor. Again, holding the binoculars steady is key here. Watch the moons appear to move relative Jupiter from night to night!

Finally, if the moon is out, don’t forget to train your binoculars in its direction. Galileo studied the craters on the moon, and so can you!

Put on Bohemian Rhapsody, grab your binoculars, and before long you’ll be singing “Galileo, Galileo” as you reproduce the groundbreaking observations of more than 400 years ago. It’s an experience not to be missed!

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[Students at East Hartford High School try to sort out meteorites and tektites from “meteor-wrongs’]

Most years at least one member of the public will come to my office with what they believe to be a meteorite they’ve found. In all but one case, they were wrong. Last night, it was my pleasure to help students at East Hartford High School try their hand at identifying meteorites and tektites. About 30 students attended the workshop, sponsored by the Connecticut Science Center Teen Science Café program. After a short introduction to the three main types of meteorites and how tektites form, the students got hands-on experience with actual meteorites and tektites, as well as common rocks that can be confused with meteorites by the general public. The students were then given ten unknowns and they had to pick out the three meteorites and two tektites from the “meteor-wrongs.” Two young ladies successfully picked out 2 of the 3 meteorites and both tektites. I hope they continue to hone their science skills in the future!

— K. Larsen

Life of Science Writer Delia Godding Highlighted in Upcoming Lecture

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[Hand drawn illustration of a mastodon from Delia Godding’s 1847 book First Lessons in Geology]

Reconstructing the important historical contributions of women to science has been a passion of CCSU astronomy professor Dr. Kristine Larsen for several decades. In her 2017 book The Women Who Popularized Geology in the 1800s she focused on women who wrote popularized works on geology for an audience of women and children. On Sunday, April 29 at 9:30 AM she will give a free public talk on one of these woman, Delia Godding, at St. John’s Church in West Hartford. Delia taught at the school associated with this church for several years, so it is good to see her memory returning home. For more information, see https://cthistoryevents.com/event/delia-woodruff-godding-1812-1861/#.WtdOAcsUnX6.