Monday, March 25, 2013

Charles Messier - Astronomer

While exploring the heavens, our amateur astronomers sometimes give a tour of a few of Messier Objects.  But  what are Messier Objects? Charles Messier (1730 – 1817) was a French astronomer of little education, who through observation and perseverance discovered numerous comets and other deep space objects such as nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. But comets were his passion. Although his discoveries are noteworthy, he is remembered today for compiling and publishing his and other astronomers’ discoveries into a series of catalogs. Each object listed was given a number; the Crab Nebula – M01, Andromeda galaxy – M13 etc. He complied 110 of these objects.  Ironically his purpose in creating the categories was to list those things which he thought were a time waster, “objects to avoid”, when comet hunting. Although excellent at finding comets and deep space objects and making astute observations of a whole range of things from sunspots to eclipses to occultation of astrological objects, he was no mathematician or theoretician and he relied on others to compute the orbit of his comets. His work earned him the position of Chief Astronomer of the Marine Observatory in 1759. He was also elected to the numerous notable Science Academies throughout Europe. Eventually he received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from Napoleon himself. To this day, his lasting legacy, the Messier Catalog, is still used by amateur astronomers all around the world. It includes the majority of the best deep sky objects visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The DC Women's Hiking Group will hike on Tues., March 26th and Thurs., March 28th at Tarrywile Park in Danbury.
Take I-84 towards Danbury/Waterbury to the airport exit.
At end of ramp turn right.
Follow through traffic lights and at stop sign turn onto Southern Blvd. ( It will be a sharp right turn).
Follow small brown signs for Tarrywile Park.
The park will be on the right across from Immaculate H.S.
Meet in lower parking lot at 8:30am.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The DC Women's Hiking Group will hike Tues., March 19th and Thurs., March 21st at Topstone Park in Redding, CT.
Take Rt. 7 to Topstone Road.
Follow over railroad tracks staying on Topstone Rd.
Keep going just past where it turns to a dirt road.
Parking area will be on right side of road.
Meet at 8:30am.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The DC Women's Hiking Group will hike Tues., Mar. 12th and Thurs., Mar. 14th at Lake Windwing in Ridgefield.
Take Limestone Rd. which turns into Bennetts Farm Rd.
Across from Ridgebury Elementary School is South Shore Dr.
Turn right onto South Shore Dr.
The park and parking area will be on the left.
Meet at 8:30am.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ursa Major

March 2013 Constellation of the Month – Ursa Major

The constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, includes the group of stars (an "asterism") called the "Big Dipper."   The Big Dipper comprises less than half the area covered by Ursa Major; the remainder consists of 3 appendages extending from the back and bottom of the bowl.  That would be to the South in the early night time sky tonight.

Ursa Major is a circumpolar constellation.  This is explained in the blog post for our December 2012 constellation of the month, Cassiopeia, the "W" .  Basically, circumpolar constellations never set below the horizon.  They are visible all night every night of the year.  The W and the Ursa Major are always on opposite sides of the North Star, around which they seem to revolve every 24 hours and every 12 months.  Soon after sunset, Ursa Major is visible to the North and slightly East, relatively high in the sky, while Cassiopeia is to lower in the sky, to the North and slightly West.  At midnight, Cassiopeia will be at its lowest point near the northern horizon, and Ursa Major will be at its highest point.  

As is well known, the last two stars in the bowl of the dipper point to the North Star.  The second star, in the middle of the handle of the dipper, is a double star, which can be made out with the naked eye – if you have good eyesight.  Otherwise, binoculars or a telescope will make it visible.  The brighter of the two stars, called Mizar, is itself a double star, which can be seen in a small telescope.  

Ursa Major has a number of prominent deep-sky objects -- objects outside our Solar System – which can be seen with small telescopes such as those used at Discovery Center astronomy events.  The Owl Nebula, M 97, is a planetary nebula (explained in last month's blog post) with two dark round patches that give the appearance of an Owl's eyes.  It is located below the middle of the bowl of the dipper.  The Owl Nebula is in our Milky Way galaxy, about 2,600 light years away.   M81, Bode's Galaxy and M82, the Cigar galaxy are about 5,000 times as far away.  Some tens of millions of years ago, these two galaxies nearly collided.  Each of their gravitational fields affected the other, causing some disruption in their shapes, and facilitating the formation of new stars.     
The DC Women's Hiking Group will hike Tues., Mar. 5th and Thurs., Mar. 7th at Mountain Lakes in NY.
Take 116 North (1.9 miles past Ridgefield High School). Turn left on Hunt Rd, follow .9 mile, Hilltop Rd will be on right, trail head on left.
Meet at 8:30am.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Think Pancakes - It's Sugaring off time

Sugaring off, or the production of maple syrup, has been an early spring activity for centuries. Native Americans gashed the trees, collected the sap in wooden troughs or bark bowls, let it partially freeze to enrich the sap and then boiled it down by sometimes dropping heated stones into it. At times, it would be tossed onto the snow to freeze into “wax sugar”. But boiling it down into sugar cakes made it easier to carry and store. For Native Americans and the colonists this and honey were their primary sweeteners. It wasn’t until the end of the 1800s that white sugar became abundantly affordable. Gashing trees is no longer done as it can kill a tree and the number of good sugar bushes (groups of good syrup producing trees) isn’t as plentiful anymore. Instead trees are tapped (drilled) with a spile inserted into the hole. Sap runs down the spile into buckets or it is funneled down tubing. Eventually it ends up in large reservoirs that are heated over evaporators. It takes 40 gallons of sap to evaporate down into one gallon of syrup. Sounds simple but good syrup production is a bit of an art. Weather determines when the sap begins to run and when the run ends. Freezing nights and warm days are the herald of sugaring off season. Maple trees of all varieties and the box elder can be tapped. But because its sap has a superior percentage of sucrose, the Sugar Maple is the “Jewel of the Sugar Bush”. (photo Allison S. 2010 - Radishes& Originally posted on 2/15/11