Betelgeuse is Fading

There has been a lot of buzz on the net about the star, Betelgeuse, Alpha Ori… the red supergiant in Orion’s shoulder (or armpit as people might prefer). It is a well known, bright red, supergiant, and it is a well known variable with a long period. Of late, it has been fading rather unusually for its regular patterns of ups and downs in brightness. This fading has everyone charged up…. you see, the star is old, near the end of its life. Stars of this high mass are supposed to supernova… BOOM! The trick is to know when. We have little idea on that, so any changes seen in stars like this make us get realllllly focused. Below is a snap of the latest observations of Betelgeuse’s brightness in V taken from the AAVSO. You can go see this data for yourself at http://www.aavso.org, and entering “Alfa Ori” sans quotes into the “Pick a star” field on the lower right of the page. Select plot light curve after that.

AAVSO V filter light curve of Betelgeuse

AAVSO V filter light curve of Betelgeuse

Orion with Betelgeuse as it would appear at 9:00pm from mid-northern latitudes tonight (January 15)

Orion with Betelgeuse as it would appear at 9:00pm from mid-northern latitudes tonight (January 15)

Orion with Betelgeuse as it would appear at 9:00pm from mid-northern latitudes tonight (January 15)

Exterior view with the lower shutter open and the dome rotated to point north.

The Dome Works!

Not a surprise at all, but we now have a rotating, opening and closing dome!  Next steps are to putty in the weather seal along edges, and it will be complete. The interior of the building is getting walls and paint soon. Lighting and network cabling come next followed by the installation of the telescope by end of January!  Stay tuned!

A wide angle look at the dome interior with the lower shutter open.

A wide angle look at the dome interior with the lower shutter open.

Exterior view with the lower shutter open and the dome rotated to point north.

Exterior view with the lower shutter open and the dome rotated to point north.

All three of the observatory's domes visible for comparison.

All three of the observatory’s domes visible for comparison.

Below: Two short movies of the dome shutter being opened. This is a two-part process with the top shutter opened first followed by the lower shutter which tilts out. The top shutter’s lower edge overlaps the bottom shutter thus preventing weather from getting inside.

 

There is a Roof and a Dome

Progress has been swift on the construction of the new building.  Roofers have installed the waterproof roof layer and sealed around the dome’s base structure (framing). The dome has been built in place, and the shutter also installed.  Interior work now progresses with the installation of the walls, trim, lights and such. Remember that for any of the images below, just click on them for a larger view.

Prior to pouring the concrete walkway we were expecting both rain then snow and freezing temperatures. Heating pads were placed to prevent frost on the ground before pouring the cement.

Prior to pouring the concrete walkway we were expecting both rain then snow and freezing temperatures. Heating pads were placed to prevent frost on the ground before pouring the cement.

One wall has siding in this image, and the dome opening has been covered to protect the interior from rainfall.

One wall has siding in this image, and the dome opening has been covered to protect the interior from rainfall.

All four exterior walls now have been sided, ventilation louvers have been installed, and the roofers are working on the rubberized layer on top the structure and around the dome, base frame.

All four exterior walls now have been sided, ventilation louvers have been installed, and the roofers are working on the rubberized layer on top the structure and around the dome, base frame.

Inside the control room, the base bearings of the dome have been unpacked for inspection and comprehension! So many parts are in this package, that it is a little mystifying.

Inside the control room, the base bearings of the dome have been unpacked for inspection and comprehension! So many parts are in this package, that it is a little mystifying.

The view of the telescope room through the framed wall of the control room. The window casement has been installed along with initial conduit for electrical. network and telescope control lines.

The view of the telescope room through the framed wall of the control room. The window casement has been installed along with initial conduit for electrical. network and telescope control lines.

The dome is almost complete in this image taken at 6:30am with the sun rising. The dome's motion is smooth and has that familiar rumble to it as it rotates in azimuth on its well-aligned and level bearings.

The dome is almost complete in this image taken at 6:30am with the sun rising. The dome’s motion is smooth and has that familiar rumble to it as it rotates in azimuth on its well-aligned and level bearings.

A wide-field image of the dome interior. Note that edges are a little warped in this image due to the camera's odd stitching of the frames. You can see the top of the pier and the orange power line system for dome operations which make the system effectively wireless. No wires will be dangling down from above to control the dome's motion.

A wide-field image of the dome interior. Note that edges are a little warped in this image due to the camera’s odd stitching of the frames. You can see the top of the pier and the orange power line system for dome operations which make the system effectively wireless. No wires will be dangling down from above to control the dome’s motion.

Roof is complete. Dome is complete. Door has been installed.

Roof is complete. Dome is complete. Door has been installed.

2019 Geminids

2019 Geminid Meteor Shower

One of the best meteor showers of the year is rapidly approaching. Peaking on the night of December 13/14, the Geminids put on a good show with peaks averaging at 120 meteors per hour. Now, with the moon being just past full that night, many of the fainter meteors will be drowned out by moonlight. Don’t be discouraged, though: we still expect to see some 30 meteors per hour. The best time to watch? After midnight, usually around 2:00am is best, but you can start seeing them after 10pm easily enough. Gemini will be high in the sky, and the night time side of Earth will be heading into the meteor stream.

The source of these meteors is from asteroid 3200 Phaethon, named after the son of Helios… Phaeton swings very close to the Sun in its orbit, being one of the Apollo asteroid members. Does it pose a threat to Earth? Not for the next 400 years or so, which is as far as our high-level orbital analysis shows. The asteroid has a 30 year orbit… so maybe in the distant future we might have to worry about this one.

2019 Geminids

Looking east at about 9pm local time, the constellations Orion and Gemini will be well above the horizon. Alas, the moon will also be in Gemini and just past full phase. Rather than looking at the moon-lit Gemini, look straight up and all around in the sky for the Geminid meteors.

The Structure Takes Shape

This has been an exciting couple of weeks. As we have seen our first frost of the season (no snow just yet!), we have been putting up the frame and the structure of the building.  Click on images for full size.

The first wall goes up

The corners of the building have been placed and the first wall frame goes up.

Work on the wall frame continues

Work on the wall frames continues. Soon after this they will be sheathed with plywood.

The structure takes shape.

The four walls are up, and the roof’s lower layers have been installed. There is also a ring for the dome.

The entrance to the structure.

The entrance to the observatory. Note the walls inside have yet to receive their plywood, and the floor needs to have concrete poured.

Frame viewed from the rooftop

A view of the dome base framework from the rooftop. Imagine a large telescope on the pier with a 16′ dome surrounding it. The roof has a slight pitch to allow water and snow to run off to the north. 

Where's the dome? Here!

Another view from the roof. Where is that dome? Here it is! It’s the bundle of materials on the pallet. Some assembly is required. The black mats are covering what will be the walkway to the building.

The Pier is Poured

Yesterday the concrete for the telescope’s pier was poured. What an exciting moment in this telescope’s history. The contractors used a very large Sonotube held rigidly in place with a temporary framework of wood and cables. Internally there is quite the framework of rebar to help reinforce the pier’s strength. A few conduits were also placed inside for electrical and data lines which will drive the telescope. Images (click on them to enlarge):

pier

A view of the building’s site with the framework around the Sonotube for the pier.

pier

A closeup of the pier near the completion of the pour.

Pier

A wide field view of the site.

0.7m Telescope Observatory Construction Begins

This will likely be a series of posts involving some very exciting news here at the observatory: We are adding a new observatory building complete with dome and telescope! Very much exciting times! The new structure will be 16’25’ in dimension with a 16′ diameter dome on the south side. The interior will be divided into two sections: the telescope/equipment room and the control room. A wall with large glass window will separate the two so that people can work with low-level red lighting while keeping the telescope and its sensitive instrumentation in the dark and away from the heat of humans which can cause disturbing air currents.

Artists Impression of the 0.7m Dome

Artists Impression of the 0.7m Telescope Dome.

The telescope is a PlaneWave 0.70m diameter modified Dall-Kirkham optical system with two ports. One port will hold a CCD imager with filter wheel. The other will attach to a fiber-fed echelle spectrograph.  It is difficult to imagine the scale of such an instrument. The telescope alone weighs over 1500 pounds! For a comparison here I am standing besides the same model of instrument at a recent American Astronomical Society meeting.

PlaneWave 0.7m telescope with the author

Ground breaking started a couple of weeks ago. Concrete pouring started today for the pier footing and the footing for the building’s foundation. This will help give a sense of scale the final structure.

The Initial Dig

The boundaries of the structure have been posted here with wooden stakes. The ground is being prepped to dig for the base level foundation.

Gravel base

The gravel base for the concrete has been laid here. Looking closely you can see the inset region in the gravel where the pier for the telescope will rest.

Initial Concrete Pour

The initial concrete pour which took place today. The central region is the base for the telescope pier. The surrounding is the base for the building’s foundation.

 

 

20-21 January 2019: Total Lunar Eclipse

From: https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html 

We have a splendid opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse this January. It will be taking place late on a Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning. That Monday is also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the USA, so many schools will not have classes that day. Eclipse timings are given in the above graphic, in Universal Time.  Converting that to the various USA time zones: 

EventPacificMountainCentralEastern
Partial eclipse starts7:34 pm8:34 pm9:34 pm10:34 pm
Total eclipse starts8:41 pm9:41 pm10:41 pm11:41 pm
Total eclipse ends9:43 pm10:43 pm11:43 pm12:43 am
Partial eclipse ends10:51 pm11:51 pm12:51 am1:51 am

Usually the real eclipse visibility starts to take place late in the penumbral phase approaching the first contact of the umbra. If you have not seen a lunar eclipse before, it is quite a special event. The moon will appear to have a charcoal chunk missing from it as the eclipse progresses.  Deeper into the eclipse, the moon will take on a rusty red hue caused by the sunlight passing through the earth’s atmosphere before arriving at the moon. Telescopes are not required, as one can see the whole event easily with the eye. Binoculars and telescopes will offer a nice closeup view.  Photography of the event is a relatively simple affair. A good tripod and telephoto lens will work well with the moderate shutter speeds required.  Tracking is not needed.  An example of a series of photos I took of the last total lunar eclipse is below. The camera was a Nikon D7000 with 200mm telephoto on a tripod. Click for a larger image.

The Annual Leonid Meteor Shower is Upon Us

It is that time of year again when we get to enjoy one of the best meteor showers, the Leonids. This one peaks mid-November and stems from the remains of Comet Tempel-Tuttle which has left its debris in a massive orbital path through which our planet passes yearly. This November the peak is on the mornings of November 17th and November 18th.  This is not likely to be a storm shower, as we have enjoyed in the past. This is more likely to produce anywhere between 10 to 15 meteors per hour. As with all meteor showers, you will see more if you are far away from city and town lights and have clear, transparent skies. Here in the state of New Hampshire, it will also be chilly, so you’ll want a coat, sleeping bag, and some warm food/drink to enjoy while looking up. The meteors will appear to stream out of the head of Leo, the Lion. This is the sky for those mornings (click to enlarge):