Home-Made Solar Filters

In the June meeting there was a question about how to make your own solar filters. I have done this in the past using two materials: RG Solar Film from Thousand Oaks, and Baader AstroSolar Safety Film from Baader Planetarium. The RG gives a much more aesthetic yellow color but does not quite have the contrast that I believe results from using the rather starkly white Baader film. Both give good views of sun spots. No. You will not see prominences in white light. Thousand Oaks can be purchased directly from them at http://www.thousandoaksoptical.com/solar.html , and the Baader can be purchased from OPT at http://www.optcorp.com/productList.aspx . The Baader website (http://www.baader-planetarium.com/sofifolie/details_e.htm) and the Thousand Oaks site above, both give instructions on how to assemble the filters.

Remember! You must either filter, completely cover, or remove you finders when observing the sun. Viewing the sun can be done safely, but you’ve got to be continuously conscious of what you’re viewing.

There are also a number of folks who will sell you one of those wonderful glass filters. Of course there’s always the PST from Coronodo and the Lundt line of solar dedicated scopes if you desire Ha(hydrogen alpha, not ha ūüôā¬† ) .


2011 Mid South Star Gaze

I attended MSSG this year along with Wallace Parker, Fred Rains, Mike, Miller, and Bob Sieber. We had two excellent nights (Thursday and Friday).  Wednesday the weather was very bad due to tornados in the area and Saturday had more clouds roll in.  Thursday was very clear after the severe weather was over, but the moisture in the air produced HEAVY dew.  The dew was not so bad on Friday night, but transparency was not as good.  The skies there are about magnitude 6 with some light polution to the south, probably from Jackson.  Bob got out the Sky Quality Meter on Thursday night and it read about 21.4, which converts to NELM of 6.33.  So skies are definitely better than Chandler Mt.  It is really worth the trip to French Camp, if you are going to stay multiple nights, with driving time under 4 hours from just south of Birmingham.  Fred and I discussed the possibility of having some future BAS events at this site.  I am sure that he will mention this in an upcoming meeting.

The site has numerous permanent observatories with the biggest scope being a 32″ dob.¬† Another domed observatory contains a large RCOS and they also have two 6″ AstroPhysics refractors and two old orange 14″ Celestron SCTs.¬† The office contains an awesome library with hundreds of textbooks and exhibits containing meteorites, scientific exhibits and astronomy posters and pictures everywhere.¬† The grounds contain some very interesting hardware with a scale model of the¬†solar system, several different kinds of sundials and analemas plotted on the ground.¬† I was a little disappointed that there were no vendors, but it probably saved me some money by not buying some items I probably didn’t need anyway.

We had a great time observing and there were several excellent presentations.¬† I attended five presentations total and there were several others that I didn’t attend.¬† I¬†attended Observing Galaxies given by¬†Richard Jakiel,¬†the two presentations of deep sky and planetary imaging given by Dan Llewellyn (both of whom are from the Atlanta club), Stellar Nucleosynthesis by Dr. Shadow Robinson, and Jocelyn Bell & the Discovery of Pulsars by¬†Joan Schmelz.¬† Richard Jakiel has written an article for the May 2011 issue of¬†Astronomy magazine about Seyfert galaxies…check it out.

Downtown French Camp has several log cabin style buildings housing relics from the past and historical museum information about the founders of the town and the Academy.

I will post my pictures on our BAS gallery website.

BAS Meeting 19 April 2011

The monthly meeting for the Birmingham Astronomical Society will be held on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at the Christenberry Planetarium on the Samford University Campus. The meeting starts at 7:00PM.

Our speaker this month will be Dr. Michael Briggs from UAH speaking to us on Gamma Ray Bursts. Click on the Read More link below for a short bio on Dr. Briggs.

Bring your astro goodies you would like to sell/trade as we will again have a Buy/Sell/Trade table set up at the front of the Planetarium.

To get there follow the map link here>>>http://tinyurl.com/28nkmp4<<<< . Dr. Briggs research focuses on gamma-ray bursts, which are probably the most energetic explosions in the Universe. He has been involved with NASA's Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) since early in his graduate student days, when he helped develop the BATSE Spectroscopy Detectors. Since moving to Alabama shortly after the launch of BATSE and the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO), he has focused on data analysis, particularly of the spectra of GRBs. Now that the mission of CGRO has ended, he has resumed working on hardware development as a Co-Investigator for the Gamma-Ray Burst Monitor (GBM) for NASA's GLAST mission. His other research interests include Soft-Gamma Repeaters, gamma-ray instrumentation, and classical statistics and Bayesian inference. History Dr. Briggs has worked for the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) since 1991, first as a NASA Compton GRO Fellow, and currently as a Research Scientist. He is a member of the Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Team of the new National Space Science and Technology Center. The team includes scientists from UAH, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the Universities Space Research Association. His graduate work was done at the University of California, San Diego and his undergraduate degree is from Princeton University.

It’s dark at Millers Ferry.

Which constellations?

We went camping a weekend ago now at the Millers Ferry Corp of Engineers campground near Camden, Alabama. Its located at 32.11583, -87.38972 and its listed as one of the Clear Sky Clock locations. It is a Bortle scale 2! More info on the Bortle scale can be found here, but to summarize: the scale goes from 1 to 9, with a 1 being the bottom of a coal mine and a 9 being downtown New York City. Again, this place is a Bortle scale 2. You have to drive incredible distances to get a marginal improvement on this. And its right here in Alabama! There are no 1’s but I have found¬†three other dark spots so far here in the Southeast that are also 2’s.¬† One of them is French Camp, MS. This is the location for the Mid South Star Gaze coming up in a few weeks so think about attending if you haven’t already made plans.

The attached photo was taken there with a simple point and shoot camera attached to a tripod. See if you can tell what the constellations are.

I’ll put together a presentation on this for one of our monthly meetings.


Quicquid Nitet Notandum

This is one of those neat things amateurs should know. Comes from the Gold Medal that the Royal Astronomical Society has been giving for a very long time. It means: ” Whatever shines should be observed.” Who knows the significance of¬†Charles Babbage…. He is the namesake of the Babbages line of stores…

The Thirty-Minute Astronomer Observing After Midnight with the ETX 90RA


It was just too clear last night. Moon or no moon, it was time to do some observing. I set the ETX up in the driveway and began to look about. Transparency and seeing were very good. The moon was getting low in the west and it really was a pretty night. M81 and M82 were high enough to take in. M81 a soft glow with a central core slightly brighter and M82 a ghostly streak almost a degree above M81. No I did not see the “cigar band” on M82. I turned to Gamma Leonis (Algieba) in the mane of Leo. This is an easy split and the stars look yellow to me.

M3 was just out of the trees and tried real hard to resolve but with only 90mm to work with it wasn’t going to happen. Iota Cancri had a hint of color without too much FAV. ¬†M41 was all over the eyepiece and M67 was very much there, despite the moon, and about half the size of the Beehive. At this point I got cold and went in! Went out, saw all this, and was back inside in right at 30 minutes. Not bad.


Theta Orionis

The Trapezium

Multiple Star system
Constellation: Orion
RA: 5h 35m 17s
Dec: -5 23′ 27″

The Trapezium is the most famous multiple star system in the entire night sky. Located at the very heart of M42, the Orion Nebula, it is one of the youngest star clusters known.

The other weekend I was out observing with our club. I was using my trusty C9.25 and it was a clear and steady night. One of our club members (Bob Pitt) had his 10mm Ethos eyepiece with him and he plopped it into my scope to see how well the 9.25 could handle a good eyepiece. And away we went on a wild ride through the night sky. After tackling a few 9th and 10th magnitude doubles and the like we ended up on M42.

I centered the ‚Äėtrap‚Äô in the eyepiece and ‚ÄėPOP‚Äô there were 4 bright stars staring back at me. What a view, 4 beautiful stars wrapped in a nebulous cloud. I settled into a comfortable viewing position and let my eye relax and then I saw the (for the first time clearly with the C9.25) E and F stars as faint specks of light in the eyepiece!

He and I were very excited that we had them and called some others over to the scope to share the view. After couching the guys on what to look for and how to look for them it hit me that not many people go beyond the 4 principle stars in the trapezium.There are actually 10 stars in Theta Orionius (as illustrated below)

A-D are readily apparent in a 3.5-6 inch scope. In an 8-10 inch scope A-F are very easy to view given the proper conditions. Normally the cluster looks like the illustration below

Personally I have never tried to get G-I (which are hard to get I have heard) but at the next star party I plan to attack these stars with the clubs 20 inch Obsession and see how far I get!

These are stars that vary in magnitude from 14.5 to 15.5, which are on the far outer edge of what I can get with the 9.25, but I think that the Obsession 20 can handle the calling. I really want to try and split H1/H2 which have been measured at 1.6 arch seconds and should be easily done on a still night with a 20 inch telescope.

Great Armchair Astronomer Site

Check out Cloudy Nights (http://www.cloudynights.com/). In¬†¬†Forums/Announcements and News/Celestial Events there is a monthly post by Dave Mitsky titled “Celestial Calendar”. It gives a great summary of upcoming celestial sights. For example, this month he mentions a double Galilean transit of Jupiter’s Ganymede and Io for tomorrow night. He also notes ” The Curtiss Cross, an X-shaped illumination effect located between the lunar craters Parry and Gambart, is predicted to occur at 2:33″ on January 28th. Neat stuff and fun to ramble through while planning what to observe.


BAS Happenings

Monthly Meeting

The monthly meeting for the Birmingham Astronomical Society will be held on Tuesday, January 18, 2010 at the Christenberry Planetarium on the Samford University Campus. To get there follow the map link here>>>http://tinyurl.com/28nkmp4<<<<

Oak Mountain State Park Starparty

The Monthly Oak Mountain Star Party is scheduled for January 29, 2011 at the OMIC  at Oak Mountain State Park.

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