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Neil deGrasse Tyson never ceases to inspire

My all time favorite science communicator and astrophysicist is Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have a secret crush on him (don’t tell my husband, oh wait… he already knows and surprises me with his videos all the time).

I have shown this video to students in the past and stopped recently. Every time I watch it, I remember why I’m doing what I do. So here it is. Please enjoy and pass it on. Inspire someone to feel ‘Big’ today…

The Most Astounding Fact from Max Schlickenmeyer on Vimeo.

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Astronomy Outreach in Guatemala

Children of La Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta in Finca Le Merced

Children of La Escuela Oficial Rural Mixta in Finca Le Merced

My father is from Guatemala and my mother is from Texas. I have fond memories of traveling every summer to Guatemala to visit my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  I hadn’t been back to visit in almost 6 years until this past Thanksgiving. We traveled with our whole immediate family and brought our 3 daughters. It was great to see family again, especially for our 9 and 7 year old to connect with relatives and a culture that is part of their heritage.

It has been a dream of mine for a long time to travel to other countries and share my knowledge of astronomy and my programs with other people.  The week of February 15th this dream will become a reality. I will be traveling to Guatemala to teach some night time astronomy to children at the school on the coffee plantation Finca La Merced in San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala. I am purchasing a telescope to gift the school. Join us in inspiring children and adults that work in the coffee plantation and surrounding community by donating toward the purchase of 2 Orion 4.5″ Astrodazzle Dobsonian  telescopes and supporting items such as astronomy books in Spanish and a laser collimator. I will continue supporting the school in their use of the scope via Skype after I return to the US.

All donations will go strictly to the purchase of the telescope.

I am proud to announce that Astronomers Without Borders has accepted this project to be supported through their BIG (Big Impact Giving) project through which they organize “microfunding” crowdfunding campaigns on the crowdfunding platform, Fiat Physica. Campaigns are limited to 500 US dollars – See more info about them at: Astronomers Without Borders BIG Project .

 

You can donate through through

https://www.fiatphysica.com/campaigns/telescope-to-guatamala

and

https://www.youcaring.com/la-escuela-oficial-rural-mixta-of-san-martin-jilotepeque-503218

Thank you to all past students, family and friends who have donated to support this project so far. I can’t wait to make a post about it with photos!

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Reimers Ranch Observatory

 

Looking through our 25" Dobsonian

Park Supervisor Michael Brewster, the man behind the observatory, looking through the 25″ Dobsonian

This Fall I began working at the Travis County’s Wilton Reimers Ranch new observatory! It has to be by far the best job I’ve had (aside from being the director of Starry Sky Austin, of course!) It is open to small groups of 30 or less unless we have a special event. We have a 25″ and 15″ Dobsonian out there and the skies are nice and dark!  We not only show everyone what is up in the sky that night,  but also educate visitors about how to use a star chart to find constellations, tell star stories, and share our knowledge of astronomy. It is open most weekends on Friday or Saturday  nights except once a month when close to the full moon. (The full moon is beautiful and also very bright and washes out the night sky. The observatory is open when the best viewing is most likely).  For now, the observatory is announced when it is open to the public through signage at the park, but stay posted to learn when the online reservation system is officially open so you can reserve your spot and plan to come visit us.  Can’t wait to see you out there!

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Fall 2015 Semester Astronomy Class

IMG_0038This past fall, I taught a 10 week long semester astronomy class for the first time. We met at Longview Park in South Austin and covered all sorts of new topics such as black holes, astrobiology and the search for exoplanets, life without a supernova, stellar evolution, cosmic timescales and stellar distances and so much more! I got positive feedback from parents and students and really enjoyed getting to know students over a longer period of time. I look forward to offering these new topics in coming classes which I hope to announce soon, so check back for updates soon to come!

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Lunar Eclipse This Sunday, September 27th

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Come to Travis County Milton Reimers Ranch Park Observatory this Sunday for a Total Supermoon Lunar Eclipse. The eclipse will begin at 8:07pm, reach totality at 9:47pm and end at 11:27pm. A supermoon is a new or full moon that happens to coincide with perigee, the closest the moon will be in its monthly orbit around the Earth. Bring a chair or blanket and come ready to learn about how moon phases and eclipses work. $10/car, cash only to enter the park. Admission to the observatory is free this evening. To learn more, visit earthsky.org or for a truly in depth explanation of why we have eclipses watch this video by Matt Parker, a comedian and mathematician who has made a career combining these two professions, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieUvzy6rnnw.

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Buying Your First Telescope

It’s an exciting moment when your child expresses interest in the stars above and asks for a telescope. You excitedly start looking for something affordable and seemingly easy for him or her to use.  You settle on something with a tripod and ‘go-to’ system that will find the stars for you. You open it up and set it up only to be disappointed when it is painstakingly frustrating to set up, and you can’t find anything let alone the moon!  I see far too many people buy a first telescope and then get frustrated, and eventually the telescope collects dust or sits in a box in a closet.  I have been through MANY, MANY telescopes to finally settle on the one I know to be BEST for BEGINNERS and they just happen to be the kind of telescope that most seasoned astronomers use too.

The best beginner scope you can buy is called a Dobsonian mount reflector.

10" Dobsonian

10″ Dobsonian

Dobsonian telescopes are named after and invented by John Dobson.  He created easy to use mounts for Newtonian, reflector telescopes that became very popular in the 70’s and now widely used by the masses. What makes these different than other telescopes is that the main tube which holds the mirrors is not attached to a tripod mount.  Instead, it is placed into a mount that sits on the ground. It uses an alt-azimuth mount which supports and rotates the telescope in two planes, the vertical and horizontal.  More simply stated, left to right and up and down.  They use mirrors instead of glass optics to reflect the gathered light from celestial objects. There is very minimal setup for Dobsonians, and they are CHEAP and easy to make on your own. Orion telescopes sell them for a good price and they come with a red dot finder which is necessary to be able to find objects easily.

I use the FunScope for the beginners in my classes. They are awesome at seeing the Moon, planets and larger objects in the sky which is all that you need to absolutely hook the beginner. There is also the Celestron Cosmos Firstscope which is basically the same with an eye nebula wrap  around the tube (inspired by the COSMOS series recently re-made with Neil deGrasse Tyson).      Unknown

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They can magnify objects up to 30 times their size with the given eyepieces.These are table top telescopes and are capable of being mounted on a tripod or one can simply place them on a portable table or flat surface. I use tv trays. They come with a red dot finder which I find is absolutely essential. FunScopes cost $69.99.

 

 

 

 

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The next level up is a SkyScanner. This scope is the same as the FunScope except it can magnify objects up to 40 times their size with the given eyepieces.

 

 

 

 

The best bang for your buck that will truly last through growing interest and is quite bigger (but not too cumbersome) is the SkyQuest series.  I would recommend a SkyQuest 4.5″ Dobsonian and up.  The 4.5″ diameter costs about $268 and is quite impressive and as easy to use at the previous table top ones.  They can magnify objects up to 90 times their size with the given eyepieces. I have a SkyQuest 10″ Dobsonian and love it! It is very heavy, but when I show Jupiter to people and they can actually see the bands of color in it’s atmosphere I know it’s worth it.

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If you get a bigger scope such as these I replace the factory finders with a TelRad. They project a red bullseye on a window which to us looks like a bullseye on the sky.

imagesThis makes finding objects super easy.   I would HIGHLY recommend this as it makes finding what you are looking for EASY, fast and a lot less frustrating. TelRad’s cost about $40 and it has been worth every penny. The man who invented the TelRad is Brent Watson. He made  Finder Charts that go along with it.  I have these charts and have learned a ton using them.  I would highly recommend them for someone who is ready to find other objects such as the Messier catalog objects or lesser known objects.

The next step you can take to be proactive and ensure that you will use your scope it to sign up for one of my classes.  You will walk away with the confidence to go out and really get to know the night sky.

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South Austin Summer Course

We had clear skies for our first 3-class summer course at Longview park in South Austin. We went on a solar system walk and got a feeling for how BIG our universe really is. We also started to learn how to use our telescopes. Everyone took home some homework: charting the Moon until our last class and taking azimuth and altitude measurements with our fists.  Our second class we learned why we have seasons and viewed M13, a globular cluster in Hercules as well as Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.  Last night we finished our last class with learning about the Moon phases and eclipses and what we can do to decrease light pollution. We ended with looking at the Ring Nebula. Below are two of the students from that class looking at Venus together from our first class.

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Cedar Park Summer Course

It has been a great turnout for the 3 class summer course in Cedar Park.  The last few weeks the students have been charting the moon and taking altitude and azimuth measurements. Tomorrow night we’ll get to share moon calendars and model the moon phases.  Saturn is now up near Sagittarius and able to see! The first class we learned about the immense size of our solar system by taking a solar system walk. The second class we all modeled the seasons with our bodies and learned about why the north star changes.  We also have begun to become really proficient at using the telescopes.  Looking forward to a great last class tomorrow night.

 

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Hands-On Astronomy in Cedar Park

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It was a beautifully clear night for moon viewing and stargazing last night! Students learned how to use their telescopes and saw Jupiter, the Moon,  and Venus. They heard a Japanese tale about the rabbit in the Moon and used a Moon map to find the Tycho crater and ejecta.  They also learned how to use a star chart to find the brightest constellations.  Overall it was a very productive evening! Thank you to Life in Motion Photograpy for snapping this beautiful photo of the class as night began to fall.

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