Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

There's 104 days of summer vacation...

...and it all officially began yesterday!


Yesterday was the official first day of summer, with the season truly beginning at precisely 7:09pm.  More significantly, perhaps, yesterday, June 20, was the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

By rights, I should have posted yesterday, but the day conspired against me.  You see, I'm teaching summer camps again, and yesterday was the Virginia Living Museum's annual meeting, so I was tied up all day and...

Oh, what?  You're thought it was today, didn't you? 

Let me explain.

Most years, the equinoxes and solstices fall on the 21st of the months they occur in.  So usually, summer begins on June 21.  But this year is a leap year...meaning there was an extra day to count in February.  That extra day in February is something we humans add to the calendar...the Earth doesn't care what day it is on the calendar.  It just keeps on moving and doing its thing.  So this year, because of the extra day in February, the solstice arrived on June 20.

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice.  This image was take in 2005.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

So happy summer.  Go outside, if you can stand the heat, and have yourself a double dip ice cream cone to celebrate.  Heck, with these temperatures, make it a triple.

I'm super crazy busy with summer camps, so I'm going to keep this one short.  See you in (about) two weeks!

Carpe noctem (what little there is of it!)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Listen...Do you smell that?

But more importantly...did you see it?

Wow, the transit of Venus was amazing!  Weather locally here at the museum almost killed us...but just at the eleventh hour, the clouds parted a bit, and we got a decent view of the Sun.  We had 5 telescopes trained on it and got views of Venus in all five.  Plus we had the live stream from Mauna Kea in Hawai'i thanks to NASA.  It was an amazing evening, and I think our sold-out crowd really enjoyed themselves!

It's been a crazy day here at the Abbitt Planetarium, trying to recover from our big event, but I wanted to share a few photos with you all.  All of these shots were taken by one of our wonderful volunteers, Eric Hedden.

First, some of our telescopes:

In this image, you can see our 8" Celestron, our Coronado Personal Solar Telescope, and our Sunspotter Keplerian telescope.  We also had our 4.5" Orion refractor in use, plus another couple of our great volunteers brought their double-stacked solar scope for a truly excellent view.

Some images taken quickly through our 4.5" using nothing more than a cellphone:

These were taken with a white-light filter on the 4.5".  If you look closely, you can see not only wisps of clouds going by, but also one or two tiny sunspots in the images.

Finally, a shot through the PST:

This image is red because the PST uses a hydrogen-alpha filter, meaning that only red light is passed through the telescope.  Note that although the image is smaller, the dot of Venus is still quite clear.  It's also mirror reversed compared to the images from the 4.5".  This too was taken simply by holding up a cellphone camera to the eyepiece of the PST.

Aren't they amazing shots!  Just you guys wait until we get our new cameras from Orion up and working!

We might be ready to do some testing with them at the upcoming Star Party and Laser Light Night this Saturday!  Join us for solar viewing early (weather permitting) and evening viewing after sunset (probably starting around 9pm).  Observing is FREE!  Come and enjoy!

We'll also have a great selection of laser and planetarium shows for you.  For summer, we're adding an extra early family laser show so even the little ones can get in on the fun!  At 6:30pm enjoy Laser Beatles, at 7:30pm we'll run Saturn: The Ringworld, at 8:30pm you can rock to Laseropolis, at 10pm get psychedelic with Laser Doors and keep the mood going at 11:30pm with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.  Hope we'll see you then!

Until next time,
Carpe Noctem!