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April 2010

April 2010 BAS Meeting Notes

OSU's Mendenhall Observatory
Dr. Peter Shull, Associate Professor of Physics at Oklahoma State University, gave a very interesting presentation about the OSU Mendenhall Observatory, it's history, current plans and future goals.  The observatory, named for H. S. Mendenhall, OSU's first astronomy professor, has recently undergone significant upgrades, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Air Force.  A Celestron C14, which had served as a primarily visual, instructional telescope in the observatory, was replaced in 2007 by a state of the art, 24" Ritchey-Chretien telescope.  The installation required modification to the existing observatory, as well as a very careful and precise crane operator to lower the huge fork mount and the telescope through the dome slit.  With the installation and fine tuning of the telescope and dome control computers and software, as well as an imaging system, the completed facility became operational in 2009.  This scope is now one of the largest in the big 12, and the most advanced astronomical instrument in the state of Oklahoma.

Currently, a fundraising effort is under way to provide an adjacent control center for fully remote operation of the telescope, eliminating sources of potential differential heating in the dome (people and computers) that could degrade optical performance of the telescope.  In addition, the control facility would provide needed storage room for auxiliary equipment.  This control center will significantly improve the efficiency and precision of Mendenhall Observatory's primary research efforts, which include astrometry and spectrometry of near Earth asteroids and detection and follow-up of exoplanets.  The observatory is gaining public visibility with outreach efforts such as recent half page pictorial ads in Tulsa and Oklahoma City newspapers.  Segments of a new BBC special on the Universe, hosted by the widely recognized and popular physicist, Brian Cox, were recently shot at the OSU observatory.

In coordination with the expansion of the observatory is an effort to establish an Astronomy Masters Degree program at OSU.  Dr. Shull has already established the serious and professional nature of the OSU astronomy program through advanced astronomy studies for dedicated undergraduates.  This has built a strong foundation and will, hopefully, justify hiring a second astronomer to assist in expansion of the program.

Dr. Shull also displayed a series of astrophotos comparing the capabilities of the new telescope and CCD cameras to the previous equipment.  The results are striking.  It's obvious that this facility will soon be contributing important professional research in several areas of astronomy and astrophysics.  Simultaneously, an effort is underway to identify sensitive video equipment which can provide enhanced public outreach for groups visiting the observatory.

A final note in the presentation stressed the importance of diligent and aggressive light pollution prevention methods, not just to guarantee the continued ability of professional astronomical facilities like Mendenhall Observatory to research the mysteries of  the universe, but also to preserve the wonders of the night sky for everyone.

Night Sky for Schools Program
A brief discussion summarized our first successful Night Sky for Schools program.  We had about 50 students accompanied by parents at the Wayside Elementary School playground.  Eight or nine BAS members provided telescopes and binoculars for viewing.  Despite the somewhat hazy sky, the students got good views of the Moon, Mars, Saturn and the Orion Nebula.  The program was well received and the students were very enthusiastic.

We have now confirmed our second Wayside Star Party for April 20, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.  We will follow the same format as the first program, setting up on the concrete basketball court on the Wayside play ground if the weather is acceptable, or setting up scopes and indoor astronomy activities in the Wayside gym if the weather is bad.  Those willing to volunteer, please contact John Grismore.  Thanks.

Starter Scopes by Jim Vogh
The question of suitable equipment for a beginning interest in astronomy was brought up at a recent meeting.  Price, capability, and ease of use are the factors that should guide the selection process. The recommended telescopes were small Newtonians supplied by Meade (DS-2130AT-TC), Celestron (NextStar 114 SLT), and Orion (StarSeeker 130mm)  in the price range $300 to $400. These use mirrors of about 5 inches, providing sufficient light gathering power to view a wide variety of sky objects. They weigh fully assembled about 15 to 20 pounds making them easy to transport and setup. All are computerized to assist initial alignment and location of sky objects.  For additional information on these scopes, visit the following links:

The other suggestion was that one of the free planetarium programs be downloaded from the internet. This helps one to become familiar with the sky and constellations and to find objects of interest in the sky at any given time.  Examples of free software for both Windows and Mac are Stellarium and Celestia . For the iPhone or iPod Touch there is Distant Suns (Lite) at about $5.00.  For additional information on these planetarium programs, visit the following links:

Next Meeting
Monday, May 3, in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room, David Tobola will present "Boy Scout Astronomy Merit Badge Requirements".

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