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August 2011 Meeting Notes


August 2011 Meeting Notes

This month we had a full business meeting, including a reminder of officer elections in October, a brief summary of our Summer Star Party efforts, an update on dark sites, discussion of a future Beginner Stargazing Program, a request for ideas and volunteers for future meeting programs and announcement of a Cub Scout stargazing event.  Daryl Doughty showed some exceptional lightning photos he took when skies turned out to be less than optimal for astrophotography.  Our program was a DVD lecture provided by Mike Woods, entitled "In Defense of the Big Bang" by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Business Meeting

October Elections
Club by-laws state that "elections shall be held at the October meeting and officers' terms shall begin at that time".  They also specify that the club will use a staggered, two year election process, and "t
he offices of President and Information/Publicity Officer shall be for two years, being elected on even numbered years" and "t
he offices of Vice-President and Treasurer/ Secretary shall be for two years, being elected on odd numbered years".  Therefore, this October our elections will be for the offices of Vice-President and Treasurer/Secretary.  A request was presented for a volunteer to serve as the Nominating Committee Chair, and our now-traditional 20 seconds of awkward silence past quietly, with no volunteers coming forward.  However, Chase Barnett has now agreed to serve in this capacity, so please direct nominations for officers to him.

Summer Star Party
Complications, including uncooperative weather and scheduling conflicts, played havoc with our Summer Star Party plans this year.  Arden Strycker and Steve Plank described some of the difficulties and gave a brief account of two club star parties; one at the Girl Scout Camp and the other at our dark site at Skull Creek.  Duane Perkins and Daryl Doughty offered additional information about these two events, including digital dark sky readings made with Duane's dark sky meter.

Dark Site Update
For nearly a year and a half the club has had an ongoing effort to identify usable dark observing sites for our members. Arden and Steve reported on recent progress.  We now have several dark sites available to us.  We have permission to use the open field next to the lodge at the Wah-Shah-She girl scout camp on evenings and weekends when there are no events scheduled there.  During the summer our opportunities are limited, but the rest of the year this site is available most of the time.  Access to the facilities in the lodge makes this a particularly convenient site. 

For well over a year we have been attempting to establish a well defined agreement to use an undeveloped site at Skull Creek, near Hulah Lake.  Only a few club members have viewed the night sky from this site, but it is one of the darkest in this area.  Questions of property ownership have plagued our efforts at this site, but thanks to some very persistent detective work by Steve Plank, we have now positively identified the property owners and have received permission to use the site for stargazing.  At 40 minutes from Bartlesville, it's not as convenient as Wah-Shah-She, but the truly dark skies make it worth the drive.  Lack of any facilities is the other factor that makes this site less convenient.

More recently Daryl Doughty, Steve, Arden and I established an informal observing agreement with the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve north of Pawhuska.  This is nearly an hour's drive from Bartlesville, but boasts skies as dark as, or darker than Skull Creek.  In addition, we have permission to set up near the Tallgrass Prairie Research Center, which is used by TU and OSU for biological research.  The building gives us access to bathrooms and shelter in case of bad weather, is distant from any lights and has no external lighting on the building or adjoining parking lot.  Because of distance, this is not a site we will use often, but it may provide superior facilities for special events. 

Future Meeting Programs
A big part of our club's future success will depend on interesting programs at our monthly meetings.  This is important for attracting visitors and new members, and for retaining existing members.  It would be very beneficial to have our programs planned out six months or more in advance.  However, the program chairman cannot do this in a vacuum.  He needs input and feedback from our members about what kind of programs we should have and what topics are interesting.  And, of course, he needs volunteers to actually present programs.  They don't need to be sophisticated Powerpoint presentations with stunning graphics and polished prose; if it's an astronomical topic that you're excited and enthusiastic about, that's what we need.  As Daryl pointed out, we all have some astronomical stories and experiences to offer; even newbies and novices.  Please consider contacting Daryl about presenting a future program.  And if you don't want to do that, at least let him know what kind of programs you'd like to see others do.  Contact Daryl Doughty at prof40ok@yahoo.com or (918) 331-9661. 

Cub Scout Star Party, Friday, August 12
BAS has been asked to assist the Cub Scouts with a stargazing event this Friday evening, August 12, at Sooner Park.  The Moon will be full, so our focus will be on just a few simple, bright objects and constellations.  We want to have a few telescopes there to observe Saturn, the Moon and perhaps a bright double star like Alberio.  Faint fuzzies will not be on our agenda for that evening.  Identification of a couple of bright constellations or asterisms would also be helpful if the sky isn't washed out too much by the Moon.  If you will be able to help with this event, please contact John Grismore at jrgrismore@cableone.net or (918) 333-5257.

In Defense of the Big Bang - A DVD Lecture by Professor Neil deGrasse Tyson

In his lecture, Neil deGrasse Tyson states the the Big Bang Theory is the best supported in all of science.  He presents an array of compelling evidence that demonstrates the strong case for the Big Bang.  This evidence includes 
• clear indications of the expansion of the universe from the observation that galaxies in all directions are receding from us,
• precise agreement between prediction of the relative abundances of hydrogen, helium and lithium created by nucleosynthesis in the Big Bang, and the abundances actually observed,
• the temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (the heat left over after the Big Bang),
• and the precise match between predicted light curves of distant supernovae and actual observations.

Early in the 20th Century, Edwin Hubble discovered that galaxies in every direction were moving rapidly away from Earth, as if we were in the center of an explosion.  This discovery was made by observing that the spectra of these galaxies are "red shifted" by the doppler effect.  The rapid separation between us and the galaxies stretches the wavelengths of light we observed from them.  This means that characteristic frequencies of light, such as those emitted by hydrogen, appear to have longer wavelengths, making them redder.  By measuring the amount of shift toward the red, it was a simple calculation to determine the speed of separation between us and the receding galaxies.  It became clear that the further away we look, the faster things are moving away; again, the hallmark of an explosion.  But Einstein's Theory of Relativity demonstrated that this expansion was not due to everything in the Universe flying away, through space from a central point, but rather due to the expansion of space itself, between  the galaxies.

The rapid pace of discoveries and developments in atomic and particle physics during and after World War II set the stage for the suggestion by George Gamow that nuclear reactions caused by the immense heat of the Big Bang would lead to creation of specific elements (nucleosynthesis) in specific ratios.  Calculations predicting the relative abundances of hydrogen, helium and lithium were in excellent agreement with that actual observed abundances of these elements throughout the Universe.

Shortly after the Big Bang, the Universe was a sea of seething particles that eventually cooled enough to form atoms.  When this happened, photons (light) that had been bouncing between particles was suddenly able to begin a billions of years long journey through space.  These high energy photons represented the high temperature of the Universe, but as time past and the Cosmos expanded, the photons cooled.  The temperature that we should observe now, after 13.7 billion years of expansion, is precisely what was detected as the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation in 1964.  The exceptional homogeneity and even more exceptional minor deviations have been critical in furthering details of the expansion of the Universe.

Supernovae are stars that completely destroy themselves in a final, cataclysmic explosion.  They have a characteristic time for their light to brighten and then fade over a period of weeks.  However, if such an event occurs in a galaxy that is receding from us at high velocity, the light from the later, fading portion of the supernova's light curve will have further to travel (because it's now further from the Earth), than the initial brightening (which occurred when the star was closer to Earth).  This means that  the further away the galaxy in which a supernova occurs, the more it's light curve will be stretched.  This is exactly what is observed, and the degree of stretching precisely matches that predicted by the expansion of the universe.

Following Tyson's DVD lecture, meeting attendees engaged in a vigorous and very interesting discussion of the Big Bang and related topics.  Not only were we exploring the ideas about the creation of the universe and the Big Bang, but questions about the expansion of space, whether there can be an expansion without a center, and the possibility that time and space themselves did not exist before the Big Bang.  We even ventured into such topics as quantum mechanics and string theory.  With the interest expressed, perhaps we should return to some of these topics again, in a few months.

Next Meeting
Tuesday, September 6,
 in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room
  For more information, see the meeting announcement on our website home page at <http://sites.google.com/site/bartlesvilleastronomyclub/> .


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