Sunday, November 25, 2012

Amateur Astronomers contribute to Science

Amateur astronomers have an opportunity to contribute to science.

At least in Michigan, amateur astronomy is mainly about keeping track of the weather (you can't observe when it is 100% overcast), the moon phase (dim objects can't be observed when the moon is out), the planets, comets and unusual/rare events (such as Venus transits and the like). It is also learning to use your eyes, telescopes and/or binoculars to find static/unchanging objects (constellations and star clusters, nebulae and galaxies). But for the most part you are looking at objects that many other people have looked at before.

Don't get me wrong, these challenges are enough for most amateur astronomers. Nevertheless a few amateur astronomers find ways to make novel observations; novel observations which can add to scientific knowledge. I will not produce a complete list here, but here are a few ideas...
So far I've discussed observational astronomy; but I would be remiss if I didn't mention theoretical astronomy and physics. Contributions to this area by amateurs are possible, but not easy. On occasion I get emails from people who claim to have a new theory of astronomy and/or physics. As a service for anyone else who might want to contribute, I would like to point out the following...
  • Over the past hundred years, most advances in astronomy/physics theory have involved groups of scientists working together. Single individuals making ground breaking advances are rare.
  • Any new idea will be subjected to intense criticism; many people can't deal with criticism, but this is fact of life for theoretical science.
  • It is essential that you understand all the ideas that come before. If you are proposing a new theory, you must demonstrate that you understand the existing theories and explain why your theory is better.
  • In almost all cases, physics and astronomy requires math. A theory without math probably wont be be taken seriously.
  • Above all it is hard work.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Higgs Boson and Supersymmetry.

On Wednesday night (November 14) Gordy Kane (the Victor Weisskopf Distinguished University Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan) gave a presentation for this November's Science Cafe. The Ann Arbor Science Cafes are hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History (formerly known as the Exhibit Museum) and are typically held once a month (except in summer).

Gordy's presentation was the Higg's Boson: What’s it all about?  What’s the evidence? What does it mean? What are the next steps? More info about the November Science Cafe.

One of my earlier posts talked about the Higg's (see "Saturday Morning Physics (October 6)"), I wont repeat that here, instead I'm going to describe what's next for CERN and the Large Hadron Collider.

Now that we have established that the Higgs boson exists, there is still work on probing the properties of the Higgs boson (or Higg bosons). But there is another unanswered question: supersymmetry.

What is supersymmetry? The standard model describes a collection of elementary particles. The most commonly observed of these particles are the photon, electron, up quark and down quark. The photon is responsible for light and the electric and magnetic forces (which physicists describe as a single electromagnetic force). The electron, up and down quarks combine to form protons, neutrons, atoms and molecules in the everyday world. Less commonly observed are two heavier versions of the electron, particles called neutrinos, four heavier quarks and various antiparticles. The photon belongs to a group of particles known as "bosons," there are other bosons as well. (See Wikipedia "The Standard Model").

Supersymmetry is an extension to the standard model: if supersymmetry is correct, each particle in the standard model has a "supersymmetric partner". The photo has a new partner called the photino. The electron has a new partner called the selectron. And so on. This doubles the number of particles. However none of these new particles have been observed, at least so far. (See Wikipedia "Supersymmetry").

The Large Hadron Collider is starting to look for these particles. If you are optimistic, it is possible hints of these new particles might show up in the next few months. A more cautious prediction: those hints might show up in the next few years.

So why care about supersymmetry? Knowledge gained from quantum mechanics and general relativity resulted in technologies such as transistors, computers, laser scanners, GPS, etc; probing the elementary structure of matter may result in new applications that we can't imagine today. Also supersymmetry may explain "dark matter": it is possible that dark matter is composed of supersymmetric particles. If we can prove these particles exist experimentally, that may help us understand dark matter.

(An outline of gravity and dark matter can be found at Gravity, Part 4: Globular Clusters & Galaxies. by Dave Snyder. Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers: October, 2006).

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November Club Meeting:

The University Lowbrow Astronomers are meeting on Friday, November 16 at 7:30 PM. The location is room 130 of the Dennison Building, 500 Church Street, Ann Arbor, Mi. Our guest speaker is Professor Edwin Loh from Michigan State University. He will be speaking about the SOAR telescope located in the mountains of Chile and the Spartan Camera. This camera is the main instrument attached to the SOAR telescope and it was designed and built by Edwin and colleagues at MSU. The public is welcome to this and all monthly club meetings.

Another Blog....

Mark Bialek is a freelance photographer based in Southeast Michigan; he has taken photographs at Peach Mountain (the location of the Lowbrow observatory).

He sent this message along...
I've started a new blog - Or, will re-direct you.
Just put a lowbrow shot on there.
The blog background is a shot I took right outside my pad - pointed the camera up high towards the SW.  Wondering if you recognize any of the stars or constellations in it.  I have no idea, myself.  Just thought it would make a cool background for the blog.
This is a screen shot from his blog and shows a photograph taken at Peach Mountain...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

AA OSA Meeting next Tuesday, 13 November - How to Make Your Own Color Holograms

I'm passing along this notice from the Ann Arbor Optical Society of America:

One again, we are having an excellent and interesting talk this month - "How to Make Your Own Color Holograms" by John Nees on 13 November (Next Tuesday) and then in December, a talk by Dr. Stephen Rand on "New Frontiers in Non-Linear Optics" (11 December).  We encourage you to come and also let other people know who might find these AA OSA talks interesting.

Meeting Flyer

Monday, November 5, 2012

Astronomy Blogs

If you are interested in astronomy here are four astronomy blogs that you should explore...

Bad Astronomy (
Blog run by Phil Plait. Phil Plait is a skeptic, astronomer and author of the book "Bad Astronomy". The Bad Astronomy Blog is moving to Slate magazine on November 12.
Actually a series of blogs, each one run by a different NASA scientist or engineer.
The Planetary Society (
Also a series of blogs, covering a variety of topics in planetary science, exploration and advocacy. 
Star Stryder (
Blog run by Pamela Gay. Pamela Gay is assistant research professor in the STEM center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She cohosts the podcast Astronomy Cast (along with Fraser Cain) (See

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Comet 168P Hergenrother

Comet 168P Hergenrother is breaking up check this link for more information go to this link
You can also see images of the comet spliting and read additional information on the comet at

Friday, November 2, 2012


Super-rare, super-luminous supernovae are likely explosion of universe's earliest stars

Nano Satellite

Michigan Tech students designs a nano satellite to catalogue space objects.
Michigan Tech Cadet Receives Air Force Research Award

9 Gigapixel View of the Milky Way

Here is a post taken from the Michigan_Astronomers Yahoo group regarding a very cool web site worth looking at. Enjoy & pass it on....
One of my sons passed this information to me and I thought some of you would enjoying seeing this link of 9 gigapixels of the Milky Way. There's an interactive way of viewing it and it's extremely high resolution! :-)