Monday, November 18, 2013

Update on Comet ISON

Comet ISON has brightened recently. Comets can be unpredictable, so we can't know exactly how bright it will get. But it is worth taking a look.

It will pass behind the sun on November 28th, the best view is likely to be sometime between now and the 28th. If you want to view the comet the following are good resources:
On November 18, there was information about Comet ISON on spaceweather (

Thursday, September 5, 2013

'We may be able to watch dark energy turn on': U-M involved in unprecedented sky survey

"Through the Dark Energy Survey, which began Aug. 31, more than 200 researchers from 25 institutions, including U-M, will search for answers to a fundamental question about the cosmos: Why is its expansion speeding up?"

This is a paragraph from the University of Michigan news service article "'We may be able to watch dark energy turn on': U-M involved in unprecedented sky survey." This survey, if successful, may shed light on the nature of the mysterious dark energy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The new nova in Delphinus

In the constellation Delphinus, a bright nova was detected on August 14th. A nova is simply a star that unexpectedly gets much brighter than normal. As of August 15th it is still getting brighter.

It is easy to see in binoculars, and possible to see naked eye (under dark sky conditions).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A snow line in an infant solar system: Astronomers take first images.

This is from the University of Michigan News Service:
Published on Jul 18, 2013
ANN ARBOR—Like the elevation in the Rocky Mountains where the snow caps begin, a snow line in a solar system is the point where falling temperatures freeze and clump together water or other chemical compounds that would otherwise be vapor. Astronomers believe snow lines in space serve a vital role in forming planets because frozen moisture can help dust grains stick together. 
Astronomers have, for the first time, directly imaged a snow line at another star.
For the full article see...

Friday, May 31, 2013

Asteroid 1998 QE2 approaches the earth today (May 31, 2013)

The latest asteroid to approach the earth (1998 QE2) has its own moon.

The asteroid will be visible in an amateur telescope (except for the smallest ones), the moon will not be. The closest approach will be about 5PM Eastern Time (US/Canada) today (May 31, 2013). It will keep a healthy distance from the earth of about 6 million kilometers, so a collision will not occur.

NASA released this article yesterday....

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Failure on Kepler spacecraft

There has been a failure on the Kepler spacecraft.

Kepler was specifically designed to look for planets in orbit around other stars (stars other than our sun) and to date has been very successful. In order to find planets, the spacecraft must be able to precisely position itself in space. There are four reaction wheels, one stopped working last year, and there has been a problem with a second one recently. With only two working reaction wheels, precise positioning is probably impossible.

If this problem can't be corrected, Kepler cannot continue to look for planets (though it wont remove the planets already found).

NASA has not given up and there are plans to attempt a repair from the ground. Kepler is far enough from the earth that a repair mission (as has been done for the Hubble Space Telescope) is not practical. It remains to be seen if these ground repairs will work.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Comet ISON: Unique Meteor Shower Mid-January 2014

This November, the second bright comet of 2013, Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), is predicted to be at its brightest.

Comets often produce plumes of dust. If these dust plumes intersect the orbit of the Earth, we observe meteor showers. Paul Wiegert of the University of Western Ontario has been modeling the dust plumes and offered the following prediction...

"For several days around January 12, 2014, Earth will pass through a stream of fine-grained debris from Comet ISON. The resulting shower could have some interesting properties."

While the comet is expected to brightest in late November, the Earth will not intersect the dust plume until a couple months later. And while this could be the brightest comet we've seen in many years, comets are notoriously unpredictable. However it is worth looking for Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) and the associated meteor shower. Note late November is merely when the comet is brightest, it should be visible before and after that time. See the following for more details...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Optical Society of America Meeting

Hi All,

Please join us for the last AA OSA talk of the 2012-2013 school year.  The April AA OSA meeting is NOT on Tuesday, the 9th; it is on Tuesday, the 16th!  We will also be planning an "Optics & Beer" event for May.

David Shindell
AA OSA current president

Optical Society of America
Ann Arbor Local Section

Public Meeting Notice

Tuesday, 16 April 2013, 8:00-9:45 pm
Location: U-M EECS Room 1005
Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Building
North Campus, University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Optical Signal Processing
Dr. Jeffrey A. Fessler
University of Michigan, EECS Dept., Ann Arbor  MI

U-M Astronomy Stories

Here are some recent astronomy stories from the University of Michigan news service....

December 11, 2012: An older Vega: New insights about the star all others are measured by.

February 17, 2013:  Water on the moon: It’s been there all along.

March 15, 2013:  Young supernova remains found by U-M astronomer.

April 3, 2013:  Green Pea galaxies could help astronomers understand early universe.

April 8, 2013: Mars Science Lab update: What remains of Mars’ atmosphere is still dynamic.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Astronomy Sketch

Generally when people think of amateur astronomy they think of visually looking through a telescope, perhaps naked eye astronomy, binocular astronomy or even astrophotography. However this misses an important skill: making a sketch of what you see in the telescope. Learning how to do this will make you a better observer.

There is this article that describes this process: "Sketch the Skies and Improve your Eyes." by Mark Deprest Printed in Reflections: January, 1997.

Also here is a site with many astronomy sketches: Astronomy Sketch of the Day.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Open Houses at Peach Mountain

After hibernating for the winter, we have two open houses scheduled at Peach Mountain....

Saturday, March 9, 2013.
Saturday, March 16, 2013.

(either one may be cancelled if it is cloudy or too cold).

What is it?

Peach Mountain is a facility owned by the University of Michigan and is located within Stinchfield Woods (a wood lot owned by the University about four miles from Dexter, Michigan). There is a radio telescope and other equipment on Peach Mountain operated by various departments in the University. There is also a 24 inch optical telescope operated by an amateur astronomy club known as the “University Lowbrow Astronomers.”

The public has the opportunity to look through the 24 inch telescope and other telescopesMembers of the club often bring their own telescopes and visitors are also encouraged to bring their own telescopes and setup before its dark. Visitors are also encouraged to bring their own binoculars.

When is it open?

Open houses begin at sunset. If conditions are unusually cold or if it is cloudy, the open house may be canceled. If in doubt, call (734) 975-3248 after 4 PM the day of the event to determine the status. Closing time is season dependent: 11:00 PM in winter, later for the rest of the year. Peach Mountain often gets quite cold, dress warmly. In warm weather mosquitoes can be a problem, so do not forget insect repellent.

(Go here for a calendar of open houses and other astronomy events.)

How do I get there? & Guidelines for Lowbrows and Guests

See Open Houses at Peach Mountain

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS)

We have the first of two bright comets for 2013 near to closest approach this month. Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS) should be at maximum brightness on March 10 (give or take a few days). For more information look at...

Keep in mind that comets are often unpredictable, they can be brighter or dimmer than expected. Also the best time to look for a comet isn't necessarily at maximum brightness (since it might be low in the sky or even below the horizon at that point). That will vary by where you are viewing the comet from.

The other bright comet is Comet ISON. It is expected to be at it is brightest in November. We'll get better information on ISON over the next few months.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ann Arbor Optical Society of America Meeting

Please join the AA OSA Next Tuesday (March 12) for our 2013 National OSA Speaker Lecture - Dr. H. Philip Stahl of NASA Marshall SFC - "The James Webb Space Telescope: The First Light Machine".  The lecture promises to be very interesting and informative.  We look forward to seeing everyone there.

Flyer for this event

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Optical Society of America Industry Snapshot Night

The AA OSA Optics & Photonics Industry Snapshot Night is next Tuesday, 26 Feb 2013.  Please plan on joining us, first for networking and food and then for the presentations and exhibits.  Also, mark your calendars for the particularly interesting talk next month by Dr. H. Philip Stahl of NASA Marshall SFC on "The James Webb Space Telescope: First Light Machine."

For more details see the Meeting Flyer

Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers

Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers is the monthly newsletter of the University Lowbrow Astronomers. Each issue contains eight pages full of late breaking astronomical news, information, reports, and club business. Most issues include several articles written by club members.

Many articles published in Reflections are available on-line, though many are not. The most recent issues are not available. The following is a list of Reflections articles that are on-line. (New articles are scheduled to be added in the near future).

If you are interested in reading all of the articles (included the most recent articles), you must join the club.

We are a diverse group of around 90 amateur astronomers, ranging from amateur telescope makers to professional rocket scientists (really!). Some of us just like to read, while others like to get out and observe or photograph the heavens. The bottom line is that we all have a more than casual interest in astronomy, and you do not have to be a student or alumnus of the University of Michigan to join! Whether you are a novice or a seasoned veteran, we hope that you will find us to be friendly, knowledgeable, and fun to be with.

To join the club, go to

Friday, February 8, 2013

Optical Society of America Meeting

On Wednesday February 13, the Optical Society of America (Ann Arbor Local Section) will hold a meeting. Dr. Yang Li of Rigaku Innovative Technologies will speak on “Thin-Film Silicon Solar Cells.” (Hosted by the Optical Society of America, 8:00-9:45 PM).

Meeting Flier.

Asteroid 2012 DA14

Next week the asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass close to the earth. As you can tell by the name, this asteroid was discovered last year. The orbit is about one year. At least for the time being, it will be passing close to the earth once a year.

The closest approach is on February 15th. It will not collide with the earth, but there is a very small possibility it could collide with one of our communication satellites (this is highly unlikely, but possible).

Observing the asteroid will be tricky, but possible.

For people living in Michigan, it will still be daylight at the closest approach. On the one hand the asteroid is brightest at closest approach (making it easy to see in a telescope), but it will also appear to be moving very fast (making it difficult to track). Once it gets dark in Michigan, the asteroid will be dimmer (but still very bright), and moving slower (but still quite fast and hard to track).

It is too dim to see with the unaided eye, but it will very bright in a telescope.

Since the asteroid will be close to the earth, there is a large parallax. In other words, the exact location of the asteroid will depend on your observing location.  If you use the NASA Horizons interface at you can get an ephemeris for your location. This will show the position of the asteroid in right ascension and declination (RA and DEC) at different. When using this interface make sure you set your observing location correctly, I would suggest generating an ephemeris with time steps of 15 minutes.

The Best Conjunction of 2013

Tonight we have the best conjunction of the year!

A conjunction is where two astronomical objects are close together. In this case Mercury and Mars will be only 20 arc minutes apart - 2/3rd the diameter of the moon!

The east coast of the US is under a winter storm warning, but if you live in a location where it is clear, observing the conjunction is relatively easy, provided you have a good horizon to the west (that is there are no buildings or other obstructions in that direction). Wait until after sunset and use binoculars to look in the same direction of the setting sun. Immediately after sunset it will be too bright to see anything, but if it is clear at your location, Mercury and Mars should gradually become visible. Binoculars are not really necessary as both Mercury and Mars are visible without visual aids. It probably will take a few minutes, be patient. Mercury will set about one hour after the sun sets, after that the show is over.

Friday, January 25, 2013

2013 Saturday Morning Physics

The schedule for Winter Term 2013 Saturday Morning Physics is now available. There are a series of 8 talks, held Saturday Mornings between February 2 and April 13. (There are no talks on February 22 and March 1). The February 2nd talk will be held in Hill Auditorium on the campus of University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The other talks will be held in rooms 170 and 182 of the Dennison Building also on the campus of the University of Michigan.

For more information go to:

First Contact, Art Exhibit at Gallery Project

Opening Reception~ February 22 6-9 p.m.
Curated by Seder Burns

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is in high gear. NASA’s Curiosity rover is routinely beaming back photos from Mars. It recently found evidence that suggests that there was once flowing water on the planet. Scientific instruments of all manner scan and explore the heavens for evidence of otherworldly life. It seems that First Contact with extraterrestrial life is inevitable. Will Curiosity be our first ambassador? 

Technological development has brought us to the precipice of first contact, but has humanity kept pace? Is our search for extraterrestrial life simply a search for answers to our own existence? A search for our creator? What makes us believe that we are prepared for a relationship with other worlds when we have difficulties on our own planet? What does humanity have to offer? Are we looking for salvation? Escape? Is it our innate curiosity or primal fear that motivates us? H.P. Lovecraft wrote that "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear."

“Artists,” wrote Ezra Pound, “are the antennae of the race.” Media analyst Marshall McLuhan expanded on that idea when he wrote, “Art as radar acts as an ‘early alarm system,’ as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them.” If art is an ‘early warning system,’ then what does art about First Contact foretell?

This art exhibition explores our desire for First Contact, our preparedness for it, the event itself, and its possible consequences. 

Selected contributors include artists from Taiwan, Russia, Canada, and throughout the US: 
Seder Burns, Ross Carlisle, Debra Davis, Lynda Davis, Dan Hernandez,Tanya Kavakoza, Kevin Margo, Simon Ray, Kris Rudolph, Sarit Somasa,Derek Stenning, Po-Wei Su, Mike Tarr, Barry Whittaker & others.

Gallery Project is located in the heart of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
215 South Fourth Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
P (734) 997-7012

Gallery Hours
Thursday - Saturday: Noon to 9
Sunday: Noon to 9 
Closed: Monday-Wednesday

More info at:

10th Annual FAAC Astronomy Show & Swap Meet

Dear Fellow Amateur Astronomer,

You and fellow Club members are invited to attend the Tenth Annual FAAC (Ford Amateur Astronomy Club) Astronomy Show & Swap Meet. It will be held at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 30650 Six Mile Road in Livonia, Michigan on Saturday, March 16, 2013. Attached is a flyer describing the Swap Meet. This year in addition to the sale of new / used Astronomy Equipment and Astronomy Presentations throughout the day, we will be featuring a Planetarium on site for kids to get their first exposure to Astronomy.

Swap Meet Flyer

Monday, January 14, 2013

AA OSA Meetings....

From the AA OSA....

Sorry for not updating you earlier on the AA OSA meeting for tomorrow, Tuesday, 15 January 2013.

We are having our Winter Organizational Meeting (! starting at 7pm !) to discuss the preparations and support needed for our next two special events.

We need as many people involved as we can to make these special events a success.  Please be there!

AA OSA Industry Night / Job Fair is scheduled for Tuesday, 26 February 2013 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM at AA SPARK Central.  Michelle Stock (Chair of the Mi-Light, Michigan's Photonics Cluster) will give an overview of Optics & Photonics in Michigan and we hope to have many companies participate.

AA OSA Meeting / Talk by Dr. Stahl of NASA Marshall (National OSA Speaker) talking on "The James Webb Space Telescope: The First Light Machine" is scheduled for Tuesday, 12 March 2013 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM at EECS Rm# 1005.

Our February AA OSA Meeting / Talk has also been moved - from Tuesday to Wednesday, 13 February 2013 - Dr. Yang Li (Rigaku Innovative Technologies) will talk about "Thin-Film Silicon Solar Cells".  It will also be at EECS Rm# 1005.

Note that the starting time for the Winter Organizational Meeting has been moved up to 7pm as there will not be a dinner at Paesano's before hand.  Please join us and provide us with your input and help to make these special events a success!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dark Matter, SUSY & DNA

In an earlier post I talked about the search for SUSY (supersymmetric) particles. SUSY particles might be an explanation for dark matter. Since each SUSY particle is paired with a normal particle (a Standard Model particle), they are often called SUSY partners. Most of the SUSY particles are predicted to be unstable, and so far there is no convincing experimental evidence that any of them exist. However theory predicts that the lightest of the SUSY particles will be stable. This LSP (lightest super-symmetric particle) might be the basis for dark matter.

In that post, I indicated that the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) might generate LSPs. Now, it seems very unlikely to do so over the short term. (There were results that suggested the existence of non-standard model particles, possibly SUSY particles, but those results didn't prove that the SUSY is correct or that LSPs exist. Other results seemed to disprove SUSY altogether, at least according to some).

However all is not lost. The LHC is undergoing enhancements. Once these enhancements are complete, the LHC will operate at higher energy; it is possible that operating at higher energy will create particles that could not be created at lower energy, possibly including the LSP.

There are other approaches. Current experiments, not associated with the LHC, are looking for dark matter particles (which are not necessarily LSPs). They include DAMA/LIBRA, CoGeNT and CREST-II. Results from some of these experiments have given hints of dark matter, but have failed to convince everyone.

In an arXiv paper published this past July, it was argued that a detector based on ssDNA (single stranded DNA) would have higher resolution than existing detectors, should make detection of dark matter particles easier, and may provide more convincing results. While DNA is more commonly associated with medical, genetic and biological applications, it can be and has been used in other fields such as physics.

So, we have several approaches, one or more of which might provide convincing evidence of dark matter particles in the future.

For more information see the following articles...

Andrzej Drukier, Katherine Freese, David Spergel, Charles Cantor, George Church, Takeshi Sano. arXiv:1206.6809 [astro-ph.IM] "New Dark Matter Detectors using DNA for Nanometer Tracking."  (Submitted on 28 Jun 2012).

R. Bernabei, et al. arXiv:1007.0595 [astro-ph.CO] "Particle Dark Matter in DAMA/LIBRA." (Submitted on 4 Jul 2011).

Henning Fleacher. CERN Document Server. "Recent SUSY Results from CMS."

Dan Hooper, Chris Kelso.  arXiv:1106.1066 [hep-ph] "Implications of CoGeNT's New Results for Dark Matter." (Submitted on 6 Jun 2011).

Leo Stodolsky, et al. "The CRESST-II Dark Matter Search." 2012 J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 384 012013.

Blog Archive