Dec 282011

3 Dec 2011 Watched Io move around Jupiter and watched the Red Spot appear and transit. The moon was waning gibbous after first quarter so the orion nebula was washed out a bit observed M42 and M43

10 Dec 2011 Watched Io move around Jupiter and watched the Red spot transit. Full Moon in the way of observing anything else. John Callahan got some stills of Jupiter and the Red Spot.

17 Dec 2011 Watched M42 and M43 with deep sky filter and 40mm wide angle eye piece. Watched Io move around Jupiter and Frank Schenck took pictures of the Red Spot.

Summary of Observing with the C16 for December 2011.

Stellar Skies,

Doug Horacek
Resident Astronomer
Von Braun Astronomical Society

Nov 262011

25 November 2011, 23:00-1:00 U.T.

Watched Jupiter’s Moon Europa approach the planet for a transit and later casting a shadow on the face of the planet.

Earlier saw Venus in its gibbous phase and Venus rises in the sky as our evening star.

Last, I showed the Pleiades under low power with my 3.5 inch Orion Refractor and low power wide angle eyepiece to a neighbor, capture most of the bright stars in the cluster.

Although there were a few clouds and there was much light pollution to deal with, it was a moonless night with fairly stable viewing conditions and moderate temperatures.

Observations were made from my condo on Water’s Edge Lane in Madison Town Center.

Doug Horacek
Resident Astronomer
Von Braun Astronomical Society

Oct 282011

Sunspots viewed in white light from the Stuhlinger Solar Telescope

On October 15, the Von Braun Astronomical Society held its annual Astronomy Day events. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle was on hand to kick-off the rededication of our facilities with a ribbon cutting. This year’s event was considerably larger than previous events; several estimates put the attendance around 800. We had activities starting at 1:00 PM through 10:00 PM. There was plenty to see and do for all ages, including a “moonbounce” for the young ones (or the young at heart). In addition to all the activities we had during the day, we were lucky to have some sunspots to look at this year (the sun has been pretty quiet the last few years).

Also, on hand was Ted Paludan, one of the founding members of VBAS (at the time, the Rocket City Astronomical Association) who was interviewed by Steve Doyle of the Huntsville Times. Steve’s article can be found at this link: as well as many of the photographs taken by Bob Gathany.

Steve Doyle of the Huntsville Times interviewing one of the VBAS founding members, Ted Paludan

Following all the daytime activities and planetarium shows there were throngs of people anxiously waiting to look through the 16 and 21 inch telescopes in our observatories, plus the several telescopes out on the observing field. Most of the attendees had a fantastic time looking at the universe through our telescopes. Those that hung around until Jupiter cleared the trees really had a treat to take home with them that night.

Megan Beattie led the charge on this year’s very successful Astronomy Day event. She held several meetings beginning this summer and had lots of help, including Melissa Snider, Richard Norman, Gena Crook, Al Reisz, Tom Burleson, Roy Young, Doug Horcek and many more. In addition to the planning and logistics associated with such an event, we had to have the facilities cleaned up, so a major effort was undertaken to get things spruced up. There were so many folks that helped with getting the facilities ready for our grand-reopening that it would be hard to list them for fear of missing someone. Needless to say, our facilities would not look as good as they do were it not for the effort of many dedicated members and several non-members. Mimmo Demartino, Director of Facilities choreographed much of the efforts of the volunteers and has kept up with all the projects and their progress which he has listed in the facilities news section of our website at:

Thanks go out to all the VBAS members, family and friends of members and all the friends of VBAS who helped with this year’s Astronomy Day event. It could not have been the success it was without your help and dedication. It was an…astronomical effort.

Sep 182011
Toddler and father bending over a solar telescope

For at least three years now, the Huntsville Botanical Gardens has included VBAS Sidewalk Astronomy in their plans for their Spring and Fall campouts. We bring telescopes and star maps; they provide s’mores and a few dozen school-age children who will give us 20 minutes to wow them with a night sky wonder.

The first one arrives with a poker face: an expression that may be skeptical or shy. She may have a head full of facts (half of them newly outdated) from a brand-new astronomy book, or he may wonder how the big tube in the middle of the field could possibly be as exciting as the swift and silent owls he just saw over in the amphitheater.

What’s wonderful for a seven-year-old with a tummy full of marshmallows and chocolate?

Gadgets. It’s exciting for a child to be empowered by a new tool, and to see immediately how that tool changes his world. Extra points are added if the tool is one his parents do not already have. It’s rare that we get the opportunity to surpass our older and wiser parents, but telescopes are rare enough (even in the Rocket City) that many parents don’t have one, and perhaps even have never looked through one. Score one for the new kid in town.

Surprises. Looking into a telescope is like looking into a magic box. If you have a book about the Moon, with a picture on the cover, you have some idea what the pictures inside may look like. On the other hand, the telescope doesn’t carry a preview feature. Waiting in a short line and climbing a ladder increase the anticipation as a child forms her own mental picture of the view through the eyepiece. She spends a moment staring at a foggy black circle, shifting her eye slowly, and then: “Wowww!” Yep. She saw it. There is no faking the exclamation of wonder when she finally sees the bright rays around Tycho crater.

Connections. The bright dot in the East there, over the Sorghum Maze? That’s the thing my new friend just saw in the mysterious gadget. It looks a little like the striped planet in his book about the solar system . . . the one with all the moons. Wouldn’t it be cool to watch 65 or more moons chase each other through the sky, instead of the lonely one Moon we have? Looking through that telescope takes abstract concepts and disconnected facts, and brings them right here to Earth in Huntsville.

New skills. The regular VBAS observers know I have fallen in love with the 8″ Dob recently donated to the Society. I love it because there are 3 simple, child-friendly steps to using it: 1) look at the Moon, 2) grab the tube and point it where you’re looking, and 3) look to see if you pointed correctly. The reward is a breathtaking view no one else can see until it is their turn to try those three steps. In five minutes, a child as young as four or five knows how to do something cool! In the midst of music lessons (a month to learn a short, slow song), first bicycle rides (untold numbers of wobbly starts before the first successful sprint), and school tests (in which succeeding means moving on to another round of unfamiliar words or numbers), this simple success offers an encouraging platform for a lifelong hobby. Better still, success can still be found on a cloudy night: there are at least two radio towers visible from the Gardens’ campout site which make great targets for new telescope users.

In the past three years, at least a half dozen VBAS observers have re-discovered the things that hooked us into astronomy in the first place. Megan, James and Melissa had a great session on September 16. John Young is heading the October 7 session, and Society scopes are available for checkout. Can you have more fun than we did? We double-dog-dare you to try!

Aug 282011

The night of August 27 proved to be one of the better Saturday nights of the summer for observing. The temperature was pretty warm during the day, but a strong northerly breeze helped keep the humidity and haze low. Earlier in the week I had made plans to set up my telescope and support the observing effort after the Saturday night planetarium show since it looked like the weather was going to be decent. I also hoped to get the chance to use the Society’s MallinCam with my scope. In order to facilitate connecting the MallinCam to my Meade 8 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, I asked Richard Norman to bring his focal reducer if he intended to be there on Saturday evening. (My Schmidt-Cassegrain is an f/10, so its focal length is pretty long and why a focal reducer was needed.) Luckliy for me, Richard was there on Saturday night with his case of adapters, extension tubes and a couple focal reducers.

After setting up and balancing my scope we waited for the end of “civil twilight”, which Doug Horacek announced was going to be at 7:46 pm. I made the comment that at that point “uncivil twilight” would begin, to which there was a mild response of laughter from those within earshot. Once darkness fell, I was able to polar align my Orion Atlas EQ-G mount and make a three-star alignment. It was time to hook up the MallinCam and set our sights on M101 in Ursa Major in hopes of spotting the Type Ia supernova PTF11kly that had only been discovered in the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) a few days earlier. Continue reading »