P. Winkler

Posts by P. Winkler

 
 
 

Open House Nights at the College Observatory

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The Physics Department will again host a series of Open House nights at the College Observatory this summer.  The observatory, located atop McCardell Bicentennial Hall, will be open to the public for viewing the heavens on the following Wednesday evenings: July 18, August 1, August 8, and August 15, from 9 until 10:30 p.m. each evening, provided the skies are mostly clear.

A highlight for the first two of these evenings, at least, will be the planet Saturn, with its ever-popular rings. Saturn and Mars are now prominently paired in the western sky, though both will become lost in twilight by mid-August. Also visible through our telescopes will be a number of interesting stars, star clusters, and nebulae. There is no set program for the Open House nights; the public is invited at any time between 9 and 10:30.

All the observatory public nights are free and open to the entire College community and to the general public. These are minimal language events, and students in all the summer schools are welcome. The events will take place only if the sky is at least mostly clear; if the weather appears uncertain, visitors may call the observatory at 443-2266, after 7 p.m. on the evening of the Open House for a status report.

Venus Transit Viewing at College Observatory

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On Tuesday, June 5, local residents will have what will be literally the only opportunity in their lifetime to view a rare astronomical event–a transit of Venus. Shortly before sunset, Venus will pass directly between Earth and the Sun. Transits of Venus occur in pairs eight years apart, separated by more than a century. The last transit was on June 8, 2004, but the next one will not occur until December 11, 2117.

The Physics Department at Middlebury College plans to have several rooftop telescopes available to view the transit. All are equipped with filters that permit safe viewing of the Sun. The telescopes on the roof of McCardell Bicentennial Hall will be open from 5:30 p.m. until the Sun sets at about 8:30, providing the weather cooperates.

One should NEVER try to view the Sun with a telescope, binoculars, or even with the naked eye without a filter specially designed to block almost all of the Sun’s light.  Looking for even an instant can cause severe and permanent eye injury!

Venus should start to pass in front of the Sun at 6:04 p.m., and its silhouette will gradually move across the Sun’s face. It will complete only about a third of its passage before the Sun sets in Vermont at 8:40 p.m.

If the weather is clear, the rooftop telescopes and the 24-inch telescope in the observatory dome will reopen toward the end of twilight, at 9:15 p.m. They will remain open until 10:30 p.m. for viewing the stars and the nearly full Moon.

Transits of Venus have an interesting astronomical history. In 1716, Edmund Halley (of Halley’s Comet fame) realized that carefully timing a transit of Venus from different locations around the world could enable astronomers to calculate the distance between Earth, Venus, and the Sun, and hence the scale of the entire solar system, none of which were accurately known at the time. Halley knew he would not live to participate in this experiment; the next transit was in 1761.

For the transits of 1761 and 1769, a host of countries mounted expeditions to far-flung corners of the globe to time the event–the first example of a major international scientific collaboration. Despite immense effort and several successful observations, timings (and hence the distance measurement) were not as accurate as hoped because of a “black drop” effect that makes Venus’s disk stretch and blur into the edge of the Sun at the start and end of transits.

The best known voyage was that of Captain James Cook, who sailed for eight months across the unknown South Pacific to reach Tahiti to view the 1769 transit. (This is approximately the same length of time a journey to Mars would take today!) His expedition viewed the transit from what they named Point Venus. From there, Cook continued westward and became the first European to accurately map much of the Australian coast.

This event is free and open to the public, but will take place only if the sky is clear enough to get at least glimpses of the Sun. If the weather appears uncertain, visitors may call the observatory at 443-2266, after 4 p.m. on the afternoon of June 5 for a status report.

Lecture on Webb Space Telescope, Successor to Hubble

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On Monday, October 17, the Physics Department will sponsor a talk by Dr. George Sonneborn of the Space Telescope Science Institute. Dr. Sonneborn will speak on “Imaging and Spectroscopy with the James Webb Space Telescope.” The successor to Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a joint project of NASA and the European and Canadian Space Agencies, scheduled for launch in 2018. With a segmented mirror 6.5 meters in diametermore than seven times the collecting area of HubbleJWST will enable studies of objects from extrasolar planets to the earliest galaxies in unprecedented detail.

This talk will present an overview of the JWSTs capabilities and its expected scientic return.The talk will take place at 12:30 p.m. in McCardell Bicentennial Hall, Room 104. The public is invited, and lunch will be provided.

Open House Night at College Observatory on October 14

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The Middlebury College Physics Department will host a fall Open House night at the College Observatory on Friday evening October 14, during the College’s annual Fall Family Weekend. The College Observatory, located atop McCardell Bicentennial Hall, will be open to the public for viewing the heavens from 8-9:30 p.m., provided skies are mostly clear. There is no set program for the Open House; visitors are invited at any time during those hours.

The bright planet Jupiter and its moons will be prominent in the evening sky and will be the highlight of the evening, along with the nearly full Moon. There should also be a good view of relatively bright double stars and star clusters through the 24-inch computer-controlled telescope in the observatory dome and through several smaller telescopes on the roof observing deck.

The public viewing night is open to all, but will take place only if the sky is mostly clear.  If the weather appears uncertain, visitors may call the observatory at 443-2266, after 6 p.m. on October 14 for a status report.

Public Viewing Night at College Observatory on August 10

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The final open house night of the summer season at the Middlebury College Observatory, sponsored by the College Physics Department, is scheduled for Wednesday evening August 10. The observatory, located atop McCardell Bicentennial Hall, will be open to the public for viewing the heavens from 9-10:30 p.m., provided skies are clear.

The gibbous Moon will dominate the evening sky, and its mountains and craters should make for striking telescopic viewing. In addition, there will be telescopic views of double stars, star clusters, and nebulae.

The observatory dome houses a 24-inch computer-controlled telescope. In addition, several smaller telescopes will also be available on the roof deck for observing the night sky. There is no set program for the Open House; visitors are welcome at any time between 9 and 10:30.

This event is free and open to the public, but will take place only if the sky is at least mostly clear. If the weather appears uncertain, visitors may call the observatory at 802.443.2266 after 7 p.m. on the evening of the open house for a status report.

Open House Nights at the College Observatory: July 6, 20

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The Physics Department at Middlebury College will sponsor two open house nights at the College Observatory in July, on Wednesday evenings, July 6 and July 20. The observatory, located atop McCardell Bicentennial Hall, will be open to the public for viewing the heavens from 9 to 10:30 p.m. both evenings, provided skies are clear.

On July 6 the crescent moon should be well placed for striking views of its mountains and craters. And with no moon on July 20, the dark skies should provide excellent conditions for viewing distant star clusters, nebulae, and other faint objects.  The ringed planet Saturn will be visible both evenings.

The observatory dome houses a 24-inch computer-controlled telescope. In addition, several smaller telescopes will also be available on the roof deck for observing the night sky. There is no set program for the open house; visitors are welcome at any time between 9 and 10:30.

This event is free and open to the public, as well as to all students and staff. Language use is minimal (and some of our helpers know other languages!), so students from the Language Schools are welcome.

The open house will take place only if the sky is at least mostly clear. If the weather appears uncertain, visitors may call the observatory at 443-2266 after 7 p.m. on the evening of the open house for a status report.

Public Night at College Observatory, June 15

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The Physics Department at Middlebury College will sponsor the first “open house” night of the summer season on Wednesday evening, June 15, at the College Observatory, located atop McCardell-Bicentennial Hall. The observatory will be open to the public for viewing the heavens from 9-10:30 p.m., provided skies are clear.

The moon will be full that evening; in fact, there is a partial lunar eclipse June 15, but those of us in North America will miss out on seeing this one—it’s visible only in the Eastern Hemisphere. A highlight of the evening will be Saturn, always a splendid sight through any of our telescopes. There is no set program for the open house; the public is invited at any time between 9-10:30.

The observatory dome houses a 24-inch computer-controlled telescope.  In addition, several smaller telescopes will also be available on the roof deck for observing the night sky.

This event is free and open to the public, but will take place only if the sky is at least mostly clear. If the weather appears uncertain, visitors may call the observatory at 802.443.2266, after 7 p.m. on the evening of the open house for a status report.