April 8, 2024: Solar Eclipse

Image of 2017 solar eclipse. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

On Monday, April 8th, 2024, the Moon crossed in front of the Sun as seen from much of North America, giving millions of Americans another chance to experience a solar eclipse. Like in October 2023 and August 2017, Maryland experienced a partial solar eclipse. During a partial eclipse the Sun is never fully blocked by the Moon. This means that it is never safe to look directly at a partial eclipse without special eye protection — regular sunglasses are not okay! Please see below for more information on safe observing practices.

From Maryland, the beginning of Monday’s eclipse (aka “first contact”) was be at approximately 2:05 p.m. according to timeanddate.com, depending slightly on the viewer’s location. Maximum eclipse depth of approximately 90% coverage occurred at 3:21 p.m. and the show was all over at around 4:30 p.m.

For eclipse watchers in the Baltimore area, a couple of opportunities to come out (or stay in) and see the spectacle were:

Eclipse safety: It is very important not to look at the partial eclipse directly unless you have appropriate eye protection such as special eclipse glasses (NOT regular sunglasses) from a reputable manufacturer. Courtesy of NASA, here is a summary of information about eclipse safety. Key takeaways: either use special eclipse glasses or use an indirect viewing method, such as a projected image from a pinhole camera.

While Maryland experienced only a partial eclipse, a swath of the USA stretching from Texas to New England briefly fell into darkness as the Moon fully covered the Sun, creating the fateful (and amazing) condition known as a total eclipse. The image below shows the approximate locations where this occurred; for more detail see NASA’s Where & When.

Map of continental USA showing the path of totality for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse.
Map of continental USA showing the path of totality for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse. Credit: NASA.

To all eclipse watchers, we wish you clear skies!

2023 Student Research Symposium

MDSGC 2023 Symposium banner

The 2023 MDSGC Student Research Symposium was held on Monday, July 31, beginning at 8 a.m. EDT. The venue was the Mt. Washington Conference Center in Baltimore, MD. For GPS navigation, aim for “Johns Hopkins At Mt. Washington, Smith Avenue, Baltimore, MD” (link) and park in the nearby visitor parking lot/garage. Here is an image from Google showing the relative locations of parking and the conference venue:

Annotated google image showing visitor parking and conference venue relative locations.

This year’s symposium showcased presentations by student interns and researchers working at sites across Maryland. The cohort of presenters represent diverse institutions, including: Capitol Technology University, Hagerstown Community College, Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, NASA, Towson University, University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Maryland College Park, and University of Maryland Eastern Shore. We congratulate our students on a successful summer and look forward to seeing more of their work in the future!

The program follows.

2023 MDSGC Student Research Symposium Program

8:00 a.m.
Registration opens.

8:00 – 9:00 a.m.
Poster setup and networking. Coffee, tea and pastries provided.

9:00 – 10:50 a.m.
Presentation Session 1.

10:50 – 11:10 a.m.
Group Photos.

11:10 – 12:00 p.m.
Poster Session.

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Presentation Session 2.

Session 1, 9:00 – 10:50 a.m.

9:00 a.m.
Welcome and Introductory Remarks — Dr. Matt Collinge, MDSGC Deputy Director

9:10 a.m.
Harnessing the Sun: Solar Array Deployment and Solar Cell Simulation — Sheridan Reginato (HCC/CTU)

The focus of this project lies on developing a satellite simulation to train spaceflight operation students attending Capitol Tech University, closely emulating real-life scenarios. The simulation replicates a segment of satellite EO-1, where solar array wings are controlled by the SA Drive and SA Deployment. Operating as an interconnected network, the system comprises multiple languages in Galaxy. Initiating one command sets off a cascade of interrelated procedures, utilizing database mnemonics to establish a continuous information exchange loop that is systematically updated on the display page. Throughout orbital cycles, testing involves tackling challenges related to debugging and error configuration. The simulation’s success grants invaluable hands-on experience in satellite operations, significantly advancing our comprehension of solar array behavior and energy management in space.

9:20 a.m.

Mobile robotics is used in a variety of applications in our present age. NASA uses mobile robots for space science and earth science related observations and data collection. I worked on using two mobile robotic platforms during my summer internship at University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), Sphero RVR and Sphero BOLT, and learned to program them using Scratch and Python to follow predefined trajectories while collecting data from sensors that are integrated with the robots. I also installed a soft gripper which was activated using an Arduino Nano-based Programmable Air module on the RVR. Effective communication was established between the RVR and the Programmable Air module to carry out simple pick and place operations.  I also programmed the BOLT to follow the Sphero RVR as it moved on a circular trajectory using a infrared red signal. 

9:30 a.m.
Motors and Propeller Project — Zoé Denito (CTU/USNA)

During the internship at the US Naval Academy, while participating as a teaching assistant in the “SHYP” (Summer Heroes Youth program) and “Set Sail” programs, the concepts learned from creating a sea perch for marine engine propulsion, with the inspiration of the amphibious helicopter and the sea plane were applied. The project consists of two parts: a device for floating, and a part for flying. The two small prototypes were made with playful materials that could be found at home and/or bought online. For the circuitry, the Arduino Uno was connected to the servo motors, which were programmed using Python, and rotate the propellers for thrust. The sea perch kit used to build the floating device has three motors, a preprogrammed controller, a 12-volt battery, a tether for connecting the controller to the motors, and a charger. Overall, even though the teaching programs kept me busy, I had a fun time experimenting with simple materials and getting hands-on experience with propellers and motors.

9:40 a.m.
Golden Opportunities — Parker Wilson (UMES/USNA)

“Get a summer job”, his parents told him. This left me looking for a wide variety of ways to spend my summer. Little did I know this wouldn’t be a summer to forget. Not long after searching for a job to occupy my time, I found two amazing programs offered by the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. This was my golden ticket to an eventful summer that had a deeper meaning to me and my career goals. This led me to be working in two separate summer programs, I had the opportunity to introduce middle schoolers to STEM projects and create a data retrieving unit for a sounding rocket payload.

9:50 a.m.
Assembling & Testing of Avionics System of MSU Liquid Propellant Rocket — Joseph Whitaker (CTU/MSU)

During my time at Morgan State University I worked on assembling the avionics system and testing various components like my thermocouples, pressure transducer, and pi-camera. I tested the thermocouples by using hot and cold water and I also tested my pressure transducers by pushing air through it using a compressor. I used python to give me readings from the different tests I ran on each component.

10:00 a.m.
Racing Kilobots — Ayomikun Fadina (CTU/UMCP)

Miniature robots apparently still have their uses even in this day and age. These days whenever you think of an autonomous robotic helper we expect them to be somewhat large in size and capable of doing a lot of tasks simultaneously. Though like every great innovation starting in the minor leagues can lead a major impact. Kilobots for example are one of those miniature robots. They have their limits but the experience of experimentation can lead to grand developments.

10:10 a.m.
DAC Single Bonded Tab Testing — Kemi Atkinson (UMCP/NASA)

The project with the Roman Space Telescope’s Deployable Aperture Cover focused on bonded tabs to a non flight collar boom using Non Destructive Inspection.

10:20 a.m.
High-Throughput X-ray Diffraction Simulation — Katie Cariaga (JHU)

Analyses of XRD spectra are standard in materials characterization and help resolve structural and phase information. We aim to create a workflow that models XRD spectra in the open-source aflow++ framework and generate a publicly accessible bank of XRD data to enable rapid identification of material compounds.

10:30 a.m.
An Offline, Passive Brain-Computer Interface Model Relevant to the NASA Artemis Mission — Arya Teymourlouei (UMCP)

A passive brain-computer interface (BCI) is a system which collects brain dynamics to assess the mental workload of an individual while they are performing a task. Such systems can be used to support human health, safety, and cognitive-motor performance while conducting long-term space habitation in future Artemis missions. However, passive BCI requires an accurate method for the classification of mental workload using a short duration segment of brain activity. Therefore, we seek to develop a computational model for the offline classification of three different states of workload. An electroencephalography (EEG) device is used to assess the mental workload of participants completing a complex action sequence to solve a puzzle with a teammate. The collected EEG data was preprocessed and segmented into 10-second components. Features were extracted by transforming the EEG signal into a complex network by means of the visibility graph (VG) algorithm. Then, the VGs of multiple EEG channels were assembled into a multiplex temporal network (MTN). The structural properties of the MTNs were measured and fed to six different supervised-learning classifiers. Additional features were also computed with the spectral power of six frequency ranges. Classification of mental workload was performed individually for each subject’s data. Results show that a support vector machine classifier achieved a 98% mean testing accuracy when tasked with the prediction of mental workload using 10 seconds of EEG data. All other classifiers studied achieved at least a 92% mean testing accuracy in classification. The results suggest that the computational model presented here has the potential to enable the use of pBCI technology in future Artemis missions.

10:40 a.m.
Poster Flash Talks

      • Baryonic Tully Fisher Relation for Galaxies with Supernova Distances — Shannon Markward, Aaron Torster (Towson)
      • ALPHA Observatory Campaign 7 Data Analysis — Meredith Embrey (UMCP/CTU)
      • Preliminary Trials With GoPiGo3 and LIMO Robots in Virtual and Physical Realm — Andrew Duck, Urjit Chakraborty, Lucas Marschoun (UMES)

Group Photos, 10:50-11:10 a.m.

Poster Session, 11:10 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Baryonic Tully Fisher Relation for Galaxies with Supernova Distances — Shannon Markward, Aaron Torster (Towson University)

The Baryonic Tully-Fisher Relation (BTFR) is an empirical correlation between the baryonic mass of a spiral galaxy and its rotational velocity. As the equation for baryonic mass is dependent on the luminosity of a galaxy, it is also true to state that it is an empirical correlation between distance and the mass of the galaxy. By using the BTFR, we avoid using so-called “standard candles,” such as Type Ia supernovae or Cepheid variable stars, which are limited to use in relatively nearby galaxies. The BTFR provides an alternate approach for measuring distance that is then applicable to a much larger sample. We present an update on the data collection and analysis pipeline for an ongoing project of the Undergraduate ALFALFA Team (UAT), for which the primary science objective is to generate a well-defined BTFR. We used the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) to observe and measure the HI 21-cm emission line profiles of 200 galaxies in our observing sample with accurately known distances from the Democratic Samples of Supernovae (Stahl et al. 2021). Here, we will focus on the observing sample and show: (1) progress to date on obtaining the HI 21-cm measurements; (2) preliminary outcomes of our newly developed analysis tools; and (3) statistical analysis of sample signal-to-noise, including non-detections. (Click image for full size.)

Thumbnail of Baryonic Tully Fisher relation poster by Towson University students.

ALPHA Observatory Campaign 7 Data Analysis — Meredith Embrey (UMCP/CTU)

The ALPHA Observatory Campaign 7 analyzed 1 Terabyte of data from ALPHA’s first run not just focused on asteroids but also variable stars and exoplanets. The images of all objects are run through multiple scripts to determine the eligibility to be submitted. Asteroids are checked for quality and accuracy, while exoplanet and variable star data are also graphed into a light curve to determine the transit period. This is ALPHA’s first run observing exoplanets, and even observed a pending exoplanet. (Click image for full size.)

Thumbnail image of ALPHA Observatory Campaign 7 poster by Meredith Embrey

Preliminary Trials with GoPiGo3 and LIMO Robots in Virtual and Physical Realm — Andrew Duck (UMBC/UMES), Urjit Chakraborty (UMES), Lucas Marschoun (UMES)

This poster outlines the summer project work carried out by student volunteers and a UMES undergraduate related to the LIMO, GoPiGo3 and Moorebot Scout, mobile robotic platforms, in both online virtual environments and the real world.  The preliminary efforts were devoted to line following applications using PID controls on the GoPiGo3 and basic AI integration in coordination with the Moorebot Scout.  The project team also explored the use of Lidar technology and programming in python with both the GoPiGo3 and the LIMO robots. (Click image for full size.)

Thumbnail image of robotics poster by students from UMES.

Lunch, 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Session 2, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

1:00 p.m.
Reconvene in presentation room

1:05 p.m.
Smart Farming Experiential Learning Projects — Arya Das (UMBC/UMES)

This summer at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore under the guidance of my mentors, I explored how agriculture and technology can be integrated to optimize the cultivation of food and collect data. Inspired by developments in research on the viability of different environments in space for growing food, we designed an experiment to test the viability of growing microgreens and kale on the surface of the moon using a simulant of lunar regolith, and we used sensors equipped to a Raspberry Pi microcontroller to measure data about the different treatments we set up. I also explored programming a 3-axis Cartesian robot (FarmBot) to seed, photograph, and irrigate on a raised bed of peanut plants using both manually written code and primitive AI coding capabilities introduced recently in the software. I also got exposed to working with an autonomous ground robot equipped with a Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium (NPK) sensor that is under development in the UMES laboratory with a team of students. I assisted the graduate student in the lab on getting the NPK sensor calibrated properly and logging the data at respective waypoints of an autonomous mission map.

1:15 p.m.
Circuit Simulations of Plasma Discharges in CMFX  — Justin James (HCC/UMBC/UMCP)

The Centrifugal Mirror Fusion Experiment (CMFX) aims to harness the potential of azimuthal rotation to enhance plasma confinement within a magnetic mirror. The rotation is imposed by applying a high voltage from a capacitor bank to a central electrode, creating a radial electric field that helps stabilize and heat the plasma. Understanding the interactions between the plasma, the capacitor bank, and other external circuit elements is challenging. This work simulates the created plasma as a capacitor in parallel with a resistor. However, the values of these elements were not immediately known. The entire electrical circuit was entered into the LTspice simulation software to find these values. The parameter values of the circuit elements were varied systematically until the simulated plasma current and voltage, measured in the experiment, were qualitatively and quantitatively similar. The results are being compared with theoretical predictions of plasma capacitance and resistance. They are an essential tool for the design of a scaled centrifugal mirror as a fusion energy reactor. Details of the circuit, simulations, and methodology are presented.  

This work is supported by ARPA-E Grant No. DE-AR0001270, and by NASA Grant No. 80NSSC20M0049 as part of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium program. 

1:25 p.m.
Summer 2023 at the Space Systems Laboratory — Samuel Obiorah (MSU/UMCP)

Abstract TBA.

1:35 p.m.
Stress Indicators of the Urban Watershed Using Satellite Images — Ben Walrath (CTU/MSU)

This project investigates how land use influences water quality in the urban environment—specifically, Herring RunI examined data for the watershed spanning 28 years, looking for patterns and change over time.  I based my analysis on water quality observations recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Maryland Department of the Environment.  For context, I also included precipitation data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric AdministrationFollowing methods published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I analyzed satellite imagery in Q-GIS, which I downloaded from the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium.   To gain field experience, I collected water quality observations from multiple locations along Herring Run on two separate visits, using a HANNAH portable meterFinally, I drafted a report and created a presentation summarizing my research.   

1:45 p.m.
Design Analysis and Virtual Reality (VR) Integrations of MSU’s Liquid Propellant Rocket — Alejandro Tovar (UMCP/MSU)

The presentation will describe the process of nose design for the rocket, going over best nose cone shapes and a quick demonstration of early 2D CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software results on an early nose cone design. There will be a brief overview of my time at NASA RockOn. It will then go over the design and partial completion of the propulsion tanks for the rocket, with a final look of how a virtual reality headset was used to view the nearly final design in VR.

1:55 p.m.
Concluding Remarks

MDSGC offers our sincere congratulations to our student presenters, a huge thanks to our internship mentors, collaborators, and supporting staff, and our hope that all attendees enjoyed and learned from these presentations!

Observatory Images

The following images are from our main 20-inch telescope using one of two cameras, a ZWO 1600MM Pro or Canon EOS 6D DSLR. Many of these images were acquired by observatory visitors, W. Balmer, and M. Prem, and most post-processing was carried out by M. Prem using SIRIL.

Friday, May 26rd, 2023

Color image of M101 with supernova SN2023ixf
M101: This well-known and lovely spiral galaxy is also known as the pinwheel galaxy due to its large spiral disk being oriented almost directly towards Earth. However, this image shows a very special guest that was not visible in this galaxy just a few short weeks before this image was taken: the core collapse supernova SN 2023ixf (appears as a large light-blue blob in the upper-right). While this supernova will fade over time, its host galaxy (known as Messier 101 or M101) is still very interesting due to its large star-forming regions visible scattered throughout its spiral structure. This image is shown in color based on another image of M101 from a few days prior (courtesy of M. Prem), which was used to transfer the colors, using the data taken from the observatory’s monochrome exposure as a luminance layer.
Monochrome image of galaxy M51
M51: Colloquially known as the whirlpool galaxy, M51 is a real treat of the Northern skies, appearing close to the big dipper. Of course, the two interacting galaxies in this image are actually much further away; so far in fact that their light takes over 23 million years to get to us. These are some of the best known interacting galaxies, with the gravitational disruptions causing large tidal streams visible in longer exposure images, and likely contributing to the formation of the well defined spiral arms of the larger galaxy. M51 was the first to be identified as a spiral galaxy (or a spiral nebula as they were known at the time). The smaller, dimmer galaxy IC 4278 is also visible in this image just a little way from M51; see if you can spot it!
Monochrome image of the galaxy M81
M81: Another bright spiral galaxy near the big dipper, this grand design spiral galaxy is in the process of interacting with the nearby galaxy M82. This image highlights the large brightness difference between the very bright core of the galaxy, and the significantly fainter arms, where there wasn’t enough light collected to make them easily stand out from the background. To make the arms visible at all, the stacked image was greatly stretched, with heavy noise reduction applied.
Monochrome image of galaxy M82
M82: A companion galaxy to the spiral galaxy M81, and one of the nearest starburst galaxies, with its starburst thought to have been caused by a previous interaction with M81. A starburst galaxy is one where the rate of star formation is much greater than normal, with M82’s center alone producing around 10 times the new stars that the entire Milky Way galaxy does. This huge amount of star formation causes M82 to be very luminous, with the dust lanes seen in the image silhouetting the brighter background. Not seen in this image, but possible to pick up in longer exposures, are large streams of hydrogen that form a so called superwind which is likely driven by the supernovae which are common in this galaxy.
Monochrome image of the globular cluster M13
M13: A favorite of northern hemisphere astronomers and a target that we have imaged several times before, this large grouping of stars contains the mass of around 600,000 suns packed together far tighter that the local neighborhood of our own solar system. Because of its shape, M13 is known as a globular cluster, as opposed to the more common open star clusters such as the Pleiades. To show the maximum number of stars, this image of M13 was processed to enhance the visibility of faint parts of the cluster while preserving details in its bright core, which combined with the slightly blurred stars to make this image appear different from our other image of M13 shown further down the page.

Sunday, May 21st, 2023 (guest image)

This galaxy is looking different! These images were taken by trained observatory guest Gavin W. (JHU) and Observatory Fellow William B. (JHU). It was processed by Gavin W. using SIRIL. It shows the nearby M101 spiral galaxy, where just this past week a new supernova has erupted. Over the next few weeks, the bright source of light marked “SN 2023ixf” will fade away and disappear completely. Currently it is out shining the combined brightness of all the other stars in its host galaxy! This is one of the nearest supernova to the Earth this decade, an exciting opportunity for astronomers around the world to study these violent stellar-deaths in detail.

Friday, May 19th, 2023

The Ring Nebula (M57) in narrowband H-alpha, O[III] filters. This nebula was generated by a Sun-like star that has finished fusing hydrogen into helium. The nebula is about 7000 years old. The beautiful blue center of the nebula is emission from diffuse oxygen gas left in the wake of the expanding shell of red hydrogen gas, which we isolated at this open house using special filters that cut out a lot of the light pollution from the city.
The Sombrero Galaxy. We only managed to take images in one filter (a Green filter) but even in monochrome, the dramatic dust-lane of this galaxy is impressive. We are viewing this distant galaxy “edge-on” where the dust and gas that orbits within the spiral arms blocks the light from the center of the galaxy.
The Eyes Galaxy. More monochrome green filter images, again showing a beautiful partially edge-on galaxy with spirals of dust along its arms.
A globular cluster, M13, “Great Globular Cluster in Hercules.” This group of stars are more than a hundred times more closely packed together than the stars near our Sun. These stars are almost three times as old as the sun, 12 Billion years old, and this cluster exhibits signs of having been “accreted.” This means that this cluster of stars could have been a much smaller galaxy that the Milky Way gobbled up!

Monday, January 16th, 2023

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), otherwise known as “the Green Comet” or “the Neanderthal Comet” is shown here, about two weeks before its closest approach, having just passed periapsis (when it is closest to the Sun). Images were observed by W. Balmer in Blue, Green, and Red filters using our science camera, and processed by M. Prem using SIRIL. Because it is nearby, the comet has a large apparent motion compared to the background stars, and keeping the telescope fixed on the comet during an imaging sequence results in star trails as seen here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Processed image of Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula. This image combines 31 DSLR exposures with a total integration time of over 15 minutes, processed to bring out detail, calibrate the colors and suppress noise. Glowing gas is reflecting and re-emitting the light of bright young stars, while darker clouds of cool gas and dust frame and partly obscure the view.

Thursday, October 27

Color image of the bubble nebula
Bubble Nebula. A single massive, hot star is responsible for most of the nebula’s emission. Gas expelled from the star’s own “wind” forms the shell; the gas in the shell and in surrounding clouds is excited by light from the star and glows. About an hour’s worth of exposures in narrow band filters sensitive to emission from hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur gas were combined to form this image. Processing was used to calibrate the colors, bring out details, and suppress background noise.
Crab Nebula. A single exposure, processed to suppress background noise and enhance contrast, reveals details within this iconic celestial object. The nebula itself is the result of a supernova explosion whose light first reached Earth in the year 1054.

Friday, October 21

The following image was obtained with our ZWO 1600MM Pro camera with a narrow-band H-alpha filter.

Monochrome image of eagle nebula through H-alpha filter
Eagle nebula (H-alpha): The eagle nebula seen in this image is an active star-forming region. The energetic emissions from its young stars cause the gas in the nebula to glow in very specific colors, the strongest of which is called H-alpha, from atomic hydrogen gas. When observed through a filter that only lets through this color of light, a significant amount of detail can be seen, from the brightly glowing gas itself as well as the dust clouds that block some of the light. This image was made by stacking 10 exposures to reduce noise and then stretching to show the detail hidden in the shadows.
Image of Saturn and Titan
Saturn and Titan. This image was created by combining short exposures to capture the planet itself with deeper exposures to be able to detect its large moon, Titan.

Friday, October 14

These images are from our Canon EOS 6D with a light pollution filter.

Image of globular cluster M13
M13. This globular cluster is composed of stars that are about 11.65 billion years old, nearly 3 times older than the Solar System! Observatory open house attendees took 5 images with a total exposure time of 11 minutes which were aligned and combined to produce the image pictured here.
Image of planetary nebula M27
M27. This target, called Dumbbell Nebula or the Apple Core Nebula, is a cloud of gas and dust expelled by a dying, Sun-like star. At its center is the remnant of the progenitor star, called a “white dwarf.” It is only about 10,000 years old, a very short time in astronomy! A certain young attendee took one 3 minute image of M27, which we post-processed using “photometric color calibration” to match the colors in the image to catalogue colors from research images, and then applied a brightness stretch and de-noising filter.
Image of planetary nebula M57
M57. The Ring Nebula was a favorite of our open house attendees, who took about 20 minutes’ worth of images of this nebula. Similar to M27, this nebula was generated by a Sun-like star that has finished fusing hydrogen into helium. The nebula is about 7000 years old. The beautiful blue center of the nebula is emission from diffuse oxygen gas left in the wake of the expanding shell of red hydrogen gas. We combined, smoothed, and then stretched the images to produce the final picture.

A visualization of stellar open clusters

Partial screenshot showing the stellar position visualizer.

Have you ever wished you could venture beyond Earth and explore among the stars? We certainly have. Alas, for the time being such explorations remain in the domain of imagination and science fiction. However, thanks to the precision of modern stellar catalogs, we can map the nearby stars and render their positions on your computer screen, allowing you to explore among them from the comfort of home! Click to access one such stellar visualization, created by MDSGC volunteer M. Prem. The accompanying text explains what is displayed and how it works. Have questions? Please email us at mdsgo@jhu.edu.

Preserving Dark Skies for Astronomy

Flyer for Dark Skies talk

Happy April! International Dark Sky Week is coming up later this month. We are delighted to invite you to attend a special two-part event in celebration of dark skies!

  • 4/15/22 @ 7pm ET – Dark Skies Presentation: Join us on Friday, April 15th at 7pm in room 361 of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy (Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus). Dr. Sarah Marie Bruno (JHU), cosmologist, will discuss the impact of satellite constellations on ground-based astronomy, and the importance of preserving dark skies for astronomy and beyond. Light refreshments will be served directly following the talk.

    Preserving Dark Skies for Astronomy: The starry night sky has inspired humanity from the dawn of our history. However, the night sky we can see from Baltimore in 2022 looks vastly different from the skies that Galileo Galilei observed with his telescope or the skies that inspired the star stories of indigenous peoples in North America. Artificial lighting from ground-based sources and reflections off satellites can impact astronomy and impede our ability to witness the natural beauty of the skies. The Milky Way, once a fixture of human experience, is now hidden from view for over two thirds of the world’s population. Sadly, light pollution is only getting worse with the increasing number of commercial satellites flooding low-Earth orbits. While satellite constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink will likely boost the global economy and increase internet accessibility worldwide, they will introduce additional light pollution and foreground contamination which may greatly impede astronomical observations from the ground. Specifically, solar reflections, radio frequency transmission, and thermal emission will impact ground-based astronomy in the optical, radio, and microwave frequencies, respectively. Bruno wilI (1) discuss the projected impact of the growing space industry on the field of astronomy, (2) present proposed strategies for mitigating these effects, and (3) reflect on the importance of preserving the dark sky environment not only for astronomy, but for human health and wellbeing. 
  • 4/15/22 @ 8:30pm ET – Observatory Open House: After Dr. Bruno’s talk, we will migrate up to the roof of the Bloomberg building for an observatory open house. We expect that observing will be possible beginning around 8:30pm. We will use the telescope in the observatory to view the stars and planets and an additional smaller telescope on the roof to observe the Moon. Join us in celebrating the beautiful dark skies above Johns Hopkins campus! 

Please note that due to space limitations on the Bloomberg roof, this event is restricted to the first 50 registrants. Please sign up here to attend.

The event is free to attend and free parking will be available on the Upper Muller Lot (located next to the Bloomberg building and accessible off of San Martin Drive.)

 Note: This event (both talk and observatory night) is subject to rescheduling depending on the weather. The following Friday (4/22) is a backup day. Registered attendees will receive an email by the evening of April 14th confirming whether the event will take place April 15th or be postponed to April 22nd. 

Interactive Astrophysics Stories

At the MDSGC Observatory, we’re always looking to share our enthusiasm about the Universe and its many fascinating phenomena. Therefore, we’re pleased to present this short series of interactive online astrophysics stories!

#4: Detecting Exoplanets via Transits

Snapshot of a simulated planetary transit across the face of its host star.

Since the first discoveries starting in the 1990s (see post below), the continued search for new exoplanets and the study of their properties has grown into a major area of astronomical research. As additional effort has been invested and new technologies have been developed, the primary techniques for finding and characterizing new exoplanets have also evolved. Follow this link over to our Exoplanet Transits story at ObservableHQ to learn about how astronomers have discovered most of the exoplanets we now know — and where we’re still looking to improve our knowledge!

#3: Hot Jupiter Systems

Still frame of an animation of a Hot Jupiter planet orbiting its host star.

Until the 1990s, the only planets known to science were the nine* of our own solar system. As technology progressed and astronomers began to focus their efforts on looking for planets around other stars, they received several great surprises in the form of just how different the first discovered “exoplanet” systems were, compared to ours. In the decades since, intense efforts have revealed a more detailed picture, and we now understand planetary systems to be a widespread if not universal phenomenon — as astronomers had hoped all along. But the earliest discovered systems continue to play an important role in our new understanding. Follow this link over to our Hot Jupiter story at ObservableHQ to learn more!

(*Those were the days, eh, Pluto?)

#2: Imaging a Star Cluster

Image of stars in Messier 67 taken from the Maryland Space Grant Observatory.

When it comes to practical astronomy, whether we’re idly admiring the night sky or concentrating closely on a telescopic view, star clusters are some of the most interesting things up there. The image above shows a portion of the star cluster Messier 67 obtained from our Observatory. (Another prime example of a star cluster is also one of the Fall sky’s highlights: the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.) So what, apart from simple visual appeal, makes star clusters interesting for astronomers?

Follow this link over to our interactive Star Cluster Image story at ObservableHQ to learn more!

#1: The Earth-Moon System

Still frame from animation of the Earth-Moon system at the epoch of the dinosaurs, showing Earth's tidal bulge.

It was Fall as we wrote this, and in Earth’s northern hemisphere the days were getting shorter. DayLIGHT, that is! But did you know that actually, the length of Earth’s day is increasing as time goes on? What’s that all about, and what in the Universe could be responsible?

Follow this link over to our interactive Earth-Moon System story at ObservableHQ to find out!

After reading, send us your questions and let us know what you think at mdsgo@jhu.edu!

Observe the Moon

First quarter moon over Earth's limb; photo taken from ISS.
Image of the Moon over Earth’s limb, taken from the International Space Station in 2019.

While most of our attention may understandably be consumed by events taking place here on planet Earth, it’s a good practice to pause occasionally and take in a larger perspective. A fine occasion for such activity presents itself whenever clear skies align with favorable Moon phases.

Each year, International Observe the Moon Night, marked in 2020 on Saturday, September 26th, encourages Earthlings to point our gazes skyward and appreciate our closest celestial neighbor. (NASA organizes a list of events that might allow for an in person experience, as well as ways to participate from home.)

The first quarter lunar phase each month is widely considered to be best for viewing because of its evening visibility and the oblique angle of sunlight that throws its surface details into sharp relief. When looking at the Moon from Earth, we definitely recommend grabbing a pair of binoculars, if available, as any amount of magnification greatly enhances the visibility of surface features such as craters.

And while you’re thinking about gazing skyward, don’t forget to think about other ways to get your astronomy fix, and be sure to check out Sky & Telescope’s Sky at a Glance for more detail about what’s on the celestial menu these days.

Astronomy during the pandemic

NASA SOFIA image of the Milky Way.

While the MDSGC Observatory remains closed for the time being, with a little inspiration and effort we can still admire the night sky above us — and certainly now, as much as ever, we can all benefit from a cosmic perspective!

Here is a recent article by University of Arizona astronomer professor Chris Impey on ways to enjoy astronomy during the pandemic. It’s a must read for would be backyard astronomers. Of special note is the “Sky at a Glance” from Sky & Telescope, a highly useful guide to tracking the Moon, planets, and other noteworthy celestial events.

Another recommended activity that may be appealing is to construct a planisphere: a device that shows the locations of the stars in the sky each night. You can buy one, of course, or use free astronomy software such as Stellarium, but if you happen to live at a latitude not too different from Baltimore, MD (39.29 degrees North) and have access to a printer, you can also make your own using these files: planisphere instructions and planisphere cutouts. The second file has two pages, which need to be printed on separate sheets of paper. You’ll also need a paperclip.

Until we can once again welcome you to visit our Observatory, happy star-gazing!

NASA and ISS Videos

Aurora over Scandinavia at night from the International Space Station.

Watching live coverage of the successful NASA Mars Insight landing yesterday reminded us of some other excellent space videos we’ve seen lately.

Here’s one to mark NASA’s 60th anniversary. Like science fiction, but real:

Also celebrating an anniversary recently, in this case its 20th, was the International Space Station (ISS). A long sequence of Earth from orbit, with some landmarks identified:

As long as we’re on the topic, here’s one more from ISS. An inbound rocket launch:

Hope you enjoy them as much as we did. If you’re curious about the image at the top, click on it to learn more!

Quaternions Turn 175

Plaque on Broom (Brougham) Bridge in Ireland commemorating Hamilton's discovery of quaternions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018, is the one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the discovery of quaternions, one of the most difficult discoveries ever in the history of mathematical physics.  The discovery was made — in a sudden moment of inspiration following 11 years of studious toil — by Sir William Rowan Hamilton as he was crossing Brougham Bridge, in Ireland, with his wife.  On the spot, or so it is said, he carved his famous equations on the bridge.

Some years later, Hamilton recalled:

They started into life, or light, full grown, on the 16th of October, 1843, as I was walking with Lady Hamilton to Dublin, and came up to Brougham Bridge.  That is to say, I then and there felt the galvanic circuit of thought closed, and the sparks which fell from it were the fundamental equations between I, J, K; exactly such as I have used them ever since.  I pulled out, on the spot, a notebook, which still exists, and made an entry….

Although Hamilton’s original inscription does not survive, the plaque shown above hangs on the bridge to this day in commemoration both of Hamilton’s discovery and of his sudden inspiration. The plaque reads:

Here as he walked by
on the 16th of October 1843
Sir William Rowan Hamilton
in a flash of genius discovered
the fundamental formula
for quaternion multiplication
i2 = j2 = k2 = i j k = -1
& cut it on a stone of this bridge

Here’s to Hamilton, to quaternions, to bridges, and to inspiration!