Mercury on the Face of the Sun: 11/11/19

Image of Mercury in transit across the Sun in 2016, by Elijah Matthews via - flipped vertically to emphasize the silhouette of Mercury instead of the sunspot group also present.
Photo credit: 2016 Mercury transit by Elijah Matthews via Image has been flipped vertically.

On November 11, 2019, tiny planet Mercury crossed between Earth and the Sun. Observers fortunate enough to be beneath clear skies on the sunward side of the Earth when this happens could hope to view the celestial conjunction, officially known as a transit. Transits of Mercury occur about a dozen times per century. The most recent was in 2016, and the next is in 2032! (In 2032 the transit will not be visible from North America.)

Mercury is quite small, so eclipse glasses are not sufficient to see it. Properly configured solar binoculars, or ideally a high magnification solar telescope, are needed. Always use caution when observing the Sun!

Thanks to those who came up to join us at the Maryland Space Grant Observatory, as we trained our telescopes to follow the transit from approximately 9:00 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. EST. Here is a NASA video showing the full transit:

For more information about the 11/11/2019 Mercury transit, check out this page from NASA JPL or this very detailed page at

Microscopes and Telescopes – Oct. 18

Flyer for MDSGC/CMMS October 18th event

We are pleased to announce a special event at the Observatory on Friday, October 18th! In partnership with the Chesapeake Microscopy & Microanalysis Society, MDSGC will host a public lecture, “Meteorites – from Microscopes to Telescopes” by Emma Bullock. The event will also feature microscopy demonstrations and astronomical observing, weather permitting. See the event flyer for more details (click on image above).

Even if you’ve missed the chance to register, you can still join us for the demonstrations and observing starting around 7:30 p.m.!

2019 Student Research Symposium

Student group photo at 2019 MDSGC research symposium
Photo credit: Will Kirk, Homewood Photography

The 2019 MDSGC Student Research Symposium, held Saturday, July 27, showcased presentations by more than 30 student interns and researchers working at sites across Maryland. Institutions represented included Capitol Technology University, Goddard Space Flight Center, Hagerstown Community College, Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, 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 full program follows, including links to presentation files (in PDF) where available. This page will be updated as final presentation versions are submitted.

Talk Session 1

8:00 a.m.
Introductory Remarks — Matt Collinge

8:05 a.m.

8:15 a.m.

8:25 a.m.

8:35 a.m.

8:45 a.m.

8:55 a.m.

9:05 a.m.

9:15 a.m.

9:25 a.m.
Poster Flash Talks

Poster Session

Manufacturing Detailed 3D Models of Spacecraft Hardware in Support of Goddard Mission Proposals — Marcelo Arispe-Guzman

Dusty Plasma Lab: Voltage Amplifier Design and Construction Using Piezoelectric Elements — Marcus Bailey

Autonomous Instrumented Robotic Sensory Platforms to Advance Creativity and Engage Students (AIRSPACES) — Zachary Chavez

Spectroscopy Diagnostics/Mirrors for Critical Ionization Velocity Measurements — Kim Frost

Superhero Physics as a Teaching Tool in Introductory Physics (PDF) — Jasmine Jackson

A Model for Intergalactic Dust and its Impact on the Extragalactic Background Light (PDF) — Maegan Jennings

Gravitational Lensing and a First Test of Exotic Topology (PDF) — Greg Kuri

Development of Spacecraft Contact Analysis and Maneuver Planning Scenarios for Spacecraft Operations Training — Lucia Stainer

Dust Size Characterization through Microscopy — Bojiun (Andy) Tsao

Decoding Light Characteristics in Space — Shuchen Zhang

Reliability of Stormwater Best Management Practices in Washington, D.C. (PDF) — Mohammadreza Jabehdari

3D Design and Manufacturing Analysis of Liquid Propellant Rocket Engine (LPRE) Nozzle (PDF) — Marc Caballes and Sam Alamu

Talk Session 2

11:00 a.m.
Welcome Back — Matt Collinge

11:05 a.m.

11:15 a.m.

11:25 a.m.

11:35 a.m.

11:45 a.m.

11:55 p.m.

12:05 p.m.

12:15 p.m.

12:25 p.m.

2019 JHU Physics Fair

The weather cooperated! And we had a good turnout for the 16th Annual Physics Fair at JHU, sponsored in part by MDSGC, which was held from 11-5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 27th, 2019.

Each year during the Physics Fair, the Bloomberg Center for Physics & Astronomy on JHU’s Homewood Campus (click here for directions) is open to the public and hosts activities, competitions, shows, and many hands-on physics demonstrations to intrigue the mind and delight the senses. This family-friendly STEM event is especially designed to inspire future scientists. We hope you can join us next year!

If you attended this year and haven’t already done so, we encourage you to fill out this brief survey to let us know what you think! As always, you can find more information to stoke your scientific curiosity at the Physics Fair Links page.

Hope to see you next year!

2019 JHU Physics Fair poster

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!

NASA Express and Science WOW!

Attention, STEM educators, students, and space enthusiasts! Did you know NASA has a weekly service providing information about student and educator opportunities — workshops, scholarships, internships, and more — as well as inspirations for the latest and greatest ideas for science education? If you’re not already registered, head over to the NASA signup page now!

NASA Express Logo

NASA Science Wow banner

MDSGC Students at 231st AAS Meeting

MDSGC proudly supported presentations by several students at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), held January 8-12, 2018, in Washington, DC.

Towson Professor James Overduin with students at 231st AAS meeting.

The poster topics included using the 2017 total solar eclipse to repeat Arthur Eddington’s 1919 test of General Relativity; using Towson University’s telescope to study the resolution of Olbers’ Paradox; and using the asteroid Psyche to test the Equivalence Principle. What the projects have in common is their connection to astronomical observations and fundamental physics, a strong emphasis on hands-on student research, and their supervisor: Towson University Professor James Overduin. The three posters presented at the AAS meeting represent collaborations among Towson faculty and students and several local high school students.

The solar eclipse poster generated considerable discussion that kept its authors Keri McClelland and Kelsey Glazer busy answering questions. Professor Overduin explained its popularity: “It seems that we are one of only two or three teams who have tried to do this (replicate Eddington’s test with the 2017 eclipse) and that only one other has been able to do more than us.”

MDSGC congratulates the Towson team on their accomplishments and wishes them success in their future projects! The three student posters are reproduced below.

Poster on students repeating Eddington's test of General Relativity using 2017 solar eclipse.

Olbers paradox poster from 231st AAS meeting.

Psyche poster from 231st AAS meeting.

STEM Extravaganza at Morgan State

The Baltimore MUREP Aerospace Academy (formerly SEMAA) held its yearly STEM Extravaganza on Saturday, September 9th, at Morgan State University.

Photo of MDSGC booth at Baltimore MUREP STEM Extravaganza 2017.

MDSGC was represented by a contingent from Johns Hopkins, along with our partners from Space Telescope Science Institute. Thanks to all our young STEM enthusiasts and parents who stopped by to pay us a visit and learn about scientific ballooning! We hope to see you again soon at one of our upcoming Observatory Open Houses.