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Topics - Mark

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Dan Wilkins, KIPAC (Stanford/SLAC)
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 7:30 PM

Panofsky Auditorium
Science and User Support Building (BLDG 53)

Black holes are some of the most exotic and extreme objects in the universe. Though they sound like the stuff of science fiction, they are real and much more common than you might think.  Every galaxy has a black hole lurking at its center!  Also, these black holes are not actually black, because matter falling into black holes liberates energy that can power some of the brightest objects we see in the night sky. In this lecture you will find out exactly what a black hole is, how we can find them, and how they can flare intensely — giving rise to impressive firework displays and launching vast jets of plasma at close to the speed of light.

Dan Wilkins is an astrophysicist in the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University and SLAC.  He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2013.  He held a postdoctoral position in Halifax, Nova Scotia, under a fellowship from the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. In 2016, he joined KIPAC as an NASA-supported Einstein Fellow. Wilkins works on both observational and theoretical aspects of black hole physics. He is a member of teams at NASA and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) that are developing next-generation X-ray observatories to study energetic cosmic sources powered by black holes.

Seating is on a first-come-first-served basis

We will also be streaming the lecture live on our Facebook page a few minutes before the start time.

Observing Reports / Two Very Different Nights At Lick Observatory
« on: July 16, 2017, 09:50:25 AM »
I had a terrific time at Lick Observatory over the weekend. Friday night we had very clear steady skies and a great lineup of telescopes.  Eric Z. was showing Jupiter in daylight to the early arrivers in his AP 155.  Al Howard had an identical scope, Kurt Kuhlman brought a C14 Fastar, I had my 18" Obsession, and a relative beginner and his son who had just attended GSSP a 10-inch SCT. As the sky darkened Saturn was rock steady and commanded views in most telescopes. I showed it briefly and moved on to some interesting double stars, settling on Albireo (which voice recognition wants to call El Burrito), explaining the idea of binary stars and what the colors mean to the public.  After some time people moved on to the big globular clusters and in a few cases M51. I eventually began showing the Neil Nebula, Witches Broom section, which with an OIII filter glowed as a subtle neon blue-gray tube extending away from 52 Cygni, which I kept at the edge of the field of you as a reference point to describe the object and help first-timers see it. It was really a fine night with shirt sleeve conditions all night. I spent the night in the Rec Hall as I was staying for Saturday as well.

Saturday was hot and cloudy, not a good combination. I set up my telescope after watching the others who had arrived do the same. Eric was back, as was Marek Cichanski (voice recognition kitchen ski), who brought his 18' Obsession once owned by Michelle Stone, who sold it to me, for my daughter Mimi to use, eventually selling it to Marek. I didn't look through my telescope once Saturday night due to conditions. But the company was great! We also were treated to a spectacular sunset as well as seeing some very unusual mammatus clouds over the observatory. Here are photos of both the clouds and tremendous sunset. The photo is from Rick Baldridge, whose shot turned out better than mine. I sat outside the observatory doors which were open to keep things cool and listened to the Grammy award-winning duo of Tingstad and Rumbel, guitarist and wind instrument players.  I loved the tune Chaco (, hearing the alto and tenor clarinet, and sweet potato.  Great setting for a concert.

All in all volunteering at Lick Observatory is a fun way to spend a weekend. I did it last month and I'll spend two nights there again in August.

Next up will be a Wednesday trip to Montebello for observing then to the Pinnacles on Saturday for some Dark Skies. Hope to see other observers out this week.

Clear skies,


TAC Visual / Mark Loves The Moon
« on: July 13, 2017, 03:21:30 PM »
There... I've said it.

After many years of confirmed, nearly exclusive focus on deep sky, I've fallen.  Its the images of our own local Jim Ferreira, along with a Texan named Robert Reeves, that got me looking.  Now I can't wait to get out and observe even in my bright Los Gatos skies.  Here's a photo of Reeves as an example of some of the detail I'd like to try picking up - although this shot with Reeve's new a 20"....  just to think of it... buying a 20" scope to shoot the moon!

Anyone else here spend their time looking at what my buds and I used to call "The Great Obliterator" and the "Plaster Ball"?  Think its a superb target for sketching!


Rants and Off Topic / Welcome Back Brad Franzella!
« on: July 12, 2017, 10:17:04 AM »
TAC has a new member today - Brad Franzella.

Brad has been living in Germany for many years, and will be returning to CA shortly.  Only a few people will know this, but Brad was one of the early attendees to the fabled Lassen Star Parties, predating the Shingletown Star Party, which we all know now as the Golden State Star Party.

Brad was so young when he began attending that his father would drive him and his 10" Dob from home in Chico to Lassen, and leave him there with the group (all 20-30 of us?).  He'd have to hitch a ride to the observing site and back with other star party members.  Brad must be about 36 now... this story goes back probably 20 years....

Welcome back Brad, we'll see you soon!


Each week Orion Telescope has "The Night Sky Tonight" available on its web-page (and usually their Facebook feed).  Format is generally to alternate evening and morning targets during the week.  These are geared predominantly toward beginners, with occasion "challenge" targets included.  Have a look!

Rants and Off Topic / Juno GRS images?
« on: July 11, 2017, 08:24:35 AM »
So, Juno did its Great Red Spot fly-over yesterday.  Anyone seeing info on when images are going to be released?

NASA info:

NGC/IC Project / Observing List Generator not working?
« on: July 11, 2017, 08:22:25 AM »
When I use it, I get "Observing List Engine - No Objects Found" as a result.  Anyone get actual data returned?



Observing Reports / Old Time Fun At Montebello.
« on: July 03, 2017, 09:55:41 PM »
A quick report on a gathering of TACos old and new last Wednesday at Montebello.

I ran into Casey Fukuda at Lick Observatory and he mentioned the gang getting together like old times, up at Montebello.  With my return to the South Bay imminent, I decided to join in at the first opportunity.  Although the drive seemed longer than I remembered, which makes sense as I began in Pacifica, the old place had a familiar look and feel, as well as faces.  Casey, James Turley, Rogelio Andreo, Dan Wright, Marek Cichanski, someone who's name always eludes me but looks something like Peter Natscher, and a newcomer named Praveet, maybe.

All kinds of goodies on tables for a communal feast, it was quite a throwback to how TAC used to operate.  These guys know what they're doing.

There was a nice waxing crescent moon up, Jupiter, and sone terrific double stars.  The Milky Way in Sagittarius was obvious, extending nicely through Cygnus.  Telescopes ranged, for this mostly social event, from a 4" Vixen to a 16" Albert Highe Dob, which was accompanied by a few of Albert's 12.5" creations.  I brought only a 10x42 binocular, with my scopes in storage and at friend's homes, but I had a great time popping Messier Globulars with ease.  Mostly enjoyed fine views of M5 and M13 in Dan's 16", then comparing M10 and M12 to see which was the better.  I had them both in one field in my binoculars.

Seeing had some scintillation, so the tight doubles were challenging, and seeing came and went on the Moon, but it was quite a treat to be out with this group.  I look forward to more, now that it's a much shorter drive.  Thanks to Casey and the gang for a fun time out.

Photo from Rogelio.

Clear skies, TACos.

TAC Visual / Look at Moon and Jupiter now!
« on: June 03, 2017, 08:48:11 PM »
If you're not checking it out, you should be!

Shadow transit too!

Venus at mag -4.29 0.7 AU away, and Uranus at mag 5.88 20.6 AU away, in one wide field of view.  10 magnitude difference!  Interesting, Starry Night Pro shows Venus maximum magnitude from Earth as -7.08.  Really?  Maybe it means something else.

Venus will have 50% illumination, 24 arc-second size.  Uranus will be 3.4 arc-seconds.

Observing Intents / New Moon weekend
« on: April 17, 2017, 06:17:24 PM »
Anyone notice the weather forecast?  Shhhh....  :P

Thinking Pinnacles, Saturday night....

TAC Visual / Question about observing at Pinnacles
« on: April 12, 2017, 10:55:52 PM »
Is it possible to catch some sleep in a car after observing at Pinnacles west?

Thanks for any help.

TAC Visual / Comets....
« on: April 12, 2017, 11:20:20 AM »
Anyone been checking out the comets?  At least three I know of currently, all are reasonable mags.  Here's where Comet Johnson (mag 8.2 and brightening in Hercules) is going to be on the 27th, close to Phi Herculis.  The nice sketch is from Cloudy Nights in a 12.5" telescope.

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak is also an easy find, this chart showing it on the 21st just off beta Draconis, mag 8.7 but forecast to dim (this comet is famous for outburst though).

Nice comet site, with excellent graphics and current info:

TAC Visual / Nice binocular double star
« on: March 29, 2017, 10:38:32 AM »
Was looking through the good old Night Sky Observers Guide last night, curious about double stars in Cygnus - I am out before dawn these days and Cygnus is up high then.

I came across 61 Cygni, aka Struve 2758.  Its a wide double, 30.3" separation, which makes it good for binoculars.  Its the color I'm really interested in seeing - here's the description from the book:

"61 Cygni, a wide, easy separated double of two orange K-type dwarfs, is only 11.2 light years distant, the twelfth nearest star or star pair to the Solar System.  The two stars orbit each other in a period of 650 years, and will achieve maximum separation, 34", bout 2100 A.D.  The components have luminosities of only 8% and 4% of the Sun's.  Their color is probably at its best in binoculars, with which both stars are a stunning chrome orange-red.

4-6" Scopes - 75x: An easy target for small telescopes, 61 Cygni is a wide pair of bright orange stars."

Its easy to find, just off Tau Cygni behind the western wing.  Anyone seen this double?

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