Archive for August, 2011

A Planet made of Diamond! *Cha-Ching!*

Friday, August 26th, 2011

posted by: krueff

A diamond composed planet, traveling every 2 hours around its star, that star being a super-fast pulsar… it’s a cosmic jumble of scientific awesome!

Head over to to read the full article!

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Amazing Summer at Institutes

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

posted by: mmelady

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Astro and Nano Institutes I participated in this summer. I would really like to take the information I have learned back to my classroom to spark an interest in the very young.

I also enjoyed participating in the Hoosier Writing Project Advanced Institute and look forward to the book the Indiana (HWP) Fellows are writing to spark an interest in the Hoosier Writing Project in Indiana which is part of the National Writing Project (NWP).

Thanks to Notre Dame for helping to make these programs available to teachers in the summer.
Marilyn Melady

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Brazil Workshop, the last days….

Friday, August 19th, 2011

posted by: krueff

(Click for HD view!) View from the top floor of the PUC-Rio building, looking out over a small, but beautiful, part of Rio at sunset…. Last evening we took our final coffee/snack break on the 12th floor of the PUC building and we were all blown away by the incredible view. Last night was the 1st night I got to see the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere… not the clearest night, but I got to see the Southern Cross (Crux) and  Centaurus for the 1st time in my life :)

Today, (Friday) I presented my talk at The Evolving Universe Workshop on Star Formation in Thick Disks of Spiral Galaxies.  We have a few more talks before the workshop closes and we have the final words.  After which a group of the students and myself plan to head to visit  Sugarloaf, Cristo Redentor, and Copacabana for the rest of the afternoon. :)

I head home from Rio late Saturday night ~ 10:30pm, flying back 10hrs to Charlotte, then to Chicago and then back to South Bend.

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Sleuthing Yields Possible Site of 1882 Observation

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

posted by: bueter

In the Watertown Republican, Notre Dame astronomy instructor Brother Peter (John Fitzpatrick) described the value of the 19th century transits of Venus as the 1874 event approached:

Wonderful as are the discoveries that have been made in the science of astronomy within the present century, it is confidently believed by those who are capable of forming a judgment on the subject that if the operations to be carried out on the 8th of December next are successful it will be an event of greater importance to the science of astronomy than any that has ever taken place.
The interest taken by the learned of all nations – the talent, influence and wealth now being employed, exceeds that brought to bear upon any other scientific subject ever before sought after.

Unfortunately, the 1874 transit was not visible from Notre Dame.

To witness the phenomenon from campus, observers had to wait until December 6, 1882.  While astronomers deemed the transit method less essential by then, a transit of Venus could still draw an intrigued crowd.  Expectant observers gathered on campus in 1882, but clouds obscured the opening moments when Venus entered upon the sun.  Eventually the weather improved and all eyes viewed the celestial apparition and made their respective judgments on its significance.  The South Bend Tribune later reported:

Towards ten-o’clock the clouds cleared away, as if in answer to the prayers offered up all over the country last Sunday, and the sun came out bright as a day in June. Smoked glasses, opera glasses, blue and green spectacles, telescopes and spy glasses were leveled at the “orb of day” and there was for everybody a good view of the transit.

As the 2012 alignment approaches, the Transit of Venus Project is coordinating efforts to mark historical sites where transits of Venus have been witnessed in past centuries.  In his article detailing Notre Dame’s role in past transits of Venus, Robert Havlik, Notre Dame Librarian Emeritus, uncovered the approximate location from which the campus astronomy club anticipated seeing the transit.  In early December, 1882, the self-titled student group Bureau of Astronomy made the following announcement:

Bureau of Astronomy,
Notre Dame University, Dec.1, 1882.
At Notre Dame, Lat. 41d 42′ 12.” 7, Long. W. from Greenwich 86d 14′ 19″.3,
the transit of Venus across the solar disk will appear as follows:


“First contact at 19 minutes past 8 a.m.
Internal contact at ingress at 20 minutes to 9 a.m.
Internal contact at egress at 2 2/3 min. past 2 p.m.
Last contact at 23 2/3 minutes past 2 p.m.

If their value is reliable, therein is the latitude and longitude at which crowds may have gathered to see the 1882 transit.  So where is the site, at Lat. 41d 42′ 12.” 7, Long. W. from Greenwich 86d 14′ 19″.3?

Possible 1882 Observation Site

Answer:  Just northeast of the Golden Dome, near St. Edward’s Hall.

The original portion of St. Edward’s Hall would have just opened earlier that year, 1882, as noted in the St. Edward’s Hall sign.

The 2012 transit of Venus creates an opportunity for University of Notre Dame to commemorate its participation in the 1882 transit of Venus.  The sleuthing of Robert Havlik suggests one possible site.

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Brazil Workshop day 3: Rainforest & Dinner!

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

posted by: krueff

I can now say that I have hiked through a rainforest…

This is at the top of Pedra Bonita in Rio de Janeiro, about 2200′ elevation, within the Tijuca Forest National Park.

(Click on pic for HD view) This is the view towards Rio de Janeiro… our hostel is beyond the two large mountain peaks in the distance.  It took about 4 hours total for our trip, the trail was intense at times, but it was unforgettable experience.  After the hike, we all came back, got our suits and headed to the beach, where swimming and beach volleyball consumed the rest of the time before we had to head back to the hostel to shower, change, and get gussied up for dinner.

(Pic Above: Sandra from CUA and me outside our hostel before dinner).  The Conference Dinner was at “a mineira humaita”, which was an all-you-can-eat Brazilian buffet.  It was also an all-you-can-drink for different traditional Brazilian liquors.  Dinner was spectacular, I ate entirely too much (as did EVERYONE), and ate some things I wasn’t aware I was eating (i.e. Chicken hearts, very standard in Brazil, which was in a soup I tried last night).

We had a great evening having all of the conference astronomers together at long group tables, laughing, sharing stories, and occasionally talking science :)


Today (Thursday) we have a full day of talks and conference work and then plan to head out to the beaches tonight.

Tomorrow (Friday) I give my talk at the conference presenting my research from Notre Dame! :)

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Planetarium Dome On The Rise

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

posted by: bueter

Astro-Tec Dome Construction at PHM Planetarium

As renovation continues at the PHM Planetarium at Bittersweet School in Mishawaka, IN, a new dome from the manufacturer Astro-Tec is being installed. This is the same company that installed the original dome decades ago. The new dome features better seams that hide the ribbed structure and a more rigid framework.

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Brazil Workshop day 2: Howk, Botanical, Planetarium!

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

posted by: krueff

Prof Chris Howk giving his invited talk at PUC-Rio this morning on “Light Elements and the Chemical Evolution of Gas is the Universe”!

At lunch we went to visit the Botanical Gardens in the middle of Rio, which was phenomenal!

Tonight we ended the Workshop at the Planetarium at PUC-Rio, were we attended the “History of Astronomy in Brazil” lecture, which was a great experience and full of incredibly neat info about Brazil… the most memorable of which was learning that the Brazilian flag has specific constellations based on a specific day when Brazil was founded and that astronomy has played a major role in the life of Brazil as a country:

Tomorrow (Wed) we go hiking with all the astronomers in the Tijuca Rain Forest… we’re hiking to the top of a huge plateau rock and then having a picnic :)

Lots of great pictures to come, but for now, the Wifi in the hostel will not let me manage all the awesome images I want to upload!  Stay Tuned!

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Safely Stare at the Sun Funnel

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

posted by: bueter

Sun Funnel on Telescope

One of the best ways for a group of people to view the magnified sun safely is to use a rear screen projection that is enclosed. Because no one is exposed to the intense light path, an Sun Funnel allows a crowd of people to see concurrently the transit of Venus, sunspots, or eclipses.

Making a Sun Funnel

Last week I co-presented a make-and-take workshop to build the inexpensive telescope accessories at the ASP meeting in Baltimore.  You can readily make one yourself, for AAS Press Officer Richard Tresch Fienberg wrote and illustrated Build a Sun Funnel for Group Viewing of Sunspots and the Transit of Venus. The how-to manual gives clear, step-by-step assembly instructions and sources for inexpensive materials.

Supplies to Make a Sun Funnel

Another hands-on workshop to build Sun Funnels will be at the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) 2011 Annual Conference in Champaign, IL, on October 20, 2011. Several GLPA members successfully used Sun Funnels to witness the 2004 transit of Venus.  I still use mine to look at sunspots, too.

See Eye Safety for more techniques and advice for viewing the sun safely.

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Hello from Brazil!

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

posted by: krueff

Today was my first day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!  Above is a picture of Rafael (Student from Catholic University in D.C.) and me on the Av. Vieira Souto enjoying coconut water, which literally is the delicious water inside these (surprisingly heavy) coconuts.

So far I’ve been very overwhelmed by not speaking the language, but Rafael and Duilia, the main organizer and professor for the workshop and my trip, have been exceptionally wonderful.  I have only been here a day and already they have helped me more than I could ever thank them for.  From Rafael helping me get from the airport to my hotel and teaching me lots of history about Brazil on the ride, to Duilia sharing tons of info on food, people, and the culture that only an insider would be able to share :)  They are great people to have here and get to connect and work with.

Today was particularly cold (~60 F) and rainy for winter in Rio, but we went out walking the streets, and I got acquainted with some areas and important stops.

Duilia took us to this neat restaurant for lunch, where I got to try my first coxinha:

Which is a yummy ball of shredded chicken and spices, battered and fried.  These were really tasty, as was my lunch which was a juicy chicken breast sandwich topped with Minas cheese, which I can only describe as mozzarella texture mixed with questo fresco/provolone tastes.

Tomorrow Rafael and I give our colloquium talks to the Physics department at PUC-Rio.  We’re traveling with Duilia to PUC-Rio, then meeting Enio, taking a tour of his lab, and then working on our talks until lunch…

I’m very nervous, which is why I’m heading to bed currently so I’m well rested.  But, I can’t wait to see what else awaits on this adventure!!!!

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Reflecting on Astro week

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

posted by: mmelady

It was an amazing week at the Astro Institute.  Every day there was something new to learn and think about.  On Friday Chuck Beuter’s presentation fascinated me especially the transit of Venus.  I want to share this information with the first graders and get our school involved.  Our principal is very supportive in matters of science and I think she may be interested too.

Early Saturday morning about 5:30 we were camping at Lake Michigan and had the opportunity to observe the stars just before sunrise and right overhead was the brightest star of the sky and I was sure it was a planet, but which one?  My guess was it may have been Venus.  Just like a child, I stood and wondered!

Science is my love!

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