It’s always a treat to follow the International Space Station (ISS) through an eyepiece. During a recent outreach event, I even had a line of visitors taking quick turns at the eyepiece while I tracked the pass for the them using the Dob with a Telrad.
During the past few days, my husband and I made a joint efforts to image the International Space station, his by webcam using the 10-inch LX200 with manual tracking and mine through sketches using the 16-inch Dobsonian and a 13mm Ethos. This telescope/eyepiece combination makes it fairly easy to track the ISS while providing a bit of umph for details.
There were two ISS passes on the night of August 23. I used the first one for practice and, from that, determined that a voice recorder was definitely needed for the 2nd run at 21:43-21:46 local time (Aug 24th 02:43-02:46 UT). Directly after the observation, I made a rough field sketch and jotted down notes. A more-detailed, color sketch was completed inside using my notes, voice recording and the field sketch for reference. When the sketch was complete, it was scanned and processed in Photoshop CS6 to better represent the luminosity of the view.
The solar arrays were outlined in bright burnt yellow with deeper burnt orange running through the center of them lengthwise. The module was bright and long on the following end. More details were visible during moments of clarity with smooth tracking, but I failed to describe the view with enough depth to transpose them onto paper. I was able to add what appeared to be the thermal control radiators near the truss on either side of the module as well as a section of the module that runs parallel to the truss on the leading edge.
Equipment: 16-inch f/4.5 reflector on a non-tracking Dobsonian mount, Telrad, 13mm Ethos
Application for passes: GoSatWatch – Satellite Tracking for iPhone
Sketch media: black Strathmore Artagain paper, color pencils, white gel pen, color Conte’ pastels, blending stump and then processed digitally in Photoshop CS6
Jeremy Perez masterfully captured a series of sketches from a August 2012 ISS pass and another from an October 2012 pass that can be viewed from his Belt of Venus website. Make sure to read his tips on how to try this yourself!
Click here for the latest ISS news from NASA.
Solar hot air balloons are a great addition to any outreach event. You can purchase one online for as little as a few dollars or make your own using thin trash bags or sheets of polyethylene.
The heated air inside the balloon expands, making it less dense than the cooler ambient air. This causes the balloon to float. While conducting science experiments, kids can learn the basics on how the balloons generate lift, solar radiation, and solar energy.
Most balloons I’ve seen are shaped like long, slender tubes (sealed on both ends), tear drops (your typical hot air balloon) or tetrahedrons (also referred to as tetroons). But don’t let that deter you from making unique designs of your own!
The best time to launch is in the morning on a calm day while the ambient air is cool.
Materials needed for a tube-shaped balloon
5-7 thin black trash bags (0.3-0.4 mil)
Lightweight, strong tape
Lightweight string tied to a rubber band on one end, a piece of cardboard on the other
Cut away the ends of all but one of the bags.
Starting with the bag that has the uncut end, overlap two bags by placing the end of one bag inside the other by an inch or two.
Tape the seam. I used black duct tape that I split in half lengthwise. Cellophane tape would have been better because of its light weight. I’ve read where other people use masking tape.
Continue steps 2 and 3 for the remainder of the tube.
Prepare the tie-down string by tying one end to a rubber band, the other to a piece of cardboard
Fill the bag with air using a hair dryer or fan.
Seal the open end with the rubber band.
Wait for the Sun to warm the air inside of the balloon, then watch it float!
Are you looking for a fun way to incorporate solar power into your outreach events? I ran across a robotic kit from Edmund Scientifics called Solar Space Fleet and had a blast using it at my last outreach event.
Per their webpage -
Transform and Power Your Own Space Command
The Solar Space Fleet Kit is an innovative solar powered science kit that can transform into seven different lunar modules and energized via direct sunlight or micro rechargeable battery.
For just under $26.00, the kit includes an easy-to-follow, 46-page instruction manual, decals, a solar panel, rechargeable battery, battery module and all the parts to build 7 different robots. Not included are AAA batteries (2 are needed for the battery module when not using solar energy), a utility knife and/or diagonal cutters to remove burrs before assembly, and little helpers keen to assist you!
First up is assembling the landing gear, front wheel, solar module and battery module. Next are the gear boxes.
The individual robots share parts, so each will need to be disassembled before building another module. A few examples are shown below. The robots’ actions vary with each module: spinning, turning, walking, or rolling forward.
The final three pin-hole cameras for my solargraphy experiments were taken down late Friday, the night before summer solstice. One of the cameras (positioned upright for a landscape view) was angled too low and very little of the Sun’s path could be seen. The other two were positioned on their sides to catch sunrise and sunset each day.
When comparing the camera’s view to the processed photographic paper, you’ll notice that the view is mirrored.
All seven pin-hole cameras were reloaded with Ilford Multigrade IV RC Deluxe MGD.44M Black & White Variable Contrast Paper and positioned in their new locations in time for sunrise on June 21st–summer solstice. I’ve adjusted their angles to include a higher arc in the sky. This set will stay up until winter solstice on December 21st. Fingers crossed!
Solargraphs, how to make 6-month exposures by Justin Quinnell
Tarja Trygg´s website of The Global Project Of Solargraphy
Observing in direct sunlight has its challenges, especially when using a narrowband solar filter. Stray light around the eyepiece affects the dark visual adaptation needed to pull out the faint limb details, similar to stray light affecting your nighttime view of deep sky objects.
To improve contrast and reduce glare, I incorporate the use of both a solar cloth (pulled over my head and eyepiece holder) and a solar shade that fits snuggly over the optical tube assembly (OTA). Both are fairy easy to make and you can even purchase manufactured versions of them. Dark Skies Apparel makes unique, top quality observing hoods and solar observing vests designed with pockets to hold spare eyepieces, pencils and glasses.
Here’s how to make the solar shade pictured above.
- large black foam board, 20 x 30 x 3/16 inch
- white pencil and #2 graphite pencil
- tailor’s tape
- measuring tape
- utility knife
- piece of cardboard or paper
Create a template for cutting out the hole of the foam board that will fit over your OTA or filter. To do this, determine the radius (r) of your OTA or filter. Start off by measuring the outer circumference (c) of your OTA or filter (in most cases, it will the energy rejection filter, otherwise known as ERF). Mine was 28.5 mm.
r = d/0.5
d = c/3.14
Diameter (d) = 28.5/3.14 which means that d = 9.1 mm. Radius would then be half of that, 4.5 mm. Set the compass to equal radius.
Create the circle template with the compass and cut out the circle just inside the line with a pair of scissors.
Figures 4 and 5
If you don’t have a compass, fold a sheet of paper in half both vertically and horizontally. The center of the paper will be marked where the folds cross when you open the paper back up. Place the end of the tailor’s tape at the center cross and mark the radius measurement on the paper with a pencil. Continue marking the radius until a complete circle is created onto the paper.
Use the measuring tape and white pencil to mark the size of the solar shade on the foam board. Mine was 16 x 12 inches, but you can adjust if needed for your preference. If it’s too large, the wind will become more of a factor. Too small, it fails to serve its purpose.
Use your circle cut out and white pencil to outline the OTA fitting onto the bottom of your foam board. It should be nearly 2 inches from the bottom edge.
Just inside the line, use the utility knife to cut out the circle. You may want to place a cutting board or something similar behind the foam board to protect the table surface.
Align your telescope so that the Sun can be seen through the eyepiece, then push the solar shade onto the OTA and swivel it to the side of the telescope where you’ll be observing.
Sharpening pastel pencils can be tricky. The pastel center breaks easily and before you know it, you’ve sharpened the pencil nearly to the nub in one sitting! Here’s a tip to prevent breakage.
While using a sharpener, applying pressure to shave the wood leads to breaking the pastel easily within it, so use an artist’s or utility knife to expose the pastel first. The wood should be whittled smooth to prevent snagging. Try to make the wood circumference slender so that it fits easily in a normal-sized pencil sharpener. This especially holds true for larger pencils like Conte’. If you like, you can use the knife to roughly sharpen the pastel tip prior to using the sharpener. Next, use the smaller hole of the pencil sharpener to shape the tip and then finish it off in the larger hole for a precise point.
Good luck and please let me know if you have your own tips on sharpening pastels so that we can share them with others!