Welcome to Science and Math Education Center &
The Peterson Planetarium!
Join us for Dr. Ratra's presentation on Cosmology and the evolution of the universe, the accelerated expansion, and dark matter/dark energy! Come an hour early and participate in our Space-based costume contest! (See costume contest page for details on registration.)
Loretto A. Langley Charitable Trust Award! In the News Cool Facts!
About our Photography... Opportunities For You
About the Planetarium
Peterson Planetarium was named for Oscar J. Peterson, ESU chair of the math department from 1928-1963. Dr. O.J. Peterson was responsible for adding the planetarium to the new Science Hall, which opened in 1958. In 1959, Dr. George Downing became the first director and his first student planetarium operator and lecturer was Kenneth Ohm. Ken is seated beside the newly installed Spitz A-2 Star Projector that was used from 1959-1994.
Ken Ohm operating the new Spitz A-2 Star Projector in the newly opened planetarium in 1959. Three rings of
continuous bench seating, covered in red vinyl, encircled the operator and machine. The planetarium is located
in the sub-basement of Cram Science Hall. Image courtesy of Kenneth Ohm.
- On the second Saturday of the month, live shows of the night sky are presented accompanied by a full-dome program chosen from a variety of themes such as astronomy, Earth science, biology, history, and mathematics.
- Every Thursday evening from 6:30 to 7:45, a documentary series is presented on the history of U.S. space exploration. This history series is told through actual NASA footage and documentation taken from the Johnson Space center and compiled here on campus to walk the audience through the first signs of rocket development to the Space Race and beyond.
Peterson Planetarium provides ESU students with employment opportunities to work on live show production and video presentations. Now hiring ESU students - if interested, contact Dr. Aber at 620-341-5636 with a resume of experience and letter of interest.
Night Skies with Mark Brown, VIPP
Spot the International Space Station
Over the next few nights this week if you step outside on a clear night you’ve got a good chance of seeing the International Space Station (ISS) as it glides across the skies of Emporia (https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html). So whether you’ve seen it dozens of times or never at all, this is your chance to see it.
Since 1998 the International Space Station has been crisscrossing the heavens. It is the largest satellite in space and is crewed with up to six people from various nations. Travelling at over 17,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second), and orbiting about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth, ISS can appear like a very bright, fast-moving star. We see the space station because of a couple of reasons. First, it is very large – about the size of a football field. And second, it is covered by materials that reflect a lot of sunlight. Although the space station does have lights, they are much too dim and far away for us to see them. ISS is often mistaken for a passing aircraft, but if you look closely, you will not see any blinking or flashing navigation lights like an aircraft. For the most part, the reflected light from the ISS will remain bright and steady. The amazing thing is that ISS can be seen with the unaided eye!
pass captured on February 5, 2015 over Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
It takes ISS approximately 90 minutes to complete one orbit of Earth and is usually seen before sunrise or after sunset passing from west to east. The orbital path of the space station frequently changes so it will not be seen every night or will appear in the same part of the sky. Depending on your location, the space station can trek very close to the horizon, directly overhead, or anywhere in between with passes lasting 2 to 4 minutes. But in order to see it, you need to know two things – Will it be clear? And when will it pass over your location?
Between November 28th and December 5th ISS will make a number of evening passes. But the brightest and highest passes will occur on December 1st and 2nd. On December 1st, the space station will rise in the southwest at 6:23pm. At 6:27pm, the station will be high in the northwest sky at an altitude of 74°. Its orbital path will take it to the northeast where it will disappear into Earth’s shadow at 6:28pm.
showing the station passes over Emporia on the evening
of December 1st (above) and December 2nd (below).
On December 2nd the space station will rise above the southwest horizon at 5:32pm and trek across the southern part of the sky. At 5:35pm, ISS will be 54° above the southeast horizon where its orbital path will then take it toward the east-northeast.
Much of this information is freely available from various websites or mobile apps for your tablets and smartphone devices. Websites such as http://spaceweather.com/flybys/ and http://www.heavens-above.com/ are online prediction tools which will provide up to the minute information on space station passes from your location. These websites allow you to pinpoint your location either by using your zip code, city name, or by clicking on a map.
For the tech savvy, you can also find mobile apps for Heavens-Above, NASA’s Spot the Station, ISS Spotter, ISS Locator, and Sky Safari. Make sure you are not paying for the app and that the app automatically updates the satellite tracking database. Some of the more advanced apps will show other visible satellite passes and even provide text or voice alerts prior to visible passes for your location. It is important that you provide yourself with enough time to go outside and get oriented. Try to know in advance where and when you should be looking for the space station because if you’re outside looking down for the app on your phone, you just might miss it. When you do see the space station, be sure to look up, enjoy, and wave – as mentioned earlier, there are six people currently living and working up there.
The Pleiades, located approximately 430 light years from Earth, is the brightest and most obvious star cluster visible to the unaided eye in late autumn and winter. This small grouping of stars is often mistaken for the Little Dipper because of the arrangement of its six brightest stars. The Pleiades are sometimes referred to as the seven sisters which is a reference to the seven stars visible to people with better than average eyesight. For most people, six stars are plainly visible but some have reported seeing as many as eleven stars when viewed from dark transparent skies away from city lights. There are Greek legends of a “lost Pleiad,” the seventh sister, said to have given up her place among the stars after marrying a mortal.
In late autumn evenings, the Pleiades can be seen rising slightly north of east after sunset. According to mythology, the seven sisters are being pursued by the great hunter Orion which rises after the Pleiades. Orion pursues them across the sky nearly all night in November before setting in the west before sunrise. If you have difficulty finding the cluster, wait until the constellation Orion has sufficiently risen above the eastern horizon. Now find his belt – three stars standing nearly in a straight line above the horizon. An imaginary line drawn westward through the belt points to the bright orange star Aldebaran – the fiery eye of the bull in the constellation Taurus. The V-shape pattern of stars to which Aldebaran appears to belong is called the Hyades. Extending the line just a bit further up or to the west will lead you to the Pleiades marking the shoulder of Taurus the bull.
Photo by Mark Brown; 11-20-2016.
Pointing a pair of binoculars or telescope toward this cluster will reveal dozens of individual stars. Long exposure photographs of the cluster will reveal faint wisps of nebulosity around the cluster – which is left over gas and dust from which the stars were born. The stars were born about 100 million years ago, much younger than our Sun, and many times more luminous.
Close up of the Pleiades as imaged through a 400mm refracting telescope.
Thin wisps of nebulosity is apparent. Photo by Mark Brown, 12-29-2013.
Polaris – The North Star
The sky's most steadfast star is Polaris, in the constellation Ursa Minor the Little Bear. Also called the North Star or Pole Star, this is without doubt the most famous star in the sky. Many people mistakenly believe it is also the brightest star in the sky. But in fact, it ranks only 49th in brightness. Polaris is important because it is located very near to the north celestial pole, the point at which the entire northern sky appears to rotate. While other stars rise and set throughout the night and appear prominent in various seasons, Polaris stays more or less fixed at a single point in the sky – not only throughout the night, but also the entire year.
Polaris was of great importance to early navigators and explorers. By traveling either northward or southward on Earth’s globe one can take note and watch how the altitude of Polaris shifts accordingly. This star’s height above the northern horizon reflects your latitude. The latitude of Emporia, Kansas is 38.4 degrees. Hence, Polaris resides 38.4 degrees above the northern horizon. The width of the adult human fist held at arm’s length measures about ten degrees. By facing north and using your fist as a measuring tool, you can easily find Polaris’ altitude. When measuring upwards from the northern horizon, Polaris will be approximately equivalent to four clenched fists stacked on top of the other. If you stood precisely at Earth’s North Pole, Polaris would be almost directly overhead or at the zenith.
Polaris is the brightest star in its constellation at magnitude 2.0. For centuries, in the mythologies of many different nations, this star has been a symbol of constancy. Yet even steady Polaris moves a bit in the sky. That’s because it is not located exactly at the pole, but instead a little less than one degree from it. Photographs of the pole taken over several minutes or hours reveal that Polaris moves in its own small circle in our sky. What’s more, Polaris is not always the Pole Star. Because of precession – a 26,000-year cycle – the position of the true north celestial pole continually shifts among the northern stars. Nearly five thousand years ago, for example, the star Thuban in the constellation Draco was considered to be the Pole Star. Polaris will be closest to the exact pole in the year A.D. 2102.
This month a bright “evening star”, the planet Venus, is visible above the southwestern horizon after sunset. It shines at magnitude -3.9 meaning it is the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon. Venus is bright for two reasons - its orbital position with respect to Earth and from sunlight reflecting off the poisonous acidic clouds in the planet’s atmosphere. Venus is currently just over 108 million miles from Earth or about 1.17 astronomical units (AU).
It is the second planet from the Sun and travels in its orbit much like Earth, but because Venus is an inner planet and closer to the Sun it travels along its orbit faster than Earth – much like a car traveling on the inside lane of a racetrack. Over the next several months Venus will catch up to Earth reducing the distance between the two planets. As it does, the planet will climb higher in the sky away from the glow of sunset and actually become brighter.
Venus is currently moving eastward along the “path of the planets,” the ecliptic. During November, it travels among the stars of Ophiuchus and Sagittarius. On October 30th, Venus passed the pale-yellow planet Saturn and the orange-red star Antares both of which will disappear into the glow of sunset by late November. Venus itself sets about 1 3/4 hours after the Sun. The Moon will join Venus and Saturn in the evening sky on November 1st and 2nd. Compare bright Venus with the waxing crescent moon when the Moon passes nearby.
Image above for the first week in November and taken from EarthSky.org
Image below is from September 8, 2013, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
A waxing crescent Moon and Venus loom over the western horizon shortly after sunset.
Did you know Venus has been mistaken for a UFO? Its bright appearance above the horizon or tree tops has prompted curious citizens to call local authorities to report a strange light shimmering in the sky.
Did you know Venus has been the only planet given permission to land at an airport? Air traffic controllers have mistakenly identified Venus as an approaching aircraft causing other aircraft in the area to remain in a holding pattern until “the unidentified plane” could land.
Did you know Venus once caused a train derailment? A train engineer looking down the track saw a bright shimmering light and mistook the “light” as an approaching train. Fearing a head-on collision, the train engineer abruptly activated the train’s braking system which caused the train to derail.
Capturing the Aurora Borealis with a digital camera requires the simplest of equipment. All you need is a camera that has a bulb setting (look for a B on the shutter speed dial), a sturdy tripod, a fairly wide-field lens, and a remote shutter release. A remote shutter release is a way to activate your camera shutter without having to touch the camera. In the earlier days of manual film cameras, it was generally referred to as a cable release. If you have to touch your camera to open and close the camera shutter by pressing and releasing the shutter button, then there is the risk of blurring the image. A camera that has a timer to start and stop the exposure is ideal while some DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras also have the capability to trigger the shutter with a wireless remote.
Use the widest and fastest lens you own. A normal 50mm lens will do, but a wider lens such as a 17 or 24mm lens is much better for capturing the sweeping arc of a bright display or large pillars and curtains over a wide landscape. A fast lens refers to the maximum aperture of the lens or the amount of light that your lens will let in. This is usually designated by an “f-number” or “f-stop” – for example f/2.8. The smaller the f-number, the bigger the maximum aperture is for your lens and the more light that will be collected on the image sensor or film. A lens set at f/2.8 will allow more light into the camera than will a lens set at f/4. You must also have the ability to manually focus your camera lens or to set the focus ring to infinity. In low-light or dark situations, the automatic focus feature on your camera will not work.
Your exposure will depend on the brightness of the aurora, ISO setting, and the overall sky brightness (city, suburb, or dark rural location). The ISO setting of a digital camera determines the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor and is similar to ISO ratings for film photography. An ISO setting of 800 increases the sensitivity of the image sensor more so than an ISO setting of 400. As such, a high ISO (800 – 1600) setting would be more appropriate for dark or low-light situations.
Faint aurora displays, which can sometimes show beautiful hidden colors, might require an exposure lasting up to 30 seconds with the aperture set at f/2.8 and ISO setting of 800. Brighter aurorae can be imaged in less time and with a lower ISO setting. Depending on the focal length of your lens, longer exposures will also lead to stars trailing in the image.
For the most striking photos, include a familiar horizon such as silhouetted trees, distant houses, hills, fences, or even an old windmill. Including foreground objects adds drama to the image. If possible, a nice touch might also include a recognizable constellation in the frame. To increase your chances of seeing an aurora, it is imperative that you find a dark location away from city lights with an unobstructed horizon. Depending on your latitude, an auroral display might only appear close to the horizon. Any city light, glare, or obstructions will reduce your chances of seeing the aurora.
On October 8th, 2016 a magnetic filament erupted from the Sun propelling a CME in the direction of Earth and was predicted to impact Earth’s magnetic field sometime on October 13th. I was aware that an aurora display might be possible because the CME had impacted Earth’s magnetic field and was sparking aurorae across northern Europe at mid-latitudes. As night approached, I traveled a short distance away from city lights and waited.
Indeed the aurora did make a brief appearance as seen in the accompanying image, Old Windmill and Aurora Borealis (above). I used a Canon 60Da DSLR camera with an ISO setting of 400. My lens choice was a Sigma 17 to 50mm lens at 17mm with the aperture set at f/4. The exposure was 30 seconds. I chose these particular settings because there was a bright waxing gibbous moon. Much of the aurora was drowned out by the moonlight, but as the image shows, the windmill and rural landscape was illuminated by the moonlight. The beauty of using a digital camera is that it provides immediate results without shooting several rolls of film and waiting to have them developed. Sometimes it is difficult to discern whether an aurora is present. Because the image sensor of the camera can capture and hold light, I will often times take an image or two of the sky to pick up on any activity that my eyes may not be able to see.
Even though the autumn season is firmly in place, not all of the summer Milky Way has been lost. A short drive into the countryside away from city lights will reveal an impressive view. The Milky Way, that hazy band of light, climbs up from the southwest horizon, passes a few bright stars, divides in two, and then rejoins high overhead. From there it heads toward the northeast where it flows down to greet the early-rising stars of winter.
Looking high (and nearly directly) overhead after sunset, three bright stars form a large asterism called the Summer Triangle. The Summer Triangle is not a constellation, but a prominent grouping of stars from three separate constellations. The three stars in this triangle are Vega in Lyra the Lyre, Altair in Aquila the Eagle, and Deneb in Cygnus the Swan. Lyra is a small trapezoidal constellation and according to some of the mythological sky-lore represents the Lyre of Orpheus. Cygnus, also called the Northern Cross, is easy to trace. The long neck and body of the swan or staff of the cross follows the path of the Milky Way to the southwest while the arms of the cross or wings stretch out on either side. However, Aquila, somewhat resembling a slender diamond-shape pattern of stars, requires a bit more imagination to see the eagle. Yet, how appropriate is it to find an eagle and a swan apparently flying south in the fall?!
Following the Milky Way to the northeast will lead to a distinct side-ways letter “W” or “M” grouping of stars. This is queen Cassiopeia sitting on her throne. To her left and high in the northern sky is Cepheus her husband, and mythical king of Ethiopia. Cepheus’ stars look very similar to a child’s crude drawing of a house. The house is nearly upside down with the apex of the roof pointing toward the pole star, Polaris.
Below the “W” of Cassiopeia stands Perseus, who in mythology was the slayer of the Gorgon Medusa and rescuer of Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Located between the stars of Perseus and Cassiopeia your unaided eye should spy a dim fuzzy spot. However, a pair of binoculars will reveal a striking pair of open star clusters known as the Double Cluster, which is always a treat to see in the autumn sky.
To aid in your search of objects in the night sky, visit Peterson Planetarium and take in one of their night sky programs where you can learn more about “what’s up” in the October sky. Or you can download a free copy of the current night sky at http://www.skymaps.com/downloads.html
During the course of the past week, the moon has gradually changed its appearance in the night sky by growing and brightening in phase, a sequence known as waxing. On Saturday, October 15th at 11:24pm CDT, the moon will reach its full phase when the moon’s orbit takes it around to a point when the moon, earth and sun line up. It is in this alignment when the sun’s light fully illuminates the earth-facing side or full phase of the moon. In this alignment moon rise occurs very near to the same time as sunset. A full moon rising above the horizon can be an awesome sight to behold. But as viewed through a pair of binoculars or telescope, the full moon is the worst time to observe the moon. The harsh sunlight falling upon the moon washes out many of the details in the craters and other surface features. A first quarter moon will reveal more detail because of the contrast between the light and dark portions of the moon.
Finally, October’s full moon is known as the Hunter’s Full Moon. As Native Americans prepared for the cold months ahead they often looked toward October’s full moon to gather meat for winter. After the fields had been harvested in late September or early October, deer and fox would venture into the fields in search of fallen grains. As such, hunters could easily spot their prey by the light of the full moon. Regardless of whether the moon is full, at first quarter, waxing or waning, you do not need an excuse to look up at the moon. When looking at the moon, the beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, so enjoy it.
The Moon will take center stage for stargazers around the world on Saturday, October 8, 2016 during International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN). InOMN is an annual worldwide public engagement program that encourages observation, appreciation, and understanding of Earth’s closest neighbor - the Moon, and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration.
From Emporia, Kansas, the Moon will be high in the southern sky after sunset with planet Mars positioned to the lower right. A pair of binoculars or small telescope turned toward the Moon will reveal numerous craters and the dark lunar seas called maria. The lunar maria are large, dark, basaltic plains which formed by ancient volcanic eruptions.
In the News...
- 10-27-2016: Accompanying Dr. Ratra's presentation (see below) Peterson Planetarium will be hosting an astronomy-themed costume party. There will be a parade & judging from 6:15 to 6:45, leaving plenty of time for you to get a seat at Dr. Ratra's presentation! To participate in the contest, you need to contact SMEC or Peterson Planetarium by noon on Wednesday 26th to register, and pick up your number by 6:10 the day of the presentation. See here for more information.
- 10-27-2016: Peterson Planetarium will be hosting Dr. Ratra, an expert in dark matter and dark energy. He will be giving a presentation on cosmology, dark energy, and the accelerating expansion of the universe. Dark matter makes up about 27% of the universe and dark energy makes up about 68% of the universe, meaning we only understand less than 5% of the universe. Scientists are still not sure what these are, but Dr. Ratra will be coming to enlighten us on the subject. The talk starts at 7 pm. Check it out here.
- 8-21-2016: Exactly one year left until the first total solar eclipse visible in the midwest in centuries! On August 21st, 2017, the path of totality will cross over Kansas's north-eastern most corner, leaving the vast majority of the state to see only a partial eclipse, including Emporia. To observe totality, plan to be in the path by 1 pm. See a map here.
- 4-22-2016: Earth Day! Visit www.earthday.org
- 3-30-2016: Back on the 17th of March, Jupiter was hit with either an asteroid or a comet. It just happened to line up with the transit of Jupiter's moons Io and Ganymede, giving us images and video of this latest impact! Read more here!
- 3-17-2016: Peterson Planetarium will not be holding the history series on March 17th during spring break. We will pick it up again on March 24th.
- 2-17-2016: NASA gave the green light on moving forward with their Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) project, set to launch in the mid 2020's. It will have a scope 100 times wider than the Hubble's and it will provide enlightening insight into the mystery of dark matter, dark energy, and their effects on the developing universe. WFIRST will also continue the work of the Kepler mission in locating exoplanets in foreign systems' habitable zone. Read more here!
- 1-28-2016: Anniversary of the Challenger disaster. Remember the crew: Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnik, Francis R. Scobee, Ronald E. McNair, Mike J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka.
- 1-20-2016: Paper published on discovery of Planet 9. However, it's yet to be visually located.
- 9-27-2015: Super Blood Moon Eclipse, overnight September 27th and 28th. Hope you saw it because the next isn't until 2033!!
- 9-21-2015: Re-discover Peterson Planetarium: Explore the renovated planetarium at Emporia State University with a week of special events.
- 9-19-2015: International Observe the Moon Night!
- 3-05-2015: NASA history series premiers! History of space exploration, an ongoing show to repeat every year. Check it out!
- 2014 Special Events: Summary of Peterson Planetarium - Check it out!
- In 2014 Peterson Planetarium has received a generous award from the Loretto A. Langley Charitable Trust for video programming for children and youth. Read more about it below.
- See where the International Space Station (ISS) is right now with the Astro Viewer (http://iss.astroviewer.net/).
- Here is a Live Camera viewing of Earth but only during the Day (https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/ESRS/HDEV/).
- Interactive Tour of ISS (https://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/ISSRG/).
- You can sign up to get emails on when the ISS is visible from your location by signing up for spot the station (https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/).
- Exoplanets are planets orbiting stars that aren't our own sun. Thousands have been identified, but only a portion of these lie within the 'Goldilocks' zone of their star system, or the habitable zone in which liquid water may be found on the surface. These are the ones we're most interested, for these are the places we're most likely to find extraterrestrial life outside of Earth. Click Here for a handful of the hundreds of 'Goldilocks' Exoplanets. Bellow are links to some videos about each planet mentioned in the slideshow.
- NASA's first teacher in space, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, never got to fulfill that very role. She perished on January 28th, 1986 on the Challenger. However, her lesson plans survived as remnants of the six lost space science demonstrations that had been planned to be filmed while in orbit and released once she returned to Earth. These lesson plans have been restored and interpreted, and are now available to fulfill McAuliffe's famous words, "I touch the future, I teach." Find out more Business Insider Science - 1/2016 (http://www.businessinsider.com/challenger-disaster-christa-mcauliffe-lessons-2016-1).
- We are now offering a list of opportunities for educators and students alike for each month. Check it out HERE to find webinars, contest opportunities, and much more!
- On the 20th of January, a paper was published by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown to confirm the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system. Like Neptune and Uranus, this 'Planet 9' has been identified by it's gravitational influence on it's surroundings. While it hasn't been visually spotted yet, it's estimated to be 700 AU (astronomical units) from the sun on average and a single year seems to take 10,000 to 20,000 Earth years.
- With a possible new 9th planet in the news and Pluto only demoted to the status of a 'dwarf planet' in 2006, the definition of a planet has been put into our minds. So what makes a planet? Three things:
- It must directly orbit the sun. It can't orbit something that's orbiting the sun... those are called satellites.
- It must be large enough to be spherical (like a ball). Asteroids aren't very large, that's why they look like potatoes.
- It must produce enough gravity to clear it's orbital field. This means it must either pull objects down to it's surface, like a meteorite, or catapult them away like a 'gravity assist' in the movie 'The Martian'. This is where Pluto failed the test... there are too many objects in it's 'personal bubble' that it doesn't 'own'.
- Star Party; Tallgrass photos were taken by Katie Simmons and Jim Aber
- Mark Brown is an award winning night sky photographer who provides Peterson Planetarium with technical support and show scripts for live shows and images illustrating phenomena to view in space. He lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania that is a city in the south central part of the state, sandwiched between Interstates 76 and 81. We are featuring his photography with...
- Matt Seimears
- International Space Station Pass - SPOT THE STATION! Sign up to receive notices about when you might see the International Space Station (ISS) streak across the night sky (Go to Here) The alerts will give you the day, time, and path of ISS, so you can watch for 1-4 minutes of this phenomenal orbiting manned space science mobile home!
- 2015 is the Year of the Dwarves or as Dr. Schenk puts it.... Ceres and Pluto Get Their Due! For more, see HERE.
- Ceres craters were featured in the Astronomy Picture of the Day, 18 February 2015 Check it out!