Tag Archives: mhaa

Transit of Venus

Yesterday I saw something with my own eyes that’s only been seen by humans 7 times in human history, and won’t happen again for 105 years: Venus moving across the face of the sun. That view, I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

The Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association and SUNY New Paltz pulled off a big event yesterday, with 250 – 300 guests showing up to see the Transit. While we had some clear skies at 5pm, by 5:30 there were clouds. As people streamed out from Dr Amy Forestdell’s talk at 5:45 we pointed people back inside to catch the NASA stream of fist contact.

Of course, 2 minutes before first contact, the NASA stream hung. We jumped instead to the Google Plus Hangout that Fraiser Cain and Pamela Gay were hosting, which included views from 4 amateur astronomers from around the US. I watched first and second contact virtually as the clouds had us pinned in.

But I roamed out afterwards and saw we were getting thinning sections. I ran back to my scope and waited patiently as the clouds shifted. About 20 minutes later we got a quick hint of shadows, and I nearly got my scope aligned. From the crowd our club VP yelled out “I got it!”, and then the clouds were back in. But they were thinning, and I was ready. A few minutes later shadows started showing up again, I dialed in my scope quickly, stuck my eye in to see if it was there. And…

Bam!

It just hit me like a load of bricks. There was the orange disc of the sun, which I’d seen so many times in my solar scope, and it had this giant hole in it. A big black hole, so much bigger than anything I’ve ever seen on it. So much more distinct. So very cool.

I quickly started to have people come through the line. There was one high school kid who’d been hanging out for a long time talking with me, so I made sure that he got to jump the line and get a view. We had about 15 – 20 minutes of these thinner clouds, and I think I managed to get about 30 people through on my line in that time. The new tracking mount helped, as I didn’t need to keep adjusting things. Then the clouds came back in, and we waited for another shot, which never came.

But for those brief minutes we saw it, with our own eyes. And it was amazing.

Drupal Meetup Events Module

I just released version 1.1 of the meetup_events module for Drupal. I started building this about 6 months ago when we started using Meetup for Mid Hudson Astronomical Association to draw in new members.

I hate data entry. I find entering the same data twice into a computer one of the most soul sucking things I could do. So having both events on our website, and on meetup, meant I needed to automate things.

Meetup events was thus born. The model is simple, your Drupal site is considered the authoritative resource. You select which node types (which have date fields) you want to sync to meetup, and whenever you create or update an event of that type a meetup entry is made (or updated) accordingly. The body content that is synced is tokenized (and I added a few tokens for getting nodereference content). Venues are a little hokey right now, but I just provide a selector for a numeric field either on the main type or on a nodereference which maps to it.

meetup_events settings

Once you set up the module, including your API key and group url, you pretty much forget it is there. Then you just edit as per normal. Any time you save a type that you are syncing you’ll notice this:

Which includes a link to the meetup event that was just saved.

One of the more recent things I worked on was integration with views so that there is now a Meetup Events: Meetup Link view field for nodes. If you add that to a node listing (and you’ve registered for an oauth key) you’ll get the meetup dynamic RSVP button for your event.

That required a bit of tweaking of the rsvp javascript to make it play nice with Drupal, but given that the meetup team was kind enough to release that code under open source.

There is plenty of work remaining here, ways this could be nicer, but I’m pretty pleased with the results so far. It’s made me learn a bunch about Drupal’s ctools module, more than I ever wanted to know about the drupal settings system, and how to pull in incompatible versions of jquery in custom tools.

I’ve also been really happy with my experience with the Meetup team. They’ve added multiple API calls for me to make my life easier. Thanks guys. If every developer facing team acted like that, the world would be a much better place.

The meetup platform is turning out to be a really great way for our Astronomy club to draw in new people, and I’ve started using it for MHVLUG now as well. Now that I’ve got meetup_events, I can do that seamlessly without data duplication, or degrading our native experience. If you are interested in doing the same, check out the module. Bugs and patches welcomed.

Observe the Moon at Vassar Farms

Slightly over a month away, I’m starting to gear up on one of the biggest MHAA events of the year. Last year we had about 100 guests come to our Observe the Moon event at Vassar Farms, so I’m hoping we’ll top that this year.

More details on the MHAA website. Also, if you are in the area, please consider printing out a couple of fliers and sticking them up where they’ll be seen.

AOS Star Fest 2011

A new moon, not a cloud in the sky, and it’s above freezing. That’s very rare combination of things in the North East. But this year at AOS we got just that on Saturday night. After 1am we started struggling with dewing (to an extent I’d never seen before). The Milky Way was strong, and high, and even in the moments when we weren’t looking at Galaxies, Globular Clusters, and Nebula, we were just staring up, taking in the sky in all it’s glory.

Every time I go to one of these events I learn more about the universe, more about equipment, and more about getting the most out of a night of observing. It’s an amazing and energizing thing.

While there are no pictures of the observing while it was happening, I got a number of pictures just at dusk, of the setup. Hope you enjoy.

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

Saturn Watch

“Oh my god. I can see the Rings!”

— 50 different people last night

Last night was awesome. Last night was the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Associations observing event at the Vassar Farm Preserve, titled Saturn Watch. This is the second public outreach event we’ve done at the Preserve, folking our wildly successful Observe the Moon Night back in September.

We had at least 10 telescopes on the fields brought by members, and at least 60 – 80 visitors there (as I keep hearing about the various groups of 5 – 10 that came, I’m starting to think that might actually be a low estimate). For nearly an hour I had a steady stream of folks coming to my scope to take a look at Saturn.

The first time you see Saturn through a telescope is a magical and visceral experience. That emotion was spilling out through out the field, as you could hear gasps and exclamations as they brought their eye up to the eyepiece.

Talking with folks through the evening, I answered questions about Saturn, telescopes, and astronomy in general. I also let everyone know about our other observing events throughout the year. I think we got at least 2 new members, and I know we managed to get a lot of kids excited about astronomy as well.

Now I’m eagerly looking forward to the North East Astronomy Forum, and the April star party.

Sobering Comment on Japan Quake

I think the thing we’ve definitely learned about this is having one of the top 10 earthquakes ever recorded is a really bad thing.

-Chad Orzel

As we discussed many things post the Mid Hudson Astronomy meeting on Tuesday, the earthquake came up, especially some conversations around the nuclear reactors, as our speaker, Chad Orzel, is a physicist. Fortunately generosity seems to be overpowering blame at the moment in helping Japan recover from this act of nature.

Our local public radio station is doing a one day fund drive for relief to Japan. They did this with Katrina and Haiti, and it has become a fabric of WAMC, which I’m proud to support.

Drupal Hacking

My typical morning blog writing time has gotten taken over by morning code writing recently, which I’m quite happy about, as I’ve been making very reasonable progress on a new drupal module: lending. This is still in the sandbox as I’m still in the project approval queue, but you are welcome to check out the code if interested.

The basic idea is an informal lending library designed to support the astronomy club. We at the club have a lot of DVDs and other things that club membership gives you access to. Up until now this was handled with index cards and crates. Someone suggested that we have a way to request items to lend so the full set of crates doesn’t have to be dragged around by our librarian at every meeting.

Most of the drupal modules in this space were really about reservations, and were really more complicated than I thought I could get people to consistently use. So I broke down and started building the module to just meet our needs. Some time spent with Pro Drupal and the drupal website, got me most of the way there. My hope is to have the 1.0 version of this out for next Tuesday’s astronomy meeting.

Once the project is official approved, I’ll throw up some screenshots to show the walk throughs of using it. Now, back to hacking in emacs.