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.

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.

MHAA in the local papers

We’ve managed to get 2 stories in the local papers about the Mid Hudson Astronomical Association in the last week.  The first came from the New Paltz Times:

Since 1985, a group of professional, amateur and the simply curious-to-learn astronomy buffs formed The Mid-Hudson Astronomy Club — which now boasts 75-plus members, a monthly outdoor “star-gazing party” and a monthly indoor meeting where a wide range of astronomy experts provide the group with compelling lectures and timely cosmic matters.

The second came today in the Daily Freeman:

MILAN — Since the days of antiquity, man has been fascinated by the star-filled heavens.

Religions were built around the worship of the heavenly orbs and temples and pyramids have been built in their honor.

Ancient mariners used the stars to chart their courses in unknown territories and it was a star that is said to have led the three wise men to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ.

The fascination with the stars continues today to draw mankind’s eye’s upwards to the night sky.

Locally, a group of amateur astronomers follows in the footsteps of those who came before them — the ancient Greeks, who developed astronomy; Copernicus,  who proposed the theory that the planets revolved around the sun rather than the earth, and Galileo, who was among the first to use a telescope to inspect the night sky.

Nice to get this level of exposure for the club.

New MHAA Website

Over the past few weeks I’ve been redoing the Mid Hudson Astronomical Association website.  It looks like this:

Yes, it’s dark, but that’s when astronomy happens.  The site is built on Drupal, as I’ve gotten some experience there recently doing sites for the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and MHVLUG.  For people that want to know more about the tech side, I’ll be giving a talk in January at MHVLUG.

I did come across one really odd thing in working on the three boxes (I was calling them chicklets, but they look less like that with content in them). Round corners in CSS are awesome (thank you w3c). IE9, at least the version in Adobe Browser labs, still doesn’t support it (really Microsoft? I thought you were getting down with the standards). While a TD can have a round background, it’s border is always square (I almost understand why, but it definitely limits what you can do. It also took me a while to realize this was happening as the round is subtle enough on the front page). Div height 100% doesn’t work inside a TD (it seems like it should, but no one implemented it that way).

So the only way to get 3 columns that correctly degrade to 2 columns (50% of screen each) when one is missing (there will not always be a special event), have round borders, and be the same height is…. jquery. While on the one hand, it seems crazy, on the other hand, yay for jquery. You can view the source on the website to see how I did it.

An incredible night of observing

Last night was our monthly star party for the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association.  It was just about a perfect August night, not too hot, not too humid, and with very clear skies.  Apparently the effort that I’ve been spending on publicity for the group has been paying off, because we got at least a dozen new folks there last night.

Once we got enough dark to start seeing things, Bill managed to give a nice tour of the night sky, which people really loved.  This hit some of the major high lights of the big dipper, the little dipper, lyra, cygnus, scorpio, sagittarius, the the milky way, which was in quite full force last night.  Rick and I managed to effectively hide from the building lights behind a few trees, which left us in a nice dark environment.

With so many folks, and Sagittarius in good striking zone, I spent the first half of the night hitting globular clusters and the lagoon nebula over there.  My new ultra high contrast filter got it’s first work out on the lagoon nebula, which was striking.

As the evening wound on we saw two waves of people head out, until just Rick, Bruce, Ray and I were left.  Jupiter popped up to greet us, and we got a few views of that, though through that much atmosphere you were hard pressed to get it above 100x and still see anything.  I randomly found (only identified this morning) the Omega Nebula and the Wild Duck Cluster as I was just exploring around Sagittarius.

About 12:30 the four us decided to call it a night.  I got home at about 1, too wired to go to sleep for the next 45 minutes.  It was a great night.