Sunday, April 22, 2012

Astronomy enthusiast show new GPS technology



     A free exhibition of several different telescopes and other observational devices was provided last week at Valencia's West Campus by members of the Central Florida Astronomical Society. Those that attended were treated to detailed views of solar objects through telescopes incorporating the latest technology.


     “It's much easier for astronomers starting out today,” said organizer, Gordon Cain. “When it comes to astronomy, there’s an app for that.”


     Smartphone Apps like StarMap for iPhone and Google Sky Maps for Android make tracking the sky for solar bodies more accessible for even the most novice observer. Your phone can tell you when and where planets and stars can be seen and give a real-time view of objects in the celestial sphere, regardless of the time of day.


     Some telescopes now have incorporated GPS location tracking devices that have automated systems that run through an impressive triangulation alignment process.


     After being activated and running through a start-up diagnostic, the telescopes then looks for a set of visible stars to determine its precise location on the Earth. Once this is found the telescope can automatically find and track any known solar bodies, and is easily changed between objects with an operator-controlled remote.


     This tracking feature was installed on a $5,000 Meade LX200 12” telescope, which served as the main showpiece at the event. Even as the sun was still out early into the event, this instrument provided a high resolution and detailed image of the moon’s surface. All those that used the device remarked at the powerful magnification and high-quality image presented.


     “It's cool to look at something that is so far away,” said Valencia student Jennifer Quezada. She heard about the viewing event through her astronomy professor, and had never actually looked through a telescope before.


     To give everyone a chance to see multiple solar objects, there were five different devices on display at this gathering. Small manual telescopes and mounted high magnification binoculars gave more opportunity for mass viewings and showed a general progression in telescope technology. Some found it easy to compare different levels of magnification and changes to operating methods on older scopes compared to newer.


     This event gives a great hands-on experience for a science you can't perform in a lab like most,” said Martin Lalanne.


     There are other locations around Central Florida for astronomical observations, like the Crosby Observatory at the Orlando Science Center and the Robinson Observatory located at the University of Central Florida.


     Students just getting involved with the field of astronomy are entering at fresh time as far as discovery goes. NASA's Kepler satellite started looking for dimming stars to find planets in other solar systems just over three years ago. With thousands of possible planets found, and over 60 confirmed, scientists now predict that there are more planets than stars in the known Universe.


By James Tutten
info@jamestutten.com


(Published: April 11, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 4.)


(All photos by James Tutten)















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