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AstroCamp News Updates from AstroCamp at YMCA Camp Eberhart in Three Rivers, MI. 2018 AstroCamp Dates Warning: Declaration of Concrete5_Model_AreaPermissionAssignment::setPermissionObject(Area $a) should be compatible with Concrete5_Model_PermissionAssignment::setPermissionObject($po) in /home/astrocam/public_html/concrete/core/models/permission/assignments/area.php on line 0
Tue, 26 Sep 2017 11:27:00 MDT
ISS Zooms Past Jupiter
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ISS Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:54:00 MDT
Camper Blog: My AstroCamp Experience For 2016 AstroCamp, some campers briefly (remember, it's camp--not school) shared in writing their thoughts.  Evelyn C. writes:

My AstroCamp Experience

AstroCamp was very educational for me. I learned hundreds of things. My father loves astronomy and is an amateur astronomer. He came to volunteer on Wednesday.

Some things I learned were about where stars are in the sky and how to locate them. We had an experience that you can not get anywhere else, not even a planetarium. The AstroCamp was very fun. We almost always go out at night to put what we learned in action. I found out how to find arktourous and spika. [Ed.: Arcturus and Spica]
So AstroCamp was very fun for me. I would recommend that if you like stars and planets to join AstroCamp. I assure you will enjoy it.



Briana W. writes:

What I learned in astro camp

I learned that Jupiter has 67 moons. We also built Galileioscopes.


Sat, 16 Jul 2016 15:09:00 MDT
Camper Blog: Observing Run Plan william_1824.jpgFor 2016 AstroCamp, experienced AstroCampers each took on a challenge to research an astronomy topic and present it to the rest of the group.  William A. created an order in which he would target objects as twilight segued into darkness.  He shared his scheme under the night sky and reproduced the observing run in the Starlab for the other AstroCampers and staff.  William writes:

Observing Run

Looking at the stars and other celestial objects is fun, and also a great way to learn about the universe.  But what is the best or most efficient way to see everything you want to see at its best before it sets? An observing plan is one of the best ways to do this.

An observing plan requires many things--for example, it needs to be in order by when it sets.  Also, you want to se objects when they are on the meridian.  In conclusion, an observing plan is essential to looking at celestial objects.

Observing Time Plan

Astronomical Twilight: sun 18 degrees below horizon

Big Dipper
Little Dipper
Summer Triangle
Alcor & Mizar
M4 (right of Antares)
M104 (right of Spica; observe at 10)

Sat, 16 Jul 2016 13:34:00 MDT
Don't Disturb the Solargraphs tower-can_1938.jpg

"What are you doing, Alex?"  The Camp Eb counselor was on a ladder securing an aluminum can above the hammocks, and every passerby exhibited curiosity.  That same trait--curiosity--is propelling AstroCamper Jacob P. to make solargraphs of Camp Eb scenes. A solargraph is the resulting image over a long duration with a pinhole camera, in this case made from an aluminum can.  The solargraphs for Camp Eberhart are being placed concurrent with identical Anniversary Solargraphs that celebrate Indiana's bicentennial.

Jacaob and Alex initially mounted cans above the hammocks, the store, and Coop's Tower. Please do not disturb, bump, obstruct, or tamper with the cans.  Some will remain in place through December; others until 2017 AstroCamp.  

Camp Staff: Before you remove the can from Coop's Tower, please cover the pinhole with tape!  Chuck Bueter will then visit to reclaim the cans.  More details will follow as I update this blog post.  

Thank you for respecting Jacob's handiwork.  Now comes the hard part--waiting.


Sat, 09 Jul 2016 05:09:00 MDT
Camper Blog: The King's Secrets For 2016 AstroCamp, experienced AstroCampers each took on a challenge to research an astronomy topic and present it to the rest of the group.  Carter C. writes about the spacecraft Juno, which safely arrived at Jupiter the week of 2016 AstroCamp.  He writes:

The King's Secrets

We  know that Jupiter is the biggest, most massive, strongest magnetized, fastest rotating, and a very pretty gas planet. Jupiter also has 67 moons, but after these facts, we know next to nothing about Jupiter, especially what’s inside.

On December 7, 1995, NASA crashed their Galileo probe into Jupiter, lasting about an hour Galileo started to scratch the surface of Jupiter’s secrets. Most of NASA’s predictions were correct, except for one thing, where Galileo crashed it was mostly cloudless. Later that day, a man named Dan Parker proved there was a feature where Galileo had crashed.

Now the question is if that feature really was a dry spot or if all of Jupiter is dry. That’s where Juno comes in. Juno has already succeeded on JOI (Jupiter Orbital Insertion) in which Juno fired it retro-rockets for 35 minutes so it didn’t shoot right past Jupiter. Now Juno is orbiting around Jupiter getting as close as 1,000 miles from Jupiter’s surface. With new scientific equipment, Juno will find out our questions. How much water does Jupiter have? Does Jupiter have a core? and many other questions.

The queen will reveal the secrets of the king.



Sat, 09 Jul 2016 04:07:00 MDT
Images from 2016 AstroCamp Images from 2016 AstroCamp are now public at https://flic.kr/s/aHskDP4S93.  Images from previous years are also available from the Images page.




Sat, 09 Jul 2016 03:57:00 MDT
Mirror Magic at AstroCamp The heart of a reflector telescope is its mirror.  Kids are often taken aback when looking at land objects because they appear upside down.  Of course, celestial objects with the same telescope are upside down, too, but an astronomer cares less about an inverted image than, say, a birdwatcher does. That's why land-use scopes are usually refractors.


A well known technique for projecting an image is to aim a mirror that is held inside a darkened room slightly off-center from a bright object outside the room.  A projected image shows up nicely on a white poster board in the darkened room, and that image will be upside down.  To bring the image into focus, you move the mirror closer to or further from the poster board.  


To show AstroCampers some fun with mirrors, Astronomer-In-Residence Darren Drake sat inside with an 18-inch mirror aimed roughly toward kids who were outside in the sun.  Sure enough, the kids appear as a slightly muted upside down image.  

Then we switched from plain white poster board to a new poster board that still has clear plastic wrap around it.  The ensuing result is bizarre.  If you look over Darren's shoulder the muted image still appears, but within it there is a circular projection of the subject that appears extremely well defined and seemingly 3D!

Pictures don't do the effect justice, but it's enough to inspire silly-dancing and leaps of joy. mirror-jump.png 

In the image above, you can also see the faint reflection of Darren holding the circular mirror.  It is within that projected circular mirror that the mesmerizing effect is captured.



Fri, 08 Jul 2016 04:17:00 MDT
Imaging the Planets night-scoping-red_1609.jpgThe summer of 2016 is a special time for viewing planets, for the three most telescopically interesting planets--Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn--are bright and prominent.  Jupiter is high in the west just after sunset, while orangish Mars and creamy Saturn dominate the southern twilight.


With the 8-inch and 10-inch Dobsonian telescopes,  AstroCampers see Jupiter as a small globe with two prominent dark belts and its four moons straddling it in a line. Each night the four moons appear in a different arrangement, and you can discern the movement of the planets over a few hours. It is a memorable view for them. 


Mars is next in line. In the same scopes, this year it is an even brighter globe than Jupiter that dazzles the eyes. Over time Mars continually shows a different face toward earth as it rotates slightly out of sync with our 24-hour day.  This week the polar caps are not prominent and the side of Mars facing us has fewer notable characteristics than the opposite side.  Nonetheless, some dark splotches and mottling give clues to the ruddy planet's surface features.

Lastly is the ringed planet Saturn, nestled against the southern Milky Way.  It is the dimmest of the three but its rings are obvious. This is the planet that everyone will remember! Gasps and chuckles of disbelief are given as each camper views Saturn for the first time.


While all the views of the three planets are satisfying for beginners, they are superficial. Increasing the magnification on the telescopes makes the planets appear larger, but at a cost.  Magnification makes them blurrier as it also enlarges the distortions caused by the movement and turbulence of our atmosphere, called "seeing" by astronomers.  Is there any way to get a close up view of the planets with a small telescope? The answer is "yes," thanks to some recent advances in digital cameras and software.

imaging-laptop_1228.jpgThe trick is to "freeze" the seeing by taking a series of thousands of images with very short exposures, thus minimizing the atmosphere's affect on the image. Software will then look at each frame, pick the clearest ones and combine them into a single frame that can be digitally "sharpened" to show details that cannot be discerned easily from the original image.

AstroCampers get to use the impressive array of resources that have been kindly donated to Camp Eberhart over the years by astronomy enthusiasts. Under the guidance of counselor Lee Keith, the experienced AstroCampers are getting an introduction to capturing and processing celestial images that are superior to the naked eye view.  


The planet images shown here were taken with a 6-inch f-12 TEC Maksutov Cassegrain telescope with a Celestron NexImage 5 camera, then processed with FireCapture, Autostackertt2, and Registax 6 software.


Fri, 08 Jul 2016 04:00:00 MDT
Quantifying Darkness Overhead squims-cb_1242.jpgAstroCampers have been monitoring the quality of the night sky since 2006.  In 2016 the practice continued.  

On Sunday night, July 3, under clear skies, counselor Chuck Bueter used Sky Quality Meters (#133 and #9896) and the Dark Sky Meter app to get values of 21.07, 21.18, and 20.48 magnitudes per square arcseconds (dubbed "squirms", respectively.

squims-kids_1515.jpgTwo night later, the AstroCampers got average values of 20.91, 21.03, and 20.43.  

Using just the SQMs to maintain continuity with past years, we average the four SQM values to get a value of 21.05 magnitudes per square arcsecond.

The scale for measuring brightness is logarithmic, and the value at AstroCamp is impressive.  For comparison, an urban sky may be about 17 squims, whereas an ideal sky approaches 22 squims.  


Light pollution impacts the quality of the night sky.  You can lessen your impact on the beauty of the night by installing and using them only where necessary.  When choosing outdoor lighting, incorporate these three tenets:

1.  All outdoor lighting shall be full cutoff, or fully shielded.

2.  If LED lights are used, they shall have a correlated color temperature (CCT) less than 3000K.

3.  All lights shall minimize glare, sky glow, and light trespass.


Thanks for proactively acting to preserve the night sky and the splendor within it.


Fri, 08 Jul 2016 03:16:00 MDT
Get Ready for 2017 Solar Eclipse IMG_1442.jpg

With clearing skies, AstroCampers targeted the sun by day in anticipation of the 2017 solar eclipse. While a partial solar eclipse will be visible August 21, 2017, across all of North America, the staff encourages kids and their families to prepare well in advance to witness a total eclipse that will be visible along a narrow swath from Oregon to South Carolina.  

sun-burn_1421.jpgStaff guided the kids by looking at the sun with live video images of solar prominences; by projecting the admittedly spotless solar disk onto white poster board; by using a commercial Sunspotter and a homemade Sun Funnel; by looking through #14 (and only #14) welding goggles; and by observing prominences and surface features with a hydrogen alpha telescope. They even burned holes deliberately in paper to emphasize the ever-present danger of viewing the sun recklessly.  


Twilight featured three prominent planets, eliciting smiles and exclamations by AstroCampers new to astronomy.  At first awkwardly, they slewed their 8-inch reflector telescopes to emerging Jupiter, which had four moons dangling off to one side.  Visible dark and light belts indicated today's weather on the giant planet--high winds going this way and that.  Mars was prominent to the south as a ruddy ball, outshining but conveniently near the star Antares, which means "rival of Mars".  Saturn always delights, and its tilted rings didn't disappoint as the kids quickly improved their telescoping skills.

scoping-dark_1508.jpgA few AstroCampers are committed to earning camp awards, for which they tallied up dozens of stars, constellations, and telescopic observations. For some of them it was a late night as they patiently waited for new celestial actors to rise in the east onto the star-studded stage. Meanwhile, the experienced AstroCampers who brought their own telescopes showed an impressive commitment to honing their skills.
Gotta seize the moment when skies are clear, and Day Two of AstroCamp 2016 proved to be rewarding.  We have a nice bunch of kids with whom to marvel at wonders of the firmament. 
Wed, 06 Jul 2016 14:49:00 MDT
2016 AstroCamp Underway The 2016 iteration of AstroCamp is underway and the fireworks are blazing during the Fourth of July week. Opening night consisted of impressive fireworks launched from the beach at Camp Eberhart, followed by clear skies peppered with individual fireworks around the lake. Staff members took advantage of the conditions to target deep space objects from a supernova to a quasar; to take and process digital images of Mars and Saturn; and to record the quality of the night sky with light meters.


The kids officially started on the Monday afternoon.  Experienced AstroCampers are taking on new challenges, in which they learn a new telescope skill or investigate astronomy news, and then share that with the rest of the group.  Examples include planning a telescope observing session, operating a telescope's digital control system, explaining the Juno mission arriving at Jupiter on July 4, and conveying the recent discovery of gravitational waves with an interactive demo. 

Meanwhile, AstroCampers in their inaugural year have made planispheres to find constellations and are practicing in the Starlab portable planetarium. 

As an aside, we had six visitors peering in from outside the window at Dave's House--six snakes, that is.

snakes_1263 (1).jpg

Tue, 05 Jul 2016 00:02:00 MDT