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BACK AGAIN! February 9, 2012

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroid, Astronomers, Astronomy.
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It’s been a busy two months. The end of one semester the beginning of a new semester, but I wanted to share a bit of good news for myself. I’m now official part of the solar system, While there have been some people who wished they could send me into orbit the picture,as you can see below, does not quite mean I’m there yet.


It does mean I’ve just got an asteroid named after me! It’ s a main belt asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, with a maximum magnitude of 15. My thanks to Robert Holmes, director of the ARI observatory,  and an adjunct faculty member in the physics department at EIU, who discovered the asteroid and did the naming.

The official designation is 128925 Conwell or 2004 TJ70. You can see more information on this asteroid at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) site:


SKY & TELESCOPE Article on Local Observatory November 4, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroids, Astronomers, Observatory, telescopes.
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December 2011 Issue

The December Issue of Sky & Telescope has hit the newsstand this week. The feature article is on Bob Holmes, an adjunct professor in the Physics Department here at EIU.  Bob is director of the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI), a private research observatory about 15 miles away from Charleston. He is one of NASA’s principle people who does orbital measurements of Near Earth Object (NEOs). These are potentially hazardous asteroids that intersect near the Earth’s orbit. All done with telescopes that he BUILT! I’ll tell you next week about the his new 50″ telescope, with picture of the mount installation, that will be fully installed next year. It  make ARI the largest privately owned observatory in the world.

2011 NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS October 4, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Cosmology, supernova, white dwarf.
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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said American Saul Perlmutter would share the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award with U.S.-Australian Brian Schmidt and U.S. scientist Adam Riess. Working in two separate research teams during the 1990s – Perlmutter in one and Schmidt and Riess in the other – the scientists raced to map the change in the  universe’s expansion over time. They were measuring the change in  Hubble’s Constant,  by analyzing a particular type of supernovas, Type Ia, or exploding stars.

SN 1994D in NGC 4526. in lower left

Type Ia supernovas are thought to be caused by a white dwarf star exceeding its maximum mass, the Chandrasekar limit, of about 1.4 Solar masses, collapsing and detonating into a supernova. Since this collapse occurs at the same mass limit , it’s though all Type Ia supernova are equally bright.

They found that the light emitted by more than 50 distant Ia supernovas was weaker than expected, a sign that the universe was expanding at an accelerating rate, the academy said.

“For almost a century the universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago,” the citation said. “However the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding. If the expansion will continue to speed up the universe will end in ice.”

Perlmutter, 52, heads the Supernova Cosmology Project at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley.

Schmidt, 44, is the head of the High-z Supernova Search Team at the Australian National University in Weston Creek, Australia.

Riess, 41, is an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Schmidt said he was just sitting down to have dinner with his family in Canberra, Australia, when the phone call came.

“I was somewhat suspicious when the Swedish voice came on,” Schmidt told The Associated Press. “My knees sort of went weak and I had to walk around and sort my senses out.”

The academy said the three researchers were stunned by their own discoveries – they had expected to find that the expansion of the universe was slowing down. But both teams reached the opposite conclusion: faraway galaxies were racing away from each other at an ever-increasing speed.

The discovery was “the biggest shakeup in physics, in my opinion, in the last 30 years,” said Phillip Schewe, a physicist and spokesman at the Joint Quantum Institute, which is operated by the University of Maryland and the federal government.

2011 SUMMER SOLSTICE June 21, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Solar and Space weather.
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Today, June 21, 2001, at 17:16 UTC (12:16 p.m. Central US time), the Earth’s axis will point toward the center of the Sun. Or from an Earth-boundpoint of view old Sol will reach its peak in its northward travels this year. This moment is the summer solstice. Known as “Midsummer” the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter in the Southern hemisphere. The origin from  the Latin for sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). The Sun reaches its most Northerly point, or it is the highest in the sky from the northern hemisphere, creating around this date the longest day and shortest night.  Momentarily standing still before starting its journey South until it reaches its most Southerly point “Winter Solstice”, before repeating the cycle. This is basically how we get our seasons.


Astronomy Club Tonight! February 16, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Astronomy.
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Galileo at his telescope

Astronomy Club meeting will take place this Wednesday Feb. 16th at 8pm in room 2153 of the physical science building.

Professor Linton, an Astronomy  instructor, will be giving a talk about the trip he recently took.  He visited places of great scientific significance in Europe including Italy and Switzerland, the stomping grounds of Galileo and Einstein respectively.  As any of you who have taken a class with Mr. Linton know, he is a skilled lecturer. You don’t want to miss it!  Hope to see everyone there.

Congratulations to Dr. Kasey Wagoner!! June 4, 2010

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, physics.
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Dr. Kasey Wagoner

Congratulations to Kasey Wagoner for recieving his Ph.D in physics from Washington University in St. Louis this spring. Dr.  Wagoner received his BS in physics here at EIU. He will be spending the next two years as a post-doctoral fellow in the physics department at Washington University. He was in my freshman astronomy class in 2001 when I managed to convince him that physics and astronomy were a lot more fun than accounting! The smile proves I was right!

Robert Holmes Wins the 2009 Edgar Wilson Award January 19, 2010

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Astronomy, Comets.
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Bob Holmes is an adjunct faculty member in the EIU Physics department and director of the private observatory Astronomical Research Institute.

2009 Comet Awards Announced

Cambridge, MA – Finding a comet can be a quick way to get some immortal fame — and a little spending money, as well. An annual award of several thousand dollars for discoveries of comets by amateur astronomers has just been announced for five individuals in five different countries.

The Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) — operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the International Astronomical Union (IAU) — has announced the recipients of the 2009 Edgar Wilson Award for the discovery of comets by amateurs during the calendar year ending June 11. This is the eleventh consecutive year that these Awards have been given; money for the Awards was set aside as part of the will bequeathed by the late businessman Edgar Wilson of Lexington, Kentucky, and administered by the SAO.

The following five discoverers receive plaques and a cash award this year:

  • Robert E. Holmes, Jr., of Charleston, Illinois, for his discovery of comet C/2008 N1 on 2008 July 1
  • Stanislav Maticic at the Crni Vrh Observatory in Slovenia, for his discovery of comet C/2008 Q1 on 2008 Aug. 18
  • Michel Ory of Delemont, Switzerland, for his discovery of comet P/2008 Q2 on 2008 Aug. 27
  • Koichi Itagaki of Yamagata, Japan, for his discovery of comet C/2009 E1 on 2009 Mar. 14
  • Dae-am Yi of Yeongwol-kun, Gangwon-do, Korea, for his discovery of comet C/2009 F6 on 2009 Mar. 26

Bob Holmes receiving the Edgar Wilson award

The funds available for the first annual Award amounted to approximately US$20000 (twenty thousand dollars), as a total amount to be split among the award winners for that year; in the years since the first Award, the amount of money available has oscillated considerably, usually below, but sometimes above, the first-year amount (evidently due to the investment policies of the bank trustees, which are kept confidential). For the purpose of this Award, the Award year is the period of twelve months beginning and ending on June 11.0 UT. The first Award was for the year ending on 1999 June 11.0. The Award is usually announced within a month after the end of each Award year.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar October 20, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Astronomy, white dwarf.
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One Hundred years ago, yesterday, October 19, 1910, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was born.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Arguably the greatest astrophysicist of the twentieth century, his name is in every astronomy book. From the upper mass limit of a white dwarf, Chandrasekhar’s limit, to the orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope, he left his mark on the very concepts and vocabulary that physicists and astronomers use today.

Chandrasekhar was the nephew of Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930. Chandrasekhar was educated  at the University of Madras, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. From 1933 to 1936 he held a position at Trinity.

By the early 1930s, scientists had concluded that, after converting all of their hydrogen to helium, stars lose energy and contract under the influence of their own gravity. These stars, known as white dwarf stars, contract to about the size of the Earth, and the electrons and nuclei of their constituent atoms are compressed to a state of extremely high density. Using the new theory of Quantum Mechanics, Chandrasekhar determined what is known as the Chandrasekhar limit—that a star having a mass more than 1.44 times that of the Sun does not form a white dwarf but instead continues to collapse. Later it was found that more massive stars cores collapse blows off its gaseous envelope in a Type II supernova explosion, leaving a neutron star. An even more massive star continues to collapse leaving a black hole. Type Ia supernova use the same mechanism in a different way.If a binary star system has a white dwarf stealing matter from its companion, and it exceeds Chandrasekhar limit, the white dwarf will collapse and detonate. For this contibuttion he was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics

Chandra  receives Nobel prize (1983)

Chandra receives Nobel prize (1983)

These calculations contributed to the eventual understanding of supernovas, neutron stars, and black holes, and the production of the elements in the periodic table.

Good bye Walter…. July 18, 2009

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomers, Astronomy, Space Craft.
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Legendary CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, died June 17, 2009. Even though he hasn’t sat in the anchor chair for more than a quarter of a century, the impact on both journalism and the space program is felt even today.

Both objective and passionate, Walter Cronkite, personified the best in reporting, but especially science reporting. In my opinion he was as reponsible for making more scientist of my generation,  than any person. And “That’s the way it is”

Women who broke the barriers….. July 15, 2009

Posted by dhsscienceteacher in Astronomers, Astronomy.
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Mellisa Ray has her blog at http://dhsscienceteacher.wordpress.com/ and is my long suffering Graduate assistant this summer.


Einstein, Newton, Kepler…. these are astronomers whom every high school student knows. However, I remember wondering in high school, “Where are the women scientists?”  Whether it be in the grade school or the university level, I believe every science teacher should know of more scientists than Einstein, Newton and Kepler. Perhaps the astronomers I will discuss are more obscure than Newton, but discussing them might inspire a young girl to choose a different career path. Although this list is short; these are a few of my favorite great women.

Hypatia of Alexandra was born between 350 and 370 AD. A woman in a land of very few options, she rose to be considered the first notable woman in mathematics. Her father was her teacher while living in Roman Egypt. It is thought she wrote on astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. She may have invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer, and the hydroscope. The plane astrolabe would be used to estimate time given a known star’s altitude. A hydrometer would be used to find density, and the hydroscope would be used to see under water. She was a very unusual woman during her time often acting like a man in a time when men and women held very separate roles. It is believed she angered an influential bishop at the time who convinced others to dislike her. In the year 415 AD, she was killed by a Christian mob. Although it is unknown for sure, it has been said she was flayed and burned. Very little is know about her since much of her work was destroyed in a fire.

Annie Jump Cannon was born in 1863.  She was a Wellesley graduate for her undergraduate and graduate studies. She worked for Professor Whiting learning spectroscopy at Wellesley. After graduation, she was hired by Harvard to work as a “computer” along with a number of othe women making very little money. She found the spectral sequence of different stars eventually helping come up with OBAFGKM. She published nice volume of Henry Draper Catalog and the Henry Draper Extension. She was appointed professor at Harvard two years before her retirement. Cannon classified close to 300,000 stars in her lifetime. She also classified five nova and approximately 300 long-period variable stars.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was born in 1900. She completed her studies at Cambridge but was not awarded a degree because women did not receive degrees at the time. She eventually traveled to Harvard to work with Harlow Shipley. By 1923, she was ready to present her thesis to Radcliffe College. Her dissertation is considered one of the best ever in astronomy. In her thesis, she calculated a temperature scale to go with the classification system. Due to her theory of what stars are composed of, she discussed the Sun being made almost completely of hydrogen. Although she was correct, she did not make a definite conclusion as many believed at the time that the Sun was made of the same main elements as our planet.  She stayed at Harvard for career only briefly thinking of leaving because of her lack of title. Eventually she was named chair of the department.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born in 1943. While at Cambridge, she helped her advisor, Antony Hewish, to create a telescope for their research needs. It was an extremely large radio telescope. She analyzed long pages of lines to try to find differences. She did find a difference in the lines, leading to the discovery of pulsars while she was working on her Ph.D. at Cambridge University in 1967. She received her Ph.D. in radio astronomy in 1968. Eventually, Martin Ryle and Hewish provided the theoretical information about pulsars and received the Nobel Prize for it; however, Burnell was left out of the award. After graduating, she continued her love of astronomy by seaching the night sky throughout her career while working at a number of universities in the United Kingdom.






http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_of_Alexandria ,