Posted by: T. Boyd | October 10, 2009

The Search for Ceres, Juno and Uranus

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him (Daniel 2:22)

Some astronomers, including yours truly, plan to see Juno, one of the brighter asteroids, and the planet Uranus this fall as both are presently in good position for observing.

In the 1980’s while teaching at Randolph-Macon College (RMC), some of my students used the college’s observatory to search for the largest asteroid, Ceres, also classified as a dwarf planet. We knew from the Naval Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac where it was supposed to be located among the stars.

We took careful photographs of that part of the sky using a Schmidt Camera, 8 inches in diameter and about 2 feet long, which was mounted on the side of the main 12 inch diameter telescope.  This allowed us to use the telescope to aim and guide the camera.

In total darkness, we cut the 35mm. film into individual frames.  Then we inserted one piece of film at a time into a magnetic film holder, and placed it into the camera through a small door in the camera’s side.  After the camera was closed, we could turn on our flashlights to help us position the telescope and to take notes on our procedures.

After we aimed the main telescope, we extinguished the lights and, being careful to cause no movement or vibration of the apparatus, we uncovered the lens of the camera for a few seconds to capture the star and asteroid light onto the film.

We then repeated these steps several times, using varying amounts of time to give us a range of exposures.  The first part of the search was finished.

Back in the science building we developed the pieces of film and mounted them in slide holders.  We projected the film negatives with a slide projector upon a screen, and compared the image with sky charts of the same part of the sky.

We searched for what seemed like hours, knowing that once we found the matching pattern in the charts, we could then look for an extra dot on the negatives that would indicate the asteroid.  RMC had a wonderful set of photographic charts of the sky done by the Palomar giant telescope in California which we used for comparison.

After almost giving up in frustration, someone in the group noticed the pattern looked familiar, but was reversed left and right.  We flipped the slide and quickly found the matching area on the charts, and then…Eureka!  We found an extra point of light on the screen right where the almanac predicted.  We had found the asteroid, Ceres!

It was a very exciting moment for the students and teacher alike.  We felt we had joined the ranks of those long ago scientists who found things hidden in the skies.

Also found at TinyURL.com/BrtMys,  To join Boyd in trying to see Juno and Uranus through a telescope, write him at BrightMysteries@verizon.net.



Responses

  1. via e-mail:

    Boyd,

    These articles are just delightful — informative AND charming! You leave me looking forward to the next one,

    Thanks,
    Sharon T.


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