Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Meeting: Tuesday, April 4

Our first meeting back from break!

First off, activities this month: there's no confirmation from Mercy St. John's on the date we can visit them yet, so definitely write it down in pencil, if at all. Next Saturday, April 14, is observing at Mandy's house in Hocking Hills. An email will be going out about this, but we'll be leaving from the Student Center parking lot at 7:30. Friday April 20 is Girl Scout Science Night, for those of you interested, with more details to come on that and also on the observatory spring cleaning later in the month, April 22. Those will be arranged more definitively closer to their actual date.

The 40 or so files we recently recovered, all of which dealt with the history and building of the observatory, have been read through by four of us. A lot of it was letters, catalogs, price quotes, and other things, but here are some of the more interesting facts:
-The grand total budget was $42,500 in 1931, which is $496,561 today: almost half a million dollars.

-The telescope itself was about $8,500-$9,000, which is $99,312-$105,154 today. This is all according to the inflation calculator at westegg.com.

-One of the proposals included putting in a meteorological station, to be used by aircraft, including those at the nearby air force base. The catch was very accurate measurements would have to be taken three times a day, seven days a week, 365.25 days per year. The proposed staff to do this was two student workers, who in exchange for this extremely rigid routine would be able to attend Wittenberg free of charge: no tuition, room, or board. The university (then Wittenberg College) turned it down. Back then, most of the departments had one faculty member; some of the larger ones had two. Their reason for refusing the proposal didn't have to do with the idea that the kind of weather station involved would be better suited to a large university who could maintain a paid staff to do the measurements- they didn't want to give the student workers the free ride.

-There were originally five proposals for the telescope design. Two were dismissed for being of inferior quality; of the remaining three, the lowest bidder got the job.

-The dedication ceremony was part of commencement for that year. It also happened in June. Semesters, as far as we could glean from the documents, ran from August-January and then February-June.

-Some things are eternal, like internal arguing and passing of blame between different contractors.

-As mentioned in a previous post, Heber Curtis, winner of the Curtis-Shapley debate, gave the dedication speech.

-Back then, astronomy was its own department. Its faculty member was Hugh G. Harp, and the observatory was very much his project. Eventually astronomy was absorbed into earth science, and only integrated into physics relatively recently.

-The Weavers, who donated money toward the observatory and from whence it derives its name, originally gave $6,000 toward a telescope, then upped their donation to $20,000 and finally around $50,000. The final budget for the observatory/telescope/instruments was around $80,000. ($70,102, $23,3675, $584,189, and $934,703, respectively)

-The observatory used to keep paper observing sheets, which recorded how many people visited, the weather, what was observed, and other things like that at each observing event. The club would like to readopt this tradition, except update it to some time past the Great Depression.

Right now, the observatory is partially occupied by The Torch and the psychology department. The club would really, really like all that classroom space and storage space back, since right now actual astronomy is limited to the dome and a small janitorial area. With the additional room, the astronomy club and astronomy classes could have more events, and a place for people to gather and talk about astronomy (and look at club items like books and magazines) other than Dr Fleisch's office.

The budget results are in! We asked for $1200, and got $400 for the fall semester and $550 for the spring semester from student senate, which is a pretty good turnout.

We looked at some more stuff on the Hubble Heritage Site, like new pictures of a barred spiral galaxy. Clicking on any gallery picture and then the "caption" or "fast facts" links at the top of the page will lead you to more information about that picture.

Talking about galaxies, some questions about the Milky Way came up. As far as size and shape, it's a fairly average spiral or maybe barred spiral galaxy (it's hard to tell from inside), which is on a collision course with the Andromeda Galaxy, M-31, in a few million years.

Dr Fleisch has a book in his office about galaxies, called... "Galaxies." If you want to look at it stop by and check it out.

It's been found that stable orbits for planets around binary star pairs do exist, within some parameters, so for all you other Star Wars fans, Tatooine could still be out there. It's even reasonably likely, seeing that current estimates run that about half the stars we can see have some kind of planet, although not necessarily a habitable one.

Speaking of habitable planets, if it weren't for the moon Earth probably wouldn't be one. The axis of the Earth wobbles very slowly, rotating between three north pole stars with approximately 26000 years between each star, leading to very stable seasonal cycles. If the moon wasn't there, simulations indicate the Earth would instead be on a cycle so dramatic that seasons would change significantly every few hundred years, and the probability of the evolution of life would be drastically affected.

Nick Gladman has been elected president for the 2007-2008 school year. Other officer positions are being sorted out and more information will come through email.

The next meeting is Tuesday, May 1, last one of the semester. See you then!

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