CU Astronomy Day, Saturday April 15th

Astronomy Day

BASS will once again be a part of the CU Astronomy Day event at Sommers-Bausch Observatory and Fiske Planetarium. This event is free and open to the public. The hours are from noon-11PM. BASS members will be on hand with club and personal telescopes for observing the Sun during daylight hours, and the night sky after sunset. BASS will be on observing deck at SBO.

There will be free talks and shows at the planetarium all day, and lots of science focused kid’s activities during the day. SBO will be filled with active science demonstrations inside. The heliostat will be observing the Sun during the daylight hours, and BASS will have out several telescopes with solar filters. After dark, we will transition to observing the night sky with BASS and SBO telescopes.

If you have a telescope and want to share it with the public, or just want to hang out with us on the observing deck for a while, please stop by. This is always a big event, and if the weather is nice, it will turn out a very substantial crowd over the course of the day.

SBO observing deck public event. Image credit: Keith Gleason

BASS Meeting Saturday, March 18th, 7PM at SBO

Saturday, March 18th, 7PM at Sommer-Bausch Observatory (SBO), in the downstairs lab/classroom. The feature talk will be on the Messier catalog of objects, by Dr. Steven Hartung. One of the earliest catalogs of deep space objects, the Messier catalog contains some of the most beautiful nebulae, clusters and galaxies, all of which are accessible by an observer with an eyepiece.

Messier Catalog

The Messier Marathon

March is the time of year when a few dedicated soles will attempt to view all the objects in the catalog in a single night. The feat is known as the Messier Marathon, and it can only be attempted during the New Moon in early spring. By working across the sky from dusk to dawn it actually possible to view them all in a single session.

M20 and M21. Image credit NOAO
M51. Image credit AURA/NOAO/NSF

Observe With the New Telescopes

We will breeze the full catalog in a Messier Marathon sequence at presentations speeds, and then go up on the observing deck and use the new telescopes to looks for a few of the brighter messier objects available to us in the early evening.

New SBO deck scopes. Image by Gary Garzone

Parking near SBO (building 422 on the map), use lot sections 419 and 423, these lots are free after 5PM:


BASS Meeting Saturday, February 18th, 7PM at SBO

Saturday, February 18th, 7PM at Sommer-Bausch Observatory (SBO), in the downstairs lab/classroom. The feature talk will be on exoplanets, planets around other stars, by CU research and teaching professor, Dr. Zachory Berta-Thompson.


Professor “Z” describes himself as an “Exoplaneteer”. He is a researcher focused on finding and learning about planets outside our solar system, and trying to understand what we are seeing. In his own description of his research, “Our Solar System is kind of weird. We have no planets that are intermediate in size between the Earth and Neptune, yet the Universe seems to be teeming with such planets. The central goal of my research is to understand the structure, composition, and evolution of these small exoplanets.”

Please join us for the talk, followed by observing (weather permitting) with the brand new Sommers-Bausch Observatory telescopes.

BASS at SBO 01-2017
Time exposure with red-light painting at SBO 01-21-2017

Parking near SBO (building 422 on the map), use lot sections 419 and 423, these lots are free after 5PM:


Scenes and links from the January meeting

The “Join the Crowd” talk at the January meeting was all about active participation crowd-sourced citizen science. Here are the links to the projects that were mentioned:

Galaxy Zoo and the entire Zooniverse collection of projects:

SOHO comet hunters:
Somewhat surprisingly, Firefox and Chrome claim that there is a certificate problem with the the Navy link, and it may require you to manually accept an exception to access it.

Tomnod, satellite based Earth observing: or

Even though the skies were not very clear, the group also enjoyed taking a look at the new Sommers-Bausch Observatory telescopes, and we did manage a few brief glimpses of the Orion Nebula.

BASS at SBO 01-2017
Time exposure with red-light painting at SBO 01-21-2017

BASS Meeting Saturday, January 21st, 7PM at SBO

Saturday, January 21st, 7PM at Sommer-Bausch Observatory (SBO), in the downstairs lab/classroom. The feature talk will be a look at doing astronomy and astrophysics on the web just for the fun of it, by Dr. Steven Hartung.

For the Love of the Thing

The word amateur has an original meaning that is very different from some of our modern connotations. The the modern interpretations range from someone who is not a professional and engages in an activity without pay, to something that is shoddy and of unprofessional quality. In the French origin of the word, the amateur is a lover, one who does a thing for the love of it. In the case of astronomy and astrophysics, amateurs of the field can participate in many new ways via the web, without ever needing to use a telescope. Via various web resources you can:

  • View and classify galaxies
  • Find exo-planets
  • Discover comets
  • Identify gravitational lenses
  • And a whole lot more

Join The Crowd

Even if you own a telescope, you may not be as enthusiastic about going out and observing in the depth of night in January in Colorado. But with a warm home and an internet connection, you can participate in real space science investigations. So grab a warm drink, your favorite slippers, and you laptop and see what you can find in the universe.

It turns out that humans are still better at pattern matching than most computer algorithms for a wide variety of objects and visual representations.  In order to take advantage of this fact, crowd-sourcing has become widely used as an effect method of detecting, classifying, and even training automated software. Plus, many projects have made their crowd-sourced applications fun and entertaining to use. If you happen to make one of the more interesting discoveries, most projects will include your name on the scientific paper describing what was found.

In addition to crowd sourcing, other ad hoc communities have grown on their own around public data sets.

In this month’s talk we will show you what some of these projects are up to and where you find out more about them. A great place to start is, but we will also discus some other platforms and projects.

BASS Officers

This is also the first meeting of 2017, so we start the meeting with BASS members casting their ballots for the 2017 officers. All positions are filled and there are no contested positions, but our bylaws call for a ballot vote to be completed annually. The officer candidates on the ballot for 2017 are:

  • President – Steve Hartung
  • VP – Suzanne Traub-Metlay
  • Secretary – Dave Bender
  • Treasurer – Will Thornbug (2yr term)

In addition, Alison Friedli will remain on for the second year of her two-year term as webmaster.

We would also like to thank Wayne Green for 7 years of stepping up to fill the roll of VP. Wayne carried a lot of the meeting organization and outreach operations over that time. Wayne intends to remain an active member of BASS, but will be focusing his efforts more on doing research with small and medium sized telescopes. Anyone interested in research-grade observational astronomy, or image processing and analysis, should contact Wayne.  He has several telescopes coming online and many opportunities in telescope commissioning, data collection, image pipeline development, and image analysis.

Parking near SBO (building 422 on the map), use lot sections 419 and 423:


BASS Meeting Thursday, November 17th, 7PM at SBO

Thursday, November 17th, 7PM at Sommer-Bausch Observatory (SBO), in the downstairs lab/classroom.

Gleason at the 24 inch telescope
Kieth Gleason attaching a camera to the 24″ telescope in 1986. Image credit: Jerry Cleveland, Boulder Daily Camera

The guest speaker will be Keith Gleason, former manager of the Sommer-Bausch Observatory. In light of the so called supermoon this week, Keith will discuss some aspects of “Measuring the Moon: Does Size Matter?”

Variation in Moon size
Variation in Moon size as seen from Earth. Image credit: Marco Langbroek [Wikipedia, (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

The meeting will be on this Thursday due to conflicts on campus with home football games and the upcoming holidays.

Parking near SBO (building 422 on the map), use lot sections 419 and 423:


BASS Meeting Wednesday, October 19th, 7PM, Fiske Planetarium

Our guest speaker will be University of Colorado researcher and professor, Dr. John Stocke, an extragalactic observer who uses all manner of space-based and ground-based telescopes to study normal and active galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and intergalactic gas. Prof. Stocke also has a deep fascination with archaeoastronomy, the study of astronomy and cosmology of ancient cultures.

Prof. John Stocke
Prof. John Stocke

Many ancient cultures were far more sophisticated in the science of astronomy than we have given them credit for. One such case that continues to impress is the Antikythera mechanism. Found in an ancient shipwreck near Greece by sponge divers around 1901, its purpose was almost pure speculation for decades. It exists in several fragments of fine gears and dials, heavily encrusted in sediments after millennia on the sea bottom. The wreck, which also carried many bronze statues, has been carbon dated to around 200 BCE.

Modern 3-D x-ray imaging techniques have revealed the details of the mechanism components, allowing them to be examined, reconstructed, and even reassembled. The reconstruction has revealed a shocking level of sophistication. The machine appears to be a highly accurate celestial computer, capable of predicting the positions of planets and the timing of celestial events, with impressive accuracy. It even has special gears that compensate for the effects of elliptical motions in the heavens.

Prof. Stocke will lead a full multi-media presentation about the device in the Fiske Planetarium theater. The program will start at 7pm sharp. Do not be late as the front doors may need to be closed when we begin the program due to a lack of lobby staff (this being a special BASS event, the full planetarium staff will not be present).

One of the major fragments of the mechanism.
One of the major fragments of the mechanism.
An operational reconstruction.
An operational reconstruction.








Parking is free after 5PM in lot 308 just west of the planetarium, or in lot 419 on the hill east of the Sommers-Bausch Observatory.


Starbugs to replace spectrograph drill plates in telescopes

At our August meeting I presented a short on some new tech in astronomy. The featured device was something called a Starbug, which is a piezoelectric driven small robot. They are called bugs because the piezoelectric locomotion makes a buzzing sound when in operation. It is being applied to a system for configurable fiber optic ports to replace the much more tedious method of drill plates. The drill plate is a metal plate that has holes drilled into it to match a specific piece of the sky using a specific telescope. Fiber-optic lines are then plugged into each hole, matching a specific target (e.g. galaxy, star, or quasar) and the other end of the fiber is plugged into a spectrograph. The drill plate is then placed in the focal plane of the telescope.

Instead of drilling and plugging a one-time use plate, the Starbugs walk across a glass plate to the desired position. Computer programs are being developed to get an array of Starbugs to walk to the optimal position without colliding. Position accuracy of 10 micro-meters can be achieved.

With too much time on your hands, you can even do other things with a Starbug…

The technology is currently being developed on a telescope Australia, but it is being considered for the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)
Artist concept of the Giant Magellan Telescope, currently under construction. The GMT consists of seven 8-meter mirrors arranged to form a single segmented parabola (image credit: GMTO).


BASS Meeting Saturday, August 20th, 7PM at SBO

Saturday, August 20th, 7PM at Sommer-Bausch Observatory (SBO), in the downstairs lab/classroom. The guest speaker will be Jacqueline Loerincs, from the Colorado School of Mines, on her experience at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, observing T Tauri stars in Orion. T Tauri’s are very young stars in the early stages of their formation that are very dynamic, with lot’s of variability on human time scales.

Jacqueline is a student in Engineering Physics at the Colorado School of Mines. This winter she went to Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory as part of the 10 week long CTIO Research Experience program. While there she spent time working with the 4-meter and the 0.9 meter telescopes doing imaging and spectroscopy related to T-Tauri stars. She is the co-author of a paper on the subject (in prep) and will be making a presentation at the upcoming American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) winter meeting in Grapevine, Tx. in early January.

By C.R. O'Dell/Rice University; NASA
By C.R. O’Dell/Rice University; NASA
Her talk will dovetail well with Dr. Reipurth’s talk relating to early star formation and the Young Stellar Objects from the last meeting.
Observing will follow one the deck telescopes, weather and equipment availability permitting (campus is in full prep mode for the incoming class, so we will have to play this part according to the real-time situation).

BASS Meeting Friday, July 15th, 7PM at SBO

Our guest speaker will be University of Hawaii researcher and professor, Dr. Bo Reipurth. He will talk about the creation and evolution of multiple-star systems (binary and triple stars, think Tatooine).  The telescope observing deck will be open for the standard Friday night open house after the meeting, weather permitting.

Dr. Reipurth became fascinated by the concept of actually seeing stars forming at an early age. While growing up in Copenhagen, he took up reading the English language Sky & Telescope magazine. “One day I read an article about small mysterious blobs called Herbig-Haro objects which might be signposts of stars in the making. I was completely captivated by the possibility that we might actually be able to see stars in the process of being born, and I have spent most of my professional career trying to learn about how stars are formed.” (image credit:  NASA, bio information from IfA News Letter No. 27-2008)

He received his PhD from the University of Copenhagen. He was also a staff astronomer at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, after which he came to the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy (CASA) at the University of Colorado as researcher and professor. In 2001 he moved to the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) at the University of Hawaii, where works presently as a research professor at the Hilo campus on the Big Island.

Parking near SBO (building 422 on the map), use lot sections 419 and 423: