A Celebration and a Restoration: Ringing in 25 years at the George

This Friday we’re kicking off our celebrations in honor of the George Observatory’s 25th anniversary with a members event at the George! Leading up to this anniversary, we launched our S.O.S (Save Our ‘Scope) fundraising campaign to restore the mirror, and, thanks to your generous support, we reached our goal of $80,000 this past spring.

Optical Mechanics, Inc. has been working on our 36” mirror for several months now and in that time has made great progress as well as some surprising findings. The mirror is now 98% finished — but it’s the work for that final 2% that’s proving to be the most critical, taking the mirror from “good” to truly top notch! 

This 2% involves resolving issues with the mirror that are a direct result of the original grind on the mirror.

SOS

The technology used to grind the mirror originally, while cutting edge for the time, left the mirror susceptible to deterioration from imperfections. These imperfections, microscopic bubbles and fissures, allowed for tiny places where “gunk” could get in and stick. Once that formed, there was no way to get a coating to stick to the surface. We ran into this issue in 1994, when we re-coated the mirror, and in this case, we were eventually able to overcome the imperfections. However, this time around, it was absolutely time to regrind the surface and apply a new coating. 

If the ‘scope had been put in the desert or on top of a mountain with a very low amount of humidity, these imperfections may have never compromised the scope. However, both Louisiana and Houston are very high humidity locations. HMNS has owned the telescope and dome for 25 years now, however the mirror itself is 50 years, with LSU having owned the ‘scope for the first 25 years of its life. It has been a good scope for a very long time, for many people. We have always felt strong in our conviction that the ‘scope, like all of HMNS, should be available to everyone in the greater Houston area and Texas. We are close to people. 

The new technology being used to grind our mirror will give us a far superior mirror than it has ever been. We are so excited to get it home and to see the difference! 

That being said, the restoration process is behind where we had anticipated, but we’ve decided that this time is more than worth it to get the high quality we know we will receive if we do not rush this project.  

The mirror will be ready and delivered home as soon as possible this fall and we’ll update you when we know it’s on its way!

The process to grind the mirror is fascinating and time consuming. They grind a while, take the 500 lb. mirror off to check it and then grind the curved surface again and again. Ours is a hyperbola, which makes it even a bit more complicated than other types of telescope mirrors.

Here are some photos of how they carry the mirror and grind it:

George Observatory Mirror Grind 1

Here is how they transport the 500 lb. mirror. Notice the cleaned surface before they began grinding.

George Observatory Mirror Grind 2

This is the first test of the mirror when they received it in February. The lines are supposed to be straight which tells us that the original grind 50 years ago never quite got finished or perfected. It was a good telescope, but not nearly up to the full potential.

George Observatory Mirror Grind 3

First coarse grind. They grind for a period of time and then take it off, look at the surface with the lights and then grind more.

George Observatory Mirror Grind 4

Then they have a fine grinding after the coarse grind. It takes time, patience and almost an artistic ability to get it right.

George Observatory Mirror Grind 5

Latest Ronchi Focault test showing much straighter lines. We expect a slight curve around the center opening. The final figuring will make it even more perfect.

 

We will keep you posted and will let you know as soon as the mirror arrives home. Check HMNS.org and the George Observatory Facebook page for updates. 

 

 

Blood Moon Strikes Back! Total Lunar Eclipse Wednesday, October 8!

A total eclipse of the Moon will occur early Wednesday morning, October 8. Houstonians will be able to see virtually the whole event, which happens right before dawn.

Lunar eclipses occur when the full Moon moves into the Earth’s shadow. The first part of the Earth’s shadow that the Moon will encounter is the penumbra. The penumbral shadow’s faintness means that sharp-eyed observers will notice only a slight dimming of the Moon between 3:14 AM and 4:15 AM. The Moon moves into the darkest part of the earth’s shadow, the umbra, at 4:15 AM, and will be totally eclipsed by 5:24 AM. Totality lasts until 6:25, at which time the Moon has crossed the shadow and begun emerging from the other side. The Moon is still emerging from the shadow (and thus still partially eclipsed) as it sets at 7:26.  Note that this eclipse happens close to dawn, which is when a Full Moon is about to set. Therefore, you’ll need an observing site clear of obstacles to the west so you can watch the setting Moon in eclipse.  (That’s why we’re not observing from George Observatory, as we have in the past. Our tree line would interfere with the view).

Eclipse Diagram - James Wooten

The Moon’s brightness during a total eclipse depends on the amount of dust particles in the atmosphere. A large amount of dust from a volcanic eruption, for example, can make the totally eclipsed Moon almost invisible. With little dust in our atmosphere, the Moon glows reddish-orange during totality. This is because only the Sun’s red light comes through the Earth’s atmosphere and falls on the Moon even while it is in the Earth’s shadow. As the diagram shows, the Moon will pass through the northern part of the shadow, for about an hour of totality. As a result, the southern limb, closer to the center of Earth’s shadow, will appear darker.  And since we’ll be watching the Moon set in the west, the northern limb will be to the right and the southern limb to the left.

This is the second of four consecutive total lunar eclipses in 2014 and 2015, all of which are visible in the USA.  We’ll see our next total lunar eclipse in Houston just before dawn on April 4, 2015.

 

This week @HMNS: Making physics cool and celebrating 25 years at the George

This series is about events happening at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For more information about HMNS, our exhibits and programming, please visit HMNS.org.

 

THURSDAY, OCT. 9
FILM SCREENING: Particle Fever 
GET TICKETS

Imagine being able to watch Franklin received his first jolt of electricity or Edison turn on the first light bulb!

Particle Fever gives you a front row seat to our generation’s most significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough as it happens the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest and most expensive experiment in the history of the planet. 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries join forces in pursuit of a single goal: to recreate conditions that existed just moments after the Big Bang and find the Higgs boson, potentially explaining the origin of all matter. 

Join Dr. Paul Padley, one of the Rice University professors who worked on the Higgs boson discovery on the Hadron Collider, for this one-night-only event.

 

FRIDAY, OCT. 10
MEMBERS EVENT: The George Observatory 25th Anniversary Celebration
GET TICKETS

Celebrate the George Observatory’s 25th anniversary and peer through the refurbished research telescope to see spectacular views of Saturn along with a variety of deep space objects. Cash bar and light refreshments.

 

 

We’ve Got the Fever: Particle Fever screening one night only at HMNS! (10/9/14)

Next week we’re bringing you the chance to glimpse back in time to the very beginning of the universe with the critically acclaimed documentary Particle Fever screening Thursday, October 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:00 p.m.

“Wait a second,” you might say, “how can this documentary show us the beginning of the universe? I’m pretty sure cameras came along much later.”

Well what if I told you that scientists have built a machine capable of re-creating the conditions of that very, very, very, very hot, small, energetic place that would eventually come to be the universe as we know it.

Along the way these scientists also invented a handy little thing called the internet (sorry, Al Gore). You might’ve heard of it… No? Google it.

These are the scientists at CERN in Switzerland and over the past several decades they’ve designed and built the Large Hardron Collider, which is the biggest machine ever made. 

“The large whaaaaaa?”

It’s basically a 5 story tall, 27 kilometer long tunnel, lined with computers, 100 meters underground capable of making particles collide with one another at extremely fast speeds so they break up into their fundamental pieces. This can give us a better idea of why the universe looks and behaves the way it does. 

In this exciting, fast-paced documentary we get a front-row seat to the frontier of scientific discovery. We watch as scientists’ entire careers hang in the balance, waiting to see what will come out of these experiments. Told through interviews and stunning animation, in a very “approachable-and-interesting-even-if-you-failed-high-school-physics” way, this film will inspire you, much like the scientists it features, to seek out every answer you can about the “everything there is” — the universe.

Don’t miss out!

Particle Fever, showing October 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:00 p.m.

 

Watch the video below for a fantastic intro to the experiments at CERN:

 

This video delves a little further into just why these scientists are so bent on discovering new particles:

Film Screening
Particle Fever Film Screening
Thursday, October 9, 6 p.m.

Join Hadron Collider researcher Dr. Paul Padley of Rice University for this one-night-only screening of the film Particle Fever at HMNS. Click here for tickets.