The past few days have been busy for the Bucket List Astronomy Tour (BLAsT) Class, a group of 10 Sam Houston State University undergraduate students on a journey to witness some of the best astronomical events of a lifetime. The students finished up their time in the Southwest and moved on to Sydney, Australia, where they will view next week’s transit of Venus. One of their professors, C. Renee James, updates us on the BLAsT Class’ visit to a famous radio array and their first reactions to the sky Down Under:
What was a bit hard to digest for the students is how radio astronomers can work even in the blazing Sun. Because radio waves aren't scattered by the atmosphere like the blue light from our star, the radio daytime sky isn't "contaminated" by dispersed sunlight. Basically, unless you're staring straight at the Sun with a radio telescope, you won't see it. In addition, clouds are no hindrance, so Judy gleefully explained how the May 20 eclipse could be observed in radio waves even though clouds were passing overhead, annoying the visible-light astronomers at the facility.
Interestingly, the star Vega has played quite a large role in our overall trip. Rising over the cabin in Flagstaff, Arizona, it was a great reference point for learning various constellations and the right ascension and declination/alt-azimuth coordinate systems. It also has helped with spectral types, parallax, star colors, apparent and absolute magnitudes, (B-V) scales, etc. So having it star in an assigned movie has been quite handy.
On Sunday, 27 May 2012, we drove to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to board a flight to Los Angeles and ultimately to Sydney, Australia. And this is when the fun began.
Then the Moon had the nerve to scramble our brains by appearing like a Last Quarter moon, but upside down (you never realize just how familiar the Moon's face is until you see it upside down). But it was in fact a First Quarter Moon in an upside-down and backward Leo. Whaaaaat?! We hiked to the Sydney Observatory, where Ernesto Del Bosque, a sophomore business major, lay on the grass, looked at the Moon, and literally felt as though he was upside down on planet Earth. We're not sure how much jet lag had to do with this.