Posted by: Buzznaut | August 20, 2012

Mascots on the News for Tonight’s Star Party

Buzznaut here with exciting news! Me (Buzznaut) and my mascot friends Meteor Shower and Moonica got to participate in an interview with NBC29 and Mrs. Kelsey and Miss Kim. Not all of astronomy is about looking through telescopes, a big, HUGE part is getting the public (that’s YOU!!!) excited about what we are learning and curious about.

Buzznaut and bee mascot friends getting interviewed by NBC29.

What was our interview for? In case you haven’t heard, DSBK is hosting its 2nd Annual Central Virginia Star Party on August 25th- that is this Saturday! We want all of you to come enjoy our dark skies and look at the stars, planets, and more. Check out our interview and see another part of being an astronomer!

Mascots getting amped up and packed for the 2nd Annual Central Virginia Star Party which is tonight!!!

Posted by: Terra the Terrestrial Tiger | August 20, 2012

Terra-fic Telescopes! (Southwest Tour Part 2 )

Its Terra the Terrestrial Tiger to tell you about more of the Terra-fic (terrific) telescopes that the grad students and I got to see. The second leg of our trip was to Mount Graham International Observatory, which is operated by Steward Observatory. It is like a mini-village of telescopes on this mountain, complete with a rare species of Mount Graham squirrels! The first telescope we toured was the VATT, which stands for Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. Miss Rachael uses this telescope a lot, you should ask her about it the next chance you get! Next, we saw the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope or the SMT, which we got a pretty cool tour of.

A group picture of the astronomy graduate students, featuring me Terra the Terrestrial Tiger, in front of the SMT.

Terra posed in front of the SMT with the doors open, so you can actually see the dish!

Do you know the which telescope is the world’s most powerful? It is the LBT (Large Binocular Telescope) which is made up of two 8.4m

Miss Kim and I in front of only one of the two mirrors of the Large Binocular Telescope.

telescopes. The two mirrors combined have the largest light collecting area! And we got to visit it on Mount Graham! One of the most surprising things is that because the LBT is so well engineered and oiled, it hardly makes any noise when it moves.

All of us in front of the LBT. This photo was taken with a very special lens, called a fish-eye lens, that distorts the picture so that everything fits into it. The mirror is much bigger than it looks!

Lastly, one of the coolest things that Miss Kim has ever seen, was the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. Ok, this wasn’t on the mountain, but still part of the same group, right? This is where most modern mirrors are made for telescopes, including those huge 8.4m mirrors on the LBT! They are really hard to make in just the right shape without any imperfections.

Terra the Terrestrial Tiger at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. The giant red contraption is what holds and moves the mirrors around as they make them. The mirrors can be as big as 8.4m in diameter and if you look really carefully, you can see that one mirror (the white thing) is hanging on its side!

This is some of science at its best.

Posted by: Terra the Terrestrial Tiger | August 9, 2012

Tigers welcome at Kitt Peak (Tour of the Southwest Part 1)

Hi guys!

Terra sitting on an actual asteroid at the KPNO museum. Everyone gets to touch it!

Let me introduce myself. My name is Terra the Terrestrial Tiger and my friends took me on a trip with the graduate astronomy class.

I have been bursting with excitement since I started traveling. Who knew the graduate students were so much fun? Oh right – DSBK lovers did! Well, I can’t wait to tell you all about my big trip to the American Southwest. It was days of traveling, touring, telescopes, time observing, and tigers. Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any better than that!

First we went to KPNO which stands for Kitt Peak National Observatory. We got to see the National Solar Observatory (NSO)

Joanna and Terra inside the solar telescope at the National Solar Observatory.

and two NOAO telescopes: the Mayall 4-meter telescope and the WIYN telescope.

When the Mayall telescope is actually in use, part of the walls open up and the entire outer edge of the building can spin so that the telescope can point anywhere in the sky.

Kim gazing up in wonder at the impressive Mayall 4m telescope, with Terra doing the same.

Our whole class got to ride on the edge when the building spun! It was really fun, like a really, really big spinning tea cup ride at Disney.

The Astronomy graduate students and Terra learning about the Mayall Telescope, all lined up around the outside getting ready for it to spin around that red line on the floor!

But that was nothing next to the actual telescope. See me, Kim, and our friend Joanna sitting at the bottom of the Mayall telescope?

Kim, Joanna, and Terra pretending to be the instruments on the Mayall telescope! Sitting underneath the mirror in the basket..

That is where all the instruments go so that the astronomers can collect their data. It was so cool to climb in there, and then I got to end the tour by visiting the control room!

Terra takes control of the control room for the Mayall telescope at KPNO.

Much more to tell you all about later…

Posted by: Buzznaut | July 31, 2012

50 Years of NOAO

PLD & Buzz Compare Notes Between Talks

PLD & Buzz Compare Notes Between Talks

We usually only see Dr. Kelsey as our teacher, but she is also a very famous Astronomer. In March 2010 PLD and I got to see firsthand how instrumental Dr. Kelsey has been in her field. Dr. Kelsey studies “super star clusters,” compact regions where many many stars form all at once. Since there are no regions like this in our own galaxy, instead Dr. Kelsey studies galaxies that are very far away, millions of light years away. These regions of star formation are so extreme, that they are perfect regions to test what scientists know about how stars form. Dr. Kelsey is a leader of this field of research.

Listening to Dr. Kelsey

Listening to Dr. Kelsey Talk about Super StarClusters

BUT Dr. Kelsey’s talk was only a small part of the conference organized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). The NOAO focuses on telescopes and instruments that work in optical light. This is the type of light that we see with our eyes. The NOAO has telescopes in Chile (South America), Hawaii and in Arizona. Ms. Rachael, who took us to the conference, has observed at each of the three locations. She is totally convinced that these are some of the best facilities in the world. Dr. Kelsey met Sophia’s Dad while a student at the NOAO and so its a very important facility for her. During the conference many many people talked about the memories that they have had while observing or studying at the NOAO. It has truly been an influential aspect of many peoples lives and careers.

Buzznaut with the One Degree Imager (ODI) Chip

Buzznaut with the One Degree Imager (ODI) Chip — this is the part of the camera that takes the picture. Its as big as Buzznaut! That’s a HUGE camera.

The conference also talked about the new projects the NOAO is working on and this is where it got exciting! The NOAO is developing a new camera that has a part of its detector that is AS BIG AS MY YELLOW AND BLACK STRIPED THORAX! Holy bumble bee that is big. The detectors for cameras like Ms. Rachael hauls around are barely bigger than my antennae! This camera is one of the most technologically advanced ever built.

The LSST Booth

I read about the new exciting projects that will be done on the LSST while Pluto just looks bored. I guess if its not being launched into space, he’s not really excited about it.

Posted by: darkskiesbrightkids | July 30, 2012

Haitus Over

Dear DSBK Faithful,

The mascot blog is being re-started! After the loss of our main website a few Summers ago, we had trouble getting our blogging back on track. We lost dozens of prepared (and scheduled posts) and also had to recover our main website. After getting our main website up and running smoothly, as well as having a solid facebook presence, we are ready to begin blogging again!

The Mascots, Rachael, Kim & Nicole

Posted by: Pluto Little Dippy | January 11, 2011

SDO Launch (KSC Part 3)

In early February, I accompanied my friends to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch a space shuttle launch and get a special tour. Finally, we got to the real reason for our trip. The Solar Dynamics Observatory was about to be launched into space where it can study the sun in incredible detail.

Click to see how much information Little SDO will send us!

So I got together with my new friends, the Space Tweeps, and we went to a special viewing area to watch SDO blast off on an Atlas V rocket. And we waited. And we waited. Aaaaaand we waited.

Looking at Little SDO in the distance

And finally…. the launch got canceled. Not again! It was too windy to launch a rocket. Bummer. But that meant I got to hang out in Florida for one more day, as they would try and launch the rocket again the next day.

As we waited on Friday, our last chance to see the launch, we took a tour of the Apollo/Saturn V center. The Apollo program of the 1960s sent the first humans to the surface of the Moon on top of a large Saturn V rocket. One of these rockets was never launched and has been put on display for everyone to see. Nicole and I walked along the length of the largest rocket in the world, and we made a video just for you!

The time came once more to wait for the launch of the Atlas V carrying SDO. We huddled together against the wind, but finally, there was a break in the weather. We had liftoff! The rocket roared away from the launch pad, slowly at first, then faster and faster as it went to deliver SDO to its orbit. Along the way, we got a really cool sight:


George caught this amazing shot of the rocket

There was a small rainbow, called a sundog, high in the clouds on this sunny day. The rocket actually pierced through these clouds The soundwaves from the rocket actually made these cool waves in the clouds, which destroyed the rainbow! It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise.

With SDO safely on its way to do new science, I said goodbye to my wonderful new friends and came back to see my friends in Virginia. But I will never forget the awesome experiences I had watching our space program at work!

Posted by: Pluto Little Dippy | January 10, 2011

Space Center Tour (KSC Part 2)

After the successful launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, my friends and I got to take a VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center. (VIP means Very Important Person, or Very Important Panther, in my case!)

Hanging out with our NASA guide, Aleya, and my new mascot friends, Timmy from Thinkgeek and Camilla the SDO chicken.

Nicole, George, and Aleya were here for the launch of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO. Camilla is SDO’s best buddy, and was excited to see the little robot satellite go, even if she was sad. SDO will take really detailed pictures of the sun, so we can learn more about how it works and how it affects Earth. Watch the video below to see!

The VIPs hopped onto a tour bus to see all the cool things around the Kennedy Space Center. We got a closer view of the shuttle launch pads just days after the shuttle launch that we saw!

I show off all my cool space pins with George and Nicole

Many of the structures at the Kennedy Space Center have been around since the 1960s when NASA sent astronauts to the Moon on the huge Saturn V rocket. A big rocket needs a REALLY big building, like the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB. This is the largest one-story building in the world. It’s almost four times the height of the Empire State Building in New York! Today, the space shuttle is connected to its huge external tank and rockets inside. This building is a part of spaceflight history and present, and it was so overwhelming to stand near it.

Camilla and I, hanging out. She has a pretty new spacesuit because she wants to be an astronaut, too!

Spending time at the VAB with my new space-tweep buddy, Brian.

After our tour, we were all geared up to see another launch, that of Camilla’s buddy, SDO. Hooray for more rockets!

Posted by: Pluto Little Dippy | January 9, 2011

I wanna be an astronaut! (KSC Part 1)

Hey, kids! Pluto Little Dippy here, and boy do I have a fun trip to tell you about. Back in February 2010, I was lucky enough to tag along on a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is from here that NASA launches astronauts into SPACE! I was going to see my very first launch of a space shuttle with my UVa buddies, Nicole and George, our NASA guide Aleya, and some new friends we met called the “Space Tweeps.”

Aleya, George, and I celebrate our arrival to Florida after a long, long drive!

The space shuttle Endeavor was about to go on a mission to the International Space Station, a big satellite orbiting around the Earth where some astronauts live and work for months at a time. Wow, I wish I could have that job! They do all kinds of experiments to test how humans can live in space for long periods of time, so that one day we can go to Mars, and beyond. They do science experiments that help us with life on Earth, like testing medicines and vaccines. They also have a really cool view of the Earth. This view would look even cooler with the new window bay, called a cupola, that the astronauts in the space shuttle were about to deliver.

In the very early hours of Sunday, February 7th, we squished into a few cars and headed to see the space shuttle launch from a few miles away. There were so many people! Everyone was excited to see the shuttle blast off in the wee, dark hours of the morning. But just after 4am, after we shivered for hours in the cold night, the launch was canceled because of some low clouds. We’d have to do it all again the next night!

George, Nicole, and I are pretty optimistic, despite the cold! The little light between their heads is the shuttle, waiting to go!


Pretty pretty shuttle pic by George.

The next night, we finally got our chance. The crowds were smaller, and the weather threatened to cancel the launch once more. But then the clouds cleared, and the astronauts were ready to go! At 4:14am, as we excitedly counted down, the rockets roared to life and we felt the whole world rumble as it got as bright as day. The astronauts were going into space! It was so beautiful. Silly Nicole, she even cried a little.

Go, baby, go

Nicole took this picture with her cell phone!

As the shuttle got dimmer and dimmer, we waved our last goodbyes to the hardworking astronauts and packed up our things to go back to the hotel. However, my fun trip with new friends was only just beginning…

See what we saw! Click on this awesome video of the launch by Aleya.
(Look for me tucked inside Nicole’s coat while’s she’s jumping up and down!)

Posted by: Pluto Little Dippy | January 7, 2011

Hello World!

Well, we’re finally back online after the ‘Great Server Attack of ’10,’ which decimated our previous blog. We DSBK! mascots have been busy since our blog was last updated — traveling not only across the US, but to Taiwan and to Sardinia. Our paws are quite busy typing it all up for you.

Look for more posts soon!