Observatory announces happenings, slates Nov. 11 event
[Editor’s Note: The following was written by volunteers at the John J. McCarthy Observatory located behind New Milford High School on Route 7 South in New Milford.]
It is so much fun to wake up in the morning and check out the astronomy news, almost always describing a new and amazing discovery.
With so many giant instruments and so many brilliant astronomers at work now, we reap the benefits of dazzling progress.
The most enjoyable announcement a few weeks ago was the discovery of 20 more moons around Saturn. Not a typo — 20!
This puts Saturn in the lead over Jupiter — now 82 to 79.
This sounds like a basketball game between the two Gas Giants.
A team led by Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science discovered these tiny moons, and last year were the discoverers of 12 more moons around Jupiter.
They have an advantage over the McCarthy Observatory team, using an 8.2 meter telescope on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, next door to the famous Keck Telescopes.
These moons are about three miles in diameter, and over 800 million miles from earth. Quite a challenge, even for that instrument.
The telescopes under construction and in advanced planning phases are going to far exceed what today's technology enables.
Astronomy is still in its infancy, folks.
Back home, we are planning for the Mercury Transit event on the morning of Nov. 11.
We recently erred in saying the next visible Mercury Transit would be in 13 years. That transit will not be visible here — you would have to wait 30 years to see this fascinating event in our part of the planet
So, this is an exceptional event by any measure. Weather permitting, this will be your family's chance to see something that was of great historical importance in astronomy.
In the early 1600s, shortly after the telescope was invented, astronomers recognized that solar transits (the crossing of "inferior" planets in front of the sun) could be used to more accurately measure the apparent diameter of Mercury and Venus.
French astronomer Pierre Gassendi was one of the first people to witness a transit of Mercury (in 1631), which had been predicted by mathematician Johannes Kepler.
In 1677, Edmond Halley observed another transit of Mercury - they can occur up to 14 times a century - during which he realized that the parallax shift of the planet - the difference in the planet’s apparent position during the transit, as viewed from different latitudes on Earth - could be used to determine a more accurate distance to the Sun (the astronomical unit or a.u.), which was poorly known at the time.
Halley urged “curious astronomers” to take up the challenge.
Expeditions were launched from Great Britain and France in 1761 and again in 1769 (Venus transits occur in pairs, eight years apart), in an attempt to define the a.u.
Results were mixed and while the there was some improvement in the calculation, it wasn’t to the precision that Halley had hoped.
Measurements of transits of Mercury and Venus continue today, by professionals and amateurs alike. We much enjoy carrying on that tradition. We are indeed curious astronomers.
Our initial plan is to be operational that day from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. We have quite an arsenal of instruments for you to safely observe with, most likely including our carefully restored English refracting telescope made circa 1850-1860.
A full discussion of the adventure in restoring it, and the very interesting history of John Benjamin Dancer, its builder, can be seen on our YouTube channel at
We have used the "Dancer" telescope several times recently with wonderful results, especially showing great detail on the lunar surface.
Last Friday night we took it and several other good telescopes to Lynn, Mass., to an "Observe the Moon" event.
More than 200 curious young students and parents were treated to fine views of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn through this telescope and others, all of different designs.
One of our best remote outreach events ever. Watching young children seeing the moon for the first time in a fine telescope is unforgettable.