May 01

May 2006

Whats Up in the Sky May, 2006

Large Binocular Telescope (LBT)

We live in amazing times, especially in the world of astronomy. In the past decade astronomers have made discoveries that have led to answers to profound questions humans have been asking since we were first able to ask. Most of these discoveries have been made possible by revolutionary new instruments such as the Chandra X-Ray Telescope and the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope. Soon a new instrument will be operational, one that will have a direct link to Holland via Hope College.

The Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), currently being built on Mt. Graham in Arizona, should be fully operational by the end of 2007. This instrument is being funded and operated by an international consortium that includes several American universities, astronomical institutes in Germany and Italy, and Research Corporation, the second oldest foundation in the country and the only one devoted solely to the advancement of science. Our communitys connection is Jim Gentile, Ph.D., President of Research Corporation.

Dr , Gentile (pronounced gen TEEL) received his Ph.D. in molecular toxicology from Illinois State University, then spent two years in postdoctoral studies at Yale School of medicine before coming to Hope College, where he worked and taught for 29 years. As Dean of the department of Natural Sciences, he was instrumental in the design and construction of the colleges new Science Center.

After a long and successful tenure at Hope, he accepted the position at Research Corporation and moved to Arizona to begin his new career. He is now directly involved in funding numerous scientific projects, such as the LBT. Jim is proud of the fact that Research Corporation has a long history of helping young scientists get their start, having funded the work of nearly forty Nobel prize winners since 1912.

The Large Binocular Telescope will consist of two 8.4 meter (331-inch) primary mirrors linked through a system of adaptive optics which cancels out the distorting effects of the earths atmosphere. It will have the same light-gathering power as a single 11.8 meter instrument and be able to create images as sharp and clear as a telescope with a single mirror 22.8 meters (465-inches) in diameter. It will be able to see in much more detail than the Hubble Space Telescope, and may even detect planets around other stars. Its unique binocular configuration will enable astronomers to conduct research in such topics as the nature of dark energy and astrobiology.

Hope College can certainly take pride in the fact that one of their own, Jim Gentile, will be at the forefront of this cutting-edge technology because he has always been fascinated by whats up in the sky.

Here are this months viewing highlights:
Planets this month: Saturn and Mars getting lower in west at dusk as month progresses, passing Beehive cluster; Jupiter rises ESE and is visible all night, reaching years maximum brightness this month. Venus continues to dominate morning sky – look east an hour before sunrise. Mercury becomes visible in the WNW after sunset at months end.

May 1: Crescent moon near Mars
May 4: First-quarter Moon
May 6: Astronomy Day. Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter all visible.
May 11: Moon next to Jupiter.
May 13: Full Moon
May 20: Last-quarter Moon.
May 24: Crescent Moon just to the left of Venus, one hour before sunrise.
May 27: New Moon
May 30: Mars, Moon, Castor, Pollux, all lie in a straight line.
May 31: Use binoculars to view crescent Moon near Beehive cluster and Saturn.

Peter Burkey – SAAA President