We woke up fairly early Wednesday morning, having gone to bed around 10:30 Tuesday night due to the storms. Amy and I had breakfast at the drug store in town, a wonderful establishment (be sure to get a milkshake!) with good food, friendly service and a lot of charm. The gallery upstairs had a number of photos of the Rock House fire of April 2011, which were both beautiful and scary at the same time.
Later that afternoon, we went to the Fort Davis State Bank to get quarters for doing laundry. This bank is one hundred years old this month, and like many of the buildings in Fort Davis, has a lot of charm.
At the laundromat at the RV campground we met a wonderful couple from midland Texas who are retired and travel around in their RV. The woman was a retired grade school science teacher and right now she is volunteering at the McDonald observatory at the star parties there, and they do birdwatching during the day.
Everyone in Texas is so friendly!
For the afternoon talks, Mike Simonsen gave an excellent talk on citizen science and a second talk on variable stars. The two talks together made we want to try variable star photometry with my new DSLR. The other afternoon talk was by Dr. Tillman Kinnon about a high altitude balloon projects he runs that involves students to perform science. These balloons reach up to 90,000 feet! Neat talk about a neat project.
After dinner, the evening talk was by Jimi Lowrey (Fort Davis, TX) and Stephen Odenwahn (McDonald Observatory) titled “The Sweet Pea: Harvesting the Edges of the Sloan Survey”. Jimi is a visual astronomer with a 48″ dob installed at his observatory in Fort Davis.
In looking for interesting stuff to observe using his monster scope he noticed that the automated software that classifies Sloan images doesn’t work well at the edges. He found one object that looks like a pea – a green star. He thought it might be a planetary nebula, and when he observed it for the first time at the TSP last year, they could tell it was an extended object.
Working with a grad student at McDonald observatory, they determined the spectra was weird and the redshift was zero so it’s in our galaxy.
Steve Odewahn then used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) to get a spectrum from the low resolution spectrograph. It is 7 arc seconds in diameter and about 18th magnitude. That spectrum revealed doubly ionized oxygen, hydrogen alpha, and others that are all typical of different gases present in a nebula that are excited. But there are some curiosities about it because there are some overlapping lines (Nitrogen and Hydrogen), and it is 25 degrees galactic latitude, which is quite high for a planetary nebula.
When they calculated the radial velocity of the sweet pea, it was around 228 km/s, which makes it similar to many globular clusters.
Adam Block took an image of the sweet pea, and it is red! Turns out the Sloan guys used a filter set where they mapped a 6500 angstrom filter to green. So in the Sloan survey, something with a strong H-alpha component may show up green.
All in all, it was an interesting talk about pro-am collaboration to investigate a potentially interesting object.