GEAR Club is not just about robotics. We explore other areas of science and engineering. Here are some projects for members who are interested in astronomy. Some of the dates mentioned in the papers below have past. In order to plan your observations, you will need to know when and where Jupiter, the Moon and Venus are in the night sky. Sky and Telescope magazine has very useful information on planet positions: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/ On this page select the "this week's sky at a glance" item for the current week. For a more general list of planet visibility over the years, try this web site: http://www.nakedeyeplanets.com/visibility.htm
Notes on Geologic history of the Moon -- use this as a reference for your Moon project.
Mars - while we don't have a formal lesson plan for Mars, here is some information you might find useful in designing a Mars project.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are easily visible to the naked eye (without a telescope). These planets were known to ancient astronomers 2,000 to 4,000 years ago. You can do observations of Mars, just as the ancients did, as part of your project. The word planet comes from the ancient Greek word meaning to wander. Before the telescope, celestial objects were divided into the fixed stars and wandering stars. Today we know that wandering stars are actually not stars, but planets. As the months go by, the positions of the planets against the backdrop of the stars change. This wandering behavior is due to the orbits of the planets around the Sun.
Idea #1 - track the position of Mars against the background stars for several months. Make drawings of Mars and the stars or use a camera with a long exposure (about 10 seconds) to record the position of Mars.
Idea #2 - attempt to determine the rotation period of Mars. Mars rotates on its axis just a little bit slower than Earth. A Martian day, called a sol, is 24 hours 37 minutes and 22 seconds long. The rotational period was determined with good accuracy many years ago by the famous Italian astronomer, Giovanni Cassini. He used his observations in 1666 of the surface markings on Mars to determine a rotation period of 24h 40m. You could try to repeat Cassini's work if you have a telescope. It is helpful to know what Martian surface features are currently pointing toward Earth. You can do that using the online tool named Mars Profiler, available at the Sky and Telescope web site: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/celestial-objects-to-watch/mars-which-side-is-visible/#
The Mars Profiler app is shown below along with a black and white photo I took of Mars on September 11, 2003. My photo clearly shows the dark surface feature named Syrtis Major. To confirm the identity of Syrtis Major, I used the Mars Profiler app. As you can see, the app confirms that I did indeed photograph Syrtis Major. Observing Mars can be challenging, but with persistence, you can be successful. If you make just two observations of Syrtis Major, positioned at about the same place on two adjacent days, at the same time, then you can confirm that the rotation period is about 24 hours. The more observations you make over more days, the more accurate your calculations of rotation can be.
Here is a photo of Mars that I took on May 30, 2016. The camera exposure was 10 seconds at f 4.5. Mars is the bright object in the upper right of the photo. If you have a camera that can take long exposures, try using it to record the position of Mars on different nights. I also took photos on May 23 and May 27 and have marked the position of Mars on this photo using red arrows. During this time period Mars is in retrograde motion (east to west).
This is a full frame of the Mars photo taken on May 30. I have labeled Mars, Saturn and the Red giant star Antares. I have also drawn in with red lines the constellation of Scorpius.
GEAR Club members interested in astronomy are welcome to visit the La Favre observatory and use the 14 inch telescope. The robotic mount for the telescope has been repaired and the observatory is now operational. If you would like to watch the robotic mount go through its paces, watch this video.
Last update: April 7, 2020