Astronomy Education .Organization

This area is fully editable and gives you the opportunity to go into more detail about your business, what you do and what sets you apart from the competition.

This area is fully editable and gives you the opportunity to go into more detail about your business, what you do and what sets you apart from the competition.

This area is fully editable and gives you the opportunity to go into more detail about your business, what you do and what sets you apart from the competition.

 ​​Space Definition


 ​​Celestial     Motion



Wonderful, imagination provoking, visually-modeled science specials abound about the processes of the universe.  Yet, none of these provide any useful perspective or relative context of motion, distance, size, time, or energy of the Universe.  But it is ony when we establish understanding of our location in the Universe can awe take hold and grow for the rest of our lives, as we travel knowledgablfrom our planet into the heavens.  

"A computer programmer is someone who tries to get a computer to do what everyone else already knows how to do."

                                                          - Unknown

"Imagination is more important than knowledge"
                                                         - Einstein

The physics of the universe was  solved with paper, pencil, and the human mind.  A hundred years later computer models add precision and validation.
- R. Magnuson
Most people, upon stumbling across the truth, pick up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."

​                                       - W. Churchhill
The concept of galaxies came about in 1923 from measurements by Edwin Hubble.  Before then it was thought the Milky Way was the boundary of the Universe.
- R. Magnuson
90% of people in the United States have never seen the Milky Way.  Light pollution wastes billions of dollars of electricity a year indiscriminately lighting up the sky.  Many western states and communities have strict laws controlling outdoor lighting, preserving the natural resource that connects and guides the rhythm of life.


A 10" telescope today with digital inaging equipment is equivalent to a 100" telescope in the film emulsion era, giving the amateur astronomer incredible capability.
- R. Magnuson
International DARK SKY Association
The Theory of Relativity came to Albert Einstein while he was playing the piano.
The structure of physics and music are related.
- R. Magnuson
If a scientist cannot, in five minutes, explain the most complex concept to a five year-old, he himself does not understand it.
                                      - Enrico Fermi         
While temperatures reach millions of degrees in celestial processes, the lowest temperature possible is -468 F. Comfortable for us is only 540 F above absolute zero.
- R. Magnuson

English is such a wonderfully uniform language, tying together several nations without barrier as their primary language, and many as a secondary language.  Why would any native English language generation seek to destroy this standardization and their link to much of the history of the written world?

- R. Magnuson
Fermi had no tolerance for using scientific language to embelish the presenters ego.  Upon hearing such during a conference, he said afterwards he was "still confused but at a higher level."
                                     - Enrico Fermi

“Physicists are made of atoms.
A physicist is an attempt by an atom to understand itself.”

    - Michio Kaku   
"Nothing in this world is new except history you don't know"

- Harry Truman

Mind Calibration
 Our Misconceptions 

We live in a very special region of space, an ideal distance from the Sun, known as the Goldilocks Zone.  This provides us with a very narrow range of conditions required to support life on Earth.  However, common use of "cold, hot, warm, fast, slow, big, small, far" and so on relative to our experience have to be replaced by numbers that span the range of conditions found in the Universe.  The following subjects on scientific literacy will be covered.                                                     
1.  Space Definition
2.  Gravity
3.  Celestial Motion
3.  Perspective
5.  Energy

Randall S. Magnuson
President and CEO,
My first view through a telescope happened in 1969, as I walked by someone in the neighborhood who had his homemade 6" Edmund Scientific f/8 reflector out on the front sidewalk.  The object was Jupiter, and that image remains indelibly etched in my mind.  I eventually also obtained the same telescope.  

Experiences such as this can be life shaping events: he went on to a pHD at Penn State, and I settled into a nuclear operations and engineering career as a Senior Reactor Operator for large electric-generating facility Pressurized Water Reactors.  

It was truly a privilege to command the process of generating more than a billion watts of electricity with zero emissions.  It was always a thrill to stand on the main turbine deck and feel that transfer of power: 1.5 million horsepower of torque on a shaft spinning at a constant 1800 RPM.  It represented the pinacle US of technology: one that, today, unfortunately, seems to be a victim of decreased US capability.

Eventually my sidewalk telescope friend began safety modeling of the new generation AP1000 reactors, and we came full circle to a common endeavor.  Today he is retired and pursuing a lifelong interest in cross country cycling.  

Years of operations and training experience have resulted in an ability to transfer the understanding of fundamental concepts to students.  

Photos: Randy Magnuson
The Great Amercian Eclipse
21 August 2017
1.  Space Definition
A vertical highway is built, going stright up from Earth.  Select how long it will take to drive into space.

A.  One hour
B.  24 hours
C.  30 days
D.  365 days

Answer:  A.  Space begins 60 miles above Earth by definition. Space is therefore an hour's drive.  At this altitude, the atmosphere is essentially non-existent, the sky is black, and the Earth is round.

2.  Gravity
Continuing up the vertical highway, we pull into a parking lot at 120 miles up.  Given we weighed 150 pounds on Earth, select what we weigh walking around the parking lot.

A.  Zero pounds: we are weightless.
B.  150 pounds: same as on Earth.
C.  141 pounds.
D.  75 pounds.

Answer:  C.  The common misconception is the answer would be weightless.   Near Earth weightlessness such as in the International Space Station is a function of orbital mechanics. Anything orbiting Earth is in free fall to the surface.  The reason is doesn't is because it is traveling so fast it misses the ground, "falling around the edge."  The minimum speed required for this is about 17,000 mph.  This is why rockets, when launched, quickly roll over and travel more horizontally than vertically, to gain orbital speed.

Select which ONE of the following answers is INCORRECT regarding earth's gravity,

A.  It is maximum at the Earth's surface.
B.  It extends forever from Earth.
C.  If you go into a deep coal mine, you will weigh less.
D.  Since denser objects weigh more, they drop faster.

Answer: D.  Gravity acts equally on all objects, no matter their weight.
Photo: Randy Magnuson

Photo: Randy Magnuson
3.  Celestial Motion

Select which ONE of the following is FALSE.

A.  A day and a year have nothing to do with each other.
B.  A year is 365 days long.
C.  Leap Year means one more day to do taxes.
D.  A person living in Chicago is traveling about 750 miles
      per hour due to Earth's rotation.

Answer: B.  The earth spins about 365.2422 times for every orbit around the Sun.  The use of "365 days in a year" is a human approximation of convienence, but is wrong, requiring adding a day to the calendar - a 366 day year - every four years (so-called leap year).  Even this is an approximation, as it over estimates by using 365.25 days in a year than the actual 365.2422.  So about every 400 years, February 29th is skipped.  In summary, there are more than 365 spins of the earth in one solar orbit, so the number of days in a year have to be adjusted.  A year is the point the Earth returns to the exact same orbital position, and has nothing to do with its spin rate.


For more information on celestial motion, try the Coriolis Effect (find a merry-go-round and take a ball with you!!!). Related: when flying to and from Europe / America or other long haul destinations, why are the flight lines curved and not straight between the two points? Or are they?

Find out the relationshp between the distance of planets from the Sun and their orbital periods and speeds.

Find out what a geostationary satellite is.  If you have satellite TV, you are aimed at one.  Why does it stay in one place?  Doesn't it have to orbit Earth to prevent from falling back to Earth?

Photo: Randy Trank

​Contributor Randy Trank at Yerkes Observatory, 10-21-17

This is the most important aspect of learning space.  How big are objects and how far apart are they compared to their size?  The short answer is that if all matter was broken into evenly spaced atoms in space, there would be about 1/4 atom per cubic meter.  

This perspective will start with your position on Earth, and work outward.

The Moon is only 240,000 miles from Earth.  A commercial jet airliner could fly there --- if  there was air all the way --- in about 20 days.   The Moon, Earth, and planets are very small compared to the distance between them.  Here is an actual picture of the Earth and Moon, taken by a spacecraft 6 million miles away, on its way to a planetary mission:

The difference in Earth orbit and lunar expeditions is great: if the shuttle were shown on this photograph, it would be too close to Earth to see.  The shuttle flew up to around 350 mile high orbits: Apollo travelled 240,000 miles, or almost 700 times the altitude of the shuttle, one-way to the Moon.  It was accomplished ten times between 1969-1972, resulting in six landings, that have yet to be challenged.  

If we flash a light on the moon and look for it on Earth, it takes about 1.5 seconds for the light to travel the distance.  The Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, or 387 times further than the Moon.  Light takes 8 minutes to travel from the Sun to earth.  If one places the size of the Sun on this picture, it would be 109 times greater diameter than earth.  Diameter is NOT a ratio of the size of round objects: VOLUME is.  When one calculates the VOLUME of the Sun compared to Earth, it is 1,300,000 times larger, and weighs 330,000 times that of Earth.  Yet, compared to the volume of space contained in a sphere the radius of the Earth to the Sun, the volume of the Sun, Earth, and Moon are negligible.  

The mass of all the planets and asteroids make up about .2% of the Sun's mass.  

The Sun is "Joe Average" among stars.  The sun is classified as a G-type main-sequence star, or G dwarf star, or more imprecisely, a yellow dwarf.  Actually, the sun — like other G-type stars — is white, but appears yellow through Earth's atmosphere.  

Stars do not randomly appear in space, but are clustered in galaxies.  Although looking crowded - our galaxy contains 100 BILLION suns - stars are very far apart compared to their size.    

Look up into the night sky.  How much black is there compared to the stars and planets? All stars, except the Sun, are so far away their disks cannot be magnified in any telescope.  "Big stars" seen in photographs are an unfortunate consequence of overexposed camera sensors, called "blooming."   The human eye, at 50 times the resolution of the best camera sensors in 2017, makes them a poor representation of what eyes would see if they could travel......

Still looking at the night sky, in a very dark area, you may see about 4000 stars per hemisphere and a couple of planets.  

Distances from Earth to planets.

- Mars: average 100 million miles (416 trips to the Moon, or about the same distance Earth to the Sun: Earth is about halfway between the Sun and Mars).

- Jupiter: 410 million miles, or 1708 trips to the Moon.

- Saturn: 793 million miles, or 3,304 trips to the Moon.

-Uranus: 1691 million miles, or 7045 trips to the Moon.

Neptune: 2791 million miles, or 11,628 trips to the Moon.

Pluto: 3,578 million miles, or 14,907 trips to the Moon.

We can see that with current technology, even Mars is impractical, if not impossible, to reach in a reasonable amount of time with due respect for safety and emergency return options.  Chemical rockets simply will not do: nuclear propulsion has to be used to make this within acceptable risk and safety limits.  

How to get to a planet

Man has reached all planets with probes, including Pluto, which took 9.5 years to reach. Every trick in the book is used to reach planets in a reasonable amount of time (10 years or less).  Appreciate that probes that go to planets are not powered by rocket engines once they get into space except for maybe a slight course correction.  Here is your task:

- Throw by rocket launch, a probe at Jupiter, 410 million miles away.  The probe glides there.

- Aim at Jupiter from Earth, to arrive at the precise distance to sling-shot around along the way, to speed it up.  Now again, realize this is a 410 million mile throw from Earth to Jupiter that must arrive at a precise distance, speed, and time, years from now, where Jupiter will be THEN.  

- Jupiter accelerates and changes the probes course, flinging it towards Pluto.  The probe gains 10,000 mph hour speed.  This is one hell of a physics calculation of differential equations.  Speed is constantly changing.  Planet position is constantly changing.  Get precise answers 9 years from now, on what to do NOW.  

- Glide another THREE BILLION PLUS miles to Pluto, arriving at only 8000 miles distance!  Again, where will Pluto be in about 5 years from the "Jupiter Fling." This is the definition of precision, the best mankind has ever accomplished.  A total 3.5 BILLION mile throw to a target, arriving within 8000 miles, or .000000022 % error.  

How to get to a star

Back to standing on Earth, the nearest star is 25 TRILLION miles away, or 4.3 light-years.  This is 300,000 times the distance to the Sun.  If travelling on an Apollo spacecraft, you would have to make 387 trips to the Moon to reach the Sun, but a whopping 116 MILLION trips to the Moon to reach the nearest star.  Again, compared to the size of the stars, the distances between them are so vast as to make the stars mass negligible in comparison.  

All of the 4000 stars you see are the closest ones in our Milky Way galaxy.  You cannot see any individual stars beyond those relatively close to us in OUR galaxy with the unaided eye. The AVERAGE star distance of those you see is about 900 TRILLION miles (150 ly) away.  Now the number of trips to the Moon is over FOUR BILLION to reach the average star you see.  

So there is no comparing what we have accomplished so far, travel to the Moon, to other stars or even the closest planet, Mars. 

We must now depart miles and km exclusively for light years, as the terrestrial-unit measured distances relative to Earth must be discarded as insignificant distances.  Light travels 186,000 miles (or 300,000 meters) per second, or about six trillion miles or nine trillion km / year.  Getting to the nearest stars requires travelling on the speed of light scale.

The furthest star you can see with the unaided eye is about 16,000 light-years away.  

Where are you?

"440 Elm Street, Rockpile USA" doesn't quite make it.  You are going to be Edwin Hubble in 1923 and discover, for yourself, what the Milky Way is, where you are in it, and the perspective of where it and you are in the Universe.  

- Camera tripod.

- DSLR camera (not cell phones) of any type that can shoot a time exposure.  

- A standard every day 55 mm general lens, perhaps a 18-55 mm zoom lens (standard with many Canon cameras).

- A car.  Dark, moonless sky where you can easily see the northern Milky Way.  This will require travel out of 95% of the eastern US, to a dark area (at least green, or better: blue / black). Best season is fall to spring.  

- Place camera on tripod, focus to infinity (use distant terestrial object), aim at the Milky Way in the northern sky to include the constellation Andromeda.  

- Put camera in MANUAL, on highest ISO speed: 6400 usually is good.  

- Take picture using 15 - 60 seconds time exposure.  Longer is better but the Earth's rotation will cause the stars to become trails.  Less magnification, less effect. Experiment!

- From your picture establish your point of reference in the Universe.  Compare the Milky Way to the "white smudge", deduce what each one is, and where you are located in the picture relative to each.  Paper and pencil to sketch your model are useful: make art of it!  The Universe paints a picture even Rembrandt could not dream of.

Ah haaaa....

Your picture should look something like this:


4. Perspective

Actual photo Earth-Moon

Murray Butte on Mars.

On average, Mars is 416 times further than an Apollo one-way trip to the moon, which is about the same distance of Earth to the Sun.
Photo: NASA

Juno Images Jupiter....

...Like never before possible.  The radiation fields are intense, and the limiting orbital approach distance is determined by the shielding of instruments on Juno.  This the equivalent of high pressure weather on Jupiter.

There are three layers of clouds on Jupiter, and each one is composed of different molecules. At one level there are clouds of ammonia, at another level there are clouds made of ammonia and sulfur, and at a third level there are clouds of water (H2O).
(Photo / information: NASA)

What Saturn would look like to a human hovering above: blue and gold.

Ice on Pluto

Field Exercise #1:
Hubble's 1923 Discovery

Dark Sky Areas
Moon Calendar

Hubble's at the 100" (3m) telescope at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California.

5. Energy

Energy is quite misunderstood because of its imprecise day-to-day usage.  It is, by definition, the capacity to do work, such as move an object by force over a distance.  Energy can be mechanical, electrical, chemical, nuclear, thermal, kinetic, potential, and molecular to name the most common forms.  It can change from one form to another.  Energy is transferred mainly by radiation (sun-to-skin, sun-to-plants) across the vacuum of space, convection (warm air supplied from a warm front blowing in), and conduction (electric cook top heating a kettle).  We experience and are familar with all three.  Energy in the Universe travels by radiation between bodies in space (Sun to Earth), convection (errupting volcanos) within bodies (Earth), and conduction (from the Earth's molten core through solid layers to the surface layers).  
All energy in the Universe, including on Earth and in your body, is nuclear, from fusion of hydrogen into helium.  All human life is nuclear-powered.  The Sun's nuclear fusion powers everything you eat or burn.  Every move you make.  Fossil fuels are decayed vegetable and animal matter.  Chemicals and their constituent elements result from the eventual process of star plasma-to-supernova-to-decay-to-heavy elements. 

Without radiation, we could not possibly exist.  Radiation is a natural process of energy transfer, and the only one acting across the void of space.  One of the most misunderstood basic processs of nature, irrational human radphobia causes inappropriate decisions at best and often increased risk of alternatives.

The Earth gets hotter as you travel below the surface: coal mines are warm everywhere on Earth and need cooling to be habitable for workers.  The source of Earth's internal heat is a combination of leftover heat from formation and (mostly) radioactive decay.  

The scale of energy produced by fusion processes are unimaginable.  The Sun, insignificant on the scale of the Universe, burns 600 MILLION TONS of hydrogen a second.  That means the Sun consumes a mass of Earth every 70,000 years.  The Sun is so massive that even at this burn rate (conversion from hydrogen to helum) it takes 9 billion years to burn out.  There are billions of stars in each galaxy, and billions of galaxies.  The release of energy from a single star in an end-of-life cataclysmic explosion known as a supernova, for a few days, is greater than that of an entire galaxy.  And yet, compared to the vast volume of space, there is essentially no energy in it.  The Sun regularly blows off several Earth masses into space as positively charged particles that travel to Earth ground and observed as the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.  

The Earth's atmosphere acts as a radiation shield equivalent to twelve feet of concrete.  Any increase in altitude then obviously entails an increase in radiation exposure to the sun.  The effect is negligible until about 20,000 feet, then accelerates quickly, proportional to the decrease in the density of air.  Traveling in unshielded jet airplanes increases radiation exposure from the sun by a factor of 50 at a typical cruising altitude of 37,000 feet.  Exposure in 2 hours is equal to the dose received from a nuclear power plant sitting on the site fence for a year.  Passengers double their average yearly background dose of radiation every 100 hours of flight. 

A scale of energy:

Tsar Bomba Hydrogen Bomb = 50 Megatons (50 million tons of TNT)
All WWll WWII bombs combined = 1/10 of one Tsar Bomba
Sun  = One Tsar Bomba  every  1.23 seconds
Galaxy = 243 billion Tsar Bomba's / sec
Universe = 50 billion x 243 billion Tsar Bomba's / sec
Dark Matter = additional six times visible energy

Total energy of the Universe is therefore 13.8 billion years x 31.5 million seconds / year x above.

Such numbers are truly nonsensical to any human being.  We cannot understand that much energy.   


But WHAT is THE Most Astounding Fact? 
Astrophisics Professor Neil Degrass Tyson: