I'll be visiting Alpine and West Texas December 27-31. Drop me a line if you'd like to get together while I'm there!
You've just got to love The Great Courses. This is what television could have been. PBS is the only thing that comes close. I just completed The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know, presented by Dr. Joshua Winn, now at Princeton University. Not since Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson have I been this excited about an astronomy presenter. Josh Winn presents his exoplanets course with enthusiasm, precision, and a delivery that really draws you in to the subject. I hope we see much more of him in the future.
I'm looking for a place within 10 miles or so of Dodgeville with a good view of the night sky and no nearby lights where I could quietly set up a telescope or lawn chair (for meteors) or camera (for northern lights photography) at any time of any clear night. I'd be willing to pay for the privilege. There are good observing locations at Governor Dodge State Park, but I'd have to leave the park by 11:00 p.m. which is soon after astronomical twilight ends during the summer months. I used to have a good observing location at a farmer's field access, but it is now roped off with a no-trespassing sign (not due to me—this happened during the five and a half years I was in Texas). It is so difficult to find a legally-accessible dark-sky-site in the Dodgeville area. Can you help?
Governor Dodge State Park was established in 1955 and is the fourth largest state park in Wisconsin. It offers several excellent locations for astronomical observation, most notably the large open grassy area just east of the Twin Valley Lake picnic area, and the paved parking lot for the backpack campsites. The latter location is the furthest away from the urban skyglow of Dodgeville that offers a good view of nearly the entire sky.
State park regulations require everyone to leave the park by 11:00 p.m., with some exceptions made for overnight campers, fishing, and public programs in progress (such as public star parties). Since most stargazing can only be done after 11:00 p.m. (especially during the warm months of the year), this rule greatly diminishes access to our state parks for astronomical activities. I would like to see one designated area of Governor Dodge State Park—the Twin Valley Lake picnic area site—open all night long for astronomical activities. So, we would add an additional exception to the 11:00 p.m. curfew:
7. Registered stargazers may be in or en route to the designated observing site during closed hours.
A "registered" stargazer would be anyone who has a non-expired annual state park pass and has registered with the park as an amateur astronomer / stargazer. Whenever possible, those planning to visit the designated observing site after hours should notify park staff that day before the park office closes, but this should not be required as sometimes the sky unexpectedly clears or a northern lights display commences after hours that cannot be anticipated beforehand.
Here's another idea. The Wisconsin DNR could issue an extra-fee annual astronomy sticker which would allow registrants 24-7 access to designated astronomy areas in participating state parks. This is an attractive idea because it would be another revenue source for our cash-strapped state park system. Administration and site maintenance costs would be minimal.
I would also like to see a public observatory built at Governor Dodge at the Twin Valley Lake picnic area observing site. One need only go down the road 71 minutes (and 57 miles) to Wyalusing State Park to visit the wonderful Huser Astronomy Center to find inspiration for what could be done at Governor Dodge. However, as often happens, funds were donated to build the astronomy center but not to operate it. An all-volunteer organization, the Starsplitters of Wyalusing State Park, operates this astronomy center, and it is frequently a challenge to find volunteers to do the many programs that are required and requested throughout the year. I firmly believe that if a part-time employee were hired by Wyalusing State Park and paid by the DNR to operate the astronomy center and coordinate the volunteers, this would ensure that the astronomy center can be sustained and prosper for many years to come. The same must be done if an observatory is ever to be built at Governor Dodge.
Iowa County, Wisconsin needs a secular, four-part (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir for adult singers that meets regularly. When was the last time this area had something like that? I really miss singing in the tenor section of the Sul Ross State University Concert Choir under the outstanding leadership of Dr. Donald Freed.
Happily, I began observing asteroid occultation events again in September 2016. I intend to become increasingly active in this research niche as time goes on, especially once I begin semi-retirement in about five or six years. I'd like to get very involved in IOTA activities, especially developing a turnkey system to make it easy and affordable for many more observers to participate in this interesting and rewarding area of astronomical data collection. I would also like to become deeply involved in the computational aspects of occultation science.
In the future, astronomical research will increasingly consist of crowd-sourced analysis of archived data generated by a few large telescopes around the world and in space, where the researcher's location is not important at all. While certainly this will lead to many discoveries, I would like to focus on an area of astronomical data collection where the observer's location is crucial: occultation science. The star-shadows that asteroids and TNOs cast upon the Earth's surface are at most a few miles wide, and if the observer is not in the shadow path, an event will not be recorded. The chances of a professional research observatory being in the path of any particular event of interest are usually quite small.
Eventually, we'll be able to directly image infrared dwarfs and even exoplanets during some asteroid and TNO occultation events. Currently, we can use them to discover new binary stars, asteroid & TNO satellites, and asteroid & TNO ring systems. With multiple observing stations (and events), we can accurately characterize the size and shapes of asteroids and TNOs. Even with a single observing station, we can determine a very accurate position for an asteroid or TNO, and thus improve that object's orbital elements.