June 14, 2022: “Digital Stars” (Computers in Astronomy)

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. — so that we may start on time, please arrive at least 5 minutes before the meeting begins.

Photo courtesy of Keith Johnson

(Click for larger version)

Astronomy and computers have been intimately connected since the abacus was used to perform astronomical calculations in the 17th century; each has fostered the development of the other. One example: the first image sensors that eventually became the ones in your iPhone were first developed in the 1970s to capture deep-sky images from the big research telescopes.

Astronomer Keith Johnson will talk about a few topics for computers in astronomy. Examples include computers in astronomical research (how to find out what stars are like on their insides, and why they sometimes explode); planetarium applications you can install on your Mac; image processing (why published NASA photos are so beautiful); public online resources (how to predict bright satellite passes in your sky; daily gorgeous photos of everything in the cosmos; downloadable Hubble pics and movies); citizen science (how anybody can make discoveries on their home computers from the Big Data sets); public remote access (how to take a picture with a big telescope in Europe while staying at home with your desktop Mac); and many others.

Keith urges members to tell him their preferences on which topics they are most interested, and other topics that could be added (there are many!)

The meeting will be held online through Zoom — members should check their e-mail for instructions on how to connect and attend. We hope you can join us.

A limited number of non-member audience “seats” at our Zoom meeting are also available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you wish to attend, please e-mail pres@pmug-nj.org, and include your full name to receive an invitation with connection information.

About the Presenter
Keith Johnson earned an M.S. in astronomy from Steward Observatory/University of Arizona about 24 (Martian) years ago. He’s worked in planetariums around the country, and most recently as Director of Rowan University’s Fredric and Jean Edelman Planetarium, from which he retired in 2016. His first attempt to use a computer in astronomy was a program he wrote to determine the positions of celestial objects in the night sky; it was written for the TI-59 programmable calculator, and was stored on four small strips of magnetic card a bit smaller than a stick of gum.

He served as a night assistant at the 36-foot radio telescope in Tucson while attending graduate school; this entailed entering bootup commands in a PDP-11 computer using toggle switches, which allowed the computer to read in a larger set of instructions from a paper tape, which finally made the computer capable of operating a magnetic storage disk about 18 inches across. The second year, the telescope recieved a 300-baud telephone modem to send the data from the mountain to downtown Tucson—sometimes.

Keith’s last professional use of computers was with two high-power Windows (unfortunately) machines that projected 3D simulations onto the dome of a planetarium—including full-dome movies. After retiring, he has mostly been creating games using FileMaker Pro; his current project is Monopoly, which is an intriguing challenge.