Maharishi Vedic Observatory

Fairfield is a city in southeast Iowa with a population of 9416 based on the 2020 census. Like many places, it has a varied and interesting history. Higher education played a large role in that history. Fairfield was home to Parsons College from 1875 to 1973. Enrollment peaked at 5000 in 1966. Soon after, the school and it’s president, Millard G. Roberts, got caught up in questionable activities. Life magazine published a critical article. The school lost accreditation and he was asked to resign. Enrollment dropped and the school closed in 1973 bankrupt and $14 million in debt.

The following year the campus was purchased by Maharishi International University. It promotes consciousness-based education which includes Transcendental Meditation technique in its practices. Full potential of the individual, reaching economic goals, living in harmony with the environment, and bringing spiritual fulfillment and happiness to humanity are some of the goals of MIU. Follow links to find out more about MIU. This blog post is not an attempt to promote or endorse in any way.

Our recent visit to Fairfield and the campus was to visit their Maharishi Vedic Observatory. This aerial image shows it is not what one thinks of when describing an observatory. There is no large telescope dome. Instead, it is made up of 10 solar and celestial measurement instruments, or sundials, and a collection of inner circles.

Iowa Source Magazine
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Lunar Eclipse | 15 May 2022

The skies cleared as evening approached. The Moon was aligned with Earth and the Sun. Their syzygy at 9:30 pm CDT brought the Moon into the umbra of the Earth’s shadow. Desktop software gave a simulated view like this. The faint inner circle is the umbra. The larger circle is the penumbra.

My camera was mounted on a tripod and set for capturing images about every 15 minutes starting at 9:30. The images were cropped to place the umbra in nearly the same place in each image. That placement highlighted the movement of the Moon over the 15 minute time periods between photos.

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Analemmas | Solar and Lunar

Solar Analemma

Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of a Solar Analemma. Set up a camera pointing toward the southern sky so it will record the position of the Sun. Take a picture of that same part of the sky at the same time every day for a year. Adjust for daylight saving time changes in the spring and fall. Some days will be cloudy. Enough clear days will allow images to capture the Sun’s location and resulting pattern in the sky over the course of the year.

The team of Alan Smith and Joe Startin of the Orwel Astronomical Society near Ipswich, Suffolk, UK, reported on their efforts to do just that in 2014-2015. Their story is here. They used a webcam pointing south controlled by a computer. It took a picture mid-day for a year. They created an animated GIF with the images. Below is a screen shot of their GIF after a year of solar images. It is called the analemma. The shape of the analemma is primarily due to two factors. The Earth’s axis is tilted with respect to the plane of its orbit, hence the up and down variation. And, Earth’s orbit is not circular causing the left and right variation. The Earth’s axial tilt also has an effect on the left-right variation. A more detailed explanation of the shape of the analemma can be found courtesy of Louis Strous of the National Solar Observatory, Sacramento Peak, NM.

Alan Smith and Joe Startin | Orwel Astronomical Society
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Angle of Sunlight Over Time

I conducted a long series of observations for nearly 4 months. No scientific discoveries were expected. I was just curious.

We have a window that faces south. In the summer months, the roof overhang blocked the sunlight from shining through the glass. Starting about September 1st, the lower elevation angle of the Sun at noon allowed it to shine onto the floor. As the weeks passed, the shadow of the window sill moved farther from the wall. I found a long strip of paper to record the edge of the shadow of the sill at various dates. This image illustrates the sunlight paths for the 1st of Sep, Oct, Nov, and Dec.

Light rays over the window sill at the four selected dates.
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Lunar Eclipse For Night Owls

The Moon passes through the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow in the early morning hours of 19 Nov 2021. Normally, that would be called a total lunar eclipse. Not quite this time. About 3% of the Moon will not enter the umbra at 3:03 am. But, it will still be a worthy sight. This diagram from Sky & Telescope shows the details for the central time zone in the US. More information can be found at this S&T url.

I set my planetarium software to illustrate the eclipse. It starts at midnight and proceeds to 6 am. The video lasts 25 sec.