Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
January, 2000

In This Issue

January Meetings  December Star Party  Membership Dues
Member News Head School Sky Show On the Web Page
Book Review What's Up This Month  New Observing Site
  Editor's Reflections  

January Meetings

The January meeting of the Auburn Astronomical Society will be on Friday, January 7, in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building on the campus of Auburn University. Montgomery area car-poolers should meet at my house (518 Seminole Drive). We'll head for Auburn at 7:00 PM. 

Our program will be a presentation by Jack McDaniel, on his findings of a possible permanent observing site in the Tuskegee National Forest. (See details below)

In lieu of a regular star party in January, we might want to consider a group site survey of the two locations that Jack has found for us. A final decision will be made at the meeting, and a reminder sent out Saturday morning following the meeting.

December Star Party

Forecasts for clouds and rain not withstanding, Saturday, December 4, brought clear dry skies to the Snipes Farm for an unusually mild December night for our monthly star party. Attending were: Eddie Kirkland, Phillip Hosey, Russell Whigham, William Baugh, Nichole Long, Alan and Max Cook, and our hosts, Darlene & Donnie Snipes. Phillip spent the early part of the evening struggling with vanishing guide stars while doing some CCD imaging, then later switched to Fuji 800 film & 35mm camera (see below). The rest of us shared views of the winter showpieces, a few new targets, a few dim planetary nebulae to take advantage of the very transparent sky, and a dynamic display put on by our old friend, Jupiter. We observed festoons in the NEB, major disturbance in the SEB and an encore transit of Io. Just when we were about to start getting cold, our most excellent hostess, Darlene, invited us down to the house for hot apple cider, hot chocolate and enough calorie replenishment to keep us warm throughout the rest of the evening. Thanks again Darlene!

Membership Dues This Month

January is the month to renew our membership. In order to remain a member in good standing and to ensure that you don't miss a single issue of the Astronomical League's Reflector, send your annual $15.00 for Regular Membership or $7.50 for Full-Time Students to our treasurer, John Zachry.   Make checks payable to: Auburn Astronomical Society and mail to:

Mr. John Zachry
Auburn Astronomical Society, Secretary/Treasurer
501 Summerfield Road
West Point GA 31833
Or, you can save the postage and bring your dues to the meeting. For questions about your dues or membership status, contact John at

John spends a lot of time and considerable effort updating records for "The League", so please try to make it as simple as possible by having your renewal in to him by this month's meeting.

Member News

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Dorn Majure as our newest member. If you haven't already met Dorn, you can get to know him on the AAS "Who R U" web page.

Have a look at Phillip Hosey's Horsehead and environs at his new and improved Astro Images Page at his new address:

After several years of whining, wheedling, and nagging on my part, Dr. James McLaughlin has joined the ranks of the e-people. Jim's e-mail address is:

Some of you may remember Tony Murray, from Georgetown Georgia, who spoke to us about occultation timing back in the early days of AAS. Well, Tony is still at it. I caught up with Tony after reading an IOTA announcement of a positive report (Tony's) on the occultation of the asteroid, 63 Ausonia by Tony. He writes:

My telescope is the same old one I had then, but on a proper mount with clock drive. I'm getting the equipment together right now for video and I'm going to specialize in asteroidal occultations. I wish we had had more success the other night with Ausonia.

If you come by this way, come by and see me some time.


Good to hear from you, Tony. Keep up the good work with the occultations.

Head School Sky Show 

At the request of Susan Mallett, principal of Head Elementary School, in Montgomery, members of the Auburn Astronomical Society acted as tour guides to the stars for close to 300 students, parents, and teachers, as part of the school's emphasis on "Space Week". On Tuesday, December 14, Jack McDaniel with his 4.5-inch reflector, Rick Fanning with his 8-inch Meade LX-200, Tom McGowan with his 8-inch Dobsonian, and your editor with the C-11, set up their telescopes on the school's ball field and were rewarded by the sheer awe of many first time observers as they looked at Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon through "real telescopes". We heard repeated variations on the theme: "Is that REAL?" "Hey Mom, you've gotta see this!" The local ABC affiliate, WNCF Channel 32, was there with a camera crew and taped the kids queued at the telescopes and peering into the eyepieces. The tape was aired on the 10:00 news. 

Ms. Mallett learned about AAS after reading a newspaper article about the Emerald Mountain School star party that we hosted back in August. This sort of outreach by the club has been over-looked for too long. If we have a chance to do this sort of thing again, all of us who were there can attest to the positive impact that we made and highly recommend doing it as a "feel good" event on our part. It's rewarding to think that many of these kids will hold the memory of seeing Saturn for the first time throughout their lives. And, who knows, maybe even take up the hobby at some future date. Don't you remember the first time you saw Saturn?

New On the Web Page

In order to reflect the change in our observing sites, I've updated the "Field Trips" and "Star Party" pages. Now, when you click on the "Star Party" icon, you'll find links to all of our observing sites. The "Millry Dark Sky Site" and Allen's "Dark Parks" have been moved from the "Field Trip" page. I expect that the link to Hart's Field will soon be removed because of the new owners' home construction will be starting soon. Let's hope we soon have a new one to take its place.

Book Review

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love
Dava Sobel
Walker & Company, New York, 1999 ($27)

The daughter of the title was Virginia, eldest of Galileo’s three children. She spent her adult life in the Franciscan convent of San Matteo, near Florence, as Suor Maria Celeste, a name she chose (according to Sobel) "in a gesture that acknowledged her father’s fascination with the stars."

From there she carried on a lifelong correspondence with him—doting, supportive, stylish letters. (His side of the correspondence is not to be found; the mother abbess "apparently buried or burned" his letters out of fear of having the convent associated with a man "vehemently suspected" of heresy by the Inquisition.)

Galileo greatly admired his daughter, describing her in a letter to a friend in Paris as "a woman of exquisite mind, singular goodness, and most tenderly attached to me." Science writer Sobel, learning that 124 of Maria Celeste’s letters survive in the National Central Library of Florence, went there, translated them and made them the basis of this lucid review of Galileo’s life and scientific achievements.

It is a humanizing approach to the great man and makes for fine reading. The letters, Sobel says, "recolor the personality and conflict of a mythic figure, whose seventeenth-century clash with Catholic doctrine continues to define the schism between science and religion."

You can read all of her letters here: and

What's Up
(From Sky & Telescope Magazine)

Quadrantid Meteors Peak
Every year the Quadrantid meteor shower produces a strong display lasting only a few hours. This year the peak is expected on January 4th at 5:29 Universal Time (12:29 a.m. EST) This timing is optimal for meteor watchers in western Europe and eastern North America. Wherever you are, Quadrantid-watching time generally runs from about 2 a.m. local time to dawn, but East Coasters may want to be out there around midnight. Later in the night, the shower’s radiant (located halfway from the end of the Big Dipper’s handle to the head of Draco) is well up in the northeastern sky. The farther north you are the better. You may see 60 or more meteors per hour under ideal sky conditions. With the Moon a thin crescent, it will be well out of the way. The Quadrantids are the only major annual shower whose source object is unknown. According to recent studies, the meteoroid stream probably originated only about 500 years ago from a now-inactive comet that is currently masquerading as an Earth-crossing asteroid in a high-inclination orbit.

Sun Biggest And Brightest Since . . . Last Year!
The Earth reaches the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun -- called perihelion—near midnight Eastern Standard Time the night of January 2nd. The Sun will be 91,405,436 miles away (98.332 percent of its average distance), and will appear 29 arcminutes 24 arcseconds in diameter.

Total Lunar Eclipse
Dust off that chaise lounge, dig out your sleeping bag, fix yourself thermos of hot chocolate, lay back and enjoy the show. Here's a chance to do some astronomy from your own back yard.

The night of January 20-21 Times CST
Moon enters Penumbra 08:03 PM
Moon enters Umbra 09:01 PM
Totality Begins 10:05 PM
Mideclipse 10:44 PM
Totality Ends 11:22 PM
Moon exits Umbra 12:25 AM
Moon exits Penumbra 01:24 AM

Return Of Comet Machholz 2
After ranging out as far as Jupiter’s orbit during its 5.2-year revolution of the Sun, Comet Machholz 2 has returned for a favorable apparition in the evening sky. It could brighten to 7th magnitude, then fade during January as it moves from Capricornus and Aquarius toward Cetus. Be on the lookout for one or more fragments that broke off during the 1994 apparition and may be traveling in a similar orbit.
“Split comets rarely maintain brightness for any great length of time -- that is, multiple revolutions,” warns Sky & Telescope contributing editor John Bortle. “So it will be interesting to see just what this object does do. I would not be at all surprised if it were to fade—
perhaps completely out—at some point during the current apparition.”  Here are positions for Comet Machholz 2 for the coming week for 0 hours UT in 2000.0 coordinates:

Date R.A.  Dec.
Dec. 31 22h 36m -13.8 deg.
Jan. 2 22h 54m -14.1 deg.
Jan. 4 23h 12m  -14.4 deg.
Jan. 6  23h 32m -14.6 deg.

Possible New Observing Site

Jack McDaniel recently spent a day exploring the Tuskegee National Forest, in search of a permanent dark sky observing site for the society. Jack reports finding two possible sites, one of them being particularly promising! Jack will present his findings at the January meeting. He spoke at length with the Tuskegee National Forest District Ranger, Thomas E. Haines, and came away with a very good impression of the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship between Tuskegee National Forest and the Auburn Astronomical Society. As mentioned in an earlier discussion on the subject, a "Special Use Permit" would be required, which doesn't seem to be a problem. The possibility of a multi-year lease for a nominal fee would ensure long term assurance of a permanent site for us.


As we anticipate the cultural odometer turning over this weekend, I am reminded that the Auburn Astronomical Society will celebrate its 20th anniversary this September. From our humble charter meeting of four souls at Keith Hudson's house in 1980, we have grown in our collective knowledge and astronomical expertise. And, I'll have to say, we've done a pretty fair job of promoting amateur astronomy since those early days: 

  • The Astronomy Day events at the Village Mall and Chewacla State Park. 
  • The occultation of 14 Piscium by the asteroid 51 Nemausa in '83. 
  • The "Introduction to Astronomy" Continuing Education courses that we taught.
  • The camaraderie and friendships that grew from hundreds of man-hours of labor on the observatory.
  • The annular solar eclipse in May of '84. 
  • Halley's Comet in '85 and '86. 
  • The tours of the Wetumpka meteor crater, first with Dr. Neathery in the 80's and more recently with Dr. King, 
  • The '91 total solar eclipse. 
  • The Shoemaker-Levy/9 impact on Jupiter in '94. 
  • Comet Hyakutake in '96.
  • Comet Hale-Bopp in '97. 
  • From the days when the largest telescope in the club was an eight-inch, to now, when we have telescopes in the 18-inch and 20-inch range. 
  • From 400 speed film to CCD's. 
  • From manual guiding to the LX-200 GoTo's. 
  • And just recently, and perhaps the most useful tool to aid amateur astronomy, the personal computer and universal access to the Internet and the instant communication that it affords.

Yet one thing remains constant -- the thrill of sharing our passion for astronomy with each other.

Happy New Year! (clink)

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,