Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
March, 2003

In this Issue

March Events Ogletree Elementary School Star Gaze
Trinity School Star Gaze Wetumpka Impact Crater Week
Scopes for Sale Astronomy Day, May 10, 2003
New to the Mail List Pretty Planet Pictures
Dustin's New Telescope The Shape of Our Universe

March Events

Our monthly AAS meeting will be on Friday, March 7, at 8:00 PM in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building, on the campus of Auburn University. 

The next dark-sky star party will be on Saturday, March 29, at Cliff Hillís farm.  For those of you who are up to it, we can try for the Messier Marathon.  Check out the page below for your lists, etc.

 Ogletree Elementary School Star Gaze
Greg Glasscock

The Ogletree Star Gaze for tomorrow (Wednesday the 5th) looks to be in great doubt due to the cloud cover predicted.  Therefore I convinced the school to set another date if we can't find a hole in the clouds Wednesday.  We will make a final decision on whether to go for it or not about 1:00PM.  I will send e-mail or call those of you who have expressed interest in helping if we are canceling.

The 2nd attempt, if needed, will be Tuesday March 11th at 6:00PM.  If anyone would like to help on that date let me know or 821-5253 and I will be back in touch.  I think we will have one parent from the school with a 4"reflector already on board.  A couple more telescopes would be great. 

Greg Glasscock

Trinity School Star Gaze

Robert Rock had planned to have the Trinity School star gaze this week, but it looks like the clouds will preclude this yet again.  Watch your In-Box for this to be rescheduled for next week if the weather improves.

Wetumpka Impact Crater Week

Trail of Legends Association, Inc. and The City of Wetumpka are hosting a weekend of Wetumpka Meteor Crater activities:

Thursday March 6, 2003
Lecture:  Special guest lecturer 7:00 pm at Wetumpka High School, Dr. David King, Auburn University, Dept of Geology

Friday March 7, 2003
Dedication:  A dedication of the Historical marker in front of the County Health Dept. at 1:00 pm.

Saturday March 8, 2003
Crater Walkabout  9:00 am - 11:00 am - 1:00 pm 

SORRY NO REFUNDS.  TOLA members -$10 Non-Members - $20

Sunday March 9, 2003
Bicycle Ride Around the Crater

For information contact Hazel Jones (334) 567-1313  Details of the events at:

Scopes for Sale
Eddie Kirkland

I have the following scopes for sale:

Intes MK66 Maksutov-Cassegrain -- 6" OTA, 10X50 finder and bracket w/illuminator, Telrad base, soft carry case, 2" SCT-type visual back with adaptor for refractor-type diagonals; star test is extremely good.  $750.00

Skywatcher 102 f/5 -- This is a Synta-made 4" refractor similar to the one Celestron markets; 2" focuser w/upgraded 2" aluminum focuser knobs from Focusknobs; 6X30 ERECT image finder w/dovetail bracket; rings; foam-lined plastic Plano tool box for travel/storage; like new condition; well collimated; $175.00 

I'm selling to finance another scope; if interested please call me at 334-749-4322.

Eddie Kirkland
Auburn, AL

Astronomy Day, May 10, 2003
Rick Evans

6th Annual Astronomy Day Event  Tentative Agenda

5:00 PM - Public Viewing of telescopes provided by Auburn Astronomical Society.
6:00 PM - Opening Remarks from Montgomery Mayor Bright
6:10 PM - Guest Speaker    Mitzi Adams  Solar Scientist, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center   (Bio)  
6:40 PM - Intermission
6:50 PM - Remarks from Auburn Astronomical Society President (Dr. Rhon Jenkins)
7:00 PM - "Tour of the Night Sky"

The Spitz STP projector  in the auditorium  will be set to display the stars as seen from Montgomery Alabama on May 10, 2003. A brief tour of the night sky will be conducted to point out the constellations visible . (Planetarium Director)

7:30 PM - Columbia Tribute
7:45 PM - Door Prize selection
8:00 PM - Telescopic celestial viewing 

I am open to any changes at this point and have not finalized anything yet.
The Mayor has agreed to come out and do the opening remarks.
Dr. King was unable to come down this year, as he had previous commitments.
Marshall Flight Center has agreed to send Mitzi Adams (a solar Scientist) down to speak.
Will the AAS want to donate a year's membership again this year?
Any input is welcomed.

Rick Evans
W.A. Gayle Planetarium
1010 Forest Ave
Montgomery AL  36106

Hello Rick,

Weíll send you a list of names and telescopes when we get a little closer to Astronomy Day and  folks are in a better position to make commitments -- probably beginning next month.  Yes,  AAS will gladly donate a year's membership again this year.

The agenda looks great.  We will help with individual telescope owners' problems, as we have in the past, with the Telescope Clinic during the "Public viewing of telescopes" at 5:00 - 6:00.

Thanks for your work,


New to the Mail List

Please join me in welcoming Jonathan Patterson and his son of Columbus GA. who wrote looking for a dark sky site for observing.   We look forward to having Jonathan with the growing contingent of Phenix City and Columbus amateurs.

Pretty Planet Pictures
Mackall W Acheson III

Hey, check these out!  I need to get some filters bad.

Dustinís New Telescope
Dustin Smith

Against strict astro-code, I was able to use my ST80 the first night I had it....skies were clear. Things got a little hazy around 11pm but I had at least an hour window without clouds.

Moon - looked incredibly sharp...I was in awe. Pushed up the mag as far as I could go, coupling the 10mm plossl to the 2x barlow, and things still looked awesome. Had to use a moon filter, I had forgotten just how bright the nearly full moon is.

Saturn & Jupiter - Again, very sharp. Probably not sharp relative to expensive ED and APO refractors, but to someone who has only seen the planets through an 8" dob and C8, the view was awesome. I could see 3 bands on Jupiter and the Cassini division in Saturn's rings easily. I remember just barely getting there with the dob.

Pleaides - WOW. Marvelous. Words can't describe it, but I'll try. Dark blue felt, dotted with seven 2kt diamonds surrounded by faint mist and needle points of light, all framed perfectly in the 26mm Plossl.

After thoughts - When I look back on things, the dob I had was crap. It was a nice telescope in the mechanical sense, but I never could properly collimate the two mirrors, and never used it due to size and star hopping frustration. So, in the grand scheme of things, it was crap. On the other hand, I'm loving this "tiny" refractor on a "cheap" mount and "wobbly" tripod. Maybe not the 
biggest or best that I could have purchased, but I can already tell that this scope will be put to it was worth every penny, no regrets.

I still plan on buying the LXD55 8" newt and trying some astrophotography. But I just bought a Caribbean cruise for my parents as a "thank you" gift for everything they've sacrificed to get me to it'll be a while before I make it to that point.

See ya at the next meeting/star party


The Shape of Our Universe
Dr. Michael Strauss

 The Big Bang was hot, and as such gave off lots of light. At a  certain point about 300,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had  cooled enough (down to about 3000 K) that ordinary atoms (i.e., nuclei  with electrons going around) could form; at this point, the light  given off by the hot gases could travel freely. When we look out into  the distant universe with our telescopes, we are looking back in time  (because of the finite speed of light). In 1965, Bob Dicke, Jim  Peebles, David Wilkinson, and David Roll of Princeton University  realized that they could build a telescope that could detect this  remnant light of the Big Bang, and they started to build such a device  on the roof of Guyot Hall. By pure coincidence, Arno Penzias and Bob  Wilson of AT&T Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey, had built a similar  telescope (for their work in the then-fledging area of satellite  communications), and had already detected this radiation. Those of  you who have taken AST 203 in the past will know, and those currently  taking it will soon find out, that the properties of this radiation  are in beautiful agreement with our expectations if the universe  indeed started with a Big Bang, and thus it is very strong evidence  that the Big Bang model is indeed correct. 

Astronomers have been studying this Cosmic Microwave Background  (so-called because it is light with wavelengths of about 1 centimeter,  i.e., similar to what your microwave oven produces) ever since, and  have measured its properties with ever greater precision. One of its  most impressive characteristics is its tremendous smoothness. The  deviations from perfect smoothness are only one part in 100,000,  measured for the first time in 1992, by a NASA satellite called the  Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). It was realized around that time  that cosmological theory makes very specific predictions for the  character of this roughness. In particular, if one could make precise  measurements of the roughness on large and small scales, one could  learn all sorts of basic things about the universe: its overall  geometry, the amount of dark matter, the age of the universe, the  expansion rate, and so on. Thus about the time the COBE results were  announced, a team of astronomers led by Dave Wilkinson of Princeton  started planning a much more sensitive satellite to measure these  fluctuations with tremendous precision. The satellite was called the  Microwave Anisotropy Probe, and was launched in the summer of 2001. 

Today, 1 1/2 years later, the first results were announced. There  was a press conference at 2 PM at NASA headquarters, and featuring  (among others) David Spergel of the MAP team, a member of the  Princeton faculty; at 4:30 PM, more details were presented in McDonell  A02 by Lyman Page, also on the MAP team, and also a member of the  Princeton faculty. There was great excitement in the room: NASA rules  had forbad the members of the MAP team to tell us all what they were  finding, so we had no idea what to expect. In particular, there was  the real possibility that their results would be in complete  disagreement with modern cosmological understanding, meaning that we  would really have to start over again with our theories. 

Sadly, David Wilkinson, whose name has been associated with studies  of the Cosmic Microwave Background since it was first discovered, and the  originator of the MAP concept, died of cancer last September. In his  honor, the MAP satellite was officially renamed today the Wilkinson  Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP. 

  OK, what did they find? They found that our basic picture of an  expanding universe that started in a hot Big Bang seems to be right.  The Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago (with an error of only  0.2 billion years). The geometry of the universe is flat, which is to  say that ordinary Euclidean geometry (3 angles of a triangle add up to  180 degrees, and all that) holds true even for triangles as large as  the observable universe itself. The present-day universe contains  ordinary atoms (these make up only about 4% the density of the  universe), dark matter (totaling about 23%, it doesn't shine, but  does exert a gravitational pull; we would love to know what it is made  of), and something even more mysterious called 'dark energy'  (totaling about 73% of the density). This latter is even more  puzzling; it may be related to what Einstein called his 'Cosmological  Constant'; its net effect on the universe causes it to expand ever  faster with time. 

These results are absolutely astonishing, in two different ways.  The first is that these numbers are completely consistent with (albeit  much more precise than) a model of the overall geometry and contents  of the universe that has been developed over the past ten years or so.  This model has been based on many observations: the rate of expansion  of the universe, the abundance of elements like helium and deuterium,  the large-scale distribution of galaxies, the ages of stars, and many  other cosmological clues. The amazing fact is that all these  disparate pieces of evidence are pointing to the same model; they are  giving the same answer. This gives us real confidence that these  results are actually believable. 

However, this is a very strange universe that we live in. Ordinary  matter (atoms, the stuff you and I and the Earth and stars are made  of) make up only 4% of the density of the universe. We find ourselves  invoking two other constituents, of which we have essentially no real  understanding: 

 -Dark matter, which may well be composed of a type of elementary  particle that we haven't yet discovered; 

 -Dark energy, which we have even less of an understanding of. 

As is so common in science, great discoveries bring up deeper  questions, and leave us in awe of the wonders of a universe still  filled with mystery. 

Tomorrow's newspapers will be full of this, and next year's  textbooks will describe this in detail. Having heard all these  results myself just a few hours ago have certainly not digested them  all yet, and I may supplement this e-mail with a later one once I  understand more details. If you would like to learn more, check out  the WMAP web site: 

 -Michael Strauss

[Editorís Note:  The article above was sent to me by a cousin, Ed Sproles Jr.  who lives in New Jersey and is taking a course in astronomy, as a 'community auditor' -- a program that Princeton University has to help community relations.  I though it was an excellent summary of the Big Bang. I hope you do as well.]

Hope to see everyone at the meeting, Friday,