Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
September, 2003

In this Issue

September Events Mars Gaze 2003  Observing Report
Tennessee Star Party DSRSG 2003 Jim Voss Joins AU Engineering Team

September Events

ATTENTION:  Meeting date change!  The Mars Gaze event in Montgomery served as our September meeting.  There will be no meeting in the Aerospace Engineering building on the traditional first Friday of September.  Our next meeting there will be on Friday October 3, in room 215.

Our September Star Party will be on Saturday, September 27, at Cliff Hill’s farm.  Usually our first good cold front makes its way through Alabama right around the fall equinox.  If the weather cooperates, we may be able to sneak in an extra star party the weekend before on Saturday, September 20.  Keep one eye on the Weather Channel and the other on your mail for the latest information.

Mars Gaze 2003

On Saturday, August 30th, the Auburn Astronomical Society,  and the W.A. Gayle Planetarium on Montgomery, co hosted  "MARS GAZE 2003".

By 6:00PM, when we arrived to set up the telescopes, the queue for the 7:00PM showing of the movie "War of the Worlds" in the planetarium, filled the lobby and extended out the sidewalk.  The turn-out was such that planetarium director, Rick Evans, determined that two showings of the movie would be required to accommodate everyone.  The planetarium seats 235.  Ten extra chairs were brought in for the second showing (which was also SRO).  Rick estimated that at least another 100 came only to have a look through the telescopes, or could not get in to see the movie, giving us at total attendance of close to six hundred! 

Prior to each showing of the movie, Rick, in a tribute to the Auburn Astronomical Society, gave a Power Point presentation to the visitors.  Rick had artfully choreographed the strains of Alabama's “On This Side of the Moon” with composite images of members of the society set in astronomy related scenes.  We've asked Rick to send us a copy to show at a future AAS meeting.  Outstanding piece of work, Rick.  Thanks!

Other groups hosting similar events during the week of Mars’ closest approach had reported being overwhelmed by larger than expected crowds.  Rick did his usual great job of getting the word out about this to the local media.  Channel 12 (WSFA) (Rich Thomas) did a live remote broadcast at the planetarium on the Tuesday night before our event, on both the 5:00 and 6:00 news. Rick reported that the planetarium was  inundated with phone calls from the time the broadcasts were aired up until the show began Saturday.  Promotions were also run on WVAS radio and on WAKA, Channel 8.

"Based on the calls, I would anticipate one of the largest groups we have ever had out here."   Rick predicted. 

Quite prophetic!

Because of Mars' low altitude at the beginning of the evening, we had to set up the telescopes farther back toward the park perimeter road than we have for our Astronomy Day events -- around the area where "Neptune" and "Pluto" are on the model solar system sidewalk. We would be looking over Jackson Hospital at Mars rise.  The weather forecast called for a 50% chance of afternoon thunder showers.  As threatening clouds came and went, Rick was bringing us the latest radar images of storms in the area. 

Those attending the first showing of the movie poured out of the planetarium a few minutes before 9:00PM.  As they lined up 10 to 15 deep at each of the telescopes we had them look at some of the brighter objects in the area of sky that we could see such as Albireo -- the beautiful gold and blue double star, as all waited patiently for Mars to "get out of the hospital".

As skies darkened, the air cooled, dissipating what remained of the clouds.  Brilliant Mars made its grand entrance right on cue.  Once it had cleared the lower layers of our atmosphere, the image was steady and sharp at 350 power. Many of the visitors were able to make out the subtle surface features in the Sinus Sabaeus, and Sinus Meridiani regions.  The south polar cap was easy for everyone.  Most visitors took turns at each of the telescopes.

The dreaded Earth clouds nor the global Martian dust storms ever materialized.  We had a wonderful evening that ranks up there with our 1984 annular solar eclipse, the Halley Watch in 1986, comet Hale-Bopp, and the 2001 Leonid storm.  As the crowd diminished we started to pack up our scopes.    We finally left at midnight with the satisfaction of knowing we had given many visitors a memory that will last a lifetime.

Rick writes:

Thanks again for all your help, I think it was a tremendous event and I have received a lot of positive feedback from it.

Here are two of the notes Rick received:

I wanted to thank you for Saturday night.  I brought my son and one of his friends, they had a blast.  A couple of the men from the Astronomical Society really took a lot of time talking with me, explaining a lot of stuff about the telescopes (my son wants a better one and I had no idea what to look for).  They really went out of their way to be helpful and were very patient with my "inexperienceness", if that's a word.  Feel free to forward this to them so they will know how much I appreciate them.  Well, anyway, just wanted to send you an extra thanks for everything you've done, once again, you are very appreciated. 

God bless,,,,,,,Kim and Elex

Thanks for the email and the opportunity to see this amazing event. Pass the word along the those who allowed us to use their telescopes to get a better view of the Mars Opposition. 

Please keep me on the mailing lists for future events. My kids ages 15 and 10 really enjoyed this

Thanks again, 
Rebecca Loftin for 
Taylor Loftin

Special thanks to the following, some who made special trips here for this event from many miles, who gave of  their time and telescopes for the event:
  • Alan and Susie Cook, 10-inch SCT
  • Eddie Kirkland, 16-inch Dobsonian
  • John Tatarchuk, 18-inch Dobsonian
  • Robert Rock, 8-inch SCT & 70 mm refractor
  • Ray and Ann Kunert, 4.5-inch Newtonian
  • Russell Whigham, 11-inch SCT
  • Mack Acheson, 10-inch Newtonian
  • Taylor Jernigan, ETX-125 Maksutov
  • John Clifton, NexStar 4GT (Isn't that a new telescope, John?).

And, to Ed Beckstrom, John Zachry, and old friend, Mike Fulmer for giving general assistance and moral support.

And finally, to Rick Evans, without whom this would not have happened, our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude for this wonderful partnership that we have with forged between the W.A. Gayle Planetarium and the Auburn Astronomical Society.

[This account along with photos of the event are on the AAS Web page
Select “Field Trips” from the main menu, then “W.A. Gayle Planetarium Events” and “Mars Gaze 2003”]

Observing Report
A Lonely Night at the Airstrip,  by John Tatarchuk

It was mostly clear on August 31, so I headed out for a night of observing at Cliff's Hill for the first time since July 2. It wasn't the clearest of nights, with high cirrus floating past occasionally, and many more clouds hugging the horizon, but it was worth it!  I logged two new Abells and a few non-abell PNe's, saw some fairly bright galaxies in southern Aquarius and viewed Mars.  I also treated Mark, my friend from high school, to a view of Mars and some bright DSOs like M8 and M17.  By about 1:30, I felt like I had been run over by a truck, so I packed up and left, rather early for me.  Missed you guys!  Oh, and I found a much darker sky site south of Auburn, but I will have to talk to you about that.


Tennessee Star Party
September 26-28, 2003

TNSP 2003 Speakers & Topics

Rod Mollise,  Care and Feeding of a Cat(adioptric) 
Dr. Tim Ferris,  A History of Life on Mars 
Dr. Rob Knop,  Cosmology 
Dr. A.M. Heiser,  New Findings on Extrasolar Planets 
Dr. Douglas Hall,  Do Scientific Research with your Small Telescope 
Paul Lewis,  The Importance of Public Outreach in Astronomy 
Dr. Richard Schmude,  Dynamic Mars: Massive Dust Storms in 2001 to New Findings of 2003 
Rocky Alvy,  Astronomy Parks Initiative 
Dr. Eric Klumpe,  Naked-Eye Observatory 

DSRSG 2003

The Deep South Regional Star Gaze 2003 will be October 22-26.  The main speaker at the DSRSG this year is Philip Harrington, author of:

Star Watch
Star Ware
The Space Shuttle: A Photographic History
Touring the Universe Through Binoculars
The Deep Sky: An Introduction
Astronomy For All Ages

Visit the following web address for registration forms and additional information:

The following was sent to us by David T. King, Jr. via Larry Owsley


AUBURN -- Astronaut Jim Voss, a veteran of five space flights, has been named associate dean for external affairs in Auburn University's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. 
Larry Benefield, dean of the Ginn College of Engineering, said Voss will begin his duties on campus in August, at the beginning of the fall semester. He will lead the college's fund-raising efforts and teach a course in spacecraft design. 
"Jim Voss has been a frequent and welcomed visitor to the Auburn campus during his tenure at NASA, and has spoken with many of our students, alumni and faculty members," said Benefield. "He will bring a unique perspective to the engineering classroom. As a veteran astronaut, he offers an exciting viewpoint that will elevate our instructional program in a way that would not otherwise be possible. 

"At the same time, we are thrilled that he will be joining us as we position the Ginn College of Engineering to seek out new levels of teaching, research and outreach. As one of our most distinguished graduates, we look to his ability to share Auburn's story with a wide variety of audiences, and continue the role that he has always played as an ambassador of Auburn University." 
A retired Army colonel, Voss was born in Cordova, Ala., but considers Opelika his hometown since he graduated from Opelika High School. He received a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn in 1972, where he was a member of the university's varsity wrestling team. 

Voss was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1974, under the Army Graduate Fellowship Program. 
He completed Army Airborne and Ranger schools and served with the 2nd Battalion 48th Infantry in Germany as a platoon leader, intelligence staff officer and company commander. He also finished the Infantry Officer Advanced Course and taught for three years in the Department of Mechanics at the U.S. Military Academy. 

After completing the Naval Test Pilot School and the Armed Forces Staff College, Voss was assigned to the Army Aviation Engineering Flight Activity as a flight test engineer and research and development coordinator. He was involved in several major flight test projects before being assigned to NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1984. 

As a vehicle integration test engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Voss supported shuttle and payload testing at the Kennedy Space Center for shuttle flights. Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1987, he completed a one-year training and evaluation program that qualified him for assignment as a mission specialist on shuttle flights. 
Voss has worked as a flight crew representative in the area of shuttle safety; a spacecraft communicator providing a communications interface between ground controllers and flight crews during simulations and shuttle flights; and an astronaut office training officer. 

He was the back-up crew member for two missions to the Russian space station Mir, during which time he lived and trained for two years at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. During 2001 he lived and worked aboard the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition 2 crew. 

Voss has logged 201 days in space, including four space walks totaling 22 hours and 35 minutes of extravehicular time. Most recently he was a management astronaut working in the Space Station Program Mission Integration and Operations Office as a deputy for flight operations. 

"Jim has served as an integral part of the astronaut and human space flight program for more than 18 years," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said of Voss. "His contributions to human space flight are numerous, but even more important, his professionalism and demeanor have served as positive examples for the astronaut corps. His efforts have helped make the International Space Station a success. He will be a valuable and wonderful addition to the Auburn University faculty. Jim will serve as a true inspiration for the next generation of explorers and scientists." 

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Hope to see everyone at the star party,