Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
May, 2004

In this Issue

May Events Astronomy Day 2004
April Star Party Georgia Sky View
A.L. Observing Programs  Transit of Venus

May Events

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, May 7, at 8:00PM in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering Building.  Riders from the Montgomery area are welcome to meet at the home of Russell Whigham, 518 Seminole Dr., and carpool over to Auburn.  Plan to be ready to leave for Auburn at 7:00PM.

Our star party this month will be on Friday/Saturday, May 14/15 at Cliff Hill’s farm.  We actually have two good weekends this month.  The above has Moonrise at 3:00 or 4:00AM, which won’t be a problem for most of us.  The following weekend will also be an option for those not attending the Georgia Sky View (see below).  Surely we can get at least one good night out of the four.

Astronomy Day 2004

On Saturday April 24, The Auburn Astronomical Society and the W. A. Gayle Planetarium joined astronomical societies and planetaria across the nation, to host the celebration of Astronomy Day,  when we share with the public, our passion of the night sky.  This was the seventh such joint venture for us and Planetarium Director, Rick Evans.

As always, we’re gambling that the weather will cooperate so that our guests can have a look through the many telescopes provided by our members and friends.  We had mixed blessings this year.  The clouds stayed away for the early hours of the evening so that everyone was able to enjoy the beauty of the planets and Moon.  Later, as the clouds began to roll in, we were able to peek between the clouds long enough to allow all of the guests to have a look through the telescopes.  

Again this year, we were able to assist visitors who had trouble using their personal telescopes.  Most often, it takes a simple adjustment or correction to get them going.  Special thanks to the following, many of whom drove all the way from eastern Alabama and western Georgia, to share their hardware and expertise:

Ray Kunert, 10-inch LX-200 GPS SCT
Alan & Susie Cook, 10-inch LX-50 SCT
Russell Whigham, 11-inch SCT
Eddie Kirkland, 16-inch Dobsonian       
Lesa Leon, 70mm refractor and 115mm reflector
David McConnell, 8-inch LX 50 SCT and a 4-inch reflector "go to" 
Mack Acheson, 10-inch Newtonian
Paul and Michele Williamson, 120mm f/5 refractor
Susanna Fillingham, 100mm f/6 refractor
Robert Rock, 90mm Maksutov 
Gail Smitherman, 127mm Maksutov
Japhet Nylen (with mom, and sister), 8-inch Dobsonian
John Tatarchuk , 18-inch Dobsonian

Thanks also to Rhon & Joyce Jenkins, John Zachry, Jim McLaughlin, for pitching in to help.  The scopes listed above, plus several telescopes brought by our visitors, brought the total to 18 telescopes available for public viewing. It was good to have a visit with parents, children, and spouses – and with each other.

While we were busy outside with the some of the visitors, others were able to learn more about the natural wonder in our own backyard – the Meteor impact Crater in Wetumpka, by none other that the preeminent expert on the feature, Dr. David T. King Jr., of Auburn University’s Department of Geology.  Rick had put together another great program in the auditorium while we waited for dark.  Rick wrote: 

I wanted to thank you for all you did in support of Astronomy Day.
The turnout from the Auburn Astronomical Society was spectacular to say the least. I realize that many of your members commuted from a great distance to be here and support this event...and I truly appreciate the effort from each and every one of them.
Although we did not have as a big a crowd from the public as we have had in past events, I was still pleased with the approximately 300 visitors we did have.  There were a lot of events going on that weekend (Talladega, dog show, art festivals etc) but I think we were able to hold our own. 
Rick Evans, Director
W.A. Gayle Planetarium
1010 Forest Ave.
Montgomery Al  36106

You’re most welcome, Rick, and thanks back to you and Planetarium Specialist, Beverly Miller for making this happen.  Without your planning, publicity, and your wonderful facility, it would be just another star gaze for us.  Thanks also for providing the sandwiches, drinks, and name tags as well as the beautiful setting and police security that you provide at no cost to the visitors each year.

Images of this event are at

April Star Party

Alan Cook, Mack Acheson, Russell Whigham, Paul Williamson, Susanna Fullingham, Casey Curry, Everett Leonard, Andy & Rebecca Camerio, Jim McLaughlin, and John TatarchukGerald Many, a neighbor of Cliff Hill’s, brought a friend and his granddaughters out to look through the telescopes.  Crystal clear skies and mild temperatures made for a perfect evening. We especially enjoyed viewing the huge globular cluster Omega Centaurii skitter along the southern horizon.

Georgia Sky View
Date: May 21 - 23, 2004
Location: Camp McIntosh (Indian Springs State Park), Jackson, GA

If you’ve missed the spring star parties since the Atlanta Astronomy Club changed the time and place of the Peach State Star Gaze to Tennessee in the fall, you’re in luck.  The Flint River Astronomy Club has picked up where AAC left off by is hosting the Georgia Sky View.  If you’ve never been, the facilities are very good.  One warning -- as this is the first such event for FRAC, they have limited registration to 75 people, so that they won’t be overwhelmed while working out the finer points of hosting a regional star party.  From our group, Ray Kunert and Eddie Kirkland (perhaps others) are going.  I didn’t know about this event last November when I had to pick my vacation days for 2004, so the best I can do is to show up late Friday night or Saturday morning.  Here’s hoping that this is the first of many to follow.

A. L. Observing Programs
Jim McLaughlin, M.D.

I got my Lunar Club certificate from the Astronomical League last month and have sent off for the forms for several other of their observing programs which I'll be glad to share with the club. I'm rather conditioned to respond to criteria such as they spell out as a result of my professional training, so I may go for some more certificates, we'll see when I get back what I sent off for. 
The observing forms can be downloaded from:

Transit of Venus -- JUNE 8, 2004 
Joe Albree, Department of Mathematics, AUM

A Transit of Venus is not one of the heaven’s more spectacular events, but it is so rare an  occurrence that no one alive today has ever seen one.

What exactly is it?  When the Sun, Venus and the Earth are in perfect alignment, Venus will appear to trace a path across the disk of the Sun.  If Venus were only bigger, as seen from the Earth, this would be an eclipse.  Instead, Venus appears as only a black dot on the Sun’s face.  Over a period of up to nine hours, Venus’ shadow will move from one side of the Sun’s disk to the other — it will transit the face of the Sun.

In 1716, Edmund Halley (1656-1742) [“A new Method of determining the Parallax of the Sun, or his Distance from the Earth,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. 29] first described how to use several carefully timed observations of a Transit of Venus from different locations on Earth to obtain what we now call the A.U., the Astronomical Unit.  (Halley’s original paper is available online through NASA’s Transit site; see below.)  In outline, the procedure was direct: calculate the Sun’s parallax from the multiple observations of the Transit’s ingress and egress; find the distance between the Earth and Venus at the time of the Transit; and then finally use this distance in Kepler’s Third Law to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun at this time.

Halley went on to confirm the “schedule” of  Transits of Venus.  Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) had predicted but did not live to see the Transits of December 7, 1631, and December 4, 1639.  Halley predicted the Transits of June 6, 1761, and June 3, 1769, knowing that he would not live long enough to see either of them.  However, because of Halley’s paper (and because of his stature), the 1761 Transit stimulated the world’s first large-scale, multi-national scientific endeavor, and in 1769, the scientific efforts were even greater.  Practical results, however, were somewhat disappointing due to the weather, politics, and other contingencies.  

The next Transits of Venus occurred on December 9, 1874, and December 6, 1882.  As we can see, these Transits come in pairs, the Transits in each pair separated by almost exactly 8 years, and the pairs themselves separated by either approximately 122 years or 105 years.

In Alabama on June 8, 2004, the Transit of Venus will be in progress at sunrise, 5:37AM CDST in Montgomery.  Depending on the how much the horizon deviates from the ideal, we should be able to begin observing the transit shortly thereafter. The transit will end about 6:26AM CDST.  (If you want to plan ahead, in Alabama, we should be able to observe all of the June 5, 2012 Transit of Venus!)  The AUM departments of mathematics and physical sciences would like to join forces in some way with the Auburn Astronomical Society to view the Transit of Venus on the morning of June 8, 2004.

See  for vast amounts of information and links to NASA and other pertinent sites.
— Joe Albree, Department of Mathematics, AUM. May 1, 2004

Joe is planning to visit with us at the May meeting to discuss his plans for viewing the transit, possibly from atop AUM’s library tower.  I hope it goes without saying that only a safe solar filter or projection method be used to observe this rare event.

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,