Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
July, 2004

In this Issue

July Events Transit of Venus
Shopping Spree AAS Web page Statistics
Scott Thompson’s 200" Hale Telescope Tour  Cool Links

July Events

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, July 9,  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 Saturday, July 10 at  Cliff Hill’s farm..  We actually have two good weekends this month.  The above has Moonrise at 2:00AM, which won’t be a problem for most of us.  The following weekend June  16/17, will also be an option.  Surely we can get at least one good night out of the four.

Transit of Venus
June 8, 2004
See images on the AAS Web site at "Field Trips" / “Transit of Venus

Considering the hour of the day and that it fell in the middle of a work week for most of us, little serious thought (and no planning) had been put into organizing a group meeting for this historic event.  That was before we were contacted by Mr. Joe Albree of the Department of Mathematics at Auburn University at Montgomery.  Joe teaches the History of Mathematics course at AUM and saw this as on opportunity to have his class experience first-hand, the kind of event that was used to determine the Astronomical Unit – the distance from the Sun to Earth that they had studied.  Joe called to ask us if we would be interested in sharing our solar filtered telescopes with his math class. Just like Blanche Dubois, we’ve  always depended on the kindness of strangers. We jumped at the opportunity.

Joe had selected a site on the top floor of AUM’s Library Tower.  Originally, Joe had sought the availability of the roof of the AUM Library Tower, but learned that WSFA’s Weather Radar was putting out dangerous levels of RF energy up there.  Plan “B” was the  The East Room -- a large conference room located on the tenth floor.  Ray Kunert visited the room and reported, as Joe told us at the May meeting, that although the windows in the room are recessed, viewing to the northeast will be good.  The windows have permanent blinds (adjustable tilt, but not “raisable”) within the double panes, but they posed no problem with the Sun’s image when focused at infinity.  This minor problem was more than offset by being able to enjoy the event in the comfort of air conditioning!

On the day of the event, I arrived at AUM at 4:30AM.  Several people were already set up in the room on the tenth floor of the AUM Library Tower.  Venus would be nearing the end of her transit at sunrise in Montgomery on June 8, 2004 at 05:33.  The Sun rose at 62 degrees azimuth into a bank of clouds on our otherwise unobstructed northeastern horizon, and spoiled the first several minutes of the event. Venus then teased us like and exotic dancer, with sneak peeks between the veil of clouds until about 15 minutes before she exited, stage right.  The atmosphere in the room where we were gathered was one of  quiet ecstasy during the transit.  Everyone had a good view at one time or another as we took turns at the telescopes.  At the end, we gave her a round of applause and a curtain call , but there was no encore -- not for another 8 years anyway.  It was a truly memorable experience. 

Ray Kunert observed chromatic aberration (red tinge on one side of the image – blue on the other side) above and below Venus with his 10-inch Meade SCT.  We mused over why this might be as the phenomenon had never been seen in this instrument before.   Subsequently, we read numerous reports of this on astronomy mail lists.  The consensus seemed to be that it was atmospheric chromatic aberration and that it was more pronounced when seen using larger apertures.

John Clifton:  Here's the best shot I got of Venus this morning. I was having problems aligning the scope on the sun. I should have just had the computer go to Venus, D'oh!  The SAC-7 camera seems to do a pretty good job out of the box. I'll have to get it out under dark sky later this month and see what it really can do!     

Others observed the event from various locations in our area:

Gail Smitherman, Selma:   I got to see a smidge of the end of the Venus transit through the tree limbs [in Selma]. Enough to say I saw it!!!!  

Wayne Padgett, Cliff Hill's Farm:  I will be in Auburn Tuesday morning, visiting my parents (Tom and Mary Lou Padgett).  I am considering trying to visit Cliff Hill's farm to view the transit.  If you hear of a location closer to town that others will use, I'd love to hear about it.  I'll be able to check my email while traveling, so please let me know.  Thanks. -Wayne Padgett

 [When was asked to tell us about himself, Wayne replied:] 

I grew up and got my B.E.E in Auburn, and my parents are still there (here, at the moment).  My father, Tom Padgett is a former director of the the Co-op Program, and big into ballroom dancing.  Rhon Jenkins knows them from dance class, and I know he has a telescope.  I have a very small telescope, but I've been working to get the kids into astronomy so I can get a bigger one. :)

I built a homemade little solar projector so I can do sunspot watching with the kids during the day - the web page is the first hit on Google for 'cheap solar projector'.  I haven't finished putting up my best images from it (not very good) or the math to figure the length of the tube from the lens and screen spacings.

I guess I'll try to find Hill's farm in the morning (maybe I'll run out there today to see if I can find it in daylight first).  

Later, Wayne reported:  My father and I went out to the farm, and we saw Mr. Hill, who came out to chat for a minute.  There were low clouds, so the sun wasn't visible until about 6 am, but when it came up over the clouds, it was still before 3rd contact.  My homemade scope worked well, and I got some pictures and video of the transit on it.  Neither device was easy to focus on the projected image, so all my records are a bit blurry compared to what I saw, but the venus shadow is clearly visible (just not sharp-edged).  I will put up some of the photos on the cheap solar projector page soon.

I was disappointed nobody else showed up, but I guess they found easier places to see the sunrise from.  Mr. Hill came back by as we packed up and looked at the video I took on the camcorder.  So, thanks for having a nice place to go and look from.

Jim McLaughlin, Gulf Shores:  I was in  6/8 and a bank of clouds on the eastern horizon blocked the sun til about 6AM, at which point I estimate Venus was within 2 diameters of egress. Saw first contact with the limb at egress with a slight "teardrop" effect and last contact but views were interupted by scattered clouds, but it was worthwhile seeing planetary orbital motion in real time.

Scott Thompson, Alex City

 Attached is my Venus Transit picture from Alex City. It turned out quite good with the clouds partially covering the sun and the color was just awesome. The picture info: AP7, Prime Focus f/9 with the Canon 10D, no solar filter. Once the sun cleared the clouds and the horizon I applied the filter. See the other images at's_new.htm . I also have a few neat images out there. 

Joe Albree:   Thanks to all of you in the Auburn Astronomical Society for making last Tuesday really special.  I know that the students and faculty who we did have there benefited from having all of you there also.  With the death of President Reagan last week, I believe the coverage that the Transit would have gotten was probably scaled back in most newspapers and TV stations.  But, how many events from that day 122 years ago (even those that made the front pages of all the newspapers) are still remembered?  Without meaning any disrespect to Mr. Reagan or expressing any political partianship, in the long view of history, I think we arguably had an event that was at least as newsworthy.

We are looking forward to Frank Williams' photos also, and I hope to post some of them on our bulletin board.  I'm confident that he would welcome publication of some of them in "Astrofiles."  I've forwarded your note to him.

Joe Albree
Department of Mathematics
Auburn University at Montgomery
Box 244023
Montgomery, AL 36124-4023

Thanks to all who pitched in.  Attending were:   Paul Williamson, Susanna Fillingham, Casey Curran, Mark McGregor, Robert West and grandson Tom Mooneyham, Rhon & Joyce Jenkins, Rod Havens, Robert Rock, John Clifton, Russell Whigham, Ray Kunert, Mike Holley, Taylor Jernigan, Ricky Woods - Math Club President, Randy Russell – AUM Astronomy Professor, Jack and Gina Franz & family.  And finally, special thanks to Joe Albree – Math Professor and event  organizer, for making this happen.

AAS Shopping Spree

Last month we asked for suggestions on how to spend some of the clubs treasury.   With a budget surplus of just over $1,000 in the society’s bank account.  Some suggestions for how to spend the money were:

AAS Shirts ($25.00 each) 
LCD projector ($1000 +) for Power Point and astronomical software presentations.
SLOOH ($50 - $100 per year) Subscription to time on a C-14 telescope in the Canary Islands)     
Solar prominence telescope such as the Coronado PST($500)  
Electronic Eyepiece for other solar system images (to be used for public events)

At our June meeting, we discussed each of the suggestions. The LCD projector and SLOOH subscription were were eliminated as being the least cost effective.  Receiving thumbs-up were: 

  1. 1. The Coronado Personal Solar Telescope
  2. 2. An Electronic eyepiece such as the Orion models
  3. 3. The balance of our disposable cash going to assorted sizes of the AAS shirts.

AAS Web Page Statistics

At our June meeting someone asked how many hits our Web page received.  Since the first crude AAS pages made their Web presence premier in June 1996 and the conversion to "Frames" in July, 1999,  I’ve always been amazed at the number of visitors we have.  The table below is for the past 12 months:

Month Visitors Pages Hits
06/2003 2101 2837 7766
07/2003 2653 4159 9580
08/2003 3389 5079 12259
09/2003 2845 4221 12742
10/2003 3372 5551 12536
11/2003 3491  6514  12624
12/2003 3089 4912 37615
01/2004 3662 5124 11981
02/2004 3193  4214 11701
03/2004 3345  4723 10764
04/2004 4310 6473 15025
05/2004 4194 9115 15862

The table below lists the most popular pages in June 2004, which is fairly typical of other months: 

Page Name Hits Per Cent
index.html * 309 15.5
wetu.htm (Crater) 276 13.8
title.htm * 267 13.4
navigate.htm * 263 13.2
links.htm 256 12.8
aas_home.htm * 178  8.9
kiesel.htm 152 7.6
astrofil/2004-06.htm 111 5.6
aas_name.htm 105  5.3
enews.htm  83 4.2


* These pages are all associated with the Title page.  These get a hit each time I access the Web (2 – 3 times a day) since I have the AAS as my default page to be sure all’s well there.  Also inflating the totals are Web "spiderbots" that look around for keywords.  Discounting these, the most popular pages (in June 2004) were:

1. Wetumpka Crater
2. Astronomy Links
3. Kiesel Park Observatory
4. Astrofiles, June 2004
5. AAS Member Names
6. “Enews” is the menu for archived issues of Astrofiles

The link to the Kiesel Park page from our navigational menu has been removed for several years, yet it seems that there are many links out on the Web back to this site.  For that reason, I have left the Kiesel Park page on the server.   

For the past year:

· Total Hits 128,233  
· Average Length of Visit   353sec  
· Average Hits Per Day  466  
Palomar: 1928 -1948 and Beyond:  200 inch Hale Telescope
Scott Thompson

 I traveled to the Microsoft Tech Ed conference in San Diego a few weeks back as part of my job. I went out early and visited Palomar Observatory.  It just so happened that they had a tour group there at the time they opened the gate so I was able to tag along and we got the full inside tour which was great. The best part however was when the tour guide let us go outside on the railing that ran around the dome while it was being rotated.

The first thing we talked about was a large cement disk that was half embedded in the ground just outside the observatory. It served as the mirror and counter weight to test the telescope as they prepared the real mirror. At the time the road up the mountain had still not be completely finished for the mirror to be brought up on. Once it was complete the mirror arrived and was installed and that was 1947. It took twenty years from the start of planning to the completion of the observatory.
 We continued inside underneath the main telescope room. This area showed large beams that were oriented north and south so as to adjust the telescope manually for correct polar alignment. Technology was not quite there yet to have computers control the slewing in both directions for proper pointing accuracy. However, the equatorial mounting gets the advantage over the larger alt-azimuth telescopes because they require sophisticated software and computers to run them.  Also underneath was what looked like a long 60 foot sliver beam which we were told was the new laser beam to create a star point for adaptive optics.  
Everyone noticed hanging on the wall were a few big round gears. The question was asked what the gears were for. No one noticed they were gears without the actual teeth on them. They were replacement gears incase the original broke or wore out. The gears on the wall would be machined to match the worm gears on the telescope that have worn down over the years. I thought… “Logical.”
  We continued around the bottom to find old architectural engineering drawings “by Russell Porter” on the walls showing 3D sliced images of the inter-workings of the telescope. Also there were doors that lined the walls and we were told that they are now just closets as the darkrooms were no longer needed. In the 70’s CCD’S came about and some of the instruments were as large as a refrigerator. The telescope was built so robust and perfect it easily accommodated the new instruments and continues to do so today but the instruments are of course much smaller. Inside the telescope dome we were shown the old control panel and its array of functions. There was suppose to be a computer designed to help control and point the telescope but this computer was never realized. But again the telescope mounting was so well engineered that they did not even need the computer. Of course to day they use many computers to control all aspects including analyzing the weather to control when or if the dome doors can open. 
 The guide continued to discuss many aspects of the telescope and finally he let us go up and onto the high floor and opened the door to the outside railing while the dome rotated. This was of course the highlight of the tour for me. We finished up viewing the control room where we saw this picture of a car crushed by a snow avalanche. It had parked too close to the dome when all the snow and ice fell off! Cool crush! No one was hurt except the car was totaled. 
 The telescope mirror gets a coating about every two years and it takes the staff one day to wheel the chamber under the telescope and drop the mirror into the chamber and wheel it back to be hooked up and have the aluminum coating applied. The whole process I believe he said takes weeks but I was amazed that to get the mirror in the tank only took a day. Back then they coated the mirror with oil hair tonic and burned it off in the chamber to get the mirror clean before applying the coating. The physicist that invented this method says you have to get it properly dirty before you can clean it. But they said it was a formidable task to get the mirror clean before the electrodes could be fired. Plus a vacuum has to be established.  In one of my pictures you can see the aluminizing tank in the background.
 It was a great tour and I am glad I arrived before the gate opened that morning or I would have only been able to see the scope from behind those Plexiglas windows. Boring! 
The guide summed it up by saying, “Over its career the 200 inch telescope may be the most productive astronomical telescope in the world.”  Sounds right to me but the Hubble if it stays up there may get a close second. 

Check Out These Links

From John Zachry:  Thought you would be interested:  Next on NOVA: "Galileo's Battle for the Heavens"   Broadcast: July 6, 2004 (NOVA airs Tuesday on PBS at 8 p.m. 
Check your local listings as dates and times may vary.)

From David McConnell (via Sky & Telescope):  ASTRONOMERS LAUNCH PRO-AM "REGISTRY"

The past decade has seen an explosion in the number of backyard observers using high-end equipment and sophisticated software to record faint asteroids, discover supernovae, and even detect extrasolar planets. So it's not surprising that many accomplished amateurs yearn to contribute directly to scientific research. Over the years many of them have sent observations to organizations like the American Association for Variable Star Observers and the International Occultation Timing Association. But for those who wanted to work one-on-one with a professional astronomer, the opportunities were few and far between.

Now there's a new avenue for pairing eager backyard observers with willing researchers. At June's meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Denver, Colorado, members of the AAS's Working Group for Professional-Amateur Collaboration announced the inauguration of an online "registry" service. First conceived in 1998, the registry is a searchable database that allows amateur astronomers to detail their abilities and professionals to make known their observational needs....

Powerpoint Presentations for Astronomy Clubs:  This Web page is full of free PowerPoint presentations for local astronomy clubs. Permission to  use them is encouraged too, in addition to a few other downloads of interest.  Follow the link below:

Hoping to see everyone at the meeting,