Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
August, 2004

In this Issue

August Events AAS Shopping Spree
Sad Hubble News Deep South Regional Star Gaze 2004
Nebraska Star Party 2004 Chiefland Star Party  2004

August Events

It’s an excellent year for the Perseids.  The Perseid meteor shower, due to peak on the morning of Wednesday, August 12th, should put on a nice show – and may display a surprising new component.

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, August 13, 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 the following evening, Saturday, August 14 at Cliff Hill’s farm

AAS Shopping Spree

The Coronado PST Hydrogen-Alpha Solar telescope and accessories that were ordered from Orion Telescopes have arrived and will be on display at Friday’s meeting.  Here’s what we have:

24606 Coronado PST with EQ-1 Mount/Tripod
07812 AstroTrack Drive for EQ-1
08636 Electronic Color Imaging Eyepiece
(5% Normal Shipping)
(Over-size surcharge)
$ 785.10
The decision was made to include the tripod and equatorial mount with clock drive to make it a complete package for those who don’t already have a driven scope on which to mount the PST. 

The color electronic eyepiece was ordered at the same time but is not dedicated to the solar scope and can be with any 1.25-inch focuser.  It has a RCA video output jack to be used with a TV monitor, VHS tape, or other video medium to be supplied by the user.  The sensitivity is such that it will only be useful on solar system objects.

As we discussed at our June and July meetings, the use of this scope will be primarily for official AAS events such as Astronomy Day and our other public star parties.  When not in use at said events, it will be available to AAS members as a privilege of membership, just as our 8-inch scope is now.  Members should be familiar with the use of German equatorial mount, and all safety concerns associated with solar observing.  Submit your request for a week or so, (based on the number of members requesting loan of the scope), to Rhon Jenkins, AAS, president.  You can download a copy of the instructions at:

Sad Hubble News 

From one of the local observatories in AZ:
Dear Colleagues,

It appears that the STIS instrument on HST has suffered a failure which leads the instrument inoperable. Details are provided below. Although STIS was 7 years old (and well past its 5-year design life), this loss will significantly affect the scientific output of Hubble. STIS is the only spectrograph onboard HST, and about 30% of Hubble time went to STIS observations. There are now no UV spectrographs in orbit that operate in the 1200-3000 Angstrom range except for the low spectral resolution prism on GALEX (FUSE operates from 900-1185A).  In recent years, STIS was the instrument used to (1) obtain the exquisite observations of the transiting planet (HD209458), (2) make coronagraphic observations of proto-planetary disks, (3) discover the hot intergalactic medium at low redshift, and (4) carry out high spectral and spatial resolution observations of Eta Car to in a Treasury program.

From Dr Glenn Schneider, NICMOS Team Scientist
It is indeed true - we have lost a - now - irreplaceable resource in astronomy: STIS on HST.  STIS is NICMOS's neighbor in the Hubble Space Telescope's aft shroud. As NICMOS gives Hubble its infrared eyes, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph gives (gave) it its UV sight with imaging, polarimetry, but it's real strength spectroscopy.  Note that there is no other high resolution spectrograph with access to the vacuum ultraviolet.  FUSE is complementary, but will not fill the void with the loss of STIS. STIS was born along side of NICMOS at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, and rode together with NICMOS to HST where they were installed during SM2.  The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, slated for SM4 (built and now resting on the ground) would have aprox 20 times the sensitivity as STIS - but without an SM4 astronomy has been really a real blow.  Let us not take our space astronomy resources for granted.
No hardware lasts forever.  Without servicing HST's premature demise will soon be felt by astronomers worldwide - sooner than some may have feared.
Here are some details.
Glenn Schneider
FROM:      441/Operations Manager, HST       Operations Project
PROGRAM:      Hubble Space Telescope, HST Operations Project/Code 441
DATE OF INCIDENT:      August 3, 2004 @ 16:38 GMT (12:38 PM EDT)
LOCATION OF INCIDENT: HST Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS)
On August 3, 2004 @ 16:38 GMT (12:38 PM EDT) the Space Telescope ImagingSpectrograph (STIS) suspended after suffering a failed command echo check between the Control Section (CS) of the STIS Main Electronics Box (MEB) and the Multi-Anode Micro-channel Array (MAMA) Control Electronics (MCE). 

Accompanying the Suspend was an anomalous rapid rise in the STIS input current of approximately 1A just prior to the Suspend entry.  Additionally, a voltage dropout of the 
Main Electronics Box (MEB)/Support Electronics +5 Volt power converter occurred approximately 43 minutes prior to the Suspend.  Further investigation has now revealed a probable failure mechanism linking these anomaly signatures.  Accordingly, it is now believed that STIS's mechanism functions are inoperable and unrecoverable. Because STIS 
has been single-string in its electronics since May 2001, it can no longer be used for science observations. 

With support from the +5 Volt power converter manufacturer (Interpoint), investigators have duplicated the power converter failure under loading conditions nearlyidentical to that seen on-orbit.  The incipient failure is believed to have been in an inductor within the power converter, which failed during the orbit night preceding the Suspend.  The inductor failure caused the power converter +5 volt output to drop to zero volts, as seen in telemetry. Following this dropout the converter remained relatively stable until entry into orbit day, after which slight (and nominal) increases in its input voltage caused its current draw to rapidly rise.

The large and rapid current draw resulted in the 1A increase in STIS input current noted in telemetry just prior to the Suspend.  Additionally, current limiter logic within the 
electronics card housing the power converter responded by reducing the supply voltage, which in turn caused a reduction in voltage to the MAMA Control Electronics(MCE).  This, 
in turn, is believed to have caused the interface communications failure with the Control Section and the subsequent Suspend action.  The MAMA detectors are believed to have been unharmed by this sequence of events since they were not active (no high voltage on) when the anomaly occurred.

The highly probable consequence of this scenario is the total failure of the MEB/Support Electronics +5V power converter.  Since this component is essential to the operation of all 
of the 8 mechanisms within the instrument (including shutters), its demise renders those mechanisms inoperable.  A re-configuration to the Side 1 electronics (current operations are on Side 2) is not possible. (The Side 1 electronics failed in May 2001.) 
The instrument remains in Suspend mode. The Project will convene a follow-up meeting on August 6, 2004 to continue the review and analysis of data and to discuss a forward plan. 
The STIS science program timeline was interrupted when Suspend mode was entered.  The Project and Space Telescope Science Institute will cease scheduling STIS science.  Alternate observations from other instruments will replace STIS observations.  All other HST science instruments are functioning nominally.
The corrective actions to be taken are as follows:
Continue investigations and develop a plan to confirm the proposed failure mechanism.  Ball Aerospace, GSFC AETD, Interpoint, ST ScI, and HST Program personnel are actively participating in the investigation.
Assess the pros and cons of leaving the STIS in Suspend mode versus Safe Mode, pending performance of possible tests. 
Form a Failure Review Board to perform a thorough investigation of the anomaly.
John Gainsborough/Operations Manager/Code 441
Mike Prior/Observatory Systems Manager/Code 441

Deep South Regional Star Gaze 2004

Thanks to the efforts of Len Philpot, the DSRSG now has a website.  It is really more of a one page road sign that will direct people to this [DSRSG] group.  The dates for this year’s DSRSG are October 13 - 17, 2004, at Percy Quin State Park, McComb, Mississippi.  The web address is: .  Once in the DSRSG Yahoo Group, go to files, and DSRSG 2004 Registration and Liability Form.

Nebraska Star Party  2004 
by Eddie Kirkland

From Sunday through Thursday, July 18-22, John Tatarchuk and I attended the Nebraska Star Party held in the Sandhills of Nebraska near the town of Valentine.  After almost 22 hours of driving straight-through, we arrived at Merritt Reservoir, the site of the star party and proceeded to unload and set up camp and scopes.   The observing field was much different than what we Easterners are familiar; everyone was spread out over maybe 40-60 acres, our nearest neighbor was about 50 yards away.  Each observing site tended to be atop the rounded grass-covered sand hills.  Overall there were 300+ attendees.

While waiting for darkness to arrive (at 10:30 !!), we had to endure 100 degree heat; to escape, we did some sightseeing from the comfort of the air-conditioned truck.  This was repeated the next two days, while on the last two we enjoyed the much more moderate 80s. 

The first night was very nice, living up to the advertised 7.0+ magnitude skies (one guy reported 7.5 that night); I could actually see shadows from the Milky Way, which was breathtaking.  We mainly viewed eye-candy objects that night such as the Veil, Lagoon, Swan, Trifid, and Eagle nebulae, and the brighter galaxies such as M51, M101, M33, and M31.  Each of these objects revealed more detail than I had ever seen; spirals were easily seen in M51, 101, and 33.  John also cataloged some of his illusive Abel planetaries.  The central star could be seen in moments of good seeing in the Ring Nebula.  Suffering from our drive out, I called it a night at 3:00; John made it till dawn.

Monday and Tuesday nights were overcast with no observing.  Tuesday near dusk we enjoyed a nice lightning display in the northwest until the storm got a little too close.  All of a sudden the canopy I was sitting under decided to go airborne, narrowly missing our two scopes.   As the wind increased John had to hold onto his scope after his tarp started flapping wildly, while I sat inside the truck and watched my tent get trashed.  Luckily the storm skirted us and John had an extra tent.  Other than the tent, we survived; others were not so lucky.  We heard reports of scopes blown over and one 18” dob lifted out of its rocker box.  Several other tents were sent tumbling or were trashed like mine.  The next morning we saw a beautifully constructed and finished homemade dob with wooden tube that had been mangled.

Thursday night was another good one, only a little less transparent than Sunday’s skies.  However, it was quite windy early on and we dob drivers were having a hard time keeping things steady.  For an hour or so, John and I had a couple youngsters and their grandparents to show off some of the night sky’s wonders.  Later on the winds died down and we enjoyed a full night until nearly dawn.  Friday night had great promise but gave way to scattered clouds at times.  One thing we had to endure was an interruption of our observing by some pesky aurora messing up our northern skies.  For an hour or so we sat in chairs and enjoyed the show.  As we were heading back home the next morning, I turned in a little early, while John stayed with it.

Overall we had the majority of three nights out of five of good viewing under some really dark skies.  There were days that were miserably hot, but we survived.  I was somewhat disappointed in not having all nights clear, but that is just “one of those things” that we can’t control.  If (when?) I go back, it will be in a camper with air conditioning at the nearby campground or in a motel. 

Chiefland Star Party – 2004
by Eddie Kirkland
This year’s Fall Star Party at the Chiefland Astronomy Village in Chiefland, FL will be held November 7-14.  Anyone interested attending may visit the website at .  Please note that the event is now “Pre-registration only” and registration forms must be in by October 1.  Hope to see you there!!

Hoping to see everyone at the meeting,