Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
March, 2006

In this Issue

March Events Upcoming Events
Potential Speaker at AAS Meeting Space Exploration Experience
New Members Maxwell Elementary Star Gaze
Head School Star Gaze Member News
Loaner Scopes Treasurer's Report
Georgia Sky View 2006 Astronomy Primer

March Events

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, March 3, at 8:00PM in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering Building.  If available parking space is still an issue, Rhon suggests trying the on-street parking on Wright St., the first street (north) off of W. Magnolia. 

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 dark-sky star party this month will be on Saturday, March 25, at Cliff Hill’s farm, clouds permitting of course. 

Upcoming Events


Potential Speaker at AAS Meeting

Scott Enebak wrote:

We have a visiting Fulbright Scholar from New Zealand at the School Forestry Wildlife Sciences who has a strong interest in amateur astronomy.  He asked if there was a local astronomy group and expressed a desire to talk to the group at one of the meetings about the southern hemisphere.  He even brought his telescope to view the northern constellations and a PowerPoint presentation along with him to Auburn.   I've passed onto him the AAS website and meeting schedule.   If this is something the society would like to entertain, you can reach him at the following e-mail address. 


Euan G. Mason 
Associate Professor 
University of Canterbury 
Christchurch, New Zealand 

Scott Enebak

Russell Replied:

Thanks for passing this along to us!  It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for the society.  I'm CC'ing this to the AAS officers, in hopes that an invitation will be extended.
And Rhon followed up:
I received the message about the guy from New Zealand, and have been trying to get hold of him, with no luck so far.  It would be a great program.

Vision for Space Exploration Experience
Rick Evans, W. A. Gayle Planetarium

I know that Astronomy Day this year is supposed to be in May....however, personally I think we can hold it in April...the last three years it has been in April anyway. (I know it goes by certain celestial criteria as far as the date goes...but we can make exceptions).   Ergo, my thought is that we hold Astronomy Day  in conjunction with having the Vision for Space Exploration Experience exhibit out the plan would be Saturday night April 15th. What would be awesome would be an afternoon and evening event, having the telescopes out in the yard during the day for people to talk to your folks, and then we would still have an evening event in the planetarium followed by a night event outside.

This is a unique opportunity to have something really special out here.  So, I would like to know what you think: 
Will the AAS support this event?

Do you think we should just hold it as Astronomy Day, and not try to do two Astronomy events?
Input please???? 

Rick Evans

Hello Rick,

We're not married to the May date.  In fact I prefer the cooler temperatures of April.  But, that's Easter weekend.  I don't know if will make any difference, but it could be a problem for some of our folks.  The Moon will be two days past Full and Jupiter won't be "viewable" for a few hours after sunset, so Saturn will be pretty much our object to look at.  Official Astronomy Day is  May 6, is 3 weeks later if we want to do that as well.

I'm forwarding this to the AAS officers.  We'll let you know after they talk amongst themselves, and we all talk it over at the March meeting.


New Members

Please join me in welcoming Ashish Palkar and Darshan Shinde of Auburn; Dr. Ben C. Wouters, of Prattville; and Dr. Wayne Martin, from Montgomery. 

Returning to the fold for 2006, are:  Pratap Prasad, David McConnell, Robert Rock, and Scott Thompson.  Scott won in four categories, including two “First Place” prizes in the Outdoor Alabama photography contest.  See Scott’s images at:  . Type “scott thompson” (with the quotes) in the search box at the upper right-hand side of the page, for links to Scott’s winning photographs.

Maxwell Elementary Star Gaze 
Aaron Wilson

Major Aaron Wilson provided a short notice “encore” telescope presentation at Maxwell AFB Elementary.  Teacher Ms. Caroll Lewis attended the previous week’s Star Gaze and requested a presentation to the entire 5th grade science class (another 33 students) on 9 Feb from 1230p-1:30pm.  Again, it covered telescope basics and numerous questions were asked and answered (as best as possible in some cases!).  One inquisitive girl asked “how do astronomers find other planets around other stars?”  Of course, one way is by measuring the very subtle dimming of a star as a planet pass in front of it (demonstrated with a handy flashlight and a marble).  Another way is to observe the “wobble” of a star caused by an orbiting mass.  One willing volunteer helped demonstrate this wobble by holding a 10lb counterweight at arm’s length and spinning in place, making sure to stop before becoming too dizzy!  The students seemed to enjoy the presentation and looking through the telescopes… and the school teachers expressed their gratitude for the support from the Auburn Astronomical Society. 
Special thanks to Aaron for being such a good ambassador for AAS!

Head School Star Gaze
Susan Mallett, principal

Russell, thanks for keeping me on your e-news list!  I enjoy reading about all your group's activities throughout the year. 

I hope all is going well with you. 

After planning our annual planetarium trip with Rick Evans today, I thought of adding a Star Gazing Party to our school's aerospace week again this year, if you have enough folks who might want to try this one evening during the week of April 17-21.  I was looking more at Tuesday or Thursday (18th or 20th).  The last one we did at our school was in conjunction with St. Bede's school.  Although it was nice to partner with another school, it was difficult to maintain a sense of order with students and parents who do not know my expectations or understand/accept my high level of enforcement.  :>) 

Anyway...what do you think about this?  Is this a "good window?"  If so, what would be the earliest time to begin on an April evening? 

If you do not have enough volunteers to do this, or no one really has the time to do this, I certainly understand, as it takes a great deal for you all to make this happen.  I just thought I would ask.  Whatever the decision, that is fine.  I just want you to know that I have appreciated all you have done for us in the past!!

Susan Mallett, Head School

Russell replied:
Hello Susan,

It's good to hear from you again.
We'd love to come back to Head School again; in large part because of the well disciplined and organized atmosphere you've created for the star gazes we've had there in the past.   Someone has done a good job of instilling a good sense of intellectual curiosity and sense of awe with your kids.

I just corresponded with Rick Evans the other night.  I hope I'm not letting the cat out of the bag prematurely, but Rick  has arranged to have the NASA's "Vision for Space Exploration Experience" at the planetarium, the week of April 14 through 20.   He has asked that we help out with the telescopes on Saturday evening, April 15. 

As I mentioned to Rick, and I think you've anticipated, aerospace week doesn't necessarily coincide with the best of star gazing times. The Moon is heading toward third quarter and will not rise until too late for the kids.  The only planet we'll get to see will be Saturn, which however, is a pretty good solo act.  Neither of the two dates you mentioned will be better than the other for viewing, so it might be a good idea to schedule it for the 18th, with the 20th as a cloud date.

Since we're already committed to Rick for April 15, let me see if  we can get enough volunteers to come out a second time in a week.  Three or four scopes should be enough.  I'll try to give you at least a month's notice.

Thanks again for thinking of us.


Then Susan wrote:
Thanks, Russell.  Rick and I talked last week as he wants our school to be a part of the NASA presentation while we visit the planetarium.  If there is not enough interest in coming out twice in one week...which would probably be a stretch, let's think of another alternative...  Is there a time in the next month or so that would be a good time to have a Star Gazing Party?  If so, we can just plan a night "outside" our aerospace week.  Let me know your thoughts on that.  THANKS, as always, for your support and kind words about our school.  If we can't work anything out, I will promote the April 15th planetarium evening with my students.  Most Sincerely, Susan
Member News

Rhon Jenkins:
I got the dome up Friday, so the observatory is "dried in".  Plenty of details left to do, but it sure looks good.

Ray Kunert:

Ray expressed an interest in bringing the 12.5-inch back to life if possible.  If Jim Chesnutt still has it under his house, I'm pretty sure the electrics are shot, but perhaps the mirror and tube assembly can be salvaged -- perhaps mounted as a Dobsonian. 

We Asked:

Jim, do you still have it?
Jim Wrote:
I still have it, however it may take some time to "dig "out all the parts. I had knee replacement a while back, and still have difficulty negotiating tight places<grin>.

Jim Chesnutt

Russell answered:

Ouch!  I hope you're back kickin' soon.  If interest in this is sustained, I'm sure we can get some fifty-year-old whipper-snappers to go spelunking under your house.

We'll be in touch,


Then Jim replied:

OK on Spelunking under my house!!!

Remember when we were going to Mike's Mountain near Goodwater??? Actually I twisted my knee in s chuck hole there. It progressively went down the tubes. For the last year I was bone on bone, with the injections not helping. Finally resorted to replacement. I learned why Oxycontin is such a good street drug<grin>


Loaner Scopes

Loaner scope steward, Rhon Jenkins, reports that the PST solar scope is available now. 

Pratap Prasad has reserved the the 8-inch Dob for March.   Let Rhon know ASAP if you (members only) would like to borrow either of these for the month of April. 

Treasure’s Report

As of February 27, 2006, our checking account balance is $499.05 

Georgia Sky View

Dawn Knight, who hosts the FRAC-GSV Yahoo! Group, encourages all who are planning to attend to send in their registration as soon as possible.  Aside from the astronomical activities,  FRAC is planning late-night chili and musical entertainment – that’s in addition to the chili’s own musical entertainment.  GSV is held at Camp McIntosh on the grounds of Indian Springs State Park near Jackson GA on April 20 – 23.  See  Georgia Sky View for details and your application.

Astronomy Primer
The Moon

It’s unlikely that any of us will ever go to the Moon, but did you realize that you had been where the Moon had been just 3.5 hours previously, every month of your life? 

To understand why this is, it helps to position yourself above the plane of the solar system and to look down on the Earth-Moon system.  If you don’t have the means to actually travel in space, it may be easier just to do this little thought experiment.   

Imagine looking down at a clock face on the floor, with Earth located in the center of the clock face, and the Moon orbiting around Earth in a counter-clockwise motion.  The Sun would be about 400 clock face radii away in the direction of the 9:00 position.  When the Moon is at the 9:00 position, between the Earth and Sun, the phase is “New” and when it’s at the 3:00 position, “Full”.  For our trip to where the Moon just was, we need for the Moon the be in its 3rd quarter phase, or at the 12:00 position on the clock face.  All we need to calculate how long it will be until we reach the place in space where the Moon was, is a few a few basic distances and some simple arithmetic.  Using mean distances and rounded for simplicity:

Earth-Sun distance (1 Astronomical Unit) = 93,000,000 miles. 

Diameter of Earth’s orbit = 2 * AU = 186,000,000  miles.

Circumference = Pi * Diameter,
C = 3.14 *  186,000,000  = 584,040,000 miles/year  (Earth's Orbital Circumference). 

584,040,000 miles  / 365.25 days per year = 1,599,014 miles per day.

1,599,014 miles per day / 24 hours per day = 66,625 (Earth's orbital speed in MPH ).

Earth-Moon distance = 240,000 miles / 66,625 MPH = 3.6 hours.

So, at first quarter, the  Moon is at the place in space where Earth was about 3½ hours previously, and at third quarter, the  Moon is at the place in space where Earth will be in about 3½ hours.  Think about that next time you see a “Half Moon” in the morning sky, and enjoy the trip.

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,


This just in…

Look for fifth magnitude Comet Pojmanski in the pre-dawn sky.