Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
April, 2006

In this Issue

April Events Upcoming Events
Blondheim Star Gaze Astronomy Day
New Member Member News
Loaner Scopes Treasurer's Report
Georgia Sky View 2006 Cool Links
Space News Camp ASCCA Star Gaze

April Events

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, April 7, 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. 

Saturday, April 15, Astronomy Day at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium.    Commitments so far include:

  • Rhon & Joyce Jenkins -  PST Solar Scope (?)
  • Mike Holley – AAS 8-inch Dob, and EXT70
  • Russell Whigham – Celestron C-11
We need 12 to 15 telescopes to accommodate the anticipated crowd.  Please let Russell know by this weekend if you plan to attend, so Rick can have name tags made for us.  If you will be bringing your telescope(s) let us know that as well.  See the the agenda for the Astronomy Day events below.

Our dark-sky star party this month will be on Saturday, April 29, at Cliff Hill’s farm clouds permitting of course. 

Upcoming Events

April 7, April meeting
April 15, Astronomy Day at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium
April 20 – 23, Georgia Sky View
April 28, star party at Cliff Hill’s farm
May 5, May meeting
May 4, Blondheim Star Gaze 
May 27, star party at Cliff Hill’s farm
June 2, June meeting
June 24, star party at Cliff Hill’s farm

Blondheim Star Gaze

Rick Evans called the other night.  He had hosted a private birthday party for one of Montgomery's philanthropic and civic-minded citizens at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium.  The guest of honor was Richard Blondheim.  Rick said that Mr. Blondheim expressed interest in having a multi-million dollar facility for Montgomery -- perhaps located on the grounds of the Shakespeare Festival, that would be home to a state-of-the-art planetarium and/or observatory.  Rick has asked that we do a star gaze for the Blondheim's and their friends at their home, the first week in May.  I have committed us (Montgomery area members) for that.  It could be a really nice thing for Montgomery.  Please let Russell know if you'll be able to help with this.

Astronomy Day
Vision for Space Exploration Experience
Rick Evans

Astronomy Day 2006 will be held in conjunction with the Vision for Space Exploration Experience exhibit at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium on Saturday night, April 15th. We will have 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. 

3:00 PM - Solar viewing
Public Viewing of the Sun through Solar Scopes provided by the Planetarium and Auburn Astronomical Society.

5:00 PM - Telescope Clinic
Members from the Auburn Astronomical Society will host a telescope clinic to answer questions about different types of telescopes.  If you have a telescope that you need assistance with, you are encouraged to bring it to this event. 

6:00 PM - Guest Speaker  To be announced

6:45 PM -- Remarks from Auburn Astronomical Society President (Dr. Rhon Jenkins)

7:00 PM - "Tour of the Night Sky"
The Spitz STP projector  in the auditorium  will be set to display the stars as seen from Montgomery Alabama on April 16th, 2005. A brief  tour of the night sky will be conducted to point out the constellations visible .

8:00 PM - Telescopic celestial viewing 
The Auburn Astronomical Society (AAS)  has agreed to support this event by once again bringing out telescopes for the public to view the wonders of the night sky. 

New Member

Dr. Ben Wouters
Prattville AL
Telescope(s):  Celestron 11-inch CPC
Area of special interest:  Recreational Astronomy

AAS:   Are you a seasoned amateur astronomer or just getting into the hobby?

BW:  I was the newsletter editor for the Barnard-Seyfert club in Nashville for several years, but have been "out" of astronomy for
a few years.

AAS:    What was your first experience that attracted you to astronomy?

BW:  I was raised in Huntsville.  Most of my friends' parents worked for NASA.

AAS.   Tell us a little about your family members; spouse? kids? siblings? significant other?

BW:  Married to Lisa, an E.R. nurse.  Three daughters (too many boyfriends).

AAS:  Can you tell us a little about your formal education?

BW:  M.D. from Vanderbilt, Ph.D. from Vanderbilt, on nerve regeneration.

AAS:  Do you have any pets? What kind?  How Many?

BW:  Two dogs -- a toy poodle (my wife's) and a Shiba Inu (mine -- a Japanese dog).

AAS:   Where do you work? If you're retired, what was your occupation?   If you're still in school, have you chosen a career?

BW:  I'm a neurologist in Montgomery.

AAS:   Besides astronomy, what other hobbies do you enjoy?

BW:  Computers (Apple), R.C. airplanes, and history.

AAS:  What was your first or favorite car?

BW:  Honda Prelude

AAS:   What was your first or most interesting job?

BW:  Doctor

AAS:   Tell us about your favorite vacation.

BW:  I spent a month in Germany in high school.  Good beer.

AAS:  Have you ever lived in some other part of the U.S. or another country?  Where?  When?

BW:  No, just the south.

Member News

From Scott Thompson:
New articles posted:

Latest M42... Stacked 9 images to obtain a nice nebula region and a viewable trapezium. M42 Image


From Aaron Wilson:  
Star Party Reports:

Observing report for Conecuh National Forest, AL

Patrick Moylan and Aaron Wilson visited the Conecuh National Forest on Friday, 24 Mar 06.  We have to agree with John Tatarchuk and Tom McGowan... this is one DARK site, especially for the Southeast. 

We left from Maxwell AFB around 4pm and arrived around 6pm just as the sun was setting.  We drove to a couple campgrounds and lake areas but found only tall pine tress.  With twilight upon us, we selected an idle cotton field near a white water tower across from the entrance to the Conecuh NF Open Pond RV and Campground.  We hurriedly set-up in the waning dusk, finishing in time to enjoy the incredible view of zodiacal light stretching up nearly 60 degrees from the western horizon.  It was around 35 degree Fahrenheit with no wind and clear, steady, transparent skies.  A light dome to the south rose only 5 degrees above the horizon (from Clearview/Ft Walton Beach); otherwise the Milky Way was visible horizon to horizon and a seeing magnitude of 6.5 or better.  We ran 25-30 Messier and NGC objects including M1 Crab Nebula, M41 cluster in Canis Major, and of course M42/43.  M3 and M13 resolved nicely in both the 5" and 8" SCTs, as did M104's distinctive dust lane.  Surprisingly, we only observed 4-5 very faint meteors for the entire evening.  We finally set-up our tents and sleeping bags around 1am to catch some sleep before driving back.  Aaron checked the sky around 4:15am and could easily discern several Messier objects in the Milky Way through Sagittarius and Scorpio to include M7, M8, and M22 clusters; this despite the nearby moon at 30 percent illumination.  We packed up the tents and policed the site for any trash and/or accessories, finally departing by 7am.  Definitely a great observing area and much darker than Cliff Hill's Farm; make sure you have a plan for parking, camping, and all-night observing if you make the 2-3hr drive to this gem in Southern Alabama.

Patrick is also looking into the somewhat closer Roland Cooper State Park (west of Montgomery) for a future exploratory trip… 

AAS Star Party Report  for Cliff Hill’s Farm

Ray Kunert and Aaron Wilson braved the cold evening for a nice evening of observing at Cliff Hill’s farm. 
Despite an occasional breeze and 34 degrees Fahrenheit, we enjoyed above average seeing and transparency throughout the night.  Several Messier and NGC objects were observed along with a dozen faint meteors to include one rather bright green-white meteor visible for 2-3 seconds on the western horizon.  We started the evening by splitting out the E and F companion stars in the Trapezium of the Great Orion Nebula.  Saturn and the nearby M44 cluster formed pleasant pair for viewing, and later we observed Jupiter and all 4 moons.  Through Ray’s 10” SCT, we could easily resolve the dust lanes in M81 and with averted vision could just detect the spiral structure of M51 Whirlpool and its smaller companion galaxy.  Other objects included the Leo Triplet, M3 and M13, M104 Sombrero, and the Double Cluster.  Aaron also tried his hand at photography with a Canon 300D, imaging M3 and M44 before fatigue set in (Aaron was out the previous night with Patrick Moylan at Conecuh Ntl Forest).  We closed the evening at midnight with a very successful observing session! 

Loaner Scopes

Loaner scope steward, Rhon Jenkins, reports that the PST solar scope will be available following Astronomy Day. 

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

Treasure’s Report
John Zachry

Astronomical League dues are due in June for July 1, 2006 - June 30, 2007 fiscal year. Dues are $5.00 per A.A.S. member plus club fee of $ 10.00. Currently we have 31 members so that would be $155.00  plus $10.00 = $165.00.  Last year's A.L. dues were $170.00.   Currently in bank $ 584.05. With $ 165.00 earmarked for AL, we currently have $419.05 in assets.

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.  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.

Cool Links

Meade Online Tutorial Videos
A video series on many small scopes.  You'll want a DSL or higher for these, but I thought they were quite useful.

Where is M13?
The little freeware program "Where is M13?" has been revised, substantially improved, and is available at The program will also "locate" other kinds of objects and eventually will be a commercial program.  The little app shows in a galactic face-on view and also an edge-on view where the different categories of Messier objects are located, and shows a worthwhile realization, that is, different categories of objects are indeed in or out of the galactic disk.  The new version allows zooming and scrolling of the galactic views, and now places the objects on a sky map as well.

Google Mars:

Red Spot Jr.

AstroPhoto Insight

The March 2006 issue of AstroPhoto Insight is now available.  In this issue you'll find articles on:
  * Matching a CCD Camera to a Telescope
  * Troubleshooting Focal Reducers
  * Capturing first light with the Orion StarShoot
  * Regaining Star Colors
  * Beginners guide to lunar and planetary imaging with a webcam and a telescope
  * Why do DSLRs have Shutters?
  * and much more
Space News
John Zachry

April 06, 2006 - Pluto/New Horizons spacecraft (launched Jan. 19, 2006) crosses orbit of Mars 
April 08, 2006 - Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation
April 08, 2006 - Expedition 12 crew returns to Earth. Lands at 6:46 p.m. CDT
April 11, 2006 - Venus Express spacecraft completes Venus Orbit Insertion 2:32 a.m. CDT

March 31, 2006 - NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Begins Adjusting Orbit

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter yesterday began a crucial six-month campaign to gradually shrink its orbit into the best geometry for the mission's science work. ... The orbiter has been flying about 426 kilometers (265 miles) above Mars' surface at the nearest point of each loop since March 10, then swinging more than 43,000 kilometers (27,000 miles) away before heading in again. ... On Thursday, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its intermediate thrusters for 58 seconds at the far point of the orbit. That maneuver lowered its altitude to 333 kilometers (207 miles) when the spacecraft next passed the near point of its orbit, at 6:46 a.m. Pacific time today (9:46 a.m. Eastern Time). "We're not low enough to touch Mars' atmosphere yet, but we'll get to that point next week," said Dr. Daniel Kubitschek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., deputy leader for the aerobraking phase of the mission. The phase includes about 550 dips into the atmosphere, each carefully planned for the desired amount of braking. At first, the dips will be more than 30 hours apart. By August, there will be four per day.

Converted Central Europe Summer Time to EDT and CDT and modified chart below:

Venus Express Orbital Insertion Timeline - April 11, 2006

(EDT)  (CDT) (UT) (CEST) Event
03:17 02:17 07:17 09:17 Venus Express main engine burn starts 
03:45 02:45 07:45 09:45 Occultation starts (loss of low data S-band signal) 
03:55 02:55 07:55 09:55 Occultation ends 
04:07 03:07 08:07 10:07 Venus Express main engine burn ends
04:10 03:10 08:10 10:10 Announcement by Flight Operations Director
05:07 04:07 09:07 11.07 X-band transmitter on (high data downlink) 
05:12 04:12 09:12 11:12 Telemetry received 
05:30-06:15  04:30-05:15  09:30-10:15  11:30-12:15 Press Conference 

Expedition 12 Crew from International Space Station deorbit burn April 8, 2006 at 5:55 p.m. CDT. Landing 6:46 p.m. CDT.

From Atlanta Jornal-Constitution - Sunday, April 2, 2006
"The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter fired its thrusters for nearly a minute Thursday to lower its orbit, a step toward the tricky areobraking process during which the spacecraft will repeatedly dip into the upper atmosphere starting next week."

The NASA Science Missions Cut,309,p1.html 

Camp ASCCA Star Gaze

The Auburn Astronomical Society was invited to host a star gaze for eighty-five fifth graders from St. James Elementary School, in Montgomery, during their annual Science Camp at Camp ASCCA on Lake Martin.  Josh Rhodes, Camp ASCCA's Director of Environmental Education, had written to express his desire to incorporate astronomy into their program, and asked that we lend our expertise on Thursday evening, April 30, 2006. 

Perhaps because of the distance or this was a mid-week event, only Russell, who had the week off, was able to represent AAS.  Fortunately, Russell was able to press his wife, Cathy, and daughter, Suzanne, who was visiting from out of town for the week, into service. 

When we arrived, Josh took us on a tour of the camp and offered several sites for setting up the telescopes. He then invited us to join them in the dining hall for supper. 

Josh divided the group of students and parents into two groups -- half viewing a video in the Oscar Dunn Environmental Center, while the others reported to the ball field for the astronomy program.  As soon as it was dark, the first group were able to track a satellite across the sky and see a very young (one-day-old) Moon.  We then described the different optical and mechanical configurations for the telescopes on display. 

The students then learned how to identify the Big Dipper, locate the North Star, and recognize the bright spring constellations, and find Saturn.  The students then queued up for the eyepiece experience.  First they viewed Saturn and its brighter moons, and later the Orion Nebula.  Although this was her first time with the telescope, Suzanne located both of the above with the 8-inch, so the students could compare views.  As a fourth grade teacher, this was a busman's holiday for her, but she really helped in assisting the campers.  Cathy also instructed the first time observers as to eye placement and prompted them to seek out detail in the eyepiece.  Special thanks to both of the conscripts. 

Orion was "in the trees" by the time the second group arrived, so we substituted the open star cluster, M-35. 

Students, teachers, parents, and camp staff all seemed to enjoy the evening and expressed their appreciation. 

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,