Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
May, 2009

In this Issue

Events Calendar Astronomy Day
Space News Web Links
STS-119 Launch Report Night Sky Protection Act
AAS Shirts
 Forest Preserve Stargaze

Events Calendar

This year, Astronomy Day, May 2, falls on the Saturday following our usual first Friday meeting on May 1.  We’ve decided to combine the two events on Saturday at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium, in Montgomery (see below).

Our new moon dark-sky star party this month will be on Saturday, May 23, at Cliff Hill’s farm.

May 1, NO monthly meeting.  Any business will be handled at our Astronomy Day event.
May 2, AAS monthly meeting  and Astronomy Day at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium
May 9, Full Moon, Flower Moon
May 15, Titan’s shadow visible on Saturn, begins at 12:26 AM, CDST
May 23, Dark-sky star party at Cliff Hill’s farm.
May 31, Titan’s shadow visible on Saturn, begins at 11:32 AM, CDST
June 20, CPODD Stargaze at Children’s Harbor on Lake Martin 
October 11th -18th, Peach State Star Gaze 2009
October 14th – 18, DSRSG at The Feliciana Retreat Center, in Norwood, LA

Space News
John Zachry

May 6 - Checkout of Kepler satellite should be complete (2 months after Mar. 6 launch)
May 7 - Russian Progress 33P cargo ship to I.S.S.
May 12 - Space Shuttle Atlantis launch to Hubble Space Telescope 12:11 p.m. CDT
May 21  - NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launch 4:32 - 5:32 p.m. CDT
May 27 - Soyuz TMA spacecraft with Expedition 20 crew to I.S.S.

Astronomy Day 2009

The Auburn Astronomical Society in partnership with the  W. A. Gayle Planetarium, will celebrate National Astronomy Day at the planetarium in Oak Park in Montgomery,  on Saturday, May 2.  In recognition of the International Year of Astronomy, we’ll have an expanded role in astronomy education at this year’s event. 

This has traditionally been our best attended event of the year.  We extend a special invitation to those of you who live too far away to attend most of our events, to come and spend the afternoon and evening with us.  If you plan to attend, please let me know.  If you’re bringing telescopes, let us know what type(s) and size(s).  Planetarium director, Rick Evans, needs a list of names for the name tags and a head count for refreshments.

We've heard from the following volunteers to help with Astronomy Day this year.  If I've mis-remembered that you volunteered (or didn't), let me know. 

• Ray Kunert , AAS 12.5-inch Dobsonian
• Mike Holley,  Celestron CPC11, SCT; EXT-70
• Gail Smitherman, 127mm Maksutov 
• Eddie Kirkland, 16-inch Dob
• Jim Garner, 8” SCT 
• William Baugh, 18-inch StarMaster Dob
• Stephanie Doss, photographer
• John Zachry, Satellite Pass Facilitator
• Rhon Jenkins,  Being Rhon Jenkins

If you don’t have a telescope, but would like to help, we need volunteers to assist visitors with the AAS 8-inch telescope,  the ETX-90, the Astroscan, PST solar scope,  and the 20X80 binoculars from our loaner scope collection.   And, we always need help at the AAS information table where we'll have some FAQ and membership application handouts, and an e-mail sign-up sheet.  We will also need someone to help keep an eye on the clock to point out satellite passes (times and locations will be provided) to our guests. 

Here is this year’s agenda:

3:00PM:  AAS members and friends begin setting up telescopes in time to have them ready by the time the visitors begin arriving.  If you can't be there that early, just come when you can.  We'll try to set up around the entrance to the planetarium first, and save the area to the east of the sidewalk for those who arrive later.

4:00PM: Early visitors will be able to view the eight-day-old Moon, and the Sun in the light of hydrogen-alpha with the AAS PST solar scope, and members’ scopes filtered white-light images.

5:00PM: Telescope Clinic will be open for guests to bring their sick, disassembled, or otherwise malfunctioning telescopes for repair.  This year, we will expand the telescope clinic to include a walking tour of our telescopes, stopping at each for the owner to describe his/her telescope, why they selected the one they did, and its assets and liabilities.  If it turns out that there are six SCT's, some owners could use their time to explain: 

• Why they have a box full of eyepieces and filters 
• How we use sky charts to find invisible things 
• Why there are batteries and wires
• Why we use dew shields and light shrouds 
• The convenience of "Go-To" scopes 
• Image orientation differences
• Focal length, aperture, f/ ratios, fields of view
By spending five minutes or so at each telescope, we could impart a lot of information about telescopes without taxing the visitors' attention spans, and finish in time for Rick to start  the indoor programs at 6:00 . When Rick turns them loose to come back out to the telescopes at 8:00, they should have a better appreciation of what they're looking through.

6:00 PM: Marshall Space Flight  presentations in the auditorium and door-prize drawings.

“The Universe: Yours to Discover”
"From the Solar System to the Biggest Explosions in the Universe: the Stellar Cycle of Life"


The universe is a fascinating place.  Scientists from Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center will show pictures of the Sun, the Moon, the planets, stars in our own Milky Way, and stars in galaxies billions of light years away and very different from our Sun.  Our discussions will cover the stellar cycle of life 
from gas cloud, to star and star system, to the sometimes violent death of stars and back to gas cloud.  We will explain where to look in the sky for some of these objects and where to look for data on the internet. From a Sun that often has spots, to lunar soils, to black holes, to gamma-ray bursts, the universe is accessible to everyone. 


Mitzi Adams 

Since 1988, Mitzi Adams has worked as a solar scientist in the Solar Physics Department of the Space Science Research Center, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center. Ms. Adams earned a M.S. in Physics from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  Research interests of Ms. Adams include the study of sunspot magnetic fields, the solar cycle, and X-ray bright points.  From 1991-2006, Ms. Adams volunteered as Director of the von Braun Astronomical Society Planetarium, where she lectured on astronomy to the general public.  Always in search of new materials for these lectures, Ms. Adams traveled to Chile in November of 1994, to Romania in August of 1999, and to Zambia in June of 2001, to observe total eclipses of the Sun. 

Dr. Barbara Cohen

Dr. Barbara Cohen received her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 2000, with a dissertation titled, "Geochemistry and 39Ar-40Ar Geochronology of Lunar Meteorite Impact Melts".  A self-proclaimed "Lunatic", Dr. Cohen is fascinated with all things lunar.  In addition to lunar studies, Dr. Cohen has Martian interests and is a member of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) team and helps plan where to drive the rovers. In her spare(!) time, Dr. Cohen collects meteorites in Antarctica and often enjoys Torchwood and Dr. Who. 

Dr. Alexander van der Horst

With a thesis titled, "Broadband View of Blast Wave Physics - a Study of Gamma-ray Burst Afterglows", Dr. Alexander van der Horst earned his Ph.D. in 2007 at the University of Amsterdam.  Since late 2007, Alexander has been working with the Gamma-ray Astronomy Group of the Space Science Research Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  Dr. van der Horst is currently analyzing data from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which was launched in June 2008, and studies gamma-ray sources with ground-based, mainly radio-, telescopes.  In addition to excellent research skills, Dr. van der Horst plays a mean game of tennis, is an accomplished tap dancer, and cooks (well) Indonesian foods.
• A progress report on the Wetumpka Meteor Visitor center by ____________, 

7:00 PM: Rick will present  a "Tour of the Night Sky" in the planetarium, giving an overview of what the guests will see when they see when they step outside. 

7:27PM:  Sunset

8:00 PM:  The guests come out to view Saturn, its rings and its moons; the mountains and craters of the eight-day-old Moon.   The Moon will be one day past first quarter, making the “Straight Wall” and lunar highlands an impressive view.

For those who have never attended one of our Astronomy Day events, you can get a feel for what goes on, by going to the “Field Trips” link from the AAS menu, then to “W.A. Gayle Planetarium Events”. 

Here are a few reminders to help make the most of your Astronomy Day experience:

  • Remember to wear your AAS Shirt if you have one. 
  • If you are considering the purchase of a telescope, this is a good place to look and ask questions.
  • If you have a telescope or accessories for sale, this will be the best place in town for your yard sale.
  • If you have some old telescope catalogs or magazines, the visitors are happy to have them.
  • If you need AC power, Rick has a heavy duty extension cord feed, but you should bring your own cords to plug into that. It’s a good idea to have a tarp to put over the extension cords to prevent visitors from tripping in the dark.
  • You'll probably want to bring a lawn chair and sunscreen lotion
  • Don't forget your green laser -- always a hit with the guests.
  • Be sure to bring a step stool or ladder if you anticipate the little ones having trouble getting to your eyepiece.
  • It's OK to ease your vehicle up the sidewalk to unload your gear.  It would be nice to then move your vehicle out on the park road until the event is over.
  • Many visitors will ask "What power is your telescope?".  If you can't do it in your head, it's a good idea to print out a list of your eyepieces and their magnifications. John Zachry suggests: 
On Astronomy Day 2009 instead of just answering "What power is your telescope?" it would be nice to be able to tell visitors looking through a telescope at Saturn or some other object at a particular magnification (for example 100 power magnification) "Saturn is currently (8.601 x 93,000,000 on April 15) approximately 800,000,000 miles from Earth. What you see through the telescope is what Saturn would look like if you were looking out of a spacecraft window when your spacecraft is (100 times closer) only 8,000,000 miles away. With each members' list of eyepieces and their magnification I would suggest including with each how far away would the planet being observed appear to be. 
  • As I've stressed before, most of the visitors to Astronomy Day, while impressed with the larger telescopes, are mainly interested in the more modest, entry-level models, that they would be considering.  So, if you haven't volunteered because you thought your telescope was “too small”, we really need your help.  Remember that most of the visitors will be starting out with telescopes just like yours.  Who else better to offer helpful suggestions to beginning astronomers? 
  • The other most frequently asked questions are:  "How far can you see with that thing?"  If you don't know, "42 million light-years" has a nice ring to it. 
  • And finally,  you’ll no doubt be asked, "How much did that thing cost?"  In most cases, “It’s cheaper than a bass boat” will suffice.  ;-)
Astronomy Day is always a rain or shine event.  If the skies are threatening, the telescopes will be set up in the planetarium lobby.

Web Links

This Web page gives a nice animation on the ISS' progress over the years...

Do you pine for the old episodes of Carl Sagan’s COSMOS but you don’t have a VCR player anymore?  Try COSMOS at  Likewise with NOVA at

New comet: A small 8th-magnitude comet is now making its way slowly across Cassiopeia toward Perseus. <>

You’ll find hundreds of concise articles on virtually every aspect of amateur astronomy at One Minute Astronomer www.oneminuteastronomer.comby Brian Ventrudo, Ph.D.

STS-119 Launch Report

Jim McLaughlin attended the launch of STS-119 Space Shuttle Discovery on March 12.  Here’s Jim’s report.

Launch of Discovery 3/12/09
Jim McLaughlin

It has been an ambition of mine to see a manned launch ever since having to turn around for home on the way to a Saturn V launch when I was in the 8th grade because my father became ill. I managed to get four of my five kids to make the trip with me and I hope they'll appreciate that evening as a memory for a lifetime. I must say I expected more noise then we heard but under different conditions the volume may be plenty loud at our spot during shuttle launches.  I was excited to learn of the postponement of the mid-week launch just before our spring-break Disney World trip and planned to get over to the Cape while I was in the area. Unfortunately, the scramble to complete trip preparations didn't allow me time to research the local geography and find where I should try to be for the best views. Many of you reading this may be very familiar with these things that I didn't know but I asked around in Orlando and learned that Jetty Park is a good place, across the water from the pad about a mile or so away. Problem is, that's the space-faring equivalent of wanting a spot at the 18th green at the Masters; last-minute launch day arrivals like me are just out of luck, but I didn't know that at the outset. I set out about 4:30PM from Orlando to travel the 60-odd miles to Cocoa Beach for the 7:45 launch, arriving a bit before 7PM. I had four of my five children with me and we spotted a sign for Jetty Park, parked, and started walking in the indicated direction. After going a considerable distance without finding the park, I asked a local how much farther Jetty Park was and was told my best bet was to go back in the direction we came from and get out on the beach. We did so and seemed to be all set at T minus 15 minutes. We could see a couple of gantries about two miles away, no visible shuttle but the daylight was fading fast so that didn't bother me, nor did it occur to me that the pad should be floodlit since it wasn't full dark. About halfway between us and the pad I could see a jetty lined with observers shoulder to shoulder. I watched the gantry in my binoculars as 7:45 arrived and then heard a lot of whooping and hollering. To the west of where I'd been watching, behind a rise at the base of the jetty, a brightening glow was growing and clouds of smoke were billowing, and immediately the exhaust plumes could be seen already rising quickly and accelerating as Discovery took off. The vehicle itself could not be seen in the gathering darkness as the flaming rockets overpowered everything. We were south of the pad and I thought orbit was most efficiently achieved by heading toward the equator, but Discovery headed northwest to match up with the orbit of ISS, away from us. We heard the rumble about 10-12 seconds after lift-off and it was dissipated by the stiff ocean breeze. From where I was at the launch I didn't feel any atmospheric phenomenon I would attribute to the rocket. SRB separation happened quicker than I expected and it was really cool to see the exhaust plumes reach altitude that was still sunlit and turn bright white. Discovery remained visible for about seven minutes and the exhaust gases glowed red, white, and blue (no kidding) until darkness set in.

Be warned that the road net from the Cape to points west is totally inadequate to handle launch-day traffic and it was three or four times worse than the worst ballgame traffic I've seen, plus the state of Florida operates three tollbooths along the route back to Orlando which turned the highway into a parking lot; the 60 mile return trip took 31/2 hours! But it was worth it.

Night Sky Protection Act
Jim McLaughlin

I joined IDSA last spring and got ready for the current legislative session by looking thru my old issues of Sky and Telescope dating back to 1994 pulling out articles about dark-sky advocacy and only found four or five. I reviewed them all over the holidays then downloaded the model ordinance from the IDSA website along with copies of bills filed in about three or four state legislatures and gave these items to my brother [Representative. Jeff McLaughlin] around the first of February. He turned these over to the Legislative Reference Service which is the office that actually writes up proposed bills. He handed me back the product of their work last night for me/us to review before he "drops it in the hopper" to be taken up by the legislature. It isn't likely to get very far in the lawmaking process this first go-round.

I'm interested in talking to some of the activists in the "Free the Hops" group that is trying to legalize homebrew, for other than the obvious reasons (haha) because they've gotten a good education in the way things work in getting started with grassroots legislative movements, but we have a real advantage in having my brother ready and willing to work with us on the inside. He had some helpful thoughts about how to work this thing thru starting with having a resolution passed in the House to form a dark sky study group of a handful of representatives and senators to explore ideas on dark skies. Getting such a resolution passed won't be a challenge, he says, and we need to think about who to approach about being in this study group. Diversity would be helpful, he thinks. We should contact the Huntsville club about one of their delegation being tapped, who would they suggest? ( I'll take care of making contact with them and plan to make a call to Rep. Greg Wren, my life-insurance man who is tied in with Alabama Power, to try to get him and them on board) Jeff further suggests that we try to identify the pressure groups who might oppose us and begin to work on them to either win them over or neutralize them. We're thinking contractor groups, maybe the BCA or ALFA. not really sure. In any event, it's sure to be a long slow slog to make anything happen, so we may as well get started.

You can read the Night Sky Protection Act here, and here’s an Update on the Alabama Dark Skies Legislation:
Greetings from the Capital City.

Our legislation has been filed and will be assigned an HR number and committee for a hearing this upcoming Tuesday. It is being floated in the form of a House Resolution and not as an attempt to establish law yet; when that is done it will receive an HB number as a bill instead of a resolution. We are taking this approach since none of our elected officials are likely to have the vaguest notion of what any such law would propose to do. For the lawmakers to educate themselves on unheard-of issues a "study group" will be formed  of members of the House and possibly the Senate, and the group will report back to the main body regarding the merits of regulating nighttime lighting in the state of Alabama. We obviously want the committee to be sympathetic to our goals so if anyone in the astronomy community has any influence with their representative or senator, please ask them to sign on for the study group or let me know so I can pass their name on to my brother who is filing the HR for us, Rep. Jeff McLaughlin D-Guntersville. He has already enlisted Reps. Henshaw and McCutcheon of the Huntsville area to co-sponsor the HR, so the Von Braun Astronomical Society needs to let them know we appreciate their efforts.When I have an HR number, I let you know so you can refer to it by number when approaching a legislator.I understand that there is an astronomy club in Montevallo; someone please send me an email contact so they can be kept up to date on what promises to be a multi-year effort. Thanks in advance!

Jim McLaughlin
Auburn Astronomical Society

AAS Shirts

From time to time, new AAS members ask about getting their own AAS shirts.  And, because all men’s shirts tend to shrink around the belly area while hanging in the closet, members have needed to reorder a larger size.  In the past, we’ve had to wait (every 2 or 3 years) until we had enough for an order.  Scott Thompson has unselfishly done the bulk of the work to have the orders placed with the local vendor.  Despite his efforts, we’ve had problems collecting after the shirts were received and getting the shirts that had been paid for, delivered.

Enter Marge’s MonogramsSteve Durham, the “Pop” of this Mom & Pop business worked for two days to get our logo just right and responded to every request.  You may order at any time and there is no minimum order, but if several shirts are ordered at the same time, there may be some savings in shipping costs.  Steve has set up the AAS Order Page to simplify ordering.  If you’ll let me know when you’re ready to order, I’ll alert the group to see if anyone else is ready, making it easier on Steve and less costly for our members.  Marge's Monograms will have the AAS Order Page available until mid-July. At that time, they will take it down and put up a flyer, and have potential customers contact them through the website for "current" pricing. 

Forest Preserve Stargaze

On Saturday, April 25, AAS members and friends gathered at the Mary Olive Thomas Demonstration Forest for our spring, 2009 Forest Ecology Preserve stargaze.  Following Jennifer Lolley’s presentation at the pavilion, the guests came out to view through the telescopes.  Volunteering their time and telescopes were:

• Rhon and Joyce Jenkins
• Jennifer Lolley
• Russell Whigham, C-11 SCT, 
• Frank Ward, 12-inch Lightbridge Dobsonian 
• Alan Cook Meade, 10-inch SCT 
• Elliot Errera, AAS 8-inch Dobsonian
• William Baugh, 120mm rich field refractor
• Mike Holley, CPC1100 SCT
• Ray Kunert, Meade 5” LXD75 go-to refractor
• Eddie Kirkland 16-inch Dobsonian 
• Mark Pratt, 15x70 Fujinon binoculars
• Denise,  Jim, Stoeckel and daughter, 4.5-inch reflector
• Heather Tassin
• Aniket Shirgaokar
Despite the fact that the sky was not completely dark at the beginning, and that we had a veil of cirrus clouds most of the evening, the guests seemed to enjoy the variety of views of Saturn through such a diverse group of telescope designs.  Thanks to all who participated.

Hoping to see everyone again soon,