Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
June, 1998

Greetings Astrophiles,


In this Issue
June Meeting
Star Parties
Astronomy Day
Member News
New on the Web Pages
New on the List
Neat Stuff on the Web
Big Dobs Mail List
In the Eyepiece
Summer Field Institute
 Averted Vision
June Meeting
This month's meeting will be on Friday, June 5, at 8:00 PM in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building. Anyone wishing to ride over to the meeting from the Montgomery area should meet at my house. We'll leave for Auburn at 7:00 PM.
Star Parties
We had quite a good turn-out for April star party. Attending were: Bill Possel, Christina Wilson, Alan and Max Cook, Doug Martin, Robert and David Rock, Mike Fulmer, Ron Hatherley and your editor. I didn't make it to the May star party. Blame it on the clouds/smog/haze/humidity and insufferable heat. If anyone did try, we'd love to hear if you had any luck. The June star party will be Saturday, June 20, at Holley's Field.
Astronomy Day
On Saturday, May 2, 1998, members of the Auburn Astronomical Society, gathered at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium, to share with the public, our fascination with astronomy. The event was the brain-child of Rick Evans, Director of the W. A. Gayle Planetarium. Once the event was conceived, AAS member, Rick Fanning, who works part-time at the planetarium, nurtured the project and helped coordinate the event between the planetarium and the AAS. There was never a question about our being eager to participate. Rick had scheduled the presentation in the planetarium to begin at 7:00 PM with viewing through the telescopes to take place at 7:30 PM. AAS members bringing their scopes began arriving by 5:30 PM. By the time visitors started to arrive, many of the telescopes were already set up, and several guests were treated to views of the first quarter moon as they entered the planetarium.

A total of over twenty telescopes were made available to the public. The prize for most efficient packing went to Ricky Wood and Scott Thompson, who somehow managed to put Scott's 7-inch f/7 refractor with mount and pier AND Ricky's 12-inch Meade and tripod into Ricky's Honda! They also won the award for most dedication to the cause, by removing the scopes from their permanent locations in Scott's observatory.

 Thanks to Rick Evans' publicity for the event, some 150 visitors attended the first of what should be many Astronomy Days at the Planetarium. Rick had sandwiches and drinks for us, name tags identifying us as Auburn Astronomical Society members, arranged for Oak Park to remain open long after the usual sunset closing time, had police security, and perfect weather. Rick writes:


I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate what you and the members of the AAS did Saturday Night. I know some them drove a long way to get here and support our endeavor. From my perspective, I think it was a tremendous success and hopefully will be something we can build on each year. As we were discussing, we learned some valuable things this year to make next year even better.

Please pass my appreciation along to all those who supported the event. A special thanks to you for organizing the event from your end.

Rick Evans


Special thanks to the following folks who have showed up with their telescopes:

 Robert and David Rock: Celestron C-8, SCT and 2045 Meade SCT
Rex & Jennifer Roach: Meade 2080 and his Celestron Compustar, the 8" SCT
John Shaw: 10-inch Meade SCT and 5-inch rich-field refractor
Alan Cook: Tripod mounted 20X80 binoculars & 10" Meade SCT, LX50
Christina Wilson: 76mm Schmidt Newtonian
Scott Thompson: 7-inch AstroPhysics refractor
Marc Schrier: 10-inch Meade Dobsonian; TeleVue Ranger
Russell Whigham: Celestron C-11, SCT; 6-inch Newtonian; 80mm & 60mm refractor
Ron & Jeanetta Hatherley: 10-inch Dobsonian; Meade ETX; 90mmMaksutov
Bill Possel: 4-inch AstroPhysics Traveler refractor
Ricky Wood: 12-inch Meade SCT, LX200
Rick Fanning & Skot McCullough: 8-inch Meade SCT; binoculars

Marty Skelton and Lee Cook were also on hand to share the evening with us. Apologies if you were there and I didn't see you -- we were somewhat overwhelmed with the crowd as they came out of the planetarium to have a look through our scopes. If you were not able to be there with us, you can get a feel for the evening at our latest addition to our web site "Field Trips" links under "W.A. Gayle Planetarium" page.

Member and Friend News
After a year with us while stationed at the Air University at Maxwell AFB, Bill Possel will be moving back to California this month. Bill has been the most active observer of our group, driving up to Holley's Field on almost every clear, moonless night. We'll sure miss having him with us.

 Scott Enebak has just received his new LX50 10-inch SCT telescope. His house has also become a regular stop on the UPS delivery route as he begins his never-ending quest for accessories. We look forward to seeing Scott and his new scope more often at Holley's Field.

New on the Web Pages
As mentioned above, Astronomy Day at the W.A. Gayle Planetarium.

Future AAS member and Auburn University student, Dustin Smith , has his biographical profile on the "Who Are We" page. Several others now have their photos with their pages there too.

New on the Mail List
Doug Martin , was the guest of Alan Cook at the April star Party.
David Larrimore, , was referred to us by Jason Glasgow.
David Rich , and Rex Roach have new email addresses.
Neat Stuff on the Web
From our Astro-Neighbor in Gainesville GA, , daily updates on what's up.

These links were stolen from one (?) of the mail list to which I subscribe: Among other goodies, CONFIGURE > 'Weather' and you get a Intelcast weather picture of 'current global weather'. Expand the pop-up to full page then OPTIONS > TIMING > 100X and UPDATE RATE > 1SEC. Click on SATELLITE and choose one, watch display of satellite's orbit. Choose satellite and click NEXT PASS then '+' over and over. Talk about programming, watch the stars move in 3-D!

Big Dobs Mail List
 Do you use a BIGDOB? Contemplating buying, building, or using a BIGDOB?

Subscribe to the BIGDOB list and follow the chatter for a few months, be better informed (better then I was) buying new BIGDOBs or accessories, share your hints and kinks, rant or rave at the manufactures, announce to other BIGDOB users your cool observations, tell us how you push you scope farther or just lurk (perfectly acceptable).

 We started this list mainly because the only information available about BIGDOBs was face to face in this club and/or the manufactures themselves. Both excellent sources, but only representing a small portion of the spectrum of users out there.

How big is a BIGDOB? You be the judge. If you think its a BIGDOB, its a BIGDOB. Who are we to judge otherwise?

Observation techniques unique to big dobs such as the best eyepiece/filter combination for a given sky on certain objects, how to control dew and spotting scopes are just some of the topics this list should cover.

One end result will be the compilation of a BIGDOB FAQ from the traffic that will aid others without having to repeat subject matter every 6 months like on some other lists.  We'll be making a general announcement in a few days but wanted the members of this club, the actual inspiration for these endeavors, to be the charter subscribers.

Subscription instructions: Send to:

Leave SUBJECT BLANK and in the BODY type:

SUBSCRIBE bigdob-l

Getting off is the same except...


To send a message to the list members address message to


Bob Art

Smith Russell


In the Eyepiece
Supernova In M96
Italian astronomer Mirko Villi spied a "new" star -- a supernova -- on CCD images taken on May 9th of the spiral galaxy M96 in Leo. Images taken as recently as April 21st show no object at the star's position. Supernova 1998bu was announced the following day on IAU Circular 6899. The exploding star is located a little less than 1 arcminute north and slightly east of the galaxy's center. Brightness estimates range from visual magnitude 11.8 to 12.5, placing it within reach of amateur telescopes. Leo is well placed high in the west-southwest -- in the evening sky.

The International Supernovae Network notes that Florida amateur Chuck Faranda made a prediscovery image of Supernova 1998bu in spiral galaxy M96 in Leo. Taken on the night of May 2nd, a week before the "new" star was discovered by Mirko Villi, the supernova appeared about magnitude 16.5. It is currently about 12th magnitude, placing it within reach of amateur telescopes. The exploding star is located a little less than 1 arcminute north and slightly east of the galaxy's center. Leo is well placed -- high in the west-southwest -- in the evening sky.

The International Supernova Network (ISN) notified that Mirko Villi (its websmaster) has discovered the SN 1998 BU at M96 (also known as NGC 3368). Villi was using a CCD and a S/C of 10". The International Astronomical Union officially announced it in his circular #6899.

The SN 1998 BU is 1' north from the galaxy nuclei and is already in magnitude 12.5. You can get more news and the observing chart on ISN home-page at

Also VSNET (variable star network) page contains some information about SN 1998bu at:

If it's a Type-Ia supernova, it could rise to magnitude 10. The position is:

RA: 10h 46m 46.01s
Dec: +11° 50' 07.5'
This CCD astroimage was taken by Richard Jacobs, M.D. of M96 with SN1998bu on May 15, 1998 with the Celestron CG 9.25 SCT and the SBIG ST-7 CCD camera. A total of 490 seconds of integration at F/3.3 was taken.

Comet 1998-J, SOHO
Excitement over this one quickly faded, as it went directly from the glare of the Sun to too far south for northern latitude observers. From Sky Publishing:

Sightings of Comet SOHO (1998 J1) picked up markedly this past week, but you have to be in the Southern Hemisphere to see it. Observers reported that during the past week, the comet was just barely visible to the unaided eye. The comet is crossing through the middle of Orion, making a beeline toward Sirius, and thus gradually moving out of twilight. Magnified views reveal a gas tail, several degrees long, standing nearly vertically above the horizon.
Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) Boundary Summer Field Institute In Italy
Study the great extinction boundary with experts during a 12-day expedition based at Coldigioco Geological Observatory in Italy. Field/lab experiences, plus lectures. Visit outstanding outcrops, including Gubbio. $1750.00. Send FAX to 334 844-4486 to request application. Application and $500 deposit due June 23. Acceptance notices: June 30. Balance ($1250) due on July 15. Limit 12. Adults only. CEUs/Graduate credit

possible. Institute dates: August 3-15. Participants arrange own transportation. Questions via e-mail: Dr. David T. King, Jr. ; or write to me at Department of Geology, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849-5305.

Just What is Averted Vision, Anyway?
By: Jeff Medkeff

Astronomers often employ an observing technique called "averted vision", the art of looking slightly to the side of a faint object being studied. This works because, we are told, there are more rods slightly off the optical axis of our eyes. But there is a great deal more to it than that, and with some understanding of the physiology of the eye, it will be seen that there are right and wrong ways to use averted vision.

 It is true that the density of rods peaks well outside the center of vision. Since the rods are the eye's faint light detectors, it stands to reason that this peculiarity of physiology is what makes averted vision work. The density of the rods at a point 20 degrees off the center of vision reaches about 160,000 rod cells per square millimeter. This is a greater density than the peak density of the cones - the eye's bright light and color detectors - on the fovea (the center of vision), where cones only reach about 140,000 cells per square millimeter.

The point of greatest density of the rods does not correspond to the point of greatest sensitivity, however. The area of greatest sensitivity has been shown to vary considerably from observer to observer, but it is never as far as 18 degrees from the center of vision. The reason for this has to do with the manner in which the retinal cells are "wired" to the brain.

In the fovea, each cone is connected to a single ganglion cell, which in turn is hooked up to a nerve fiber that eventually joins the optic nerve. As we move away from the fovea, each ganglion cell starts to service several cones or rods. Eighteen degrees from the fovea, 100 rods might be connected to a single ganglion cell. At some point on this line extending outward from the fovea, the number of rods per ganglion cell is such that the eye operates at peak sensitivity. For most people, this point is somewhere between 8 and 16 degrees from the fovea.

 But so far we have only been considering the sensitivity of the eye as a function of an image's angle from the fovea. One might suppose that it makes a difference if we avert our vision to the left or right, up or down, or at some angle. And it does matter. The most effective direction to avert our eyes is that required to place the object on the nasal side of our vision. Simplified, this means if you are a right-eyed observer, you shift your eyes to the right; if a left-eye observer, you shift your gaze to the left. Whichever eye you use, you avert your gaze in that direction.

 By using this most efficient portion of the retina, you will experience a gain of some four magnitudes or more over your direct vision! The effect of this is not insignificant. It means the detection or not of many stars and most details in deep sky objects.

It is important not to avert your vision the opposite direction - that is, if right eyed, you should not use averted vision by shifting your gaze to the left. This will place the image on the blind spot, right where the optic nerve connects to the retina. Nothing will be seen in such a circumstance, no matter how bright!

This poses an interesting dilemma for binocular observers and for those who use binocular viewing attachments on their telescopes. Averting one eye to its optimal position puts the image on, or nearly on, the blind spot on the other eye. This is counterproductive; the advantage of the binocular system is its use of two eyes. Inadvertently disabling one eye makes no sense. The solution is simple, and astronomers have been saying it for centuries: look up!

The second most efficient direction to avert your gaze is upward - look in the direction of the top of your head, so that the image is below your center of vision. The area of the retina in use here is somewhat less sensitive than the optimal horizontal location, but only slightly so. Doing this does not put the image in the blind spot of either eye, and considering the gains to be had from binocular vision, this will likely prove as efficient (or more so) under such conditions as using the optimal monocular method.

If you choose to avert your gaze downward, you will find your averted vision slightly less sensitive again. In actuality, the retina is every bit as sensitive here as it is if you avert your vision upward, but it is sensitive over a much smaller area. Thus, it is harder to consistently rest the image on the "sweet spot".

Some observers will notice that their most sensitive areas are slightly to the side and down, or in other ways not exactly as eye physiology would suggest. In my case, I find averting to the right and slightly up (I am right eyed) is best for me. There are large variations in the way our eyes are made up - in fact, our retinas are even more distinctive than our fingerprints. Almost nothing can be said categorically about vision, but we can say what will apply in the majority of cases. It is well known that experienced observers see much more detail, and many fainter objects, than beginners. I believe that this is caused in part by the observer learning about the individual characteristics of his or her eyes over the course of many nights of observations.

Next time you are out with your binoculars or telescope, take some time to explore these different areas of your vision. It might be quite apparent what is the most promising averted vision method for you. And if it happens to be something other than what medical science predicted, don't let that stop you from doing it your way. They are, after all, your eyes, and only you know what you can see with them.

Jeff Medkeff has been an amateur astronomer for nearly 20 years. He is an enthusiastic and prolific observer, especially of solar system objects, and has been writing about amateur astronomy sporadically for 12 years. He operates the private Rockland Observatory of Sierra Vista, Arizona, which is dedicated to astronomy education and journalism. In 1997, Medkeff was appointed an assistant coordinator within the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers' Solar Section.