Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
September, 1998

Greetings Astrophiles,


September Meetings 
August Star Party Report 
David Malin Lecture
Neat Stuff on the Web 
New On the Mail List
Deep South Regional Star Gaze
WA Gayle Planetarium
Meade ETX Review
CACC Observatory 

The September meeting of the Auburn Astronomical Society will be on Friday, September 4, at 8:00 PM in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building. Montgomery area carpoolers should meet at my house (518 Seminole Dr.) at 7:00 PM.

 This month's star party will be on September 19 at Holley's Field -- I hope. The "For Sale" sign on the property is back up. I've asked Robert Rock to contact Mr. Holley to be sure we're still welcome on the field. It might be a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for an alternate site convenient to members in the Montgomery , Alex City and Auburn areas.

We had the best night and the best turnout that we've had in since back in the spring--19 attendees: Yen-Ming Cheng; Alan and Max Cook, and guests from Building Sciences department at Auburn; Richard and Wendy Feuerriegel; Mike Fulmer; Ron Hatherley, and his 10-inch Coulter; David Nicholls; Robert Rock with the Meade 2045 and his Bausch & Lomb 4-inch, & his friend Sam; Allen Screws, Scott Thompson and his 7-inch AstroPhysics; Russell Whigham, C-11; Jim McLaughlin; Jesse Cole with his brand new 8-inch Meade LX10; Mr. Holley & Mr. Newman, our Holley's Field neighbors to the north. The sky was unusually transparent for August in the southeast and the temperature was downright comfortable.

During twilight, we watched the Hubble Space Telescope sail silently from the west and slowly disappear into the southern horizon. For several hours, we compared looks at the summer's showpieces through the scopes on the field. Around midnight, the seeing improved dramatically. We were treated to rock-solid images of Jupiter and Saturn at extreme magnifications. The transit of Io's shadow added to the enjoyment.

On Wednesday, August 5, 1998, Ricky Wood, Scott Thompson, Alan Cook, Larry Owsley and Russell Whigham, traveled to the Coca Cola Space Science Center, in Columbus Georgia, to hear a presentation by famed astrophotogropher, David Malin. He began the talk with terrestrial photos to demonstrate how dark the skies are at the AAO observatory . He then went on to show of the fruits of his labors, using tri-color photography and describing his darkroom techniques. It was a unique opportunity to hear from the master of astrophotography. It was equally good to see our friends Carole Rutland and Steven Armstrong at CCSSC.

Neat Stuff on the WWW
Distant Heavyweight Galaxy Cluster Clobbers Dense-Universe Theory
A Space Telescope Science Institute astronomer has found the equivalent of the proverbial 900-pound gorilla in deep space. The "gorilla" is an extremely massive cluster of galaxies - the weight of several thousand of our Milky Ways - that existed when the universe was half its present age.

Paradoxically, the unexpected discovery of this ancient, heavyweight cluster is one of the strongest pieces of evidence yet that we live in a lightweight universe, one that doesnít have enough bulk to provide the gravity necessary to halt the expansion of space. For the full story and photos, go to and select "Press Release".

First a few address changes: Rick Fanning at , Jason & Claudia Glasgow at , and Larry Owsley, who has recently joined the ranks of the retired, at . New on the list this month are: David Nicholls, who will be in Montgomery for the next several months before return to his home in Virginia; Jessie Cole, of Montgomery, who has a brand new 8-inch Meade SCT, LX-10; Nick Nicholson of Central Alabama Community College (see below) and Edward Morgan, Montgomery Edward and his wife and child are just getting into the hobby. You can learn a little more about Edward on the "Who Are We" page:

The sixteenth annual Deep South Regional Star Gaze will be held from Wednesday, October 14 through Sunday October 18, 1998 in McComb MS. An online registration form can be obtained at: If you've never attended, you can get a feel for the event by visiting our web page: DSRSG organizer, Barry Simon will soon be sending out a mailing. I'll bring some registration forms and information sheets to the meeting.

(Contributed by Rick Fanning)
Planetarium director, Rick Evans is looking for someone who could work a few hours here and there to do shows and sell tickets and just odds and ends. He thinks that maybe a mother with kids in school might work out Also, TSUM is looking for someone to teach Astronomy, again you must contact TSUM to get the official scoop. I'm working on my Masters right now then I'm going to apply. The dean of the dept said you have to have a masters degree and 6 hours in Astronomy/physics etc..

First impressions of the Meade ETX, by Richard F. Feuerriegel

This past Sunday, I purchased a Meade ETX Astro Telescope at Service Merchandise in Columbus, GA. Since that time, I found out that "Cameragraphics" in Opelika (334-749-5677, ask for Sam) is a Meade dealer, and has the ETX for about the same price. Almost anywhere you look, however, youíre not going to find a new ETX for much less than $595.00.

What does that amount get you? Trying not to just quote the manual and sales brochure, you get a fully assembled, 90mm diameter (1250mm focal length), motor driven, Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope with a table-top "tripod". Add to this the optional field tripod (about $150-$190), and youíre all set. The ETX comes with a Meade Series 4000 Super Plossl 26mm eyepiece, which gives a 48X image.

The most striking feature of the ETX, and probably the reason people accept the relatively high cost, is that itís extremely small, and light. It weighs less than 11 pounds, and thatís for the complete telescope, including eyepiece, motor drive, and the legs that create a pseudo tripod.

So as not to sound like a Meade salesman, let me give you some of the drawbacks that Iíve noticed over the past few days of use. First of all, the main feature of the ETX: itís small size, makes it difficult to use sometimes. The slow-motion Dec. and R.A. controls work well, but trying to use two hands to turn them gets a little cramped. Also, the closer the scope gets to 90 degrees declination, the harder it is to reach the focus knob.

In keeping with the small nature of the ETX, Meade provided an equally small, erect-image, 8x21mm viewfinder. Once focused and aligned, the viewfinder proved to be clear, but it is very hard to use if the unit is placed on a table and polar aligned. I havenít received my field tripod yet, but it should put the viewfinder in a more accessible position, because Iíll be able to get closer to it, and at a better angle.

As mentioned above, the ETXís viewfinder provides an image that is right-side-up, and nicely compliments the upright (though left-right reversed) image in the eye-piece. This allows quick switches from naked eyes, to binoculars, to the viewfinder, and finally the eye-piece, all while keeping roughly the same view and orientation.

After taking it out for just a few short observing sessions, I think Iíll use this telescope more than my refractor. The Meade ETX Carry Bag (which should arrive tomorrow) will allow me to take the ETX and accessories on most trips. The refractor is much more bulky, and requires careful handling. Transporting it gets easier when itís taken off the tripod, but then it has to be rebalanced on the equatorial mount. I havenít used the ETX enough to make a detailed comparison with my refractor, but I can say that the ETX image seems to be better. I took a quick peek at the moon yesterday around 7:30pm (while there was still a lot of sunlight) and was able to obtain a clear, bright, and well defined image, even at 258X (which is the limit of my current eye-piece set.)

Probably one of the most useful features of the ETX is the R.A. motor drive, which is built-in to the base of the fork-arm mount. The required three AA batteries will power the drive for at least 50 hours, according to the manual. However, a reviewer in "Sky and Telescope" (Jan. 1997) said that "they lasted 150 hours under continuous use."

I wanted a built-in motor drive in my next telescope because of the experience I had with my original 90mm refractor. When I purchased the motor drive for that scope, I found that the drive itself was OK, but the main gear that attached to the equatorial mount was poorly made, and kept slipping. I told Meade about this, and they sent me another main gear just like the bad one. I finally gave up, took back the drive, and resigned myself to using person-power for the R.A. on that telescope.

My overall view of the Meade ETX is that it fulfills its main purpose of being a very portable, high quality telescope for the beginner to intermediate amateur astronomer. The small viewfinder and compact controls are minor rough edges that will probably be offset by the fine images it produces

Iím looking forward to the next star party so that I can see what the ETX will do in dark skies.

Right in our astronomical backyard, Nick Nicholson and his students in the physics department at CACC, built the observatory. You can find directions to the Harris Farm, site of the CACC Observatory at From State Road 9, drive for only about 100 yards before turning left again on County Road 7. Take this road for about two miles before turning right onto the Harris Farm. The observatory is on top of a 500-foot hill with no trees on top.

They have a 20ft by 20 ft concrete slab open to the sky when we roll the building back over the amenities building. Itís in the center of a 40 acre pasture, and except for a small clump of trees in the north west, and the building, they have 180 degree clearance all around. They have two deep cycle 12 volt batteries, which should provide ample power for several telescopes and the 4, 25 watt light bulbs in amenities building. All the details can be seen at the CACC Physics Department web page,

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,