Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
May, 1999

Greetings Astrophiles,

In This Issue
May Meeting
 Tom McGowan in Oz
 WFO Open House
Astronomy Day
 PSSG '99 Remembered
  New Members
Member News
 Wetumpka Crater on TV
 Observing Log 
May Meeting

This month's meeting will be on Friday, May 7, at 8:00 PM, in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building, on the Auburn University campus.  AAS member, Tom McGowan, will share his experiences of his recent trip to the Australia Outback where he observed the southern sky objects with his home-built 20-inch Dobsonian. See Tom's written account below.

This month's star party will be on Saturday, May 15 at Holley's Field, sunset until dawn.

Tom McGowan's Extreme Field Trip

Hi everybody,

Iíd like to share my recent trip to Australia. My journey to the land of Oz was with thirty other amateur astronomers. I thank Tom & Jeannie Clark of  "Amateur Astronomy" magazine for their incredible efforts organizing the whole trip. Our plans were to go armed with Tom Clarkís 24-inch, my 20-inch, Barry Peckhamís (from Hawaii) 15-inch and a 13-inch from Jane Houston of San Francisco. We began by meeting in Los Angeles on April 7. Tom Clark and I had shipped our scopes to L. A. by freight. On Thursday morning, April 8, we went to the airport to hear the pleasant news that the airline was not going to accept over-weight "luggage". Panic began to set in as we were informed the weight limit is 75lbs. Our scopes were packed up all nice and cozy in their wooden crates. I had just finished building my scope two days before I shipped it. I hadnít even had first-light. In itís crate, my 20-inch topped the scale at 140 lbs. And that's with the mirror in itís own wooden crate. Well, with time running short, I pulled my scope out itís warm, secure crate. In separate parts, I would be able to take the 20-inch. We had to reluctantly send the 24-inch back home as the mirror in just itís cardboard box comes in at approx. 83 lbs. Our travel agent assured us we would be able to take oversized pieces on the plane for an additional $350. Heís probably still cowering under his desk-please note Tom Clark spent over $500 to send his 24-in to L.A. and back for nada.

We touched down in Sidney after a sleepless 14 hour flight. Like a dazed herd of cows, we gathered at baggage. It was 30 seconds after I found all the pieces of my telescope when came to the stark conclusion that my scope was gonna get hammered from the trip. The mirror box and rocker box each had their own distinctive battle scars and scuffs and chips! This was after only one plane ride. It was still seven more flights until it back in L.A. I figured as long as we got to observe and my mirror makes it home (in one piece), they could trash the other pieces. We enjoyed Sidney very much! Reminded me of San Francisco. But two days later, off we went to Ayer's Rock. Yes!!! This was the place we would be observing from. Ayerís Rock consists of a small resort (3 motels) and a national park. The land belongs to the Aboriginal people. Besides a small town 230 miles away, there isnít a city within Ď1000 miles. Maybe that might have something to do with the name Outback?

After a rushed trip to unpack, we grabbed a bite to eat. Then it was off to the observing site. It was an awesome place! Ayerís Rock dominated the eastern horizon. Darkness finally began to claim the sky. As I looked up, I said, "My God, look at all those stars!". Then I said ,"I donít have a damn clue to knowing what Iím looking at!". It was true! The first time you stand before the southern sky, youíll either keep saying "Wow" all night or stare open-mouthed until the drool drips of your chin. There was Orion standing upside down! And above Orion was Canis Major! That was only the beginning. The Milky Way was nothing short of amazing. From Scorpius rising in the east, we climb through Lupus up to Centarus. Think about it, Omega Centari straight up!!! M-83, NGC 5128-awesome!! But aiming the telescope at this incredible bright area of the Milky Way in the constellation of Carina revealed a glorious site. In all itís glory, the Eta Carina nebula (NGC 3372)! Absolutely stunning! In next monthís newsletter I will speak more on the specific objects. At 3:30am Sagittarius was overhead. We enjoyed very dark, steady skies. It is strange being able to see stars so low in the sky that you are seeing then through the sparse vegetation on the horizon. And theyíre not even twinkling! Because this site is situated at just under 25-degrees south, the northern sky can be seen up through the Big Dipper. Late one night we compared M-13, Omega Centari and 47 Tucanae with each other! Wonít even bother to tell you how embarrassing M-13 did in this league. We had five perfect nights to observe.

We continued on to Darwin and then Kakadu National Park. This is Crocodile Dundie territory! Hot, humid and lots of big creatures that are very capable of hurting (eating) you.

As for my telescope, it survived (somewhat). Kind of a tough way to break itís cherry. Iíll have it at this monthís meeting if you interested in seeing a scope that went down-under. Iíll also have pictures. As for me, Iím a changed man. Iíve seen the light!!! (southern, that is !)

Tom McGowan


Walker Ferry Observatory Open House
Scott Thompson invites all AAS members and friends to attend an open house at his Walker Ferry Observatory on Saturday, May 8, 1999, beginning at 7:00 PM rain or shine.

Scott writes:

I want this to be very casual so bring your scopes if you like. Julie, my wife, will make cookies or something for everyone. Stay as late as you like. I can do a 15 - 20 minute talk about the observatory and the ST7 camera.

There is not much flat land on my hill. However, there is plenty of flat land in the pasture below the observatory. No cows to contend with! So, if anyone wants to setup out there they can but it is about 100 yards away. If anyone wants to scope all night I will arrange the party house to be open all night with kitchen/TV/heat etc... Just let me know when you arrive. This is a small house down below ours.

I look forward to seeing everyone and I think you will enjoy the visit and tour. It never gets cloudy, foggy, cold, or hot at my house! Itís always pitch dark! We aim to please!


From Hwy. 280 take 63 South and go 4 Miles. There will be the turn off to the left to go to Wind Creek State Park keep going to the next road to the right. This is in front of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Take a Right onto Walker Ferry Road / County Road 20 and my house is the first drive on the left. Red brick house on the hill.

Going 63 North you will see 2 green houses on the left. The next road to the left just over the hill will be Walker Ferry Road. This is just before the Church ( Mt. Zion Baptist ) on the right. If you pass the Church or the road that goes to Wind Creek State Park you have gone too far. Once on Walker Ferry Road / County Road 20 my house is the first drive on the left. Red brick house on the hill.

Astronomy Day, 1999

In conjunction with Astronomy clubs and planetaria across the country, director, Rick Evans, and the staff of the W.A. Gayle Planetarium, in Montgomery's Oak Park, will host what will be our second annual joint celebration of Astronomy Day, on Saturday, May 22. Last year's event was a huge success, with AAS providing over twenty telescopes for visitors to the planetarium to view the Moon and stars. I've made a commitment to Rick to have the same great turn-out for 1999.

This year we're expanding on last year's planetarium show and star party to include a "Telescope Clinic" for visitors to bring their own telescopes if they have specific questions about eyepieces, Barlows, polar alignment, "What's this thingy", etc.

Another first for this year will be a presentation by the members of AAS for would-be telescope owners and have our members point out the advantages and disadvantages of their different optical configurations and mounts. As we did last year, it would be good to have a representative sample of what's available to the amateur.

Rick has contacted WSFA to see if they will send someone out and do a piece on the event, with the focus being primarily on the AAS. He's also sent an article to the paper requesting them to run it in their features section.

Here is the tentative schedule for Astronomy Day '99:

5:00 PM AAS members arrive at the planetarium and set up their telescopes.

6:30 PM: AAS -- An Introduction: Why Who What Where And When (10 Mins)

6:40 PM: How To Select And Use An Astronomical Telescope (1 hour)

                                        Are you ready for a telescope?
                                        What about binoculars?
                                        How to choose the right telescope FOR YOU?
                                        What are your choices of optical and mechanical configurations?
                                        What to avoid
                                        Accessories: eyepieces, filters, charts, software
                                        Cleaning, aligning, etc.
                                        Coping with dew and frost
                                        Observing techniques

7:40 PM: Telescope Clinic -- Visitors are encouraged to bring their telescopes to have questions answered and to get suggestions for solutions to problems. If we have more "patients" than I anticipate, we can continue during the observing session.

8:00 PM: "More than Meets the Eye" -- a program in the planetarium, while we wait for dark.

8:30 PM -- Observing the Moon, Venus and Mars. Sunset for May 22: 07:41 PM CDST

If it's NOT raining, we will do our part outside and have the group move from one scope to the next for the talks. If it's looking damp, we can fit into the lobby.

Now, here's where we'll need YOUR help.

1). If you have a telescope(s), PLEASE bring it (them). Brush up on it's aperture, focal length, focal ratio and widest field, highest useful magnification, weight, set-up time, and approximate retail cost and where you purchased it. If you're thinking that your telescope isn't up to par with some of the "big guns" in the club, remember that most of our audience will be considering the 4.5 - 6-inch scopes as their first instrument.

2). If you can help with any of the topics in the " How To Select And Use An Astronomical Telescope" segment, let me know. I suspect that most of the talk will involve strolling from scope to scope to point out differences. I'd like to have each of us talk a few minutes about our scopes; what we like about them or what we wish we had done differently.

3). Please let me know via e-mail if you plan to attend and what telescope(s) you'll be bringing. We'd especially like to see those of you who've found it difficult to make it to the meetings and star parties for awhile. We'd like to see you again. If you don't have a telescope, come join us -- you might learn something you've been wanting to know.

Directions:  For those coming from downtown Montgomery on I-85, exit at Forest Avenue, turn left back over I-85. Oak Park is in the first block north of the interstate. If you're coming from east Montgomery, take the Mulberry exit. Turn right on Mulberry, go a couple of blocks and turn left on Park Place, and proceed to the park entrance. I believe the park road is one-way. You should enter at the northern most entrance and circle the park. The planetarium is near the exit at Jackson Hospital. Parking is available across from the planetarium. For a map see: You can drive your vehicle up to the entrance of the planetarium to unload your gear.

PSSG '99

The weather forecast for Thursday, the first day of Peach State Star Gaze '99, was for severe thunderstorms. I had just about decided to wait until Friday to drive over to Indian Springs State Park. The cold front actually passed through several hours before the time predicted and brought with it several tornado watches and warnings. With one eye on the Weather Channel all morning, and getting conflicting information from a variety of weather sources, I changed my mind about going at least 6 times. By 3:00 PM, the sky was deep blue with crisp shadows on the ground. Knowing that the field fills up quickly, I decided to head on over if for no other reason, to secure a spot on the field.

Concerns over space availability were justified. The maximum number of people that Camp McIntosh can accommodate is 250. For the first time in PSSG history, late registrants were turned away. Representing AAS were: Ricky Wood, Scott Thompson, Alan Cook, Robert Rock, Phillip Hosey, Tom Danei, and your editor, Russell Whigham. Also attending were Judy Anderson from the Mobile club and mutual friend Elaine Osborne, former MAS member who now does most of her observing from Virginia.

This year's "Peach Fuzzies" list of suggested observing targets were all planetary nebulae -- objects that hold a special interest for me. And although a few were a challenge to find, they were all worth the hunt. Other objects observed included Venus, Mars (great detail on Friday night), and virtually all of the spring Messier objects. Thursday and Friday nights were partly cloudy, but there was almost always a clear patch of sky in which to observe.

Saturday morning began with the now traditional pancake breakfast in the dining hall. Following an brief installment on my sleep deprivation recovery plan, the afternoon speakers began their presentations. Leading off was Phil Sacco's presentation on "Celestial Mythology". Dressed in his period costume, recounted the Roman mythology behind the constellations.

Next, Eric Douglass gave a talk reporting the results of months of detailed weather conditions and their effects on astronomical "seeing", in "How to Predict Atmospheric Seeing Conditions".

The final presentation was given by author, Phillip Harrington, on "Nights of the Century Past" , a history of amateur astronomy in the twentieth century. Heavily illustrated with ads and features from amateur magazines, he stepped us through the evolution of the tools of the amateur from the lowly 2-inch refractor at the turn of the century, to today's monster Dob's and CCD imaging that lags the professional by only a few years.

Saturday night was clear and cold -- temperatures in the upper thirties -- but the wind died down and with proper attire and hot coffee provided by our hosts from the Atlanta Astronomy Club, it was not uncomfortable. All three nights we stayed out until the early morning hours. I never was forced to resort to the ice chest stocked with emergency cloudy night beverages.

Special thanks to Ken Poshedly of the Atlanta Astronomy Club, event organizer and host, and to all of the folks who helped make this year's "Peach State" another tremendous success.

New Members

Please join me in welcoming our two newest members: Jeff Graves, of Auburn, and Emily Carter, also of Auburn
Also visiting with us for the first time was Tom and B.C. Danei,, of LaGrange, GA.

Member News

I had an e-mail from someone looking for an amateur astronomy group in the "Wiregrass" area of southeast Alabama. I wrote Marcus Howell to see if he had considered starting a club down there. Here's Marcus's reply and an update on his foray into the field of astrophotography:

Dear Russell,

 I would be glad to answer any questions or help in anyway. As for the Dothan planetarium, at Landmark Park, the person I talked to didnít really seem interested in organizing a club. Maybe we caught him on a bad day. Perhaps the appearance of another comet would spark a greater interest in astronomy locally.

By the way, I now have a second Olympus body (OM-2n) and a total of six lenses. I have just completed building and painting a wooden pier with a wedge and barndoor mount. I have already shot one roll and had three or four decent exposures with minimal trailing evident. I hope to shoot another roll tonight. In following the knowledge dispensed on the APML(astrophotography mailing list) I have purchased a varimagnifier and a 1-8 focusing screen. Both of these items helped tremendously with my ability to focus and locate objects in the night sky.

I have discovered a valuable resource in Enterprise. A privately owned film developer that takes great pride in the quality of his work. Edís Photo not only develops but enlarges to 8x10 or 11x16. Much to my wifeís chagrin the upstairs hallway is becoming filled with 8x10s of Orion, the Pleaides, etc. etc.

I look forward to visiting with the club this summer and hopefully attending at least one star party.

Marcus Paul Howell

Phillip Hosey is off to an excellent start with his Celestron Celestar 8 Deluxe and his new Celestron/SBIG Pixcel 237 CCD camera. Phillip has sent me several excellent images and we'll have an astroimaging page on the web page in the next week or so.

Nancy Coburn has also sent some beautiful sunset photos made with her Kodak DC260 digital camera. Nancy's photos will be on the web page soon as well.

John Zachry has called my attention to the new updated Satellite Visibility Web page. The Web site now give a star chart background to show path of satellites!

Harold Cole

Hi Russell,

I really enjoyed the report on the Wetumpka crater studies. I remember when we took a walking tour of the site way back in the early eighties with Dr. Tony Neathery from the University of Alabama. One of the most impressive things that I can remember from that tour (other than obvious other evidence at the site) was the "swirling layers" of different clays that were exhibited by simply scraping a shovel along a clay embankment beside a road close to but outside the crater. Do you remember that? I thought it was quite amazing and indicative of the tremendous energy that was involved with the site.

I note with pleasure that you guys are still carrying on a quite active program in amateur astronomy. I guess I have been somewhat removed from it for a while, but I dream of retirement when I can get back into it seriously. My dreams include a computer driven scope with CCD imaging. (If your going to dream, you might as well do it right),

Some day, when I get time, I will summarize my experience with sending 4 flight experiments to the Russian Space Station Mir where I characterized the on-orbit atmospheric trace contaminants and the impact of the docking and integration of the Priroda Module into the Mir Complex.

Thanks for sending me the newsletter, I always enjoy it.



Wetumpka Crater on TV

Set your VCR's for your local Alabama Public Television station on Tuesday May 11, at 8:00 PM. The "Discovering Alabama" series will feature the "Wetumpka Asteroid Impact Crater".

Dustin Smith's Observation Log

Location: Waterloo AL
Date: 4/3/99
Time: 8:20pm-9:24pm
Weather: Partly cloudy, moderate dew. First clear night in a week.
Equipment: Tasco 10x50mm binoculars, SkyMap star maps.

With tonight being the first clear night in a week, I decided to take advantage of the warm weather and do a little observing. I printed maps using SkyMap v5, turned off the security light on our garage, and walked out into the center of a large hay field to the west of my house.
8:22 - Located the constellation Gemini (Twins).
8:25 - Tried to find NGC 2395 (mag 8.0), but was unsuccessful.
8:28 - Took a look at the Pleiades, which are easily seen with the naked eye. A very nice binocular target.
8:30 - While scanning the skies around Gemini, I found M35, a very nice-looking open cluster shining at magnitude 5.1. I also took a shot at NGC 2129, but couldn't find it.
8:39 - Spent a few minutes staring at M44, the Beehive Cluster. This is now one of my favorite deep-sky objects, and is easily visible to the naked eye. Absolutely stunning through the binoculars.
8:42 - Found M67 (mag 6.9) in Cancer, a faint patch of gray light. Only visible using averted vision.
8:45 - Located the constellation Auriga.
8:47 - Took a look at the open cluster Hyades. Before I ever started using binoculars and star maps, I always wondered what this massive (333.0', magnitude 0.5) patch of stars was. Now I know they're all part of an open cluster of stars, the Hyades.
8:48 - Searched for NGC 2281, but was unsuccessful in finding it.
8:50 - Found a string of open clusters near Auriga. M36, M37, and M38 were all visible in my binoculars, and almost in the same field of view. M36 was the faintest of the three, glowing at magnitude 6.0. This is strange, because M38 is a magnitude 6.4 object, yet it seemed brighter than M36.
8:52 - After quite a bit of searching, I was finally able to locate NGC 1893,
using averted vision. It's a magnitude 7.5 open cluster.
8:57 - Tried finding NGC 1857 & 1778 in Auriga, but was unsuccessful.
9:00 - Starting looking for objects in the constellation Orion.
9:01 - Found the Orion Nebula (mag 4.0), easily seen with the naked eye.
9:02 - Looked for M78, but couldn't find it. I think it's out of the reach
of my 10x50mm binoculars, glowing at magnitude 8.0.
9:10 - Began scanning the northern skies. Located the constellation Cassiopeia. Tried to find M103, and did indeed find some faint patches of light, but I'm not sure if one of them was the magnitude 7.4 galaxy. Some of the other candidates were NGC 654, 659,
and 663.
9:17 - Found M81, which appeared VERY small & faint. Only visible using averted vision.
9:19 - Unsuccessful in location M101, a magnitude 7.9 galaxy.
9:20 - Located the constellation Bootes.
9:21 - Located Coma Berenices & Coma Berenices Star Cluster.
9:23 - Found M3, a small, cloudy globular cluster at magnitude 6.4.
9:24 - Due to clouds & dropping temperature, I ended the session.

[Editor's Note: Dustin's future observations will be with his new 8" Deep Sspace Explorer.]

Remember to RSVP for the Astronomy Day event.

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,