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40 Years after Apollo 11, LRO May See the Flag

General NewsUPDATE: OCT 8, 2009 - LCROSS to impact moon's southern polar region early Friday morning!!! Check out the bottom area of this article for what information I wrote about this event, and also go to this APOD site with info/image/link to NASA-TV. In case our weather craps out again, see it live as it happens either on NASA-TV or on other sites covering it. Just search around for "LCROSS Moon Impact" if you don't get NASA-TV. We'll probably see more rain locally......CRAPOLA!

UPDATE: August 27....New images of five of the six manned lunar landing sites are now in. CLICK HERE to see the new images.

We are nearing the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 this July 20. With the launch of NASA's LRO/ LCROSS Mission on June 18, 2009, we may finally be able to see the flags left behind at the six lunar landing sites from low lunar orbit.
Here are the FIRST images, but more and much clearer photos are on their way in coming days/weeks. The Apollo 11 descent stage is casting a small shadow in the very center of this image. The flag was set up fairly close to this site, and I am suspecting that the launch of the ascent stage of Apollo 11 knocked the flag over at least at this site.
For that half of the American public that remembers seeing Armstrong's first footstep on the moon that Sunday evening in 1969, we'll see upcoming TV programs about the historic event and relive those moments from long ago. For the other half of the country, here is your chance to see history again as a NASA spacecraft orbiting the moon from about 55 miles above the surface will finally have the highest resolution cameras ever to orbit our satellite to take pictures of the landing sites of the Apollo missions. Not even Hubble Space Telescope has ever had this capability, and for everyone who has ever asked our AOAS members, "Can you see the flag on the moon?" we will soon be able to say yes, but not with my telescope.

I well remember seeing those historic television images from the moon as Neil Armstrong stepped upon the moon's surface on Sunday evening, July 20, 1969 around 9:00pm. I was 14 and I went outside and looked up at the moon just seconds after his historic first step because I wanted to see if the moon looked different once a man was actually standing on it, so I missed his famous words "That was one small step for a man...." But I also recall going in-and-out the back door several times looking up at that partially lit moon, and I tried as hard as I could to imagine what Earth would look like to Neil and Buzz from up there. It was a short contemplation, however, since I decided to get back to the TV screen to see more of the broadcast from the surface of the moon.

Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Dr. Harrison Schmidt photographed by astronaut Gene Cernan with the American flag seeming to point at Earth as it was deployed on the final moon mission in December 1972.
The world had changed forever after that night, and I cherish those memories. Since becoming a true amateur astronomer when we started this club in January 1985, I've heard, "Can you see the flag on the moon?" more times than I could ever estimate......thousands of times, easily. And every time, I've had to say "No, I'm sorry, but no Earth telescope can see those flags." The words changed a little after Hubble launched in 1990, but not even the mighty eye in sky could do anything about seeing those tiny little flags either.

But with the launch this last week of NASA's Lunar Reconassaince Orbiter mission, that will finally change. LRO will image the surface of the moon with a resolution of something just under one meter, powerful enough to see those flags. It is trying to scout for new landing sites for our future Ares mission moon landings, and it will also seek out hidden deposits of water ice in perpetually shadowed craters at the north and south lunar poles. A suite of different instruments will seek out water by other means as well. There may be water ice in more places than first thought, hiding just under the surface where only highly sophisticated scientific instruments might detect it. LRO may just be able to detect these deposits of water ice.

But from the photographic cameras on LRO, we can finally expect to see the descent stages of the Lunar Modules that were left behind at the landing sites, along with the Lunar Rovers that still sit idle at the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 sites, and all six flags and possibly even an instrument or two of the experiments that were also left on the moon.

See the descent stages now at this web site, and check back often as the higher resolution images come in. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/multimedia/lroimages/apollosites.html

Part deux....

LRO shares the ride on the Centaur rocket with the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). LRO will be released from the spacecraft shortly after they are sent towards their lunar destination. The LCROSS will stay with the Centaur rocket and after their first lunar flyby on the 5th day after launch, that very precise maneuver will place them into a slow, looping orbit around the Earth which will provide for a way for scientists to guide them into a trajectory to actually intercept the moon so that the LCROSS and the Centaur will both smash into the lunar surface and throw up giant clouds of dusty debris this August or September. LCROSS and the Centaur upper stage will crash into the moon, and with the Centaur hitting first, the LCROSS will first fly through the cloud of debris thrown up by the rocket's impact and send back sensory telemetry data immediately to ground stations on Earth. The LCROSS itself will then crash into the moon several miles from the rocket's impact crater and create its own smaller cloud of debris, and both clouds of dust will be seen coming up into the sunlight to be studied by special instruments fitted to telescopes on the ground stations at four separate sites in Arizona, New Mexico, and in Hawaii.

There is a SMALL CHANCE that amateur astronomers will be able to see the dust clouds thrown up by the two impacting spacecraft with telescopes of 10" to 12" diameter. Much depends on where the impacts will be allowed to take place, what phase the moon is in at the time of impact, many things will determine whether we'll have that slight chance of actually SEEING the impacts and the dust clouds they produce.

We'll be hearing more about this mission, the chances of it seeing any hints of water ice, and whether or not we're likely to see the impacts and debris clouds as time goes on. The launch was later than the articles about the event in the current issues of Astronomy and Sky & Telescope magazines, so those articles aren't accurate now. Stay tuned to the LRO and LCROSS websites to be truly up-to-the-minute on just what we might expect to see.
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The Cool Chemistry of Alien Life

NASA Space Place Do alien planets around other stars have the right ingredients for a pre-biotic soup?
Do alien planets around other stars have the right ingredients for a pre-biotic soup?
Alien life on distant worlds. What would it be like? For millennia people could only wonder, but now NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is producing some hard data. It turns out that life around certain kinds of stars would likely be very different from life as we know it.

Using Spitzer, astronomers have discovered the organic chemical acetylene in the planet-forming discs surrounding 17 M-dwarf stars. It's the first time any chemical has been detected around one of these small, cool stars. However, scientists are more intrigued by what was not there; a chemical called hydrogen cyanide (HCN), an important building block for life as we know it.

“The fact that we do not detect hydrogen cyanide around cool stars suggests that that prebiotic chemistry may unfold differently on planets orbiting cool stars,” says Ilaria Pascucci, lead scientist for the Spitzer observations and an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

That's because HCN is the basic component for making adenine, one of the four information-carrying chemicals in DNA. All known life on Earth is based on DNA, but without adenine available, life in a dwarf-star solar system would have to make do without it. “You cannot make adenine in another way,” Pascucci explains. “You need hydrogen cyanide.”

M-dwarf and brown dwarf stars emit far less ultraviolet light than larger, hotter stars such as our sun. Pascucci thinks this difference could explain the lack of HCN around dwarf stars. For HCN to form, molecules of nitrogen must first be split into individual nitrogen atoms. But the triple bond holding molecular nitrogen together is very strong. High-energy ultraviolet photons can break this bond, but the lower-energy photons from M-dwarf stars cannot.

“Other nitrogen-bearing molecules are going to be affected by this same chemistry,” Pascucci says, possibly including the precursors to amino acids and thus proteins.

To search for HCN, Pascucci's team looked at data from Spitzer, which observes the universe at infrared wavelengths. Planet-forming discs around M-dwarf stars have very faint infrared emissions, but Spitzer is sensitive enough to detect them.

HCN's distinctive 14-micron emission band was absent in the infrared spectra of the M-dwarf stars, but Spitzer did detect HCN in the spectra of 44 hotter, sun-like stars.

Infrared astronomy will be a powerful tool for studying other prebiotic chemicals in planet-forming discs, says Pascucci, and the Spitzer Space Telescope is at the forefront of the field. Spitzer can't yet draw us a picture of alien life forms, but it's beginning to tell us what they could—and could not—be made of. “That's pretty wonderful, too,” says Pascucci.

For news of other discoveries based on Spitzer data, visit www.spitzer.caltech.edu. Kids can learn Spitzer astronomy words and concepts by playing the Spitzer “Sign Here!” game at spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/spitzer/signs.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Scoring More Energy from Less Sunlight

NASA Space Place Helen Johnson, a spacecraft technician at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, works on one of the three tiny Space Technology 5 spacecraft in preparation for its technology validation mission.
Helen Johnson, a spacecraft technician at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, works on one of the three tiny Space Technology 5 spacecraft in preparation for its technology validation mission.
For spacecraft, power is everything. Without electrical power, satellites and robotic probes might as well be chunks of cold rock tumbling through space. Hundreds to millions of miles from the nearest power outlet, these spacecraft must somehow eke enough power from ambient sunlight to stay alive.

That's no problem for large satellites that can carry immense solar panels and heavy batteries. But in recent years, NASA has been developing technologies for much smaller microsatellites, which are lighter and far less expensive to launch. Often less than 10 feet across, these small spacecraft have little room to spare for solar panels or batteries, yet must still somehow power their onboard computers, scientific instruments, and navigation and communication systems.

Space Technology 5 was a mission that proved, among other technologies, new concepts of power generation and storage for spacecraft.

“We tested high efficiency solar cells on ST-5 that produce almost 60 percent more power than typical solar cells. We also tested batteries that hold three times the energy of standard spacecraft batteries of the same size,” says Christopher Stevens, manager of NASA's New Millennium Program. This program flight tests cutting-edge spacecraft technologies so that they can be used safely on mission-critical satellites and probes.

“This more efficient power supply allows you to build a science-grade spacecraft on a miniature scale,” Stevens says.

Solar cells typically used on satellites can convert only about 18 percent of the available energy in sunlight into electrical current. ST-5 tested experimental cells that capture up to 29 percent of this solar energy. These new solar cells, developed in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio, performed flawlessly on ST-5, and they've already been swooped up and used on NASA's svelte MESSENGER probe, which will make a flyby of Mercury later this year.

Like modern laptop batteries, the high-capacity batteries on ST-5 use lithium-ion technology. As a string of exploding laptop batteries in recent years shows, fire safety can be an issue with this battery type.

“The challenge was to take these batteries and put in a power management circuit that protects against internal overcharge,” Stevens explains. So NASA contracted with ABSL Power Solutions to develop spacecraft batteries with design control circuits to prevent power spikes that can lead to fires. “It worked like a charm.”

Now that ST-5 has demonstrated the safety of this battery design, it is flying on NASA's THEMIS mission (for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) and is slated to fly aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Solar Dynamics Observatory, both of which are scheduled to launch later this year.

Thanks to ST-5, a little sunlight can go a really long way.

Find out about other advanced technologies validated in space and now being used on new missions of exploration at nmp.nasa.gov/TECHNOLOGY/scorecard. Kids can calculate out how old they would be before having to replace lithium-ion batteries in a handheld game at spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/st5_bats.shtml.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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How Dark Is It, Really?

You can download a very high-resolution version of this North America map as a zipped file here (2MB).
Over the past few months as we've begun investigating various possible sites for the relocation of Coleman Observatory, we've had several discussions about whether the potential locations had adequately dark skies or not. The best way to determine this, of course, is to spend quite a bit of time at each location at night, and evaluate the sky conditions.

To be accurate, this would normally need to be done over several week-long stretches during every major season of the year, to be sure that the evaluation included the diversity of weather that could be expected at each site, as well as how things like seeing and transparency at that specific location will impact the quality of the dark sky. The demands in terms of time and energy make it impractical for AOAS to undertake such an intensive evaluation of every possible site. So what can we do?

There are several sources of information regarding the general brightness of artificial lighting in North America. One of the best is the World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness. This is an excellent resource which can give a fairly good idea of the level of sky glow and light pollution for any location on the globe. There are a number of high-resolution individual maps that show the brightness intensity bases on a color code established to match the Bortle Dark Sky Scale. The Bortle Scale was originally created and published by John E. Bortle in an article in Sky and Telescope magazine in February, 2001. The Bortle scale is based on nine classes of dark sky, with Class 1 being the best, or black on the atlas maps, and Class 9 or white on the atlas maps.

There are very few areas of Class 1 (black) quality dark skies left in the continental United States, and none of them are in Arkansas or Eastern Oklahoma. In fact there are but a very few Class 2 (grey) places left in Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. The best we can probably expect is Class 3. However, how do we know for sure if a selected site is Class 3, 4, or even worse? Even the highest resolution maps from the World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness leaves us with quite a bit of doubt regarding specific locations because there just isn't enough information on the maps to make more than a general guess about the exact location of a site.
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Cloudy Skies and Rain Showers

Chart RoomAs many of you know, we got clouded out on the date chosen for the Diamond Bar G Ranch Star Party. Several AOAS members and their guests managed to get together and have a great time, anyway. We had a great meal and a lot of good fellowship. It was discovered that many had not seen the PBS presentation of 400 Years of the Telescope that ran at 2:00 AM on a Sunday morning, so we watched at after the meal, and also had an impromptu Magic Show put on by our own Dr. Chuck Larson, who by the way, won the 2009 Magician of the Year from the IBM Magician’s association (I’m not sure of the name.) At any rate, this is a national association, so this is quite an honor. Way to go, Chuck!

For those of you who missed the festivities, or those who could not make it due to other obligations, we have scheduled a second attempt at the Diamond Bar G Ranch Spring Star Party for May 23rd, 2009. Be sure to mark it on your calendars! Again, we will have a potluck dinner, so bring a covered dish and your favorite beverage. We’ll start eating at 6:00 PM and then retire to the observing field for some dark-sky viewing and camaraderie.

Some of you may have seen the wonderful article in the Living section of the Times Record’s Saturday, April 25, 2009 edition. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to drop by the times record offices on Wheeler and get a copy of that edition, or check it out at the Fort Smith Public Library. Mike Baker, Leonard Lynch, Dr. Chuck Larson, and Bob Moody participated in the interviews and the articles make a great case for AOAS’ relocation efforts. In fact, we’ve already been contacted by interested parties wanting to help out in some way. The Observatory Relocation committee is now working these leads to see what we can do.

Summer observing is getting into full swing now, and we have star parties scheduled at the Janet Huckabee Nature Center for Jun 12, August 14, Sep 11, and Nov 13. In addition, the Mulberry Mountain Star Party is happening next month (June) on the 19th and 20th. Camping spots are filling up fast so get your reservations in now!

We’ve had a great turnout at meetings and events this past four months. If you haven’t made it to a meeting recently, I encourage you to come to one. We usually have several topics of interest to all amateur astronomers, so you should get something out of it. Normally, we have at least one constellation to cover, equipment tips and tricks, and a highlighted feature on a selected Astronomical League Observing Club. We are looking at Astro-Imaging (AI) and Amateur Telescope Making (ATM) projects in the future as well. With all of this, there should be something for everyone’s taste. So come on! See you at the meeting!
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The Swiss Army Knife of Weather Satellites

NASA Space Place The new NOAA-19 is the last and most capable in the long line of Television Infrared Observation Satellites (TIROS).
The new NOAA-19 is the last and most capable in the long line of Television Infrared Observation Satellites (TIROS).
Spotting volcanic eruptions, monitoring the health of crops, pinpointing distress signals for search and rescue teams.

It's not what you might expect from a weather satellite. But these are just a few of the abilities of NOAA's newest polar-orbiting weather satellite, launched by NASA on February 6 and turned over to NOAA for full-time operations on February 26.

Formerly called NOAA-N Prime and now renamed NOAA-19, it is the last in its line of weather satellites that stretches back almost 50 years to the dawn of the Space Age. Over the decades, the abilities of these Television Infrared Observation Satellites (TIROS) have gradually improved and expanded, starting from the grainy, black-and-white images of Earth's cloud cover taken by TIROS-1 and culminating in NOAA-19's amazing array of capabilities.

“This TIROS series has become quite the Swiss army knife of weather satellites, and NOAA-19 is the most capable one yet,” says Tom Wrublewski, NOAA-19 Satellite Acquisition Manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The evolution of TIROS began in 1998 with NOAA-K. The satellites have carried microwave sensors that can measure temperature variations as small as 1 degree Celsius between Earth's surface and an altitude of 40 kilometers—even through clouds. Other missions have added the ability to track large icebergs for cargo ships, monitor sea surface temperatures to aid climate change research, measure the amount of ozone in Earth's protective ozone layer, and even detect hazardous particles from solar flares that can affect communications and endanger satellites, astronauts in orbit, and city power grids.

NOAA-19 marks the end of the TIROS line, and for the next four years it will bridge the gap to a new series of satellites called the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. NPOESS will merge civilian and military weather satellites into a single system. Like NOAA-19, NPOESS satellites will orbit Earth from pole to pole, circling the planet roughly every 100 minutes and observing every location at least twice each day.

NPOESS will have yet more capabilities drawn from its military heritage. Dim-light sensors will improve observations of the Earth at night, and the satellites will better monitor winds over the ocean — important information for ships at sea and for weather and climate models.

“A lot more capability is going to come out of NPOESS, improving upon the 161 various environmental data products we already produce today,” Wrublewski says.

Not even a Swiss army knife can do that many things, he points out.

For more on the NPOESS, check out http://www.npoess.noaa.gov. Kids can find out about another NOAA satellite capability — tracking endangered migrating species — and play a fun memory game at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/poes_tracking.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Apollo Upgrade

NASA Space Place The Chariot Lunar Truck is one idea for a vehicle equal to the lunar terrain. Each of the six wheels pivot in any direction, and two turrets allow the astronauts to rotate 360 degrees.
The Chariot Lunar Truck is one idea for a vehicle equal to the lunar terrain. Each of the six wheels pivot in any direction, and two turrets allow the astronauts to rotate 360 degrees.
The flight computer onboard the Lunar Excursion Module, which landed on the Moon during the Apollo program, had a whopping 4 kilobytes of RAM and a 74-kilobyte “hard drive.” In places, the craft's outer skin was as thin as two sheets of aluminum foil.

It worked well enough for Apollo. Back then, astronauts needed to stay on the Moon for only a few days at a time. But when NASA once again sends people to the Moon starting around 2020, the plan will be much more ambitious—and the hardware is going to need a major upgrade.

“Doing all the things we want to do using systems from Apollo would be very risky and perhaps not even possible,” says Frank Peri, director of NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program.

So the program is designing new, more capable hardware and software to meet the demands of NASA's plan to return humans to the moon. Instead of staying for just a few days, astronauts will be living on the Moon's surface for months on end. Protecting astronauts from harsh radiation at the Moon's surface for such a long time will require much better radiation shielding than just a few layers of foil. And rather than relying on food and water brought from Earth and jettisoning urine and other wastes, new life support systems will be needed that can recycle as much water as possible, scrub carbon dioxide from the air without depending on disposable filters, and perhaps grow a steady supply of food—far more than Apollo life-support systems could handle.

Next-generation lunar explorers will perform a much wider variety of scientific research, so they'll need vehicles that can carry them farther across the lunar surface. ETDP is building a new lunar rover that outclasses the Apollo-era moon buggy by carrying two astronauts in a pressurized cabin. “This vehicle is like our SUV for the Moon,” Peri says.

The Exploration Technology Development Program is also designing robots to help astronauts maintain their lunar outpost and perform science reconnaissance. Making the robots smart enough to take simple verbal orders from the astronauts and carry out their tasks semi-autonomously requires vastly more powerful computer brains than those on Apollo; four kilobytes of RAM just won't cut it.

The list goes on: New rockets to carry a larger lunar lander, spacesuits that can cope with abrasive moon dust, techniques for converting lunar soil into building materials or breathable oxygen. NASA's ambitions for the Moon have been upgraded. By tapping into 21st century technology, this program will ensure that astronauts have the tools they need to turn those ambitions into reality.

Learn more about the Exploration Technology Development Program at www.nasa.gov/directorates/esmd/aboutesmd/acd/ technology_ dev.html. Kids can build their own Moon habitat at spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/exploration/habitat.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Where did all these gadgets come from?!

NASA Space Place Dawn will be the first spacecraft to establish orbits around two separate target bodies during its mission—thanks to ion propulsion validated by Deep Space 1.<br>
Dawn will be the first spacecraft to establish orbits around two separate target bodies during its mission—thanks to ion propulsion validated by Deep Space 1.
Ion propulsion. Artificial intelligence. Hyper-spectral imagers. It sounds like science fiction, but all these technologies are now flying around the solar system on real-life NASA missions.

How did they get there? Answer: the New Millennium Program (NMP). NMP is a special NASA program that flight tests wild and far-out technologies. And if they pass the test, they can be used on real space missions.

The list of probes that have benefited from technologies incubated by NMP reads like the Who's Who of cutting-edge space exploration: Spirit and Opportunity (the phenomenally successful rovers exploring Mars), the Spitzer Space Telescope, the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Dawn asteroid-exploration mission, the comet-smashing probe Deep Impact, and others. Some missions were merely enhanced by NMP technologies; others would have been impossible without them.

“In order to assess the impact of NMP technologies, NASA has developed a scorecard to keep track of all the places our technologies are being used,” says New Millennium Program manager Christopher Stevens of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For example, ion propulsion technology flight-tested on the NMP mission Deep Space 1, launched in October 1998, is now flying aboard the Dawn mission. Dawn will be the first probe to orbit an asteroid (Vesta) and then travel to and orbit a dwarf planet (Ceres). The highly efficient ion engine is vital to the success of the 3 billion mile, 8 year journey. The mission could not have been flown using conventional chemical propulsion; launching the enormous amount of fuel required would have broken the project's budget. “Ion propulsion was the only practical way,” says Stevens.

In total, 10 technologies tested by Deep Space 1 have been adopted by more than 20 robotic probes. One, the Small Deep Space Transponder, has become the standard system for Earth communications for all deep-space missions.

And Deep Space 1 is just one of NMP's missions. About a half-dozen others have flown or will fly, and their advanced technologies are only beginning to be adopted. That's because it takes years to design probes that use these technologies, but Stevens says experience shows that “if you validate experimental technologies in space, and reduce the risk of using them, missions will pick them up.”

Stevens knew many of these technologies when they were just a glimmer in an engineer's eye. Now they're “all grown up” and flying around the solar system. It's enough to make a program manager proud!

The results of all NMP's technology validations are online and the list is impressive: nmp.nasa.gov/TECHNOLOGY/scorecard/scorecard_results.cfm. For kids, the rhyming storybook, Professor Starr's Dream Trip: Or, How a Little Technology Goes a Long Way at spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/nmp/starr gives a scientist's perspective on the technology that makes possible the Dawn mission.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Doing More With Less — In The Footsteps Of Galileo

Galileo's original 2“ Refractor
Lora and I spent a couple of interesting weeks this winter as a result of the ice storm that came through on January 27th. As many of you know, the electric utilities in NW Arkansas were hit pretty hard, and it took some time for the various utility companies to get power restored to those of us in rural areas. Most people in town had their power back on within a few days, though even a few days is uncomfortable and even dangerous when the temperature outside is in the teens and twenties. It took over two weeks for the power in our neck of the woods to be restored — many folks around us had no way to heat their homes or keep their wells from freezing.

Lora and I were lucky. We had a good woodstove and a supply of firewood for heat, propane for cooking and hot water, and since we're connected to rural water, we had that available as well all through that period. But we did come to appreciate the luxuries of electricity. We're so used to just flicking a light switch that I still couldn't break the habit even after two weeks of being without power. I’d walk in a room and automatically flip the switch.

As a society, we depend these days on instant communication — getting weather reports and other communication by e-mail and the World Wide Web that we take it for granted that it will be there whenever needed. During this two week period, it was much more difficult for us just to find out what the expected low would be for the coming night, as well as when we might be able to expect the power to return and whether the roads were passable or not. We did find that we could get by with far less than we've become accustomed when it became necessary.
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AOAS 2009 Observing Season Underway

General NewsAOAS opened our 2009 season of observing events with the first public night at Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center on February 13, 2009. The following weekend, we hosted the Mt Magazine Area Council Girl Scouts with a night at the Nature Center once again. Our first two events were unimpeded by clouds so all we can do now is hope that the remaining events for 2009 will be as good as the first two were.
AOAS member Mike Baker in the background shows a group of Girl Scouts and their chaperons Venus and some deep-sky objects during a night under the stars on February 20, 2009.

The clouds were quickly thinning all afternoon on February 13 as members Chuck Larson, Mike Baker, Leonard Lynch and myself headed towards Barling and the Janet Huckabee Nature Center. While everyone but myself was there in time to setup in good light, I at least did get my 8" Dob aligned well enough to give good views of Venus and several deep-sky targets including the Great Nebula in Orion, M-42, and the open cluster M-41 in Canis Major. Venus is getting bigger every week and thinner and thinner as well. Its quickly headed for a conjunction with the Sun in late March when it'll pass between Earth and our star and switch back to being the Morning Star once again.

Venus in crescent phase through my 8" f/6 Dobsonian and a 9mm TMB Planetary eyepiece taken with my Canon Powershot A10 at full zoom and on automatic. My first ever attempt at shooting Venus and I'm impressed how well it turned out.
I recently bought a set of three TMB Optical Planetary eyepieces and tried them out for the first time during these first two outings. I must say that this is the first time in 25 years of observing that I have EVER said anything in support of an eyepiece of a mere 4mm, but Venus in the 8" Dob with the 4mm at 300X was as clear as I could expect and I'm sure that it was only the atmosphere that gave the slightest fuzziness to the illuminated side of the crescent. If you ever come to one of our outings when I'm there, ask me to put in one of the TMB Planetary eyepieces and see for yourself. I'll be VERY proud to show you how well they work!!!

We had probably 35 to 40 visitors from the general public on Friday February 13, and the Girl Scouts along with their mothers and chaperons were probably slightly more in number, perhaps 45 to 50. On both nights we were able to see the planet Saturn as it rose above the eastern horizon and very deep in earth's atmospheric haze. The haze was extreme but if you stared directly at the planet for more than 10 seconds, you could make out the nearly edge-on rings which made it look very much like a tennis ball with a nail struck through it.

Both Saturn as a "nail-in-the-ball" and Venus as a "tiny crescent moon" will be available for everyone who has the opportunity to view them over the next several weeks to couple of months. After April 1, the crescent of Venus will have switched over to the morning skies, but Saturn is well placed for viewing all summer long as it goes through its current edge-on apparition. Take every opportunity to view Saturn that comes your way in 2009, since this will be the last time we'll see the Ring World appear this way until the next time we see them go edge-on in about 13-14 years. You'll always remember seeing this unusual and somewhat rare look of Saturn while you have the chance. Don't miss it!

Our next AOAS public observing event at the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center will be held on Friday evening, June 12, from dusk until?

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Become a card-carrying member of AOAS. Paying dues gives you several advantages over other registered users, including a subscription to the club newsletter, an AOAS.ORG e-mail address, use of club materials, including books and telescopes, and access to the Coleman Observatory facilities. On top of all that, you also qualify for a 20% discount on all books at any Books-A-Million location.

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