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Summer Astronomy Classes Offered by AOAS

Education Outreach"Astronomy for Beginners" and "Astronomy for Elementary Teachers" classes are being offered by AOAS this summer.

Learn the basics of Astronomy this summer. Choose either the "Astronomy for Beginners" or if you're a teacher of 4th 5th or 6th graders, take our "Astronomy for Elementary Teachers" class. Classes start July 11.
The Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society (AOAS) will offer summer classes in the Basics of Astronomy for the general public, and additionally for the first time, a special class for area Elementary School Teachers specifically for grades 4 thru 6. All classes will be four weeks in length and will begin July 11.

“Astronomy for Beginners” will be a general information class in the basics of the science of astronomy, but focusing on the hobby of amateur astronomy more specifically. Students will “learn by doing” things such as by learning how to identify constellations, how to distinguish planets from normal stars in the night sky, and a very generalized understanding of how the universe works. This course is heavy on observing and students will observe each week of class and will discover how to use telescopes or binoculars and the different types of telescopes and binoculars, what to expect from a telescope, and what NOT to expect from a telescope. A book is recommended for the class, and the student is encouraged to purchase either of the two books suggested below, or both books if they so desire. The book(s) are not required for the class and even if no book is used students will still learn a great deal each week. A computer and Internet connection will also be very helpful but is not required. Every student will receive a CD-ROM of more than 200 space images from Hubble Space Telescope, and simple star charts of several constellations to help them identify these constellations on their own.

“Astronomy for Elementary Teachers” will focus on how Elementary School Teachers can supplement their classes with a basic knowledge of how astronomy relates to other science topics such as Physics, Chemistry, Geology, even Biology and Mathematics. However, there will be no mathematical requirements expected in these classes. These classes for teachers will specifically address the Arkansas State Requirements as set forth in the Benchmarks for Education. “Teacher” students will learn how to help their own students become involved with several hands-on activities that will help reinforce what their own textbooks cover in astronomy.

Click "read more" for the rest of the information on these classes.
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How do I take astronomical pictures?

Astro ImagingI have long wished to take pictures of the moon, planets, galaxies and nebulae with my telescope. How can I afford this, you ask? Isn't this extemely complicated? No! You can start taking astronomical pictures today.

You can use a simple film camera, or an inexpensive digital camera. Today a 4- or 5- mega pixel camera can be had for less than $200. With that said, you are probably saying "Prove It!" OK. Let's try a Kodak Easyshare Z730 camera. This one can be obtained from numerous online retailers for less than $170 and is capable of up to 64 second exposures. With this camera, and a $35 adapter that clamps on to your telescope eyepiece at one end and then screws in to your tripod mount hole on your camera, you are ready to go. With this set up you are able to photograph the moon and planets through your telescope.

You can do this with a telescope as small as 4.5 inches across. You also never need to buy film since you can keep reusing your digital film. I will follow up with articles showing you how to do more complex astro photographs with simple equipment. In my next article I will offer some simple examples. Have fun. That is what our hobby is all about. Any questions you are welcome to email me. Simply click on my byline above, and send me an e-mail.
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AOAS Education Director's Road Sign Report

General News6/27/06

AFTER turning west from Ark Hwy 59 and Old Uniontown Road, this is the first of our Coleman Observatory signs that potential visitors will see at the intersection of Old Uniontown and Pine Hollow Rd..
I met with the Crawford County 911 sign crew yesterday in the morning. Thanks to them we put up 3 of the four Coleman Observatory road signs directing folks to our observing facility. The road crew was very helpful in meeting our needs for placing these signs where we wanted them. I am working with them on trying to get the fourth sign put up at State Hwy 59 & Old Union Town Rd. We cannot put anything up in the state right-of-way. Hopefully, we will be able to get special permission to place this on some private property where it may be easily seen on Hwy 59.

Another special thanks to the Crawford County 911 sign crew!

Chuck Larson

Click "read more" to see the other two installed signs.....
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No More Missed Visits

General News
Dr. Chuck Larson, AOAS Education Director, holds one of the four 8"-by-36" signs that will soon be mounted on county street signs on the way to Coleman Observatory.
AOAS Education Director, Dr. Chuck Larson, recently took the initiative to arrange with Crawford County Judge Jerry Williams to have permanent signs mounted on county intersections helping to direct visitors to Coleman Observatory. By the end of June, there will be signs for Coleman Observatory at every major intersection from 59 Hwy to Wildwood Rd., all because Chuck took the initiative to get it done.

For the last three years, I've been painting and re-painting signs to place at some of the intersections on the way to Coleman Observatory to help our visitors get here as easily as possible. Some of those signs have survived, and some have been destroyed and then re-displayed as soon as I could get to it.

But last week, Chuck Larson called me up with a real shocker.....he'd decided to ask his friend, Crawford County Judge Jerry Williams, if he would allow the placement of signs on county roads to direct visitors out to Coleman Observatory from Van Buren. To Chuck's surprise, Judge Williams not only agreed to the request, but offered up the metal signs themselves, AND a crew to install them.

Chuck then went to PAC Printing in Van Buren and asked about having lettering professionally placed on the metal signs. The signs themselves were metal and painted in a midnight blue color. The printer worked with Chuck to determine how best to create an attractive sign that would last a long time. They decided on using a contrasting yellow color to outline the letters. But instead of using yellow letters on the blue signs, they fabricated a yellow mask with the letters cut out of the yellow mask giving the impression of blue letters and a blue border being placed on a yellow background. An unusual and unique combination that gives a dramatic effect.

Judge Williams had also told Chuck that he would direct the 911 personnel to install the signs at all the major intersections where they needed to be. By next week (June 26-30) we will see the signs in place and I can't wait! These signs look so good, and they draw the eyes to them, and we should never again have to wonder about whether someone is having trouble finding us way out here on Wildwood Rd. I hope all AOAS members will thank Dr. Larson for taking this initiative. It's a really great thing that he's done here, and we'll be grateful to him for as long as these fabulous signs last, and beyond.

Thanks, Chuck....'ya did (REAL) good!

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Challenger Learning centers

Education OutreachHey everybody, On my flight up here to frozen north country(Boston area) I spoke with a lady that works with her local Challenger Learning Center. It sounded very interesting so I pulled up the website. They basically allow students to work as teams to run space related missions from a simulated NASA control center and space station. There are 50 of these in operation across the US and Canada. The closest to us is in Oklahoma City. I think teachers and Scout leaders and everyone else should check out the website. I wish I was a kid again. Looks like a lot of fun. http://www.challenger.org
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David C. Grosvold Honored with 3rd Place in Astronomical League 2006 Webmaster Award

General News
AOAS' own David C. Grosvold, 3rd Place winner of the Astronomical League's Webmaster of the Year Award!
We are pleased to announce that AOAS webmaster Dave Grosvold has been selected by the Astronomical League as the 3rd Place winner of the 2006 Webmaster of the Year Award! Please join us in congratulating Dave on this prestigious award by sending your best wishes to him at webmaster@aoas.org!

Websites and their webmasters are one of the most important aspects of today's modern and active astronomy clubs and organizations. A well-done website has the ability to make its visitors sit up and take extra special notice by the way it is presented and maintained, and must also be easy to navigate through. We're all so proud of our AOAS website and of David Grosvold for his dedication and insight that has now been recognized as the 3rd Place winner for the 2006 Webmaster of the Year Award.

Dave began work on our website long before the majority of the members of AOAS were even aware that he was doing so. We had discussed needing a new website based on how our original website looked from the late 1990's. In over 3 years of operation, our old "geocities" site had garnered a mere 3300 (roughly) visits, although I did see a couple of notes left by folks from other countries in the visitors section. That made me somewhat proud to think that a person from Belgium would take the time to leave a short note congratulating us on how that website looked and for the info it contained. That was when I first realized the world-wide reach that the Internet provides.

Now, it seems funny to think back on that original site and compare it with what we have now. When Dave launched our new website on June 17-18, 2003, I was so excited when I first saw it. It looked great, had lots of potential for growth, and most importantly to me, it had the ability to allow ANYONE to contribute stories and articles to it for posting. It took into account that many folks might not have the ability to write html code, yet whatever was submitted would automatically show up as a polished and attractive submission. We welcomed (and still DO welcome) submissions from anyone, anywhere, on topics of interest to amateur astronomers everywhere.

Click read more for more information
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When This Comet Dies

Lunar & PlanetaryUPDATES CONTINUE:

#5 Number of fragments listed reaches 71 as of 06/01/06! Click to view ALL orbital elements

#4 The latest incredible new image of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 from the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope on APOD for May 3rd.

#3 Click on the link to APOD for April 26 for an outstanding image of fragment "B" of comet S-W 3 taken by the 8.2 meter Kueyen instrument of the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory. Numerous pieces can be seen in that image indicating that this comet is still crumbling right before our eyes. S-W 3 passes nearest to the Earth on May 13, and nearest the Sun on June 6-7.....ALSO.... click "read more" below for Mike Holloway's latest image at the end of this article. This image is being carried on"Cometography" website.

#2 It seems that a possible break-up of the nucleus of fragment "B" may be underway over the last few days. In a negative image made by Dr. P. Clay Sherrod of Arkansas Sky Observatories, which was reprocessed by Mike Holloway, a suspicious brightening behind and separate from the nucleus can be seen. (click "read more")

#1 As of April 11, 2006, the number of individual fragments which have been located and associated with S-W 3 has reached 40 fragments according to a web article in Sky & Telescope !

Every so often, astronomy offers all of us who appreciate the beauty of the universe some little surprise. Both amateur and professional astronomers alike have recently been monitoring a well-known short-period comet that has begun to disintegrate and is soon doomed to fade out of existence. In the next 3 to 4 months, Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 will be front-and-center on the astronomical stage.

As it sings its swan song, every person on the planet will have a chance to see Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (I'll just shorten it to S-W 3) as a classic "iconic" comet... with the fuzzy head and a nearly stellar nucleus, and with a faint and likely short to medium length tail which will always be pointing away from the Sun. S-W 3 joins a few other recent comets that have broken up into fragments while the world watched in the last 150 years or so.

Fragment "C" of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 by Mike Holloway. This is a cropped image of a 3-frame mosaic of fragments C, B, and E, which may be seen by clicking on the link to Holloway Comet Observatory to the right.
The most spectacular of these recent fragmented comets was Shoemaker-Levy 9 which slammed its 22 tiny comets into Jupiter in 1994. (See image below) I can clearly remember setting up my telescope on July 16, 1994 and bringing Jupiter to a sharp focus at low power. There before my eyes was a huge smudge of brownish-black, larger than the Earth, where a fragment had crashed into the upper layers of the giant planet's outer atmosphere.

AOAS's resident comet specialist and astrophotographer, Mike Holloway, has been keeping a watch on S-W 3 for some time now. We can all follow his photographic journal of what transpires with this comet on his website by clicking on Holloway Comet Observatory. While on Mike's site, rummage through his extensive collection of comet images from the past few years, as well. Although he hasn't been doing this for a long period of time, Mike works very closely with Arkansas' top astronomer, Dr. P. Clay Sherrod, better known around the world as Dr. Clay. There are some remarkable images from Mike's rapidly growing portfolio.
Called by many a "String of Pearls", Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragmented into at least 22 pieces that each crashed into Jupiter in the summer of 1994. Hubble Space Telescope image.
We at AOAS are all proud of Mike and his dedication to comet astrophotography and we're even more proud that he's a dedicated member of our club. As the years go by, I see him becoming someone known around the world as a well-known and noteworthy comet photographer, someone professionals turn to for the images that might make the difference in determining essential information about these wandering vagabonds of our Solar System.

Click read more for the rest of the story.
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Not a Moment Wasted

NASA Space Placeby Dr. Tony Phillips

The image on the left is the Vela Supernova Remnant as imaged in X-rays by ROSAT. On the right are some of the slew images obtained by XMM-Newton in its “spare” time.
(Click image for larger view.)
The Ring Nebula. Check. M13. Check. Next up: The Whirlpool galaxy…

You punch in the coordinates and your telescope takes off, slewing across the sky. You tap your feet and stare at the stars. These Messier marathons would go much faster if the telescope didn't take so long to slew. What a waste of time!

Don't tell that to the x-ray astronomers.

“We're putting our slew time to good use,” explains Norbert Schartel, project scientist for the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton x-ray telescope. The telescope, named for Sir Isaac Newton, was launched into Earth orbit in 1999. It's now midway through an 11-year mission to study black holes, neutron stars, active galaxies and other violent denizens of the Universe that show up particularly well at x-ray wavelengths.

For the past four years, whenever XMM-Newton slewed from one object to another, astronomers kept the telescope's cameras running, recording whatever might drift through the field of view. The result is a stunning survey of the heavens covering 15% of the entire sky.

Sifting through the data, ESA astronomers have found entire clusters of galaxies unknown before anyone started paying attention to “slew time.” Some already-known galaxies have been caught in the act of flaring?a sign, researchers believe, of a central black hole gobbling matter from nearby stars and interstellar clouds. Here in our own galaxy, the 20,000 year old Vela supernova remnant has been expanding. XMM-Newton has slewed across it many times, tracing its changing contours in exquisite detail.
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Who Wants to be a Daredevil?

NASA Space PlaceBy Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips

Artist's rendering of a four-quadrant solar sail propulsion system, with payload. NASA is designing and developing such concepts, a sub-scale model of which may be tested on a future NMP mission.
(Click image for larger view.)
When exploring space, NASA naturally wants to use all the newest and coolest technologies—artificial intelligence, solar sails,šonboard supercomputers, exotic materials.

But “new” also means unproven and risky, and that could be a problem. Remember HAL in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”? The rebellious computer clearly needed some pre-flight testing.

Testing advanced technologies in space is the mission of the New Millennium Program (NMP),šcreated by NASA's Science Mission Directorate in 1995 and run by JPL.š Like the daredevil test pilots of the 1950s whošwould fly the latest jet technology, NMP flies newštechnologies in space to see if they're ready for prime time.š Thatšway, future missions can use the technologies with much less risk.

Example: In 1999, the program's Deep Space 1 probe tested a system called “AutoNav,” short for Autonomous Navigation. AutoNav used artificial intelligence to steer the spacecraft without human intervention. It worked so well that elements of AutoNav were installed on a real mission, Deep Impact, which famously blasted a crater in Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. Without AutoNav, the projectile would have completely missed the comet.

Some NMP technologies “allow us to do things that wešliterally could not do before,” says Jack Stocky, Chief Technologist for NMP.š Dozens of innovative technologies tested by NMP willšlead to satellites and space probes that are smaller, lighter, morešcapable and even cheaper than those of today.
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Speculations on the Comet's Last Stand

Lunar & PlanetaryComet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (S-W 3) has all but disappeared after it's most recent passage through the inner solar system. It's fair to say that this was its final such trip. All that will remain for the immediate future is for the rocky, silicate materials that had been bound up inside it to slowly dissipate and spread out. It may be possible for some of this material to burn out in Earth's outer atmosphere as little meteors in their final blazes of glory.
Comet S-W 3 and the Ring Nebula on May 8th. Photo courtesy Mike Holloway, Holloway Comet Observatory, Van Buren, AR.

Not being someone who is especially enamored with comets, it may have passed by Earth this time without my ever having thought twice about it. But comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 made me take notice this time, made me wonder a little more than usual about comets in general, and about this particular one more than most others.

Professional astronomers were expecting it to pass through the inner sanctum of the solar system in late 1995 as an uninspiring object barely even visible to all but the largest amateur telescopes. Yet, in October of 1995, S-W 3 was recovered and at first mistaken for a new comet due to it appearing several hundred times brighter than had been expected. Why was that?

The answer became obvious when professional observatories imaged the comet and discovered that it had split into at least four pieces. When events such as this occur, there is usually a large amount of deeply buried pristine material suddenly released to reflect more sunlight and make these objects brighter than expected. The frozen gasses sublimate into a bigger coma than normal, and any solid particles of rock and metal are freed to reflect even more sunlight and lend their own contribution to the overall effect.

Once I had started reading the magazine articles about this comet's return, and after Mike Holloway had sent me some images he'd taken earlier this year, I began to get interested in what might happen this time. After the successful NASA mission to smash a projectile into comet 9P/ Temple 1 on the Deep Impact mission last year, I saw the images of that comet's exterior and was surprised by how smooth and "solid" looking it was. Of course, Temple was a much bigger comet than S-W 3 to begin with.

Fragment B of comet S-W 3. A composite of 8 X 8 sec exposures by Arkansas Sky Observatories and Dr. P. Clay Sherrod taken on May 19, 2006. Note in the inset image the small trailing fragment which had just been released and is beginning to drift away from the larger piece.
But as I kept reading about S-W 3's approach and realized that it was continuing to break up into even more fragments, I imagined that its appearance may have have been something more similar to that of asteroid Itokawa, the "rubble-pile" of rocks and dust that the Japanese asteroid sample return mission had revealed to us early this year.

No one knows why S-W 3 is breaking up as much as it is, but I had to wonder whether or not it had ever have been a very compacted or compressed object to begin with. Maybe it was simply a loose conglomerate of numerous small pieces barely held together by weak gravity to begin with. Or, maybe it had met up with a small asteroid sometime in its past and that impact could have caused numerous fractures throughout its mass. The slight gravitational influence of the Sun or some other planet may have been all that was needed to cause the fragmentation effect and help make it ready to crumble away during this particular trip inwards toward the Sun.

Whatever the reason, S-W 3 is basically dissolving right before our eyes, providing astronomers with a rare opportunity to see how such processes work. We need to study how asteroids and comets are held together in order to eventually use our technology to deflect one sometime in the future. The last thing the human race wants to see is a Shoemaker-Levy 9 type object breaking up and striking Earth with one or more catastrophic impacts. Earth's very existence may depend on such knowledge.

Click read more for the rest of this story

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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.

To get your membership application, click here.