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Mt. Magazine Grand Re-Opening.

General News
Jon Stone (green shirt) and Dale Hall (blue cap)attending to their telescopes for public viewing of the Sun at Mt Magazine State Park, May 20, 2006. CAAS member Wade Van Arsdale kneels to view the Sun. Photo by Bob Moody.
On Saturday, May 20, amateur astronomers from around the state of Arkansas gathered at Mt Magazine State Park to help with a portion of the activities for the Grand Re-Opening of the facility. Astronomers from Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society joined others from Central Arkansas Astronomical Society, the Red River Astronomy Club, and even a few members of the Astronomy Club of Tulsa, and the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club to share the views of the Sun with the public. While there was only a short line of small spots near the Sun's leading limb, everyone was able to see them safely with 5 or 6 properly filtered telescopes.

NEVER attempt to view the Sun with ANY optical device unless proper SAFE solar filters are used. Instant, permanent eye damage may result!

Bob Moody, president of AOAS, gave a 45 minute long presentation on the Sun to an audience of about 18 people. Bob used images from the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) website as well as a CD-ROM which is available FREE from the website to explain several solar phenomena. Topics were Coronal Mass Ejections (CME's), the Sun in different wavelengths of light, and the physical properties of sunspots. Everyone moved outside for the solar observing between 2:00 and 3:00pm.

Most of the amateur astronomers broke down round 3 o’clock and moved just down the road to the Horse Camp area to set up for the nighttime viewing that night. Even the public was invited to visit the area that evening until 10:00 to share the view with them. Currently the Horse Camp site doesn't have electrical outlets, but the Park plans to add them in the future. All amateur astronomers are encouraged to let the Park know that they are amateurs whenever you visit the park so that the Rangers will know just how many astronomers visit the park to observe. The more numbers of visiting astronomers there are, the more likely they'll make improvements in an astronomy-friendly way.

Mt Magazine State Park now has a new, state-of-the-art Lodge with 61 rooms for rent overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley to the south, along with an ultra-modern presentation area with multimedia projectors and high-speed Internet connections available for lectures. In addition, there are 13 individual cabins for rent with from 1 to 3 bedrooms available, and more cabins are planned for the future. There are also several hiking trails available from as little as 1 mile long and up to 34 miles in length. Hang gliders also enjoy an area set aside specifically for them to take to the skies safely, too.

We would like to thank the Mt Magazine Park Interpreter, Don Simons, for his help with the activities that day which made the entire day a great success.
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International Space Station Passes Overhead May 10

Satellite DataStory #1 deleted July 2, 2006 original story was for May 10. Image of ISS GroundTrack for May 10 COULD N O T BE deleted, so story was re-written as the July 2, 2006 story
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Why Is The Sky Blue?

NASA Space PlaceWhy is the sky blue? Why does the sky sometimes turn red at sunset? Every curious child will ask these question at some point. Are you ready to give scientifically correct and simple answers?

Visit SciJinks to refresh your memory. The SciJinks Web Site targets young people of middle school age. It is a joint effort of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The new "Why is the sky blue?" page can be found in the How & Why menu on the SciJinks Weather Laboratory home page, http://scijinks.jpl.nasa.gov
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Planets in Strange Places

NASA Space PlaceBy Trudy E. Bell

Artist?s rendering compares size of a hypothetical hypergiant star and its surrounding dusty disk to that of our solar system.(Click image for larger view.)
Red star, blue star, big star, small star — planets may form around virtually any type or size of star throughout the universe, not just around mid-sized middle-aged yellow stars like the Sun. That's the surprising implication of two recent discoveries from the 0.85-meter-diameter Spitzer Space Telescope, which is exploring the universe from orbit at infrared (heat) wavelengths blocked by the Earth's atmosphere.

At one extreme are two blazing, blue "hypergiant" stars 180,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the two companion galaxies to our Milky Way. The stars, called R 66 and R 126, are respectively 30 and 70 times the mass of the Sun, "about as massive as stars can get," said Joel Kastner, professor of imaging science at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. R 126 is so luminous that if it were placed 10 parsecs (32.6 light-years) away — a distance at which the Sun would be one of the dimmest stars visible in the sky — the hypergiant would be as bright as the full moon, "definitely a daytime object," Kastner remarked.

Such hot stars have fierce solar winds, so Kastner and his team are mystified why any dust in the neighborhood hasn't long since been blown away. But there it is: an unmistakable spectral signature that both hypergiants are surrounded by mammoth disks of what might be planet-forming dust and even sand.

At the other extreme is a tiny brown dwarf star called Cha 110913-773444, relatively nearby (500 light-years) in the Milky Way. One of the smallest brown dwarfs known, it has less than 1 percent the mass of the Sun. It's not even massive enough to kindle thermonuclear reactions for fusing hydrogen into helium. Yet this miniature "failed star," as brown dwarfs are often called, is alsošsurrounded by a flat disk of dust that may eventually clump into planets. (Note: This brown dwarf discovery was made by a group led by Kevin Luhman of Pennsylvania State University.)
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Stardust Comet Particles Tell Tales of Fire and Ice

Lunar & PlanetaryThe wonderfully successful Stardust mission to retrieve cometary and interstellar dust grains is now beginning to reveal to scientists the secrets it was sent to find. It re-entered Earth's atmosphere at a near-record speed of almost 30,000 mph on January 15, 2006, with the pristine dust particles of comet Wild 2 (pronounced 'Vilt 2') as well as other particles gathered from between the planets on its way to the comet safely packed away deep inside.

Once it had landed at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, it was recovered, transported to a special lab at a NASA facility in Houston, and research is now underway on the first of these exciting never-before-seen-particles.
Brilliantly illuminating the countryside over the Pacific Northwest and Northern Nevada and Utah, Stardust announces its return to Earth after a spectacularly successful cometary material return mission.

Early reports from Stardust mission scientists reveals that there are materials found within the dust grains gathered from Comet Wild 2 that had to have formed in very high-temperature conditions, namely, the mineral olivine. This was totally unexpected as Stardust Principal Investigator Donald Brownlee of University of Washington at Seatlle explains."The interesting thing is we are finding these high-temperature minerals in materials from the coldest place in the solar system." Most AOAS club members will remember some of the meteorites that I've brought to club meetings from time-to-time, and olivine is a common ingredient in meteorites and in many Earth minerals. Another well-known name in meteoritical research is Michael Zolinsky who happens to be the curator and a co-investigator on the Stardust team says, "[finding] high-temperature minerals...supports a particular model where strong bipolar jets coming out of the early sun propelled material formed near to the sun outward to the outer reaches of the solar system."

Tiny fragment of the high-temperature mineral olivine found as one of the comet dust grains imbedded within the aerogel material on the Stardust mission.
Olivine is one of the most common minerals in the universe. It's the primary ingredient in the green beach sands found on some Hawaiian beaches, and they are, of course, formed from volcanoes. Quite surprising to find such a mineral within cometary dust.

While olivine is a component of iron and magnesium, as well as other elements, the olivine in the dust taken from the Wild 2 samples is also rich in calcium, aluminum, and titanium.

The remarkable material which performed the task of capturing these dust grains and interstellar particles is called Aerogel, and is about 1000 times less dense than glass. To look at it, one can easily see where it gets the nickname "solid blue smoke".

Click "read more" for an image of Aerogel, more images of cometary particles, and links to websites to learn more about Stardust
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Mt Magazine and Amateur Astronomy

General NewsArkansas' highest point is Mt. Magazine at an altitude above sea level of 2,753 feet. With a new multi-million dollar lodge and cabins set to open (hopefully) on May 1st, and their Grand Re-Opening for the public on May 20th, amateur astronomers are working with the Park Rangers there to help make the park more astronomy-friendly for all! Visit their Mt Magazine website here for more information.

Arkansas' premier state park and lodge will open to the public on May 1st and the re-opening on May 20th. This image is from the front yard of Cabin 13 (soon to be re-numbered 14) This was a three-bedroom cabin where two or three amateurs might stay to share the costs.
It's a popular misconception, but you hear it all the time...."Mt Magazine is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians". While there are several specific points on a map that are slightly higher between America's two major mountain ranges, Mt. Magazine is unique. It's the highest point in AR, its surrounded by natural beauty, and it's accessible to amateur astronomers who want a great observing site.

On February 16th, AOAS Education Director Dr. Chuck Larson and myself attended a meeting with Wade Van Arsdale of the Little Rock area. Wade is a member of the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society (CAAS) and serves the club on their board. We met to discuss how Mt Magazine might better be suited to cater to amateur astronomers. The meeting was very good and we heard some encouraging words from the Park Interpreter about how some upcoming improvements at the park might indeed be helpful to amateur astronomers. Their Park Interpreter, Don Simons, took us all around for a guided tour of the entire park specifically to talk about how amateur astronomy could be better enjoyed at the park. He also made the suggestion that we might want to attend their Grand Re-Opening set for May 20th. I suggested that we might use some telescopes to do a little solar observing right in front of the Visitor's Center that day and he liked the idea.
From left to right, Dr. Chuck Larson, Bob Moody, and Wade Van Arsdale.

The President of CAAS, Stacy Edwards, has started a YahooGroup! page to help all Arkansas amateur astronomers meet and discuss all things astronomical. This is an excellent idea, and I hope that if you are an amateur astronomer wanting to see more cooperation happen right here at home, then you should definitely join this group yourself. I've met some other amateurs in our immediate area, but there might be a couple of hundred or more in the entire state and we all can use this YahooGroups! site to organize some cooperative events here close to home. That'd be a good way to begin planning some type of state-wide effort at holding a large star party somewhere in the state. An alternative to that might be to help any events that are already planned to become bigger and better. The ArkLaTex star party at Nashville, AR would be one example. It wouldn't be beyond what several clubs could do together to host something that's 2-4 days in length and with numerous speakers and a large number of vendors. These are the types of things that can be accomplished with the new Arkansas_Astronomy YahooGroups! web page, and even more over time.

Click read more for more images and the rest of this story.

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Micro-sats with Macro-potential

NASA Space PlaceBy Patrick L. Barry

The Space Technology 5 mission will test crucial micro-satellite technologies.
Future space telescopes might not consist of a single satellite such as Hubble, but a constellation of dozens or even hundreds of small satellites, or "micro-sats," operating in unison.

Such a swarm of little satellites could act as one enormous telescope with a mirror as large as the entire constellation, just as arrays of Earth-bound radio telescopes do. It could also last for a long time, because damage to one micro-sat wouldn't ruin the whole space telescope; the rest of the swarm could continue as if nothing had happened.

And that's just one example of the cool things that micro-sats could do. Plus, micro-sats are simply smaller and lighter than normal satellites, so they're much cheaper to launch into space.

In February, NASA plans to launch its first experimental micro-sat mission, called Space Technology 5. As part of the New Millennium Program, ST5 will test out the crucial technologies needed for micro-sats—such as miniature thrust and guidance systems—so that future missions can use those technologies dependably.

Measuring only 53 centimeters (20 inches) across and weighing a mere 25 kilograms (55 pounds), each of the three micro-sats for ST5 resembles a small television in size and weight. Normal satellites can be as large and heavy as a school bus.

"ST5 will also gather scientific data, helping scientists explore Earth's magnetic field and space weather," says James Slavin, Project Scientist for ST5.

Slavin suggests some other potential uses for micro-sats:
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Snowstorm on Pluto

NASA Space Placeby Dr. Tony Phillips

This artist's rendering shows how Pluto and two of its possible three moons might look from the surface of the third moon. Credit: NASA/ESA and G. Bacon (STSci)
There's a nip in the air. Outside it's beginning to snow, the first fall of winter. A few delicate flakes tumble from the sky, innocently enough, but this is no mere flurry…

Soon the air is choked with snow, falling so fast and hard it seems to pull the sky down with it. Indeed, that's what happens. Weeks later when the storm finally ends the entire atmosphere is gone. Every molecule of air on your planet has frozen and fallen to the ground…

That was a snowstorm—on Pluto.

Once every year on Pluto (1 Pluto-year = 248 Earth-years), around the beginning of winter, it gets so cold that the atmosphere freezes. Air on Pluto is made mainly of nitrogen with a smattering of methane and other compounds. When the temperature dips to about 32°K (-240°C), these molecules crystallize and the atmosphere comes down.

"The collapse can happen quite suddenly," says Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. "Snow begins to fall, the surface reflects more sunlight, forcing quicker cooling, accelerating the snowfall. It can all be over in a few weeks or months."

Researchers believe this will happen sometime during the next 10 to 20 years. Pluto is receding from the warmth of the Sun, carried outward by its 25% elliptical orbit. Winter is coming.

So is New Horizons. Stern is lead scientist for the robotic probe, which left Earth in January bound for Pluto. In 2015 New Horizons will become the first spacecraft to visit that distant planet. The question is, will it arrive before the snowstorm?
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"Stars in the Parks" 2006 Kicks Off

Education OutreachAOAS' annual "Stars in the Parks" public observing nights kicked off on Saturday, February 4th, at Carol Ann Cross Park in Ft Smith. Eight more events are planned at the same location for the rest of 2006 through September. Our next "Stars in the Parks" public night is set for March 4th, and all public observing events begin at dusk.

ALL our events this year will be held on the FIRST SATURDAY of the month through September 2, EXCEPT for our last one which will be held on September 30. (That's TWO events in September!) Come join us to see what we can show you of our mysterious universe!

Visitors and members of AOAS view Saturn, the moon and much more at the kick-off of "Stars in the Parks" 2006 on February 4th. Member Richard Portman of Ft Smith adjusts his 8" Dobsonian telescope while viewing craters on the moon.

A new observing season has kicked off on February 4th at Carol Ann Cross Park in Ft Smith. Through our collaboration with the Ft Smith Parks Department's "Friends of the Parks" program, AOAS holds public observing nights at one of their facilities, and we receive use of one of their meeting rooms to hold our bi-monthly meetings. The collaboration works well for both entities and we enjoy the opportunity to hold several public nights each year at Carol Ann Cross Park.

Our February 4th event had eleven AOAS members with 8 telescopes set up for public viewing. The crowd was a little sparse, possibly due to the crisp air temperature, but the 25-30 people who DID join us were all well pleased with the views of Saturn, our moon, and a very small and distant planet Mars.

Click read more for the rest of this story; learn how to capture stellar objects with your digital camera
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Searching for the Invisible

NASA Space Placeby Diane K. Fisher

This giant dish antenna is about the size of a soccer field! It is part of NASA's Deep Space Network and is used to send and receive messages from its robotic space explorers.
Three blind flies land on an elephant. Each crawls over his part of the elephant and describes what he touches. The first one explores the trunk and says, "This creature is a wrinkled snake." The second one walks around on an ear and says, "This isn't a creature at all. It's a pancake." The third one hikes up and down the tail and says, "You are both crazy. This is nothing but a skinny rope hanging down from the sky."

If we are lucky enough to see the whole elephant at once, we understand how magnificent this animal really is.

So it is with astronomy. If we have only our poor eyes to look at the night, we see only a tiny part of the Universe. There is so much more to it than our eyes can see!

The light we see is but a tiny part of the light all around us. Therefore, humans have invented special telescopes that can see these different kinds of light. Using these new telescopes, both from the ground and from space, we have begun to see the entire elephant… er, Universe.

One kind of light we can't see is radio waves. We have learned to make our own radio waves for sending TV, radio, and cell phone signals through the air. Radio waves also come from stars (including our Sun), planets, clouds of gas in space, black holes, and other strange objects in space.

The telescopes that see radio waves don't look anything like the telescopes that see visible light. Radio telescopes are large dish-like antennas that can point to different parts of the sky. In addition to radio wave astronomy, NASA also uses this type of antennas—equipped with transmitters—to communicate with its unmanned spacecraft out there exploring the solar system.

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