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Whirlwind Disaster - Activity for Kids!

NASA Space PlaceWhere do these monster storms we call hurricanes come from? Why do they always form near the equator and only during certain times of the year? How do they come to be so organized and so destructive? You can find answers to these questions and play an exciting hurricane word game called "Whirlwind Disaster" at the SciJinks Weather Laboratory Web site. SciJinks 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 "How does a hurricane form?" page and accompanying interactive game can be found in the How & Why menu on the SciJinks Weather Laboratory home page, http://scijinks.gov.
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Green Bank Star Quest III

General NewsI received an e-mail From Devin Matlick of the NRAO at Green Bank West Virginia recently. The e-mail announced the upcoming Green Bank Star Quest III event, whic is a three-day event combining Radio and Visual Astronomy. This sounds very exciting and could be one of the better choices this year. Check out the details in our Events Calendar!
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Hayabusa - The Japanese Asteroid Sample Return Mission

Lunar & PlanetaryUPDATE: Japan's "Falcon" Wounded! Mission in Jeopardy!

Hayabusa (Japanese for Falcon) has encountered serious problems and the mission is in jeopardy. For an explanation of what the situation currently is, the Planetary Society article HERE is available for review.

A little known mission to return a sample of an asteroid to scientists on Earth has been underway for the past few years. Launched on May 9, 2003, the spacecraft's name is Hayabusa, and its mission is to rendezvous with asteroid Itokawa,

"Rubble-pile" Earth-Crossing Asteroid Itokawa.
land a very small robot craft named Minerva on its surface, scoop up a sample of asteroidal material, bring that back to Hayabusa, and eventually return it to Earth. Until the last two weeks, everything had gone pretty much as planned, but trouble now threatens to push back the return date for when the sample will be returned to Earth.

Asteroid Ida and its tiny moon Dactyl from the Galileo spacecraft's flyby in the early 1990's.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) spacecraft "Hayabusa" was launched on May 9, 2003 and arrived at its destination on September 12, 2005. Asteroid Itokawa has turned out to be what's known as a rubble-pile asteroid, an amalgam of rocks, rubble and dust held together by its miniscule mutual gravitational attraction. It just "looks" so much different from the other asteroids that we have images of, such as asteroid Ida below, instead of a large object with a solid looking surface spotted with anywhere from several dozen to several thousands of impact craters from other objects striking it. Itokawa is as rough as a cob with only a few spots of smooth surface area.

The smooth area seen in the image above is where the tiny (1 lb.) Minerva lander touched down for a sample of the asteroid's material for return to Earth.

While Hayabusa has been parked in orbit near Itokawa since September 12, the spacecraft has been experiencing some troubles in the past few weeks. Scientists all but lost contact with the craft 3 weeks ago, but are slowly regaining communications. The craft made its way to Itokawa by way of a newly developed Ion engine, and if the re-establishment of all communications and functions continues, the Ion engine will soon be re-ignited to allow Hayabusa to begin its return voyage to Earth. JAXA's website has all the latest information by clicking the Hayabusa info column here.

Click read more for the rest of this story.
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Stardust Spacecraft to Return January 15, 2006

Lunar & PlanetaryOn the evening of January 15, 2006, at about 4:00 am Arkansas time, a brilliant fireball will begin its passage over the Pacific NW on its way towards a landing in Utah. For people all over that area of the United States, the fireball will be a rare and wonderful site for about a minute. But for NASA scientists working on the Stardust mission, it will be "Welcome home, stranger" as the spacecraft's return module hits Earth's atmosphere at a higher speed than any other manmade object in history. It will be an anxious time until the little 100 lb. object slows itself enough to first release the drogue, and then the main parachutes, that will allow it to land unharmed in the Dugway Proving Grounds in the Utah desert.


UPDATE: Jan 1, 2006
Amateurs are asked to participate in watching, and recording, the re-entry of the Stardust return canister as it lights up the Pacific NorthWest. This following info comes from Night Sky Network.

Stardust Reentry Observing Opportunity and Call for Amateur Astronomer Participation

Stardust is the first U.S. space mission dedicated solely to the exploration of a comet, and the first robotic mission designed to return extraterrestrial material from outside the orbit of the Moon. Additionally, the Stardust spacecraft will bring back samples of interstellar dust, including recently discovered dust streaming into our Solar System from the direction of Sagittarius. Stardust is on its way back home, due to arrive as a visible "meteor" on January 15 starting at around 2 am PDT (3 am MDT). The "meteor" will be visible from several Western states, and especially good in Nevada and Utah. The capsule will actually make landfall in Utah, southwest of Salt Lake. The peak optical brightness is anticipated at minus 7.8. It will be hard to miss if you're in the right place.

Amateur astronomers are invited to participate in the mission! If you are interested in participating, the team is looking for video, still and even visual observation reports. If you are interested there is an observation form and list of observers here: http://reentry.arc.nasa.gov/registrationobserver.html
To learn more about participating in this event, go to the press release at: http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/science/feature002.html

The Stardust spacecraft is almost home now after a nearly 3 billion mile journey. Onboard are pristine samples of interstellar dust grains, and the first ever samples of particles returned from a comet.
NASA's Stardust spacecraft will have traveled some 2.89 billion miles by the time it returns its precious cargo to Earth on January 15, 2006. It successfully encountered periodic Comet 81P/Wild 2 (pronounced 'Vilt 2') in early January of 2004, when it opened its collector grid to allow microscopic particles of cometary dust to be captured in a special material known as Aerogel. This material is 99.8 percent air, and is some of the most highly efficient insulating material ever produced. Insulation is not its intended use, though, because it does an exceedingly good job at safely capturing and holding tiny particles only a few microns across which can impact at speeds of 10,000 mph or more.

Periodic Comet 81/P Wild 2
Stardust was the fourth of NASA's revolutionary missions designed to be cheaper, faster, better. The prime focus of the mission was to capture and return material from a comet, but it also used its unique aerogel material to capture unaltered interstellar dust grains from two different areas of its orbital path through the solar system. Scientists will be interested in finally knowing how unaltered interstellar dust grains compare to the micrometeorite particles that are collected regularly. These tiny objects, only a few microns in diameter, have experienced heating as they hit our atmosphere and are rapidly decelerated enough to eventually float down through the upper atmosphere to the ground.

But it is the cometary material that is of prime interest to NASA scientists, and especially to Dr. Donald Brownlee, principal investigator of the Stardust mission. Brownlee regularly studies the micrometeorites that are scooped up by ultra high-flying U-2 aircraft. These are part of the normal "daily delivery" of meteoritic material that enters the earth's atmosphere and gently rains down across the entire surface of the Earth. Believe it or not, we have all eaten meteoritic materials in the crops which are grown in the farm lands around the world. This material is in cabbage and lettuce and all other crops with large leaves, where the material falls onto the leaves and is then washed down by raindrops into the space between the leaves which is where it can be found when we eat the crop. Umm, tasty!

Click read more for the rest of this story.
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The Most Wonderful Hubble Image EVER!

Astro ImagingReleased on January 11, 2006, this Hubble Space Telescope image is the most impressive image ever taken of the "Great Nebula in Orion". The image covers a larger area of sky than any other HST image ever made, and the image has been painstakingly processed by "stitching" a large number of single images together to create this huge mosaic image. This nebula will be the highlight of our public observing nights on January 21st and 28th at Coleman Observatory. Come see this one for yourself!

Click image for larger view.
Isn't this a magnificent object? By way of AOAS's association with the NASA/JPL sponsored program known as Night Sky Network, we are among the first in the nation to offer up these images, links, and related details about this special Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project effort. This nebula is located in the constellation of Orion where it demarkates the middle star in the sword (see below) which hangs from the belt of the Mighty Hunter. It can be seen with binoculars, small telescopes, even the naked eye, but only the venerable Hubble Space Telescope could have given us this exceptionally detailed image.

Believe it or not, you can see a considerable amount of the detail captured in this image with your own eyes through our largest telescope here at Coleman Observatory.
The constellation Orion by one of the world's most reknowned and respected wide-field astrophoto- graphers, Akira Fujii of Japan.Click Here for original image and more Fujii/DMI images. Used by permission.
What our eyes have trouble seeing are the beautiful colors associated with this image. Our eyes don't work well on the colors of very dim objects. But CCD images are very capable of gathering all the various subtle colors seen here, and with special processing software, the colors can be made to stand out even more.

The colors themselves also reveal a great deal of scientific information about what chemical elements are present in the Orion Nebula. There's hydrogen associated with the reddish hues, and oxygen associated with green and some blue hues, as well as sulfur, calcium, silicates and other elements are detected through the combinations of the colors seen here. The darker brown and black areas are simply dust which in some places is dense enough to completely block the ionized light from the brighter parts of the nebula.

The main site where you'll find much more information and additional images about this exciting mosaic may be found at the Hubble site. There is also a site highlighting this image specifically for kids by clicking on Amazing-Space.

For a link to our downloadable PowerPoint associated with this image, and for the rest of the story, click READ MORE.
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AOAS Member Jon Stone, Jr. Earns AL Observing Award

General NewsSeventeen-year-old Jon Stone, Jr. received his Messier Club observing certificate from the Astronomical League last fall. By simply recording his observations as he found the first 70 targets in the Messier list of 110 deep-sky objects, Jon accomplished what only one other AOAS member has done......he EARNED his own Regular Messier Club Certificate.
I congratulate Jon Stone on receipt of his own Regular Messier Club Certificate for locating and logging at least 70 of the 110 objects in the Messier List.

You went out last night and set up your telescope to observe. As darkness gripped the sky you began with a couple of familiar objects that you know how to find, maybe a globular cluster or a double-star. You chose these because you know where they are, but you've recently been getting pretty good at "star-hopping". That's a method of looking at star charts and identifying and matching groups and patterns of stars with the charts, and then moving your telescope to some particular spot where your celestial target resides. Let's say it's M-104, a bright nearly edge-on galaxy on the border between the constellations of Virgo and Corvus. Your charts helped you find this galaxy and it seemed easy. You're proud of yourself for having accomplished this small personal feat of observing.

As you gaze at this new object you study it closely, and you notice how it's dark dust lane easily contrasts with the brighter glow of the nucleus. But at some point, you've had enough and you want to try finding something else, maybe a new globular cluster in Ophichus. Or, maybe you want to find another southerly "M-object" in Sagittarius or Scorpius, or an open star cluster like NGC-869 and NGC-884 in the northern regions, the famous "Double Cluster" in Perseus.

M-104 the "Sombrero Galaxy" on the border between Virgo and Corvus (Hubble Space Telescope image)
You have accomplished a goal of finding something new by the star-hop method, but you've also missed a golden opportunity to simply record the date, time, telescope and eyepiece(s) used, and a quick little word or two about what you just saw. The description might be something as simple as, "Found M-104;dust lane easy to see, looks like a Sombrero; easily found; nearly edge-on galaxy in Virgo". It will never again matter what object you want to locate once you've mastered the "star-hop method". When you can do that, then you can easily earn an observing certificate.

The vast majority of amateur astronomers do this same thing; they've learned how to use their telescope along with a star chart to locate dim objects, but neglected the chance to record their observations. It really is that simple. Just choose an object, find it by star-hopping, identify it as the correct object you're seeking, record your observation, and then move on to the next target and log that one the same way.

Click read more for the rest of this story.
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Busting Another MYTH - The Eye of God?

Myths & LegendsI received another of those ridiculous "chain-letter style" emails this week. It tells me that by looking at an image of a celestial object, wonderful things will happen in my life. Do I believe it? Not in a million years!
Is this the "Eye of God"? No. But through the power of suggestion, those who don't know better may be influenced to believe that somehow, it IS!

You can not imagine how I laughed when I saw this email this past week. Similar to the old "chain letter" scams I'm urged to send this on to at least 7 other people, presumably those that I care about. It says that this photo "is a very rare one, taken by NASA." The words further claim that "this kind of event occurs once in 3000 years", and it will somehow "[do] miracles in many lives" and all we have to do is look at the picture and "Make a wish" because you have just gazed upon "The Eye of God".

Whether I believe this email's claims or not, I'm encouraged to send it out to "at least 7 people" and I should expect wonderful things to happen in my life within 24 hours. HOGWASH!!!

This image is of a planetary nebula known famously as "The Helix Nebula", and it's anything but rare. The Helix has been known to exist and has been under constant observation around the planet since the 1700's. There is no "event" here that occurs every 3000 years unless maybe it's that another star in our particular region of the Milky Way galaxy finishes using its supply of nuclear fuel and finally dies to create another similar-looking nebula. I understand enough about the processes, and the number of available stars in our area, and how often such nebulas occur to say with confidence that there are more likely hundreds of similar objects produced every 300 years, and many, many more would be likely in 3000 year timespan. There is absolutely nothing special, or unusual, or devine about this object.

I'm not blind. I do see a very unmistakable resemblance to a human eye, and a blue one at that. But with all that redness around the edges, it looks a little irritated. A good candidate for Visine. The Hubble Space Telescope has to do some tricky maneuvering to even get an object of this size completely covered for the entire image. Hubble's field-of-view is only about 1/20th of the area covered in this image. Closer inspection of the individual frames by Hubble revealed delicate "comet-like" protrusions around the inside perimeter of the Helix all pointed away from the central white dwarf star that ejected this material several thousand years ago. (see the next image)

Click read more for the rest of this story, and for a website dedicated to helping debunk all similar myths like this one.
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2006 Texas Star Party - Sign up Now!

General NewsThe great tradition of dark sky observing continues with the 28th Annual TEXAS STAR PARTY, April 23 - 30, 2006!

TSP WILL NOT BE MAILING A FLYER this year, so keep this e-mail or print it out!
  1. You should submit a Registration/Reservation Request Form to ENTER THE TSP DRAWING before January 14, 2005. This will provide you the highest possible chance of being selected as one of the 700 people who will be able to attend TSP this year. http://www.texasstarparty.org/draw.html or fill out the Request Form immediately at: http://www.alphadata.net/cgi-bin/forms/forms.cgi?form=3


  3. Participants at the TEXAS STAR PARTY can select from a variety of accommodations on the Prude Ranch, including bunkhouses, private cabins, trailer hookups, and campsites with convenient bathhouses. All accommodations include access to a TV lounge, a western-style dining room, and an indoor swimming pool. And of course the convenience of the observing fields!

    For rates and more information on ranch and nearby accommodations please visit: http://www.texasstarparty.org/travel.html

  4. The TSP Registration Fee (DOES NOT INCLUDE your accommodations ) is $50/person if you preregister before March 25, 2006. (Each additional family member is just $30 more.) For more information about TSP Registration rates and policies, visit: http://www.texasstarparty.org/tspreg.html
The drawing for names is in late January, and if your name is drawn you will get a TSP Registration Form (and optional Prude Ranch Reservation Form) to send in with your payments in February/March.


Questions? Visit our website for the latest and complete details! http://www.texasstarparty.org/

We look forward to seeing you next April!

the volunteers for Texas Star Party
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Waiting for the Stars

Backyard Astronomy
Image by Bob Moody; Canon PowerShot A10 thru a 12.5" Dobsonian
For years I would occasionally find myself out in the night air, scurrying around to get some extremely important bit of nothing done, never once looking up to see the night sky. Always my eyes would be looking down to the Earth so I wouldn't stumble or fall in the darkness that made up my world.

Then one night as I walked out into the night I did happen to look up just as the full moon appeared from behind a passing cloud, lighting up the place where I stood in it's cool, white glow. The sight was an awesome thing to behold for a then ten-year-old boy, so I just kept looking up. Soon I noticed the moon was not the only thing in the heavens, but just one of the thousands of objects that overwhelmed my senses. Funny how a child discovers his or her world in an instant of wonderous recognition.

It's also funny how you can go through your days always doing the same things in the same old ways until something changes your awareness. From then on, nothing is ever the same again as you begin your quest for knowledge and understanding of this universe we all share. Essentially, that's what happened to me on that moonlit night. It was then I began to realize that there is so much more to living than merely the day to day routines we all find ourselves in. Our lives always seem to get into a groove, or rut as it were, and that rut just keeps getting deeper until one day we stop looking down. It's at that point, when we start to look up, that we realize how deep that rut really is, and how easy it is to climb out of it if we just keep looking up.

So now I have a thought for all of you who find yourselves looking down into the rut. The next time you go out at night, be a child again, and stop where you are, stand still for a moment, and look up. If you do this every time you wander under the night sky, you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll find yourself actually waiting throughout the daylight hours for the stars to come into view each night!

Enjoy the view

Ed Wemmerus, Vice-President AOAS - 2006
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The Physics of Star Trek - Book Review

Book ReviewsThe Physics of Star Trek raises some of the most asked questions regarding just what is, and is NOT possible in this real universe that "Star Trek" exists in. Lawrence M. Krauss is a dedicated "Trekkie" while at the same time holding the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, and Chairman of the Physics Department at Case Western Reserve University. He chose to write "The Physics of Star Trek" to give those of us who are NOT physicists some idea of what is a possibility for our futures and what might forever remain in the realm of sci-fi.

"The Physics of Star Trek is copyright 1995, and is published by Basic Books, a Division of HarperCollins Publishers.
"But I canna change the laws of physics, Captain." Scotty has uttered these words on innumerable occasions on the original Star Trek series, yet, when the need called for it, the writers for ST seemed to hold the power of God Almighty as they gingerly created a plethora of "outs" for the original, and all the spinoff Star Trek series. Personally, I used to wonder just how such things could be possible, like the transporter, or "warp speed", or time travel? This was exactly what I had in mind when I bought this copy of the book, to learn for myself just what was real and what wasn't.

James Doohan a.k.a. Lt Cdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott Mar. 3, 1920 - July 20, 2005
Without a doubt, I was disappointed by some of the things I learned from the book, but at the same time, I was enthralled by Krauss' excellent writing and his almost boyish inquisitiveness about most of the same things that fascinated me. He truly is a well-versed Trekkie aficionado, and enjoys sci-fi as much as the next guy. The book is absolutely a must read, at least in my book. HA! (sorry)

Well, what about dilithium crystals, or the holodeck, and aren't matter-antimatter engines the next big thing from Detroit? Isn't GM working on that? Its all in here, and much more. One of the things that caught my eye (through my ears) was how much science and astronomy was always included in the Star Trek programs. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the Enterprise visiting one or another star system which was taken from the star charts that I use to track down my deep-sky quarry. Did you know that the rock-like Sheliak beings are actually found around a planet in one of the southerly pair of parallelogram stars in Lyra?

I love Star Trek, and I always have. I could sit and watch nothing but reruns of Star Trek episodes for days and days without seeing anything else and not get bored. On a lot of episodes, I can almost quote the dialogue word-for-word. But I enjoyed immensely this work by Krauss that got me to thinking a little more literally about the Physics of Star Trek. I highly recommend it!

P.S.I offered up the quote from "Scotty" at the beginning of this review because I had seen it used in the book, but I also wanted to dedicate this review to the memory of James Doohan, who passed away last summer. "Beam me up, Scotty!"

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