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AOAS Recipient of Anonymous Donation

General NewsOn July 9th, an anonymous donor presented AOAS with nearly $4,000 worth of astronomical equipment. Here is a run-down on what was donated and how we expect to use this new equipment. Since AOAS is a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, every penny of this donation will be that much less that our donor will have to pay on his taxes next year!

Donated items - Here are displayed most of the items which were donated to AOAS on July 9, 2005. Items include...A Meade ETX 125EC w/UHTC telescope with #497 AutoStar controller on a #884 Deluxe Field Tripod...a hard case for the ETX...an LPI CCD camera...a DSI CCD camera...eyepieces, barlow lens, tele-extenders, everything needed for astrophotography...a Canon EOS Rebel Ti SLR camera with a 28mm to 90mm zoom lens and another 500mm mirror lens, along with all the accessories needed to use this camera with the telescope...a pair of Orion 12X50 binoculars...and a Dell Inspiron 1000 laptop computer (with a Dell 720 printer, not shown) with all the hardware and software needed to control the telescope and image with either of the CCD cameras...and finally a Logitech webcam (not shown). ALL of this equipment is in NEW condition!
When I first received an email about a donation on the afternoon of our July "Stars in the Parks" event at Carol Ann Cross Park on July 9th, I misread the message and thought I'd seen an amount of $400 in equipment that a man wanted to donate to AOAS. I arrived at the park and was helping another member set up his telescope for that night's observing when I saw our donor pull up beside my car. I joined him there and we began to unload things from his car into mine. After I saw the ETX telescope I said to him, "This is more than a $400 donation," to which he replied, "I know, it's more like $4,000."

I was absolutely stunned. I helped him finish loading the rest of the equipment into my car and he left, but not before asking that I never mention his name to the public, to which I agreed. As I went back to our group of members that were still assembling their telescopes for the star party, I still couldn't quite grasp what had just happened. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we now had a COMPLETE astrophotography and CCD imaging system along with a laptop computer for remote operation of all the equipment. All I could do at first was wander around with my mouth open muttering, "We just got a new telescope. We just got a new computer, and a new SLR camera, and TWO new CCD cameras", over and over again like the village idiot. It was all just a little too much and it simply wouldn't register in my brain.

Click "read more" for the rest of this story and/or to donate
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Discovery Orbits While the Shuttle Fleet is Grounded

General NewsWhen space shuttle Discovery blasted into orbit on July 26th, newly installed cameras detected another chunk of foam insulation breaking off from the main fuel tank yet again. After a billion dollar retrofitting of the main tank and hundreds of new upgrades to the shuttle fleet, that wasn't supposed to happen again. But because of that one piece being caught on camera as it fell away harmlessly without striking the orbiter, the entire fleet of remaining shuttles are once again grounded... indefinitely!

Shuttle Discovery launches at 10:39 a.m. Tuesday morning. It is now linked-up to the International Space Station "Freedom". Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth in the first week of August.
The most complicated machine yet conceived by man has more problems. Technically, it's not the orbiter that has the problem, but the totally redesigned main fuel tank that the orbiter depends on to reach space. Once again, the foam insulation on the tank failed to perform to required specifications. Scores of new cameras positioned to catch exactly this sort of thing did work perfectly and recorded a small piece of the sprayed-on foam coating falling off the fuel tank after the craft had blasted into the upper atmosphere on its way to space. That is exactly the same problem that was supposed to have been fixed which caused the catastrophic failure of the shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003. That accident cost the lives of seven astronauts.

Construction of the ISS "Freedom" is not complete and the space shuttles are the only type of spacecraft available to finish the job.
When the piece of foam came off and hit the leading edge of the left wing of Columbia during its liftoff in 2003, it opened a hole in the high-tech Reinforced Carbon-Carbon fiber material that allows the shuttle to safely return to Earth. That material is made to withstand temperatures of more than 4,000 degrees along the leading edges of the shuttles wings and nose section. With a hole possibly as large as a basketball in that area of Columbia's wing, superheated air moving at hypersonic speed invaded the interior portions of the wing and, in effect, acted as a blow torch to slice off that wing and destroy the Columbia and her crew.

This malfunctioning of the foam was never supposed to repeat itself, but as the cameras clearly show, it did.

The shuttle Discovery and her current crew of seven astronauts are safe and in route to dock with the International Space Station "Freedom". They'll deliver much needed supplies to the station, and repair a malfunctioning gyroscope that helps the station maneuver properly. On one of the three planned "space walks" or EVA's scheduled to accomplish these chores, the astronauts will try some newly devised proceedures to repair any tile damage that could potentially cause the destruction of the Discovery. Such repairs must be possible in the future in order to assure the safe return to whichever potentially damaged orbiting shuttle may be returning to Earth. Re-entry is the most dangerous portion of ANY spaceflight, and the type of accident that claimed Columbia was inevitable sooner or later.

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The Night I Found My Supernova

Deep SkyIn 1994, while working through the 400 objects required to earn my Herschel 400 Certificate, I made an observation that didn't excite me until nearly five years later. Here's how it happened.

Supernova 1994D as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in mid-1994.
In the hobby of amateur astronomy, I consider myself an observer first and foremost. It’s the one thing regarding astronomy that I’ve spent more time and effort on of all the various aspects of this hobby that I’ve tried. I have two observing certificates from programs offered through the Astronomical League, and these are my Honorary Messier Club Certificate (#678; June 1987) and my Herschel Club Certificate (#134; Sept. 1995). These certificates are awarded after successfully finding 110 objects and 400 objects respectively. I cherish them both.

I began my Messier observations before I even had my own telescope. At about the same time that I first met the other founding members of AOAS, someone told me about this certificate that I could earn for viewing certain specific objects. That sounded almost too easy. All I was required to do was to simply write down some specific information for each of these objects as I found them, things like the date, time, how big the telescope was that I used and what eyepiece for what magnification, things like that.

On the evening of June 6, 1994, I was tracking down more Herschel objects through the area of Virgo and Coma Berenices that is sometimes called “Heartbreak Ridge”. Anyone who has trudged their way through the thicket of distant galaxies in this area will attest to the aptness of this term. But as I worked my way through this area I searched for and eventually found a spiral galaxy with the designation NGC-4526. I had located the object using the “star-hop” method by referencing my Tirion Sky Atlas 2000. The charts showed two small dots representing dim stars on either side of this object and these stars had helped to assure me that I’d actually found the specific galaxy I wanted to see.

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Sketching Sunspots

SolarBy Jon Stone
Edited by Bob Moody

The following story is a personal journey of discovery by AOAS member Jon Stone. He uses a proper and totally safe solar filter made of a specially coated Mylar material that was developed for the US Space Program during the Skylab missions back in the mid-to-late 1970's. DO NOT attempt to view the Sun, telescopically or otherwise, without some similar type of SAFE solar filter material; PERMANENT eye damage may result! Bob

Two sketches of the solar surface showing sunspots by Jon Stone.
I've always been fascinated with sunspots and with viewing the Sun in general. When I bought my 8" Celestron Dobsonian in February of 2005, I wanted to use it to see everything it was capable of showing me. One of the things that I really wanted to buy was a solar filter, and I was just about to spend $40 on one when Bob told me he was about to purchase some Baader AstroSolar filter material.

So, I waited until his order came in and then I bought enough material from Bob to make a full-aperture filter for my scope. The instructions for making my own looked simple enough, but my first attempt didn't turn out very well. I needed some help and Bob salvaged what I hadn't ruined and gave me a proper fitting and very effective solar filter.

The first time I observed, I was expecting to see prominences around the edge of the Sun as well as any sunspots that might have been in view. After learning that I'd need a filter which isolated a certain wavelength of light to show the prominences (about a $500 to $3,500 investment) I decided that what I was able to see was good enough for the $20 I'd spent for this "white-light" filter.

Bob told me that he had once observed and made sketches AND taken photographs of the solar surface for 29 straight days in 1991. The Sun rotates in about 26 days so that allowed him to see one complete revolution of the solar disk. That encouraged me to want to try this for myself.

I was pessimistic that I would reach that many consecutive days of viewing the Sun due to what I've learned about this Arkansas weather. It seems that cloudy skies are very common here. Happily, though, I was able to reach a total of 36 straight days and beat Bob's former record of 29 straight days. I would only miss one day, however, before we got more clear skies for a few more days and that gave me a chance to keep tracking a group of sunspots that I'd been following for nearly a week.

My streak, however, lasted only four more days due to the clouds from Hurricane Dennis moving in that provided for nearly a week of obscured viewing. I was glad to have gotten that many days of observing under my belt, and I'm proud of myself for sticking it out for as long as I did.

I hope everyone enjoys my observations. I have compiled a PowerPoint presentation of my sketches that you can click on below, containing 42 total frames which run for 44 seconds after clicking on it. Each slide advances automatically, and I have included my notes about my observations for a total of 41 days of observations. Click on this link to view my ppt.

Click on "read more" for my daily observation logs.
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Lunar & Planetary
In the early morning hours of July 4 at approximately 12:52 A.M., an 820 pound copper projectile released from the NASA Deep Impact spacecraft just 24 hours earlier smashed into comet 9P/ Temple 1. The projectile struck the comet at an impact speed of roughly 37,000 mph with hopes of creating a huge impact crater thereby uncovering the comet's icy innards. It's the stuff inside comets that scientists want most to see and study, and judging by the gigantic plume of material which rose from the comet surface as the impactor hit, they should now get exactly what they wanted.

It's believed that comets are "left-over" remnants from the creation of the solar system. If the theory is correct, the material blown off the comet from this high-speed impact will give scientists their first ever clues as to exactly what the early solar nebula was made of, as well as the proportions in which those materials exist. As the time drew near for this cosmic fireworks show to begin, the tension in the JPL control room was evident. That tension turned to jubilant shouts and cries of congratulations as the control room realized that this first-of-its-kind mission had been a smashing success.

As the next few days pass, the world will see a wealth of images from an armada of space-based and Earth-based telescopes. The best views came from the Deep Impact mother ship as well as from the Impactor craft itself as its onboard cameras took pictures right up until the final three seconds of its existence. The mother ship's onboard instruments then gathered data of the comet's composition from the debris ejected by the impact. At the same time its cameras captured the rapidly evolving views of the comet surface where the Impactor was vaporized by the collision that created a huge crater.

Everything went exactly as planned and a mountain of data from this impact is being gathered by nearly every available telescopic instrument from around the world. When all is said and done we may finally find the answers that mankind has sought since the dawn of history…. Just what is a comet, anyway?

This image shows the Deep Impact mother ship's view as it sailed safely past the area of impact. The huge plume of material flying away from the comet surface was considerably more spectacular than anyone would have hoped for, and truly gave this mission the Fourth of July "fireworks" performance that all the world of science had wanted and waited to see.

More images are available on our aoas.org website in the Photo Gallery under "Science Photos". Many more images will be added to this first set of images as they are released by NASA over the coming days and weeks.
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My Quest for a Messier Certificate by Jon Stone

Backyard AstronomyJon Stone (TexasJagsFan) came to AOAS in January 2005 and immediately wanted to join our club. As we were observing at Coleman Observatory over the weekend of April 1st and 2nd, I watched as he worked on his Messier list, something that only a few other AOAS members have begun to do. Upon asking him to write a story about his efforts at earning his Messier Certificate, he quickly agreed and we began working on this story, he writing and me editing. Jon's enthusiasm and excitement will hopefully inspire those members who've already started their lists to finish them, but it might also encourage others who haven't started a list to begin their own. I have no doubt that Jon will earn his Honorary Messier Certificate on time as described below. Bob

A few years ago when I bought a 2.4" Meade telescope from Wal-Mart, I began using it to observe the moon, and sometimes look at things across a lake that we lived on. Later we moved to Amarillo, TX where I knew someone with the astronomy club there. He showed me several of Messier's objects, and also told me about a list of these objects and a logsheet that you could fill in and send off for a certificate when you had found all 110 of Messier's objects. So, I started the list with my telescope but I was disappointed that I couldn't find any galaxies. Later I was told that I might not be able to find any galaxies in the telescope I started with, and I gave up.

AOAS member Jon Stone at Coleman Observatory with his 8" Celestron Dob in April 2005.
It would be about a year before I would live someplace where there was another local astronomy club. That's when we moved to Van Buren. I attended the January 2005 meeting of the Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society intending on joining where I met Bob Moody and others. I believe it was Bob that I was talking to about wanting to get a bigger telescope. He showed me an ad for Astronomics from where I would eventually buy an 8 inch Celestron Dobsonian. I then decided I could start my Messier list again.

Currently, I have found 23 of the 110 Messier objects, since I re-started on 3/27. Those 23 objects are: M1, M3, M13, M35, M36, M37, M38, M41, M42, M43, M44, M45, M51, M57, M65, M66, M67, M78, M81, M82, M97, M104, and M109.

I started the list on 3/27 by finding M42, Orion's Nebula, and the most recent object that I found on 4/2 were the galaxies M81/82.
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Join Us for the Launch of Cosmos 1,the World's First Solar Sail Spacecraft

SolarOn June 21, Cosmos 1 - the world's first solar sail spacecraft - is set to launch atop a converted ICBM from a submerged Russian submarine in the Barents Sea.

COSMOS 1 - UPDATE: June 22

Regrettably, the COSMOS 1 Solar Sail spacecraft was lost shortly after launch. The booster rocket failed to operate as planned, and it appears the COSMOS 1 fell back into the Bering Sea having never reached orbital speeds. AOAS wishes to express our deepest sympathies to the Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios, and we'd just like to say......For Carl's sake...... "Let's try again!"

The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios invite you to join us by becoming a member of the Solar Sail Watch Team. All of the necessary information is described on our web site, including a cooperative linkage we have with Heavens Above for providing viewing information.

If you would like to join our Solar Sail Watch Team, please contact Alice Wakelin at (626) 793-5100 or by email at tps.aw@planetary.org. Thank you for your support.

With best wishes,
Louis D. Friedman
Executive Director
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Moving a Mountain of a Dish

NASA Space Placeby Patrick L. Barry

Giant Deep Space Network antenna in Madrid is moved using four 12-axle, 24-wheel crawlers. (Click here for larger image.)
Your first reaction: "That’s impossible!

How on earth could someone simply pick up one of NASA’s giant Deep Space Network (DSN) antennas—a colossal steel dish 12 stories high and 112 feet across that weighs more than 800,000 pounds—move it about 80 yards, and delicately set it down again?

Yet that's exactly what NASA engineers recently did.

One of the DSN dishes near Madrid, Spain, needed to be moved to a new pad. And it had to be done gingerly; the dish is a sensitive scientific instrument full of delicate electronics. Banging it around would not do.

“It was a heck of a challenge,” says Benjamin Saldua, the structural engineer at JPL who was in charge of the move. “But thanks to some very careful planning, we pulled it off without a problem!”

The Deep Space Network enables NASA to communicate with probes exploring the solar system. Because Earth is constantly rotating, a single antenna on the ground can communicate with a probe for only part of the day, when the probe is overhead. By placing large dishes at three locations around the planet—Madrid, California, and Australia—NASA can maintain contact with spacecraft around the clock.
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Comet Breakup!

Astro ImagingOn June 12th, 2005, as usual, I was imaging comets. I had two comets which I wanted and a third if possible before it became lost in the horizonal muck. I started with 9P/Tempel 1 and found a comet not changed. Hopefully the smack of the impactor will change that. I then slew to a new comet. C/2005 K2 was discovered on May 19th, 2005 (I think) and has been breaking the brightness rules ever since. The close position to Earth has the comet moving very fast and it never seems to be where it is listed to be. I took a series of images on 06/12/2005 and after combining found a small extention in the same area as the Ion tail was to be found.


I asked some questions but received no response with these images. Then on the 14th in the afternoon the first reports that I saw started coming in of a possible split. It was early afternoon here so I started planning my attack. The Moon was a factor but after taking 23 - 45 second images and doing a combine I had what I was after. It was a real thrill to be able to image a comet in the process of splitting. To think that a 4" Refractor and ccd camera in Van Buren could record such an event just flips my trigger. Here is the comet fragmented from the 14th at about 10:30 pm local central time. Thanks, Mike Holloway

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Observing and Drawing a Shadow Transit on Jupiter

Lunar & Planetary
When I discovered on the Sky & Telescope web site that a double shadow transit would take place on Jupiter the evening and early morning hours of June 9, 2005, I decided I wanted to try and observe and record the my observations of the Jovian moons Europa and Io as they crossed the face of Jupiter. When I set up my telescope at about 11:30 that evening, I noticed the entire sky was cloudy. According to the NWS (National Weather Service) the weather was supposed to be clear. The clouds were starting to move out by the time the transit of Europa’s shadow started to appear at approximately 12:20 AM of June 10th. I had to wait another 20 minutes before I could see through a clear patch of sky to begin my observation and my sketches.

As I began my observation, I could see that the first shadow of the two was just visible on the far right side of Jupiter in the lower of the two equatorial cloud belts. At about the same time I noticed a tiny speck on the far left side of the planet’s limb. At first I mistook this to be one of the moons about to disappear behind the planet.

But as time progressed, I realized that the tiny moon was exiting from the face of the planet and that told me that I was seeing Europa and its shadow. Shortly thereafter, a cloud bank moved over the planet and ended my observations for a while.

By 1:20 AM when I ventured outside once again, the sky had again cleared. I knew it wouldn’t last long, however, since I saw lightning off to the west. When I found Jupiter once again I could then see 2 black spots in Jupiter’s lower belt. I estimate that the two shadows were separated by about one-third the overall width of Jupiter. By now I could also see that Io had joined Europa off the left edge of the planet. Ganymede could be seen on the same side but much farther out from the planet. From what I’ve read, seeing both Europa and Io at the same time that I could see their respective shadows on the face of Jupiter is a rare thing. This realization just adds a nice topper to my observation and sketches of the King of the Planets. A little perserverance and patience rewarded me with a view and a pair of drawings that I'll never forget.

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