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Black Holes: Feeling the Ripples

NASA Space Place
Astronomers have finally confirmed something they had long suspected: there is a super-massive black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy.  The evidence? A star near the galactic center orbits something unseen at a top speed of 5000 km/s.  Only a black hole 2 million times more massive than our Sun could cause the star to move so fast.  (See the Oct. 17, 2002, issue of Nature for more information.)

Still, a key mystery remains. Where did the black hole come from? For that matter, where do any super-massive black holes come from? There is mounting evidence that such "monsters" lurk in the middles of most galaxies, yet their origin is unknown. Do they start out as tiny black holes that grow slowly, attracting material piecemeal from passing stars and clouds?  Or are they born big, their mass increasing in large gulps when their host galaxy collides with another galaxy?

A new space telescope called LISA (short for "Laser Interferometer Space Antenna") aims to find out. Designed by scientists at NASA and the European Space Agency, LISA doesn't detect ordinary forms of electromagnetic radiation such as light or radio waves. It senses ripples in the fabric of space-time itself--gravitational waves.
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Most Distant Object in Solar System Discovered

Lunar & Planetary
March 15, 2004 -- NASA-funded researchers have discovered the most distant object orbiting Earth's Sun. The object is a mysterious planet-like body three times farther from Earth than Pluto.

"The Sun appears so small from that distance that you could completely block it out with the head of a pin," said Dr. Mike Brown, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., associate professor of planetary astronomy and leader of the research team. The object, called "Sedna" for the Inuit goddess of the ocean, is 13 billion kilometers (8 billion miles) away, in the farthest reaches of the solar system.

This is likely the first detection of the long-hypothesized "Oort cloud," a faraway repository of small icy bodies that supplies the comets that streak by Earth. Other notable features of Sedna include its size and reddish color. After Mars, it is the second reddest object in the solar system. It is estimated Sedna is approximately three-fourths the size of Pluto. Sedna is likely the largest object found in the solar system since Pluto was discovered in 1930.
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STARS IN THE PARKS

Education OutreachAOAS and the Ft Smith Parks Dept have teamed up to give the public an opportunity to view stars and planets from here within the city of Ft Smith. We call our program, “Stars in the Park”, and these outings will utilize the materials from the Night Sky Network, a joint collaboration between NASA, JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. These events are FREE and open to the public.

The dates and locations for these public nights are as follows:

MARCH 26 OR 27 (CAC) (I say OR because if Friday's are clouded out, we'll do Saturday)
APRIL 17 (CAC)
MAY 21 OR 22 (CAC OR MLK) CAROL ANN CROSS PARK
JUNE 19 (CAC)
AUGUST 21 (CAC OR MLK) MARTIN LUTHER KING PARK
SEPTEMBER 17 or 18 (CAC)
OCTOBER 16 (CAC)
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Comets On The Doorstep - Where Once There Were Two, Now There Are THREE !

Lunar & Planetary
Comet 2002 T7
Mike Holloway © 2003
Comet - Small Solar System body, consisting of frozen volatiles and dust. Comets are believed to be icy planetesimals remaining from the time of the Solar System's formation 4.6 billion years ago. The word "comet" derives from the Greek kometes, a long-haired star, which aptly describes brighter examples.

Source - Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia, 2002: Philip's (Division of Octopus Pub) p. 89-91

If all goes well, a pair of bright comets may grace our skies in late April through May, and one may linger into the early summer. Not since Comet Hyakutake in 1996 and Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 have there been such bright comets well placed for viewing. These "small Solar System bodies" are known as C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) and C/2002 T7 (LINEAR).

Now, add comet C/2004 F4 Bradfield to the mix. Bradfield has just recently been discovered by 76 year old Australian amateur astronomer William A. Bradfield in March, but wasn't officially named until April12th. Bradfiled adds this to his previous 17 comet discoveries since 1972.

Comet Bradfield was not visible to this observer the morning of April 25 at approximately 5:30-6:00 am. Estimates are that it was at magnitude 4.4 today, and that it will dim by 1/2 magnitude per every 2 days over the next week, making it nearly impossible to find without binoculars. See the Astronomy Picture of the Day for April 27 for a time-lapse image of Bradfield rising at: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html
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Welcome to the Night Sky Network

Education Outreach
AOAS is one of the first clubs in the U.S. to take part in an astronomy and space science educational outreach effort. The Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society (AOAS) has been accepted into this new program funded and promoted by NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab). The purpose of the program, known as The Night Sky Network, and the function of the club as well, is to make available to the public and area school programs, public observing nights to introduce the night sky to every one interested in astronomy.

AOAS has received our PlanetQuest Outreach ToolKit designed to help explain difficult concepts and to encourage thought. The ToolKit contains the materials needed to present lessons on four different aspects of astronomy:
  1. HOW DO WE FIND PLANETS AROUND OTHER STARS? Participants manipulate various demonstration materials to simulate star wobble (astrometry and radial velocity), transits (photometry), and direct imaging of planets.
  2. TELESCOPE TREASURE HUNT: HOW DO STARS AND PLANETS FORM? Tour the telescopes at a star party to view different objects that contribute to stellar and planetary formation, place stickers on a Telescope Treasure List.
  3. WHERE ARE THE DISTANT WORLDS? Use a star map to find and identify stars with known extrasolar planets.
  4. WHY DO WE PUT TELESCOPES IN SPACE? Participants investigate poor simulated seeing conditions through a mock telescope.
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Hubble Digs Deeply, Toward Big Bang

Astro Imaging
Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the view represents the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind. The snapshot reveals the first galaxies to emerge from the so-called "dark ages," the time shortly after the big bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe. The new image should offer new insights into what types of objects reheated the universe long ago.

This historic new view is actually two separate images taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer (NICMOS). Both images reveal galaxies that until now were too faint to be seen by ground-based telescopes, o reven in Hubble's previous faraway looks, called the Hubble Deep Fields, taken in 1995 and 1998.

"Hubble takes us to within a stone's throw of the big bang itself,"says Massimo Stiavelli of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field project lead. The combination of ACS and NICMOS images will be used to search for galaxies that existed between 400 and 800 million years (ranging from redshift 7 to 12) after the big bang. A key question for astronomers is whether the universe appears to be the same at this very early time as it did when the cosmos was between 1 and 2 billion years old.
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Comets - Ghosts of Myth and Legend - Tails of Creation

Education Outreach
AOAS Presents: Dr. P. Clay Sherrod of Arkansas Sky Observatory, speaking on "Comets" at our regular meeting on April 16, 2004, in the Rose Room at Creekmore Park beginning at 7 pm. The public is invited, and there is NO admission fee.

An educator and researcher in earth and physical sciences, astronomy and archeology, Dr. P. Clay Sherrod ("Dr. Clay" as his students knew him) has devoted over three decades to the advancement of public knowledge and appreciation of the pure and applied sciences. Now retired but continuing private research and outreach programs, Sherrod has published hundreds of papers and documents in scientific journals and publications worldwide, and numerous books in archeology, meteorology and climatology, archeoastronomy, astronomy and biomedical research ( http://www.arksky.org/pubs.htm ). Advanced degrees that have led to the diversity and cross-connecting of these sciences include astronomy and space science, archeology, physics and anthropology.

Complete descriptions of all past works and present pursuits from his private observatory and research facilities - Arkansas Sky, Inc - can be found at the website for the Arkansas Sky Observatory at http://www.arksky.org.Arkansas Sky Inc. and Arkansas Sky Observatory is now a completely private facility operating through the Sherrod family trusts.
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Amateur Astronomers For Hire

General NewsWednesday, March 03, 2004

WASHINGTON - Amateur astronomers could receive awards of $3,000 for discovering and tracking near-Earth asteroids under legislation approved by the House Wednesday.

"Given the vast number of asteroids and comets that inhabits Earth's neighborhood, greater efforts for tracking and monitoring these objects are critical," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., sponsor of the legislation that passed 404-1.
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Mike Holloway - Astrophotographer

Astro Imaging
Mike Holloway is an amateur astronomer and an avid astrophotographer who is especially interested in imaging comets. Mike loves comets. But by his own admission, he's not sure why that is. "There's just something about comets that I love to photograph," says Mike, "but I'm really not sure why. I'm just driven to do it."

Mike takes his comet photography VERY seriously. From his home and private observatory about 12 miles north of Van Buren, Arkansas, Mike spends his clear evenings at his computer monitor acquiring his images with a 4" Takahashi refractor telescope, which is piggy-back mounted on a Meade 10" f/6.3 SCT on a fork mount. He uses an SBIG cooled CCD camera to gather the light for an image and then downloads the image to his computer where he manipulates the image with Photoshop 7 to bring out fine detail in whatever comet or deep-sky object happens to hold his interest. His images in our members astrophotos section testify to his desire for perfection in his work.
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AOAS Honors Dr. Larson

General News
AOAS Honors Dr. Chuck Larson With Honorary Lifetime Membership Award

Dr. Chuck Larson was honored by AOAS with only our second ever, Honorary Lifetime Member Award at our December 19, 2003 meeting at Creekmore Park. Dr. Larson serves AOAS as our Education Director, and has held this position for nearly 8 years since first joining our club. He now joins our first honoree, Jay Hilgartner, whom we honored with a Lifetime Membership Award in 1994.

We made Jay Hilgartner an Honorary Lifetime Member while he was still employed as Chief Meteorologist for local television station KFSM-TV5 in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Jay was instrumental in TV5's purchase and distribution of some 12,000 solar eclipse viewing glasses for the May 10, 1994 annular eclipse.
The path of annularity passed close to the Ft Smith area, and from there the moon eclipsed approximately 94% of the Sun's face. TV5 distributed more than 8,500 of the eclipse glasses free to area schools throughout their viewing area, and sold the remainder of the glasses to the general public at $1/pair. About two weeks after the eclipse, Jay presented AOAS with a check for nearly $2,900 which was the money they raised from the sale of eclipse glasses, and was the single largest donation to AOAS until now.

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