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First Photos taken of Extrasolar Planets

General News
Digital Image courtesy NASA
The New York Times reports that two groups of astronomers have taken what appears to be possible images of planets orbiting nearby stars. One team found a planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut in the constellation of Picis Austrinus. Fomalhaut is only 25 light-years from the Sun. This team, from the University of California at Berkeley, is lead by Dr. Paul Kalas. “I nearly had a heart attack.” said Dr. Kalas in an e-mail interview when he confirmed his discovery last May.

Dr. Christian Marois, of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, British Columbia, led the other team. His team found three extrasolar planets orbiting HR 8799, a 130 light-year-distant star in Pegasus. Dr. Marois said, “It's the tip of the iceberg. Now that we know they are there, there is going to be an explosion.”

According to Dr. Kalas's calculations, Fomalhaut b is about three times as massive as Jupiter. The planet makes a complete orbit roughly every 872 years, traveling around the inner edge of a immense band of dust orbiting the star.

Read the entire original article on the NY Times web site.
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"The Journey to Palomar" set to debut on AETN-TV

General News

The new documentary film The Journey To Palomar is set to air on Monday, November 10, at 9:00PM on AETN-TV.

This is the story of American astronomer George Ellery Hale's dramatic public and private struggle to build the four largest telescopes in the world, which set the stage for astronomy and space exploration throughout the 20th century, revealing the greatest discoveries since Galileo and Copernicus. More than five years in the making, this documentary traces Hale's lifelong struggle to build these great instruments, culminating with the million-pound telescope on Palomar Mountain --- the most famous telescope in the world.


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Einstein's Personal Telescope Goes On Display

General News
AP Photo - An unidentified man adjusts a telescope that once belonged to Albert Einstein, at the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The 8", 6-foot long telescope that once belonged to of Albert Einstein goes on display this week after a lengthy and expensive restoration project. In fact, a brand new telescope of the same size and focal length would cost only about 1/3 as much as the restoration.

The telescope was reportedly given to Einstein by a friend back in 1954, and has been locked in a storage shed at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem until the early 1990's when it was discovered by a computer specialist at the university. Unfortunately, the computer specialist didn't know what importance it had, and left it in the shed until 2004, when a biologist named Eshel Ophir recognized it for what it was. But only after Ophir mistook another telescope for the famous one. The connection was made after Ophir did some additional research through old archives and photos.

The entire instrument is still original, except for the eyepiece. Apparently, the telescope was not used by Einstein for his work, but was only used for pleasure.

Read the rest of the story on Yahoo News.
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Universe is actually stranger than fiction

General News
Galactic center of the Milky Way from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Science fiction, that is. Scientists revealed last week that there are more strange things in the universe than most had supposed even as recently as five years ago. At last week's annual meeting of U.S. astronomers, research findings were announced that described such oddities as “rogue” black holes that wander the Milky Way galaxy.

As mentioned in an Associated Press article on the Earthlink News website,  scientists describe “baby blue dwarfs” and a giant glob of “dark matter” in a supercluster of galaxies, with forces so great that they have had to invent a new vocabulary to describe the kind of violent behavior associated with these cramped-together galaxies. They refer to such terms as “slow strangulation” and “stripping” as events that unfold when these galaxies collide.

Other phenomena include a massive gas cloud 1 million times as massive as the Sun that is rushing toward the Milky Way at a high rate of speed. of course, since it is 47 quadrillion miles away, the collision with our galaxy won't happen for a another 40 million years.

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Safe Green Laser Pointer Usage

General NewsBy Leonard Lynch

In the past, there has been a lot of discussion in the news regarding green laser pointers. They are a great tool for amateur astronomers, however, there is great concern by the government that a terrorist might attempt to cause an aircraft to crash by spotting one with a laser. This seemed ridiculous to me for a number of reasons, but because laser pointers are so commonly used by the amateur astronomy community, I wanted to understand the facts better before I purchased one. The following is what I found:

The laser pointers commonly used by amateur astronomers are green, continuous wave lasers emitting light centered at 532nm wavelength. They are required by the FDA to have a warning or danger sticker on them that indicates the class of the device, which in turn depends on the maximum output of the device. The FDA regulates the devices because of their potential to cause eye injury. Most amateur laser pointers are either Class II (output <= 1mW) or Class IIIA (output <= 5mW) devices. Even though the industry is required to label their products as described, random tests have shown that some devices exceed their labeled output. Accordingly, studies described below apply to correct output levels.

The FDA has studied and published reports on laser exposure to the human eye and associated injury. These studies show that tissue damage may occur when the eye is exposed to a Class IIIA 5mW green laser at a distance of 10 feet or less. This fact alone should cause astronomers to understand how carefully these lasers should be handled. Even though eye tissue damage is a serious matter, it is not the critical issue with the FAA. Instead, they are concerned with glare, flash-blindness and after-images when an aircrew is exposed to laser light. The FAA has studied how much exposure affects aircrew and the degree to which exposure can be tolerated in relation to where the aircraft is in its takeoff or approach pattern.
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General NewsWe have pulled the winning ticket for our Telescope Raffle, and the winner is, Melantha Sprayberry and family of Van Buren, AR. I made the call to her just one minute after the ticket was drawn by Entertainment Fort Smith editor Tessa Freeman who graciously agreed to be our official "ticket picker" for the evening. Now, we'll go about teaching the Sprayberry family all we can about how to use their new 6" telescope,
Melantha and husband John Sprayberry of Van Buren pose with their brand new 6" telescope on their porch on Friday, July 13th. What a lucky Friday the 13th it's been for them!
and how to use it to find up to a few thousand of the nicer objects in this neighborhood of our Milky Way galaxy.

I took the 6" Celestron StarHopper Dobsonian-style reflector directly to them in Van Buren immediately after the drawing was completed. Upon meeting them I saw a great deal of excitement about winning this telescope, and about the FREE 1st year membership in AOAS as well. We setup their telescope on their front porch and viewed Venus first, and then I finally spotted a very low Saturn and they were able to see the Ring World as well before it dropped behind some trees. It was love at first site, I believe.

These two young folks are going to be very interested students of astronomy. I also feel like they'll fit right in with our other club members.
Tessa Freeman, Calendar Editor for Entertainment Fort Smith graciously accepted our request to be our official "ticket picker" for the drawing on the 6" telescope. Here she and I pose for an unofficially official picture.
I asked Melantha when and where they had bought their ticket, and she said they had bought it at our first big event at the Old Timer's Day Festival in downtown Van Buren on May 12th. And, just to make this win a little bit sweeter, they bought only the one single ticket for $5, making this a win with just slightly lower odds of winning considering how many folks paid the $20 for 5 tickets. This was certainly one Friday the 13th they won't soon forget.

John and Melantha have a daughter who is visiting with relatives this summer, but they told me how much she was going to love getting this new telescope. After I heard them describe this young girl and how excited she had acted when we gave her some copies of the little booklets we were giving out at the Old Timer's event. That's when I remembered them as they were standing at our booth in May, asking all kinds of questions. Its funny how I now recall that I hoped they'd be the winner even though I knew it'd be a pure stroke of luck if they did. Come to think of it, I hoped quite a few people would be the winner. Our efforts at selling raffle tickets brought us into contact with a LOT of nice people who were very interested in astronomy and in our club.
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Own a $475 value 6" Celestron Reflector for as Little as $5

General NewsFRIDAY IS THE DAY!!! One of the luckiest Friday the 13th's in your life if YOUR name is drawn for this 6" telescope and a FREE 1-year membership in AOAS which will be given away at 8:00pm. Who will win? One of only approximately 162 tickets sold, and those are EXCELLENT chances! Winner will be called Friday, July 13th by telephone at 8:00pm SHARP!

AOAS is raffling off this Celestron 6" f/8 StarHopper Dobsonian telescope this summer. Manufacturer's suggested retail price of this telescope is $475.00. The lucky winner may walk away with this great "first telescope" for as little as a $5 donation ticket. If someone wants to increase their chances of winning, they may consider paying $20 to earn 5 donation tickets. Regardless of what anyone wants to spend, your donation is tax-deductible and you DO NOT need to be present at the drawing this July in order to win.

This 6" Celestron telescope will be raffled off to a lucky winner this July. Tickets may be yours for a donation of $5/ticket, or get 5 tickets for a $20 donation. MSRP of this telescope is $475.00

It has been some time since AOAS offered anything as a prize in a raffle drawing, but we've decided to try raising money by this method at the February meeting. We chose this 6" f/8 Dobsonian mounted reflecting telescope as the best choice since we know how much some lucky winner will be able to see and do with it. Many of us, myself included, have owned a 6" or 8" Dobsonian as a first telescope and we all enjoyed many years of great viewing with them.

Now, some lucky person will own their own 6" telescope come this July when we hold a drawing for the winner. Whoever's name we choose DOES NOT have to be present to win, and we will make arrangements with the winner to deliver the telescope in case they are not in attendance at the location and at the time of the drawing.

Each ticket we sell has the donor's name and phone number on it. Every ticket sold will be placed in a bin, and the ONE winning ticket will be drawn from that bin. We'll announce the winner's name and make contact with them immediately to let them know they have won their very own fine quality telescope.

In addition to the telescope, the winner will also receive their first year of membership in AOAS free as an additional free gift. We want to help whoever wins this telescope to be able to use it to the best of their ability, and to the maximum capacity of the instrument itself. Literally thousands of objects are within the reach of a quality 6" reflecting telescope, and we'll be there to help guide the winner of the telescope as they begin a fascinating journey through our wonderful universe.

Tickets will be available at every event, meeting and star party wherever AOAS holds an event between now and July. To get a chance to win this telescope for yourself or for someone you love, just ask to donate $5 for each ticket received, or donate $20 and receive 5 tickets instead of the regular 4. That will effectively increase your chances of winning, and even if you don't happen to be the winner, everyone who makes a donation can count that donated amount as a tax-deductible contribution to AOAS. AOAS is a registered 501 - (C) - 3 non-profit organization since 1987.
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Scale of Our Galactic Neighborhood

General NewsTo an ant, we're giants. To an amoeba, the ant is a giant. If we go the other way we feel like the world is huge until we consider what Mother Earth looks like beside Jupiter, and Jupiter seems pretty small next to our Sun, which we call Sol. Let's take a fun little joy ride around our local neighborhood in this arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Be prepared to feel, well, insignificant by the time we're only a thousand light-years from home.

The rocky planets of our solar system, from Earth to lowly Pluto. This is but the starting point in a little tour of our local star out to around 1,000 light-years away to the red giant star Arcturus.
To our fellow creatures on Earth, our home seems vast and large. And yet I'm constantly imagining how small we are compared to other objects in our solar system, like Jupiter and Saturn. Its one of the more fun things we can use to help the uninitiated in astronomy to get a sense of scale from the very, very large to the very, very small. Its easiest for our visitors to start with how big we are, as humans, and how big other things are compared to that.

Consider the relative sizes of the 5 so-called "rocky" planets within our solar system, these being Earth, Venus, Mars, and Mercury. I include Pluto even though its technically an outer planet, due to it being a non-gaseous, non-giant planet. Even our own moon is larger than Pluto, but we're only comparing sizes of the nine planets for this article.
Comparing relative sizes of the inner planets to the outer planets. Are we feeling small yet? Not quite.....
This is the only time we'll feel like our own Earth is large as we continue outwards from the inner solar system.

As we bring the outer planets to the table, Earth shrinks down to a very small size equal to about 3X the size of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. The rings of Saturn aren't included leaving only the comparative sizes of the spheres themselves. But now we have some idea of what the true relative sizes of the 9 planets of our solar system are when brought close to each other.

Click on Read More for the rest of this story, and by-the-way, to begin feeling very, very, VERY small indeed!
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A Little Old Time Selling

General NewsVan Buren's annual "Old Timer's Days" Festival is May 12 and 13, 2007, and AOAS members are there to raise funds for the club. With the decision to raffle off a 6" Celestron StarHopper Dob, we hit the bricks early on the morning of Saturday, May 12, and set up a display with our award winning AOAS t-shirts and the 6" right out front, and then we started our hawking for donations, "Say, would you like to take a chance at winning this fine 6" telescope? It might be yours come this July 13th for as little as a $5-bill."

AOAS members Donna Gentry and Sylvia Timmons position themselves for selling as we begin a long, humid Saturday trying to raise funds for AOAS. Photo by author.
Man, am I tired! It wasn't a good night rest-wise for me on the 11th, and I was up at 6:00am getting things ready to take downtown to the Old Timer's Days Festival. I didn't spend more than about 3 hrs total over the day, but between the loading, the spending time greeting the public and soliciting donations, then packing up everything until tomorrow's follow-up gig, I'm simply DAWG TARD and hurting from head-to-toe, as we say 'round these h'yer parts. Unfortunately, that's what it takes to make this fund-raising thing happen, you gotta DO something to GET something. For our other AOAS members who helped out today, and that'll be back again tomorrow, we flat worked our tails off to make this a successful effort, and I thank you for such a great effort from everyone.

"Yes you did," "No I didn't," "Yes you did," "No I didn't," Yes you did," "No I didn't,".........
Other AOAS attendees for the first day of the festivities were, Roberta Parks (provider of the overhead cover...THANKS ROBERTA), Dale Hall, Joe Roam, Chuck Larson, and Jon Stone, Jr. Ed Wemmerus and myself, along with new member Leonard Lynch helped out on Sunday, along with return performances by Roberta, Sylvia, and Jon. We had a pretty good 2-day run. The tally for the event was $425 from ALL our efforts since buying the telescope and buying our booth space. Now we're making profits for AOAS, and we hope to see more than $1,000 in the bank by the end of summer. In 2 days, we had 58 more raffle tickets sold, several club t-shirts sold, and even a couple new members. Ed spent half of the entire day on Sunday talking it up and selling everything he could. As I heard Dale Hall say on Saturday, "That Ed is about the best pitch man I've ever seen!" I believe I'll have to agree. As of now, we've sold 74 tickets TOTAL, and Ed has been responsible for nearly 1/2 of all those by himself. I bow to your expertise, Ed! Way to GO!

The rest of the tickets won't sell themselves, and ED can't do it all by himself, so how about sending us an email or a letter to buy your own ticket for this great 6" beginner's telescope and FREE 1st year membership in AOAS so we can help you to learn what your new telescope can do. I'll be happy to mail you a single ticket, or even the bargain-priced 5 tickets for a mere $20 donation. Since its all tax-deductible, you'll never even miss it when you claim it on your 2007 taxes next year. COME ON, its a win-win situation any way you look at it.
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The Antikythera Mechanism and the (Temporary) Death of Science

General News"Science and the technical wonders it produces CAN blaze suddenly towards the heavens and then just as quickly return to the desert sands, lost and forgotten."

The Antikythera Device, a computer from ancient times recently determined to be an accurate mechanism for determining the movements of the Sun, Moon and five known planets of the ancient world. Source: Wikipedia, taken from APOD for December 5, 2006.
One of the quiet but great stories of 2006 was the confirmation that a lump of corroded metal retrieved more than a century ago from the Aegean Sea was in fact an extremely ingenious ancient computer revealing a computational sophistication unmatched until the fourteenth century. In an article in the November issue of Nature, a panel of scientists and classical scholars led by Michael Edmunds released their findings on the Antikythera Mechanism, named after its place of discovery in A.D. 1900 in a Roman shipwreck. Said Edmunds, "Before its sojourn on the sea bed, (the Antikythera Mechanism) computed and displayed the movement of the Sun, the Moon and possibly the planets around Earth, and predicted the dates of future eclipses. It’s one of the most stunning artifacts we have from classical antiquity."

The Mechanism, enclosed within a wooden case a little bit smaller than a shoebox, contains at least 30 gear wheels, each one handcut from a single sheet of bronze, and ranging in size from nearly the width of the case to less than a centimeter across. On the front and sides are a number of dials and windows showing the zodiac, the day of the year, the phases of the moon, and the positions of the sun, moon and five planets known at the time. On the back are two spiral dials--one showing the 235 month Metonic cycle, which correlates the orbit of the moon around the earth with the earth's orbit around the sun, and the other the 223 month Saros cycle, used to predict ecllipses.

We even have the names of who could have built this technological wonder. The wrecked ship that the Mechanism was on could be dated to sometime in the first century B.C. and probably from the Greek islands of Rhodes and Cos. On the device itself was a dial to compensate for errors in the Egyptian calendar which was used at that time. This dial was adjusted in such a way that researchers were able to determine an exact date - 80 B.C. - when the Mechanism was last set. Classical scholars also know that just seven years earlier, in 87 B.C., a Greek named Geminus wrote a book which describes a device that sounds remarkably like the Antikythera Mechanism.
Jay Hilgartner sits at a computer station in today's modern Library of Alexandria where he recently visited. The new library is built on the site of the ancient Library of Alexandria, where detailed plans for building a device such as "The Antikethera Mechanism" may have been kept. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted. Click HERE for interior of library, and HERE for exterior.
Perhaps it was built by Geminus himself or by another astronomer mentioned by him - Poseidonius of Rhodes. Poseidonius is also mentioned by Cicero as the designer of an instrument which records the movement of the Sun, Moon, and the five planets. Or, others say, it may have been designed centuries earlier by the brilliant Archimedes or by another Rhodes’ astronomer Hipparchus, who died around 120 B.C.

Suffice it to say that the sophistication of the Antikythera Mechanism gives all lovers of science and civilization pause, for it challenges the idea of continued uninterrupted human progress. Science and the technical wonders it produces CAN blaze suddenly towards the heavens and then just as quickly return to the desert sands, lost and forgotten. Indeed, the Hellenistic world that the Mechanism was created in did just that.

The great city of Alexandria in Egypt, the center of Hellenistic culture, once boasted a library and museum containing over half a million books, attracting scholars from all the known world. It was the first deliberately built great research center, museum, and library all in one, lavishly supported by the first three Ptolemy pharaohs. The library flourished for almost 300 years until it was burned in 48 B.C. during Julius Caesar’s war with Pompey. Many books were lost, but many also survived in a branch library in Alexandria at a temple complex called the Serapeum. With the Roman conquest, Alexandria’s golden age had passed but scholars still regarded the city as the place to complete their studies, that is, until the fourth century A.D. when the Serapeum was destroyed by an angry Christian mob. The books were either burned or lost in time. It is sobering to think that a scroll describing how to construct the Antikythera Mechanism may have been destroyed either in the library’s first fire or in the destruction of the Serapeum.

Click read more for the rest of this fascinating story.

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