Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
April, 2001

In this Issue

April Meetings Astronomy Day 2001
Head School Star Gaze St. Bede Star Gaze
What’s Up? Kisatchie Star Party Reports
Stolen Telescopes Using Finderscopes To Polar Align
April Meetings

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, April 6, at 8:00PM, in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering Building, on the campus of Auburn University.  Anyone from the Montgomery area who’d like a ride should be ready to leave for Auburn at 7:00PM from my house at 518 Seminole Dr. in Montgomery.

Our star party this month will be on Saturday, April 21 at Cliff Hill’s Farm

Astronomy Day -- Saturday, April 28
Rick Evans 

 W.A. Gayle Planetarium Director, Rick Evans writes:

 The tentative agenda is on our web page, if you want to peruse it and give me your thoughts.  Any inputs would be appreciated.  We are trying to make this the BEST to-date.  I have a tremendous staff on board right now, and their efforts are reMARKable.  (Click on any image to go to the next page, then select “Upcoming Events”)

Thanks in advance....

 Rick "EZ" Evans

The Tentative Agenda

5:00 PM Family Science Night, sponsored by Tuskegee University,  W.A. Gayle Planetarium,  Montgomery Public Schools, Macon County  School System, and Lee County Schools. 
Guest Speaker:   Dr. Matthew Bobrowsky
Topic:      Window on  the Universe

6:00 PM Intermission
6:15 PM  Guest Speaker, Mr. Roy Young, NASA engineer  from George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville Alabama 
7:00 PM Auburn Astronomical Society presentation 
7:15 PM “Saving the Night Sky” planetarium program 
7:30 PM “Challenger Tribute” 
7:45 PM  Tour of the Night Sky - spring/summer  constellations. 
8:00 PM Telescopic viewing (outside)

On Going Events
Astronomy Quiz
Telescope and Accessory "Swap Table"
Telescope Assistance/Advice in optimizing YOUR instrument.

This will be our fourth year of our Astronomy Day events at the planetarium (see the Web pages under the AAS “Field Trips” link).  We’ve had great turn-outs for each of these.  They have been mutually beneficial for both the AAS and the planetarium.  Please let me know if you plan to help us out with your telescope again this year.  If this will be your first Astronomy Day with us, the W. A. Gayle Planetarium is located at Oak Park, near Jackson Hospital, in Montgomery. 

Remember to bring any telescope(s) or accessories that you'd like to sell or trade for the "Swap Table". 

Rick has asked if there is something that we could donate as a door prize -- perhaps a year’s membership in AAS, or a Star Party for the Lucky Winner’s school.  We can talk about it at the meeting. 

Special thanks to Rick Evans, Rick Fanning, and Mark Brown for all of the efforts toward making this year another success.

Head Elementary School Star Gaze 2000 

On December 5, Jack McDaniel, Mark Brown, Joe Champion, Russell Whigham, and Tom and Julie McGowan returned to Head School at the invitation of principal, Susan Mallett, for our annual star party for the students, faculty, and parents.  In an unexpected gesture of appreciation, Ms. Mallett wrote a letter (see below) to each of our volunteers along with individual photographs of us at the telescopes, Head School ballpoint pens,  and thank you notes and drawings by the kids.  I’ll bring the “thank you” packets to the meeting and to our Astronomy Day event for those who helped.

December 6, 2000

Dear "Star Gazing Team" from the Auburn Astronomical Society:
From all of us here at Head School, to each one of you, THANK YOU from
the bottom of our hearts! We enjoyed last night's "Star Gazing Party" so
very much! The comments heard throughout the evening, and this morning
upon our arrival back at school, were all most complimentary.  Everyone
stated how much fun they had, and how much they found out that they didn't
know about the "night skies." They all hoped that we could plan another
evening like this during the school year. 50, if ya'll need a place to "set up"
and gaze with an audience, please let us know. 'I: think that we can plan
activities around this to ensure good attendance.

I hope you enjoy the students' pictures and words of thanks to you. Those
involved in last night's event were so excited to be able to draw you their
impressions of the evening's activities. Also, please use the photos in any
way you want to -- they are yours to keep.

Again, thank you for the time and effort involved from each of you. I really
appreciated this, and I know that it was most worthwhile for the attendees.
We would love for any of you to visit the school at any time, if you would
like, to share your avocation with the students. They would eagerly tune in,
as they seem to love the night skies!


Susan Mallett

St. Bede School Star Party

On March 5, AAS members Jim McLaughlin, Tom and Julie McGowan, and Russell Whigham hosted a telescopic tour of the Moon and planets for Nick Bourke’s sixth grade science class students at St. Bede Elementary School.  We were blessed with another wonderful night and were rewarded by the enthusiasm of the awe-struck students.  Thanks to Jim McLaughlin for making all of the arrangements.

What’s Up?

April will be the last month to observe our old friends Jupiter and Saturn before they disappear in the Sun’s glare.  But, we’ll still have plenty to look at this spring and summer:

Mars will be nearest to Earth around the summer solstice, but is already out shining it’s rival, Antares.  There’s a wonderful little freeware program that you can download from Sky Publishing’s site that will show the central meridian and surface features for any date that you plan to observe.
Mars Previewer II 

There is currently a huge cluster of sunspots that has produced aurora as far south as Arizona.  Check out the Sun Spot Animations at 

Comet LINEAR 2001 A2 (which was not expected to exceed double digit magnitude) has recently undergone an unexpected outburst.  It’s presently in the southeastern region of Orion, headed for Lupus. 

Kisatchie Star Party Report, Part I
Submitted by Tom McGowan 

Hello Everyone, 
I was able to attend the Kisatchie Star Party held in the Kisatchie State Forest in western Louisiana from March 22-25. It is a 9 hour drive from the Montgomery area. Underestimating the drive time, I left at 1:30pm on Thursday, hoping to arrive by 8:00pm. Well, I finally pulled in about 10:30pm and had to wait until midnight to pull onto the observing field. I met a fellow Alabamian from the Birmingham area during the wait. He helped me unload and setup my 20-inch Dob. The skies were fair with some clouds around the horizon. Most people were sleeping by now. About 1:30 the sky was almost totally clear but with a heavy dew factor. We observed mostly Messier objects and a few NGC's until about 3:30am when fatigue set in. Sleep was uncomfortable in the back of my car. 
    Friday morning, I woke early and decided to find a spot to set up my tent. As I was about to do this, I was greeted by a fellow Auburn Astronomy Club member, Eddie Kirkland from Auburn. It was a nice surprise. I setup the tent and we all move our scopes to a more central area. 
    The field is rather spacious. The skies are fairly dark with no light domes. Overall attendance was about 120 people thru the weekend. The only on site facilities are porta-potties. A shower can be had about 3 miles away at a little country store. Same with food. 
    Friday night, I was hoping to do a Messier marathon. At dusk I started with Jupiter and Saturn, leaving all who looked much impressed.  I started on the Messier objects, but soon had visitors hoping for soon views. The next 5 hours were spent sharing the skies with all that came by, looking at the favorites M42, M81+82, M3, NGC4565,.... The nicest view was of M51 using a Bino-view. Talk about 3-dimensional! 
    Clouds rolled in about 2:00am. The following morning I awoke to light rain. The forecast was for increasing rain until Sunday and with that, Eddie 
and I decided to call it quits. 
    It was certainly fun though a bit tough for the unprepared camper 

Tom McGowan

Kisatchie Star Party Report, Part II
 Submitted by Eddie Kirkland 

 I thought I would drop you a line about the Kisatchie Star Party last week.   I arrived Thursday afternoon to a five acre clearing in the middle of Kisatchie National Forest near Natchitoches, Louisiana. I took my 8-inch Celestron Dob and 120mm f/8.3 refractor.  By nightfall there were probably 60-80 people present.   High cirrus clouds were scattered which pretty much vanished by dark, but skies were still hazy from high humidity.  Early targets for the evening were, of course, Jupiter and Saturn. Seeing was a little above average, transparency not great.   Besides my scopes, I viewed the Gas Giants through a 6-inch refractor, a 6inch Intes Mac-Cass (MK66), a very good 12.5-inch truss Dob, and others.   Having no intentions of doing the Messier Marathon that weekend, I did visit quite a few Messier objects.   About 1 AM some clouds moved in, at which time most observers called it a night, myself included. 

The next morning as I was walking around looking at scopes and talking to folks, I noticed a 20-inch truss Dob and a familiar face moving around it.   He had arrived late and was in the process of setting up his tent.   I heard him speak to some others nearby and was pretty sure from his Boston accent that it was Tom McGowan of our club. Upon introductions I discovered that it was indeed Tom (I had only met him once over a year ago). 

Friday night’s skies were considerably better.   I opened up again with the Gas Giants and was rewarded with much better views than the night before.   We observed the beginning of either a transit or occultation of one of the moons of Jupiter just as it was setting.   Among the objects we viewed that night were the Orion Nebula (always awe-inspiring to me), many of the open 
clusters and globulars.  I guess the best views of the night for me were M51 and M5 (and some others)   through Tom’s 20-inch using a neighbor’s binoviewer.   Having never viewed through a binoviewer before, I was awe-struck. The globular was particularly 3-D like.   Another  object that was amazing was ”Thor’s Helmut” in Tom’s scope.   As an approaching front with lightning 
could be seen in the north and clouds began to obscure the sky around 1:30 AM, many people began to take down or cover their scopes for the night (myself included).  Saturday morning was completely overcast with the promise of rain most of the day and night.   I decided to call it a weekend and head for home. 

All in all, I was very pleased with the Kisatchie Star Party; there were overall about 120 attending.   I got to meet some new people and place some faces with people I had “talked” to on the various astronomy forums.   I also got to view through some different scopes and dream (plan) of owning a few, but don’t tell my wife.  I had such a good time, I plan to attend next month’s (April18-22) Mid-South Star Gaze in Mississippi; anyone want to join me. 

Eddie Kirkland 


Telescope Stolen, Part I

Mr. Randy Rogers had his personal scope stolen out of storage in the Dallas Texas area, a 25” F-5 Obsession Dobsonian Telescope.
A Galaxy Primary Mirror #605 with Feathertouch Focuser, Hi-Res DSC’s, Sky Commander, and Light Shroud for the OTA. A Brass Plate with the Inscription “Mike Benz” is on the scope.
Also stolen was a Wooden Eyepiece Case with 14 Eyepieces—Naglers, Pano’s, Tak LE’s, etc.
This scope was stolen in the Dallas TX. area, and a reward is offered. 
Contact Randy Rogers with any pertinent info at:
Please keep an eye out for it.

Stolen Telescopes, Part II

Although it does not happen often, it does appear. I hear once or twice a year about someone having some equipment stolen or misplaced. I have also noticed that the Astronomy community is pretty good about distributing the information around. This is good as the info gets out, but I felt there could be a better way. For this reason I started a group on Yahoo. The groups sole propose is to broadcast notices to members about lost or stolen Astronomy related equipment. My goal is to get every person in astronomy subscribed to this group. By having as many as possible aware of a occurrence there exists a much higher chance of recovering the product. If this group ever recovers one piece of equipment or prevents one from being stolen it will have served its purpose. 

Please visit the link and join the group. Please distribute this to as many people as you can. Please help each other.

The e-mail for the group is. 

Rob Zimmerman
Public Observing Coordinator -  Texas Astronomical Society (Dallas, TX)

Using Finderscopes To Polar Align, Part I
by Dr. Rich Caruana

[Editor’s Note:  These two items were written in response to a list member’s question on the SCT-Users mail list.  Since this is how I do my polar alignment, I thought the rest of you might enjoy it. RDW]

Yes, printing a “finder” chart for Polaris is a good way to do polar alignment by finder.  It’s particularly good if you don’t have a finder specifically designed for polar alignment.
Yet another approach is the following:

0) level tripod (optional, but usually a good idea) and do rough    polar alignment by aiming fork towards Polaris
1) set scope to sidereal time so RA circle is correct
2) set scope to Polaris's RA and Declination using RA/Dec controls
4) adjust mount using azimuth and altitude (not RA/Dec) until Polaris is centered in high power eyepiece, working your way up from low power EPs if necessary

This works as well as using a finder for alignment, and is easier if you have the sidereal time handy. Note that Polaris’s RA and Dec changes slowly (due to precession), so you only need to look this up every few years.

P.S.  This last approach can be used to polar align a scope using any visible object for which you know the RA/Dec.  I’ve used this in daytime using the sun for alignment (using charting software to get the sun’s RA/Dec).  Once aligned this way, I was then able to find Jupiter and Venus in daylight.  (Be VERY careful using a scope without a solar filter when the sun is up!!!!!  Polar align using the sun with the filter in place, and don’t remove the filter until the scope is aimed far enough away from the sun that there’s no danger of sun light hitting the primary.  And be very careful about moving the scope, slewing, letting the sun rotate into the FOV, etc.  Your eyes fry almost instantly, and a scope can self destruct or set something on fire in seconds.  I once intentionally removed the solar filter on a C8 for 5 seconds while it was aimed at the sun to see how bright the projected image would be, but accidentally left a neutral density filter on the eyepiece.  As you’d expect, the ND filter absorbed most of the energy.  It shattered in 2 seconds!  Don’t do this kind of thing around children, or even adults who don’t understand the risks.)

Using Finderscopes To Polar Align, Part II
by Dr. Rich Caruana

Once the finder scope is aligned with the scope’s RA axis (see below), it’s fairly easy to polar align using the finder. It’s not as accurate as drift alignment, but you can get close and then use drift to zero in.  You really only need the accuracy of drift alignment for photography.
To align the finder to the scope, rotate the finder until moving the scope up and down using the declination control causes a star to slide up and down on the vertical cross hair.  This makes the cross hairs parallel with the RA and declination axes of the scope.  Then use the finder bracket adjustment screws to make a star that is centered in a high-power field of view through the scope fall exactly on the cross hairs.  Double check to make sure that the finder hasn’t rotated by checking that the start still slides up and down the vertical cross hair when you adjust the scope’s declination.
Note that the finder alignment procedure in the preceding paragraph is only approximate.  The cross hairs will be accurately parallel to the scope’s RA and declination axes, but the center of the finder may not be perfectly aligned to the scope’s polar axis (RA axis) because the optical axis of the main mirror may not correspond exactly with the RA axis.  It probably will be close.  Since you’ll want to use the finder to find things, you probably don’t want to adjust the finder so that it points to the true RA axis if that differs from the optical axis. 
If you leave the finder on the scope and don’t knock it, or use a dovetail plate to make reattaching the finder precise, you should rarely have to align the finder to the scope as described above. I do it a couple of times a year.
Before using the finder to polar align, set the scope to exactly 90 degrees declination.  Physically move the scope and tripod so that Polaris is visible in the finder. Adjust the scope’s RA until swinging the scope in declination moves stars up/down the vertical cross hair in the finder.
To polar align the scope using the finder, use the guiding plate to figure out where Polaris should appear in the finder scope. The inner circle on the guide plate is the time in hours (24 hour clock).  The outer circle is the month and day.  Align the current time with the current date (correcting for daylight savings time if necessary).  Then use the tab the moves along the outer circles and the year to find where Polaris should be.  Then look through the finder at Polaris and adjust the tripod and/or base’s azimuth and altitude until Polaris is in the right place.  DO NOT ADJUST THE SCOPE’S DECLINATION OR RA!
Don’t worry too much about getting Polaris in exactly the right place. There are errors in this method that prevent it from being perfect. Four of these are: 1) the optical axis probably isn’t perfectly aligned to the polar axis; 2) the guiding plate doesn’t take into account your longitudinal distance from the center of your local time zone, and thus can be in error by as much as +-30 minutes; 3) the magnification of the finder scope probably isn’t exactly what it should be so the circles may not be exactly where they should be; 4) on SCT’s with mechanical setting circles, it’s hard to set the scope to 90 degrees declination more accurately than about +- 0.2 degrees.
Finder scope alignment works well for visual observing. It’s possible to make it more accurate by correcting for the errors above, but it’s probably not worth it—drift alignment is easier.  Do an accurate drift alignment some night, then carefully check the position of Polaris in the finder after setting the scope to 90 deg declination.  If Polaris falls right where the guide plate says it should, then you’re lucky and none of the sources of error are large for you (or you’re even luckier and they cancel for your scope and location).

Hope this helps.

Rich Caruana

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,