Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
May, 2001

In this Issue

May Meetings Astronomy Day 2001
Member News Atlanta Astronomy Expo
May Meetings

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, May 4, at 8:00 PM, in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering Building, on the campus of Auburn University.  Anyone from the Montgomery area who’d like to share a ride should be ready to leave for Auburn at 7:00 PM from my house at 518 Seminole Dr. in Montgomery.

Mark Pratt has suggested that because we’ve had so many marginal (or totally clouded out) star parties lately, that we schedule future events for the Friday nearest the New Moon as the primary date and the following Saturday as an alternate/additional date.  Since it doesn’t get dark this time of year until after 8:00 PM, most of us should have time to have supper and still have time to arrive at the site before dark.  Let’s give it a try -- our star party this month will be at Cliff Hill’s Farm on Friday May 18 and/or Saturday, May 19 from sunset ‘til you drop or the Sun gets in your eyes the next morning.  It will be a good chance to try out that new eyepiece that you give to your wife for Mother’s Day.  Thanks for the suggestion, Mark!

Astronomy Day 2001

On Saturday, April 28, Rick Evans, Director of the W. A. Gayle Planetarium, in Montgomery, with the able assistance of  planetarium employees and AAS members, Rick Fanning and Mark Brown, planned and executed the best Astronomy Day since we joined forces for the event back in 1998. 

AAS members began arriving at the planetarium just before 3:00 PM, setting up their telescopes on the lawn in the open area in front of the facility.  Following two days of absolutely clear skies, we were now looking up at a fairly dense blanket of cirrus clouds, with occasional patches of blue sky to keep us optimistic about the evening’s viewing prospects.  The planetarium staff provided attractive name tags and Subway Sandwiches and drinks for us again this year.  Park visitors and Astronomy Day guests who had arrived early, strolled around the  telescopes wanting to “see something through the telescopes”. Scott Thompson and Mark Pratt had their instruments equipped with solar filters and showed the guests the prominent sunspot group when clouds permitted.  Scott had brought incredible images of the sunspots and the Moon (taken the night before just before occulting third magnitude, Eta Geminorum.   Scott was also interviewed by the WAKA, Channel 8 reporter.  The segment was aired on the 6:00 PM news.  If any of you have photographs that you made at Astronomy Day, please attach them as .JPG’s and send them to me for inclusion in the Web page for this year’s event.

Several guests brought their personal telescopes.  Most (if not all) received some much needed instruction on the poorly documented 60mm “department store” refractors,  by our de facto tutor, Rhon Jenkins

At: 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 opened the evening’s activities.  Dr. Matthew Bobrowsky began the evening’s programs speaking on “Window on  the Universe”, followed by Mr. Roy Young, NASA engineer  from George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville Alabama.  AAS president, Dr. Rhonald Jenkins narrated the Power Point presentation, produced by Rick Evans, promoting the Auburn Astronomical Society.  This was followed by  planetarium programs, “Saving the Night Sky”,  “Challenger Tribute”  and   “Tour of the Night Sky – Spring and Summer Constellations”.  The society’s contributions to the door prizes were:

· Free membership in the society through December 31, 2001 
· A free Star Gaze for the lucky winner’s school or scout group
By the conclusion of the indoor presentations, the clouds had mostly dissipated, and the guests adjourned outside to queue up at our fourteen telescopes.  Kids and parents alike were dazzled at the detail on the five-day-old Moon; some returning time after time to see the sunlit and shadowed lunar craters, rilles and mountains.  A few of the scopes had a clear shot between the trees, at Jupiter with its Galilean Moons all in close proximity to their parent planet.

Michelle Wilson, Layton Smith, Kevin (?) and Larry Mitchell all singed up on our e-mail list.  Welcome to the group! 

Visitor, Gail Smitherman, of Selma, deserves special recognition.  Gail has suffered being an amateur astronomy all alone there – observing with her 10-inch Starfinder without the benefit of friends who share her passion.  She reports that she’s been following AAS via the AAS Web pages and drove over to meet us in person.  Thanks for the effort, Gail.  Good luck finding kindred spirits in the Selma area, but until then, we hope you’ll continue to keep up with what we’re doing.

Special thanks to all who made time to help:

Rick and Justin Allen: 9.25-inch SCT, 8-inch Dobsonian, and a Nexstar 80GT
Russell Whigham: Celestron C-11 SCT, Criterion RV-6 Newtonian
Rhon and Joyce Jenkins: 18-inch StarMaster Dobsonian
Scott Thompson: 7-inch AstroPhysics Refractor 
Tom and Jennie Crenshaw: Meade TeleStar 114
John Williams: 10-inch Meade LX 50 
Ricky Wood:  12-inch Meade LX-200 SCT
Robert Rock: 90mm ETX
Mark Pratt:  90mm Meade ETX Maksutov and 70mm binoculars
Tom McGowan 20-inch Midnightelescope Dobsonian
And, to Nichole Long, David Wayne Key,  and Marty & Duane Skelton lending moral support. 

And finally, huge thanks to Mark, his co-worker Rick and his other co-worker, Rick, for weeks of planning and promotion, and to officer Youngblood, who has provided security at the event every year.  Can we expect even bigger and better next year?  I’ll bet so.

Member News

Alan Akin , of Hamilton  GA owns a Orion Short Tube 80, enjoys the study of stellar distances, and  hopes to get into Astrotography someday.  Here is Alan’s biographical profile, also posted on the “Who R We” Web page.

1. Are you a seasoned amateur astronomer or just getting into the hobby? 

I do occasional star hopping when it's clear enough. Alone, unfortunately, most of the time

2. What was your first experience that attracted you to astronomy? 

I have always been fascinated with the heavens. It's hard to say where it started.

3. Tell us a little about your family members; spouse? kids? siblings? significant other?

I grew up on a small farm with my parents, a brother and a sister. I am the youngest. 

4. Can you tell us a little about your formal education?

I am an Auburn student going to Southern Union.  Have had two semesters of Astronomy at Columbus State in Georgia

5. Do you have any pets? What kind?; How Many?

I go home on weekends to see my sisters children and our family Rottweiler. It's nice living in a close family.

6. Where do you work? If you're still in school, have you chosen a career?

I work as a Machinist in the Auburn University Machine shop. I am studying Mechanical Engineering.

7. Besides astronomy, what other hobbies do you enjoy?

Hiking, Biking, In-line skating and Model rail roading.

8. What was your first or favorite car?

65 Ford F-100 pick up truck. Still have it but it's behind the house. Gets me where I need to go, sometimes.

9. What was your first or most interesting job?

I have enjoyed working at most of the jobs I've had. The one I have now in the Machine shop is my favorite though.

10. Tell us about your favorite vacation.

Have had many vacations with my family growing up. They were all lovely. To the mountains and to the Beach.

11. Have you ever lived in some other part of the U.S. or another country? Where?; When?

I Visited Mexico for one week. It was lots of fun, even though I was sick most of the time. 

13. This is your space. Tell us anything else about yourself that you'd like to share.

I am moving to Florida Tech this summer to work in the REU program as an intern Astronomer. They are going to send me to Arizona to work at Kitt Peak. I am so excited

Thanks for the profile, Alan.  We’re all a little green with envy over you position at Kitt Peak.  Welcome to the group!

Longtime newsletter list member, John Williams of Prattville, made it official and paid his dues while he was at Astronomy Day.  Welcome aboard, John! 

Tom McGowan writes:

The STAR PEOPLE article I sent is kind of an autobiography that Tom Clark from AMATEUR ASTRONOMY magazine has asked me to write. Thought you may wish to add to our newsletter. Perhaps other members may wish to do the same. I regret not making it to the meeting Friday night, but I'm a bit pressed for time. I leave for Australia on Wednesday and will be returning on the 28th. I'm doubtful for Astronomy Day*. I will do an article on the trip. 

Until then, 
Good on ya, mate! 


    Name:             Tom McGowan 
    Residence:         Deatsville, Alabama 
    Occupation:        Mailman 
    Astronomer since: 1984 

    I grew up about 25 miles south of Boston. As a child I always enjoyed nature and the outdoors. Science was always an interest. I enjoyed reading about all different aspects on physical science such as tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis (or tidal waves as it was called then). I certainly had a curiosity of space and the other planets. Unfortunately, I don’t recall ever noticing the stars or the night time sky at all. I did look forward to hearing about the latest discoveries by our space probes-the Viking mission and the Voyagers. I was only between 5 and 8 years old when we landed on the moon and really missed that whole drama. 

    After high school, I went to a local community college as it was known that you needed a college degree in order to be successful. My major was Business Management (I thought that sounded good and was important). During the second year I started to realize this was not for me. I soon dropped out. But within a year, I returned to night school. I liked the challenge of the 
college courses and decided to take classes I thought were interesting. These were all Math classes as I enjoyed and excelled in math. 

    It was during this time, I began my career with the Postal Service.  I worked the overnight shift sorting magazines. I couldn’t believe how many different magazines there were. I would either read or nap on my lunch and breaks. One evening as I prepared to go to work, I realized I had nothing to take to work to read. My youngest sister had a book by Isaac Asimov sitting on the counter. It was a huge book-over a thousand pages long. It was divided into two sections: the first was Physical science and the second was Biological science. My sister had gotten it from the local library to help aid in a book report. I asked if I could take it for the night with her replying it was mine as long as I returned it to the library. 

    That night I began reading on page one. The first chapter was on the Universe. The book progressed to the Milky Way and the solar system and then, the Earth. I was hooked! I ended up reading the whole book (and, of coarse, return it to the library late). That’s when I started noticing Astronomy and Sky & Telescope magazines as I was sorting the mail. It wasn’t long before I had subscriptions to both. All this did was open a door to a whole new, exciting interest. I noticed the college I was attending offered a course on Astronomy. I signed up with great anticipation. What a letdown! Instead of learning about the mysteries of the Universe, we studied the works of early astronomers. A bit boring to me! Enduring through this, we finally got to the Solar System. But it was when the instructor marked my answer wrong to the question: Describe Uranus that I begin to doubt his knowledge. I stated Uranus was the planet tipped on it’s side amongst other things and he said, ”Wrong, that’s Neptune...” We argued with each side holding firmly. It wasn’t resolved until the next class when I brought in four or five different books that clearly explained the truth of the matter. 

    One night at work, I came upon a course guide for Harvard University night classes. I peeked inside to find that Harvard offered an Astrophysics class. I enrolled right away. This was much better. The class was very in-depth and detailed. But the best part was the Lab-using a large refractor (somewhere between 10 and 13 inches diameter, can’t remember) on the roof of the school building. Granted, we observed from downtown Boston...But it was wonderful! 

    And that’s when I realized it was time for a telescope! I finally decided on an 8-inch equatorial-mounted Meade reflector. Four months later, the scope arrived. My first night using it consisted of setting it up at a local golf coarse, trying to polar align for an hour, collimating for the next half-hour, and then looking for M-97 (the Owl) and M-101. Of course, I was unsuccessful. But I couldn’t understand why. They certainly were big and bright in the magazine photos. I packed up quite frustrated and very cold (it was early March). 

    Soon I realized how to find objects. I also learned accurate polar aligning was not necessary as well as trying to use those darn setting circles. An article in the newspaper put me in contact with a local astronomy club as well. Better eyepieces soon found their way in my equipment case. And then, finally, the Naglers came. But it wasn’t until a club member and I went to Stellafane that I was inflicted with the dreaded ‘aperture-fever’. I believe it was transmitted to me at the eyepiece of a 17-inch DOB pointed at the Veil Nebula with an O-III filter! 

    The search began for a larger scope. I figured something between a 15-inch and 20-inch DOB wouldn’t put me into debt too bad. I happened upon Tom Clark at the Okie-Tex Star party held at the Prude Ranch one October in the early 1990s (1992?). Not only did I see one behemoth of a scope (the Yard scope) but I saw how such things were constructed. Tom mentioned a booklet (the Modern Dobsonian) he had wrote to assist in building a large scope. I read that thing about 15 times before feeling confident enough to try building my own scope. Unbelievably, I was able to buy a 20-inch mirror that was in stock (remember those days!!!) along with the other components. A month later, it was ready for first light! And it worked! Now the sky was 

    This began a traveling odyssey. I drove to Arizona every year to observe from some remote hideaway for a week or two. Along with beautiful skies the Southwest boasts some of the most magnificent scenery. Star parties became more common, too. And it is at star parties were I have met some great people who share the same likes as me. Not to mention some fantastic ideas and unimaginable features on telescopes. 

    Early on I observed by myself often, but now it seems I am in company of others when observing. Though, there are those times when I pack up and go off and it’s just me and the sky and all the serenity that is there. Astronomy has allowed me to meet wonderful friends, travel the world, and increase my understanding and admiration of all that surrounds me. It has also enabled me to give. The smile and wonder on a child’s face from a view of the Moon or Saturn at a public star party-one of the best rewards this hobby brings to me. 

    At present, I am building Dobsonian starting at a 16-inch size and larger to offer to the public soon. Look for MIDNIGHTELESCOPE advertisements appearing soon in this magazine. 

     I have many thanks to give to the many people I’ve met, most notably to Tom Clark for his insight on building and design of scopes and especially my wife, Julie. She not only allows me travel all over in the name of Astronomy but has supported me and allowed me to transform our home into a telescope-making shop. 
                    Tom McGowan 

*  [Editors note:  Tom, still under the influence of “jet-lag”, DID bring his 20-inch to help us with Astronomy Day.  Thanks for going beyond the call of duty, Tom.  RDW]

Tom also reports that he has a business license for his new business, Midnightelescope and is an authorized dealer for JMI and Telrad products.  Contact Tom for special discount prices for AAS members.  Tom has several 16 to 25-inch Dobsonian telescopes at or near completion.  He’ll be going to the Texas Star Party in just a few weeks to show his wares and establish himself as a maker of high quality big Dobs.  Good luck with your new venture, Tom!  We’re all pulling for you.

Atlanta Astronomy Expo
Submitted by Tom Crowley

The Atlanta Astronomy Club is co-hosting the first annual Atlanta Astronomy EXPO with Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA on Saturday May 5, 2001 at Agnes Scott College's Bradley Observatory.

Speakers will include Mel Bartels, Chris Butler, Chris DePree, David Hanon, Richard Jakiel, Michael Covington and Philip Sacco.

There will also be planetarium shows, poster displays, vendors, art works, books, Door prizes and a swap meet  there is something here for everyone!

Our mission is to provide a forum for amateurs, professionals, and the Atlanta community in an effort to bring an increasing awareness of astronomy to the Atlanta public!

Mark your calendars, join in the fun, and come support your Hobby! Watch for flyers and details.

Ticket prices at the door are $10 for adults and $5 for students.

There will also be an Astro-Imaging Contest. There are three categories. The first category is Photography. Second category is CCD or Video imaging. The third category is Other. This includes drawings, sketches, paintings, models, or sculptures of planets, moons, galaxies, star clusters (open or globular), or nebula (reflection, planetary, or emission). There will be a prize awarded for each category. Prizes to be announced later. The items will be displayed in the hallway areas of Bradley Observatory the day of the event and judged at that time. See Rich Jakiel for more information on the contest.

See the Atlanta Astronomy Club website for more information at .

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,