Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
February, 2002

In this Issue

February Meetings Public Star Parties Franklin-Littleton Lectures
2002 Mid-South Star Gaze AAS Members 2002 Please Welcome...
Bright Naked-Eye Comet in 2004? Maps of the Moon Most People Losing Sight Of Stars
February Meetings

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, February 1, at 8:00 PM in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building, on the campus of Auburn University.

This month’s members and friends dark-sky star party will be on Friday/Saturday, February 8/9, at Cliff Hill’s farm.   The Friday date being the primary date Saturday as a fall back in case of clouds Friday.

Public Star Parties

Public star parties are becoming an ever increasingly important function of AAS.  Below are   reports on our two January events, followed by more public star parties planned in February and March.

Maxwell Air Force Base

This event was organized by Tom McGowan for the families who live along  his Maxwell Air Force Base, on-base housing, mail route.  Tom asked your editor to lend a hand, knowing that this is one of my favorite aspects of the hobby.  On January 21, we set up Tom’s 20-inch, his 8-inch, and my C-11 in an open area near where most of the families lived.  We estimated something close to 75 moms, dads, and children – several quite knowledgeable about both the night sky and telescopes, viewed the Moon, Saturn, and Jupiter.  One of the families brought their own 3-inch refractor, while another manned Tom’s 8-inch for the other families.

Family Science Night

Then, on January 26, Rick Evans and his staff at the W. A. Gayle Planetarium in cooperation with the Montgomery County Schools, and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, hosted Family Science Night.  

At Rick’s request, we set up the telescopes on the lawn in front of the planetarium for the visitors.  We had planned for the viewing to follow the program inside, but because more people showed up for the event than the planetarium would seat, we were pressed into service early to accommodate the overflow crowd.  

Special thanks to all who came out to help:

10-inch LX50 Meade SCT, John Williams (AAS)
10-inch Dobsonian, Mike Brown (AAS) 
8-inch Dobsonian, Tom and Julie McGowan (AAS) 
8-inch Meade LX200, Jim McLaughlin (AAS) 
8-inch Celestron SCT, Jim and Diane Locke (AAS) 
11-inch Celestron SCT, Russell Whigham (AAS) 
8-inch Meade SCT, Rick Fanning (AAS & planetarium staff) 
5-inch Orion Starmax 127 Mak-Cassegrain, Gail Smitherman (AAS)

Also there representing AAS were Jim McLaughlin, Mark Brown, and Bob Cook.  About 8:30, we were rewarded with a complete “ring-around-the Moon”, compliments of the ice crystals in the cirrus clouds above.

Rick and Mark asked that I remind everyone that Astronomy Day 2002 will be on April, 20.  Mark your calendars and make plans to be there.

February Maxwell Star Party

Next month, because of the enthusiastic response from those who attended the January event, Tom will be giving an encore performance  Maxwell Star Party, on February 18 (Presidents’ Day).  Other Montgomery area AAS members are encouraged to assist with the star party.  Please let Tom know if you help. 334-285-7087 or

Star Party at Ogletree Elementary in Auburn

I am looking for input and or help.  Two of my daughters are fourth and second graders at Ogletree Elementary in Auburn.  Our Venture teacher asked me to help her set up a night to have an astronomy get together.  I have found that on Feb. 19th we will have a quarter moon along with Jupiter and Saturn.  On top of that the Space Station will cruise through the middle of those three at 6:30.  Since the moon will occult Saturn the following night I figured I could mention that as well.  I have not ever attended one of the events like this at other schools and wondered what you think about the timing and also if you have any advice for us.  If you think any others from the AAS would like to help that would be great too.  I am not too well versed to answer questions.  I am fairly new to this.  We have 3 scopes so far.  A Meade LX50 10" and an ETX90 and the school has one I have yet to see.  It is a Meade but that is all I know.  I have a couple of binoculars and would like to point out the Pleiades as well. 


Greg Glasscock

And I replied:

Hello Greg,

We'll be glad to help you with the star party.  Thanks for asking! 

The February 19 date looks good -- it's also Nicolas Copernicus' birthday -- you'll need 529 candles. ;-)

If you'd like to come to the February  meeting, you could make a personal appeal to the group.  If you can't make it, I'll remind everyone.  We'll also need directions to the school for those not familiar with its location.  I can also send out a reminder a day or two before the event.

Thanks again for letting us know,


Please contact Greg  if you’ll be able to help.

March Public Star Party at St. Bede School

I was thinking of trying a weeknight in mid-March during the waxing moon for the third annual St. Bede School, star party in Montgomery,. Let's say the19th, a Tuesday. 

Jim McLaughlin

If you’ll be able to help, please drop Jim a line to let him know.

Franklin-Littleton Lectures

Although I can't access AU's website this morning to verify it, I have some notes that indicate a couple of Franklin-Littleton lectures at AU that should be interesting.

Feb. 12, 4:00 p.m., Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe (1999)
Apr. 9, 4:00 p.m., Neil DeGrasse Tyson, author of The Sky Is Not the Limit (2001) and others

Take care.

David Newton

2002 Mid-South Star Gaze 

The 2002 Mid-South Star Gaze will be held in central Mississippi from April 10-13 at the Rainwater Observatory near French Camp on the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Information and on-line registration can be found at our web site.  We expect usually have 200-250 from 12 states to attend.  Speakers include Dr. Gerrit Verschuur, Dr. Gene Byrd, and others. 


James G. Hill, Director
Rainwater Observatory & Planetarium
1 Fine Pl.
French Camp, Mississippi 39745
Phone: (662) 547-6865 

Members 2002

As of the January meeting, the following is a list of the 14 AAS members who have paid their dues for 2002:

William Baugh 
 Mike Brown 
 Jeff Graves 
 Rhonald Jenkins, President 
 Eddie Kirkland 
 James T. McLaughlin 
David S. Newton 
Robert Rock 
John Tatarchuk 
John Scott Thompson 
Robert L. West 
Russell D. Whigham 
Ricky Wood 
John B. Zachry, ALCor; /Treasurer 

If you don’t see your name on the above list, AAS treasurer, John Zachry, doesn’t a record of your dues payment.   If you thought you’d paid your AAS dues for 2002 and you’re not listed above, e-mail John to see if you can resolve the discrepancy. 

If you’ve sent your 2002 dues to John since the January meeting, disregard the above reminder.

Welcome to the Auburn Astronomical Society 

Gail Smitherman
Selma AL
Telescope(s):Meade 10" Starfinder reflector& Orion Starmax 127 Mak-Cassegrain
Area(s) of special interest: Galaxies and Clusters

AAS:  Are you a seasoned amateur astronomer or just getting into the hobby? 
GS:  I have been interested in Astronomy for along time, but I've only had a scope for 2 years. I love to read the magazines even if it does go over my head sometimes.  I really enjoy pointing out the constellations to children because they are so receptive to learning.

AAS: What was your first experience that attracted you to astronomy? 
GS:  I have always enjoyed the sky from clouds to stars, of course I grew up watching Apollo missions on TV.

AAS: Tell us a little about your family members; spouse? kids? siblings? significant other?
GS:  My  husband Marvin works for International Paper.  I have two lovely  step-daughters aged 18 and 21

AAS: Can you tell us a little about your formal education?
GS:  High school here in Selma with some college Business and Accounting courses.

AAS: Do you have any pets? What kind?; How Many?
GS:  I have a big orange cat that Marvin named Ozzie after Ozzie Ozbourne.  He enjoys Astronomy also. He always seems to be underfoot while I'm trying to observe!

AAS: Where do you work? If you're retired, what was your occupation?; If you're still in school, have you chosen a career?
GS:  I am the secretary for Social Service and Case Management at Vaughan Regional Medical Center on the Parkway. I have been employed for 27 years at the hospital, but I’m still not anywhere close to retirement!!

AAS: Besides astronomy, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
GS:  Acting in community theater, taking care of all the little wildlife that finds its way into my backyard, reading, travel, love a good movie, sing in the church choir.

AAS: What was your first or favorite car?
GS:  My favorite car is the Oldsmobile Aurora I got l Christmas 2000(No , I did not buy it just because of the name)It is my 4th Oldsmobile. I started out with the Omega, then Cutlass, then Cierra and now the Aurora.

AAS: What was your first or most interesting job?
GS:  First job typical for a girl, babysitting.  I have stayed friends with a lot of those kids, who now have kids!!

AAS: Tell us about your favorite vacation.
GS:  Hawaii. It was as beautiful as I had dreamed it would be. The colors were magnificent and I saw  whales on 2 different occasions.  A few years back I performed on the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York with a huge mass choir.  That was quite an experience for a little southern girl.

AAS: Have you ever lived in some other part of the U.S. or another country? Where?; When?
GS:  No , I  have only lived in Selma.  But I would love to visit England!  I have been away from this country enough to know what a GREAT country we do live in.

AAS: Would it be OK to publish this information in Astrofiles and to create a "Vita" page for you on the AAS web site?
GS:  Yes, I'll try to send you a picture of myself with my telescopes.

AAS: This is your space. Tell us anything else about yourself that you'd like to share.
GS:  I'm a little on the shy side, but you probably wouldn't notice if you met me.  I'm not afraid to ask questions or tell you I don't know all the answers. I have enjoyed my association with AAS and I am looking forward to being a full fledged member, although it will be a little to far for me to attend meetings.  I do hope to attend some star parties and special days at the planetarium.  I met a few members last year at Astronomy Day and they were so gracious and friendly  and made me feel welcome.  I hope very much to be able to return that favor to others interested in astronomy.

May the stars shine upon your face. 


John  Tatarchuk
Auburn  AL 
Telescope(s):18" Obsession, 8" Orion Dob
Area(s) of special interest:  Deep sky observation

AAS:  Are you a seasoned amateur astronomer or just getting into the hobby? 
JT:  Well I've been observing for about seven years now

AAS:  What was your first experience that attracted you to astronomy? 
JT:  I have always been interested in science. I have always enjoyed looking up at the stars. I can't really say when I was first attracted to astronomy in particular.

AAS:  Tell us a little about your family members; spouse? kids? siblings? significant other? 
JT:  I'm 17 and live with my mom and dad on a farm

AAS:  Can you tell us a little about your formal education? 
JT:  Still in high school (hehe)

AAS:  Do you have any pets? What kind?; How Many? 
JT:  I live on a farm with cows. We also have a dog and a cat.

AAS:  Where do you work? If you're retired, what was your occupation?; If you're still in school, have you chosen a career? 
JT:  Something in the sciences or engineering

AAS:  Besides astronomy, what other hobbies do you enjoy? 
JT:  Like most kids my age I also enjoy video games. I show cattle (where I win the money to purchase my astronomy equipment).

AAS:  What was your first or favorite car? 
JT:  My truck I'm using now. Luckily I haven't totaled it yet.

AAS:  What was your first or most interesting job? 
JT:  Well the only job I have is to take care of the cows every day, and that usually takes up several hours or more.

AAS:  Tell us about your favorite vacation. 

JT:  Well, it would probably be last vacation, to Alaska and the Yukon to go fishing. It was light outside 24/7, no aurora :( 

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

We look forward to seeing both of our newest members soon and often.

Bright Naked-Eye Comet in May 2004?
joe rao 

    On Saturday, Minor Planet Electronic Circular # 2001-X71 (Issued 2001 Dec. 15, at 4:27 p.m. EST) issued the very latest ephemeris for Comet C/2001 Q4 (NEAT).  This comet is not due to arrive at perihelion for quite some time yet -- May 15.8 (UT), 2004!  Interestingly . . . upon closer inspection of the ephemeris information, one finds that on May 7, 2004, this comet should be situated just .320 AU (29.7 million miles) from the Earth and .974 AU (90.5 million miles) from the Sun. 

    The MPEC Circular also indicated a predicted total magnitude (m1) for Comet C/2001 Q4 of 0.9, which would make it about as bright as the stars Aldebaran or Antares.  Located in Canis Major, to the south and east of Sirius, the comet would be moving rapidly northward, and should become increasingly well-placed for Northern Hemisphere viewers.  For ephemeris info:

    For those who would desire additional information on projected magnitudes, as well as the comet's long-term projected path against the stars:

    The prospects for a bright first magnitude comet for convenient evening hours in the late spring of 2004 may be all well and good -- 


    I think it should be pointed out that at the end of the MPEC Circular Dr. Brian Marsden reports that " . . . the "original" and "future" barycentric values of 1/a are +0.000004 and -0.000741 (+/- 0.000118) AU**-1, respectively."  This yields an eccentricity for the comet orbit of e = 
1.0007831, which means it may very well be a "new" comet from the Oort cloud. 

    Unfortunately, in the recent past, other similar comets that held great promise, ultimately proved to be "duds."  Excellent examples are Comet Cunningham in 1940-41, Comet Kohoutek in 1973-74 and most recently, Comet Austin in 1990. 

    One of the chief reasons why optimism ran high for Comet Hale-Bopp to evolve into a bright object nearly two years in advance of its perihelion was that it was determined soon after its 1995 discovery to have had an orbit resembling a long ellipse with a period of roughly 4000 years.  Hence it had already been through the inner solar system at least once before. 

    And Dr. Marsden apparently agrees . . . in a message that I received from him earlier today, he notes: 

    "Your concern about C/2001 Q4's being a "new" comet is indeed properly placed, and it was a concern I was trying to make without using words.  An "original" 1/a = +0.000004 +/- 0.000118 AU**-1 indeed makes it likely--though not inevitable--that the comet is on its first approach from the Oort Cloud, and while the lead time is very commendable, we should not be at all surprised if the comet fails to make it to first magnitude." 

    So . . . bottom line, if you're hoping for a bright comet in the spring of 2004, it's not impossible (but don't hold your breath)!

-- joe rao

Maps of the Moon
From: Alwyn Botha

I made two detailed photographic maps of the moon available (for free) online at

This website also has 300 quizzes about these maps of the moon. Each question has a small picture of a part of the moon. You have to identify craters, rills, mountains, etc.

You are welcome to link to any of these maps of the moon - or the website itself.  Please inform you club's members about these online maps of the moon.  I have other educational astronomy websites too - some are listed below.

Thank you.

Alwyn Botha

CNN Study: Most People Losing Sight Of Stars

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,