Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
August, 2005

In this Issue

August Events School Star Gaze Postponed
AAS Shirts Upcoming Events
AAS 25-year Anniversary Celebration Philatelists & Numismatists
Occultation of Antares Report Google Moon
Member News Bigger than Pluto!


August Events

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, August 5, at 8:00PM room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering Building.   Riders from the Montgomery area are welcome to meet at the home  of Russell Whigham, 518 Seminole Dr., and carpool over to Auburn.  Plan to be ready to leave for Auburn at 7:00PM. 

Our dark-sky star party this month will be on the following Saturday, August 6, at Cliff Hill’s farm, clouds permitting of course. 

School Star Gaze Postponed

Last month, we mentioned that we had received a request from Peggy Dorminey, fourth grade teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary school, asking that we host a star gaze for her class.   The event was to have been on Friday, August 12, on Maxwell Air Force Base.   Unfortunately, because of ongoing renovations to the school, the staff and faculty felt it would be better to postpone the event until things settle down a bit.  We’ll let you know when the new date will be.

AAS Shirts
They’re here!

Scott Thompson writes: 

I got the shirts the other day. They look good.  I will try to make the meeting Aug. 9th. I am not on-call and should be able to get there. 
Be sure to be at the meeting to pick up  your shirt if you ordered one.  Thanks again to Scott for handling this for us.

Upcoming Events

August 2 - Messenger spacecraft to Mercury flyby of Earth for gravity assist
August 5, AAS Meeting
August 6, Star Party at Cliff Hill’s farm
August 10,Launch of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter 
August 12, Perseid Meteor Shower
September 2, NO first Friday meeting due to Labor Day weekend
September 3, Star Party at Cliff Hill’s farm
September 10, AAS 25-year Anniversary Celebration 

Thanks to John Zachry for the dates of space events. 

AAS 25-year Anniversary Celebration

Rhon has confirmed that the date of the anniversary banquet will be on Saturday, September 10, and will serve as our September meeting.  Our speaker, Dr. David T. King Jr., will give a presentation on the latest findings at the Wetumpka meteor crater. Rick Evans is allowing us to use the facilities at the  W. A. Gayle Planetarium for the banquet and presentation.  This date falls within two days of the actual first AAS meeting, 25 years ago.  :-)

Arrangements have been made with Capitol Grill, in Montgomery, to cater the event.  Owner, Dimitri Polizos, proposed a buffet style meal offering your choice of grilled chicken or roast beef; sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, and a cauliflower etc. mix; bread; salad; and bread pudding for dessert.  The drink will be water or unsweetened tea with sugar or diet sweetener; for $10.00 per person. 

I gave an estimate of 40 people with a specific number as we receive commitments from the membership.  AAS treasured, John Zachry has sent the owner a $150.00 deposit with the balance to be paid on the night of the banquet.  If the caterer doesn't offer coffee, I think Rick has an urn if we supply the coffee. 

Plans now are to begin eating at 6:00PM, I think David could begin his talk at around 7:00 and wind up around 8:00. 

Friends and families are encouraged to attend.  Dress will be casual.  John will begin accepting your reservation checks at this month’s meeting.  If you’re unable to attend, send $10.00 per person to: 

Auburn Astronomical Society 
c/o John B. Zachry, Treasurer 
501 Summerfield Road 
West Point, GA 31833 
Philatelists & Numismatists

On sale beginning October 3, 2005 

The House has voted for money for the Mint to create commerative coins for the 50th anniversary of NASA.

Lunar Occultation of Antares 7/17-18/05

From: Jim McLaughlin 

I recorded disappearance at 11:49:45 and reappearance at 12:03:35. I did a lousy job of anticipating the moon's southerly drift and got some interference from a pine branch at THE critical moment of occultation, which was actually pretty comical when I think back on it. Oh well, tis the price to be paid for being too lazy to lug 67 lbs. around a dark soggy back yard. 


Goggle Moon

Last month I recommended Goggle Earth.  Now there’s Goggle Moon.  No special downloads this time.  Be sure to zoom all the way in on the Apollo landing sites.

Member News

Please welcome our newest member, Pratap Prasad.  Also new to the mail list are Drs. George and Paulette Thompson, who were referred to us by Rick Evans, at the planetarium.

Mike Holley’s wife sent the following note:

Mike had an accident on July 7 - he fell from his truck trailer and had to have surgery to remove his spleen.  He was in the hospital in Birmingham for nine days (five days in intensive care) – he’s back home now.  He is doing well, just very sore.  He said to tell you he was down but not out.  He can't wait to get back to the meetings - he will be out for the next couple of meetings.  Give him a call  260-9247- I am sure it will cheer him up - he will be out of work for at least 8 weeks. 

Thanks,  Donna

I spoke with Mike after receiving the message.  He seemed in good spirits but I’m sure he’s anxious to be out and about again.  We’re all hoping for your speedy recovery, Mike.

Bigger than Pluto!
From: Michael Strauss, Princeton University

Is Pluto a planet or not?  It is appreciably smaller than any of the  other ``traditional'' planets around the Sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth,  Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), and of course is further  away from the Sun than any of the others (its orbital radius is 40  times that of the Earth around the Sun, i.e., 40 Astronomical Units),  and its orbit is more eccentric and tilted than any of the other  planets.  In 1992, astronomers at the University of Hawaii discovered  the first of a whole class of 'Trans-Neptunian Objects' (TNOs;  sometimes also known as Kuiper Belt Objects), asteroids in orbits as  large of that of Pluto or even larger.  Many astronomers quickly  became convinced that rather than being the wimpiest of the planets,  Pluto was rather the king of the TNOs, just an oversize asteroid.

   But what is to say that Pluto really is the largest such object out  there? Is it possible that there are yet larger TNOs remaining to be  discovered?  Our census of the outer regions of the solar system is  still pretty incomplete.  One person who has been working to close  that gap in our knowledge is Mike Brown, Princeton class of 1984, now  a professor at Caltech.  He has been surveying the sky using a Schmidt  telescope at Palomar for the past few years, looking for the slow  motion through the heavens of distant solar-system bodies.  And he has  been finding them.  His discoveries have been making headlines; in  2002 he found the object Quaoar, on an orbit like that of Pluto  and about 800 miles in diameter (Pluto is 1400 miles in diameter).

Last year, he found Sedna, on a wildly elliptical orbit and currently  90 Astronomical Units from the Sun, the most distant object ever seen  in the solar system.  And tonight, he announced the discovery of a new  object, currently with the name 2003UB313.  It is 97 Astronomical  Units from the Sun (i.e., slightly further away than Sedna currently is), on a very elliptical (i.e., squashed, not circular) and inclined  (i.e., tilted relative to the other planets) orbit.  Again, the orbit of  Pluto stands out from the other planets from having the largest  ellipticity and inclination; this new object is far more extreme than  Pluto.  But what makes this discovery *really* cool is that this  object is big, *really* big, unambiguously bigger than Pluto itself.

   How does an astronomer measure the size of such an object?  As some  of you will remember from AST 203, they can measure the angle its  image subtends on the sky, and knowing its distance (from the parallax  effect) determine its physical size.  This object is sufficiently far  away that it will take the superior resolution of the Hubble Space  Telescope to resolve it (i.e., with ordinary telescope, it just looks  like a point of light), and those measurements haven't been done yet.

 The alternative is to remember that such a planet shines by reflected  sunshine (and we know how much of that there is at a given distance);  the larger it is, the brighter it will appear.  But that measurement  is complicated by the fact that we don't know how reflective it is.  If the surface has ice on it (as does Pluto), it will be quite  reflective, thus a given measurement of brightness implies a  relatively small size.  If it is relatively dark (like many of the  TNOs turn out to be), then one would infer a much larger size.  We  don't yet know how reflective it really is, but even assuming it is a  perfect mirror, 100% reflective, one still comes to the conclusion  that it is somewhat larger than is Pluto.

   So the decades-old suggestion that there might be something larger  than Pluto in the outer parts of the Solar System (they used to call  it 'Planet X') has turned out to be true.  And Pluto has been demoted  again: it is no longer the King of the TNOs, but must share the  throne.  So at the end, is this new object a planet or not?  The  Greeks defined the term 'planet' ('wanderers') thousands in years ago,  in ignorance of objects like 2003UB313, and it is clear that our old  definitions don't easily fit all our new discoveries.  More  interesting in semantic questions of exactly one means by 'planet' is  the question of what these new discoveries can teach us about the  formation of the solar system and its various denizens, planets and  TNOs alike.  With new discoveries like this coming in at an  ever-increasing rate, the answer to that question is far from being  settled.

   A final note: 2003UB313 is not exactly a name that rolls easily off  the tongue.  Mike Brown is quoted in an article in the New York Times  saying that he has a better name for it, which he will announce once  it is formally approved by the International Astronomical Union.  But  if you go to his website,, you will  learn that he and his wife have a brand-new baby girl, Lilah, and the  link on his web page to the announcement of the discovery of 2003UB313  takes you to a site planetlila/index.html.  Does he therefore plan to  name this new planet after his daughter (or the other way around?).  We will see...

Hoping to see everyone at the meeting,