Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
March, 2008

In this Issue

Events Calendar AAS Shirts
AAS Membership Horseshoe Bend Star Gaze
Under the Stars Space News
Cool Links  

Events Calendar

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, March 7, at 8:00PM in 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 regular dark-sky star party will be on the following Saturday, March 8, at Cliff Hill’s farm, clouds permitting of course. 

March 7, March meeting in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering Building
March 8, dark-sky star party at Cliff Hill’s farm
March 9, Begin Daylight Savings Time
March 11, Shuttle mission STS-123 scheduled to launch
March 14, First quarter Moon
March 20, Spring equinox
March 21, Full Moon
March 29, Third quarter Moon 
April 4-6, Georgia Sky View, Indian Springs GA
May 10, Astronomy Day at W.A. Gayle Planetarium

AAS Shirts
The following AAS shirts have not yet been delivered.  They’ll be available at the meeting Friday and at the star party Saturday night.  Make checks payable to Auburn Astronomical Society.  The following need to make arrangements to have their shirts delivered:
Name Amount Due
Shane  Bledsoe $31.50
Don Cluck Paid
Kim Cluck Paid
Trey Lee $29.00
John Tatarchuk $29.00
2008 AAS Membership
John B. Zachry
Members who are current for 2008 are:
1 Glynn Alexander 9 Allen Screws
2 Mike Brown 10 William T. Sprankle
3 Andy Camerio 11 Gail Smitherman
4 Alan Cook 12 Memorie & Joshua Souza
5 Mike Holley 13 Frank Ward
6 Eddie Kirkland 14 Scott Thompson
7 Ray Kunert 15 Russell  Whigham
8 Jim McLaughlin 16 John B. Zachry

AAS membership dues ($20.00) were due in January. Make checks payable to “Auburn Astronomical Society”.  Special thanks to those members who do not attend on a regular basis but still want to help us out by paying A.A.S. membership dues. 

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

If you though you had paid your dues for 2008 and don’t see your name above, contact John to have this resolved. 

Horseshoe Bend Star Gaze
We had a great evening for the Horseshoe Bend star gaze.  A review with photos is at: "Field Trips"/"Educational Outreach"/"Horseshoe Bend 2008".

Park ranger, Rand Becker wrote:

We had a record number of participants for an evening event on 2/9. We had people spilling out of the auditorium and many sitting on the floor. Everyone really enjoyed the telescopes and talking with the members of the AAS.  Many thanks and 'huzzahs' go out to Brent, Frank, Scott, Russell, Christi and Alan.

Thank you again for your support. Hope to see you at a meeting or star 
party soon.


Under the Stars
Scott Thompson

The Horseshoe Bend National Military Park hosted a Night Under the Stars program last month. This was the first cooperative event between the park and the Auburn Astronomical Society members, who were invited to bring their telescopes and set up behind the building. I was excited at the opportunity to take the observatory telescope out into the field to help with this endeavor. 

I made the decision to go to this gathering because I knew it would be fun to help educate the public, meet my respective members of the society, and to do some much-needed organizing back in the observatory. My packing went fine and I was able to get all my equipment loaded into the car without incident. 

One of the hardest parts of taking the telescope apart is trying to get the declination half of the mount off the pier. This mount part is hard to keep hold of as it turns easily in the hand. Not only that, it is long, heavy and if I dropped it on my foot, I would probably end up in the emergency room. I have pulled a back muscle trying to wrangle this massive part around by myself. 

I picked up a friend and we headed to the park. Near the entrance, we spotted some deer on the side of the road, so we jumped out with our cameras in tow to take a few snapshots. Of course, as we walked closer, their instincts took over and within two seconds they were bounding off into the woods. It’s always a nice diversion to see wildlife, but I was nervous that one of the deer might jump into an oncoming car, so we moved on to get set up for the night’s viewing.

Kevin, a park employee, guided us to the location for setting up our telescopes. Brent, Russell, Frank, Allen, and I represented the Auburn Astronomical Society. We each brought different telescopes. I had my refractor, Russell had his Schmidt-Cassegrain, Frank had binoculars, Allen and Christi had a Dobsonian. While we were getting everything together, our host, Mr. Randall Becker, the Park Superintendent, brought out another refractor. This gave us a great variety of different optics for the public to enjoy looking through.

I was now ready to power up my scope and get it aligned with Polaris, the North Star. The mount and telescope have to be aligned to the north pole of the earth so that when the scope rotates on its axis it will rotate with the same motion as the earth. I started to slew the scope, but it failed. I tried slewing in the opposite direction and it worked fine. Of course, both directions were working fine the night before, but in the move something with the cables had failed. 

During this technical analysis, I had another power cable failure. It was beginning to look like the group would be disappointed at having one less scope to look through. With Russell’s help, we were able to solder the loose wire in the power cable back together, but that did not fix the slewing issue. Since right ascension was working, I decided I would have to manually slew the scope in declination to get to the next object. This worked well enough, and the crowd began to gather outside. 

The telescope was tracking on the Orion (oh RYE un) Nebula, as everyone formed a line behind the eyepiece to get a look at this mysterious object. The first question of the night was, “What are we looking at?” We began examining a bright star-forming region in the Orion Constellation.  I powered up the green laser and pointed to the object, getting oooh’s and ahhh’s.  The laser is a great educational tool and fun to use. I went on to explain that the Orion Nebula is the most photographed object by amateurs. It is 1200 light years away, which I explained like this: light travels 5.8 trillion miles in one year so multiply that times 1200 and you’ll know how many miles it is from Earth. 

We talked about the stars in the Orion constellation. Starting from the top left and moving clockwise we see Betelgeuse (Beetle Juice), Bellatrix (Bel a Trix), Rigel (Rye Gel), and Saiph (Safe). Orion’s belt consists of the stars Alnitak (ALL-NIGH-tak), Alnilam (Ahl-nee-LAHM and Mintaka (Men-TA-Kuh) as you look from left to right. 

I went on to explain that the four bright stars in the center of this nebula are young bright stars that form a trapezium. If you would like to imagine what it is like inside the trapezium, then go to this link and watch a very cool movie that takes you on a fly-through animation trip around the core of the Orion Nebula. You will not be disappointed.

When we were looking at the four trapezium stars, a few young children approached the eyepiece. I asked them to say “Orion” and then “trapezium”, knowing I would smile at their best attempts: “Tra-izm” and then “O-ion.”  I asked each one, what do you see? “Stars!” Do you see the grey-green glow around the stars? “Yes!” Maybe they will become the next aspiring astronomers or planetary scientists. 

While others were getting a second view of Orion, I took the laser and pointed out a few constellations: Pleiades, Little Dipper, Big Dipper, Gemini, Pegasus, Andromeda, Hydra, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Aries, Cancer, Triangulum, and Auriga. As we roamed the sky looking for others, someone asked, “Why are the stars different colors?” Their temperature determines their color. The colder the star, the redder it is. The hotter the star, the more blue-white it is. 

Now it was time to view some planets. We started with Mars.

Mars was high overhead this night and it was really too small to see any details, but everyone wanted a glimpse. I talked some about Mars, and then I drew a blank as I tried to remember one of its moons. I could remember the smaller moon Deimos but not its larger counterpart Phobos. Phobos actually rises in the west and sets in the east. Then in eleven hours it does it again. Deimos rises in the east and sets in the west but takes almost 3 days to orbit Mars. 

The final object of the night was the planet Saturn. Saturn was just above the tree line but still a bit low on the horizon. The rings were almost edge on but we could still make out a little separation between the rings and the planet. Saturn has 60 confirmed moons and is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium. Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system behind Jupiter and it is 318 times larger than Earth. 

Everyone enjoyed looking through the different optics and I think that regardless of my earlier cable troubles all went fine. We packed to go and said our farewells. It was a great evening of viewing a few stellar objects. Hopefully next year will be an even larger event, less the cable troubles if we’re lucky. 

Clear Skies,

Scott Thompson

Space News
John Zachry

Decaying Spy Satellite USA-193 passes over Auburn, AL & Montgomery, AL - useful if you wish to try to see re-entry fireball.  (Passes less than 40 degrees Maximum Altitude not listed.) Specifics at:

  Starts   Maximum Ends  
Date Time Az.  Altitude Time Az.
04 Mar 8:52 p.m. NW 60 8:56 p.m. SE
05 Mar 8:37 p.m. NW 86 8:41 p.m. SE
06 Mar 8:21 p.m. NW  64 8:26 p.m. SE
07 Mar 8:05 p.m. NW 46 8:09 p.m. SE
08 Mar 7:48 p.m. NW 43 7:52 p.m. SE
09 Mar 11:11 a.m. SW 43 11:15 a.m. NE
10 Mar 10:54 a.m.  SW 56 10:58 a.m. NE
11 Mar 10:36 a.m. SW 72 10:40 a.m.  NE
12 Mar 10:17 a.m. SW  89 10:21 a.m. NE
13 Mar 9:58 a.m.  SW 75 10:02 a.m. NE
14 Mar 9:38 a.m. SW 64  9:42 a.m. NE
15 Mar 9:18 a.m. SW 56  9:22 a.m. NE
16 Mar 8:58 a.m. SW 50 9:01 a.m. NE
17 Mar  8:36 a.m. SW 47 8:40 a.m.  NE

Cool Links

Note that there is now a “Search” feature on the AAS navigation menu (at the bottom), to help you find things on the AAS Web site.

Georgia Sky View, April 19th - 22nd, 2007

Saturn Rings Edge On 

Leap Day

AmSky an excellent on-line resource that complements the paper magazines your members may already subscribe to. Best of all, AmSky is free at
Clear Skies,

Hoping to see everyone at the meeting and star party,