Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
December, 1999

In This Issue

December Meetings   Membership Dues Dark Sky Search
Observing Reports Member News  On the WWW
For Sale   Book Review The Ultimate Ultima

December Meeting 

The December meeting of the Auburn Astronomical Society will be on Friday, December 3, in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building on the campus of Auburn University. Montgomery area car-poolers should meet at my house (518 Seminole Drive).  We'll head for Auburn at 7:00 PM.

December Star Party

Our December star party will be the following Saturday at the Snipes' farm. A number of us were driving up and down US 80 en route to the November star party because of a mix-up about the mileage marker at the turn-off. Here are the revised directions:

From Auburn:

1) Take Exit 51 towards Tuskegee [on US 29S] approximately 9-10 miles to Hwy 80.
2) Exit onto Hwy 80 and take a left [West] towards Phenix City.
3) Go approximately three miles to the mile marker 184.
4) Sol Brown Road-Dirt Road is directly to the left of the mile marker.
5) Take Sol Brown Road and go approximately ¾ of a mile.
6) You will see a set of red gates on your right and the mail box that reads Snipes Farm.
7) You will see the white house at the bottom of the hill.

From Montgomery:

1) Take I 85E and exit on the Wire Road (Exit 42).
2) Turn right onto Hwy 186 until it merges with US 80.
3) Continue on US 80E toward Phenix City until you see the 184 mile marker.
4) Sol Brown Road-Dirt Road is directly to the left of the mile marker.
5) Take Sol Brown Road and go approximately ¾ of a mile.
6) You will see a set of red gates on your right and the mail box that reads Snipes Farm.
7) You will see the white house at the bottom of the hill.

From Phenix City:

1) Take Hwy 80 towards Montgomery until you get to the 184 mile marker.
2) Sol Brown Road-Dirt Road is directly to the right of the mile marker.
3) Take Sol Brown Road and go approximately ¾ of a mile.
4) You will see a set of red gates on your right and the mail box that reads Snipes Farm.
5) You will see the white house at the bottom of the hill.

Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid meteor shower will fall this year on the nights of December 12/13 and 13/14.  The best times will be from midnight 'til dawn.  At these times, the Moon will not interfere.  As with the Leonids, the Geminids will peak on "school nights", so there will be no formal Geminid Party.

Membership Dues

Next month (January) is the month to renew your membership. If you'd like to avoid the rush, you can re-up now before you max out the old credit card over the holidays. Send $15.00 for Regular Membership or $7.50 for Full-Time Students.

Make checks payable to: Auburn Astronomical Society and mail to:

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

Or, you can save the postage and bring your dues to the meeting. For questions about your dues or membership status, contact John at

Dark Sky Search
Russell Whigham

I explored one possibility inspired by Rick Fanning's suggestion to try to find an inactive airport. I remembered Sharpe Field, an abandoned WWII training site between Tuskegee and Tallassee. Thirty years ago the local sports car club hosted Sports Car Club of America scantioned races there for a couple of seasons. I worked there as a course marshal. It seemed to fill the bill as far as being (1) centrally located, (2) good horizons, and (3) remote, yet readily accessible.

Alas, the Macon County road leading to the site is in a terrible state of disrepair, and the only access to the field was padlocked with "No Trespassing" posted. Jeff Schaub, using his flight charts found another abandoned airport, south of Tallassee. We'll check that out ASAP. Keep exploring the possibilities and report your suggestions to us.

Observing Reports

November Star Party
Russell Whigham

We had a near perfect nigh at last month's star party. The temperature was in the upper 40's with hardly any breeze. The skies at the Snipes Farm are terrific, and we had an above average turn-out. Attending were: Nichole Long, Josh Crosby, Jeff Schaub, Robert Rock, Russell Whigham, Phillip Hosey, Tom Danei, William Baugh, Alan Cook, Susie Jensen, and Darlene & Donnie Snipes.

Tom McGowan

Julie Ross and I went to Hartís field for this yearís Leonid meteor shower. We arrived just before 2:00am on the morning of Nov. 17. We quickly laid down a makeshift bed and snuggled under the blankets (I used to do this in my teens but not to observe). It was a bit chilly but the sky was about as good as it gets here. For the two hours we observed, we saw approximately 100 different meteors collectively. Of these, I would say 18 were 1st magnitude or brighter. Many left a glowing trail in their wake. About three or four were -1st magnitude. I noted about nine sporadic meteors. There was no storm, but with a chance of one I was not going to miss the opportunity. All and all, it was very nice. Julie had rouse me up about 4:10am as I was about to drift off. I didnít feel tired that day at all.

Donít forget the Geminids on the night/morning of December 13/14. It has been the best shower, in my opinion, during the years past. As for Hartís field, there were no signs of construction seen.



Rick Fanning
Here my report from Prattville (my backyard)

Nov 17, 1999 - 2130 - Nothing
Nov 18, 1999 - 0030 - After about five minutes saw a nice long one from E/SE to W/NW 30 degrees long.
Nov 18, 1999 - 0308 - After about 15 minutes, saw a couple very small brief flashes. I was looking right at Leo but only saw the small flashes when I looked more north/north west.
Nov 18, 1999 - 0445 - hit the snooze alarm
Nov 18, 1999 - 0530 - Sunrise

We'll try again next year.

Views of the Leonids from Arizona
Filippo Salviati J

Although the much-vaunted Leonids put on a muted display, much below some expectations, some observers in the Alpine, AZ area reported some interesting sightings. Patrons at the Gila National Forest combination Bar/Roadhouse/Campground in the far eastern/central part of the state, saw some brilliant fireballs from midnight to 3am. The most amazing sighting was of an object that went horizontally from West to East, emitting a shower of sparks, loud noises and a strong smell of burning.

Patrons who saw it described it as a terrifying sight, although one backpacker who had run out of money and was more or less sober expressed the opinion that it was a wedge-tailed hawk, which had unwisely landed on high-tension wires, which stretch alongside Rt.191.

Further research on this sighting is being conducted by Ph.D. students from the University of Arizona, who are currently searching out those patrons present on the evening in question, and then attempting to replicate the level of sobriety experienced by each at the time of the sighting. The University will gratefully accept all donations of spirituous beverages, so that the witnesses can be properly interrogated in the right state of mind, by interrogators in a like state.

The Transit of Mercury:
Tom McGowan

With a beautiful Fall day greeting me on Monday, I anxiously waited for 2:00pm to roll around. Thatís when I got to leave work. I thought about the event during the day, noting how rare it is indeed. I think the last time was in early 1990ís (1992 ?) , and that was favorable only for the blessed living in wonderful Australia. As I was planning and thinking away, it occurred to me that it has been quite some time since Iíve "just " looked at the sun anyway (with a telescope equipped with a solar filter ). How long has it been for you ?

Well, I arrived in Millbook just about 2:45pm. The transit was to begin at 3:10-ish. Please note this times are approximate. I had Julie Rossís 8-in custom dobsonian- set up in 60 seconds(including solar filter). I use the scopeís shadow to point my way to the sun. When the shadow is smallest the scope is aimed quite close to the sun. I sat in the chair and centered the sun in the field of view. I was using Julieís 15mm Panoptic giving me about 70 power. There was a very nice grouping of sunspots to the right of the center, with a few others scattered on the left side. I carefully scanned the perimeter of the sun looking for a small, round dot. I noticed something near a sunspot to the lower left. Nah, thatís just part of the sunspot. Mercury hadnít appeared yet. I kept myself busy by studying the large grouping. Very nice! Lotís of detail. I popped in a 9mm Nagler (102x). Thatís better. Then I scanned around. It was very close to the time. Suddenly, I noticed a spot just on the edge of the sunís lower right edge. I watch it closely. After a minute, I realized it was moving. Mercury took quite a few minutes to finally pass completely in front of the sun(7-8min. )There it was-appearing as a perfectly round, solid black, but small disc. This was nice. Julie pulled up about this time. She came over and took her first view of the sun (and Mercury, too). She was impressed. "What are those black spots on it ?", she asked. We walked through a tour of the sun. Julie noted the appearance of Mercury right away. We went back to 15mm eyepiece. Her daughter, Katie, joined us a few minutes later. I showed Katie Mercury and the sunspots. She was filled with questions. She expressed her understanding and pleasure of the event with a "Cool".

We took turns watching the progress of Mercury and bouncing around to the sunspots. We had to move to scope a few times due to the sun sinking in some branches.

After about 20 minutes of this, Katie yelled out, "Hey, I think itís leaving !" I took a peek and saw that it was, indeed, just at the edge. In a few minutes, the disc hit the edge and then slowly slipped off the sun. This event was very much "Cool !"

Tom McGowan

(Dave Palmer scanned in a couple of photos of the Mercury transit, they're on his astro page)

Member News

Michael Crouse

Forgive me for my absence from AAS activities, though, I have found time to increase my astronomy learning curve.

I enrolled in an Intro to Astronomy class at AUM for fall quarter and it has been helpful in understanding the science of the universe. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in building a foundation for this hobby. The class is structured so that you are exposed to the historical background, inner and outer solar system, constellation recognition, and optics. It is taught by Dr. Mahaffy, who teaches Physics in the AUM system.

Also, I have recently been studying the Sun, using a filter that I made from a sheet of Baader "AstroSolar" film, purchased over the internet from Astrophysics for $20. It works great; the sun is viewed in itís real color- neutral white. There is a lot of sunspot activity and it will be increasing in the coming months.

In addition, I have been experimenting with astrophotography using an old Minolta ST101 camera body and a 58mm lens. Mostly been shooting star trails using a regular camera tripod and 400 speed film. I hope to take some long exposure shots of Messier object using a new tripod w/ motor drive for my Celestron wide view 80 mm equatorial mount. For deep sky viewing I recently purchased a 12.5" Dob from David Rich. I am planning to modify the tube for it by adding a series of baffles.

I was able to take some great photos of the milky way and the Constellations of Orion, Cassiopeia, Cygnus, and Sagittarius. These photo opportunities came during a visit to Ft. Davis, TX., Oct. 2-8. I traveled with Bob Haas, from the Birmingham AS. He hauled a 36í Obsession out there which allowed us absolutely incredible views of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, in addition to over 600 deep-sky objects. The faintest object was Einstein's Cross (a gravitational lens); the brightest object was M42. The dark skies of Ft. Davis allowed us to see incredible detail in the cloud belts of Jupiter including: 7-8 clearly defined cloud bands/zones, the great red spot, blue knotty cloud patterns, and a moon transit of Io over the face of the planet. That area also offers some interesting meteorological phenomena. The first evening that we were setting up some cumulus clouds gathered in the area and the moisture began to fall in vertical sheets that could be easily discerned against the background of a setting sun. The rain, though, evaporated before it hit the ground. This cell of air moved over us and continued eastward. In time with the orange glare of the setting sun a beautiful double rainbow developed as the system moved over our head. This type of precipitation is called "virga."

I would highly encourage anyone to make the trek to Ft. Davis if they would be interested in visiting an observatory. They have informative public tours of a 107" telescope and the 10m Hobby Eberly telescope. They end the tour with solar viewing with a Meade Sweet 16 connected to two 27" black and white monitors that provide clear views of sun spots, solar flares, prominences, and magnetic fields on the surface.

In awe of the heavens,

Michael Crouse

Walker Ferry Observatory News
Scott Thompson

Well, I got some bad news and some good news.

The Observatory took a lighting strike this summer and I have had to ship my ST7 back twice and it is still off for repair. My hand controller also took a hit and it has been repaired by Astro-Physics. The NGC-MAX has also been sent in for repair but it was not from lightning. So, there has NOT been too much gazing this Summer or Fall. However there is good news.

The Observatory will be purchasing a new goto mount which should ship in December. I have sold the old AP800 mount. The new mount will be a HD200C with Astro-Physics goto electronics. It is made by Parallax. It is portable and heavy duty for the observatory. I am not patient enough to wait over a year to get an Astro-Physics mount and the Paramount is not portable. This was the next best choice I thought for price and portability.

Instead of gazing I did update my home page. It has a new look and can be viewed by going to the above link. I did get out and try to catch the Mercury transit but I could not see the transit with a pair of 10X50 binoculars. Anyway some folks at work was able to see the many sun spots. Ricky and I got out on the 17th and spotted about 14 Leonids. Wish we had been in Europe!

A new job has kept me away from the meetings this Summer and Fall. So I hope to get back into things after the first of the year. Once I have a handle on the new mount I will be happy to give a demonstration at a star party or meeting. Hope everyone is taking advantage of these clear skies! Saturn and Jupiter have been awesome!

Good-Bye and Clear Skies!

Scott Thompson

On the WWW

HST Slide Show
Darlene Snipes

Check out the pictures from the Hubble Telescope. Fascinating to me.

Rod Mollise (MAS)

The November-December issue of the Mobile Astronomical Society journal, Skywatch, is now available for download. Just go to, select "Skywatch" from the menu of choices and follow the instructions on the Skywatch page. It is currently available in MS Word 97 format, but if I can prevail upon fellow sct-user list member Joe Hartley to kindly convert this to a .pdf file for me (as he was nice enough to do for the last issue) Iíll also post it in Adobe Acrobat format.

Highlights of this issue:

  • Travels with Little Bird (Rod's review of the 80mm f5 Celestron FS80WA)
  • Report on Deep South Regional Star Gaze
  • Light Pollution Update (By well known amateur and ATM Pat Rochford)
  • The Lure of Amateur Astronomy (another fine article by Pat)
  • Rumors (Latest poop on the amateur astronomy biz)

Online Searchable Index to Astronomy and/or S&T

Trying to find that article you read a few years ago in one of your astronomy magazines?
Try this URL:

For Sale

I am selling a Celestron C102HD with 2" diagonal and 55mm TeleVue Plossl for $600. I have $950 in it.

Also, an equatorial platform for $175. It started out as a TL Systems kit and ended up a sort of Poncet/Tom Osypowski hybrid. It works well with my 12.5" F/6 Dob, would do a super job on a 10" or smaller. (The cost of the kit was $189 plus wood. The original construction labor and modification work is worth ... I don't know ... $90 to $100??)

The reason I'm selling both is to add on to my observatory. I can pick up another refractor somewhere down the road and build another platform later on also. Both work well and are good buys. The 4" with the 55 Plossl produces a true field of view of 2.6 degrees. The star images are absolutely pinpoint to the edge. Sort of a poor man's Genesis. It also holds up well with a 4.8mm Nagler on the planets (208X). A little bit of a violet tinge on Venus, the Moon and Jupiter about like any achromat .

Pat Rochford
Fairhope AL
(334) 928-9405

Book Review

Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the Horizons of Space and Time
by Kitty Ferguson

Walker and Company, 1999
hardcover, 352pp., illus.
ISBN 0-8027-1351-3

Buy this book at

The story of astronomy has been the story of making humanity less and less significant in the greater scheme of the universe. Starting with Earth as the center of the universe, we have over the last several centuries demoted the Earth, then the Sun, and then our galaxy as the center of the universe. Worse yet, there might even be other universes besides our own! Kitty Ferguson takes on a journey through this humbling history in "Measuring the Universe".

Starting with the ancient Greeks, Ferguson provides an account of how astronomers and others have triedóand often failed badlyó to define the size and nature of the universe. The book does a good job of neatly summarizing this history, up through recent (1998) studies that indicate that the universeís expansion is accelerating not slowing down, indicating the universe may expand forever and causing complications for the Big Bang theory of the universeís origin.

While Ferguson does a good job taking us through this history, the book lacks any real unique insights about why and how we came to understand the universe in this manner. If youíve read about such history, and its major playersófrom Eratosthenes to Hawkingó youíll find little new material in this book. For those less knowledgeable about this history, and looking for a nontechnical book to learn more, however, "Measuring the Universe" is a good place to begin.

Jeff Foust
Via SpaceViews

In Search of the Ultimate Ultima
Submitted by Phillip Hosey

On Saturday night, November 13, I went up to the Charles Elliott Wildlife Management Area east of Atlanta where the North East Georgia group observes. There I met Michael Covington whom I had previously exchanged emails and conversation with on sci.astro.amateur with concerning a problem both of us had with our Celestron Celestar Deluxe SCTís. The problem with our scopes is with the Periodic Error Correction. Neither of us could get it to work correctly so Michael decided to use the scientific method to determine the problem. We tested my scope by watching a guide star in an illuminated reticle eyepiece for the duration of the worm cycle, about 5.41 minutes. This cycle is the amount of time that it takes the worm gear to finish one complete revolution. Periodic error correction attempts to record your corrections to the errors and then continuously play them back. What is supposed to happen is that the software should record your corrections for exactly the period of the worm and then play them back every 5.41 minutes in the case of our scopes. I watched the guide star as Dr. Covington recorded the position on a graph as I called it out to him every 30 seconds. First we graphed the movements of the guide star for one worm period without PEC. I gave him distanced marked of in reticle box widths, of which we knew the angular size in arcseconds. We determined that the total periodic error of my drive was about 30". After this, I trained the PEC on the scope. The first thing we noticed is that the recording stooped after only 4 minutes and began to play back. We tested the periodic error again after doing this and graphed it as well. The software was playing back corrections every 4 minutes, well short of the worm period which resulted in more error than I had to start with. Both Michael and I have been in contact with Celestron tech support and they are supposedly working on the problem. They claim not to have known anything about this problem. The thing that really upset me about it was that I had sent my scope in to repair the PEC problem a couple weeks prior to this and explained to them exactly what the PEC was (or wasnít) doing. The said that they tested it and found nothing wrong with it. My feeling is that either they didnít actually test it, or they did it incorrectly. Basically, Michael and I did all the troubleshooting and hopefully Celestron will make the change to their software and send us new EPROMS.


[Replying to a request for more details, Phillip continues:]

Ok. Relating to the PEC problem story. I called Celestron tech support regarding the problem with the PEC on my scope when I first noticed it. The first thing they did was try to get me to send it in for repair, which I didnít want to do because we were having the best observing weather in months and I didnít want to waste any of it. I convinced them to send me a new tracking control board because I believed there was a problem with the software. They sent me a new board, but they sent the board with the switches on it which wasnít the one that was bad. I tried it anyway and it didnít even work so I called them and told them about it and they sent out the correct board UPS blue. The new board was exactly like the current one except the date on the EPROM was newer, but was the same version number. I replace that board and it still didnít fix the problem. I called them again and this time they said I was going to have to send the scope in for repair so I finally said OK, and while youíre at it, I have some other minor problems that need to be addressed. The other problems were a loose secondary mirror holder which caused the secondary mirror to be radially mis-matched from the corrector and primary, and a vibration problem when the RA drive is running. 3 weeks later I called them back to check on the status of the scope and they said it was finished and that they had already shipped it. I got the tracking number and confirmed. I asked them exactly what they did and they told me that they tested the PEC and found nothing wrong with it. Obviously they didnít test it correctly. They failed to fix the secondary holder problem and didnít even check for the vibration. Basically all I got was a good cleaning and factory collimation, something I could have done myself. I explained this to them and all they could tell me was to send the scope back to them. Nope I said, Iím not going to do this again. The next thing was to do more extensive testing to find out exactly what was going on with the PEC since that was the major problem. I got with Michael Covington, we tested the scope and came up with the answer, which confirmed my suspicions. The software was not recording for the correct length of time during the PEC training and therefore played back incorrect adjustments. We called Celestron and told them what was happening and they said they would look into it and get back with us. They said it would take several weeks. So I just wait now.

After the unsatisfactory treatment from Celestron regarding the other problems, I decided that I would have to fix them myself. I took the scope out into the backyard along with my toolbox and some determination. I decided that I was going to adjust the worm tension and that should fix my vibration problem. Well, I started adjusting and there was no improvement, so I figured I would tighten up the bushings that hold the worm to the RA shaft. Of course Murphy had to show up for the occasion and the bushing came off, (itís in a difficult position to put back on with the scope fully assembled.) I tried in vain to get it back on but alas, I was only to make the problem worse. While trying to slip the bushing back onto the RA shaft, I accidentally pushed the RA shaft too hard and it caused the worm to disengage the main gear and slip to the left. Try as I might, I couldnít get it back into position to put the bushing back on so I decided that I was going to have to take the scope in the house and disassemble it to get to the parts easier. Hereís the catch... The scope could not be locked in RA for transport because the worm was no longer in contact with the main gear, so I had to leave it loose in RA. I had to remove the scope and drive base from the mount and carry it inside this way. I donít know if it was my frustration or my fatigue but I got this bright idea to lift the scope off the mount by the drive base only, completely forgetting the affect of gravity on the forks/OTA. As soon is I lifted the base and it came loose from the mount, gravity took over and the scope fell. I caught it before it hit the ground however, and the only damage was a small dent in the Dec motor housing and a nasty broken thumbnail and a bruised thumb, which really hurts when itís 40 degrees outside. I was so hurt. I thought I really messed up this time. I took the scope in the house, checked everything over, nothing broken, good I thought, now I just have to put it back together. Once I got the forks off the base and removed the main gear and RA setting circle, I had a clear shot at the RA shaft, worm and the offending bushing. I put everything back together, adjusted the worm tension like I intended to in the first place and took the scope outside for testing. I measured the periodic error of the drive system after this and you know what? I cut it in half! The PE dropped form 30 arcseconds down to 15 arcseconds, so then all the angst I went through was worth it. As for the vibration, well itís still there, but I found that if I load the scope down with dew shield, Telrad, finder, counterweights, 2" diagonal or camera/OAG, then the shakes go away. I am very pleased at how well this thing tracks, now all I have to do is get rid of this tuning fork of a wedge. Actually, Iím still saving up for that Losmandy GEM :)



Hope to see everyone at the meeting,