April 2002
Astro Chatter
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astro chatter
Astro Chatter
by Larry Kalinowski

April is the month that we, as amateur astronomers, try to show the world what the hobby of skygazing is all about. Cranbrook and it's Institute Of Science are going all out on Astronomy Day, Saturday, April 20, and needs our help doing the same. From 12:30pm to 4:30pm we're supposed to set up telescopes and displays for the public to view on the concrete apron surrounding the reflecting pool and science center. Solar telescopes are needed for observing the Sun. Cranbrook's museum and observatory will be open for the public. Even if it's a cloudy day, telescopes will be needed for display and answering questions. WDVD-FM will be there, doing interviews and some lucky individual will win a telescope. Later that evening, if weather permits, amateur telscopes will be pointed at Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Mercury and the Moon. The western sky will have that planetary lineup early in the evening. Since those planets will be in favorable viewing for the next four weekends, the following Fridays will also be open to the public. April 26, May 3,10 and 17. We are asked to participate those Friday evenings too.

Our club's observatory, Stargate, will also be open to the public on April 20. If you can bring a telescope for public viewing, on that night, it will be appreciated because quite a few wanna-be astronomers will show up there too, especially if the Metro-Park authority provides publicity. There will be talks and displays for the public on the camp grounds, perhaps even a video display tied to the 12 1/2 inch observatory telescope.

Dave D'Onofrio gave his second talk on CCD cameras at the March, Macomb Community College, third Thursday meeting. This second part talk covered matching your telescope to your CCD camera and vice-versa. He discussed the need for determining how to find out which CCD chip is best used with your 'scope, based on telescope parameters such as focal length and F ratio, as well as camera parameters like chip and pixel size. He pointed out that choosing the wrong camera-CCD combination will deprive you of being able to enhance your pictures, which is probably the best part of CCD photography. Dave is scheduled to give another part of his talk on CCD's, later on in the year.

The Hubble telescope has been given a complete reconditioning with the last repair mission. With all sections revamped for deeper penetration of the universe, you can expect more sensational pictures from that telescope in the near future. A new set of deep field pictures are planned, as well as a rephotograph of the old deep field areas to see if anything new shows up. The telescope is expected to have a ten fold improvement in its capability, which means a tenfold increase in resolution. There's even a hint that it might be able to photographically detect extrasolar planets.

Do stars with higher amounts of metal produce more planets? That would seem so, according to present extrasolar discoveries. Most of the planets detected have been around stars with higher amounts of metal. However, that may just be a fluke, according to some astronomers.

Five more programs are being added to the WAS software library. EPHEMERIS is a program written by Ray Travis of the WAS. It calculates an ephemeris for comets that you provide orbital elements for. The elements are entered through the keyboard, along with how often you want the orbit positions calculated, like daily or every fifth day, as well as the number of calculations required. SIDEREAL is another short program that converts local time to sidereal or Julian date and vice-versa. SIMON (SIMulation ON) is a simulation program that lets you practice lunar occultation timing. You can control the lunar phase and the ingress position of the object you're timing. It also records the length of time it takes for you to react to a simulated occultation when you push the enter key. If you follow the instructions given with the program, you can wire a pushbutton to the parallel port of your computer and use the actual pushbutton that you'd use in a real occultation. ASTROART DEMO is a .fit graphics enhancing program. You can take raw .fit images, made by yourself or the professionals and modify or enhance those images. Finally, ASTROMETRICA is a program to measure stellar positions after you take a photograph or CCD picture. There are now sixty-three programs available in the WAS program library. You can see the complete list of programs, along with a brief explanation of what each program is all about, on our website at www.boonhill.net/WAS/. Click on "COMPUTER" on the left hand side of the screen.

The comet Ikeya-Zhang is performing better than predicted in the ephemeris that I handed out at the March, Cranbrook meeting. As of March 18, the reported magnitude was 3.1., with a 3.5 degree tail, almost a magnitude brighter than expected. Joe VanPoucker reported seeing Ikeya-Zhang during the weekend of March 2nd, in the western, evening sky, just below the planet Mars. Even though it hadn't reached its brightest, he claims it was easy to spot. It'll stay a naked eye object until the end of May, when it begins to move southward, toward the southern hemisphere. Close examination of the orbit shows that this may not be a new comet, but one that had passed around the Sun in the 1600's.

Which day of the year is the shortest? This year it's April 7. That's the day we move our clocks ahead one hour to change to daylight savings time. With only 23 hours in it, that's considerably shorter. Now, what's the longest day of the year?

An occultation of the star gamma Cancri is supposed to happen during the evening of April 20, Astronomy Day. The 4.7 magnitude star will disappear behind the dark limb of the Moon about 9:58pm EDT. It'll be located about ten degrees from the southern cusp.

Another close call. On March 12, astronomers found another asteroid came close to the Earth, as close as the last "close call". The last one passed by at about twice the distance to the Moon. This one, about 165 feet in diameter, passed by on March 8, at around 288,000 miles, again about twice the distance to the Moon. This time we didn't see it until four days after it passed. We spotted the last one two days after it passed. Our spotting record is getting worse, not better.

Just got through reading a book about Richard P. Feynman, the noted, Nobel prize winning physicist. It's called SURELY YOU'RE JOKING, MR. FEYNMAN by Ralph Leighton. They're short stories, told by Feynman himself about some funny incidents that occured during his lifetime. Probably the best stories are his recalls of his ability to open locks, a trait he developed while working for the government, on the atomic bomb. Further in the book, he becomes interested in the Mayan calendar and discovers some calendar cycles that can apparently be explained only by the planet Venus. He avoids mathematics, so the book can be read by anyone. The last chapter concerns his definition of scientific work, how it should be handled and gives a few tips on describing both successes and failures in your final analysis.

If you were allowed 1200 words to be recorded in history, knowing that those 1200 words would be time capsuled and opened in 50,000 years, what would you say, about yourself, our times, your hopes or your predictions for the future? You have the chance to do just that if you're on line with the Internet. A non-profit French group is about to launch a satellite (KEA) into space that is supposed to be returned to the Earth in about 50,000 years. You can put your 1200 words into the satellite archive, by going to www.keo.org and entering your thoughts via your keyboard. All messages will be placed on DVD's, along with diagrams to build a DVD player, just in case there aren't any in the future, and launched into space. You'll also be able to see the messages that others have written, via the Internet, without names attached. This might be a good way for the WAS to express its hopes and dreams for the future.


The Warren Astronomical Society Paper
Volume 34, Number 4 April 2002