The month of May beckens us northerners to take advantage of the warmer weather and dust off our telescopes for another sky gazing episode under the stars. No bugs that bite or nocturnal animals to creep up behind us while mother nature awakens outdoor life again. Best of all, no dew, for awhile, anyway.
A spring star party, sponsored by Bill Beers, is scheduled to take place on his property, near Cadillac, Michigan, during the May 8-12 time frame. It's officially titled The CADILLAC WEST SPRING STAR PARTY. Located about fourteen miles west of Cadillac, you can get more info and a map to the site, by contacting Bill at 586-566-8376 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Maps are also available at our meetings. There is limited floor space in his cabin but plenty of space for tents or campers. Two motels are located one mile east of the party site. Hillside Inn, 231-862-3723 and Caberfae Peaks, 231-862-3300. AC power will be available and there will be a Saturday barbecue. Attendees are asked to RSVP to help in the planning.
A new state of matter has been hypothisized by astronomers. They think they have found a collapsed star with a density so high that the neutron star theory isn't good enough to explain it. The collapsed star might be composed of Quarks, the fundamental particles of matter that may be the smallest physical particles in the universe, so far detected.
About a half dozen or so members raised their hands when asked if anyone had seen comet Ikeya-Zhang. The comet will be around during May but will be close to the horizon and will also be a morning object. If you've never seen a comet in both the evening and morning of the same day, this phenomenon will occur until it fades from view. The morning view is the favorable view because it is higher in the sky before twilight begins. As of April 11, magnitude estimates have put it at 3.4. The comet is staying brighter, longer than expected, with a tail length reported to be near eight degrees.
Astronomy Day at Stargate Observatory turned out very well, considering the clouds that eventually blanketed the sky. Fortunatly, the last part of the sky to cloud over was the western part, so everyone got a chance to see the planets as well as comet Ikeya-Zhang. Estimated attendance was about three hundred, according to a random survey. Displays about asteroids, mirror making, and astrophotography, both film and CCD, were displayed in the reception center and talks by Ken Bertin, Mike Simonsen and Dave D'Onofrio rounded out the evening. Thanks to Bob Watt and Gary Gathen, their video setup and planet walk enhanced the astronomy displays. Additional thanks go to Nancy Greene, Debbie Zolner, Marsha Zuziak and Donna Schmazel for providing hot drinks and donuts to those who couldn't take the lower temperatures that evening.
While Ikeya-Zhang was making news with its jump to lower third magnitude, another comet was spotted approaching the Sun. This one, named Utsynomiya C/2002 F1, appeared to be making another promising presentation. Though not predicted to be as bright as Ikeya-Zhang, fifth magnitude could still make an interesting show in a telescope, especially if there's a tail. Again, humans seem to be catching more comets than expected when all those automated, near Earth asteroid telescopes are probing the sky. It's a lesson for amateur observers....patience pays off.
The April Cranbrook meeting was well attended for the DOAA presentations THE SKY IS NOT BURNING and AN HOUR BEFORE DAWN. Both were automated, one hundred and sixty slide, programs with synchronized, hi fidelity, stereo sound, created by the wizardry of Jack Szymanski, Gary Ross, and Jerry Persha. Ross and Persha, both well known, highly active members of the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Asscociation (GRAAA) invited members of the WAS to visit their club's observatory in Lowell, Michigan.
Cranbrook is still looking for telescope help on the following Fridays, April 26, May 3, 10, and 17. This telescope demo is an extended part of Astronomy Day because there will be a very good planetary lineup in the western sky during that time frame. It is well publicized and a large public attendance is expected.
Operation "starshine" got a lot of publicity in the pages of the May, 2002 issue of Sky And Telescope. Starshine is a "disco ball" satellite that has a large number of one inch mirrors mounted on it. The mirrors were made by volunteers in the public school system here in the USA. So far three satellites have been deployed in space. A fourth will soon be launched via the space shuttle and a fifth is now in the planning stages. The general brightness of the satellites is around fifth or six magnitude. However, when one of the mirrors reflects a beam of light directly to the ground, the brightness jumps to -1. Since the satellites are slowly rotating, the bright flashes only occur about five or six times during a passage. Satellite number one has already burned up in the Earth's atmosphere. Number two and three are due to come down in the near future. If I can, I'll try to get predictions for satellites four and five to future meetings. They should make some interesting pictures.
Marty Kunz has rescheduled the WAS picnic for June 8. Attendees are expected to bring a dish to pass. This is also a good time for new members in the club to come out and take a look through all types of telescopes, "old" types and goto types. It's the best way to compare all the different kinds of 'scopes, if you're planning to buy your first telescope and aren't sure of which to spend your hard earned cash on. It's also a good time to compare eyepieces and mountings to learn the advantages of each. The club's 22, 12 1/2, 10 and 8 inch 'scopes will also be available for public use. Refreshments are usually available from the club,however, any meats to be grilled must be provided by attendees. The club grill will be heated for the occasion.
The SMURFS annual star party seems to be called off, except for a small posibility that Kurt Kemp may have a "reduced" version of the event with no commercialism, raffle, or entrance fee. A small donation may be asked for with a hat pass. It means there may be electricity but out houses? Don't count on it. Further info will be passed along when we get more.
On Thursday, April 11, a small group of WAS members witnessed the passing of the Space Shuttle and ISS, crossing the northern sky at 9:42pm. It was the telescope making group that meets at Steve Greene's home. The combination of both orbiting bodies linked together produced a bright, -1 magnitude object, easy to see, even on that hazy night. This is the Shuttle mission that added that extra length of beam which will eventually have more hardware mounted to it, like solar panels and additional experiments.
Asteroid 1950 DA is on a possible collision course with the Earth in the year 2880, on March 16. Ordinarily that kind of headline would bother me if the prediction were closer in time but waiting 878 years to see the end result doesn't tickle my fancy, for some reason. Add to that the fact that other bodies in the solar system can effect its orbit and make a change, kind of takes the suspense out of the orbit calculations. It does make an interesting headline in the newspaper, to the uninformed.
The Kensington "Astronomy On The Beach" star party is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18. Since the major planets won't be visible in the evening after the month of May and there seems to be two low range (about fifth magnitude) comets, Ikeya-Zhang and Utsynomiya, available for April and May, the month of May ended up being the chosen month. Even if the sky doesn't cooperate, members are expected to help out in some way with answering questions about astronomy and helping those who will pass out information about the club. You can reach the Kensington site by taking I-96 to exit 153 (Kent Lake Road) and turning north to get to the park entrance. Martindale Beach is the setup site. No prominent speaker has been found yet.
A special invitation to attend still another star party, given by the people who inhabit Harsens' Island, has been extended to many members of the WAS, for Friday, May 11. Those that bring telescopes to the Stewart farm, on 2007 Stewart Road, will be reimbursed for the cost of using the ferry to get to the island. Cider, a camp fire and other astronomical displays will entice islanders to converse with you about astronomy. Contact Bob Williams, at 810-748-8987 or 248-542-5787 if you want more information.
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