The Hubble space telescope has scored another hit by closely examining the first planet (HD 209458b) ever detected by that very minescule change in magnitude, that a star changes, when a planet passes in front of it. Only detectable with very sensitive instruments, spectroscopic analysis of the star through the planets atmosphere, has revealed a planet losing millions of tons of Hydrogen behind it, leaving an extremely long tail of Hydrogen gas, very much like a comet. This is the first time that such a calculation has been possible with such instrumentation. The planet, 30% larger than Jupiter, with 66% of its mass, and orbiting its sun every three and a half days, is expected to reduce its atmosphere and size until only a rocky core remains.
Cliff Jones, our club editor, wasn't able to give his lecture at the Cranbrook meeting last month, so It'll be postponed to a later date. In his place, Ken Bertin, our First Vice-president, gave a marvelous, thought provoking talk on the Shuttle disaster and the possibility that we are taking too many chances with human life in our exploration of space. He proposed using more robotic equipment, since 90% (his quote) of space expenditures are concerned with the preservation of life in space.
Dave D'Onofrio amazed the WAS, March, MCCC meeting with a stellar presentation of travel through space with a 3-D, stereo presentation, utilizing my red-blue stereo glasses. The best part was a trip through the solar system. Members were heard saying they were so spoiled with the presentation and its effects that they were thinking of scraping their telescopes. They now had seen it all. Dave says you can download a sample copy of the program from www.starstrider.com.
The grand prize winner of the Meade, 14mm, super wide angle eyepiece was Dennis Schmalzel's wife Dawna. If Dennis is a good boy, he may get the chance to use it sometime.
In case you didn't know it, you could qualify for a $500 prize. It's called The Benson Prize, amoung amateur astronomers. James W. Benson, founder and chairman of The Space Development Corporation, is willing to hand out the $500 prize to any amateur astronomer that discovers a near Earth crossing asteroid. Only ten prizes are to be awarded, so far. The asteroid must have a perihelion distance of less than one AU and must be defined as a rocky minor planet, not an icy composition, typical of a comet. Past winners are Roy Tucker of Tuscon, Arizona and Leonard L. Ambergey of Fitchburg, MA.
The April Cranbrook meeting, will feature Dr. Phil Martin on the thought provoking subject of biomolecules in space. Could life on Earth have arisen from some outer space source, like a comet, asteroid or another planet? Dr. Martin will help you ponder the possibility. Don't miss this talk on Monday the 7th.
On Thursday, April 17, Brian Klaus will continue the discussion on CHAOS theory, at the Macomb meeting. Can a butterfly's wings, on one side of the Earth, create a hurricane on the other? This is the second of a series that Brian has chosen to give.
In May of the year 1006, a bright light appeared in the constellation Lupus. Many people saw it and marveled at it, but didn't know what it was. Today, we call it a supernova. Recent examination of the area of the sky where it was known to be has an expanding cloud of gas that has been analyzed and the rate of expansion calculated. From that data and the fact that it is a certain type of supernova, the visual magnitude, in 1006, was calculated. The value turned out to be about -7.5. That's about as bright as those Iridium satellites get as they reflect sunlight off their antennas. You can actually read by its light in dark sky areas. It must have been quite a sight for observers in 1006.
Eight more moons have been found orbiting the planet Jupiter. The discoveries were made with the giant telescopes in Hawaii. All are a few kilometers in diameter and two are moving in the same direction as the planets rotation. The others are retrograde. Periods are between 200 and 900 days and visual magnitudes are around 23. The names of the moons haven't been assigned yet but they will likely be named after the lovers of the Roman god Jupiter. Since there are so many moons, they'll also be named after children. That brings the total moons around Jupiter to 48. (Note: after writing this paragraph, I found out that four more moons were discovered. The total is now 52, with the possibility of many more waiting to be found).
If you've never attended a Messier Marathon, you'll get the chance to see one in action at Stargate Observatory on April 5. This is the time of the year when the length of darkness and the celestial sphere cooperate to maximize Messier object observing time. How many can you spot in one night?
The rings of the planet Saturn will be tilted at their gratest angle possible during April. If you haven't observed this planet under such a condition, now's the time. Ring structure is best observed at this time. Divisions will be easier to recognize.
There's a ring around our galaxy. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), due to be finished in the year 2005, has revealed a ring of stars that may extend all around the Milky Way. With just a 47 degree survey around our galaxy, it's estimated that there is a possible 20 to 500 million stars that we have been missing because of the obscureing nature of trying to observe through our home based stellar system. So far, astronomers aren't sure if the ring is circular or elliptical but the additional stars, which probably were captured when the Milky Way gobbled another galaxy, pose a vexing problem. The stars are moving at such high speeds that it supports the existence of much more dark matter than we expected.
April is also the last month to take advantage of early evening observing, as daylight savings time pushes daylight another hour later in the evening. DST begins on Sunday morning, April 6.
A series of pictures are being circulated on the Internet that show the Space Shuttle blowing up while in flight above the Earth. It shows an explosion that originates at the back of the shuttle, then moves forward toward the front, with an ever increasing ball of fire and an expanding plume of broken metal and shrapnel. When I first saw those shots, I was amazed at their clarity, thinking these pictures are really great. After scanning the photos a little more, I realized that there were no identifyable markings on the shuttle. To me, that was kind of odd. To top it off, as amazing as those pictures were, none of them were being shown on regular television. Could it be that the wire services are doubting the source of the shots? Another thing about the picture that makes me scratch my head is the advancing ball of fire. The fire ball seems to be obscuring the damaged part of shuttle as it moves forward, as if to suggest that the picture was puposely hiding the probability of more than one photo, overlayed on top of each other. If you've seen those pictures, let me know what you think too.
LOCAL UPCOMING EVENTS. Astronomy Day occurs on May 10 this year. Both Cranbrook and Stargate observatory will have open houses for the public. If you live near one of those facilities and would like to help out by showing the night sky or Daytime Sun to the public, you're more than welcome. If you have any kind of display to set up for the general public, be it photographs or information concerning geting started in the astronomy hobby, please bring your display also. Both sites are usually well attended and they can use all the help they can get.
A lunar eclipse occurs on May 15, and again both Cranbrook and Stargate will need help for accomadating the public.
THE SECOND ANNUAL CADILLAC WEST STAR PARTY takes place May 23 through 27 at Bill Beers northern hideaway. More info will be forthcoming at future meetings. Maps and accomodation information will be handed out and facilities will be discussed.
Mark Saturday, June 7, as the day we will hold our club picnic. You can arrive as early as one o'clock in the afternoon to help with setting up the site for the food tent and telescopes. If you'd like to man one of the club's rental telescopes for the evening, let Steve Greene know about it before they're assigned to others that day. We'd also like to have a swap table set up for those who are looking for some astronomical bargains. So bring whatever you have that you'd like to sell because there is always someone willing to buy, if the price is right. Remember, Saturday, June 7, at Stargate Obsevatory. Don't forget your telescope either. Observing will be going on all night if the weather permits it. In the past, members were asked to bring a dish to join the festivities. It can be something homemade or something purchased, something in the refreshment catagory or the main course, it doesn't matter.
Doug Bock's, 20th ANNUAL SUMMER SOLSTICE STAR PARTY takes place on June 27-28-29. That's a Friday, Saturday and Sunday event. There's room for campers and telescopes and all clubs are invited to attend. Saturday night stay-overs will get a free breakfast Sunday morning.
THE 8th ANNUAL KENSINGTON PUBLIC STAR PARTY will be going on later this year, on Friday and Saturday, September 5&6. Since this is a public star party and an event that is comprised of many Michigan Astronomy clubs, a huge crowd is expected and we are asking that you bring your telescope to help handle the large amount of people wanting to observe through a decent, sturdy telescope. There will be events for the youngsters and vendors for the adults. Lectures by prominent amateur astronomers will be present both days, as well as hot food and softdrinks. This year wil feature the planet Mars and the closest approach to Earth in 70,000 years
THE ISLAND LAKE PUBLIC STAR PARTY happens on Saturday, October 4, and this event too, brings a huge crowd. Volunteers from all clubs are asked to attend and help out with telescope operations, whether it be your own 'scope or relief for someone elses. Hot food, lectures, vendor sales and a raffle always fill the bill at this star party. Last year the main prize in the raffle was a fine goto telescope, as well as dozens of other lesser astronomical prizes.
Bill Beers, our treasurer, announced that the 2003 Awards Banquet will be held at the old Warren Chatau building, in Warren, on 10 Mile Road near Mound Rd, on December 18. Its now called DeCarlo's Banquet Hall. Prices will be announced later.
Again, keep thinking Hydrogen. America needs a clean fuel and less dependence on oil. Continued development of a Hydrogen containment system and Hydrogen generation systems will get us there.