by Larry Kalinowski
Happy holidays to all WAS members. Another year comes to an end. Goodbye
'98 and hello to '99. The new year will see much joy and much apprehension
because it is the mother of the next millennium. Let me be the first in
the club to wish you all a happy new year.
December marks the beginning of construction of the International Space
Station. Module one (provided by the Russians) and module two (provided
by the Americans) will be merged together to form the first major union
of the gigantic effort. Construction will take years, with completion
sometime after the year 2012. The total length of the station is expected
to be larger than a football field.
The Russians are planning to launch a mirror, 100 feet in diameter, next
year. It'll be folded during launch, then unfolded at their space station
MIR. Just exactly what's expected of it, wasn't clear. A brief mention
of pointing the reflected sun's image to the ground, somewhere at the
south pole was given as a short explanation. Here's another light pollution
problem for astronomers.
The battle of the super computers is heating up. Silicon Graphics, INC
claims their Blue Mountain computer is the fastest in the world, boasting
1.6 trillion calculations a second. IBM maintains its computer called
Big Blue can run 3.9 trillion per second. It might be interesting to combine
the two in a chess fight. The best of seven games sounds good to me. It
may not show which is the fastest but would show which is smartest.
December also marks the beginning of the eighth year that I'll be writing
this newsletter column. It certainly hasn't seemed that long. Maybe that's
because I've enjoyed doing it so much. There were a few times when I thought
I'd miss a month but somehow the article made it in.
By the time you read this, the Iridium constellation of satellites (using
66 out of 77 planned) should be in operation. It's going to provide around-the-globe
telephone service for wireless telephone operators. It takes a special
telephone, with a special antenna, to send and receive the signals. Professional
astronomers, both radio and optical, are concerned about how their observing
will be affected by the signals and antenna brilliance under certain Earth-Sun
conditions. Sometimes those satellite's antennas reflect sunlight with
a magnitude of -8, outshining the planet Venus.
It's time for the 1998 WAS Awards banquet, coming up on December 17, at
The Warren Chateau, just east of Mound Road on Ten Mile Rd. If you haven't
got your money in yet, don't fret. Send your check or money order to the
club's treasurer (our president elect for 1999) as soon as you can. The
price is $22.00 per person. Don't miss out on the festivities... spirits,
raffle, awards, entertainment (A David Levy video), food, (do I have to
mention those wing-ding appetizers) and astronomical friends.
The December computer meeting will be held at Gary Gathen's home on Tuesday,
the 22nd. His address is 21 Elm Park. Three blocks south of the 696 expressway
and about half a block west of Woodward in Pleasant Ridge. You can reach
him at 248-543-3366 for further information.
An Autumn Meridian|
by John Herrgott
Went to Stargate for Saturn's recent opposition. And a beautiful one it
was. A clear, cool and dry sky greeted myself and Steve Greene. In the
southwest a three-day old moon was showing earthshine to herald the clear
weather coming from the west. Jupiter, speeding to quadrature, was high
in the southeast and its moons could be picked out in my 7x35 binocs.
And of course Saturn, by the symmetry of its opposition, was defining
the location of a now unseen sun. Using the same binocs, Andromeda showed
a bright core. This was an exceptional sky! I continued my tour by sweeping
north to the double cluster, Cassiopeia and then to what I think is one
of the sky's prettiest sights, the constellation Perseus. Far in the northeast,
Cappella had risen and Aries was high in the east. My meridian seemed
to make a perfect division between the summer and winter skies. The great
square of Pegasus, just to the east, leading the way with the constellations
of fall and winter in tow. And Aquila, brightly showing all its stars,
was pointed straight at the steeply inclined teapot of Sagittarius. Low
in the northwest, Arcturus, using all his strength, seemed to be pulling
the summer constellations of our latitude in a great circle above me.
I find it intriguing the way the constellations change their orientation
to us when transiting the meridian.
Returned to Stargate the evening following Saturn's opposition. While
waiting for Saturn to rise higher in the sky I observed Jupiter now high
in the southeast. The north and south equatorial bands were quite prominent.
However, Jupiter itself seemed to lack some of its luster. The contrast
between the equatorial bands and the planet itself just didn't seem quite
right. More on this in a bit. The alignment of Jupiter's four moons was
interesting this evening. The two closest moons were paired, one on each
side of Jupiter, seemingly equidistant and close to the planet. The two
outer moons, also seemingly equidistant, were likewise paired. Except
at what looked like the maximum distance that effect could happen. I wondered
how often such an alignment like that could happen.
By now Saturn was high enough for a serious look. And look I did. I was
expecting the lovely view I usually get in the questar, a sharply defined
ring system coupled to a creamy white planet. Instead the ring was poorly
contrasted in itself and one of my favorite planets was now colored pink!
Yup, a definite pink rue. What happened? I can't be certain but I have
an idea. Hudson's did it. Just a few hours before my observations the
Hudson building was imploded. News reports told of the great amount of
dust that was created everywhere. Could that dust, rising in the atmosphere,
have been the culprit? I wonder.
Next month, a report from Star Hill Inn, an astronomy resort in New Mexico.