The Warren Astronomical Society Paper
Volume 31, Number 1January, 1999

astro chatter Astro Chatter
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.

icon 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.

Clear Skies,

John Herrgott

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