Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #7: November 1st, 2006

About Quid Novi

Past Issues

DFAC Events

State of DFAC

Last Meeting

Next Meeting

Quote of the Month

Space Debris

Contact the Editor: Dan Heim, phone: 623.465.7307 or email:

DFAC Events:
Date   Time   Event   Location
Sep 27   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #1   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Oct 25   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #2   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Oct 30   5:30 pm - 8:00 pm   Ladies Guild Astronomy Night   6609 E. El Sendero Drive, Cave Creek, AZ 85331 (contact Dan Heim for gate code)
Nov 28   5:30 pm - 7:30 pm   Student Astronomy Night   Foothills Academy College Prep, 7191 E. Ashler Hills Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85262
Nov 29   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #3   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Jan 26   6:00 pm - 8:00 pm   Eastside Explorers Homeschool Group   TBA

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
  • Welcome to the "new and improved" Quid Novi. As I've been saying from the start, this newsletter will continue to evolve. We still want it to be easily printable for distribution to members without internet access, hence we'll stay with the "one page" format, but as it expands to a longer page, internal links look like the way to go. So readers now have the ability to jump around the page without scrolling, simply by clicking on items in the "Table of Contents" at the top, and returning to that Table by clicking on the "Back to Top" icon. Further, we changed the background and text colors to give it a distinct appearance, contrasting with the rest of the website, and also making it easier to print.
  • Also new is the logo for our newsletter. I found this font called "Star Fleet" on the internet, and it just seemed appropriate for an astronomy club. So the "Quid Novi" logo at the top of this page is now Federation compliant. It's a cool font and, in time, will find its way into some of our other publications.
  • New sections in Quid Novi include an astronomy "Quote of the Month" and "Space Debris," a catch-all section for items that don't fit elsewhere. If you have an idea for another new section, contact the Editor with your suggestion. It would be nice to see regular contributions from club members with expertise to share.
  • As you may suspect from the "Quote of the Month" title, Quid Novi is now a regular monthly publication. During our organizational phase, it was published as needed to apprise members of necessary business. At this point, however, it seems logical to go monthly. We have our monthly lecture series underway, and anything more urgent can be communicated by direct email and/or phone. So that's the plan: Quid Novi will be published around the 1st of each month from here on out. Starting with this issue, #7, all issues will be numbered for archival reasons. And don't forget ... we're still looking for a real Editor to take this over for 2007-2008. If you have the skills, and a couple hours a month spare time, think about stepping up for this position.
  • This was also a good time to update the History page on our website. Much has happened in the last few months, and the important events have been added to the record. Years from now, the efforts taken to document our evolution will be appreciated by future members. Every organization needs a legacy, and the History page is ours.
  • Our Astronomy Night for the Ladies Guild went very well. The sky was clear, albeit with a near-Quarter Moon up, and the site (on the south side of Black Mountain in Cave Creek) was relatively dark. Snacks and drinks were provided by our gracious hosts, Dan and Jan Dooley. Around 30 people were in attendance. Objects viewed included the Moon, M13, M31, M57, Double Cluster, Milky Way, and Albireo. Feedback was extremely positive, as most of the guests had little experience with quality telescopes or astronomy in general. DFAC received a generous donation of $150 from the Dooleys, and an invitation to repeat this event in the future. Thanks to the Dooleys, an thanks to DFAC members Roger Serrato, Ken Reeves, Jo McCall, and George Kantarges for their assistance at this event. We had a great collection of scopes with which to showcase the night sky.
  • The DFAC treasury is in fine shape. So fine, in fact, that I decided it was time to reimburse myself for club startup expenses. Our checking balance was $405.00. Reimbursements were: website hosting at GoDaddy ($42.66), domain name registration at Network Solutions ($43.99), and color copying costs for our DFAC information brochure, distributed for publicity purposes ($52.08). The total was $138.73, leaving DFAC with a healthy balance of $266.27.
  • To distinguish DFAC from other clubs, and out of consideration for gas costs, it would seem a speaker reimbursement policy is in order. For speakers from outside the Phoenix metropolitan area, gas costs can be considerable (not to mention travel time). In the future, with a more robust treasury, we can seek such speakers, but for the time being we'll need to stick with local talent. And even in that case, a small token of our appreciation would seem appropriate, say $20. If our treasury can afford it, I know our speakers would appreciate it. We did just that with Dr. Hester who spoke at our October meeting. Unless I hear strong objections from the membership, we will continue with this policy.
  • Our next public event, an Astronomy Night at Foothills Academy, is scheduled for Tuesday, November 28th, 5:30 - 7:30 pm. I will be there with my Takahashi, but we need some more volunteers. There may be as many as 50 middle-school students in attendance. If you can help out with this, we can use more scopes. Please let me know as soon as possible.
  • Thanks for reading Quid Novi and staying involved with DFAC. You know where to send your feedback. See you all next meeting, and clear skies!

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, October 25th, 2006
Dr. Jeff Hester spoke on the topic of "From the Big Bang to Big Brains: the Evolution of Structure in the Universe." After some initial problems with ventilation-induced vibrations in the ceiling-mounted multimedia projector, solved scientifically by damping the resonance, the show finally started around 7:30 pm. Members were treated to an outstanding presentation, with amazing photos and animations. Of particular note was a supercomputer simulation of the origin of galactic sheets and strings. With the small group in attendance, we were invited to interrupt with questions at any point. Many such questions ensued. After the presentation, we had a general Q&A on matters astronomical. Everything from inflation to dark matter was discussed, with Dr. Hester expertly fielding all questions.

It all went so well that Dr. Hester offered to return next semester, following up on a topic from the Q&A (quantum mechanics and cosmology). Consider him booked, as the second semester lecture series is only now being arranged. We have a great list of potential speakers, but it's never to late for your input if you have any suggestions.

Members in attendance: 8 (a bit low, but not bad for a new club).

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, November 29th, 2006
Our November speaker will be Wayne Johnson (a.k.a. Mr. Galaxy), Western Region Representative of the Astronomical League. Wayne will speak to us about the many benefits and resources available through the League. Membership in the League is required to obtain our discounted liability insurance, and all DFAC members receive The Reflector, the League's quarterly newsletter, but there is so much more to League membership. Come to the meeting to learn more.

If time permits, we might be able to convince Wayne into telling us a little more about his own observing program. An article in the Sunday, October 29th Arizona Republic reports that Wayne does some work at Astronomers Inn, a bed & breakfast near Benson, AZ ( Further, he has six extra-galactic supernovae to his name, and happens to be the only "amateur" astronomer to discover two supernovae in one evening! Little wonder he has earned the title of "Mr. Galaxy."

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Quote of the Month:
"We are like the inhabitants of an isolated valley in New Guinea who communicate with societies in neighboring valleys (quite different societies, I might add) by runner and by drum. When asked how a very advanced society will communicate, they might guess by an extremely rapid runner or by an improbably large drum. They might not guess a technology beyond their ken. And yet, all the while, a vast international cable and radio traffic passes over them, around them, and through them. We will listen for the interstellar drums, but we will miss the interstellar cables. We are likely to receive our first messages from the drummers of the neighboring galactic valleys from civilizations only somewhat in our future. The civilizations vastly more advanced than we, will be, for a long time, remote both in distance and in accessibility. At a future time of vigorous interstellar radio traffic, the very advanced civilizations may be, for us, still insubstantial legends."

— Carl Sagan, "The Cosmic Connection"

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Space Debris:
From The Onion, a satirical publication that calls itself "America's finest news source."

PASADENA, California -- NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists overseeing the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission said Monday that the Spirit's latest transmissions could indicate a growing resentment of the Red Planet.

"Spirit has been displaying some anomalous behavior," said Project Manager John Callas, who noted the rover's unsuccessful attempts to flip itself over and otherwise damage its scientific instruments. "And the thousand or so daily messages of 'STILL NO WATER' really point to a crisis of purpose." The "robot geologist," as NASA describes Spirit, has been operating independently for over 990 Martian sols — nearly the equivalent of three Earth years. However, scientists estimate that, in recent weeks, Spirit has been functioning on the level of a rover who has been on Mars for approximately 6,160 sols.

According to Callas, Spirit was operating normally until the onset of the Martian winter, whose shorter days and frigid temperatures typically mean a slower pace for exploratory rovers. "We began getting the occasional transmission along the lines of 'ANOTHER SOIL SAMPLE OF THE EXACT SAME COMPOSITION AS THE LAST ONE,'" Callas said. "Most of the time, she'd power down and not transmit much of anything, which, at the time, didn't particularly concern us." But as the winter lingered, Spirit began producing thousands of pages of sometimes rambling and dubious data, ranging from complaints that the Martian surface was made up almost entirely of the same basalt, to long-winded rants questioning the exorbitant cost and scientific relevance of the mission.

"Granted, Spirit has been extraordinarily useful to our work," Callas said. "Last week, however, we received three straight days of images of the same rock with the message 'HAPPY NOW?'" Mission Project Scientist Bruce Banerdt said that Spirit will often roll down Gusev crater and up the opposite side for no apparent reason, missing "countless" potential opportunities for scientific discovery. "Once, when we radioed her to please leave the lecturing and hypothesis-making to the mission project team, she responded by forming her robotic arm into an obscene gesture," Banerdt said. "That arm contains a state-of-the-art spectrometer meant to provide crucial mineralogy data." Project organizers said the most distressing instance of erratic behavior occurred last week, when images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed that Spirit had scrawled the message "F--- MARS" in the thick, iron oxide dust that gives the planet its characteristic red color.

"The orbiting Mars Odyssey has cut off transmissions from Spirit, which seems to envy the craft's ability to fly freely around in space," Banerdt said. "Similarly, data suggests Spirit is convinced that [sister rover] Opportunity has found water and isn't telling anyone." Despite these malfunctions, mission leaders remain optimistic that the rover will eventually return to full working order. "Hopefully these malfunctions will straighten themselves out," Callas said. "In the meantime, we'll simply have to try to glean what usable data we can from 'OVERPRICED SPACE-ROOMBA AWAITING MORE BULLS--- ORDERS.'"

NASA remains optimistic that the rover will remain at least partially operational for the foreseeable future. However, because of the Spirit's recent proclivity toward ramming into boulders at full speed, scientists have remotely disabled its 1.5-pound rock-abrasion tool so the rover is unable to terminate the mission prematurely.

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