Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #7: November 1st, 2006
About Quid Novi
State of DFAC
Quote of the Month
Contact the Editor: Dan Heim, phone: 623.465.7307 or email:
|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|
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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 (www.astronomersinn.com). 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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|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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