Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #11: March 5th, 2007

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 18   5:30 pm - 8:00 pm   Student Astronomy Night   New River Elementary School, 48827 N. Black Canyon HWY (Exit 232 east to frontage north)
Jan 31   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #4   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Feb 28   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #5   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Mar 10   6:00 pm - ?   DFAC Observing Session   Heimhenge
Mar 21   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   Student Astronomy Night   New River Kiwanis Community Park (map available here).
Mar 28   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #6   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Apr 25   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #7   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
May 30   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Business Meeting   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
  • Happy Birthday DFAC: It occurred to me that, with this issue of Quid Novi, DFAC is one year old. It was on the evening of March 3rd, 2006, that DFAC came into existence with the registration of our domain name and the posting of a "rough draft" of our website. Actually, you could probably say it was "born" several weeks earlier, as the idea was hatched while Roger and I were watching a sunset and lamenting the encroachment of Phoenix west of I-17. We started talking about light pollution, whether or not it still made sense for me to build an observatory here at Heimhenge, and what we could do to slow the increase in sky glow. Roger said "Maybe we should start our own astronomy club." I said "You know, I've actually been thinking about that very thing, as I was growing weary of the long drive into PVCC for my PAS meetings." The rest, as you all know, is history.
  • Astronomy Night: Our final public event for the year is now scheduled. Set for Wednesday, March 21st, at the New River Kiwanis Community Park, we'll be hosting the Eastside Explorers HomeSchool Group. Like the Ladies Guild event, this one will feed our treasury. A donation, amount unspecified, has been promised. This could be a large group (40-50) of adults and children, so we'll really need some scopes there. If you can volunteer for this, please let me know as soon as possible. Setup will be 6:00 pm, sunset at 6:30 pm, and observing from then to 8:30-9:00 pm. We will park and deploy right in the parking lot just north of the Kiwanis Building (that's the previous Senior Center). The ground is flat there, and electricity is available if needed, but bring your own extension cord.
  • DFAC Observing Session: Looks like DFAC will finally have its first observing session. I've had several RSVPs already for the March 10th event, so (weather permitting) all systems are "go." The Moon is at 3rd quarter that night, as you all probably know, and the weather should be a bit more accommodating. Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus will all be good. Sunset is 6:30, so arrive around 6:00 to get set up. BYO. Restrooms provided. If you don't know how to find Heimhenge, email me and I'll send you a map. I'm looking forward to "first light" for my recently realigned Dob. (Thanks for loaning the laser collimator, Ken!)
  • DFAC Constitution: Check the link for "Constitution" on the main menu. You'll see I've posted a first draft. We're still a long way from incorperation, but I think it's time to start talking about this. Even if we never incorporate, a Constitution is a good thing to have. It defines our club. After one year of existence, I felt it was time to start that definition. We'll discuss this at our May Business Meeting, but as of now, I am soliciting input on this document. Help shape the future of DFAC. You know where to find me.
  • Business Meeting: Our May business meeting is rapidly approaching. No members have yet indicated an interest in Officer positions for next year. Roger and I have discussed this, and we're both OK continuing in these positions for another year. This is a young club, and I think we need to increase our membership yet before reaching critical mass. At some point, we'll have enough members that someone will have the skills, time, and interest to step forward. I realize that "skills, time, and interest" are hard to find these days ... mainly the "time" part. But we'll get there eventually. This seems to say that a high priority for us now is to do some recruiting. Astronomy Nights for schools help, media visibility helps, and so does just spreading the word. Tell your neighbors and friends about DFAC, and twist some arms.
  • VP Needed: Still, it would be good to add at least one other Officer in May. DFAC needs a VP to act as stand-in (if I ever can't make it to a meeting) and to assist in the scheduling of speakers for our Lecture Series. This is probably the most essential position to add at this point. If you think you can do this for DFAC, let me know and we'll put you on the May ballot. Thanks.
  • BCHS: Our agreement with BCHS included our doing an Astronomy Night for their community. This is how we pay our rent for the facility. Since our faculty liaison left the school, no other faculty member has volunteered for the position. For that reason, they also still don't have a student Astronomy Club. The bottom line is, I don't think we'll be doing an Astronomy Night for BCHS this first year. They need to get the staff infrastructure assembled on their end before these kinds of thing can happen. I am communicating with Kevin Imes on this topic, and will keep you posted on developments. If anything does get scheduled, it wouldn't be until April or early May.
  • Thanks for reading Quid Novi. You know where to send your feedback. Clear skies!

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, February 28th, 2007
We enjoyed a "double feature" for this meeting. Our primary speaker was Dr. John Fountain, who educated us on the topic of archaeoastronomy (not astroarchaeology, as he explained the terminology has evolved in common usage). He was followed by colleague Dr. Helmut Abt, who enlightened us about the Local Interstellar Bubble. Provisional President Dan Heim opened the meeting with a few items of club business, reminding members that, weather permitting, we'll be having our first DFAC observing session on Saturday, March 10th.

It was our best turnout yet. We had 16 people (9 members and 6 guests) in attendance, all of whom stayed for the entire program. Thanks again to Jay Chatzkel who orchestrated this double lecture.

Dr. Fountain took over at this point. His digital slide show featured artifacts from around the world that likely had an astronomical genesis. We learned that, in addition to the obvious solar correlations, ancient societies tracked lunar, planetary, and stellar motions as well. Especially interesting are the records of the 1054 AD supernova, which seem to have had a global impact.

There are even some theories relating the Easter Island statues to astronomical motions, but much of this is still in the realm of speculation. One of Dr. Fountain's main points was that we simply cannot place ourselves into these ancient cultures and make assumptions about what they felt was important. Still, there are some clues that allow tentative assumptions. The celestial alignments engineered into ancient structures provide ample proof that Man was studying the sky eons before He knew what those bright points of light really were.

Following Dr. Fountain's lecture, his colleague Dr. Helmut Abt provided us with a brief explanation of his current research on the Local Interstellar Bubble. His research shows that our solar system, along with many neighboring stars, exist in a "bubble" of lower-density interstellar medium. This bubble is presumably the result of an ancient supernova, the shock wave from which has cleared a significant volume of space. The evidence was absorption lines in spectra that correlated with stars at known distances. Absence of absorption lines implies the star is inside the bubble.

Turns out that most of us knew very little about this discovery, and we discussed the possibility of Dr. Abt returning for a lecture next season. He expressed an interest in doing so, and admitted that he didn't know that much about the bubble either (other than deducing its existence). This is a relatively new phenomenon. No doubt, if he returns for a lecture next season, there will be more discoveries to report. Imagine that ... we live inside an interstellar bubble.

After the lectures, as always, we had a chance to chat informally with our speakers. Here we see several DFAC members inquiring about the Local Interstellar Bubble. Dr. Abt was happy to expand on his previous comments. The doors closed around 9:30 pm, ending one of this season's most interesting lectures.

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, March 28th, 2007
Our March speaker will be Bob Homes, aka Meteorite Man. Bob was a student of mine back in the early days when I taught physics at Brophy Prep. In the year's since, he has amassed one of the finest private meteor collections in the state. He recently accepted a Governors appointment to the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources, where he will serve as one of five Board Members. Bob will be speaking to us about everything from collection and identification to analysis and classification. You can visit his website to learn more at:

Bob Holmes with his collection on display at the Arizona Science Center.

Although I had mistakenly stated Bob had Moon and Mars meteorites in his collection, he does not. However, he tells me he knows someone who does and will attempt to borrow them for this lecture, but no guarantees. This could be your chance to touch pieces of the Moon and Mars. If not, you'll still get to handle several of his amazing "more common" specimens. We hope to see you all there.

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Quote of the Month:
"How quickly do we grow accustomed to wonders. I am reminded of the Isaac Asimov story 'Nightfall,' about the planet where the stars were visible only once in a thousand years. So awesome was the sight that it drove men mad. We who can see the stars every night glance up casually at the cosmos and then quickly down again, searching for a Dairy Queen."

— Roger Ebert, from a movie review in the "Chicago Sun Times"

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Space Debris:
As I was scrounging around looking for something to use in this month's Space Debris, I stumbled across this old poem written by my brother Dave, now in Albuquerque working as an electrical engineer. At the time he wrote this poem (high school) his aspirations included a double-major in physics and astronomy. Things didn't work out that way, but I've always thought this was a pretty good writing for a high-schooler. And so I now share with you, his version of the classic "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (with apologies to Jane Taylor)

Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Nuclear furnace in the sky
Fusing atomic nuclei

Emitting all types of radiation
Particles and photons with wavelength variations
Streaming plasma dense with ions
Nuclei releasing muons and pions

Radiation begins to cease
Outward pressures tend to decrease
Only 12 billion years have elapsed
Star contracts in gravitational collapse

Mass is now a neutron star, but
Collapse is too contracts too far
Gravitation warps time and space
Energy vortex to another place

Spacetime tunnel beyond comprehension
Links far and near through the 4th dimension
The star has formed, from a very great force,
A black hole in space and a quasi-stellar source

— Dave Heim, 1973

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