Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #20: January 3rd, 2008


About Quid Novi

Past Issues

DFAC Events

Next Meeting

Last Meeting

State of DFAC

Quote of the Month

Space Debris

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


DFAC Events for 2008-2009:
Date   Time   Event   Location
Jan 30   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #4
Speaker: Tom Polakis of SAC
Topic: The Transition from Film to Digital
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Feb 27   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #5
Speaker: Jeff Hester of ASU
Topic: Quantum Physics & Cosmology
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Feb-April   sunset - ? pm   DFAC + PAS Astronomy Night   High Desert Park in Black Canyon City (date to be determined)
Mar 9   6:00 pm - 8:00 pm   Astronomy Night (DFAC fundraiser)   JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort (north of Loop 101 on Tatum)
Mar 26   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #6
Speaker: JD Maddy of AVV (tentative)
Topic: TBA
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Apr 30   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #7
Speaker: Scott Loucks of DFAC
Topic: Minor Planet Astrometry
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
May 28   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Business Meeting   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Legends Sports Bar & Grill, 3655 W Anthem Way Suite D115, Anthem, AZ 85086

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, January 30th, 2008
Our January meeting will feature local expert Tom Polakis of SAC. Tom successfully made the transition from film to digital photography some time back, and he'll share his learning experience with us. You can see many fine examples of his photographic work on the Club Photos page of SAC's website at: http://www.saguaroastro.org/content/photos.htm.

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
We have no December meeting to report on, since DFAC recesses over the holidays. Our November Lecture featured Science Teacher Kathy Hill and two of her students, senior Alexa Ogburn and sophomore Kris Hansford, from Boulder Creek High School. Kathy's team is working on the Phoenix Mars Mission. If you missed it, and want to read more, see the December issue of Quid Novi archived here.

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
  • Lecture Series Update: We now have all but one date (March 26th) for our 2007-2008 Lecture Series booked! See the schedule here. I'm waiting to hear back from JD Maddy, President of The Astronomers of Verde Valley (see www.astroverde.org). They have a most impressive website. I've met JD at a few events, most recently at the Alamo Lake Astronomy Night. JD said he'd be interested in filling this last lecture slot. His topic is yet to be decided, but he's an expert in many areas.
  • DFAC Treasury Grows: Roger Serrato had another opportunity, last month, to tutor a new telescope owner on the details off setup and alignment. We received the usual $100 donation from said grateful student, and added it to our treasury. Thanks again to Roger for helping us out. Not surprisingly, we get many such requests around the holidays. People get scopes for presents, and are often overwhelmed by the instruction manuals. If there are any other members who have the time and inclination for such tutoring (I know you all have the expertise), please let me know. Roger's been very generous with his time, but isn't always available. Thanks.
  • Presentation to the Anthem Rotary Club: I was invited by the Anthem Rotary Club to speak, at their December breakfast meeting, on the topic of light pollution. I don't normally get up that early, much less give presentations that early, but of course could not pass up this opportunity to get the word out to influential business people in Anthem. With only 30 minutes of their agenda allocated for my presentation, I had to shorten it considerably, but still got my main message across (I hope). I have to say, though, that 30 minutes is about the minimum. I've learned that I need to have several versions of this talk ready to go, each optimized for a specific time limit. Ideally, I'd like an hour. But I'm learning quickly to adapt to these new venues.
  • BCHSAC: I'm still waiting to hear back from November's speaker, Kathy Hill, Moderator of the new Boulder Creek High School Astronomy Club. Kathy reports 12 current members, and is looking forward to joining us at a future DFAC observing session. Collaboration between DFAC and BCHSAC will be a great opportunity for outreach to students. I look forward to our first mutual event, which will likely be at BCHS and fulfill our obligation to do an on-campus event in exchange for our use of their facilities for our monthly meetings.
  • DFAC Parade Float: Member Scott Loucks has suggested that we could improve our visibility by entering a float in the annual Veterans' Day Parade at Anthem (next year). We had some discussion about this after our last meeting, and several of our members feel it's a good idea. Scott can score the trailer, but we're undecided about just what should be on it. Transporting a deployed telescope would not be optically wise, but Roger suggested a dome tent with a sonotube sticking out to simulate an observatory, with the usual accompanying DFAC ID signs. We could also setup a table at the park where the parade ends, where more DFAC info would be available, along with my Takahashi and hydrogen alpha filter for solar viewing. Sounds like a plan to me. It would only cost us $25 to enter a float, and Jim Renn (who is the announcer for this parade) could grease the wheels and help us with the details. If you have any ideas for addition to the float (or a better idea than a dome tent and sonotube), let us know.
  • LPR Strategy for DFAC: Back at our October meeting I started distributing printed copies of the ARS and MCZO regulations on lighting. All DAFC members should be familiar with these documents. I'll continue to distribute copies until all members have them. Please read them carefully. I understand that reading legal documents is about as much fun as going to the dentist, but they aren't that long or difficult, and this is stuff we need to know as a group. We need to generate internal discussion about our long-term strategy for fighting light pollution. I want DFAC to be effective, but we must also be pragmatic. It's time to start thinking about how we can have the greatest impact against light pollution. Your input is sincerely solicited.
  • Income Opportunity: I was contacted today by Laura Leroy of ZOHAR Productions regarding a paying event for DAFC. On Sunday, March 9th, there's a convention of marketing professionals at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort (just north of the 101 off Tatum). They're looking for a 2-hour astronomy presentation, and we can earn $200-$300 for DFAC. We'll still need 2 additional volunteers (plus Roger and I) to handle the show. One person with a green laser pointer (mine is available) to show constellations and bright stars, one person with binocs on M42 & M45 (that's me), and two telescopes (for Saturn and the Moon). Details are being worked out now, but if you can commit to this event, it will help our treasury grow. Let me know if you're interested ASAP. Thanks!
  • An Evening at High Desert Park: The members present at our last meeting voted unanimously to accept an invitation from the Phoenix Astronomical Society to do a joint observing session up at High Desert Park in Black Canyon City. I've been to that site, and it's got darker skies than Heimhenge, about the same altitude (2500 ft there, 2200 here), and convenient parking and restrooms. I've added a map to this site on our Maps page. Because PAS rents the park for the night, so it'll cost us $2 per carload, but that's a smokin' deal for an evening of fine observing. Possible dates in the Feb-April window are: February 2, March 1, March 29, April 26 (all Saturdays, starting at sundown). Let me know your preferences here, and I'll coordinate with PAS.
  • Change in Meeting Date: It has come to my attention that "the last Wednesday of the month" may no longer be the best time to meet. In fact, at this point, only half of our members were those that voted on this meeting date, and it wasn't unanimous. We're locked into our current date for the rest of the BCHS school year, but this is the time to start talking about a possible change for 2008-2009. Let me know your preferences, if any. As always, such issues will be decided by majority rule.
  • Holiday Greetings: Happy Holidays, and a healthy and prosperous New Year to all of you. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support, and look forward to seeing you again at our January 30th meeting.
  • Thanks for reading Quid Novi. If you have feedback, you know where to reach me. Until next we meet, clear skies!

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Quote of the Month: What would be your "question to an alien" ???
"Occasionally, I get a letter from someone who is in 'contact' with aliens. I am invited to ask them anything. And over the year's I've prepared a little list of questions. The aliens are very advanced remember. So I ask things like, 'Please provide a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.' I write out the simple theorem equation with the exponents. It's a simulating exercise to think of questions to which no human today knows the answers, but where a correct answer would be recognized as such. It's even more challenging to formulate such questions in fields other than mathematics. Perhaps we should hold a contest and collect the best responses in '10 Questions to Ask an Alien.'"

— Carl Sagan, "The Demon Haunted World", p.95

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Space Debris: Ask an Alien
The above quote from Carl Sagan's book "The Demon Haunted World" got me thinking about what I would ask, given the chance, from a sufficiently advanced intelligence. It's a fun mental exercise, and it's always interesting to see what other (scientifically literate) people would ask. I hereby challenge DFAC members to come up with such a question, and will present them in next issue's Space Debris (assuming I get any). Note that there are three conditions to participate ...

1. The question must have no answer within our current understanding of science/math/engineering.
2. The correct answer must be recognizable (or testable) in its truth.
3. I must receive your question by the end of January.

Sagan's example of "Please provide a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem." is a great question, since mathematical proofs are immediately testable. For those who are unfamiliar with Fermat's Last Theorem, it is the assertion that the equation:

XN + YN = ZN

has no integral solutions for N>2. Actually, a proof was found by Andrew Wiles in 1995, subsequent to the publication of Sagan's book. But Sagan's question is still valid, since Wiles' proof is very difficult, and has been challenged by some as incomplete.

To get you all started on this fun exercise, I provide here my own entry into this "question contest." I would ask: Our most powerful accelerators can produce nuclei up to atomic number 118 (unofficially named "Ununoctiun" for 1-1-8). It has been suggested that an "island of stability" might exist somewhere around atomic number 118 to 126. Ununoctium only lasted about a millisecond, decaying rapidly into simpler nuclei. At what atomic number will we find a new stable element, and what's the best way to synthesize it?

Such a discovery would have profound implications, not just for nuclear theory, but also for materials science. That's why I'm curious about this question. So what would you ask an alien if you had such an opportunity? I know we've got a lot of deep thinkers in this club. I await your responses ...

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