Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #25: June 6th, 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
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
Topic: A Personal Tour of Mauna Kea
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
April 12   7:00 - ? pm   DFAC + BCHSAC Astronomy Night   Heimhenge [CANCELLED AND RESCHEDULED FOR MAY 10th]
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 10   7:00 - ? pm   DFAC + BCHSAC Astronomy Night   Heimhenge
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
July 19   3:00 pm - ? pm   DFAC Summer Social   6638 E. Highlands Road, Cave Creek, AZ 85327
Sep 24   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #1
Main Speaker: Dan Heim
Guest Speaker: A local legislator?
Topic: Light Pollution Update
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086

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Next Meeting: Saturday, July 19th, 2008
As has become our tradition, member Ron Walker will again graciously host this year's Summer Social at his home in Cave Creek. The food is outstanding (I thought it was catered, but Ron claims he makes it himself). And we're always treated to an astronomy-related movie on his big-screen (and I do mean big, like 20 feet diagonal) home theater. Last year we saw "Silent Running," and the year before it was "Forbidden Planet." Ron has a huge collection of movies to choose from. The festivities start at 4 pm, with the first movie around 6-7 pm. Depending on time and interest, there's always the opportunity for a double feature. Please RSVP no later than July 12th. We hope to see you all there!

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, May 28th, 2008
This was our annual business meeting, so we didn't take any photos. Members sat around a table to discuss the items on our agenda (proposed in the last issue of Quid Novi). The simplest way to report on this meeting will be to go down the list of items on that agenda, and tell you what was discussed and/or decided. In attendance, for voting purposes, were Dan Heim, Roger Seratto, Jim Renn, Ron Walker, and Jim Conley. According to the DFAC Constitution this constitutes a quorum for all official club business.

1. President's Report

Dan reported on the evolution of DFAC over the last year, as well as highlighting major events and activities: We continue to add members, with a current total of 18. That's 3 more than the 15 "critical mass" needed to meet our financial obligations through dues, without the help of fundraisers or donations. DFAC is now a member society of IDA (International Dark-Sky Association) thanks in part to a generous bequest from an anonymous donor. We finally had our Astronomy Night with the Boulder Creek HS Astronomy Club, after one cancellation, on May 10th (photos available below). This "paid our rent" for the use of the BCHS Career Center for our meetings. Even more importantly, it signals the start of a real collaboration between DFAC and BCHSAC. As their club grows, we hope to see more of them at our meetings and other events. Today's students are tomorrows astronomers. New BCHS Principal Lauren Sheahan takes over July 1st. At that time, Dan will make contact and renew our mutually beneficial agreement regarding use of the BCHS Career Center as DFAC's meeting place. No problems are anticipated here, as Kevin Imes (outgoing Principal) assured us that the arrangement will continue. Finally, we continue to increase our visibility (and raise funds) through our public outreach Astronomy Nights. We did 4 this season, one of which was contracted and earned our treasury $250. Of interest here is what happens when you Google the search terms "astronomy" "club" "phoenix." Today we came up 2nd, right after SAC, but on any given day, we bounce around in the top 5 depending on the vagaries of the ranking algorithm. We must have a pretty good webmaster, huh? It's been a good year for DFAC.

2. Treasurer's Report

Roger reported on the financial state of DFAC, which is actually quite good, thank you, quoting a current balance of $497.81, and that before the start of the dues collection cycle (which begins now). We have reduced out costs for web hosting and domain name registration by booking for 3 years, something we felt confident we could do as we moved into our third year. The cost of membership is expected to remain at its current level of $25. You can view a full copy of his report here: report.jpg (76k).

3. Creation of Media Liaison Officer Position

Jay Chatzkel has been doing this job for most of this season, keeping the local newspapers and magazines apprised of our meetings and other events. That specific duty had been ascribed to the Vice President in our Constitution, but lacking a VP it had originally been one of Dan Heim's monthly tasks. There was some discussion about what to call this position. "Media Contact," "Public Relations Director," and "Media Liaison" were all proposed. We decided on "Media Liaison." The following constitutional amendment was proposed, adding Paragraph f to Article 2:

f. Media Liaison: The Media Liaison shall act as DFAC’s point of contact for all media communications (TV, radio, internet, and print), maintain a current listing of local media contact information, and provide timely notification to those media of upcoming DFAC meetings and events. This office requires email and internet access.

This amendment was proposed by Dan Heim, seconded by Ron Walker, and unanimously approved by show of hands.

As a result of this new delegation of duties, the description of duties for Vice President in Article 2, Paragraph b, was amended as follows:

b. Vice President: The Vice President shall assist the President in the performance of all duties, and assume full responsibility of those duties should the President be unable to do so. The Vice President shall maintain a current listing of local media contacts, and provide timely notification to these media of upcoming DFAC meetings and events.

This amendment was proposed by Dan Heim, seconded by Roger Serrato, and unanimously approved by show of hands. The revised constitution is now posted to our website, should you wish to download and view the document.

4. Election of Officers

The following DFAC Officers were elected for 2008-2009, uncontested and unanimously, by show of hands:

President: Dan Heim
Vice President: Jim Renn
Treasurer: Roger Seratto
Media Liaison: Jay Chatzkel

5. Light Pollution Strategy

Throughout this season I've distributed to DFAC members printed copies of ARS Title 49 - The Environment, Chapter 7 - LIGHT POLLUTION and the Maricopa County Zoning Ordinance, Chapter 11- General Regulations, Section 112 OUTDOOR LIGHT CONTROL PROVISIONS. This was done to ensure members are familiar with the law as related to light pollution. Input was solicited regarding how DFAC could best mobilize its resources to combat light pollution in the North Valley. Discussion tonight focused on our future strategy and tactics.

If you received your June 2008 issue of Reflector (from the Astronomical League), you may have already read the article about Dark Sky Discovery Sites in conjunction with IYA (International Year of Astronomy) 2009. If not, read on.

6. Veterans Day Parade Float

Scott Loucks had suggested earlier this year that DFAC explore the possibility of entering a float in the Anthem Veterans Day parade, scheduled for Saturday, November 8th. The motivation was to increase our visibility and attract new members from the Anthem area. After some discussion, we decided it was impractical to deploy real scopes on a moving float and meaningless to simulate them thereon. Rather, the discussion centered on what we could do after the parade (which ends around 11 am) in the festival display area. It was suggested that we deploy 3 scopes, one with a hydrogen alpha filter for viewing solar prominences, one using a neutral filter and eyepiece projection to display an image of the Sun (hopefully with some spots), and one simply focused on a distant mountain peak. This would be accompanied by a table manned by one DFAC member charged with answering questions about DFAC and distributing club info and membership handouts. We decided to pursue this idea, and Jim Renn will look into the details of acquiring space and permission for our display. Expect to hear more about this in the next few months, as we see this as an excellent opportunity to promote and grow our club.

7. DFAC Meeting Dates

It had been suggested earlier this year that we re-examine our choice of "last Wednesday of the month" for our meeting dates. As there were only 5 members in attendance, we did not feel sufficiently empowered to make a choice that would affect all 18 members. This topic has been tabled until further notice. Since we need to commit to our meeting dates this Summer to have them secured for next season, there does not appear to be any alternative course of action. Meetings will remain as is: last Wednesday of the month.

8. DFAC Summer Social

This event is traditional scheduled for mid-Summer. Member Ron Walker has been our host the last two years, and volunteered to host again in 2008. We didn't want to get too close the 4th, so that left Saturday the 12th or 19th. After a quick phone call home, Ron decided on the 19th. Details can be found in the Next Meeting section above.

9. Other Business

There was no other business proposed.

10. Adjourn to Legends Sports Bar & Grill

We adjourned to Legends around 8 pm, and enjoyed a few rounds of brew, appetizers, and great conversation on a range of topics (many having nothing to do with astronomy).

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
May Business Meeting: We had many items up for discussion, and I have to be honest that, with only 5 members in attendance, I was a bit disappointed by the turnout. I understand that attending a "business meeting" is probably not high on most peoples' list of "fun things to do." Still, member input is essential to shape DFAC in your image. And shape it we did, as you saw in the preceding section. I'm extremely pleased with the progress of this club, and was thrilled to have Jim Renn step up to take the VP position. Likewise, I thank Jay Chatzkel for his continuing efforts in our new Media Liaison position. Both these gentlemen will have in their possession, by the end of next week, a stack of cool DFAC business cards proclaiming their new stations. Roger and I will continue as Treasurer and President, respectively, and we thank you for your vote of confidence. To those members who seldom attend meetings, but continue their financial support as paying members, we say thanks as well. We'd love to see more of you, but lacking that, we appreciate your support. Trust that we will continue to fight the good fight to preserve dark night skies in the North Valley.

Scott Loucks Update: I spoke with Scott tonight, and he asked me express his thanks for the card sent by DFAC and all your good wishes. He says he's doing well, and is back on the job. As some of you may already know, Scott suffered a heart attack a couple days before our last meeting. In fact, he called me from the hospital the day of the meeting. He tells me he tires easily yet, but is improving daily, and that he intends to embark on a regular exercise routine (like we all know we should). He also tells me he will be at the Summer Social and looks forward to enjoying a bratwurst or two. Our continued best wishes for Scott's quick and complete recovery. Always remember ... old astronomers never die. They just emit gravitons as they fade toward the event horizon.

Mike Fuller Memorial: On a sad note, I must report the untimely passing of member Mike Fuller. I knew Mike from way back in my PAS days, when we were both members of that club. Mike joined DFAC at the end of our first year, but never made it to a meeting due to health problems. I received word from his wife, Debbie, last Friday. Roger (who also knew Mike) and I will be in attendance at his service this Saturday, and present some flowers on behalf of DFAC. His wife has asked me to help sell or donate his telescope and accessories, and I suggested we sell it locally and use the money to seed another DFAC bank account dedicated to funding an annual event in his memory. Details are still being worked out, but we're looking at something like a "Why I Love Astronomy" essay competition open to local students, with the prize being either a cash award or telescope paid for with the interest from this account. If you have any thoughts on this, we'd love to have your input, but Roger and I are willing to work this out, as we both go way back with Mike. If you'd like to donate to the fund, send your check to Roger, and be sure to label it "Mike Fuller Memorial." Thanks.

Dues are Due: Our dues cycle begins again on June 1st. Regular membership is still only $25 per household ($30 for postal newsletter delivery), and the bill from the Astronomical League has been on my desk since last week. You can bring your check to our Summer Social, or mail it to Roger Serrato at: PO Box 71458, Phoenix, AZ 85050. If your contact information has changed, please include a revised membership application form, available on our website here: you for your continued support!

Astronomy Night for BCHSAC: Kathy Hill, Moderator of the Boulder Creek High School Astronomy Club, her son, and 2 of her students showed up for this event on Saturday, May 10th, here at Heimhenge. Thanks to Scott Loucks, Roger Seratto, Jay Chatzkel, and Ken Reeves for showing up and deploying their scopes. We had more scopes than students! Kathy apologized for the small turnout (she had at first reported 5-6 students would be attending), and explained how difficult it was to get high school students to commit to after-hour events. That's understandable. Hopefully, as her club grows, we'll find more interest in these events. Either way, it "paid our rent" for the BCHS Career Center. Some photos of the event follow:

Ken Reeves with the "star of the show" ... his 20" open truss Dob.

Left to right: Scott Loucks (and daughter), Dan Heim (and 2 dogs), Roger Seratto (and his 1 CAT).

BCHSAC members peer at Saturn through Roger's 8" CAT.

Although there was a residual dust haze in the air from recent high winds, the seeing was excellent. We had a great look at Mercury at quarter phase through my 5" Takahashi. Even with an elevation of 10 degrees, its phase was clearly visible at 200x. Saturn was exquisite in Roger and Scott's CATs, with the Cassini and division and Titan clearly visible. Ken found a couple of good deep-sky objects with his Dob, including M81-82 and a couple globular clusters. We all looked at the crescent Moon, using various mags and filters. The shadow relief was nice at this phase, and subtle details (like central peaks in craters) stood out clearly with the good seeing. Collaboration between DFAC and BCHSAC is great opportunity for outreach. Join us next year for another fun Astronomy Night.

Sky Lights Still on Sabbatical: My public soapbox is still in limbo. The good news is, I have received a verbal commitment from Jason Stone, Editor of the Foothills Focus, to include my column when they next add another sheet. For those of you unfamiliar with the newspaper business, you can only add pages in multiples of 4 (one sheet). The Focus is currently at 32 pages, but has plans to expand to 36. In order to make a profit, newspapers typically comprise 25% content and 75% advertising. As their circulation and advertising demand continues to grow, scooping business from the now-essentially-defunct Desert Advocate, that expansion will eventually happen, and Sky Lights will be part of that expansion. You may see Sky Lights back in print soon. Wish me luck.

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:
"Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player."

— Albert Einstein

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Space Debris: Recent Conversation on AZ-Observing
I've talked about the AZ-Observing list server several times in Quid Novi, and recommended that other DFAC members participate in this great forum, but still haven't seen any of you there (unless you're just "lurking" and not posting). Sign-up is quick and easy. Learn more at:

Anyway, during our recent Astronomy Night for the BCHS Astronomy Club, one of my targets with the Takahashi was the "double double" Mizar & Alcor in Ursa Major. The students were fascinated by the concept of a double star, which apparently was a new idea for them. They asked many questions, one of which I was unable to answer. The next day, I posted that question on the AZ-Observing list. The following conversation ensued [FYI: Jeff = Jeff Hopkins (local amateur), Gene Lucas = our October 2007 speaker, Brian = Brian Skiff of Lowell Observatory, Stan = Stan Gorodenski of Blue Hills Observatory]. I made all the links active, for your browsing convenience. Especially cool is the KPNO live webcam view from the top of the mountain. Check it out ...


DFAC was doing an Astronomy Night for the Boulder Creek High School Astronomy Club, Saturday night up here at Heimhenge. I too was surprised by the reactions to Mizar A/B, which seemed to be one of their favorite objects. Of course, there were the usual "ooo's" and "ahh's" over Saturn and the Moon, but they really seemed to like the double star thing ... perhaps because most had never before encountered the concept of a double star. I don't know. When I explained about each of the stars being themselves double (albeit spectroscopic) that wowed them even further. Several asked "How big a scope would you need to see the double double?" I had no idea, so I just said special instruments were needed, i.e., a spectroscope, and that they couldn't be split with just a telescope. Did I lie? Couldn't find the answer on the web when I searched later.

Dan Heim
President, Desert Foothills Astronomy Club

Alcor and Mizar are one of my favorite objects, too. A quick review on my bookshelf turned up the article in Burnham’s Celestial Handbook – Vol. 3, pp. 1953-1955. Mizar is known for many “firsts” –

- First double star discovered – by Riccioli (1650)
- First double star to be photographed – by G.P. Bond at Harvard (1857)
- First binary to be detected spectroscopically (the primary star, Mizar A) – Pickering, again at Harvard (1889)
- Mizar B radial velocity shifts detected as early as 1908 by E.B. Frost
- Astrometric measurements have detected a third component (also a variable star)

A quote by C.F. Barns (1001 Celestial Wonders): “Pioneer star ... [with Alcor] The pair, so happily placed in the crook of the Big Dipper's handle, never fail to inspire awe, however frequently observed.” My curiosity was piqued by the question re: what aperture, etc. would be needed to "resolve" the spectroscopic binary components of Mizar... Here are the best sources I quickly located (on the web)...

(1) Dr. James B. Kaler, author of several highly interesting books on stars has written this short article:
(2) But the best review (so far) about Mizar, thoroughly covering its rich history and concluding with an excellent review of the latest research, being conducted at Lowell Observatory out at Anderson Mesa with the Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer, is this 1999 article by Leos Andros, "A New View of Mizar":

The NPOI consists of an array of several 35cm (13.75 inch) mirrors, separated by a maximum of 38 meters (125 feet). So the answer is, a BIG, LONG interferometer (not a spectroscope). Seriously, I doubt anybody will ever actually "view" the separated components of Mizar, as they are separated by only about 7 to 8 >thousandths< of an arc-second.... Perhaps when the >next< generation of truly HUGE telescopes gets built....

Finally, for an exhaustive (86 pages!) professional review of the state-of-the-art of astronomical interferometry, have a crack at this 2003 article by John D. Monnier, “Optical Interferometry in Astronomy”...

Have Fun!!
Gene Lucas
Dan & Gene,

Once a long time ago while showing visitors Mizar through the Lowell Clark, there was a guy who insisted that the view of Mizar AB was simply a slightly magnified view of Mizar + Alcor. No amount of explaining that the telescopic view was of just the one naked-eye component convinced him. The comment, by the way, that the sky over the weekend was clear but very light-polluted was almost certainly caused by the second round of Asian dust we've been having since late last week. Saturday and Sunday nights near Flagstaff were the worst; the sky from Anderson Mesa was awful: hardly any Milky Way, stuff greatly obscured around the horizon, the Moon looking just dim. It's obviously present in southern Arizona, too, as one can see from the KPNO webcams:

If you look at this before it's too long past sunset. The KPNO view is somewhat compromised by a brush fire burning just south of the mountain over the weekend. However, the strong uniformity of the lower-level crud shows it is well-mixed and comes from a long ways away.


Do you know what the cause of the dust is? Is it a natural weather phenomenon, or is it from the industrialization and land development?


We've been getting these events pretty regularly for decades, so the events themselves are nothing new. What's relatively new is that the Gobi (and other) desert dust plus eastern Siberian forest fire smoke is coming in with industrial pollutants (sulphur, benzene, etc) from the burgeoning Chinese economy. The seasonal wind pattern doesn't always bring it our way, and it is easy to expect that the desert dust and forest fires don't always happen when the winds are right for this phenomenon. So expect large year-to-year variations. This year has been worse than the last couple, but there were strong events in the late-90s and early-aughties. Again, since you're observers, take Yogi Berra's advice and "notice stuff". Since the environment is being monitored much better than in the past, it's possible to find out about these things. See the aerosol map here:

The maps run two days behind, but by looking at them over several days you can spot the trends. The current one (for May 9) suggests there's still more stuff in eastern Siberia and the western Pacific, so depending on the winds we may get another round in the coming week or so.


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