Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #26: July 27th, 2008 (Summer Supplement)

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
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
Oct 29   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #2
Speaker: TBA
Topic: TBA
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Nov 8   12:00 pm - 4:00 pm   Veterans Day Parade
DFAC booth & scopes
  Anthem Community Park
Nov 26   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #3
Speaker: TBA
Topic: TBA
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Jan 28   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #4
Speaker: TBA
Topic: TBA
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Feb 25   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #5
Speaker: TBA
Topic: TBA
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Mar 25   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #6
Speaker: TBA
Topic: TBA
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Apr 29   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #7
Speaker: TBA
Topic: TBA
  Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
May 27   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Business Meeting   Boulder Creek High School, 40404 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
(later adjouring to)
Legends Sports Bar & Grill, 3655 W Anthem Way Suite D115, Anthem, AZ 85086

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
As has become our tradition, the first meeting of the year will feature DFAC President Dan Heim. Dan will update us on developments and club activities relating to light pollution abatement, one of DFAC's main missions. He is, at present, personally focused on a new subdivision planned for just east of Heimhenge, and spreading 270 degrees around Gavilan Peak (a prominent mountain in the area). The developers, Gavilan Peak Estates, are applying for rezoning from R43 (one house per 43,000 square feet, which is one acre, maximum density) to R1-35 (one house per 35,000 square feet. R1-35 zoning also allows second stories, with a height limit of 30 feet (though only single story structures are planned). This will be a private HOA community with their own sewage treatment plant, and two deep wells with storage tanks for their water system. Main access will be along a private road extending from 29th Avenue, with connections to 33rd and 35th Avenue. There will be no street lighting, and all residential lighting will be fully shielded, with no up-lighting. At least that's what they say now. To view a detailed map of the proposed development, click here (675 k). The project was only recently brought to his attention, and there is more to be learned, but expect a grass-roots resistance to arise against that rezoning request. More to come at the meeting.

We are also working on getting a local legislator to attend, to present an "inside view" of how the issues important to astronomers currently stand in the legislature. Hope to see you all there!

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Last Meeting: Saturday, July 19th, 2008
Our third annual DFAC Summer Social was held again at the home of member Ron Walker in Cave Creek. Ron and family graciously provided a fine assortment of food and drink for our members. Turn out this year was around 20 stargazers, including many spouses. We started earlier this year (3 pm) to allow more time for chat, BBQed brats, tours, etc., and still leave time for a full-length feature movie in the "WalkerPlex," Ron's massive home theater.

Left to right, Roger, Bob, (host) Ron, and Scott discuss the finer points of astrophotography.

There were plenty of snacks (shown here much depleted), including shrimp, cheese, and crackers.

Left to right, Jim, Lloyd (Ron's bro), and George quench their thirst at the amply stocked bar.

Ron had laid out 8 movie choices for us to vote on. And the winner is ... Stargate, the original movie (1994).

The usual tour of Ron's workshop turned up a newly acquired toy. Yes, it's a planetarium projector, professional scale, and fully functional. If that isn't amazing enough, he has a second unit that was demonstrated after the movie (picture at end). He has plans to add a domed extension to his home to accommodate this awesome hardware: Walker Planetarium.

Around 5ish Ron fired up the BBQ and started grilling brats. With potatoe salad and select veggies, not to mention some great chocolate chip cookies as accessories, there was more than enough to go around, and with this year's turnout, we needed two table to seat everyone.

Table number 2, also having a great time. Vice Pres Jim relates stories of how he got into astronomy. Wife Jean (back to camera) has heard it all before.

And then it was show time. Ron isn't satisfied with the 20 foot diagonal screen + poster board extensions. He's got an even larger one ready to install, but needs to first build a frame to support it. After a brief system demo using "Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron," the main feature began: Stargate, the movie. For a 1994 movie, the SFX were impressive. The movie spun off a still-popular TV series of the same name. Although a few guests had to leave early, most stayed for the movie.

After the show, Ron fired up his other planetarium projector. Well, at least half of it anyway. Most of the equipment and wiring you see in this image has nothing to do with the planetarium ... it's parts of his home theater multimedia system, which kinda' dominates the room. But the video and sound are worth it. With the planetarium on, Ron killed all the lights. After a few minutes of dark adaptation time, we could see the stars clearly, albeit with constellations distorted geometrically due to the non-hemispherical ceiling. The relative brightness and star colors were amazing accurate. We had no trouble spotting constellations, even with the distortion. The Milky Way has its own separate projector optics, and produces a diffuse scattering of light that accurately mimics the real thing. And the orrery attachment (just left of the planetarium projector) provided an animated view of the major planets in "fast forward." When Ron adjusted the main projector, we all experienced that visceral sensation of motion as the sky turned around us. We can't wait until he build the dome extension to his home and gives his first real planetarium show.

After the movie and planetarium projector demo, it was past 10 pm so we called it a night. Thanks again to Ron and family for a wonderful evening! A good time was had by all.

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
Crisis in New River?: I have often said, "Trust that we will fight to preserve dark night skies in the north Valley." Although I already have many irons in the fire, I recently became aware of a major development planned for just east of Heimhenge. You can read the details in the Next Meeting section at the top of this page. Suffice it to say this is where I must focus my efforts at this time. The official rezoning application has not yet been filed, but before that happens, I must mobilize the area residents. If I ever want to build my observatory, I need to minimize the impact of lighting for this development. According to the development consulting company (Coe & Van Loo), "we're looking at a 2-5 year time frame." So I still have time to act, but no time to waste. My intentions are to fight this under the auspices of DFAC, not only for myself, and for other DFAC members in the New River area, but also for the residents of New River, astronomers or not, who came here to enjoy the beauty of the dark night sky. Expect to be updated at our first meeting this Fall, and perhaps have a legislator/zoning planner/or other county official present to respond to our concerns.

Upcoming Speakers: Other than myself (and maybe an area legislator or county official) already booked for Lecture #1, nothing else it yet locked in. It's tough to get a commitment sooner than August, but the process is underway. Committed, but not yet scheduled, are Fr. George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory, Dr. Jeff Hester of ASU, Robert McMillen of BCHS (Kathy Hill's replacement who will update us on their student participation in the Phoenix Mars Mission), and our own Roger Serrato (who knows more about astronomy hardware and methods than you may suspect from his humble demeanor). By the time our Lecture Series is underway, we expect to have the usual plethora of outstanding speakers.

This just in ... I was informed last night via email from Principal Lauren Sheahan that Robert McMillen, Kathy Hill's replacement, has resigned his position. That means BCHS will be scrambling to find a new physics teacher / astronomy club moderator for next year. Presumably, this person will also continue Kathy's work with the Phoenix Mars Mission. I know how hard it is to find trained physics teachers on the market, especially at this late date. I get offers all the time, but am no longer interested in full-time teaching. We wish BCHS good luck in finding a replacement for the replacement.

Veterans Day Parade: With the help of VP Jim Renn, planning for this event is proceeding nicely. We decided to forego the idea of an actual float in the parade. Instead, we'll be setting up a table and a few scopes in the park area to educate residents after the parade. This daylight event will allow for the following astronomical sights: the Sun through my H-alpha filter, hopefully showing a solar flare, the Sun through a neutral density or mylar filter hopefully showing some sunspots (Roger has this one covered), a well aligned scope with an orange or yellow filter to try and spot Saturn, Venus, or Jupiter, all of which will be up and at least 30 degrees away from the Sun (the 1st Quarter Moon doesn't rise until 3 pm), and yet a fourth scope (Jim Renn has this one covered) simply focused on a distant mountain peak. We also need at least one person to staff the table/booth, to answer questions and distribute club info brochures. This event is planned for Saturday, November 8th, Noon - 4 pm. The parade ends at Noon, so setup will be from 11-11:30 am.. If you can help out at any of these two remaining positions:

1. A well aligned scope with an orange or yellow filter to view Saturn
2. Run the table, hand out DFAC brochures, and answer questions

please let me know. Running the table should be easy and fun. Spotting Saturn in the daytime takes a bit more skill, but we know it can be done with the right equipment. This is a fantastic PR opportunity. We expect to generate some great publicity for DFAC, and hopefully pull in some new members. Jim & Jean Renn have graciously offered to fund a parade sponsorship on behalf of DFAC, so we will have maximum visibility for this event. Thanks to Jim & Jean!

Website Changes: I don't know how much time our members spend browsing around our website, outside of Quid Novi, so I note here some recent changes worth checking out. First, we have added a new page called Local & GMT where you can see at a glance both local and universal time, day, and date. It's all done with JavaScript, the best thing since sliced bread. Also, on our Links page, you'll find a new source for astronomy video feeds, courtesy of VideoJug. There are ads, but no obnoxious popups or running banners, and tons of great astronomy multimedia. You'll need a broadband connection to enjoy most of this content, which includes high-quality video and audio.

Mike Fuller Essay Contest: Most of you never met him, but Mike joined DFAC right at the end of our first year. You'll see him listed as one of our charter members. He never made it to a meeting or other event, because shortly after joining he was diagnosed with cancer, and had to begin his long, and ultimately losing battle. I knew Mike from way back in my PAS days, when we were both members of that club. I have been discussing the idea of establishing a Mike Fuller Essay Contest in his memory. Details are still being worked out, but we're looking at something like a "Why I Want a Telescope" essay competition open to north Valley middle-school (grades 6,7,8) students, with the prize being a "starter" telescope. His wife Debbie has asked me to help sell Mike's telescope and accessories, the funds from which will seed a separate DFAC bank account, the interest from which will cover the prize. We will soon be adding another page to our website to feature this contest. If you'd like to donate to the fund, send your check to Roger, and be sure to label it "Mike Fuller Essay Contest." Thanks.

Dues are Past Due: Our dues cycle began anew on June 1st. Regular membership is still only $25 per household ($30 for postal newsletter delivery). We just sent in our dues to the Astronomical League, and our insurance premium (a total of $415), so we can use some cash to replenish our treasury. You can still mail your check 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. Thank you for your continued support!

Sky Lights Still on Sabbatical: Still no good news here. I had received a 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). In order to make a profit, newspapers typically comprise 25% content and 75% advertising. So they need three pages of advertisers to add one page of real content. The Focus was at 32 pages, and had plans to expand to 36. Unfortunately, they recently dropped another sheet and went to 28 pages. When I asked Jason about this, he slowly shook his head, looked genuinely sad, and said "I just can't get the advertisers in this economy." It is a tough time in the newspaper business. So it looks like I'm back to square one on this. I might give "In&Out of Anthem" a shot, or I might just put it on my website as a blog, or I might go back to Jason and suggest he run Sky Lights in the Foothills Focus online version only. I'm still weighing my options, and will keep you posted on developments.

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:
"In my youth I regarded the universe as an open book, printed in the language of equations, whereas now it appears to me as a text written in invisible ink, of which in our rare moments of grace we are able to decipher a small segment."

— Arthur Koestler

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Space Debris:
The ISS is a tough shot for astrophotographers, since it moves so fast and won't track like normal objects. You need special computer control, the current orbital elements for ISS, and the ability to slew your scope very quickly and accurately. Or you can just be a talented photographer. Tom Polakis, our speaker back in Jan 2008, posted some of his recent images of ISS on the AZ-Observing list server. The email exchange (and link to the images, which are amazingly clear) follows:

Hi all,

Jenn and I captured these images of the Space Station in a favorable pass at 4:00 this morning. At the same time that she marveled at how bright it had become, the video frames showed why it brightened. As the second and third images show, it was not at its brightest when it was largest.

We were listening to Bob Marley.


Great images as always, Tom.  May I ask what equipment that was imaged by, and what the exposure was?  The image sharpness appears seeing-limited, and not motion related.  That's got to be a tough shot.

Dan Heim
Desert Foothills Astronomy Club


The telescope is a 10" f/5.5 Newtonian on a Dob base manually tracked by Jenn while I make adjustments at the laptop on the fly.  The camera is a 640x480 monochrome DMK series video camera by The Imaging Source.  I record at 60 frames per second. What was different this time around is that we used a 2.5x Barlow that when projected across a filter wheel acts as a 3.4x Barlow.  At f/19 and with the gain turned up pretty high, the shutter speed was 1/2500 sec, which is just barely good enough to prevent motion blur.  I'm pretty sure that this image is about at the upper limit for image scale which is 0.25 arcsec/pixel. When the ISS is 300 miles away,  one pixel covers about 2 feet.  Since the entire frame is only a couple arcminutes across, only several dozen out of the ~5000 frames actually show the ISS.


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