Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #30: December 1st, 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
Oct 1   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #1
Speaker: Dan Heim
Topic: Light Pollution Update
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Oct 30   7:00 pm - 9:00 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #2
Speaker: Steve Jureweicz
Topic: Arizona Meteorites
  Cave Creek Museum, 6140 E Skyline Dr, Cave Creek, AZ 85331
Map available
Nov 8   12:00 pm - 4:00 pm   Veterans Day Parade
DFAC booth & scopes
  Anthem Community Park
Nov 20   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #3
Speaker: Gene Lucas, SAC & EVAC
Topic: 9 Metis Occultation
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Jan 26   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #4
Speaker: George Coyne, S.J., Vatican Observatory
Topic: Intelligent Design
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Note: This is a special Monday night meeting.
Feb 26   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #5
Speaker: Roger Serrato, DFAC
Topic: Hardware Tips and Tricks for Amateur Astronomers
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Mar 26   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #6
Speaker: Scott Schoneman, Orbital Sciences Corporation
Topic: The Latest in Private Launch Systems at OSC
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Apr 30   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #7
Speaker: Dr. Jeff Hester, ASU
Topic: Open Q&A
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Please submit your astronomy questions before January 31st via
May 28   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Business Meeting   North Valley Regional Library, 40410 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: Monday, January 26th, 2009
Note that this date is NOT the "last Thursday of the month." To accommodate our speaker's schedule, we will meet on the last Monday of this month.

Our first meeting of the new year will feature Rev. George Coyne, S.J. of the Vatican Observatory. His presentation is titled "The Dance of the Fertile Universe: Did God Do It?" The idea of intelligent design has been popularized of late from many directions. What are the thoughts of a scientist and astronomer who also happens to be a Jesuit? Fr. Coyne's article about The Evolution Debate in the January 2008 issue of Physics Teacher magazine provides a preview. We present it here, with permission of the author, for your download and perusal:

page-1.jpg (235k)
page-2.jpg (211k)

We will be publicizing this meeting more widely than usual. Expect a larger crowd, and arrive early for good seats. This should be a very interesting meeting. Hope to see you all there.

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Last Meeting: Thursday, November 20th, 2008
This was the second time Gene Lucas spoke to our group. His talk tonight was about his expedition to the Mojave Desert on September 12th. It was there he joined many other IOTA members in an attempt to refine the size and shape parameters of asteroid 9 Metis via occultation measurements. Here Gene (far left) chats with DFAC members before starting his presentation.


Dan opened the meeting with a few items of club business, and reported on our successful Veteran's Day event at Anthem. You can read more about that here.

Dan introduced Gene and, after a minor glitch with the laptop/projector system, the evening's show was underway..

Gene covered the background info on occultation techniques, the history of IOTA, and provided screenshots of some of the specialized software used to predict, record, and analyze occultations. Using a VCR patched into the projector, he showed some actual footage of past occultations. Timing, or course, is of the essence, and much effort goes into accurately synching the time signal (these days usually via GPS) with the video recording. We were surprised to learn that, except for those with specialized computers designed for video capture, most video recording is still done on tape.

This is an image from Gene's presentation, showing his "camp" in the desert. His equipment is deployed, and he's just kicking back and waiting for the asteroid's shadow.

Another image from Gene's presentation shows the results we all wanted to hear about. It's a 2D plot of the occultation showing the measurements of many observers. You can see that some were "hits" and others were "misses." Even the "misses" help, since they constrain the asteroid's size and shape. Turns out 9 Metis is only roughly spherical, with a diameter of around 200 km. It is slightly elongated, with one end pointed and the other broad. It was discovered on April 25, 1848 by Andrew Graham. Every occultation helps to further refine its size and shape. As IOTA points out, occultation measurements are one of the areas where amatueur astronomers can still make significant contributions to the science of astronomy.

Here we see some of the members in attendance. It was a low turnout, with only 6 members present, perhaps because of the special date and impending holiday.

Our sincere thanks to Gene Lucas for enlightening us on the finer points of asteroid occultation measurements. Gene didn't have time to get into any discussion about his Bino-Reclin-O binocular observing chair (still under development), but he promised he'd return in the future and demonstrate a working prototype. We look forward to seeing him again. The meeting adjourned at 8:45 pm.

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
DFAC Meeting Times: You'll notice on the Lectures page that we have slightly shifted our meeting time to accommodate both the NVRL and our speakers. Our reservation at the Library "starts" at 6:30 pm, but we'll be opening the doors between 6:00 pm and 6:15 pm. That gives us time to set up any AV equipment we need, go through our club business, and still get our speaker started (hopefully) by 7 pm at the very latest. Since the NVRL locks its doors at 9:00 pm, and we need to start AV equipment take-down between 8:30 - 8:45 pm, that still leaves our speaker at least an hour, and probably 1.5 hours. Bottom line: please try to be present at 6:30 pm. Thanks.

Speaker Scheduling: As you can see from our events schedule above, and our Lectures page, as of this writing, we have booked all speakers for the remainder of this season. Fr. George Coyne S.J. of the Vatican Observatory is scheduled for our special (Monday night) January meeting. Dr. Jeff Hester of ASU has our April 30th date, for an exciting "open Q&A" night (read more below). Scott Schoneman of Orbital Sciences Corporation has committed to speak at our March 26th meeting on recent developments in private launch systems. And our own Roger Serrato (who knows more about astronomy hardware and methods than you may suspect from his humble demeanor) will be speaking at our February 26th meeting about hardware tips and tricks all amateur astronomers should know.

Q&A for Dr. Hester: Our April 30th, 2009 meeting will be a first of its kind for DFAC. Dr. Jeff Hester of ASU (and HST) will field open questions from members for the entire evening. This is your chance to ask a professional astronomer about anything you want to better understand. Dr. Hester is knowledgeable about all areas of astronomy, from its ancient history, to cutting edge cosmology. We are asking members to submit their questions ahead of time so that the good Doctor can bring appropriate supplementary multimedia with him on his laptop. Of course, you can also ask a question in "real time" at the meeting, but the list of prepared question will have priority. To submit a question, simply email me by January 31st, 2009, and include your question in your email. I will compile the list of questions and forward it to Dr. Hester.

Surely there's some astronomy question that's been puzzling you. I know I've got a few. Send your questions my way, and I'll stop calling your Shirley. Then hear the answers to your questions on April 30th!

Veterans Day Parade: This event was a great success. We decided to post the photos on our North Sky News page, rather than run them in Quid Novi. The ideas was to put them somewhere that casual browsers of our website would more likely encounter, rather than burying them in an ever deepening archive of newsletters. This kind of community involvement is good advertising for DFAC, so we posted the event photos where more people would see them. This will very likely become an annual gig for our club. Well worth a November afternoon's work.

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:
[Editor: This quote seemed especially appropriate, given our upcoming speaker.]

"God is infinite, so His universe must be too. Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of His kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds."

— Giordano Bruno, 1584, "On the Infinite Universe and Worlds"

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Space Debris: Happy Holidays to All
This is a watershed year in America, for the economy, politics, energy, climate ...the list goes on. I find myself thankful that we have brought together 18 like-minded individuals who share a love for the sky and a hate for light pollution. It is my hope that we continue to grow in number and influence. My wish list includes: more members, more publicity, more attendance at meetings, more members-only observing sessions, and less light. DFAC can be anything you want it to be, but that doesn't happen without feedback and participation. Thanks to all of you for your patience and support as we try to grow DFAC into a major presence in the North Valley. And I wish you all the best of holiday seasons with family and friends. Clear skies, fellow stargazers.

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