Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #44: March 22nd, 2010


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 2010:
Date   Time   Event   Location
Jan 14   6-8 pm   Astronomy Night   YMCA at 34250 N. 60th Street (just south of the Carefree HWY)
6-8 pm (setup 5:30-6:00 pm)
Jan 20   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #4
Speaker: Dan Heim
Topic: The Physics of Weightlessness
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Feb 17   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #5
Speaker:
Members' Night
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Mar 17   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #6
Speaker: Scott Schoneman
Topic: New Launch Systems at Orbital Sciences Corporation
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Mar 20   6:00 pm-???   Members-only Astronomy Night   Heimhenge in New River.
Apr 21   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #7
Speaker: Rick Tejera
Topic: How to Use a Star Atlas - Finding Your Way Around the Night Sky
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
May 19   6:30-8:30 pm   Annual Business Meeting   North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
Our speaker will be Rick Tejera, , SAC member and currently SACNEWS Editor. We posted a request on the AZ-Observing newsgroup and asked for "an expert in reading star atlases, star-hopping, finding north in the eyepiece field of view, and calculating true field of view based on choice of eyepiece and primary." Rick responded (so did Tom Polakis) and I extended an invite to Rick, who accepted. Rick was also kind enough to waive his honorarium, and told us to "donate it to some worthy organization." And so it will go to the IDA. Thanks Rick.

Although there may not be as much to learn for our more experienced members, beginners in Astronomy should find this presentation extremely helpful. The topics we requested are often stumbling blocks for new telescope owners, and will help you more effectively use the equipment you have. Further, it's not like the more experienced members couldn't use a review ... unless you know it all.

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
This month's meeting had a rocky start. President Dan Heim forgot the outboard speakers for the audio content in this lecture, and had to return home after traveling half way to the meeting. Arriving at 6:15 pm, he then was informed that our speaker had forgotten his laptop, and had to run home for his laptop while our speaker DLed his presentation from the internet using the Library's network. Treasurer Roger Serrato took care of the multimedia hardware setup while Dan was out on his second runback. Finally, around 7:00 pm, Dan started the meeting with the usual Big Bang of the Galactic Gavel. Thanks to the members in attendance for their patience while we straightened out these mix-ups.

Scott Schoneman filled us in on recent developments at OSC, a private launch systems company that works with both government and private clients. You can visit the OSC website here. You may recall their "ground-breaking" Pegasus launch system back in the 90s. If not, read more about it here. We had actually scheduled Scott for last season, but he had to cancel at the last minute due to a "launch system failure," investigation of which became his immediate responsibility. Below is the opening screen of his presentation "What's Up With Orbital's Launch Vehicles?"

Scott began with an explanation about that "launch system failure" he had to investigate last year (which required him to cancel his previous presentation). Turns out it was one of those "small parts" that brought the whole bird down. The explosive charge that ejects the shroud around the payload failed to fire. The additional weight caused the rocket to fall short of orbital velocity, and it went down in the ocean, never to be recovered. Using the telemetry from that flight, Scott and his team were able to reconstruct the cause of the failure. And that's a typical day in the life for a rocket scientist.

We were amazed at how much the OSC fleet had expanded since the Pegasus era. Their new Taurus line of launch systems will be used to deliver payloads to the ISS. And that largest rocket in the lower right (Taurus 5) will likely become the first non-government rocket to reach the Moon. OSC has a contract with NASA to put a satellite into lunar orbit for a dust sampling mission.

You can click on this image to see a larger version.

Even with our late start, Scott had time to field some questions from members. We thank Scott for making the long drive from Chandler, and providing an excellent update on OSC. He promises to return in a year or two for another update, as OSC is clearly innovating in this sector of the industry, and really has no significant competition. We wish them no more "launch system failures."

This meeting had a good turnout. 10 members attended. We adjourned at 8:45 pm, and several of us regrouped at Legends SB&G for libations, grub, and further discussion. Given it was St. Patty's Day, we were expecting a "standing room only" crowd, but we got lucky as Scott Loucks managed to snag us a table.

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
Item 1. Our change of venue from Boulder Creek HS to the North Valley Regional Library created some scheduling problems that we're still trying to sort out. The inability to reserve dates beyond the current calendar year messes with our attempts to schedule speakers. If you've been following the Lecture Series page on our website, you know what I'm talking about. This might dictate a "Members' Night" meeting every January, which is not necessarily a bad idea. It will be discussed at out upcoming Business Meeting in May. Your input at any time is most appreciated.

Item 2. VP Jim Renn called my attention to a recent article in In&Out magazine (the Anthem local). Seems the Anthem School (at 41020 Freedom Way) is opening their own Aerospace Academy, a magnet school for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). STEM is a national initiative to increase our global competitiveness in those areas, where we sadly lack at present. Principal Patrick Yennie, the article said, was looking to establish relationships with AZ aerospace companies, NASA, Young Astronauts, Air Force JROTC, and Luke AFB. Jim suggested that perhaps DFAC should offer to get involved, and I agreed. I contacted Principal Yennie earlier today, but he was in a meeting with his Science Department. More on this as it develops.

Item 3. This was brought to my attention by member Scott Rohrer. IMAX has recently completed a 3D version of the STS-125 (Atlantis) HST servicing mission that went down last May. It uses the new 3D technology with polarizing glasses replacing the old red/blue glasses. Scott says he saw Avatar 3D with this system, and it was awesome. So has member Ron Walker, who echoed that opinion. It is not yet playing in the Phoenix area, but when it does open, I suggest a "group viewing" experience on a Saturday for interested DFAC members. Scott will be watching the Harkins schedule, and let us know when it's "all systems go." If you want to read more about the movie, check out this link to PC Mag: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2361522,00.asp

Item 4. VLA tour update ... Dan Mertely, my engineer contact at the VLA has informed me that the VSQ (visiting scientist quarters) is being closed for budget reasons. Unless he can pull some strings, the option of actually staying overnight at the VLA doesn't look likely. We may have to overnight in Magdalena, some 25 miles from the VLA. But "Mert" is working on this for us, and I told him that, as long as we had restroom facilities, we wouldn't mind staying in the VSQ with no water, electricity, or HVAC. Hey, it's only one night, and we can bring flashlights and sleeping bags. At our recent meeting, and via email, about 8 DFAC members have expressed an interest in participating. We're some time from a binding head count yet, but the tour would probably occur some time during the summer, when it would be nice to escape to a higher elevation. The VLA is on the Plains of St. Augustine, at an elevation of 7000 feet. We'll keep you posted on developments.

Item 5. Our Saturday, March 20th, "members only" observing night here at Heimhenge was initially threatened by haze, but it continued clearing as the night rolled on. At 11 pm, after all had left, and the Moon had set, I took an SQM reading and recorded 20.5 (best to date has been 21.1 on a clear moonless night). There were 4 scopes deployed: My 5" Takahashi, Roger's 8" Meade CAT, Ken's 20" open truss Dob, and Mark's Meade ETX 125 (which is, according to Mark, "forever humbled, in my son Stephens's, eyes by Ken's Dob"). An addtional 4 members and two guests enjoyed the views. There were several occultations by the Moon, with fainter members of the Pleiades. Mars was straight overhead, and showed clear dark surface markings. Saturn, with its rings still almost edge-on, showed 3 distinct bands. I spent most of the night trying to split Sirius. My report follows.

The below chart from a recent S&T shows why I wanted to attempt splitting Sirius tonight.

With Sirius B (the "Pup") directly east of the primary, location was simple knowing the sky rotates west. My Tak has a theoretical resolution of 0.9" and the two components of Sirius are now separated by 9" which is 10x what my scope is supposed to be capable of (seeing notwithstanding). Conventional wisdom is that you need at least 50x per inch of aperture to split this system, so I used a 3-6 mm zoom Nagler at 4 mm to provide 260x. The true field of view (FOV) was 692" so the components would be separated by only 1.3% of the FOV. I began the hunt with Sirius on the meridian.

I used several methods to attempt the split: direct observation and waiting for the Airy disc around Sirius A to contract and reveal the Pup, same thing with a red filter to improve the contrast between the lrimary and the Pup (this significantly reduced the size of the Airy disc), allowing the primary to drift out of view and leave the Pup in the FOV, same thing with a red filter.

The results were inconclusive. Several members spent time at my eyepiece in each of the search modes. We all had tantalizing glimpses of the Pup that lasted for fractions of a second, but it was indeed in the correct location, resolved as a separate point of light. Bottom line, my best estimate of the confidence level for our observation of the Pup = 50%. I'll be trying again over the next week, while Sirius is still on the meridian at a convenient hour. I want a better view. Did I see the Pup? Maybe. Here's some photos from the outing ...


Ken Reeves manning his 20" Dob.


Roger on the Orion Nebula, with his 8" Meade.


Dan trying to split Sirius with his 5" Takahashi.


Sandi, our host, sharing fresh-baked oatmeal raisin cookies with Roger.

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's Note: I've always been a fan of Stephen Gould. Heard him speak up at Arcosanti back in the 80s. The Panda's Thumb (turns out it isn't really a thumb) is a collection of musings on the topic of evolution. If you haven't read this classic, first published in 1980, and are interested in evolution theory, which is being challenged by some groups today, I highly recommend the book. You can get a used copy on Amazon for a couple bucks.]

"If we are still here to witness the destruction of our planet some five billion years or more hence, then we will have achieved something so unprecedented in the history of life that we should be willing to sing our swansong with joy - Sic Transit Gloria Mundi."

— Stephen Jay Gould, "The Panda's Thumb"

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Space Debris: IDA Notes
One of the advantages of being a member society of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is their updates and newsletters, which we can pass along to members. Since fighting light pollution is a major part of DFAC's mission, I feel it's important for our members to be aware of the latest developments. Here's a couple emails from recent IDA communications. All the internal links are active:

Night Watch, Volume 2, Issue 6: IDA-1.doc (101k)
Nightscape Newsletter, Issue 79:
IDA-2.doc (92k)

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