Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #48: September 20th, 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
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 25   6:30-8:30 pm   Annual Business Meeting   North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Jun 19   5:00-9:00 pm   June Summer Social at Heimhenge, featuring Asteroids Snooker, snacks and drinks provided by your hosts Dan & Sandi.   THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED.
Jul 17   Noon-?   July Summer Social at the Walker Ranch, with a double-feature (The Thing, original and remake) on his BIG screen home theater, food and drinks provided by your hosts Ron and Julie. Please RSVP by July 5th.   Walker Ranch in Cave Creek
Aug 21   5:00-9:00 pm   August Summer Social at the Renn Estate, with a patio BBQ, food and drinks provided by your hosts Jim and Jean. Please RSVP by Sunday, August 15th.   Renn Estate in Anthem
Sep 15   6:30-8:30 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 13   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #2
Speaker: Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J.
Topic: Are Asteroids Fluffy?
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
NOTE: This meeting is the 2nd Wednesday of
the month to accommodate our speaker.
Nov 17   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #3
Speaker: Roger Serrato
Topic: Astronomy 101 (+ How to Buy Your 1st Telescope)
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, October 13th, 2010 [Note this is the 2nd Wednesday of the month.]
Br. Guy Consolmagno S.J. of the Vatican Observatory will be presenting "Are Asteroids Fluffy?" He believes there a strong evidence that many asteroids might not be the stereotypical solid blocks of iron-nickel or silicate often pictured (as well as imaged). Rather, they could be loose agglomerations of boulders and gravel, held together by mutual gravitational attraction. Depending on total mass and rotation speed, such structures would indeed be stable. With too rapid rotation, centrifugal force would rip them apart.

[Editor's Note: This fascinating image below from the Astronomical Picture of the Day website ( was taken by HST using its new wide-field camera ...

According to an unnamed professional astronomer, this was the result of an 11,000 mph collision between two asteroids that shattered at least one of them, causing the comet-like trail of debris. I disagree with that interpretation on the basis of simple celestial mechanics. These were both main belt asteroids, and unless one of them was a rogue just happening to pass through the main belt, that relative velocity just seems to high for my tastes. I believe this collision involved at least one asteroid that was "fluffy" in terms of Br. Consolmagno's theory. I would not be surprised to see this image in his presentation.]

VP Jim Renn worked long and hard to schedule a visit by Br. Consolmagno, a process that has been ongoing for more than a year. Thanks Jim! The good Brother travels extensively outside the US, and is tough to pin down for a presentation. You won't want to miss this one. We're publicizing it more than most meetings, and there could be a crowd. So arrive early for good seats. Doors will open at 6 pm.

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
This meeting kicked off our 2010-2011 Lecture Series. As has become our tradition, President Dan Heim will provide his annual "Light Pollution Update" including much new material, and some recent auspicious developments that have caused his philosophy to change from "the best we can do is slow the increase of light pollution" to "we may actually be able to reverse the trend, reduce light pollution, and regain our night sky." Both new technologies and new legislation could combine to make this happen. In this first image, Dan explains the origin and significance of the Galactic Gavel for the benefit of two new members who had not yet heard the story.

After calling the meeting to order via the traditional collision between an asteroid and a target disc of aluminum, Dan recognized our newest member, Diann Smith, and 2 unnamed guests [Dan apologizes for not getting their names], he explained how membership gets you The Reflector, the quarterly newsletter of the Astronomical League. He had some sample back issues he always retains for just such purposes, and presented them as "welcome" tokens.

No, he's not blessing the audience, though it might appear that way. Dan was explaining his participation this last year with MAG (Maricopa Association of Governments) in the development of a model light pollution ordinance. And he'll clue you all in on what he learned about those new LED animated billboards (like the one they installed this summer at the Anthem Outlet Mall just off I-17).

Speaking of which, here's one of the slides from his presentation. It shows the newest threat to dark skies ... electronic billboards. They're officially known as CVEMS (Continuously Variable Electronic Message Sign) or EMD (Electronic Message Display). This is one recently installed at the Anthem Outlet Mall. Some quick specs: 60 ft tall, two-sided, 12 ft x 40 ft HD LED display, 8 kW (if all white), $300,000 cost, 8 second rotation of messages. Of course, it's unshielded, and unlike conventional billboards cannot be lit from above with the usual shielded lamps ... it emits it's own light, much of it above the horizontal.

This is how it looks at night from Heimhenge, 5 miles to the northeast. It's the brightest light now visible from that location. And according to Maricopa Planning & Zoning, greatly exceeds their recommended night-time brightness levels. The display part of the sign goes black at 11 pm or midnight (seems to vary) and comes back on at 5 am or 6 am (seems to vary). Unfortunately, the sign is located within the City of Phoenix, which is free to ignore County restrictions. And when it does go off, it's just the display part. All the other lights remain on, and it's still quite bright. And unshielded. Dan is conducting an ongoing effort to learn more, and attempting to influence the Phoenix Office of Environmental Programs and the Planning & Development Department.

We had a good turnout for this lecture, considering many had seen parts of it in the past. But there's always updates, and things you really need to understand to help fight the spread of light pollution. We had 10 members in attendance, and 2 guests.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 pm, and rather than heading to Legends as usual (which is still closed from that transformer explosion), about 6 of us headed over to Taste of New York. It's a little farther down the road, near the I-17 interchange, but Scott assured us they had decent food and a fine selection of beers. Indeed they did.

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
Item 1. Our "critical mass" membership count is 20 (needed to cover our operating costs), and we had surpassed that by 2 last year. We have since lost 3 members (they have not yet renewed, even after email reminders) and added 1 member (welcome Diann Smith!) and so are now back to 20 members. Acting under the assumption that all members would renew, we paid our Astronomical League dues accordingly, and now looks like we gave 3 "free rides" to the tune of $5 each. We might be surprised by a renewal, but it seems unlikely at this point. Fortunately, our treasury is fat enough to weather bad times, but we do need to make some changes regarding dues. After consultation with our Treasurer, Roger Serrato, we've decided we need to set a more firm deadline for renewal. Henceforth it will be May 31st, as our League dues come due in June. We'll still welcome you with open arms if you renew late, but you might miss an issue or two of The Reflector.

Item 2. DFAC member Scott Roher has suggested we utilize our mutual contact with Tony Gutowski to arrange a public outreach event at the Pioneer Living History Museum. Tony is a member of NRDHCA (New River Desert Hills Community Association), where I have spoken several times. He also happens to be a Board member at the Museum. It's between Anthem and Tramonto just west of I-17, so it's not really a "dark-sky" site, but they can control their own lighting, and have both electricity and restrooms available. Tony and Scott spoke about a possible "Astronomy Night" at the Museum, and it looks to be a win-win scenario. And Tony has a personal interest in astronomy. I have made contact with the Museum, and planning is underway. We'd probably need at least 6 scopes to handle the crowd. Whether this would be a ticket event (with DFAC getting a cut), or an open event (where we could still set up our donation box) is yet to be determined. Likewise the date of the event. The Museum has been going through some legal hurdles of late, and has just recently recovered their leased property via an eminent domain action by the City of Phoenix. So communications have been intermittent, but we're still working on this and will keep you all posted.

Item 3. We have an opportunity to do a "field trip" in southeastern Utah with Wild River Expeditions. If you were at the September meeting, you heard the sales pitch I presented. If you missed it, and might be interested, you can download the file WRE.pps on our Downloads page. It's a self-playing PowerPoint slide show, so you don't need to have PowerPoint to view it. It's fairly self-explanatory, even without my narration. Bottom line is we'll have a professional archeologist and geologist onboard to educate us on those topics, and I will fill the roll of astronomer for education at night. I'm hoping by then to have replaced my trusty 10x80 binocs with a pair of these babies: Carpooling for the 7-hour drive to Bluff, Utah would be required. Dates are yet to be determined, but would be one of those listed in the slide show. I'll be pitching this to the other astronomy clubs as well. If you are interested, let me know and I'll add you to my list. If we can round up the requisite 10-20 people we'll have all systems go. You know how to reach me. It might be possible to jump in late, but the sooner you let me know, the more likely this will happen. I already have 2 interested just from DFAC.

Item 4. Bad news ... the online version of my weekly Sky Lights column in the online Foothills Focus newspaper is no more. It ran for 22 weeks. To make a long story short, they were simply impossible to work with, didn't seem to really care whether it ran or not, and were unlikely to ever be willing to actually pay for it. So where from here? In&Out of Anthem has been unresponsive to my queries, and I don't like the political slant of the Sonoran News. That leaves me with two alternatives. Either solicit other AZ newspapers that have an online presence, or do Sky Lights as a blog. The two are mutually exclusive, since a newspaper needs the ad revenue, and would control what ads are on the side borders of the Sky Lights page. And then there's the complication of exclusivity, and what constitutes each newspaper's "exclusive area." On the other hand, going the blog route, even if I do everything right, might require 2-3 years to build enough traffic (= page hits = $) to yield a return. When the traffic gets high enough, I can approach companies I select for the ads, and you can expect those would all be astronomy, environment, or education related. So I'm back to planning mode now, and Sky Lights is once again on "sabbatical." I'll 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:
“Of all the strange things that man has forgotten, the strangest and most tragic lapse of memory is that by which he has forgotten he is living on a star.”

G.K. Chesterton, Author, Philosopher, Poet (1874-1936)

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Space Debris: Running Out of Quotes of the Month
Several members have remarked to me how they enjoy the Quote of the Month feature (above). Truth be told, I've pulled all of them from a "Greatest Astronomy Quotes of All Time" file collected off the internet some time ago. This is Issue #48 of Quid Novi. I have 17 quotes left. And as you might suspect, the most lame quotes remain. So if you know of another good source of astronomical quotes (in print or online), please let me know. Note that, as of this Issue #48, I've decide to link to the Quote of the Month author for those of you interested in perusing further.

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