Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #57: October 1st, 2011
          Member Society of the Astronomical League
Since 2006

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 @ 623.465.7307 or email:

DFAC Events for 2011-2012:
Date   Time   Event   Location
Sep 21   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #1
Speaker: Dr. Ted Dunham, Lowell Observatory
Topic: The Kepler Space Telescope and the Search for Exoplanets
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086
Oct 15   6:00-9:00 pm   Astronomy Night at Corona Ranch Resort
Setup 5:30-6:00 pm, observing 6-9 pm
Post-event details TBA
  Corona Ranch Resort
7611 S. 29th Ave
Laveen, AZ 885339
Oct 19   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #2
Howard Israel, Phoenix IDA rep
Topic: Light Pollution Update
The IDA's Perspective
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086
Nov 16   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #3
Speaker: Roger Serrato, DFAC
Topic: Astronomy 101 (How to Buy Your First Telescope)
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086
Jan 18   6:30-8:30 pm   Astronomy Night at NVRL (takes the place of our regularly scheduled meeting)
Setup 6:00-6:30 pm, observing 6:30-8:30 pm
Volunteers still needed
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086
Feb 15   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #4
Speaker: Fr. William Stoeger, S.J., Vatican Observatory
Topic: Cosmology
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086
Mar 21   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #5
Speaker: Tom Polakis, EVAC & SAC
Topic: Atacama Astronomy
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086
Apr 18   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #6
Speaker: TBA
Topic: TBA
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086
Apr 25   7:30-9:00 pm   Astronomy Night at Canyon Elementary School
Setup 6:30-7:00 pm, sunset 7:00 pm, observing 7:00-
8:00 or 8:30 pm
Volunteers still needed
  Canyon Elementary School
34630 S. School Loop Road
Black Canyon City, AZ 85324
May 16   6:30-8:30 pm   DFAC Business Meeting
Speakers: Dan Heim & Roger Serrato
Agenda: DFAC Business & Officer Elections
  North Valley Regional Library
40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway
Anthem, AZ 85086

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, October 19th, 2011
Our next Lecture Series meeting is October 19th. Our Speaker will be Howard Israel, Phoenix rep for the IDA. In place of Dan Heim's usual Light Pollution Update lecture, we thought it would be a nice change to hear the IDA's perspective on this critical issue. Howard spoke to us on the topic of SETI last season and did an excellent job. We look forward to seeing him again.

Doors will open at 6 pm. Hope to see you all there!

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, September 21st, 2011
Our first meeting of this season was a great start, with Dr. Ted Dunham from Lowell Observatory. He is one of the Kepler Space Telescope team scientists, and enlightened us on the most recent developments in exoplanet research. Photos by Roger Serrato. Dan began the meeting with a "welcome back" message and some club business about upcoming events (see State of DFAC), then introduced Dr. Dunham.

Dr. Dunham started by saying he wasn't really involved with Kepler anymore, but had enough time on the team to provide the info we were seeking. Indeed he did. Perhaps the most exciting revelation was the sheer number of exoplanet "candidates" already amassed. He was careful to point out that they preferred the term "candidate" to "exoplanet" until several photometry were obtained. This was similar to how they "sold" the mission to NASA by calling Kepler a "photometer" rather than a "telescope." Getting funding these days is as much a matter of playing politics.

The following 3 images show slides from Dr. Dunham's presentation. It was an exhaustive summary of Kepler, from conception through launch, and current results. We learned about the complex light curves that have to be "deciphered" in order to produce a physical model of the eclipsing system, not all of which are necessarily unique. Hence the need for multiple light curves, which can take some time for planets in extended orbits. Further, natural stellar variability turns out to higher than assumed, again requiring multiple light curves to filter out the "noise." He said they were trying to get the mission extended, but with NASA's budget cutback that will be a tough sell. We wish them the best in this endeavor.

The slide above was his closing slide, and provoked a chuckle from the crowd. We all learned much from Dr. Dunham's presentation, and thank him again for making the drive down from Flagstaff to educate our group about the intricacies of exoplanet photometry. It was indeed a great way to kick off our 2011-2012 Lecture Series. Some shots of the assembled group follow.

Had to include that last shot (above) since Roger (our photographer, smiling at left) took the effort to set up his camera on a tripod with a timer just so he could finally get into the newsletter. Below, Dan is officially closing the meeting with our infamous Galactic Gavel. He promises to tell the story of its genesis (yet again) at our next meeting.

By the way, this just in from DFAC member Jay Chatzkel. If you were intrigued by Dr. Dunham's lecture on exoplanets, you might want to check out this article and or visit: Who knows ... you might be the first DFAC member to discover an exoplanet. Would that be great publicity or what? Thanks Jay!

We didn't have any non-members at this meeting, even though our out-of-town speakers are always advertised to the other clubs. Still, we had one of the best turnouts to date with 20 DFAC members and spouses in attendance. The meeting was adjourned at 8:45 pm, after which 6 of the members retired to Native New Yorker for further discussion, libations, and the usual great food.

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
Item 1: Scott Loucks suggested we push strongly for all members (at least those who are online) join the newsgroup he moderates for DFAC. He points out that, for organizing astronomy events, it would be far superior to email chains, and a central repository for event information. We could even run a poll regarding where we want to eat/drink after the event. Makes total sense to me. So how about it, members? Signing up is easy. Simply visit: to create a Yahoo account (if you don't already have one), then go to and start participating. It would be great if all DFAC members were onboard there, and save me a lot of email time. And there's also some good discussion threads you might want to participate in. Scott has made signing up and participating about as easy as it can be. Thanks!

Item 2: Although our October 15 event at Corona Ranch Resort is now fully staffed (thanks to 3 more scopes from PAS), we have not yet solicited volunteers for the Jan 18 event at NVRL, or the April 25 event at Canyon Elementary in Black Canyon City (which is a tough one since it's on a Wednesday night). Mark those dates on your calendar though, and more details will be provided as those dates approach.

Item 3: This is a longer than usual Quid Novi, so I'll keep this section short. Just wanted to welcome you all back for our 2011-2012 season (our 6th), and thank you all for renewing your memberships.

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:
“It is a tribute to how far we have come already in theoretical physics that it now takes enormous machines and a great deal of money to perform an experiment whose results we cannot predict.”

Stephen Hawking, Lecture: “Is The End in Sight for Theoretcial Physics?”

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Space Debris: A Visit to the Houston Space Center
Dan & Sandi Heim went on a 2-week road trip in early September, and one of their stops was the Houston Space Center (which we'd never seen). Following are some of the cool exhibits we saw there. We start with the Saturn V rocket they have on display. You don't get a real appreciation for how huge these rockets were until you walk around one. Needed a fisheye lens to get the entire length in one view.

Just for a better perspective on those 5 main stage F-1 engines, here's a shot using Sandi to help set the scale. Each of these babies put out 1,500,00 pounds of thrust, and ran at a power level of 190 million horsepower!

Outside displays included a Mercury Redstone, and the less-well-known "Little Joe" which was used for Apollo high-altitude abort tests at White Sands.

The next two images show the original Apollo Mission Control center. The second images shows a mirror over the water fountain. During the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, when all three astronauts had to move into the LEM, they were so packed that they couldn't turn around and had to read some instrument displays using that mirror to see behind them. It was put on display over the water fountain to serve as a constant reminder of the teamwork and ingenuity required to get Apollo 13 safely home.

Also on display was the largest collection of Moon rocks available for public viewing. The one you could touch was just a small slab, worn to the smoothness of tile by millions of hands touching it.

Something new and unexpected was the amount of research going on in robotics. Shown here are "Robonaut" and "Crawler." These devices would work alongside real astronauts on EVAs, or could even work autonomously, not unlike Huey, Dewy, and Louie in the Sci-Fi classic Silent Running. The robots stay attached to the craft magnetically.

And finally, one of the many excellent dioramas simulating life in space or on the Moon. This one was especially realistic.

So if you're ever in the Houston area, and haven't already seen the Space Center, I highly recommend you stop in. Plan on spending at least half a day, maybe a full day.

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