Capitol Skies - Feb / Mar 1998

Newsletter of the Madison Astronomical Society


In this issue

A number of members of the Madison Astronomical Society were there and report on their experiences in this issue.

eclipse.jpg (22268 bytes)


New meeting location and a special thanks to Edgewood.

Beginning with the May 8th meeting, the MAS will be holding its regular monthly meetings at Space Place, 1605 South Park St. The time will be, as usual 7:30 PM. We look forward to a closer, almost symbiotic, relationship with Space Place. Its mission, public outreach, coincides exactly with one of ours. The two organizations can help each other; Space Place providing projects and public awareness for MAS while MAS, merely by meeting at Space Place, can help that organization draw increased public attention. We anticipate that many additional cooperative ventures will be launched in the future.

We leave with regret our previous meeting place at Edgewood High School. Edgewood has been a gracious host. They provided us with comfortable meeting rooms for several years. We are very grateful to Bob Shannon for obtaining this venue for us.

- TOP -

Madison Astronomical Society Members Hear about the Birth and Death of Stars

At the March 13th meeting of the Madison Astronomical Society members heard an exciting talk by Mr. Robert Naeye, associate editor with Astronomy Magazine. Mr. Naeye had just recently completed a book about the birth and death of stars. His talk starred images obtained from the Hubble telescope. He showed numerous slides of the spectacular regions in space where new stars are being born in thick clouds of swirling gases. His descriptions of the images, the times, sizes and distances were what give us the term "astronomical scale" of things.

He showed even more spectacular images of the death of stars. Gigantic explosions showed the result of stars imploding and exploding, spewing out and leaving behind the stuff out of which the universe is made. The images were again from Hubble. His explanations were as clear and full of surprises as were the fine images he showed. Many, but not all, of these images are in his new book. He had a few copies of his book with him and autographed copies for many of those attending.

naeye2.jpg (12130 bytes) naeye1.jpg (12440 bytes)

Our speaker at a recent meeting, Mr Robert Naeye shown above left with MAS member Mary Ellestad and to the right with MAS member R. A. "Doc" Greiner. Mr. Naeye had with him a few copies of his new book, "Through the Eyes of Hubble, The Birth, Life and Violent Death of Stars." Mr. Naeye is an editor with Astronomy Magazine. The book which is largely a compilation of Hubble images is published by Kalmbach Books, the publisher of Astronomy Magazine.


- TOP -

Chasing the Eclipse by Doris Koster

At exactly 1:10 PM on the afternoon of February 26 the eyes of the nearly 2000 passengers on board the Galaxy saw the beginning stage of the total eclipse of the sun. For one hour and 20 minutes we waited as the spectacle unfolded. Suddenly, there was the darkness and for nearly four minutes we were treated to one of nature’s most awesome sights – the total solar eclipse.

As I boarded the cruise ship on the 21st with my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Bill, Kim and Andrea Koster and my daughter Virginia Nojek, it was with a great deal of anticipation of sharing a successful eclipse adventure with my family.

This was my sixth trip to somewhere in the world for the purpose of viewing one of the sky’s most spectacular shows. My late husband, Arthur L. Koster, was a well known astronomer and a long time member of the Madison Astronomical Society. We shared this hobby and enjoyed sky viewing from our back yard observatory, first in Madison, then in Wildwood. Together we traveled to Africa and from the Canberra viewed our first total solar eclipse. It was impossible to overestimate the plans I’d made to have my family with me on this expedition. Having my family with me to share the experience made this cruise very special. I wanted Andrea, who is in the fourth grade, to have some understanding of the hobby that was so much a part of her grandfather’s life.

The moon covers the face of the sun – simply said, that is a total solar eclipse. With whatever level of knowledge one views it, it is one of the ultimate heavenly shows. To stop there however, is to be cheated of the deeper enjoyment possible when there is so much to enhance the experience. Seeing the eclipse from on board ship, as we did, creates different memories from land viewing, but the major elements are there. If the sky is clear there is a sense of relief, especially for any astronomer who has seen the elusive cloud cover the moon at near totality. First contact is exciting. Anticipation begins in earnest for the approximate hour and a half it takes to "merge" the celestial bodies. The first minutes passed without rapid visible changes but gradually the amount of sunlight was diminished. It was still bright but the blue of the sky began to dull ever so slightly. The moon continued to obscure more of the sun, a phenomena often compared to taking a bite out of a cookie and at about 45 minutes into the eclipse, the light level began to fall dramatically. We noticed the temperature begin to change. About 10 minutes before totality we saw the shadow of the moon across the western horizon. It appeared like the gathering of a giant storm without the warnings of thunder and lightening. On land, animals and plants react as they do to nightfall. Birds go to nest, animals follow night habits and some plants "close up". People are affected too. Around us on the ship there was an intense sense of anticipation, voices seemed quieter and there was a surreal sensation as all eyes were gazing upward looking through the optical mylar glasses or telescopes. From somewhere on the ship we heard someone call out the time.

As zero hour approached events happened rapidly. A few minutes before totality the earth’s atmosphere refracted the last rays of the sun causing a ripple of light to dance across the water. The remaining crescent of the sun was bright, but the blue of the sky had become grayer. The sky darkened and the yellow crescent of light turned into sterling silver.

Although the eclipse had not reached totality, the halo of light called the corona began to emerge in the darkened sky. Within these last moments before the entire face of the sun had been covered, the last rays of sunlight passed through the deep valleys of the lunar surface. This phenomenon is called Bailey’s Beads for its founder and are the last dots of light which pass through the deep crevasses resembling a string of pearls. The beads flickered and vanished, then reappeared until the last one burst into a bright ray of light creating a single jewel surrounded by a ring of white as the halo circles the moon. This "diamond ring" was suspended in the darkened sky for just seconds while the viewers stood in stunned awe.

Then suddenly, the light of the diamond was sucked into the chasm of darkness and the sun disappeared behind the black disk of the moon. The moon had blotted out all illumination of the sun and the corona’s eerie halo glistened in the blackened sky. For nearly 4 minutes the world seemed to stand still. Then it was over.

Light began to break through the darkness of the last moments and the stars faded from the sky as the world returned to normal. For those few precious moments we had experienced what I consider to be one of Nature’s ultimate crowning moments.

Sight of a total solar eclipse can be described, the shadow, the beads, the diamond ring and the corona can be recorded on film, but the experience of actually viewing it takes on another dimension which neither picture nor words can reproduce. The wonder of this awesome heavenly spectacle suspended in the darkened sky forever is engraved in my heart.


- TOP -

The February 1998 Solar Eclipse by R. A. "Doc" Greiner

I went to this eclipse for the purpose of viewing it and experiencing it. There were no plans for photography and none was done. I took a pair of Nikon 10X70 binoculars with One Thousand Oaks filters. The idea was to get the best possible view of the eclipse during its partial phases and the three minutes of totality. I expected that there would be many photographs available from land based locations which would be better than those taken from a moving ship. The location was on the MS Veendam a new ship in the Holland American fleet which was cruising in the southern Caribbean slightly north of Curacao.

An interesting part of the chase of the shadow took place hours before the eclipse. There were several cloud banks and some rain clouds as well roaming the area. The captain of the Veendam was very clever and helpful by cruising north, east, south and west in a figure eight thus managing to give perfect clarity of the skies and reduction of the wind by moving with it during finality. All this maneuvering set us up for a near perfect eclipse viewing experience.

It is said that the experience of viewing a total eclipse cannot be described in words. I believe that to be true after this experience. You will see many images of the eclipse in its various stages in the next few months. These stages come very quickly at the moment of totality. The diamond ring appears, the prominences appear and the corona blazes forth. I watched till near totality through the filters and quickly took them off. The field of view of the binoculars is 5 degrees, so the near totality and corona effects are nice and large in the field of view.

The appearance of the diamond ring caused oohs and aahs from the assembled crown of viewers. Several very large prominences were visible for some time when the corona appeared. There was a very large corona of some symmetry and a pair of very long corona streamers clearly visible. The sequence proceeded with more prominences and a final giant diamond ring effect. The three minutes had passed with exceptional swiftness.

This was not a very dark eclipse and no stars appeared. However, we were treated to an incredible sight. The five major planets were all nicely lined up and appeared clearly and brightly. Viewed with the unaided eye, a major part of our solar system stood out in the sky, perfectly placed as expected about the now occulted sun. It was a striking sight to see in reality what we knew was supposed to be there anyway. You could almost see, and could certainly imagine the planets in three dimensions.

As you can see, the experience cannot be described but must be experienced. I strongly suggest, that if you have the chance, see a total eclipse. It is a very nice experience.


- TOP -

SPECIAL COMMITTEES: A report from Bob Manske

All four of our special committees are functioning. Here are some quick updates.

Public Outreach: Jane Bruen, Bob Shannon, Bob Terrell, Tom Brissette, Tom Jacobs, Tom Hall, and Bruce Brinkerhoff . This committed has in fact completed its mission. It made its report to the MAS at the March meeting. The highlights are:

1) Saturday April 25 Westgate mall demonstration 9:00 am to 5:00 PM. The success of this outing depends largely on how many members help out. We’ll be in the atrium. That evening there will be a public star party at the Yahara Hills Golf Course, starting at 7:30 PM. If you have a telescope, binoculars, or just your eyes, bring them. The rain date is April 26.

2) Friday, Aug. 14th at American Players Theater in Spring Green starting two hours before the play. The play is Oscar Wilde’s comedy "The Importance of Being Earnest". This is a wonderful affair and a great P.R. event for MAS. The cloud date is August 21st, also at APT. The play that evening is "Wild Oats", another comedy.

3) Saturday Oct. 24 in the morning at the Farmer’s Market on the square. It will feature Solar viewing.

4) Saturday Oct. 24 Brittingham Park: 7:00 PM to 10:PM - a public viewing. As I said earlier, the more MAS people who show up to help out at this and all the other events, the better will be our impact on the Madison area. The Public Outreach Committee was highly motivated. It has done an excellent job. Thank you.

16 inch Building Committee: Mark Bauernfeind, Rod Helt, Ray Zit, Dave Weier, Bob Terrell, Tom Brissette, Jim Kremsreiter, Dr. Greiner, Dick Goddard, and Tim Ellestad are the ones on my list. There are others who are also interested and, of course, everyone is welcome to attend and give us their input. This committee held its first meeting on March 21st at YRS. It will continue to meet at YRS on the third Saturday of April and May at 1:00 PM. This project is a major one. It will require a great expenditure of energy and money. The committee has already determined that a revision of the existing structure will cost at least $4300 and that a replacement building will cost at least $6400. Remember that these are very preliminary and very minimal projections. The actual costs may well be much higher.

The committee will also be looking at refurbishing the 16 inch telescope. This very fine, classical Cassegrain instrument needs to be cleaned and its controls need to be upgraded to make it much easier to use. Some alternative configurations are being discussed: a) the existing configuration (upgraded as mentioned earlier) b) a new more modern instrument. Let me or the other members of the committee know your preferences. This committee has a huge job to do and not a lot of time to do it in. It will make an interim report to the MAS at the May meeting and produce its final report and recommendations at the picnic in June. We need your encouragement, support, and comments.

Outside Funding Committee: Dr. Greiner, Dick Goddard. This committee met for the first time on March 28th. It will continue to meet at J.C. Whitney’s on Whitney way on the fourth Saturday of each month at 1:00 PM. The Committee is investigating several sources of funding. As a result of this meeting, we are changing the name of the committee to "Funding Committee". We are looking not only at sources of income from local corporations but also internally, within MAS, hence the name change. We already have a few proposals from members who have tentatively offered to make "matching funds" pledges, that is, they will match the donations from other members. Our Treasury is in good shape, now, but we are planning for the future. Of course, we also have special projects like the 16 inch building, which come up from time to time. Just last year we had to replace the 11 inch building. All of these projects require planning and funding.

The committee will make interim reports at each monthly MAS meeting and will present its final report in September.

Youth Membership Meeting: Jane Bruen, Wynn Wacker, Neil Simmons, Joe Keyes, Bruce Brinkerhoff. This committee will meet for the first time on April 4th at J.C. Whitney’s on Whitney Way at 1:00 PM. It will meet thereafter on the first Saturday of each month at the same time and place. By the time you read this, that first meeting will have taken place.

This committee will investigate a phenomenon which is nation-wide: many young people are very interested in astronomy and space travel but are not joining amateur astronomical societies. This is a different pattern than the one that existed a few decades ago when, for example, MAS successfully sponsored an Explorer Boy Scout Troop, which was the source of several members in the present society as well as the 17 inch telescope. Times have obviously changed and we need to find out why, what it will take to change with them, and if we want to do what it takes to make those changes.

If you want to join any of these committees, even on a one-time basis, please do so. Your participation is valuable. And stay in touch with us.

- TOP -

Observatory Notebook by Mark Bauernfeind

Good News! The C-11 is back in service in the new AKO and everything is working well. A few small details need finishing on the building but they should be taken care of in a couple of weeks. A hearty thank you to all who helped on this project.

As announced in the Fall edition of Capitol Skies there was a cleanup and picnic held on October 11th. A very nice crowd of diligent (and hungry) workers were on hand to turn YRS into a well groomed and tidy observatory site. We managed to nearly fill a 30 yard container with construction debris and assorted odds and ends accumulated over the years. The shrubs were pruned, weeds cleared and brush was piled at the North boundary of the site. We hope there will be a Winter bonfire party to take care of the brush pile, or more accurately the brush mountain. Details will be discussed at an upcoming monthly meeting.

After several hours of hard labor the cleanup crew was rewarded with a picnic featuring tasty brats boiled in beer and grilled to perfection. Chef Mary Ellestad did a fine job preparing them. There were plenty of additional culinary delights to satisfy the appetite. This was a very productive and enjoyable afternoon. I hope that it will be possible to make this an annual event.

As the year comes to a close it is customary to reflect upon what has come to pass in the previous twelve months. From my perspective, I see a long line of worthwhile accomplishments by the MAS members. This year we have added climate control in the main building. There are now four permanent mounted and three portable telescopes available for observing at YRS. The opportunity to enjoy some quality time under very dark skies has never been greater. With a little help from the weather this coming year should be a great time to utilize the facilities at YRS. Thanks again to all who have shared in making YRS a special place. Please have a safe and happy holiday season.

Finally, Spring has arrived, and with it comes all the enjoyment of reacquainting ourselves with the outdoor activities that appeal to us the most. There are, of course, some activities that aren’t so enjoyable, but I think most of us are more than willing to take the good with the bad. With this in mind, let’s look ahead to what the new season holds in store for the YRS. Recommendations on the future of the KMO (Koster Memorial Observatory) are still in the process of being evaluated by the building committee and chairman Rod Helt. It is not an easy situation to deal with, and the final decision on how to proceed will not be a simple one for the MAS membership to determine. There have been several scenarios discussed , and Rod has come up with some cost estimates for them. The committee hopes to have a proposal ready in time for the annual picnic. Hopefully there will be a clearcut solution that everyone will find agreeable. As mentioned previously, there are some maintenance items that will need attention this year on the main building. Most of this work involves painting, so dust of those brushes! The yard could also use a little sprucing up, and it would be nice if someone could figure out a way to roll some of the ruts out of the area around the pads to make walking in the dark a little safer. The right time to take care of this is now, since after the ground dries out it will be difficult to repair.

As a final note, I wish to inform the membership that I am going to be leaving the Executive Board in June. My return to college has taken most of the time I previously had available for MAS activities, and I feel that I can no longer devote the time that is required to keep your observatory in its best condition. Because of these circumstances, I hope that someone from the Society will be able to step forward and do what is necessary to complete the relatively simple tasks mentioned above. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Observatory Director, and special thanks to all of the members who helped in bringing about some pretty exciting changes at YRS during the past two years.


- TOP -

Deep Sky Notebook by Tom Brissette

Welcome to the new deep sky observing column! This will be a regular feature, and I hope it proves useful. It isn't intended to be a tutorial, though in future columns I will be talking about various aspects of deep sky observing. This will also not be just a listing of the same old Messier objects. While I'll be including those (some which may be unfamiliar to many of you), my main intent is to get people to explore the New General Catalog (the NGC). Don't let the NGC scare you; many of these objects are easy to see (the Double Cluster ring a bell?). I'll also be including objects from some less well-known catalogs, like Trumpler open clusters, as well as noteworthy variable and double stars (after all, stars are deep sky objects too, heh heh). There's much to see out there, in all areas of the sky--like an open cluster very near to Polaris (yup, there is!). Everything I include here I have personally observed, many times with more than one telescope. My other intent is to encourage people to keep an observing notebook or journal. If you're the typical "sky tourist", someone who rushes from object to object, spending about five seconds on each, without studying it carefully or recording anything about it, then you are not really observing. I used to be like this, but a few years ago I started a journal. I began with simple one-line descriptions; now I have my own classification systems for objects and my notes can fill a whole paragraph. Spend some time on an object, note all of its details, and write them down (or make a sketch). It makes for a richer observing experience, and you will have a valuable reference for the future.

This Issue's Objects

During the spring the milky way lies on the horizon, and we look straight out of the disk of our galaxy towards its north pole, which is located in Coma Berenices, and out into intergalactic space. This is prime galaxy viewing time, with hundreds of them visible, many located in the Virgo Supercluster. For this issue, I'll provide a sampling of them, along with some other types of objects--galaxies aren't all that's visible this time of year. First up is the open cluster near Polaris that I mentioned.


gx: galaxy en: emission nebula vs: variable star ds: double star
oc: open cluster rn: reflection nebula pn: planetary nebula snr: supernova remnant
gc: globular cluster

ep: eyepiece sb: surface brightness av: averted vision mag: magnitude
con: concentrated st nuc: stellar nucleus mod: moderately

(+) : Visible in 8x50 finder;
(E) : Easy, plainly visible in 8" scope at low power;
(H) : Hard, either not visible at all in 8" scope, or barely visible at high power;
(C) : Challenge! Not visible at all in 11"-12" scope; use the big ones

Object name---Constellation---RA/Dec----Uranometria chart #
No Hard or Challenging objects for this first column.

oc NGC 188 Cep
00h 47m +85deg 14'
Ura 1
8" f/6: Medium sized cluster, not bright but easily visible with 12.5mm ep. A sprinkling of brighter stars on an uneven granular haze. With 7.4mm ep haze is partially resolved into faint stars.
gx NGC 2903 Leo
09h 32m +21deg 30'
Ura 143 Class: Sb/Sc
8" f/6: Easily seen in 23mm ep 1.5 degrees south of Lambda Leo. Bright galaxy; large elongated oval halo, moderate sb. Large, somewhat elongated bright core, no stellar nucleus.
gx NGC 2859 LMi
09h 24m +34deg 30'
Ura 103 Class: SB0
8" f/6: Located 41" from Alpha Lyn. Seen in 23mm ep without av, though not obviously bright. Mod. bnright stellar core; faint, mostly round halo. 17" f/4.5: Core bright, fuzzy-stellar; halo still faint, fat oval hape.
pn NGC 3242 Hya
10 24m -18deg 38'
Ura 325
8" f/6: The "Ghost of Jupiter". 23mm ep shows a tiny, very bright round spot of even brightness. 7.4mm ep shows a Jupiter-sized mostly round patch, high sb, even brightness, diffuse edges.

gx NGC 4030 Vir
12h 00m -01deg 06'
Ura 238 Class: Sb

8" f/6: Located between two stars (mag 11 + 12). Easily seen in 23mm ep, but not bright. 10.5mm ep shows faint, slightly oval halo with brighter, round core. 17" f/4.5: 12.5mm ep shows oval halo, smoothly brightening to a bright, large oval core with a stellar nucleus.

gx M65 Leo 11h
18m +13deg 05'
Ura 191 Class: Sa


gx M66 Leo
11h 20m +12deg 59'
Ura 191 Class: Sb


gx NGC 3628 Leo
11h 20m +13deg 35'
Ura 191 Class: Sb

8" f/6: All three galaxies located in 1-degree field. M65+66 bright, 3628 fainter, located north of M65+66. M65: 10.5mm ep shows elongated oval halo, extending more with av, mostly even brightness. Large, bright core, faint stellar nucleus. M66: oval halo, uneven ends; large bright core, bright stellar nucleus. 3628: edge-on spiral; large, spindle halo, low sb, very faint core in thin bar running through middle.

gc M68  Hya (+)
12h 39m -26deg 44'
Ura 329

8" f/6: Small globular; 12.5mm ep shows round core, moderately con; outer region resolved into faint stars, inner region very granular. Sparse outlier stars are faint.

gc M3 CVn (+)
13h 42m +28deg 22'
Ura 110

8" f/6: Large, nice globular; 10.5mm ep shows large, mostly round core, mod con, partly resolved with inner region very granular. Outlier halo is mod populated with faint stars, generally evenly space, packed close to the core.

gc M53 Com (+)
13h 12m +18deg 10'
Ura 150

8" f/6: Smmall globular; 7.4mm ep shows round, slightly con cluster of mod brightness. A few stars of the core can be partly resolved, rest is very granular. Few outliers.


- TOP -

A Personal Note from Our President — Bob Manske

There is a lot of activity in this club. By the way, we also do astronomy. Well, we do if the clouds ever part. They did part long enough to let Brice McCauley, Bruce Binkerhoff, Tom Brissette, Dave Weier, and myself do some observing on a nice, clear evening at YRS. Among other things, we pegged the supernova in galaxy NGC 3877 in Ursa Major at magnitude 12.1. As clear skies return this kind of activity will return to its usual norm. Paula and Mike Puffer tried for the supernova on March 29th, I hope with success.

Read through our activities on page 11 and reflect on our superior level of activity and participation. It’s really great, especially for a small amateur astronomy club in the boondocks of the mid-west. All of this work depends entirely upon volunteer effort. Donated time. Donated money. Donated experience. Donated sweat. Very little recognition. Now run over to a mirror, look in it and say "I did my part, what a fine person am I". Then get your butt back to work for MAS. And really, thanks for all your support. (Well said, and to the point. Typically Bob. ed.)

OTHER NEWS: from Bob Manske

Our insurance has risen. Fortunately we provided a buffer in our budget to handle this increase. The raise occurred despite the fact that we have never had a claim originated by us or against us. The increase, about $60.00 is well in excess of inflation. It is the second such increase in the last four years. This is disgusting and intolerable. It certainly does not reflect any increased exposure or costs for our insurer but does reflect their naked greed.

I am querying other clubs which have observatories about their insurance situation. I am also looking into a possible legal restructuring of MAS. I don’t know how far we will get with that, but it’s certainly worth investigating. We are now paying over $600 a year for insurance. The great majority of that cost is not devoted to replacement of our facilities but rather to liability. I am looking for ways to reduce or eliminate our liability insurance without putting our facilities at risk.

On another front, our Treasurer, Ray Zit, has been looking into self-insurance for some of our facilities. I will be asking him to provide a report to the club at the picnic in June.

Despite rising costs, we have managed to decrease our overall budget by about 30% over the last three years. Insurance is our greatest expense. We can put our member’s dues to much better use than any insurance company can. I want to be clear on this point: MAS and its facilities must not be put at risk. The choice of paying insurance or not having any protection at all will be an easy one to make. The only efforts being expended here are those with a view to reducing our costs without reducing our exposure. It is hoped that this will be possible.

Editors Note: The success of the newsletter, like that of the Society, depends upon your continued contributions of articles and pictures to the newsletter. Please send pictures and text to

R. A. Greiner
4609 Tokay Blvd.
Madison 53711-1324
e-mail to:
See the MAS Web page at:
Also see the editor’s Web Page at:
Newsletter printing courtesy of Tim Stanton

Back to Capitol Skies Main Page

Back to Madison Astronomical Society's Main Page