August/September, 2000

A Word From the (new) President

I wish to thank the members of the Madison Astronomical Society for electing me to the office of President of the Society. I believe that the Society is healthy and growing, that it will continue toward its goals of promoting astronomical observation, education and outreach in the year to come.

For a number of years I have been an enthusiastic supporter of MAS and its goals. I will do my very best to contribute to those goals in the coming year. I anticipate that the year ahead will also be one of renewal and growth. The operations of the Society are in the good hands of the new officers who have already shown their initiative and diligence in carrying out their duties.

We have had a spate of new members joining us, three alone at the July meeting. We have progressed with improvements at the Yanna Research Station, including a very fine new sanitary facility. Tim Ellestad has done a great deal to make YRS more user friendly. We will continue that effort this year. Our new lawnmower has been initiated and a grass cutting schedule has been established. Observing members can participate in this duty by contacting our observatory director. We now have a post office box to establish our local identity and our web site is getting a new look. And, all that happened in just the last month.

Wow! What next? Well, we have several tasks that will be done in the next few months including a fresh codification of the by-laws, a new letterhead design and an exciting new brochure to attract still more new members. Of special importance is the revitalized Membership and Outreach committee lead by Wynn Wacker and with a good number of eager committee members. There is a major event coming up in October, the "Moon Over the Convention Center Star Party." I invite all members to take part in this event. It was very successful last year in bringing the interests and capabilities of the MAS to the public and enticing new members to join us.

From the above, you can see why I am excited about the activities of the MAS for the coming year.

Sincerely ­ Dick Greiner (Doc G)
 
 

Monona Terrace Moon Watch

By Wynn Wacker

The Madison Astronomical Society will host an evening of lunar viewing at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Friday, October 6th (rain date is the 7th). UW Astronomy Department's Space Place will also be present to lend their expertise and provide activities for the younger members of the public. The same event last year drew hundreds of visitors, so all MAS members with portable telescopes are urged to participate. Members without telescopes are also encouraged to attend and can be of great assistance in answering questions and tending telescopes while their owners take needed breaks. Additional details will be given at upcoming meetings and in the next newsletter.

We'd like to put together a single sheet handout with a simple map of the Moon and some suitable references and websites. It would particularly be nice to list some books suitable for young readers. Members are encouraged to send their suggestions for materials to me at: 2109 McKenna Blvd, Madison, WI 53711, e-mail: wkw@mailbag.com, or see me at the next meeting.
 
 

Calendar of Events

August 11: MAS monthly meeting. 7:00 board meeting and beginner's clinic. 7:30, main presentation: A.J. Carver: "University of Arizona Astronomy Camp." At Space Place, 1605 S. Park St.

August 11/12: Perseid meteor shower. Nearly full moon will be a spoiler.

September 8: MAS monthly meeting. 7:00 board meeting and beginner's clinic. 7:30, main presentation: Neil Simmons, "Amateur-Professional cooperation in astronomy." At Space Place, 1605 S. Park St.

September 20: MMSD Planetarium (Memorial High School), 1st program of the year. Program and times TBA. Call or check website for times and programs. $1 for students, $2 for adults. Call 608-829-4053 or check here for info.
 
 

Privy donations exceed $2000 with ease

Thanks to the tireless work of Mary Ellestad, Tim Ellestad, and several others, MAS now has a beautiful bathroom facility at YRS. The expenses for this construction project were raised by member donations and matching funds from the club treasury. Several donations in excess of $100 were received, but everyone gave generously.

Specific thanks to the following: Martin Barrett, Carl Baumann, Jane Breun, Craig Carver, Susan Connell-Magee, Richard Creager, Tanya Cunningham, Dennis Dettlaff, Tim & Mary Ellestad, Betty Feldt, Robert Ferwerda, Dennis Fryback, Richard & Patricia Gerou, Richard Goddard, Richard Greiner, Tom Hall, Allan Henn, Kevin Ireland, Tom Jacobs, Joe Keyes, Mitchell Kite, Doris Koster, Jim Kremsreiter, Sanjay Limaye, Betty Lizik, Gilbert Lubcke, Paul Marrione, Michael McDowell, Tom Miskelly, Martin Nelson, Leland Price, Neil Robinson, John Rummel, Robert Shannon, Edmund Sheaff, Charles Squires, Daniel Strome, Robert Terrell, Wynn Wacker, Mark Wysocki, Ralph Zebell, and Arthur Zimmerman. A modest amount was also raised at a raffle and an auction at recent meetings. If we have missed anyone who donated to the privy fund, please contact the newsletter editor and accept our apologies.

See photo of privy construction on page 7 of this issue.
 
 

From the Editor

The June picnic passed this year with a sweeping change in the leadership of the club. All previous elected officers, with the exception of observatory director, decided to step aside and make room for new club leadership. The new slate of officers can be found on the front page of this newsletter, along with their phone numbers and email addresses. Feel free to contact them with any questions or comments you may have about the society.

Also highlighted at the picnic was the new sanitary facility (a.k.a. the privy). At the time, it was fully functional though lacking in exterior finishing, door lock hardware, etc. It has since been completed and stands as a monument to the persistence and hard work of Mary and Tim Ellestad. Mary made literally hundreds of phone calls, obtained estimates and permits, met with contractors, etc., and single-handedly ran a fundraising campaign which eventually netted the needed funds to complete the project. Mary also convincingly lobbied the group membership on the necessity of committing club funds to match those raised by the fundraising campaign. As a result, MAS now has excellent comfort facilities at the observing site, making it easier to invite guests, groups of kids, etc., to use the observing equipment at this site. The wheelchair ramp still needs to be built before the end of the summer, but the building is ready for use in every way but this.

Also in this issue is a new installment of Tom's DeepSky Notebook, news from the observatory director, information about the upcoming "moon party" at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, and various other bits and pieces of MAS info. Enjoy!
 
 

Wanted: Back Issues of Sky&Telescope or Astronomy magazines

Eric Thiede is trying to fill gaps in his astronomical library, as well as any that may exist in the Society's collection. If you have any old issues of S&T and Astronomy that you would like to dispose of, please bring them to MAS meetings or contact Eric at eric497@home.com.

Deep Sky Notebook: Sagittarius I

By Tom Brissette
 

Deep sky objects aplenty here in the heart of the Milky Way, and this is only a small selection of them. Lots of Messier globular clusters this month.

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

Object Name---Constellation---RA / Dec---Size---Magnitude---Uranometria Chart #

gc M22 Sgr 18h 36m 24s -23deg 54' 12" Size: 33' Mag: 5.2 Ura 340 Distance: 9,600 l.y. Diameter: 67 l.y.

8" f/6: Massive, bright spectacular globular. At 116x, large loose fully resolved core inside a halo of dense outlier chains; appears elongated E-W. Outliers spread in all directions, but chains are not prominent. Clump of stars on NE side. 17" f/4.5: Huge cottonball appearance. At 190x, core is fully resolved, rather loose, no haze, many fainter stars. Inner outlier chains are very dense, go off in all directions, but prominent in E-W, appearing to condense gradually into the core. Outer chains very prominent, especially on N and E sides, extending out to long distances. Clump of stars on NE edge of core contains at least 5 stars.

gc M28 Sgr 18h 24m 33s -24deg 52' 12" Size: 10' Mag: 6.9 Ura 340 Distance: 15,000 l.y. Diameter: 65 l.y.

8" f/6: Bright globular with faint stars. At 116x, round halo is resolved around edges; uniformly dense core is well-defined, very granular.

gc M54 Sgr 18h 55m 03s -30deg 28' 42" Size: 12' Mag: 7.7 Ura 378 Distance: 50,000 l.y. Diameter: 87 l.y.

8" f/6: A fainter Messier globular, but still bright at 52x. 116x shows a small, faint unresolved hazy halo with a very bright, dense unresolved core that smoothly brightens to stellar center. 16" f/19: At 172x, a few brighter outliers possibly resolved, otherwise halo is very granular. Smoother concentration to a large, bright smooth core.

gc M55 Sgr 19h 39m 59s -30deg 57' 42" Size: 19' Mag: 6.3 Ura 379 Distance: 20,000 l.y. Diameter: 87 l.y.

8" f/6: 116x shows large, moderately faint loose ball of stars, no central concentration. Some brighter stars scattered across cluster and in a few ragged outlier chains; body is mostly resolved faint stars with some haze.

gc M70 Sgr 18h 43m 13s -32deg 17' 30" Size: 8' Mag: 7.8 Ura 378 Distance: 65,000 l.y. Diameter: 151 l.y.

8" f.6: Not very bright, but still easy to see. 98x shows small, faint unresolved granular halo with small bright core. 16" f/19: Core smaller, not as bright as M54. At 172x, halo is partially resolved into very faint stars over granular haze.

gc M69 Sgr 18h 31m 23s -32deg 20' 54" Size: 10' Mag: 7.7 Ura 378 Distance: 25,000 l.y. Diameter: 29 l.y.

8" f/6: At 98x, similar in size to and brighter than M70, but no bright core. Round, even granular haze with a few outer stars possibly resolved. 16" f/19: At 172x, large partially resolved body with a few outliers forming a thin ring around core.

gc M75 Sgr 20h 06m 04s -21deg 55' 21" Size: 7' Mag: 8.6 Ura 343 Distance: 95,000 l.y. Diameter: 166 l.y.

8" f/6: Small globular, but quite bright. 162x shows a tiny, sharp, clumpy core and a faint granular halo. 16" f/19: At 172x, core is clumpy, averted vision resolves a few very faint stars in halo, otherwise it is very grainy.

gc NGC 6522 Sgr 18h 03m 34s -30deg 02' 00" Size: 7' Mag: 9.9 Ura 377

8" f/6: Rather small globular, moderately faint; brighter core and dimmer halo seen. Unresolved at 162x, but granular appearance. Mag 12 star on NE edge. In same moderate-power field with gc NGC 6528.

gc NGC 6528 Sgr 18h 04m 50s -30deg 03' 24" Size: 5' Mag: 9.6 Ura 377

8" f/6: Smaller, fainter version of 6522, which lies 16.5' to the west. No apparent separate core, only a granular nebulous patch, low surface brightness.

pn NGC 6818 Sgr 19h 43m 58s -14deg 09' 11" Size: 48" Mag: 9.9 Ura 297

8" f/6: Fairly bright planetary, but not intensely so; distinctly non-stellar at 52x. 116x shows a compact round patch, even brightness and texture, no annularity seen, sharp-edged.

gx NGC 6822 Sgr 19h 44m 58s -14deg 48' 11" Size: 15.6'x13.5' Mag: 9.3 Ura 297

8" f/6: Barnard's Galaxy, one of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies. This is a large and extremely low surface-brightness object, and is a challenge in a less than ideal sky. 23mm wide-field eyepiece (52x) doesn't show it definitely; averted vision shows an indefinite, very faint glow elongated N-S. PN NGC 6818 is 42' to the N-NW.

Deep Sky Challenge

No challenge for this issue, though NGC 6822 can be one!
 
 

From the Observatory Director

by Tim Ellestad

Mowing Volunteers Urgently Needed

As announced earlier this year, long-time MAS member Leroy Yanna has taken a well deserved retirement from the lawn mowing service he has provided to the Yanna Research Station. Leroy's mowing has been a much appreciated plus for the MAS but now it's time for the membership to step in and pick up where he is leaving off.

At the July meeting the club agreed to tackle the mowing and trimming chores by means of a cadre of volunteers. Members are needed to sign up for these details. Mowing and trimming will be scheduled for two-week intervals. With a reasonable roster of volunteers no one should have to mow very often. Please contact me, Observatory Director Tim Ellestad, to be included on the list.

The MAS has a new mower and gas trimmer to handle these tasks. This equipment is very easy to use but I would like to give everyone a few words of instruction as to their usage. Mary Ellestad was the first to mow the YRS with our new mower and it took her one hour and twenty minutes to mow a heavy, one month's growth. Normal two week growths should go somewhat faster.

New YRS Key Regimen

Keys for the AKO 11" telescope and the new privy no longer reside in the drawer under the observatory log. They are now located on hooks just under the electrical breaker box on the wall behind the clubhouse entrance door. I've attached them individually to large white and red plastic paddles (just like at the gas station) to facilitate finding them easily in the dark or in the snow should they be dropped. Also, this should make them uncomfortable in the pocket and less likely to be mindlessly carried home... something I've done at least five times!

Landscaping

When excavation day came up for the new privy, the YRS turf was still very soggy from the unusual Spring rains we've had this year. As a result we got some nasty ruts from the backhoe. Some of these ruts still need to be filled. There is a pile of topsoil available to use on these ruts just in front of the privy. Anyone who can help is encouraged to put a shovel to the problem and help get things smoothed out again. The topsoil pile is probably getting sun-baked now so it may take a little chopping and raking as well.
 
 
 God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe
by Amir D. Aczel, 272 pages (October 1999), Four Walls Eight Windows Publishing.

Reviewed by John Rummel

Aczel, whose book about Fermat's last theorem was an enjoyable romp through the history of mathematics, now turns his attention to Einstein's theory of general relativity and its implications for cosmology. Based on his work with some historians who are taking a fresh look at Einstein's life and work through recently discovered notebooks and correspondence (Renn, Stachel, et.al), Aczel is able to reveal some previously unknown factoids about the 20th century's greatest scientist. For example, a previously unknown notebook from about 1912 reveals that Einstein had produced his field equation for gravitation nearly 3 years earlier than its final publication in 1915. Apparently Einstein was not convinced of the accuracy of this equation, for he abandoned it, only to rederive it 3 years later with apparently no recollection that he'd been there before. Aczel also spends some effort refuting the popular myth that Einstein was no good at mathematics. He was a superb mathematician, says Aczel, and largely self-taught, which speaks to his agile intellect and intuitive sense for fruitful areas of research.

Unlike any other biographies of Einstein or expositions of relativity that I've read, Aczel takes a "mathematician's eye view" of general relativity, and spends considerable time tracing the development of the geometry of curved space through Gauss, Reimann, and several other lesser known contributors. He also reveals, which I had not known previously, that Einstein kept up an ongoing correspondence with the legendary British mathematician David Hilbert, and that Hilbert published some work of his own based on early copies of Einstein's field equations. This incident has apparently been fodder for considerable historiographical debate, and was only recently settled that there was no plagiarism or other funny business occurring on the part of either man.

God's Equation is not all Einstein, however. Aczel also introduces us to many of the nagging questions in modern cosmology, and astronomers' attempts to reconcile the recently discovered accelerating expansion of the universe with current theories. Astronomer Saul Perlmutter is central to the story's recent developments, whose supernova observing program lent considerable weight to the accelerating expansion scenario. Taking center stage for this discussion is the resurrection of the cosmological constant, Einstein's famous "blunder," which Aczel argues, has never really left cosmology. As modern astronomers have looked further and further into the universe and back in time, the cosmological constant seems more and more necessary to some theorists, as a repulsive force to counteract the attractive force of gravity (which is itself a brute simplification, since anybody familiar with general relativity knows that gravity is not a force at all, but rather a result of curved space-time).

Overall, I do recommend this book, though I'm frustrated that Aczel didn't do much more with this opportunity. This book could have easily been twice as long. I get the sense that he was hurried to get it to print for some reason, passing over stories that begged for further clarification (more, for instance, on the eclipse expeditions so central to providing proof for general relativity, and less on the roots of World War I, which delayed the expeditions). All in all, it's an excellent addition to the existing material on Einstein's life and work, and a teaser for more detail on what's really going on in modern cosmology (in the last two or three years, particularly). It makes me hunger for some publications based on Renn and Stachel's work on Einstein.
 
 

Madisonastro.org website undergoing remodeling

The MAS website has been revamped and is now available for your inspection. Mike McDowell is our new webmaster and has been busy giving the site a new look, while retaining the flavor of the original. If you have any ideas for the website, please contact Mike at maverick@mailbag.com.

MAS sincerely thanks Bruce Brinkerhoff for his years of service as our webmaster and for all the work he did getting this enterprise off the ground. Bruce donated the madisonastro.org domain name to the club and arranged for free web hosting by Fullfeed.com. Thanks Bruce!



Doc Greiner speaks on CCD imaging

At the July meeting of the MAS, Richard 'Doc' Greiner gave an abbreviated version of his NCRAL talk on CCD imaging (see June newsletter). Doc shared the current status of chip technology and availability for amateur cameras, as well as cost considerations for purchasing those cameras. Chip size and the focal ratio of the telescope are the two primary considerations facing the amateur CCD imager. Even though most amateurs will be limited by budget to a single camera (thus chip size) and a limited selection of telescopes, one can adjust the image size on the chip by reducing or extending the focal length of the telescope. Part of the process of taking a picture is thus deciding what is the optimal focal length of the light path based on the size and brightness of the object you want to photograph. Doc also discussed the difference between astronomical CCD cameras and mass market digital cameras that use CCD chips. The difference is primarily in the cooling mechanisms available in astronomical cameras. For low light photography at long exposures, electronic thermal noise would simply overwhelm standard uncooled cameras.

Doc ended his presentation by showing about a dozen photographs he's taken and briefly discussed post-processing, which generally takes up to several hours per photograph.

MAS Committees

MAS uses several committees to distribute some of the busy work running the club. Here is a list of those committees in case you'd like to become more active. Contact one of the names below or an officer for more information.

Standing Committees:

· Observatory Committee: Tim Ellestad (chair), Neil Robinson, Tom Jacobs, Rod Helt

· Program and Social Committee: Jane Breun, Mary Ellestad

· Publicity Committee: John Rummel (chair), Bob Shannon, Jim Lattis, Tim Ellestad

· Membership and Outreach Committee: Wynn Wacker (chair), John Rummel, Bob Shannon, Jim Lattis, Jane Breun

· Newsletter Editor: John Rummel

· Webmaster: Mike McDowell

Ad hoc Committees:

· By-laws Committee: elected officers, Gil Luebke, Jane Breun, Eric Thiede

· Ad hoc brochure committee: open to appointment
 
 

Beginner's Corner

by John Rummel

Madison is squarely based in what geographers call "mid northern latitudes." Located as we are about midway between the equator and the north pole, we are forever forbidden from seeing a significant portion of the southern sky. However, thanks to the seasonal change in Earth's orientation, we do get brief glimpses of some of these southern gems each summer.

One such constellation, Sagittarius, rises far enough above the southern horizon late each summer and into early fall, which is the reason Tom Brissette focuses his Deep Sky Notebook here this month (see page 3). Though its distinctive teapot shape can be seen easily from light polluted suburban skies, you really have to get out into the countryside under dark skies to appreciate all the richness that Sagittarius has to offer.

To avoid the bright Lunar glare, plan to observe at either the beginning or end of the month this August and September. The full moon falls right around mid month. Go to your favorite dark sky site and spot the teapot of Sagittarius riding above the southern horizon. If your skies are sufficiently dark, you'll be able to see the beginnings of the hazy milky way rising out of the top right of the teapot shape. Some constellation interpreters prefer to think of this as the steam rising from the teapot - an image I can easily imagine as I gaze at this autumn beauty.

Actually, thinking of the milky way "beginning" in Sagittarius is not that far from the mark. The center of our galaxy lies in this direction. That spot where the steam rises out of the spout is pretty close. The galactic center is never visible directly because there is far too much dust and too many stars in the 20 to 30 thousand light-years between us and the dense core. However, scientists using infrared, radio and other wavelengths of the spectrum are able to penetrate much of this light blocking material and plumb the depths of the galaxy. There they find more questions than answers - vast clouds of dust, thousands of bright, young stars, and possibly a monster black hole.

While you won't see a black hole, take your binoculars and scan the entire Sagittarius region from your dark sky sight. You'll notice rich star fields, many bright star clusters, and a few hazy fuzzy spots that are bright reflection nebulae. The brightest of these is known to astronomers as M8, or more popularly as the Lagoon Nebula. It is actually visible to the naked eye under really dark skies. It is located a couple of finger widths to the right of the top of the teapot. Scan all around this area, and upwards along the milky way, through Serpens and Scutum. This area is rich in star clusters. One of my favorites is in Scutum, about an open-hand's width directly above Sagittarius. It's a beautiful cluster of stars known as M11, or popularly as the Wild Duck Cluster. Through a telescope the cluster resolves into hundreds of individual stars packed so tightly it's difficult to see the blackness of space behind it. Tucked right into the midst is a single orange star, a bit brighter than most, the "wild duck" I suppose.

A tour of the Sagittarius region with binoculars could occupy a patient star gazer for hours. If you get a chance, don't pass it up.
 
 

August/September Highlights

Mornings

Orion clears the eastern horizon earlier and earlier as August becomes September. Just above is Taurus with the Pleiades and Hyades clusters, joined this year by Jupiter and Saturn. Beautiful sight.

On the morning of August 23, early risers will find the waning crescent moon buried within the Hyades, making it a doubly impressive grouping.

Evenings

The stars of the summer triangle are high overhead with the Milky Way arching past the zenith.

Uranus reaches opposition August 11, at a magnitude 5.7. Look for it less than a degree northeast of Iota Cap all month.

By the end of August, Jupiter and Saturn are rising just before midnight. By the end of September, they're up before 10 pm.
 
 

Miscellaneous Notes:

MAS warmly welcomes new members Robert Willett and Ron and Dee Lovaas.

You may have noticed a new return address on the newsletter this month. An anonymous gift of $130 was received to pay for an MAS P.O. box for the next two years, and the membership voted at the July meeting to accept the gift and take out a mailbox at the post office on Wingra Drive near Space Place.

Above: June picnic at Yanna Research Station.

Below: Carpenter Mike Hineline applying vinyl siding to the YRS privy. Photos by Tim Ellestad
 

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