October/November, 2000

Monona Terrace Event October 6!

Members encouraged to participate

Friday night, October 6 (rain date October 7) will be MAS' second annual Monona Terrace Moon Party for the public. All MAS members are urged to attend and bring their telescopes. Last year we had well over 600 people come out and enjoy a perfect evening. With only 12 telescopes at that event, everyone was kept busy showing where the eyepiece was and explaining basic features of the moon. We could use much more help this year! Members can begin showing up at the loading dock (north entrance) of the Monona Terrace Convention Center at 6 pm. You can unload your telescope and use the available carts to haul it to the roof via the elevator, and then return to park your car. A limited number of parking passes are available, but garage parking is only a couple of dollars.

This event is an outstanding opportunity to meet the public and share the joys of astronomy with others. Please come out and enjoy! The event is slated to begin at 7:00 but realistically it starts as soon as people see telescopes on the roof of the convention center.

If the weather looks questionable on the afternoon of Friday, October 6, call Dick Greiner (233-6882) or Tim Ellestad (233-3305) for a go/no go decision.

From the President's Desk

by R. A. Greiner

We are nearing what I hope will be a banner year for the Madison Astronomical Society. The MAS was formed 70 years ago next year. The year 1931, was a banner year in my mind. Not only was the MAS formed, but Pluto was found by Tombaugh, the great depression started and I was born. It is probable that none of these events are related.

I look forward particularly to what the MAS will do in the year 2001. That is not to say that I am putting off action at this time to prepare and set the groundwork for the start of our 8th decade. The decade of the 00s.

While we are a small society, we are certainly persistent. I hope all members will direct their efforts for the Society toward common goals. We need not be in lockstep of course because we, as individuals, have diverse interests. But I hope we will have unified goals as a Society.

The Society has some objectives as stated on our letterhead: "Promoting the Science of Astronomy: Observation, Education, Research." I will endeavor to move the society forward in each of these areas. Here are some thoughts about how we can do all of these things.

Observation: Many members have managed to do observation despite the obstacles of mediocre weather this summer. We have put, in recent months, extensive effort and resources into improving our dark site at Yanna Research Station. I expect this progress to continue unabated in the months ahead. One of my goals is to make YRS a useful and attractive site for our members to do their astronomical work.

Education: We have through our association with Space Place a unique opportunity to participate in the educational efforts of astronomers at all levels to reach out to the public. MAS members also regularly participate in the Madison school district's planetarium events. Such events expose thousands of people to the joys of astronomy each year. Additionally, outreach to the public through events such as the upcoming viewing event at the Madison Convention Center are a major part of our educational activities. All members can contribute to this aspect of our mission.

Research: Doing research, as our sign at YRS implies, is in some ways a bit more difficult. Nevertheless, we have members who do engage in research at the best level that amateur astronomers can. This part of our mission requires personal commitment from individuals with specific interests. Still the Society as a whole can support these activities and benefit from them through encouragement and devotion of resources toward aiding these efforts.

I am looking for ways to encourage and support each of the three thrusts of the Society.

I invite all members to come forward and help. The span of activities sounds ambitious. But I have more than hopes. We have a growing membership, we have new members with new ideas, we have a foundation of mature members who will put in continuing efforts for the MAS as they have in the past, we have excellent and active committee members, we have a fine newsletter and web site.

WE are ready to move ahead on all fronts. WE have an opportunity to make the coming year a banner year. Let us do this! Come to meetings, participate, put forth your ideas. Thanks.
 
 

Calendar of Events

· October 6 - Monona Terrace "Moon Party" for the public. All MAS members urged to bring their telescopes. See cover article for details

· October 10 - Space Place guest Speaker: Dr. Peter Sobol, Historian of Science. "Fire or Ice? A History of the End of the World." 7:00 pm at Space Place, 1605 S. Park St.

· October 13 - MAS monthly meeting. 7:00 board meeting and new member/visitor roundtable. 7:30, main presentation: guest speaker Dr. Chris Anderson of the UW Madison, topic: South African Large Telescope. Space Place, 1605 S. Park St.

· October 14 - Space Place Family Workshop, 10:00 am, 1605 S. Park St.

· October 18 - Memorial High School Planetarium public shows: Aurora! Explore one of nature's most elegant tapestries, the northern lights! Photos and video clips provide a sample of its mysterious beauty as you examine the cause of this spectacular natural light show (a current sky update will follow the program). Show times: 6:30 & 7:45 PM; Cost: $1 for students, $2 for adults (no reservations).

· October 24 - Annual Space Place/MAS Telescope Fair. Eagle Optics and Astronomy Mag. will co-sponsor. MAS volunteers are urged to attend. 6 - 9 pm at Space Place 1605 S. Park St.

· October 28 - Space Place Family Workshop, 10:00 am, 1605 S. Park St.

· October 29 - Daylight Savings Time ends at 2:00 am.

· November 10 - MAS monthly meeting. 7:00 board meeting and new member/visitor roundtable. 7:30, main presentation: guest speaker Dr. Linda Sparke of the UW Madison, topic TBA. Space Place, 1605 S. Park St.

· November 11 - Space Place Family Workshop, 10:00 am, 1605 S. Park St.

· November 14 - Space Place 7pm. Presentation on the Leonid Meteors (speaker and title TBA). 1605 S. Park St.

· November 15 - Memorial High School Planetarium public shows: Skywatching: planets galore! Come and explore the constellations and planets of the current night sky...learning how to find Venus, Jupiter and Saturn in the evening, and Mars in the morning. Before or after the show, see these planets through a telescope (outdoor, weather permitting), take a self-guided tour through a scale model of the Solar System out to Jupiter (indoor), and explore a top-down model of the current positions of the planets (indoor). Models and telescopes open from 5-9:15 PM. Show times: 5:30, 6:45, 8:00 PM; Cost: $1 for students, $2 for adults (no reservations).

· November 16 - 65% sunlit moon passes through the heart of the Beehive cluster (M44) beginning at about 10:15 pm local Madison Time. This provides a nice opportunity to observe and time lunar grazes as several 6th magnitude stars will be involved.

· November 16-18 - Leonid Meteor shower peak after midnight on the morning of the 18th. Last quarter moon (53%) will be a spoiler.

· November 19 - Saturn at opposition

· November 27 - Jupiter at opposition

· November 28 - Space Place guest Speaker: Dr. Ed Hopkins, UW-Madison Meteorology Dept. "The Optics of the Atmosphere." 7:00 pm at Space Place, 1605 S. Park St.

University of Arizona Astronomy Camp

By AJ Carver

How did you spend your summer vacation? Did you go to some place far away? Did you meet interesting and fun people? Did you get to handle tens of thousands of dollars in equipment?

I did ­ at the University of Arizona Astronomy Camp. I am the MAS Young Astronomer Award winner and have been a member since May. Does that mean that the UA Astronomy Camp is only for people with great involvement in Astronomy? No, the UA has a type of astronomy camp for everyone; beginners, advanced, teens, adults, and educators. There is a camp for you, even if you are practically astronomy illiterate or a professional. To attend the camp I had to write an essay, get a science teacher recommendation, fill out the other necessary forms, and pay. The camp I attended was seven days long, three days at the UA campus and four days on Mt. Lemmon, in the Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson Arizona. There are variations on the lengths and time spent at locations so you can maximize your experience.

Don't think this was a week of listening to old people talk. It wasn't! At the astronomy camp the campers are given a great deal of independence. At the camps campers are taught to safely use the 40", 60", and 61" telescopes in the Catalina Mountains. At the Steward observatory in Tucson we used a 4" refractor, and a 21" reflector; we also used amateur telescopes including a 4.5" Dobsonian, an 8" Schmidt-Cassigrain, a 13" Dobsonian, and many binoculars. The 40", 60", and 61" telescopes are still used by professional astronomers and the 61" was used to survey the moon for landings sites for the Apollo missions. The time we got on these great telescopes did not go to waste. We were allowed to observe what we were interested in. I saw so many objects I lost count. One person saw 25 Messier objects in one evening at the 40" telescope. We were not looking at featureless stars. We saw colorful and extraordinary objects. The Campbell's star had a red color that was unbelievable. One of the greatest moments of the camp for me was when I was the first to spot comet LINEAR. On the last night of observing the few of us who had the strength stayed up late to see an occultation of Uranus. One of the greatest views didn't involve a telescope at all. That was the view of the night sky as a whole. Many of the campers, probably like most reading this article, are city dwellers. The sky was so clear and the stars so bright, especially the milky way, that one evening when spent a couple hours on our backs just looking up.

At the UA astronomy camp I met many interesting, fun, and intelligent people. The camp has been directed for 14 years by UA professor Don McCarthy. Don McCarthy has been doing research into Brown Dwarfs since the 1970's and proposed a camera which was put onto the Hubble Space Telescope. He was a collegiate javelin thrower and can throw a Nerf football the length of a football field. All of the camp counselors were very intelligent and enthusiastic about astronomy. Jeff Regester is a Laboratory instructor at Wellesley College. Chris Groppi is a Cornell University graduate and an UA graduate student. He just finished his equivalent to a Masters degree, and some time this summer will be launching an observation device on a weather balloon in Antarctica. Jackie Monkiewicz is a Case Western Reserve University graduate and an UA graduate student. Gail Schneller is an UA graduate and a Steward Observatory CCD lab technician. Jason Fields is a native of Wisconsin and was an engineer for the Mars pathfinder and polar lander missions. He also built his own 13" Dobsonian telescope before he was a teenager. Every year the counselors differ. This camp was not only great because of the counselors but because of the people I met. It was almost like being in congress. Campers came from all over, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Connecticut, Mexico City, Pennsylvania, Washington, Ohio, Oklahoma, California, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kansas, Montana, Virginia, South Dakota, and me from Wisconsin. From each other and our own different talents and specific areas of interest we learned a lot. Campers from the past have done big things in astronomy. The most recent is that of the 2000 National Young Astronomer Award winner, an Astronomy Camp graduate who is featured in the September issue of "Sky and Telescope" magazine. Astronomy camp introduced us to the all-stars of astronomy. It was like going to a football camp with Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, and Walter Payton. Micheal Terenzoni is a Planetarium operator in Tucson, he helped Don McCarthy in the explanation of astronomical events. Kim Poor is a space artist and owner of a space art gallery in Tucson called Novagraphics. He spoke on how space artists use different science to make realistic portrayals of other worlds. David Levy famous for the Shoemaker-Levy comets spoke on his perspective of astronomy and its importance. The people I met at the UA astronomy camp helped make the camp great in a larger way than I expected.

Astronomer David Levy shares with campers at the UA Astronomy Camp. Photo by Jeff Regester, used with permission.

Everyone needs a little exercise, even astronomers. But how do they find the time or the facilities? The astronomers at Kitt Peak go inside the Hexagonal tube supporting the 3.8 meter Mayall telescope and play racquetball. During the week we not only visited Kitt Peak but we also visited the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. The Steward Observatory is currently building two 8.4 meter mirrors for the Large Binocular Telescope to be housed on Mt. Graham in Arizona. This was fascinating because it is the only place in the world were telescopes are made with a honeycomb design and spin-casting technology. Spin-casting technology is basically melting glass in a huge oven over a mold, spinning it into a parabolic shape, and polishing it. In years past there have been signs posted around the oven reading: "Warning Spinning Hot Material." Some past campers have taken the opportunity to dance the hula next to that sign. Visiting these places made them real, not just far off places you read about in books and magazines.

The UA astronomy camp was a great experience. I learned a lot, used great equipment, met many interesting people, visited great places, and had fun. I highly recommend everyone to consider attending the UA astronomy camp. The camps can be for those with little astronomical knowledge or for the veteran observer. The camps have limited space so early application is important. If you are interested in learning more about astronomy camp or attending the camps the web site address here or you can call 520.621.4079. There is also a link on the MAS web site, www.madisonastro.org. You may also E-mail me at ajcarver@yahoo.com if you have more questions. For pictures of camp these web sites are worth looking here and here. The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab website is: Steward Observatory Mirror Lab or this alternate site.

Miscellaneous Notes

MAS acknowledges an additional gift for the privy fund from Howard Bixby and a generous donation from Doc Greiner who paid for the setup charges and the caps & mugs from Top Promotions.

MAS welcomes new members Don Bednarek, Mark Simmons, Jeff Hanson, and Ryan Mikolash

Many More Mowing Volunteers Needed

MAS needs many more observing members to volunteer for lawn mowing and trimming at the YRS observatory. Three more cuttings will probably be needed before this season comes to an end.

A roster of mowing volunteers will be drawn up for the 2001 season. The schedule will be made on the basis of mowing every two weeks from the beginning of May through the end of October. Please contact Observatory Director Tim Ellestad at 608 233-3305 or ellestad@mailbag.com to sign up.

Observatory Orientation

A number of new MAS observing members have yet to receive the "new member's orientation tour" of our Yanna Research Station observatory. Please call Tim Ellestad at 608 233-3305 to schedule this.

Clubhouse Lock

The lock on the clubhouse door has been re-lubricated with graphite. Hopefully this will alleviate the problem experienced last winter when the combination lock mechanism itself stuck in the cold. As colder weather sets in, remember to pull slightly on the doorknob as you turn the lock knob to unlock the door. Cold weather stiffens the weather seal on the door, pressing the deadbolt against the inside edge of the striker plate. This causes the bolt to rub heavily on the striker plate making if difficult to turn the knob and withdraw the bolt.

Also, members are reminded to give a few vigorous pokes on the "C" button before entering the remainder of the combination. The "C" button clears out any other entries that might have been left in the mechanism.

Membership Renewals Due

Members are urged to send in their dues and subscription renewals. Any members who have not sent in their dues by the end of September will not have their subscriptions to Sky & Telescope and Astronomy renewed and will no longer receive this newsletter. Please renew now!
 
 
Book Review:

The Immortal Fire Within: The Life and Work of Edward Emerson Barnard 

by William Sheehan; Cambridge University Press, Hardcover, April 1995

reviewed by John Rummel

This is a meticulously researched and well written book about one of the most celebrated astronomers of the turn of the last century. As was the case with many well known scientists of the 19th century, Barnard started life inauspiciously and came to science as a result of his considerable amateur achievements. Poor and virtually uneducated as a child in Nashville, he distinguished himself as a photographer's assistant, and developed a lifelong interest in the night sky. After becoming fairly well known as an amateur astronomer, he attracted the attention of the officials of what would eventually become Vanderbilt University. The regents were persuaded to build an observatory, and installed the young Barnard as its director, even though he had no college education (not even high school!). Barnard was aware of his limitations, particularly in mathematics, and began to audit courses at Vanderbilt in math, astronomy, and physics. When he finally left several years later to take a position at the new Lick Observatory in California, he had the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, though a degree was never officially conferred.

Barnard's life in astronomy is marked by greatness. Comets were his early passion and he discovered many, but he was equally pleased to make detailed observations of any comet, regardless if it was "his" or not. He was also a passionate observer of the planets. His discovery of Jupiter's fifth moon was the event for which posterity usually remembers him, but he also made ground breaking observations of Mars and Saturn. Though he never publicly said so, he was one of the earliest skeptics of his good friend Percival Lowell's "canal" observations of Mars. Barnard's sketches in the early 1890's revealed details of what would later be called Valles Marineris and the volcano calderas of Olympus Mons, Arsia Mons, and Ascraeus Mons, but showed no evidence of canals. Later, Barnard pioneered the use of wide field photography and made some of the earliest and best photographic studies of the Milky Way, and eventually authored the catalog of dark nebulae that bears his name. He also did considerable photographic work with comets and put forth some controversial (and mostly correct) theories about the nature of the mysterious coma and tails. His pioneering work in stereoscopic photography was done with comets as well, where a special viewer allowed the viewing of two sequential shots of a comet, making the comet stand out in relief against the background stars. Barnard's penchant for closely studying his photos was rewarded by his discovery of the great looping nebula in the constellation Orion that bears his name, as well as the faint star of fast proper motion in Ophiuchus (Barnard's star).

Sheehan's writing is marvelously clear and interesting, and his documentation is thorough. He lays bare Barnard's decade long quarrel with Lick director Edward S. Holden, and follows Barnard to Yerkes in Wisconsin where he spent over 20 years and eventually ended his career. Sheehan is a psychiatrist by training and makes an occasional conjecture regarding the psychology of various characters. I found this distracting at first but he never went overboard with it. By the end of the book, I found myself wishing he would be even more adventurous with his psychohistoriagraphy in the case of George Hale's well known struggles with mental illness, but Sheehan didn't take the bait beyond a few general comments.

Overall, I found this book virtually impossible to put down, and was almost depressed that it had to end. Dozens of wonderful pictures of Barnard and his companions, astrophotos, and sketches litter its pages. A detailed index is supplied making cross-referencing the many names and places easy.

E.E. Barnard was a pivotal figure in the history of astronomy, straddling the breach between observational work of the 19th century, and the "new" astronomy (astrophysics) of the 20th. Barnard never ceased being an observer to the end of his life, and in many ways it is his spirit that lives on in the form of amateur astronomy at the beginning of the 21st century.

MAS hats and mugs!

Get your MAS caps and mugs! Doc Greiner worked with the Madison Top Company, and donated over $700 of his own money to make up some MAS logo-emblazened caps and mugs and brought them to the August meeting. The membership voted to accept the gift and permit sales to members only (caps $11, mugs $5). Other color combinations are available, right now both are black print on a white background. They are available for purchase at the monthly meetings.

Amateur and Professional Collaboration

At the September MAS meeting, member Neil Simmons gave a report on a conference he attended this past April (Jointly sponsored by the American Association of Variable Star Observers and NASA) highlighting the possibilities of amateur and professional astronomers joining forces.

Given the dwindling amount of money available to astronomers and planetary scientists in recent years and the increasing availability of electronic cameras in the form of consumer products to the interested amateur, it seems only natural that the two communities work together to provide the best possible scientific results.

The conference focused on the mystery of gamma-ray bursters, which in spite of great advances in the 1990s the understanding of these events are incomplete. The AAVSO has been aiding high-energy astronomy since the 1970s and is well suited to providing the support necessary. GRBs were first detected in the 1960s by military satellites with large location errors by today's standards. Through the work of the BATSE (Burst And Transient Source Experiment) on the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and other programs the distances of GRBs have been determined to be greater than 50% to the edge of the observable universe and highly uniform in distribution.

Professionals have made use of AAVSO data for years to schedule observations. For instance, observations of dwarf novae made with a photopolarometer aboard a 1995 shuttle flight were the direct result of NASA's cooperation with the AAVSO, whose members were quick to report a flare-up of a potential target.

The AAVSO is now linked electronically to the GRB network. Interested observers can obtain some quick training and a pager. With the pager, you have the potential to receive an alert and coordinates within minutes of a GRB event. AAVSO is especially interested in amateurs with CCD cameras. Images taken by amateurs can reveal the light curve as the optical counterpart fades and will assist in the understanding of this phenomena.

For more information, visit the AAVSO's webpage.

For Sale:

Meade ETX-90-EC telescope with Autostar computer controller with goto functions. Included with telescope are; 1) an adjustable field tripod, 2) two filters, 3) two eyepieces, 4) a Barlow lens and 5) a hard carrying case. Price is negotiable. Call Matthew at (608)-242-0948.

Reflections on a summer

by John Rummel

The autumnal equinox is just days away as I type this. Autumn is my favorite time of year. The days are comfortable, the nights are cool, and best of all, the nights are increasing in length, creating more opportunities for good observing. As Cygnus begins her long nose-dive into the west, Taurus and Orion rise to greet us in the east. This fall will bring an excellent season for planetary observing as Jupiter and Saturn reach opposition within days of each other in November. Also in November, Venus will return to prominence in the western sky.

This summer seemed to pass quickly with too little time for good observing. However, a quick check of my log indicates the opposite. I logged 14 nights of observing this June, July and August, compared to just 8 sessions for the same period last year. Additionally, there were a few truly spectacular nights. In July, Mike McDowell and I spent a few evenings observing and photographing comet C/1999 S4 (LINEAR). It wasn't a great comet by any stretch, but it was a good comet, and every summer is made a little better by a good comet.
C/1999 S4 (LINEAR), July 23, 2000, 400mm f/5, 15 minute exposure, Fuji 800, inverted image. Indian Lake Park. Aurora borealis, August 12 2000, 50mm, 30 second exposure, Fuji 400. Indian Lake Park.

Then on August 11, what was expected to be a pleasant early morning counting Persied meteors turned instead into a stunning display of aurora that took us quite by surprise, in spite of the fact that warnings had been issued in the days prior due to a coronal mass ejection. Previous warnings that had resulted in little or no aurora had left me skeptical. I was humbled quickly by this display early on the morning of August 12. Luckily, I had brought my camera, tripod and a single roll of film and managed to capture several respectable shots.

In the year and a-half I've been editing this newsletter, virtually all of the comments I've received have been positive ones related to the observing reports published here. MAS members seem, for the most part, to be interested in reading about what other amateur astronomers are doing. That's no surprise since observing is mostly what we're all about.

I encourage all observers reading this to do some reflecting and writing of your own. Share with fellow readers what you do on those dark isolated nights away from city lights.

We're looking forward to it.
 
 

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