December 2001/January 2002 Issue

From the President's Desk
by Greg Sellek

Well, it's that time of year again. The cold and clouds have come to stay for awhile. Oh well, that's what we get for living in Wisconsin.

The recent Leonid meteor shower was a little disappointing with the cloud cover, but I was able to see quite a few bright fireballs over the course of the evening. I even spent an hour or two showing the public Jupiter and Saturn through our 6 inch scope out at Wingra Park. It's nice to share the sky with others, especially those who have never even looked through a telescope before. It also showed me what an impact we can make as a club when we have public outings. We really should make a point of having a public star party sometime this coming spring.

The AKO observatory is now fully functional. I was able to do some CCD images using the new LX200, and I am quite impressed with the setup out there. The dome automatically follows the scope as you move it around, and the scope itself can be operated by keypad, from the computer in the observatory, or from the clubhouse. If you haven't been checked out on the new observatory yet, please contact Tim Ellestad to set up a time. Below is our 'first light' CCD image from the AKO. NGC253.

To help promote CCD astronomy at YRS, I will be offering classes on CCD astronomy. I will be taking up to two people at a time and showing them how to use the computers, telescope, and CCD to acquire images at YRS. Please contact me at to schedule a time. I'm guessing it will take a couple of hours, but this is flexible depending on the comfort level of the students.

You will also notice the newsletter is a bit thin this time around. We depend on you, the members, to submit material for the newsletter. Since none was submitted, there is nothing to print. I'm a little disappointed, but can't say that I've written much either. Maybe we're all just too busy with the holidays. I hope so.

Don't forget to bring a treat to pass at the Christmas Party, which will be on our regular meeting time at the Space Place.

NGC 253 in Sculptor. Imaged by Greg Sellek, taken on 12/1/2001 at 6 pm. 10 separate 30 second exposures staked and processed in MaxIM.

MAS Telescope Scholarship

Each spring, MAS awards a scholarship telescope to a young aspiring amateur astronomer. AJ Carver, our first recipient, is now a senior at Memorial High School, and secretary of the MAS. Our current honoree, Ben Hastil, is enjoying the 8-inch Dobsonian telescope, eyepieces, and astronomy library that are part of the scholarship, from his backyard dark-sky location near Brooklyn, WI.

As MAS looks toward the spring of 2002, it is time to start spreading the word about this award, and getting interested youth to apply. If you know somebody who may be interested in applying for the scholarship, have them contact John Rummel at Membership in the society is not required. Applicants have only to submit a short application describing their interest in astronomy, and how they plan to make use of the telescope for the year it would be in their possession.

Three books for your holiday shopping
by John Rummel

Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos
by Alan W. Hirshfeld

Along the lines of Longitude, where Dava Sobel took us on a walk through astronomical history with the focus on the effort to determine longitude at sea, Hirshfeld's "Parallax" is an engaging historical survey concentrating on efforts to detect that minute wobble of stars. Hirshfeld focuses on the personalities and people - which makes this story enjoyable and even riveting.

Copernicus' view of the heavens had long since prevailed - no serious person of science doubted that the Earth and planets orbited the sun. However, there was no concrete scientific evidence to prove the Copernican view. The acid test of the Earth's motion, slight displacement of stars in June and December, when the Earth is on opposite sides of its orbit, had still not been detected. Hirshfeld traces the story from the earliest Greeks through Hooke, Newton, Bessel, Bradley and many others. It's a great story, well told.

Mission Jupiter: The Spectacular Journey of the Galileo Spacecraft
by Daniel Fischer

A must-read for any Jupiterphile. Fischer presents an in-depth look at the science behind the Galileo mission to Jupiter. From the history behind the probe, going all the way back to the 1970's, to the budget cutting, to the eventual launch and failure of the high-gain antenna. It's all covered in this volume, with exquisite detail and enough science content to take you well beyond the press releases. Highly recommended!

Drawing the Line: How Mason and Dixon Surveyed the Most Famous Border in America
by Edwin Danson

Most people have probably heard of the Mason-Dixon line, though they may not be aware of where or exactly what it is. I grew up less than three miles from the famous line that separates Maryland from Pennsylvania, and was aware that there were stone monuments spaced every mile along the boarder - but I had no idea of the origins of this line. Danson weaves the historical backdrop that necessitated the survey and follows Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two British astronomers, as they traveled to the colonies with their telescopes, quadrants, and mathematical expertise. A surveying job such as this required exquisite accuracy in the determination of latitude and longitude - a job for skilled astronomers in their day.

For the more technically inclined, appendices are provided that go deeper into the methods surveyors use to shoot the lines. Given the amount of astronomy involved in such a surveying job, I wish the author had provided more detail about the instruments Dixon and Mason used to accomplish their task. I'm sure it was not Danson's intention to cover this sort of technical instrumentation in detail, but in my (biased) opinion, it would have enhanced the story. Still an excellent book and one any person interested in the history of science should read.

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