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May 1999 Issue

Astronomy Digest


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Front Desk


News Throughout the Net
Updated Weekly

SETI@Home Stats - 298,000 volunteers have devoted 9.5 million hours of CPU time to help search for extraterrestrial life. - Astronomy Throughout the Net, May 23, 1999.

Stormy Weather on Mars - The Hubble Space Telescope photographed an enormous storm swirling near the Martian north pole on April 27, 1999. - Space Science News, May 19, 1999.

Another Moon for Uranus - A 25-mile-wide hunk of rock has become the latest in Uranusí collection of moons. The current name certainly needs improving, though. - ABC News, May 19, 1999.

Venus and the Moon - will put on a dazzling show May 17 through May 19. - Space Science News, May 12, 1999.

Ring Around a Galaxy - Hubble Space Telescope takes a look at NGC 4650A. - Space Science News, May 8, 1999.

Nearby Asteroid Belt - To close for comfort. Near earth asteriod belt may be unstable. - ABC News, May 5, 1999.

Close Encounter with Mars - The Red Planet makes its nearest approach to Earth in 1999 this week and next - Space Science News, April 23, 1999.

May Skies

Current Phase
of the Moon

May 08 - Last Quarter
May 15 - New Moon
May 22 - First Quarter
May 30 - Full Moon

Meteor Showers

Eta Aquarids (ETA)
Duration - April 21-May 12
Maximum -- May 5/6

Astronomy Magazine - The Sky Show in May.

Sky & Telescope - May 1999.

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Product Review

Help Search for ET
SETI Screen Saver
Now Available

UC Berkeley has just asked the world to join in on SETI (The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). They are looking for volunteers to use their PCs and analyze data that they have collected.

UC Berkeley's SERENDIP (Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations) is an ongoing scientific research effort aimed at detecting radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. UC Berkeley SERENDIP program has developed SETI@home, a scientific experiment that will harness the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. You can participate by running a program on your PC that will download and analyzes radio telescope data. There is a possibility that your computer will detect a civilization beyond Earth.

SETI@home uses the Arecibo radio telescope, in Puerto Rico, to collect sounds from space. SETI@home extracts a limited frequency band signal, samples it, and writes it in real time to a digital tape. These tapes are mailed to a file server in the U.S.

Server-based software divides the radio telescope data into chunks. Each chunk of data consists of 0.25MB. When volunteers connect to the internet, the chunks are automatically downloaded to the volunteers PC. When the volunteer is not using their PC a screen saver is activated that starts to analyze the chunks of data. Within these 0.25MB chunks 400,000 different frequency and bandwidth combinations are examined. At least 10 different "chirp"s or frequency drift rates are examined. This will cover doppler shifts caused by any of the expected orbital speeds due to the rotation of a planet, a solar system, or an entire galaxy.

Finally, signals that show a strong power at some particular combination of frequency, bandwidth and chirp are subjected to a test for terrestrial interference. Only if the power rises and then falls over a 12 second period, the time it takes the telescope to pass a spot in the sky, can the signal be tentatively considered extra-terrestrial in nature.

Next time the volunteer is on the internet the results are sent back to SETI@home. A new set of data is downloaded to the volunteers PC. If SETI@home gets 100,000 volunteers to help analyze the data, it will be 10 times the computing power of the fastest super computer.

It is pretty incredible to think that SETI@home is organizing people throughout the world to help search for life on other planets.

Before You Go To
A Dark Sky Site

Before you go to a dark sky site you have to check out these web sites.

U.S. Naval Observatory - Data Services - This is a useful site if you are planing a trip to view the stars at a dark sky site. You can find out the phase of the moon, sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, and much more. Just put in the date and location.

Comets & Meteor Showers - This web site provides information on Comets & Meteors. I enjoy the section "month by month, major and minor, meteor showers". Well worth the visit.

So You Think You've Discovered A Comet... - This web site gives good advice on what to do if you think you have discovered a comet. The best thing about discovering a comet is you get to name it. The second best thing is the Edgar Wilson Award for the discovery of comets. $20,000 reward.

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