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December 1999 Issue

Astronomy Digest

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Front Desk

News Throughout the Net Updated Weekly

On December 22 the moon's orbit will be closest to the earth. This is called lunar perigee. During winter the earth orbit is closer to the sun than other times of the year. On December 22 there will also be a full moon. Look for a very bright moon that night. This day will also mark the Winter Soltice.

Another Round of Searching - SETI is scheduled to search the skies once again for ET. - MSNBC, December 21, 1999.

Going Prospecting Inside a Supernova - Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory offer a new understanding of stellar explosions. - Space Science News, December 21, 1999.

The Christmas Star - New theory on how the Magi came to Bethlehem. - ABC, December 20, 1999.

Io's Active Volcano - Galileo spacecraft has taken pictures of volcanic eruption on Jupiter's moon Io. - CNN, December 20, 1999.

Europa May Be Just Right For Life - Scientists see Europa as having the right conditions for life. - ABC, December 16, 1999.

Past Oceans on Mars - Mars polar area being studied. - ABC, December 10, 1999.

XMM in orbit - New x-ray telescope in orbit. - MSNBC, December 10, 1999.

New Theory on Uranus and Neptune - Jupiter may have pulled them away from their closer solar orbit. - Fox, December 9, 1999.

Listening to the Stars - Using radio telescopes. - ABC, December 9, 1999.

What happened to the Mars Polar Lander? - Top suspects. - ABC, December 8, 1999.

Second Sighting - Another group of astronomers have seen a planet orbiting a distant star. - BBC, November 25, 1999.

Gamma Ray Finding - May open a new window on the distant universe. - CNN, November 25, 1999.

Galactic Clouds - Clouds seen above galaxy. May be seeding material to create stars. - MSNBC, November 24, 1999.

Leonids Rain in Spain - An outburst of over 1500 Leonid meteors per hour dazzled observers in Europe and the Middle East. - Space Science News, November 18, 1999.

Methane Asteroid Explosion Theory - May have caused the extinction of the dinosaur. - ABC News, November 17, 1999.

Where did Jupiter Come From? - Questions from data collected by the Galileo spacecraft's . - BBC News, November 17, 1999.

Hubble Looks at Trifid Nebula - Star nursery is being torn apart by massive star. - BBC, November 10, 1999.

Farthest Object in Solar System Detected - Object observed orbiting the Sun that is more distant than any other known object. - BBC, November 9, 1999.

A surprise November meteor shower? - On November 11, 1999 Earth will pass close to the orbit of newly-discovered Comet LINEAR C/1999J3. The result could be a new meteor shower -- the Linearids.- Space Science News, November 5, 1999.

Hubble Looks at Passing Galaxies - Photographs taken of the larger galaxy, NGC 2207, passing IC 2163. - BBC, November 5, 1999.

Volcano on Io Have Lava Flows Just Like Earth - Io's volcano looks just like Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. - CNN, November 5, 1999.

Planet Found Orbiting Star Pair - This suggests that there may be huge numbers of planets since more than 65 percent of the stars are paired.- ABC News, November 3, 1999.

Hubble looks at M87 - Astronomers study region near the black hole.- BBC, October 28, 1999.

December Skies

Current Phase
of the Moon

December 07 - New Moon
December 16 - First Quarter
December 22 - Full Moon
December 29 - Last Quarter

December's Meteor Showers

December 6-19
Maximum December 13

Skywatching Center - Current Month's Skies.

Astronomy Magazine - The Sky Show in December 1999.

Sky & Telescope - November 1999 Skies.

What's Up
by Steve Coe


The Northern part of the Winter Milky Way is at its' best in Auriga, the Charioteer. Spend some time with a pair of binoculars or a small scope with a wide field eyepiece and you will see a wide variety of chains of stars and nebulae zoom past the eyepiece. So, let's stop and observe a few of these goodies at a more leisurely pace. If you are looking to take on the Messier list, here is a constellation that will provide you with three Messier clusters.

NGC 1857 is a bright and rich cluster that is located at 5 hr 20.2 min and +16 deg 42 min. Very nice at 165X, an 8th mag yellow star with several nice star chains radiating out from it. 45 members were counted using the 13" f/5.6 Newtonian scope.

IC 410 Without UHC filter it is faint, large and irregular. Using the UHC, it is pretty bright and obvious at 100X. In either case this nebula surrounds the cluster NGC 1893 and is more easily spotted on the south and west sides. Its' position is 5 hr 22.6 min and +33deg 31min.

NGC 1907 is pretty bright, pretty small, much compressed and resolved at 165X. This cluster is at 5 hr 28 min and +35 deg 19 min. Just seen in the 11X80 finder, I counted 22 stars in 13". This cluster has a dark lane down the middle. It is near M 38 and reminds me of M35 and NGC 2158 somewhat.

NGC 1912 (M 38) Bright, large, not compressed, seen in finder. The stars are arranged in the Greek letter "Pi". 50 stars counted at 100X. It is located at 5 hr 28.7 min and +35 deg 50 min.

NGC 1931 Bright, pretty large and somewhat elongated. Looks like a small comet at very low powers. There is a triple star in the center, it is resolved at 200X. It is positioned at: 5 hr 31.4 min and +34 deg 15 min. Try high power on this small emission nebula.

NGC 1960 (M 36) Bright, large, rich and round. Easy in finder, several double stars are involved, they are all split at 135X. This excellent cluster is at 5 hr 36.1 min and +34 deg 08 min.

NGC 2099 (M 37) Very Bright, large, very rich. Naked eye at my best sites in the mountains of Arizona, it is obvious in the finder. This cluster has always seemed a winter version of M 11 to me for several reasons: it is triangular in shape, there is a bright, yellow-orange star involved and both clusters are cut into sections by dark lanes. M 37 is in a very rich section of winter Milky Way and at 135X in the 13" I have estimated 200 members by counting 50 in one quadrant. This is one of my favorite clusters in the sky. It is located at 5 hr 52.4 min and +32 deg 33 min.

B 34 is an easy dark nebula at 60X in a surplus 38mm Erfle with gives the 13" a one degree field. The dark area is about 1/2 degree in size and is roundish with several dark lanes winding out of the field to the west. Raising the magnification does not help the view. This field of dark lanes is at 5 hr 43.5 min and +32 deg 39 min.

IC 2149 Pretty bright, small, little elongated. The central star comes and goes with the seeing at 270X. The planetary is a greenish dot elongated 1.5 to 1 east-west. 5 hr 56.3 min and +46 deg 07 min is the position of this lovely, light green dot afloat in a rich Winter Milky Way field of stars.

UV Aur is a carbon star paired with a B type giant, the ultimate red-blue pair. It is a pretty faint pair, but well worth it. At 165X in the 13" this pair is a gorgeous burnt orange and blue, it exhibits some of the best color I have ever seen in a double star even though the stars are not bright. 5 hr 21.8 min and +32 deg 31 min.

Quote of the Month

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe. Albert Einstein

The Pleiades

M45, The Pleiades, is one of most beautiful open clusters in the night sky. Pleiades lies only about 380 light years from earth in the constellation Taurus. The constellation Taurus looks like a "V". To find The Plaiades start at the belt of Orion. Move past the point of the "V" of Taurus. Just past the point of the "V" you should be able to see a small group of stars with your naked eye.

Pleiades means seven sisters. With your naked eye you should be able to identify only about six bright stars. I think The Pleiades looks best using binoculars. Using binoculars you should be able to see about a dozen brilliant stars. It is quite a beautiful sight. Using a telescope you can make out about a hundred stars. With a larger telescope at a dark sky site you can see some of the stellar gas that formed the stars.

An open cluster is a grouping of stars. The stars are usually about the same age. This suggests that they were formed from the same gas cloud. Like The Pleiades, normally open clusters are made up of a few 100 stars. The Pleiades are made up of young hot blue stars that are only about 100 million years old.

Photograph by Naoyuki Kurita, publisher of Stellar Scenes . Stop by his web site for other great astrophotographs. His work is copyrighted, so please do not copy them without his permission.

Being an Amateur Astronomer, and how to get started.
by Stuart Lolly

At a star party one night, an older gentleman approached me, looked at all the expensive equipment and asked, "Why do you come out here and look at all the stars? I mean, it is not productive." I paused to think about the question and simply answered, "It beats watching TV."

I am an Amateur Astronomer because I simply enjoy it. I am compelled by the thought of how much is out there, and how much we can actually see with our own eyes.

Three people this week emailed me and asked, "How can I become an Amateur Astronomer, and what type of telescope should I buy." Their questions prompted me to write this series of articles.

There are many ways to get started in Astronomy. The first recommendation is to join a club. I personally am not affiliated with an Astronomy Club. However, I do volunteer as an Astronomer with the U.S. Forest Service, Explore the Star Program. Once a month about 20 of us get together and give star tours to the general public. Telescopes range from computerized telescopes that are great for finding Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus, to a 25 inch telescope. Joining a group is a great way to gain access to a great wealth of knowledge. You can meet other people who share your interest. You can also test out a wide range of equipment before you buy.

Try looking for star parties in your community. Many clubs have programs where they invite the general public to join them. Some Universities have programs where they open quality telescopes to the general public. I know that San Diego State has a summer program run by the grad students.

I would also recommend getting a good book. I recommend The National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky . This book has a lot of information and good sky maps. Use the maps and get to know the night sky. Try to identify the constellations. Start with the easy ones first. Try to find Ursa Major, The Big Dipper, and go from there. Note how the sky changes each month. How all the planets follow the same path across the sky. Use the book and try to spot Andromeda Galaxy. Andromeda should be the farthest object you can see with your naked eye. There is a lot to see using only your eyes.

If you have a pair of binoculars laying around the house, try using them. You can explore the moon. Try to find Tyco, the large crater in the southern hemisphere. I always bring a pair of binoculars to look at Pleiades. I think Pleiades looks best through binoculars, and not a telescope. Take a look at the Orion Nebula, and again at the Andromeda Galaxy.

Ok, so now you are getting hooked on Astronomy and want to buy a telescope. What type of telescope should you buy? That is a big question. I will talk about the different types of telescopes next month. Until then,

Clear Skies

Tunguska 1908 Catastrophe. Volatile Comet Impact Theory
by Keith Vazquez

What happened: On June 30, 1908 in a remote area of Siberia called Tunguska, villagers saw a fireball streaking across the sky making a horrifying noise and followed by a tremendous explosion. Leveling 850 square mile of forest and the earth shock seismograph a 1000 mile away with an orange glow that was seen in western Europe. Years later an expedition to the site expected to find a crater at the center of fallen trees radiating outwards. At the center however there were trees, charred and with their branches torn off but still standing, and no crater. Further, after years of repeated expeditions to this site no meteorites have been found at the site, only particles of elements in pine resins that point to cosmic body.

Theory: Ordinary comets may have impacts Neptune’s moon Triton, this moon has a veneer surface of methane and nitrogen ices. Impacts would have melted these ices along with the comet and mix the liquid and gases under pressure of the impact then ejected into space to refreeze into a comet. This new comet (Volatile Comet) would have high levels of Methane and some Nitrogen trapped in the water ice., also may have small amount of tritons rocky core and/or other small meteorite or dust from the surface of triton.

This Volatile Comet Impacted the Earth’s lower atmosphere over Tunguska, Siberia. It exploded under rapid heat and pressure into a cloud of methane gas. In our oxygen rich lower atmosphere this cloud detonated into a series of tremendous fireballs developing devastating shock waves, releasing 10 to 20 megatons force while leaving little or no trace. This explosion would be similar to the Fuel Air Explosive develop by US military.

Consistent with other well confirmed theory: Surface materials for other planets (the mars rock) and the moon have been ejected into space by other impacts then to impact the earth. Neptune’s moon Triton has a surface of methane ice and impact craters as large as 27km in size. Some believed to be made by comets. Pluto also has a methane ice surface.

Final Comment: This has always been a great mystery to science. After years of thought and studying meteorites, impact craters, comets, and surface materials of other planets and moons, I think this theory work well, and explains anomalies and the missing energy. I thought meteors could not totally disintegrate and/or produce the explosion that big with out hitting the ground. Also thinking is that comets are made of more than frozen water. Instead, I theorize these rare comet could be comprised of extremity explosive materials and can cause the kind of damage we find at Tunguska. They may be small but very powerful near Earth objects.

If you have any comments please mail to:mailto:

Copyrighted - All right reserved. Keith F. Vazquez, Chandler, Arizona November 2, 1999 revised

From the Editor.
by Stuart Lolly

I would like to thank everyone for reading "Astronomy Digest". This year has been an exciting year. In March of 1999 I started this magazine that was then called, "Astronomy Throughout the Net." Over 5,700 people now read "Astronomy Digest" each month.

My goal was to create a FREE astronomy magazine that provides quality information to people who are interested in astronomy. Along the way I ran in to some nice surprises. Steve Coe, from Arizona, offered to write his monthly column "What's Up". This has proven to be a great article that I look forward to reading each month. My thanks to Steve. Naoyuki Kurita, from Japan, allowed me use of his photographs. This has allowed me to write better articles. I thank Naoyuki for his contributions.

I was again surprised to see what an advantage it was publishing on the Internet. I frequently run articles several weeks prior to other printed astronomy magazines. Nothing beats the Internet for the fastest means of communication. When I wanted to run an article about Comet Lee, I was able to email Steve Lee, the one who discovered the comet, and arrange a link to his article.

The magazine has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. This month we are running an article by Keith Vazquez from Arizona. I am just now starting to receive quality articles from other astronomers. As my reader base grows I hope more people will submit quality articles to be published. I see "Astronomy Digest" as being a place where astronomers can express their ideas, and more astrophotographers can display their photographs.

I would like to thank the sponsors who make this magazine possible, and all the people who click on their banners and ads. If you enjoy "Astronomy Digest", please visit at least one sponsor each month.

As we end the year I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year. I look to the year 2000 as being a year with all new adventures in astronomy and space exploration.

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