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February 2000 Issue

Astronomy Digest

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Front Desk

News Throughout the Net Updated Weekly

NEARer to Eros - NEAR began a gradual descent into a tighter orbit around the asteroid Eros. - SSN, February 25, 2000.

Search for Alien Life in Antarctica - NASA looks at Meteorites. - MSNBC, February 25, 2000.

SETI Researchers Return for More Data - World watches. - MSNBC, February 24, 2000.

Summer on Mars - Photographs show that summer in the south of Mars has started melting icy polar cap. - CNN, February 23, 2000.

Solar Flare Spotted - Coronal mass ejection appears to be headed almost directly for Earth. - SSN, February 18, 2000.

Update on NEAR - Eros may have broken off from a planet. - CNN, February 17, 2000.

Mexico Gets a New Telescope - Construction has started on top of La Negra. - MSNBC, February 17, 2000.

Moon's Origin - Tilt may give clues. - BBC, February 16, 2000.

Galileo Galilei - Astronomer Remembered. - Fox, February 15, 2000.

Space Shuttle Starts Mapping Earth - Endeavour will collect images for 9 days. - FOX, February 12, 2000.

With Love from Mars - Mars has a Heart. - BBC, February 12, 2000.

Space Probe to Orbit Asteroid - Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) will reach Eros on February 14th. - ABC, February 11, 2000.

SOHO Has Found 102 Comets - Ninety-two sungrazing comets discovered by SOHO appear to have come from the breakup of a single gigantic comet more than 2000 years ago. - SSN, February 11, 2000.

Jupiter Causes Own Storms - New research on storms on Jupiter. - ABC, February 10, 2000.

Earth is Saved - New data says asteroid will not hit earth in 2022. - BBC, February 9, 2000.

Deep Space Webcams - May happen as early as 2001. - MSNBC, February 8, 2000.

2nd Mars Rock Found in US - Hiker picked up two dark stones in the California's Mojave Desert 20 years ago. - CNN, February 4, 2000.

Hubble Looks at Carina Nebula - Hubble taking some great pictures. - BBC, February 4, 2000.

Astronomers Listen for Signals from Mars - Astronomers in three countries use Radio Telescopes to listen for Polar Lander. - MSNBC, February 4, 2000.

Video Clip of asteroid Spinning in Space - Pictures of near earth asteroid Rendezvous. - MSNBC, February 3, 2000.

Solar Smoke Rings - The Sun put on a dynamic show this week with a series of swirling coronal mass ejections.. - SSN, February 3, 2000.

New Hayden Planetarium Opens in New York. - So good, researchers are using it. - MSNBC, February 1, 2000.

What Happened to the Mars Lander? - May have landed in a deep valley. - MSNBC, January 6, 2000.

Why Does the Moon Look so Large in the Horizon. - One theory. - ABC.

Britain Investigates Asteroid Risks - Committee to assess the risk of asteroids and earth collision. - CNN, January 4, 2000.

Several UFO Sightings in China - Reports are on the rise. - MSNBC, January 3, 2000.

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.

February Skies

February 05 - New Moon
February 12 - First Quarter
February 19 - Full Moon
February 27 - Last Quarter

Skywatching Center - Current Month's Skies.

Astronomy Magazine - The Sky Show in February 2000.

Sky & Telescope - February 2000 Skies.

What's Up
by Steve Coe


Puppis is one of those constellations that just comes along with the Messier catalog. As observers decide to learn the sky more throughly, many set out to see the list of Charles Messier for themselves. As that project gets going, the constellations which contain "M objects" just naturally get learned. As I have said before, obviously Puppis is not going to be the first constellation anyone learns, if you honestly see a "Poop Deck" of a ship in this location, then please point it out to me at the next star party. This month I am going to discuss some of lesser-known objects in the constellation of Puppis. All my observations are with my 13" f/5.6 Newtonian.

NGC 2298 is pretty bright, pretty large, much brighter in the middle, 5 stars are resolved at 200X. This globular grows with averted vision. It was easy in the 11 X 80 finder. It is located at 6 hr 49 min and -36 00.

NGC 2432 is pretty bright, pretty large, somewhat compressed, 26 stars counted at 135X. This open cluster is much elongated (3X1) in PA 0. Averted vision will add in many faint stars within the cluster region. Try it at 7 hr 40.9 min and -19 05.

NGC 2452 is bright, pretty large, bright middle, round at 270X. This planetary nebula was immediately recognized as non-stellar at 135X. The central bright section was never stellar at any power on a night I rated as 7 out of 10 for seeing. The nebula was a light green color. It is located on the south side of the open cluster NGC 2453. So, there are two places in Puppis where you can see a cluster with a planetary nebula at the edge. The more famous is M-46 with NGC 2438, now try the copy-cat version; cluster NGC 2453 with NGC 2452 at its' edge.

NGC 2453 is pretty bright, pretty small, pretty compressed, not rich. I counted 17 stars, one of 10th mag and the others from 11 to 13 magnitude. The 10th mag star is a nice dark yellow at 135X. This cluster was just seen in the 11X80 finder. It is located at 7 hr 47.8 min -27 14.

NGC 2467 is bright, pretty large, pretty rich, 31 stars counted at 100X. This cluster was easy in the 11X80 finder. The star cluster is very nice and would generate observers if it were alone, but there is some bright nebulosity associated with this cluster. The nebula was seen without the UHC filter to start, but adding the filter made the nebula much better. There is a bright, round spot of nebulosity on the southwest side of the cluster and several pretty bright streaks on the northeast sections. Covering my head with a dark cloth and using the UHC filter, I could see that the entire field of view was nebulous to some degree. To top is off, there are several dark lanes winding their way through this region. Take a look at this little known cluster with nebulosity at 7 hr 52.6 min and -26 23.

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My Stay at the World's Highest Telescope
by Phil Rastocny ©

There are 71 mountains in the continental United States higher than 10,000 feet (4,267m), 54 of them in state of Colorado. , The 15th highest, Mt. Evans, is only 44 miles (70 Km) from Denver. Since the 1940s, the University of Denver (DU) has performed science at various laboratories and observatories on top of or very near Mt. Evans studying the visual heavens, gamma rays, weather, and environmental phenomenon. In 1997, DU dedicated its most ambitious scientific project in celestial observations with the completion of the world’s highest telescope, the 14,148’ (4,312m) Meyer-Womble Observatory (MWO), high atop Mt. Evans. This state-of-the-art observatory houses two telescopes both aimed at the same point in space.

Far below at the small village of Echo Lake stand log-cabin style dormitories constructed by DU in the 1940s that astronomers and geologists use during their stay. On July 20, 1998, ten people and I arrived at these 10,000’ (3,050m) dormitories volunteering their time to get this 14-ton (12,700-Kg) telescope into full operation. Each of these individuals represented their local astronomy club, one of the criteria for acceptance to this volunteer program.

Dr. Robert Stencel, director of Physics and Astronomy at DU, organized this program to permit amateur astronomers exposure to a professional telescope and obtain their assistance in correcting problems with the site. After a brief presentation on unusual environment experiences at extreme elevations, safety procedures and health concerns, it was time to eat, make lunches, and take the long-awaited drive to the summit.

A well maintained, narrow road winds up the steep sides of this precarious mountain ending at the observatory. Along the way several stretches dropped straight down for over 2,000’ (600m) without guardrails so one had to be very alert during these incredibly beautiful but extremely hazardous stretches. Reaching the summit about an hour before dark, this unique observatory blended into the treeless environment almost as if placed there by nature.

Full Story

Photograph of the Meyer-Womble Observatory by Peter Grannis.

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Buying a Telescope.
Part III

by Stuart Lolly

Last month we talked how there are three basic types of telescopes to choose from: a refractor, reflector, and a catadioptric. We then discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the refractor telescope. This month I would like to talk about the reflector telescope.

The reflector telescope is housed in a long tube. Light goes in one end passes the back side of a secondary mirror at the top of the tube, goes down and reflects off the primary mirror at the bottom of the tube, goes back to the secondary mirror, and is reflected into the eyepiece. The primary mirror is curved so when the light is reflected from the large primary mirror to the small secondary mirror, the light is condensed in to a smaller area.

A very important note. You use a more powerful lens to see an object close up. However, this has nothing to do with how clear the object is. To get a clearer image you would use a bigger primary mirror. The telescope is collecting as much light as it can and reducing it to the size of your retina. Generally, the larger the mirror, the clearer the image.

Dollar for dollar reflectors get the best image for real time viewing. That is because most of the money goes into the primary mirror. Mead produces two 16 inch telescopes, one reflector and one catadioptric. The reflector costs about 1,700 dollars. The catadioptric costs about 26,000 dollars.

The reflectors are divided in to two categories based on their mounts: Dobisons and Equatorial mounts. The Dobison mount is a box that allows the telescope tube to move up and down. The Dobison mount also rotates in a 360 degree circle. With these two rotations the telescope can point any where in the night sky. These mounts are generally the cheapest to make. Therefore, you are putting most of your money in the primary mirror. The Equatorial mount is a tripod stand. At the top there is a cross bar with the telescope on one side and a counterweight on the other.

Some Equatorial mounts do allow tracking. Tracking allows you to follow an object. The telescope adjusts it self for the rotation of the earth. This allows the opportunity to photograph the star. For the most part a Dobison is not a good choice for photography.

Reflectors are sensitive to light pollution. For good viewing you will want to go to a dark sky site. For most amateur astronomers I would recommend nothing less than a 8 inch telescope. I recommend staying with the name brands such as Mead, Orion, and Celestron. For a more expensive telescope I would recommend Obsession.

Size is a factor to consider in buying reflectors. I own a 10 inch Orion Dobison telescope. The tube is 50 inches and my Nissan Pathfinder holds 51 inches. How you plan to move your telescope may limit the size of the telescope you want to buy. Another factor is weight. The larger the mirror the heavier the telescope becomes. Consider your age and physical condition when buying a large telescope. Also, a friend of mine owns an 18 inch Obsession. At star parties pretty much everyone can use it standing on the ground. Another friend has a 20 inch Obsession. At star parties everyone needs to get on to a ladder to view the objects. Costs of the telescopes start at about 400 dollars for a 6 inch Dobson and go up. If you want to get in to amateur astronomy, a reflector is a great place to start.

Cosmic Call II

On Valentines Day, February 14, 2000, another message is being sent out into space in hopes that ET will answer. This time the message is being sent to Eridani 40. This star system is the primary star in the constellation Eridani. Eridani 40 is a triple star system at a Magnitude of 4.4. (HD 26965, Hipparcos catalog number: 19849) 40 Eridani A star is an orange dwarf. The other two companion stars are 40 Eridani B, a white dwarf, and 40 Eridani C, a red dwarf. These orbit each other (period 248 years) and together orbit A in a wide, 7000 to 9000 year orbit.

On May 24, 1999, project "Cosmic Call" started sending the first in a series of interstellar radio messages into space using a 70-meter radio astronomy dish at the Evpatoriya Radio Astronomy facility in the Ukraine. The "Cosmic Call" project was developed by Encounter 2001, LLC and Energia, LTD. Encounter 2001 whose partner company Celestis, Inc. (Houston, TX) successfully launched the cremated remains of Gene Rodenberry, Timothy Leary, and many others into space. Energia, LTD (Alexandria, VA) is the US representative of the Russian aerospace company that operates the MIR space station program and is the prime Russian contractor for the new International Space Station.
"Cosmic Call I" was aimed towards 4 stars in the area of the night sky known as the "Summer Triangle", outlined by the prominent summertime stars Deneb, Vega and Altair. The Summer Triangle is easily observable in the northern hemisphere of Earth. The 4 target stars are between 50 to 70 light-years from Earth. So it will take only 50 to 70 years for the transmission to reach its destinations. These four stars were deemed likely prospects to harbor life supporting planets as selected by a team of scientific experts. The 4 Target Stars the message was sent to are HD190360, HD190406, HD186408 and HD178428 as noted in the Henry Draper star catalog.

The messages consist of 2 parts: Part 1, designed by the science team, will involve anticryptic messages conveying detailed information about Earth and humanity; and Part 2 consist of the names and personal messages of the Encounter 2001 participants.

"Despite modern telecommunications, only once in the history of humanity has a high-powered message been sent in the direction of other worlds---and that 1974 message was limited to only a few scientists," says Charles M. Chafer, president of Encounter 2001, LLC. "This mission is another of humanity's early efforts to accomplish perhaps its greatest social, technological and spiritual imperative: First Contact."

The Encounter team believes that this mission shows that with the emergence of global cooperation, even amidst international unrest, countries can peacefully join together in offering this unprecedented opportunity to everyone. For $24.95 you can send your photo and a 30 word personal message into space. February 14, 2000 and February 14, 2001 are the next dates the messages are scheduled to be sent. People interested in participating in the Encounter 2001 mission, can call 1-800-ORBIT-11, or visit their web site, . Encounter 2001

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