Syracuse Astronomical Society President's Message for April, 2007

A repost of the original at the Syracuse Astronomical Society website.

Observatory Opening And Messier Mini-thon

It is that time of year again! When the snow is melted enough that the Darling Hill grounds become a soup of mud and leaves just thick enough for a vehicle to make it up the driveway and into a parking spot (angled down back towards the driveway, of course). The opening, slated for this Friday (20) or Saturday (21, weather date) will also be the official make-up for the Messier Marathon in mid-March that was snowed-out. Regretfully, I post this from Utah, where steep mountains obstruct everything but the zenith, and will have to review the Observatory log at our next meeting to see what I missed.

MOST Space Science Series Recap

"Politics politics politics politics politics!" – Mel Brooks

The final MOST Space Science Series lecture provided a very insightful look into the differences between science, scientists, and truth in general (an appropriately broad range given the lecture content). After a brief history of our Solar System and how we have classified it since Galileo, the discussion turned to the recent demotion of Pluto and the original attempt to either classify 12 objects in the solar system as planets or, at the very least, grandfather Pluto into the classification scheme to keep our current 9 planet count.

The foundation of Prof. Margot's lecture can be found at the "What Is A Planet?" page at his own website.

His discussion eventually settled into the very non-scientific aspects of the debate concerning the classification of Pluto and how the opinions of people added to the tension of the final decision. Do we hold on to the standard model we've all grown up with because it makes people feel good? Well, we've certainly not fallen into that rut in the "hard sciences," with Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein certainly shaking the foundations of science, leaving others to come to terms with the "new math." Ultimately, Pluto is just a solid object orbiting a star and, pending further investigation, could not care less what it is called. It is very likely that there are so many objects in orbit around the Sun that we will never have an official number. Despite blatantly political maneuvers among members of the IAU (and, to a far, far lesser extent, the efforts of and its many, many ilk), the final decision was made to remove Pluto from the formal "planet" list, classifying it instead as a "dwarf planet."

After the events of late 2006, how quickly does the scientific consensus enter the mainstream? Just to check, I asked my 11-year-old cousin Nicholas "How many planets are there." "8," he said, with some small fraction of a look that said "isn't it obvious?" "Pluto's just a secondary planet." No surprise, it has been a whole 6 months, of course. I think all civilized people would agree. Someone will have to explain to children in a generation what that last white dot on many of our best solar system images is…

Click for a larger version

ET On Meteors

The following came to us from Ed Tarney of Baldwinsville, NY regarding a March 11th light show between 8 and 8:30 pm. When we hear about meteors in the news, it is usually in the context of meteor shower announcements that happen predictably all year. We are, of course, constantly bombarded by debris from space. Any amateur astronomer or night observer with any number of days under their belt will know that a streak could appear at any moment. I suspect at least 3 or 4 trails are seen a night during SAS observing activities, with one person seeing and several others trying to spin their heads in time. One can only imagine what our ancestors must have thought was happening to the falling sky before we became aware of meteor origins.

The meteor reported by Ed must have been a real winner, as his original email included a news clip about police calls stemming from the meteor in the March 11th Edition of the Toronto Star. It's also worth being reminded that a meteor is a meteroid entering the atmosphere and burning up. A meteroid is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, "A solid body, moving in space, that is smaller than an asteroid and at least as large as a speck of dust."

From Ed:

The only other meteorites I have seen have been the "meteor shower" types, and they are nowhere near the brightness or color or apparent size of this one. This one was sparkling, almost iridescent green & white, with the "head" showing some substantial width (as opposed to the showers, which are mere streaks, only linear, hardly 2 dimensional at all), a bright but quickly diminishing whitish yellow tail, a solid streak of color against the sky, and a hearty "Hi Ho Silver" – oh no, not that last part! From where I was, in Radisson in Baldwinsville, it was streaking from just above Baker High School into the Seneca River at the lock. I would guess I saw it appear about 15 degrees above the horizon, just a little south of due west from my vantage point, and pass from N to S (right to left) at about a 10 degree angle. If I close my eyes & try to reconstruct it, it seems like it passed through about 30-40 degrees of the horizon, in perhaps a second, before it passed out of view. (I was just looking at a protractor & trying to recreate the scene!) I am trying to recall how the size compared to Halley's comet from a few years ago, but unfortunately I cannot seem to construct a good comparison. I want to say this meteor was noticeably larger in apparent size, but I don't recall many clear & studied looks at Halley's.

I hope this is useful,

Ed Tarney

And On A Far Heavier Note…

We mention the passing of 2006 VV2, a 2 kilometer wide asteroid that came within 2.1 million miles of hitting us (or 15 billion light years of not hitting us) on April 6th. News otherwise unnoticed, even though the asteroid was naked-eye visible. Provided no other surprises, our next great asteroid viewing is slated for 2029, when Apophis makes its first close-pass to Earth. It's return pass, in 2036, has had the mathematicians at NASA number crunching for quite some time, as the odds of it impacting the planet have ranged from one in several hundred thousand to a mere 1 in 300. I, for one, will be making nothing larger than minimum payments starting in 2032.

Big Sky Astro Correction And Links

And now, a correction. In the "Pale Blue Dot" section of February President's Message, I noted that the image Carl Sagan used as a base for his discussion of our place in the universe was being hosted by the Big Sky Astronomical Society in Montana (the site was dugg at digg, where I first found the Big Sky site). Lo and beholde, this organization is, in fact, the Big Sky Astronomy Club. As it happens, just North in Alberta, CA lies the REAL Big Sky Astronomical Society. Both are relatively new to the scene, with the Club forming in August 2000 and the Society forming in October 1998. My thanks for James Durbano of the Big Sky Astronomical Society for looking this far East.

Amassed Astronomy Media Part 2: Websites

Having covered a small number of astronomy podcasts in the March Message, we turn now to a list of websites. – The official website of the Hubble telescope. More likely than not, your favorite desktop background lies somewhere in the Hubble gallery. On this site you'll also find Hubble history, technical information about the Telescope, a link to the SkyWatch podcast, and much more. – This site keeps track of the ISS, space shuttle, major satellites, and the ever-impressive Iridium satellites. The predictive power of physics never ceases to amaze. As if the website weren't enough, they also provide a mobile service through AvantGo so you can identify what's above anytime, anywhere (handy at Darling Hill when one can get reception). – My primary bookmark for checking the weather online is the ClearSkyClock (which will receive its own post at some point), which I only check to see if there's hope for observing that night. The thorough climatologist or meteorologist knows that all weather events begin at the Sun, without which the Earth (if it were still here) would be a frozen rock with weather conditions (frozen) more predictable than those of San Diego (nice). is the site for keeping track of the Sun's conditions, including Solar winds, sun spots, solar flares. – Astronomy Picture of the Day. Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell have done the work for you! The pictures are as beautiful as the descriptions and exhaustive web links are informative. – A pro-space science news service that manages to collect just about every space news story that hits any internet wire. Topics range from NASA policy to major astronomical events to Space Science Research, all in an easily scannable interface.

Amateur Observers Society of New York AOS Starfest 2007

Our own Mike Brady forwarded us the following:

The Amateur Observers Society of New York is proud to announce the AOS Starfest 2007.

Date; June 15-17, 2007

This event will be hosted at the Stone Tavern Farm, under the exceptionally dark skies of Delaware Co. NY. The Stone Tavern Farm is a 400 acre working farm located near the Catskill town of Roxbury, NY This site is within a 3 to 4 hour drive of most of our members located on Long Island. Click HERE for directions.

Facilities on the farm include a Bunk House and a wood floored "MASH" style tent with bunks, a large Pavilion with enough seating for all the attendees, comfortable and private bath & showers, and a large grassy field that we can use to set our telescopes on. In addition there is a 12000 sq. ft indoor arena that can be used in the event of inclement weather. The farm also has enough space for camping, which is included free with your registration.

This is a family friendly Starparty with activities for both kids and adults planned throughout the day.

"Barlow Bob" will be bringing his incomparable H-Alpha telescope and "Tri-Spectra" Solar telescope, and along with others, be providing solar observing for attendees.

We have two of the top speakers in the astronomical community coming to give presentations at the AOS STARFEST; Bob Berman, writer for Astronomy Magazine, and author of several books, most recently "Cosmic Adventure: A Renegade Astronomer's Guide To Our World And Beyond", and Long Island's own Phil Harrington, Astronomy professor, contributing editor for Astronomy magazine, and author of many books like "StarWare", "StarWatch," and his latest book, "The Illustrated Timeline of the Universe". Phil will be also be staying with us Saturday night to observe, and help us celebrate our very first Starparty!

Friday night there is a free "Pizza Party" to welcome attendees, and meals will be available to purchase Saturday, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Saturday Dinner we're having a special "Star-B-Que" featuring the best of the Stone Tavern Farms "farm fresh" food.

You get camping, the outstanding speakers, activities, solar observing, and free HOT refreshments all night Friday & Saturday night with your $45 registration fee. Also for families, all children 14 and under are free!

As you can see we've tried to think of everything we can to make this the best Starparty you've ever been to. Attendence is limited to the first 100 adults, so please register soon before all the spaces are taken.

Whether this is your first Starparty or 50th, it's going to be an event that is not to be missed!

Our website is;

For more info email Geoff Cintron;

Space is the place,
Damian Allis, Ph.D.

Links Used Above (Subject To Web Changes),_New_York…shtml

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