Syracuse Astronomical Society President's Message For February, 2009

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

Greetings Fellow Astrophiles!

After a two-month hibernation, the Astronomical Chronicle is back. I am delighted that we had very positive feedback both from SAS members and many of the people and other astronomical societies the PDFs found their way to last year (this is how we were fortunate enough to have Barlow Bob send off articles that we will continue to include as we receive them). As we ponder content for the year, please do consider sending off any astronomy-related information you find interesting, sending off your questions (they make for articles that others may find useful), sending off your images (astronomy-related, that is), or even consider writing an article. Brief observation logs get passed around on some of the email that passes between Board members. It would be nice to have member observing logs (objects and how-to's) to help others find objects and, of course, to have recorded for posterity.

2009-2011 Election Results And The (Tentative) 2009 Schedule

The votes are in and, unlike some "other" election that occurred last year, the results indicate a bit less change but two very welcome additions. I am pleased to report that Ryan Goodson is our new SAS treasurer and Jeff Funk has been added to our SAS Board of Directors, meaning all positions are accounted for. As usual, all of the contact information for elected members is available either at the end of the newsletter or at the SAS website AND we love to hear from you.

The tentative schedule for 2009 is listed on page 9. As was the case for the past few years, Public Viewing sessions fall on a Friday/Saturday as close to the New Moon as possible. August is our double-header month for the year, with either weekend a good candidate for a Summer Seminar. This will be part of the work the Board takes on as we finalize the schedule and find out what other events are occurring in the area (such as additional Baltimore Woods viewing sessions with last year's Summer Seminar presenter Bob Peikel, viewing sessions organized by the CNY Astronomy Club of Mohawk Valley, a hopeful renewal of the Space Science Series at the MOST in the Fall, and anything else that comes our way). 2008 turned out to be a very bad year for SAS Public Viewing events (6 washed out but 3 excellent sessions) both in terms of weather and gas prices. We hope to find both of these variables in our favor this year. And, speaking of 2009…

The Universe: Yours To Discover!

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. That's right. It's astronomy and everyone is doing it. According to the website,

"The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery."

It is somehow fitting, especially with the difficulties many Americans are facing during this economic downturn, that organizations have come together to try to instill public appreciation for the one form of entertainment and enlightenment that has been with humanity since well before any modern technologies, economies, civilizations, and anything else that defines humanity today. What could be simpler, and more cost-effective, than simply looking up?

The IYA2009 website is full of astronomy information and resources (and I note that Cloudy Nights Telescope Reviews ( is hosting the official bulletin board and forum for IYA2009. I've sent many an inquirer to this website for all kinds of useful astronomy information and consider it an excellent resource for users) that the SAS may use as part of Public Viewing or additional SAS activities this year. Do stay tuned as we finalize the schedule for the year.

From The Email Pile…

Mixed in with the considerable quantity of spam the SAS receives every week are a few gems of astronomy-related content. It is even better when those gems are provided direct from authors and organizers. We received a flyer about a new book describing research about a moon many of us have had the pleasure of seeing in the Cave. Let your yearly astro-budget do the talking!

Unmasking Europa, By Richard Greenberg

"The second-outward of Jupiter's four major moons, Europa is covered with ice, as confirmed in views from modern telescopes and the thousands of images returned by NASA's Voyager and Galileo missions. But these higher-resolution views also showed that the ice is anything but smooth. In fact, Europa's surface is covered with vast criss-crossing systems of mountain-sized ridges, jumbled regions of seemingly chaotic terrain, and patches that suggest upwellings of new surface materials from below. How scientists think about the underlying forces that shaped this incredibly complex, bizarre, and beautiful surface is the subject of this book."

The author of this book, Dr. Richard Greenberg, is a Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona (one of the major academic institutions in American space science) and a member of the imaging team for NASA's Galileo mission (enough said). While the scientific focus of this book is on the study of Europa, the author also provides a look at the non-scientific aspects of big science at NASA, providing the reader an interesting window into the mechanics of doing science. This book is available both locally and from

Home Is Where The Observatory Is

The gear-heads in the SAS will get a kick out of this one. I had a brief email exchange with David Gwyn (from somewhere in Pennsylvania, I think) about web content and discovered the best reason yet to buy instead of rent. David has built, and posted about the building process at his website, his own rooftop observatory, complete with dome (pictured above). You can find images of and notes about the construction of his Bel Tor Observatory (a.k.a. Bertha Sees Uranus, and I'm assuming Bertha is his scope) at either or

And Four More Things…

Planets! Just when the SAS newsletter winds down for December and January, two studies report the actual visualization of extrasolar planets. Even more remarkably, these two studies occur so close together that they appear in the same issue of Science magazine. This first study provided a picture of Fomalhaut b and its planet that became known as the "Eye of Sauron" in some media circles (below). Two measurements, one in 2004 and another in 2006, showed the motion of this new planet (as a dense pair of pixels) in a perfectly Keplerian orbit.

From NASA, ESA and P. Kalas (U.C. Berkeley, USA)

The second study, of the star HR 8799 (makes perfect sense), used adaptive optics approaches at the Keck and

Gemini Telescopes in Hawaii to observe three planets (so far!) in its system. They apparently traded the fancy Sauron coloring for more distinct objects in the final image.

From NRC-HIA, IDPS, Keck.

Click on all associated links for much more information and larger versions of these images. Here's to 2009 making these stories seem mundane!

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

Links Used Above (Subject To Web Changes)…5D05E…

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