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December 2009

December BAS Meeting Notes

This month's meeting included a program on an amateur search for moons (known and unknown) around Pluto, presentation of certificates to several members,  and updates on our status with the Astronomical League and on our search for a dark club observing site.  In addition, we had a summary of a recent presentation to the Lions Club on the International Year of Astronomy, a brief discussion on ideas for keeping members without email informed and a call for more volunteers to give informal presentations to the club.

*** Star Party Reminder ***
Mike Woods has generously offered to host a star party at his place this Saturday, December 12.  It's a good idea to arrive early enough to get set up before twilight ends.  The "go/no go" decision is left to each individual.  Even if the weather is questionable, there may be some optimistic members set up in anticipation of good luck, clearing skies and warmer than normal temperatures for this time of year.  For a map to the observing site contact John Grismore.  See you there.

The Footprint of Pluto - Art Lucas
When I first met Art about three years ago, he told me he was retired.  I later found that "retired" to Art meant more activity in professional and personal projects than most of us have long before retirement is even on the horizon.  Art's professional life has spanned 40 years in nuclear radiation physics.  He has been instrumental in the development and implementation of a broad range of radiation measurement and monitoring technologies, including military and civilian radiation dosimeters, pioneering work in the measurement of effectiveness of cancer radiation therapy, and the design of monitoring instrumentation for cleanup of soil contaminated with radioactive materials.  Along the way Art built several businesses focused on the design and production of measurement equipment for military and civilian radiation protection.

Art's retirement life has included numerous astronomical activities and projects.  He has also played a pivotal role in promoting a significant upgrade to the OSU Mendenhall Observatory ( ) that will allow astronomers there to perform precision asteroid photometry and astrometry for an Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant.  The observatory will also participate in the search for exoplanets.  In addition, Art has constructed an impressive amateur observing complex on his acreage near Stillwater, including two observatories, a control room and a vast array of equipment.  His projects have included asteroid spectroscopy, asteroid occultations and planetary occultations, to name just a few.

Among Art's more recent efforts is a project to monitor the small region of sky centered on Pluto as it moves through the background stars of the Milky Way.  If any of the faint background stars very near Pluto's position disappear temporarily and then reappear during monitoring, these events will become candidates for occultations of the star by known or unknown moons of Pluto.  Detailed computer analysis of such candidates will establish the likelihood of an occultation.  Art will be using a 14" Celestron SCT with a sensitive CCD camera to gather as many as 100 images, at 40 seconds per image, each night.  This equipment will allow him to image background stars as faint as 16th magnitude, significantly increasing the number of stars that may be occulted by Pluto and its satellites.  The project is just now ramping up, and Art showed a series of images that clearly demonstrate Pluto's passage through the background star field from night to night.  We hope Art will be back to talk to us some time next year, perhaps with exciting news of a recent discovery.

During his talk, Art also displayed many beautiful images he's taken of deep sky objects, especially Messier objects.  More of these images, as well as additional information about Art's projects and activities can be viewed on his web site at .

Woolaroc Certificates
Arden Strycker, who has dual membership in the Bartlesville Astronomical Society and the Astronomy Club of Tulsa, represented ACT in presenting certificates to BAS members who participated in the Woolaroc "Sun Day on Saturday" event in September.  This was a joint event sponsored by Woolaroc and ACT to engage the public for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, with hands-on astronomical activities during the day and a star party for Woolaroc staff and contributors during the evening.    Members receiving certificates were,
Joyce Ritchie
Steve Plank
Don Fudge (not present)
John Grismore
Arden Strycker received his certificate at the last ACT meeting.

Dark Club Observing Site Search
Steve Plank gave an update on the current status of our search for a dark club observing site.  Contacts have been made with the Army Corps of Engineers about possible sites at Hulah and Copan Lakes, Osage Hills State Park, which also has jurisdiction over the Wah-Sha-She campground at Hulah Lake, and the Boy Scouts at Camp McClintock.  Steve has previously visited the area at the entrance to the Hulah Wah-Sha-She campground after dark, and describes the night sky as spectacular.  He has been told by the Osage Hills Office that we are welcome to use that area any time day or night, summer or winter, although the campground itself is closed for the winter.  He was also told that we would not need to have liability insurance for private club activities there, since we would be no different than campers or boaters, but we're waiting for confirmation on that.  His discussion with the Boy Scouts was particularly encouraging.  They are eager to have us come to Camp McClintock for a star party.  We might be able to work an arrangement with them for access to a dark site there if we provide an occasional star party and some help with the Astronomy merit badge.  Many years ago our club provided occasional observing sessions at both the Boy Scout camp and the Girl Scout camp.  Perhaps now is a good time to return to that activity.

Lions Club Presentation
Joyce Ritchie summarized the presentation she recently gave to the Downtown Lions Club on the International Year of Astronomy.  A brief show of hands survey during the presentation revealed that no one in the audience had ever observed the night sky with a telescope.  This served as a springboard for encouraging those who had binoculars (particularly 7x35's) to try them on the night sky, and then explaining how to steady arms during binocular observing.   Joyce's presentation to the Lions included a discussion of the 400 year anniversary of Galileo's invention of the telescope, an explanation about recognizing the constellation Orion this winter, and some practice using a planisphere to determine what is currently visible in the night sky.  She also instructed her audience about choice of telescopes for starting young kids, recommending a simple 6" Dobsonian.  Despite the relatively low level of astronomical knowledge among the general public, interest is always high.  Community presentations such as Joyce's can go a long way toward advancing the general knowledge and promoting activities and decisions that support amateur astronomy.

Non-email Communications
Recently the club has replaced our paper newsletter with an email newsletter sent out the week before our monthly meetings.  This saves us quite a bit on copying and mailing costs.  Besides the newsletter, we are now using email for most of our club and member-to-member communications.  This is quick and convenient, and makes it easier to keep members up to date on the latest club information.  However, there are a few club members who don't have access to email or the internet.  We had a brief discussion about ways to keep those members informed on a timely basis. One suggestion is sending out post cards with information updates to our non-email members.  Another is to establish a practice of phoning those individuals whenever there is information to be passed along.  What the club needs is a member who will volunteer to serve as the liaison between our on-line communications and our off-line members.  Any cost incurred for printing and mailing will be covered by the club.  Volunteers?

Programs, We Need More Programs
Our programs during the past couple of months have generated quite a bit of interest.  Hopefully, we can continue to provide useful and engaging programs, but to do that we need program ideas and volunteers.  We want to keep these programs brief and informal so that they don't become a burden to prepare.  There must be lots of good program ideas, so please send your suggestions to Jim Vogh (program chairman) or John Grismore.  And of course, we need people to present programs.  This will work best if members volunteer without anyone having to "twist arms".

Next Meeting
Monday, January 4, in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room A.  Program: Rick Bryant will present
A Cheapskates Guide to Starting A Totally Awesome Meteorite Collection.

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