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February 2011

February 2011 Meeting Notes

Discussion of business items this month included a few comments on our last winter star party, discussion about having a vinyl sign made to use at club events and a reminder that Astronomy Day will be Saturday, May 7.  After the business meeting, Steve Plank gave a brief demo of his new Vixen telescope, followed by an update on recent astronomical news by Joyce Gray-Ritchie.  This month's program, titled "Ken Willcox: The Birth of an Eclipse Chaser", was presented by Daryl Doughty.

Business Meeting

Winter Star Party Comments

Our recent BAS Winter Star Party at the Wah-Shah-She Girl Scout Camp on January 29 was a clear success.  Several members who were at the star party commented on the clear, dark skies, the convenient and comfortable facilities at the Dining Hall and the unseasonably pleasant weather.  As a matter of fact, this event hardly deserved to be called a winter star party, especially since our alternative plan for the weekend of February 4/5 would have occurred between two record blizzards.  We owe special thanks to Arden Strycker, star party coordinator, for all his efforts contacting the Girl Scout headquarters, making arrangements, and especially for his uncanny way with the weather.

Club Sign

BAS events such as public star parties, daytime displays and club observing events could benefit from a club sign to identify our group and advertise our location.  Steve Plank has been investigating options for having a flexible vinyl banner created for the club.  He has looked at local sign makers as well as internet options, but indicated a preference for the local alternative since its hard to know exactly what we'd be getting over the internet.  An 8'x3' banner with the club name and website address, would cost about $100.  This would also include grommets for tying or attaching the sign.  An additional, smaller sign, with an arrow for pointing toward our event location, would cost about $30.  There was some discussion about whether the club can afford the cost, but no decision.  Duane Perkins suggested that member donations could cover the cost.  The affordability versus benefit of a sign will be addressed by the BAS board, but members opinions would provide important feedback and are encouraged.  What are your thoughts?

Astronomy Day

Although it may seem a bit early to start planning, this year National Astronomy Day will be on Saturday, May 7.  Since we now have liability insurance, we should make an effort to organize one or more public activities in coordination with this national event.  We could benefit from the associated visibility and publicity that large astronomical organizations and the media give to Astronomy Day each year.  Possible events discussed at the meeting included daytime displays at a public location like the Mall or the downtown area, and an evening public star party, perhaps at a city park.  Members are encouraged to suggest other ideas for public outreach on Astronomy Day.  Please send them to <> .

Globe at Night

Daryl Doughty reminded those at the meeting that the Globe at Night project will begin its 2011 campaign in a couple of weeks.  This is an annual citizen science project that encourages people all over the world to record the brightness of their night sky.  Making the observations is simple and requires no special equipment.  Globe at Night has established two observation periods during the dark of the moon (2/21-3/6, 3/22-4/4) when observations can be made by comparing the view of stars visible in the constellation Orion, with a standard set of Orion magnitude charts.  Observations are submitted on-line and then compiled with other observations from around the world to produce a global map of sky conditions.  In 2010, two observations from Bartlesville and one from Skull Creek (Hulah Lake) were included in the global dataset of over 17,800 measurements.  This year we'd like to increase the number of observations from the Bartlesville area.  To participate please visit the Globe at Night home page at <> .

Mars Rover Principle Scientist to Talk at OSU

On February 23, at 7:30 p.m., Dr. Steven Squyres will present "The Mars Project: How Design and Innovation Got Us There", at the OSU Wes Watkins Center. Dr. Squyres is the principle scientist behind NASA's Mars Exploration Project, a team of more than 3,000 people that overcame many challenges before successfully landing the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers.  Squyres will discuss risks taken, mistakes made and how success was ultimately achieved.

Vixen Telescope Demonstration - Steve Plank

After the business meeting, Steve Plank gave a brief show and tell about his new Vixen VMC110L telescope <> .  The scope is a Maksutov-Cassegrain design with a 4.3" aperture and an f/9.4 focal ratio.  Since this design inserts a small corrector lens just in front of the secondary mirror, rather than using a full aperture corrector plate like Schmidt-Cassegrains, the end of the tube is open, allowing free air movement and therefore, quick cool down.  With mostly metal construction, the VMC110L is very solid and stable for a grab and go scope.  The Maksutov flip mirror design provides two eyepiece ports; a straight through and a right angle on the top of the tube at the back, making it particularly convenient for photography.  Sturdy, curved spider vanes support the secondary while minimizing diffraction spikes, and a red dot finder is included with the scope.  The alt/az mount's convenient slow motion controls provide precise positioning.  This scope gave very good views of Jupiter and deep sky objects at our Winter Star Party, and it's silky smooth focusing system was a joy to use.

What's News - Joyce Gray-Ritchie

Exciting things have been happening in astronomy lately, and Joyce updated the club on some significant recent news items.

In the past, Mars was considered a dead world with very little change taking place.  But recent discoveries on high resolution photos from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express have clearly demonstrated that Mars is a dynamic world with constantly changing geologic features.  Most of the changes seen are caused by sand and ice cascading down sand dune slip faces.  Recent analysis of high resolution images has identified spring sublimation of a layer of frozen winter carbon dioxide, along with stronger than expected wind gusts, for triggering sand avalanches.  Researchers say they have seen about 40 percent of far northern sites exhibit changes over the two year (Martian year) study.

Over the past two decades, nearly 500 exoplanets have been discovered by ground based observations with large telescopes.  During the past two years, the Kepler planet hunting telescope, which is in an Earth trailing solar orbit, has been staring continuously at a small region of the sky in the constellation Cygnus.  It monitors nearly 145,000 stars in the region for minute brightness changes that could indicate the transit of a planet across the disk of the star.  NASA astronomers announced on February 2 that, based on only four months of data, Kepler has identified 1235 candidate planets.  Of these, 54 may be in the habitable zone of their star (where liquid water could exist), 68 are about the size of the Earth, and five of those Earth size planets orbit within their stars habitable zone.  The results suggest that planets are very common among the stars in our galaxy and that Earth size planets are a higher proportion of exoplanets than previously believed.  This, of course, may carry significant implications for the possibility of life elsewhere in our galaxy.

There is a citizen scientist project associated with the Kepler mission that allows anyone with access to the internet to participate in exoplanet discovery by evaluating light curves from Kepler for transit events.  You can get involved at <> .

Ken Willcox: The Birth of an Eclipse Chaser - Daryl Doughty

Among countless other accomplishments, Ken Willcox organized and led five major total solar eclipse expeditions (Hawaii 1991, Bolivia 1994, India 1995, Mongolia 1997 and Aruba 1998), co-authored two editions of the book TOTALITY: Eclipses of the Sun with Mark Littman, and founded the Southern Skies Star Party in Bolivia after his eclipse trip there.  But his involvement with solar eclipses began when he and Daryl made a trip north, into Canada, to view a total solar eclipse near Gladstone, Manitoba, in February 1979.  During our program this month, Daryl described details of their adventure and displayed some of the resulting eclipse photographs.

Ken, Bill, Daryl, Ottawa doctor

Despite Ken's attention to detail, the expedition was not without its surprises.  No amount of preparation could eliminate the threat that uncooperative weather could completely hide the event, but last minute hunches, based on the most recent forecasts led them to Gladstone, Manitoba, near the centerline of totality.  Despite the disappointingly hazy skies while traveling to their site on the morning of the eclipse, conditions had improved by the time of first contact.  Daryl captured a multi-exposure photo sequence of the eclipse from beginning to end using a tripod mounted camera, while Ken captured a series of individual photos using his Celestron C8 and a partial aperture solar filter.  Later, on inspecting his photos, Ken discovered another unexpected detail.  Removing his solar filter to photograph prominences and the solar corona during totality had slightly changed the optical path, leaving all of his totality photos a bit out of focus.

Total Solar Eclipse, February 26, 1979 - Multi-exposure by Daryl Doughty

But the program wasn't just about an eclipse; it was also about a friendship.  Daryl's and Ken's paths crossed while working for the National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research in the late 60's.  They soon discovered their mutual interest in astronomy and developed a strong friendship.  Although, career and education decisions sent them in different directions, they both eventually returned to Bartlesville and renewed their friendship and their astronomical collaborations.  It was 20 years, to the day, after the eclipse in Gladstone, that Ken died.  Daryl's program reminded those of us who knew Ken to revisit our memories of him and the value of his friendship.

Totality by Ken Willcox

Next Meeting
Monday, March 7, Rick Bryant will present "The Cheapskate Astronomer’s Introduction to Astrophotography, Part II: Help! The Gremlins are Attacking", in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room.  For more information, see the meeting announcement on our website home page at <> .

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