Mar 21

March 2012

Comet Garradd poses, M95’s Superb Supernova, Space Day with the Discovery Museum & Planetarium and Martin Hamar stacks with Registax 6

by Dan Wright

Welcome to Spring! I hope no one tried to balance any eggs or brooms on the 20th… Of course they balanced just as well Tuesday as they will in 6 weeks! I enjoy the emails we get from people asking about crazy things like this and let’s not forget the ultimate email generator: The World Not Ending on December 21. Oh, those fun loving Mayans! When the public does ask about these things, and it’s pretty regular, it’s a great moment to talk about reality instead of the silly internet stuff that injects itself into the conversations. And lately with planets aligning, an upcoming transit of Venus, comets and asteroids zipping nearby and a star blowing it’s innards across the cosmos, there is SO much to talk about!

Trusty Comet Garradd is the comet that keeps on giving. It’s looped around the Sun and now is back, close to Earth and looking better than ever around 6.8 dimming slowly as it moves through Draco. As timing goes, it’s perfectly situated right after sunset. From my own experience, even in light polluted Westport, it looks great in the 25. I couldn’t see any tail(s) but it was quite obvious what I was seeing. It was also easy to find in my binoculars since it just recently zipped by the tail star of Draco.

Just in time for our annual Messier Marathon this coming weekend (depending on the weather) is the “close” blast of Supernova 2012aw in M95! Follow the link for the latest images. This star just blew its guts and is brightening. It’s excellently positioned in Leo right next to Mars. However, it is a comfortable 37 million light years away from Westport so it won’t cause us anything more than neck strain looking through a telescope.

Public nights have been PACKED and we’ve been lucky to have a few good, clear nights in a row. However, some of our volunteers that are scheduled to be on duty haven’t shown up or called to let us know they can’t make their shift. If you can’t make it, please let us know in advance. If you have to reschedule every single time you’re scheduled, please find a time that will work for you and put it in your calendar and make it happen. Or if you have to, tell Bob that because of your prior commitments, you can’t volunteer. Fortunately, many of our amazing members not scheduled have been showing up to help, and thank you to you all.

The NASA CT Grant Consortium has selected our good friends at the Discovery Museum and Planetarium to host Connecticut Space Day and the Westport Astronomical Society will be there! Sunday, April 1, 10am – 4pm–Admission is FREE!

Scheduled Events:

  • Guest Speaker, David Heshion, noted space travel historian and artifact collector
  • 2 live presentations showing the rigors and challenges of living in space
  • Hourly Presentations in the Henry B. duPont III Planetarium
  • Westport Astronomical Society On Site
  • Apollo Moon Rocks on Loan from Johnson Space Flight Center
  • Space-related make-and-take tables staffed by University of Bridgeport engineering students

Weather-Permitting Events:

  • Tethered Balloon Launch (in preparation for summer launch 110,000 feet up!)
  • Large-Scale (5-foot long) model rocket launches
  • Sun scope Observation (Safe way to explore the sun)
  • Observe the Night Sky with large-aperture telescopes (7 p.m.) Orientation in planetarium followed by outdoor use of telescopes)

I’ve updated the Star Parties list for 2012 on our website. Depending on the weather, we’ll take the 25 to Cherry Springs, Stellafane, AOS StarFest and the CT Star Party. And don’t forget about NEAF coming up April 28-29 and Barlow Bob’s incredible NEAF Solar Star Party where they dig out the very best solar telescopes on the planet to look at a very active Sun!

Something else local you may have some interest in attending is a lecture from astrophysicist Kevin Manning. He’s giving a talk at the Weston Middle School on March 30. The story is in the Westport News.

HUGE thanks to long time members Phil Stevens and Robert Lang renewing their memberships and a big thank you to our newest members the Smith Family, Marilyn Richardson as well as Jim McDonald. A very special thank you to Board Member David Ives and his company TVEyes for an incredibly generous donation to help create the pier for our new 16” dome telescope! We can’t thank you enough for your support! We do humbly ask that if it’s time for you to renew your membership, please do so to keep us afloat. WAS is an all volunteer 501(c)3 that is only supported by memberships and donations. It just so happens there’s a handy membership renewal attached to this email! All memberships now come due May 1; please renew today!

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Our Next Meeting is THURSDAY March 22, 8:00pm

Martin Hamar returns for Part 2 of his popular Imaging the Solar System on Pennies talk. It’s a special date of Thursday March 22 at 8:00pm. We’ll be using the free processing software Registax 6 to process images of Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and the Moon. Bring a laptop, download and install Registax and make amazing images of the solar system in minutes!

Dan Wright will catch us up on the latest in The Universe and Cal’s Corner takes a break and returns in April.

We’re continuing with some GREAT speakers this year and I hope a few surprises this Fall/Winter. I’m really excited about our April speaker, Dr. Kerstin Perez. She is currently working on the NuSTAR space telescope that’s scheduled to launch in April. This orbiting X-Ray observatory will look at some of the Universe’s most energetic particles. It’s going to be pretty cool to hear everything first hand from someone so involved in this amazing project.

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Big 2012 Events:

The Annual Messier Marathon: March 23-24

Space Day with the Discovery Museum & Planetarium: April 1

Saturn at Opposition: April 15

Dr. Kerstin Perez – April 17 – Caltech astrophysicist/particle physicist. Currently working on the NuSTAR X-RAY Space Telescope

Lyrids Meteor Shower: April 21-22

Biggest Full Moon of 2012: May 5

David L. Rabinowitz: May 15 – Yale research scientist. ”Searching the sky for exploding stars, black holes and distant planetesimals”

Annular Eclipse of the Sun: May 20 (Visible in Western US)

WAS celebrates International Astronomy Day: May 26

The Transit of Venus: June 5

WAS Annual Picnic and Elections: June 19

Summer Solstice: June 20

Dr. Michael Inglis: July 17

Curiosity lands on Mars: August 6

The Perseid Meteor Shower: August 11

Professor Mark Swanson: August 21

Neptune at Opposition: August 24

Fall Equinox: September 22

Uranus at Opposition: September 29

Mordecai-Mark Mac Low: October 16 – Curator of the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Physics

Orionids Meteor Shower: October 21-22

Total Solar Eclipse: November 13 (Northern Australia & Pacific ocean)

Leonids Meteor Shower: November 17-18

Conjunction of Venus and Saturn: November 27

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse: November 28 (Visible almost everywhere but the East Coast)

The Geminid Meteor Shower: December 13 – 14

Winter Solstice: December 21

The World Not Ending: December 21

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by Cal Powell

Cal’s Astroweb site of the Month is currently on Spring Break and will return with an all over tan in April.

Please send e-mail on your own personal web pages, or astronomy links that you find interesting or noteworthy to me at planetarium.guy@gmail.com.

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by Bob Meadows

Carl Lancaster installed a smaller 60 mm finder on the 25 inch telescope, reducing the weight and the required counterweights. He also put in a smaller battery to reduce the weight. At the March 14 public night, this seemed to eliminate the slippage in azimuth.

The steel plate and steel tube were purchased for construction of the new equatorial pier for the 16 inch telescope. On Sunday, Feb. 19, Bob Meadows delivered them to Mike, who is making the pier. Bob made a North-South marking on the existing telescope pier base, using the sun’s shadow when it was directly south. A vertical ruler was clamped to the top of a tripod, and cardboard was placed on the floor. The point below the ruler was marked using a plumb bob, and the center of the shadow was marked at the proper time. A line connecting the two points was then transferred to the pier base. This is needed for mounting the new steel pier.

Bob Meadows replaced the lock on the warm room door. There were some problems getting it to work properly. He had to move the key cylinder about 1/16 inch to make it align correctly.

There was a star party at the observatory on Feb. 26. There were about 10 members in attendance. We saw Jupiter, Mars, comet Garradd, asteroid 433 Eros, and several galaxies and nebulae.



21 Mike Bellacosa Frank Cirino David Ives *Dan Wright

28 Bob Tobin Nick LaRocca Niles Lathrop *Carl Lancaster


4 Karl Procop Quintin Brantley Evan Tilley

11 Tom Davis K. Moskovitz Adam Yates *Franco Fellah

18 Bob Meadows Bob Blasko Frank Cirino *Dan Wright

25 Mike Bellacosa David Ives Niles Lathrop *Carl Lancaster


2 Bob Meadows Bob Tobin Quintin Brantley

9 Tom Davis Nick LaRocca Evan Tilley *Franco Fellah

16 Bob Blasko Karl Procop K. Moskovitz *Dan Wright

23 Mike Bellacosa Frank Cirino Adam Yates *Carl Lancaster

30 Bob Meadows David Ives Niles Lathrop


Call Bob or make arrangements for someone to cover your shift if you can’t make it. We’re counting on you.