Newsletter of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club
Issue #38: September 14th, 2009


About Quid Novi

Past Issues

DFAC Events

Next Meeting

Last Meeting

State of DFAC

Quote of the Month

Space Debris

Contact the Editor: Dan Heim, phone: 623.465.7307 or email:


DFAC Events for 2009-2010:
Date   Time   Event   Location
Jun 20   6:00 pm - 9:00 pm   June DFAC Social   The Renn Hacienda.
All food and drink will be provided by our gracious host.
Please RSVP by June 17th.
Jul 18   1 pm - ?   July DFAC Social   The Walker Ranch.
All food and drink will be provided by our gracious host, not to mention a sci-fi double feature!
Please RSVP by July 11th.
Aug 22   6:00 pm - 10:00 pm   August DFAC Social   Heimhenge in New River
All food and drink will be provided by our gracious host.
Dan will premiere a new billiards game of his own design: Asteroids. No limit on the number of players.
Bring your cue, or use one of several available in the Heimhenge Game Room.
He'll also have his 5" Takashi set up for views of Saturn, Mercury, and the Crescent Moon,
all of which will be aligned low in the west, elevated 12 at sunset (7 pm).
Be there before 7 pm to catch your view of this celestial trio.
Please RSVP by August 15th.
Sep 9   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #1
Speaker: Dan Heim, DFAC
Topic: Light Pollution Update
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Note that our meetings will now be held on the second Wednesday of the month.
Sep 19   6:00 pm - ?   DFAC Members Only Observing Session   Heimhenge in New River.
Setup 5:30 - 6:30 pm, sunset at 6:30 pm, moonset at 6:45 pm
NWS is predicting clear skies through the weekend!
Oct 14   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #2
Speaker: Roger Serrato, DFAC
Topic: Amateur Astronomy 101 - Tips and Tricks for Beginners
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
Nov ?   6:30 pm - 8:30 pm   DFAC Lecture Meeting #3
Speaker: Tom Polakis
Topic: Lunar and Planetary Imaging
  North Valley Regional Library, 40410 North Gavilan Peak Parkway, Anthem, AZ 85086
The second Wednesday of this month is Veterans Day. NVRL will be closed. We are still waiting for confirmation from Tom regarding a change to some new date.
Dec 5   TBA   Holiday Social   The Renn Hacienda.
This will probably be a potluck.
Other info to be provided later.

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Next Meeting: Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Our speaker will be DFAC Treasurer Roger Serrato, who will present his annual "Astronomy 101" lecture. Although this lecture is aimed at attracting new members who have scopes but don't know how to use them, are thinking about getting a scope for someone as a Christmas gift, or are just interested in getting into astronomy, there's always good tips and advice even for seasoned observers. In this hobby, you can never stop learning. We hope to see you all there.

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Last Meeting: Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
Our last meeting was the annual Light Pollution Update, by President Dan Heim. Several glitches resulted in less promotion than intended. The turnout was dismal ... 4 members plus the speaker. We have committed to starting each lecture season with this Light Pollution Update, and I understand that it's "preaching to the choir" for most of you. Still, there was some new material, and plenty of time to adjourn to Legends afterward. Selected images follow ...

Dan opened the lecture season as always, with a smack of the Galactic Gavel.

The graph above was some of that new material. If you study it, it speaks for itself. The exponential growth rate is 0.6%. Artificial sky-glow exceeded natural sky-glow around 1998. Bottom line for the present is that we are unlikely to be able to stop the increase in light pollution (people keep making more people), but we can certainly slow its advance. And maybe ... just maybe ... some combination of new lighting engineering and public empathy will actually forge a solution. We'll never know unless we try. And that's one of the reasons DFAC exists.

It was here that Dan announced his nomination to serve as a "stakeholder" for amateur astronomers on a MAG (Maricopa Association of Governments) committee charged with drafting a consistent and effective lighting ordinance that would apply County-wide. You can read more, or already have, in the Sate of DFAC section (following) of this newsletter.

The illustrious "members in attendance" were (left to right) VP Jim Renn, George Kantarges, Ron Walker, and Bob Doerzbacher. With the small turnout, we finished early and adjourned to Legends SB&G for one round of fine ale and less-official talk. Just one round ... really.

That said, our last "unofficial" meeting was the August DFAC Summer Social at Heimhenge in New River, hosted by Dan and Sandi. This year we decided to expand our summer activities to include 3 social events. The first, in June, was hosted by VP Jim Renn and his wife Jean. The second was our traditional July event at Walker Ranch in Cave Creek, , hosted by Ron and Julie, with a double feature in his newly revamped (full screen, HD, Blu-ray) home theater: both the original and the remake of sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Our plans for the Heimhenge Social were partially thwarted by the (one day) late delivery of the custom set of snooker balls needed to play Asteroids Snooker. This is a new game invented by Dan, and still under development. The game uses un-numbered balls, like traditional snooker: 13 black (representing asteroids), 1 yellow (the Sun), and 1 blue (Earth). Game play is more positional and geometric, like traditional snooker, but with rules that would appeal to any fan of astronomy. The rules are still being tweaked, but you can see the most current version here.

So without the diversion of Asteroids Snooker, we ended up simply chatting about astronomical and other topics, dining on excellent snacks and soups provided by Sandi (cooking is her hobby), and watching some science animations (Dan's new business venture) on their home theater. The screen is about a third the size of Ron Walker's behemoth, and it is HD, but not yet Blu-ray ready. There were about a dozen DFAC members and spouses present, and we ran from 6ish to nearly 10 pm. Of course, a good time was had by all.

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State of DFAC: By Dan Heim, President
Item 1: I got a call last Wednesday from Marc Buckhout, editor of the Foothills Focus. He had seen the poster advertising our September meeting, and wanted to interview me about DFAC and what we do. The interview lasted almost an hour, and I emailed him some photos from a couple DFAC events. The September 16th issue of the paper will feature an article about DFAC, with photos. Watch for it. This is some great free publicity for our club. But wait ... there's more. I took that opportunity to ask about the possibility of reviving my weekly Sky Lights column, either online (Foothills Focus now has a website), in print, or both. Negotiations are currently underway. Wish me luck, as this is yet another venue for getting out the word on light pollution.

Item 2: MAG (the Maricopa Association of Governments) is in the process of developing a comprehensive light pollution policy that would apply throughout the County. Of course, both the ARS and Maricopa County Zoning Ordinance address these issues (to a limited extent), but beyond that, there exists an inconsistent mix of other policies for individual cities and towns within the County. They are working with the IDA on this, but are also seeking a "citizen panel" to provide additional input. The Glendale MAG rep contacted Jimmy Ray of SAC for the name of an amateur astronomer who could work on this committee. He suggested me, since I had spoken to SAC last year on the topic of light pollution. I am still awaiting confirmation, but have been told my chances look good. This is exactly the kind of opportunity I've been seeking to have some real impact on preserving our night sky. Wish me luck here too, as this is one of the reasons we founded DFAC.

This just in: I have indeed, as of today, been selected by MAG to represent the amateur astronomy community. As they used to say on the A-Team ... "I love it when a plan falls together."

Item 3: After consultation with the members, email feedback, and some final input at the Summer Social, we have decided to change our meeting day to "second Wednesday of the month." The primary motivation for the change was to avoid conflicts with other events, which seem to be preferentially scheduled near the beginning or end of the month. Our meeting location remains the same: North Valley Regional Library in Anthem, Classroom #1 or Classroom #2 (room yet to be determined). Meeting times remain the same. However ...

Item 4: At our September meeting we discussed meeting days once again. The consensus of all present was that the first Wednesday of the month would also work, and would eliminate a schedule conflict that will allow member Jay Chatzkel to attend. Our new meeting schedule (first Wednesday of the month) starts in 2010. If this creates a conflict with any other members' schedules, now is the time to let us know. Lacking any objections, the new meeting date will go ahead as planned.

Item 5: Meeting earlier in the month brings up an interesting possibility. A December Lecture would now be possible without getting too close to the holidays. After some discussion by members present at the September meeting, we decided to forego a December Lecture, and instead hold a Holiday Social. VP Jim Renn has graciously volunteered his place in Anthem as the site for this event. Details will be provided as soon as Jim and Jean decide on a plan.

Item 7: DFAC member Peggy Biegler has inquired about a possible observing session at Agua Fria National Monument, 40 miles north off I-17 at Badger Springs exit. Oct 17 or Nov 14 (both Saturdays). This would be in conjunction with an archeological society meeting at the Monument. Sunset on those dates is around 5:30 pm. Both dates also coincide with a New Moon, so this will be a really dark sky. Observing would run from 6-9 pm. If you are interested in volunteering for this event, please let me know before the end of this week.

Item 7: The September 19th DFAC members only observing session at Heimhenge has sufficient interest. All systems are go. Attending (so far) are Dan Heim, Jim Renn, Ron Walker, Roger Serrato, and Scott Loucks. The NWS predicts clear skies through the weekend. No RSVPs needed. Come if you can, and enjoy the (still reasonably) dark sky in New River.

Item 8: At some point your your life, you will play a game of Asteroids Snooker. The game was invented by Dan Heim, scheduled for play at the August DFAC Social, but the balls arrived one day late.

Dues are Due: This is yet another reminder that your DFAC dues are due. You can send your check to Roger Serrato at: PO Box 71458, Phoenix, AZ 85050. Or you can save a stamp a bring it to our next meeting. You do not need to fill out the Membership Application Form unless your contact information has changed. If you need one, get it here. Our dues for this season remain at $25 (with electronic delivery of Quid Novi) and $30 (with postal delivery). For those members we seldom see, but who keep renewing nonetheless, we thank you for your continued support. DFAC fights light pollution in the North Valley on behalf of all sky lovers.

Thanks for reading Quid Novi. If you have feedback, you know where to reach me. Until next we meet, clear skies!

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Quote of the Month:
"From now on, we live in a world where Man has walked on the Moon. It wasn't a miracle, we just decided to go."

— Jim Lovell, Apollo 13

[Ed: This quote seemed appropriate after just celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing.]

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Space Debris: The Worst Astrophoto Ever
I don't know how many of you subscribe to the AZ-Observing forum (and list server), but you could if you clicked on this link: http://www.freelists.org/archive/az-observing.

And you really should subscribe. It costs nothing, and is a source of great discussion and late-breaking news. On Saturday September 12th, around 6 pm, a notice was emailed to all subscribers alerting them to the launch of a weather balloon. It was already visible to the naked eye, about 30 up in the east (as seen from New River). Through my 10x80 binocs it was a magnificent! Huge, well-defined tear-drop shape, lit up like a Christmas tree ornament, with details visible (including the bright pinpoint payload and, I swear, the line the payload was hanging from). And it was bright. I estimated magnitude -5, a value confirmed by others later. Brightest thing in the sky. There were clouds drifting around, so I didn't bother to set up my Takahashi for a photo, but I wish I would have. Instead, I quickly slapped a 200 mm telephoto onto my Canon EOS-20D, and got the image below. Yeah, I know it sucks, but it does at least capture how bright this thing was.

Turns out this was no ordinary weather balloon. This thing carried a scientific payload, and was up around 120,000 feet, which explains why it was still visible at 11 pm ... that's high enough to still be catching sunlight even 4-5 hours after sunset. I hear it came down near I-10 somewhere west of Phoenix. You can read more about the scientific payload, and see some photos, here: http://laspace.lsu.edu/hasp/.

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