Capitol Skies Fall 1997

Newsletter of the Madison Astronomical Society


In this issue

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Second Annual Space Place

Telescope Fair

Members of the Madison Astronomical Society will participate by showing and describing some of their telescopes, viewing techniques and celestial images.

December 9 7PM

Guest Speaker to be announced.


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More Progress Made On New C-11 Building

The C-11 Building, familiar domed structure on the northeast corner of the Yanna Research Station, is no more.

In its place is rising a new structure. A new foundation has been poured with eight integral posts which form the backbones of the building. The octagonal structure is coming along well, but slowly. The hope is that during the fall picnic of the Madison Astronomical Society to be held at the Yanna Research Station on October 11, many of the final touches will be completed.

The current work is in the final stages. Member, and treasurer, Ray Zit has extensively remodeled the old dome which will top the new building. This work includes a new shutter assembly, structural improvements and a fresh coat of paint. The dome sits, sparkling, on the ground waiting to be put on the new building later this month. The C-11 scope, itself, has received a thorough cleaning by member Tom Hall and is ready to be reinstalled. The original pier and wedge were left in place, intact and untouched, while the new building was built up around them. Everyone is looking forward to the time, very soon now, when the C-11 will be back in service.

Editors Note:

Almost all of the work on the new building has been done by a few persons. We need to especially thank Mark Bauerenfeind and Paul Bloom for their extensive efforts in putting in the new pads and getting the building along as far as it is. We also give extended thanks to Ray Zit for his super effort to get the dome re-furbished.

Now we need an added effort from others who would like to put their names on the list of those who have extended themselves to finish this worthy project. The completion of the new C-11 building will provide a telescope facility which will be of long term use to all members and one for which we can all be proud. See you all at the October 11, picnic.

Dick Greiner and Tim Ellestad

Views of the C-11 Project
Photos by Tim Ellestad

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Observatory Director Mark Bauernfeind puts the finishing touches on one of the foundation holes for the new C-11 building.

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MAS President Bob Manske helps project leader Mark Bauernfeind set the sonotube sections, making ready for the pouring of the concrete post footings.

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MAS treasurer, dome expert, and all-round bon vivant Ray Zit, makes some final adjustments to the newly constructed shutter for the C-11 building.
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By temporarily returning the C-11 telescope to it’s wedge, MAS member Paul Bloom and Observatory Director Mark Bauernfeind are able to establish the proper wall height to accommodate viewing at the lowest useable declination.


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MAS Members hear Dr. Chris Anderson: UW Astronomy Department

Dr. Anderson gave a terrific, enthusiastic and very informative talk about using the WIYN telescope to do Spectroscopy on Hale Bopp to a crowd of MAS members at the September 20 meeting. The ARGUS eyed WIYN telescope turned out to be ideal for investigation of water and several other important constituents of comet Hale Bopp. New information about and understanding of the structure of the comet was revealed by Dr. Anderson. The WIYN telescope is a marvel of engineering and optical precision located on Kitt Peak with a number of other instruments. It’s optical system provides for both a Cassegrain and a Nasmyth focus. It has the ability to intercept the light from 100 stars at a time and take high dispersion spectra of them simultaneously. Because of its ability to take so many spectra at one time, it could be used to map a large portion of the comet from the nucleus out to the very edge and thus get distributions of water and their molecules which give clues to the physical structure and sources of these gasses from within the comet.

Dr. Anderson’s enthusiasm for his research was apparent and infectious. He is now working with colleagues in the UW Astronomy Department and at other campuses to analyze the mountain of data that was collected this past spring.

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Observatory Notebook

Mark Baurenfeind

There are many new things to report this issue. Facility upgrades at the Yanna Research Station (YRS) have moved right along. There are two new pads on which to set up telescopes, the air-conditioning has been in most of the summer and has kept the building dry and comfortable. Several technical additions have been made to the 12" telescope in the "Doc G’ observatory.

And, most important of all, the C-11 project is moving forward, even though somewhat more slowly than hoped. Ray Zit has totally refurbished the dome, installed a new shutter, weatherproofed it and given it a glistening new coat of paint. It is ready to go back on the building which is rapidly rising from the ground. The designated completion date for the building, October 11, will not be met largely because there have been some unanticipated delays. The weather has not been perfect and a most telling problem has been a shortage of persons to help, largely because of problems with coordinating the times when persons can get together. The good news is that the final cost will be well within the budget, including the two new pads.

FALL CLEANUP and COMPLETION of the C-11 BUILDING. As part of the October 11 fall picnic we will have a fall clean-up of the YRS property and detail work on the C-11 building. We have scheduled a dumpster which we will fill with all of the debris from the C-11 project and other stuff that we want to get rid of. The shrubs will be trimmed and the weeds cut back. So come one come all for a tiny, little bit of work and lots of fun visiting with other members and eating the brats provided by the MAS. Your hands to help and your enthusiasm for the improved Yanna Site are needed.

Plans for future improvements at YRS are on the Observatory committee agenda. The fascia/soffit area of the Club House needs to be cleaned and painted. This project is now the highest priority since it is vital to keep the building in good shape for the future. Both front and rear doors need painting this fall to preserve them from the winter to come.

The Saturn sign/logo will be removed and refurbished to its original glory and replaced in the spring. Additional dirt fill and leveling of some parts of the site are needed as is new gravel on the parking lot. These projects will await new energy and time for completion in the spring as well.

Special thanks to all who have helped. Honors and awards will be handed out at the fall picnic/work day.

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Jupiter: Present, Past, and Future  by Wynn Wacker

Jupiter blazes forth in the early evening sky this autumn, an inviting target for amateur telescopes. This apparition marks the end of the season of "mutual phenomena" of the Galilean satellites. Roughly every six years, Earth passes through the plane of the Jovan system so that we see the satellite orbits edge-on. Its then possible for the satellites to occult or eclipse each other. A table at the end of this article containing data prepared by Jean-Eudes Arlot of the Bureau des Longitudes shows the October events which may be observable here in Madison. Web-crawlers can find the full listing at Watch for the different albedos of the satellites and try using different color filters to bring out the color differences between moons.

On the disk of Jupiter, the famous long-lived white South Temperate Ovals BC and DE came into conjunction with the Great Red Spot in mid-August, bracketing the spot between them. There have been quite a number of secondary white ovals in nearby latitudes. To the north, there has been a outbreak of darkish hues, that tend to elongate in an east-west direction over time, forming markings which may appear like a Morse-code dash. They usually occur in sets and cyclonic areas where the upper clouds clear away allowing a view deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere. There have also been an abundance of the dark projections from the south edge of the North Equatorial Belt into the Equatorial Zone. Often bluish in color, these have received attention lately because the Galileo probe fell into the base of one of them. It turned out to be a "desert" area, where down-welling air from the upper atmosphere clears away the cloud, removing water in the process. The resulting atmospheric composition readings confused the scientists until they figured out what happened.

Thanks to the Galileo probe, we now know that the atmospheric currents we see in Jupiter’s cloud patterns extend much deeper beneath the clouds than previously believed. The structure of Jupiter far below the clouds has just been cast into some doubt by theoretical calculations by Cornell scientists N. Ashcroft and B. Edwards. Much of the deep interior of Jupiter is believed to be composed of metallic hydrogen - hydrogen so compressed that the electrons form a mobile fluid typical of metals. It’s metallic hydrogen which is thought to be responsible for Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field (and resulting strong radiation belts, which have delayed the Galileo spacecraft’s return to Io ‘til the end of the mission). Ashcroft and Edward’s theoretical calculations show that solid hydrogen is more resistant to being crushed to the metallic state than previously thought. This is in accord with the limited experimental evidence currently available. No word yet on the effect on models of Jupiter’s interior.

Since the end of the world is once again nigh (this October 23rd for some fans of Archbishop Usher), is seems an appropriate time to ponder the deeper significance of the Jovian system. The history of Jupiter and its satellites in many ways mirrors the development of science itself. Galileo Galilei peering though his first crude telescope found in the dance of the Jovian moons a working model of the Copernican solar system and started (literally) the revolution of science. Eclipses of the moons, visible simultaneously from the night side of the Earth, helped early surveyors find the longitude and map the New World. And changes in the timing of those eclipses as Jupiter and Earth pursued their paths around the Sun led to the first accurate value for the speed of light, the constancy of which pointed Einstein to the second great revolution of science with his theory of relativity.

Through the course of the twentieth century, the Laplacian dream of perfect prediction by the application of Newton’s laws has yielded, bit by bit, to the limitations of human perception. First in the physical scale of the very large and very small, with Einstein’s theories and Heisenberg’s quantum uncertainty, and now on human scales with the delicate imbalance of chaos theory. There may be no Jovian butterflies, but several centuries of observing the swirling clouds of Jupiter’s atmosphere have yielded more questions than answers.

Still, the chaotic breaking of the fetters of certainty may lead by chance to that most non-equilibrium of thermodynamic systems, Life. Once believed to exist as the rarest of films on one or a mere handful of worlds, the chemical building blocks of living systems have been known to exist in abundance in the cosmos. And terrestrial living organisms have been found in environments once thought impossibly hostile, from the freezing waters of Antarctic lakes to the steaming geological depths of the Earth. There is as yet no solid proof of life beyond the terrestrial sphere. The famous Martian meteorite contains intriguing hints of ancient organisms, but in only one of the notable instances of prescience by Arthur C. Clark, the sine qua non of life as we know, liquid water, has been found as yet only one other place in the universe - the second Galilean satellite, Europa.

It is within the range of the possible that human beings may one day mount an expedition to explore the hidden ocean of Europa. But to more than scratch the surface of the atmospheric ocean of Jupiter itself is beyond conceivable capacities of human form. For that we may require creatures from the imagination of another writer of science fiction, Isaac Asimov’s robots. Perhaps in some distant future, mankind will watch in virtual simulacrum as our silicon children search the fathomless depths of this giant of worlds.

But chaos destroys as well as creates. Through the recorded history of man, emblems of the apocalypse have haunted the imagination. The ritual year ends with the destruction of the world and begins with its recreation. For the ancient Celts, this occurred at Samhain, our Halloween, when the fires were extinguished and the bounds between past, present, and future broke down allowing the spirits of the dead to invade the world of the living. Always, there is the fear that the recreation will not occur...that all human life will die. In the years of the bubonic plague in Europe, this fear was iconized as the Dance of Death. In my childhood, the cold war replaced this with the image of the mushroom cloud. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, the threat of nuclear apocalypse receded. Just in time, nature stepped forward to provide us with a new image. Once thought empty, the vacuum of solar system space is now known to be cluttered with the debris of creation. Worlds in collision, once the topic of scientific ridicule, are believed to have formed Earth’s moon. Cosmic collision sent the Martian meteorite with evidence of life to Earth and such a collision may one day end life on Earth. In images of the giant thermal plumes and dark spots of Shoemaker-Levy 9's collision with Jupiter, a new vision of the apocalypse was born.

William Blake speaks of seeing the world in a grain of sand. The history of science can be seen in the field of your binoculars or telescope if you turn them to Jupiter. And if the world doesn’t come to an end this year, cheer up. There’s always the millennium...two or three years from now.


For those who are diligent observers here is a table of events.

Year M D
H M S 
1997 10 1 1 OCC 2 P   0 29 2 0 30 59 0 32 35  
1997 10 3 1 ECL 3 A 1 22 39 1 24 32 1 26 24 1 28 18 1 30 12
1997 10 5 3 OCC 1 P   23 24 51 23 27 7 23 29 23  
1997 10 6 3 ECL 1 2 3 44   2 6 56   2 10 9
1997 10 7 3 ECL 2 2 23 23   2 26 40   2 29 59
1997 10 8 1 OCC 2 P   2 50 39 2 52 25 2 54 10  
1997 10 9 4 OCC 3 P   1 16 7 1 21 7 1 26 8  
1997 10 10 1 OCC 3 P   1 23 59 1 25 38 1 27 16  
1997 10 13 3 OCC 1 P   2 2 16 2 4 35 2 6 54  
1997 10 14 3 OCC 2 P   1 36 36 1 42 19 1 48 0  
1997 10 14 3 OCC 4 P   23 47 37 23 56 46 0 5 59  
1997 10 15 1 OCC 4 P   23 54 36 23 57 19 0 0 4  
1997 10 17 1 OCC 4 P   2 0 10 2 3 58 2 7 44  
1997 10 30 2 OCC 3 P   23 51 37 23 54 19 23 57 1  
1997 11 1 1 OCC 2 P   23 4 1 23 5 17 23 6 33  


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Sandhills and Stars:

The 4th Nebraska Star Party

By Tom Brissette

From August 2nd to the 9th, I attended the 4th Nebraska Star Party (NSP). When I first heard about the NSP, I didn't pay much attention to it. After checking out the web site set up for it (, I quickly decided I had to go. Located in one of the darkest areas of the US, under ideal conditions the naked-eye limiting magnitude is 7.5. So with visions of an inky-black sky dense with stars, I stuffed my car with camping gear and my 8" Dob, and set out for Nebraska.

Located in the heart of the sandhill region of north-central Nebraska, on the shore of a man-made lake, the scenery was definitely pretty, in a stark kind of way (Buzz Aldrin's "magnificent desolation" comment when he first saw the lunar landscape came to mind). The sandhills are a vast region of sand dunes covered with a unique type of prairie; it is actually the third largest dune field in the world. Imagine the Sahara desert covered with grass. The north shore of the lake, Merritt Reservoir, was quite spectacular, with a very tall wall of eroded dunes, glistening white under the sun.

About 330 people attended the party. Most stayed in the primitive-style campground, with others staying in cabins at the north end of the lake, or at motels in the town of Valentine, about 30 miles to the north. During good nights at least 120 telescopes were set up, hoping to suck up starlight under ideal skies. Unfortunately, conditions were not ideal for the whole week.

In fact, the only perfect night was on Friday the 1st, before the official start, when only a few earlybirds were there. One who was there was Tom Miller with his 30" f/4 Dob. It was a night of perfect transparency AND near-perfect seeing. People told me later that they looked at Jupiter with Tom's scope; Io was in transit, and not only could they see the moon as a disk against the planet, they could see it was a mottled orange-brown color. Features on Io! Arrrrgh! And I was in a motel in Sioux City, Iowa during that night.

Such sights did not await me when I arrived at the star party. The first day was sunny and very hot (high in the '90s) followed by a thunderstorm in the evening. I could tell trouble was brewing when I saw a huge supercell form along the northern horizon. We didn't get anything severe at the site, but I waited out the storm in my car nervously watching my tent anyway. It actually held up just fine. The sky started to clear out in the north around midnight, but I was too tired to stay up any later. It turned out that the sky cleared out a lot more around 3 a.m.

Sunday was again hot, but there weren't any storms. However, it did turn partly cloudy at night, with lots of high clouds. It was mostly clear in the north, though, so I looked at a few things with my scope while listening to Lori May of South Dakota give a talk about the constellations that was broadcast by the local (and only) radio station.

On Monday I went to Smith Falls State Park just east of Valentine; it's the site of Nebraska's tallest waterfall (yes, there are waterfalls in Nebraska, many of them on feeder streams to the Niobrara river). The early evening was highlighted by an ice cream social, and the night, which was completely cloudy, by the Great Photon War. Someone flew a kite with a light stick attached and the appearance of this "UFO" caused two people to try to "shoot" it down by shining flashlights ("phasers") and strobe lights ("photon torpedoes") through the eyepiece end of their large Dobs, producing large light beams. Several "hits" were made on the intruder. After that a large group of us sat in a large circle and chatted away for hours.

Tuesday had me taking a rather long day trip to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. I underestimated the time it would take to get there, and wound up with a 3-hour trip both to the park and back. The night was also cloudy, but apparently it cleared out around midnight; I, of course, was again already asleep.

Wednesday night was finally mostly clear, but there was some haze in the air; the sky didn't look that perfect. Still, it was much better than the best nights down at YRS; I could see all of Ursa Major, right down to the feet, which were on the horizon. There was a new problem however: dew. It was so dewy that it seemed like it was raining. I wound up spending most of my time that night up on the closed off paved area where a lot of the Dobs were set up. Many people that night packed up early.

On Thursday over 100 of us went on a canoe and tube (large canvas-covered inner tubes) trip down a short section of the Niobrara river. This is a very shallow (no more than 3 feet deep) and very slow river that runs through a small gorge, perfect for a leisurely scenic ride. I floated down on a tube; the trip was the biggest highlight of the week. That night it was again clear,with much less haze, but with an even worse problem: a 15-20 mph south wind with higher gusts that stayed with us through Saturday. By now a 36" f/5 Dob had appeared at the observing site, but none of the big Dobs were used very much, because they blew around if they were turned broadside to the wind, and even into it. Even my 8" was shaken enough that the use of higher powers was prevented, eliminating much of the objects I wanted to see. Binocular observing became very popular; by midnight most people had packed up for the night, even though it was clear; the wind was that bad.

Friday was the day for programs and speakers at the high school. I actually skipped most of them and went instead to the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge, with its small herds of buffalo and Texas longhorns. There's an auto tour through the refuge, and I had several "close encounters" (but not too close, heh heh ). In particular, at one point two older buffalo calves and what I assumed was their mother stood on the road. The calves moved off, but the mother stayed where she was, and it appeared that she was staring at my car.  I decided it would be wise to back up and take a route around her.

Friday night was again very windy, also hazy and/or partly-mostly cloudy; I forget exactly, though I didn't do any observing that night. People already had started to leave by then. By Saturday morning most had gone; the campground was almost deserted, even though it was sunny again (but still very windy, now from the north). It seemed like it would be a great night, but the weather report had an upper-level low moving in, bringing rain. One could see the leading edge of the clouds to the northwest. So I decided to leave to, departing around 4:00 p.m.. I wound up spending another week on my trip, heading to the Black Hills, Devils Tower and Badlands National Park. Despite the poor weather (an NSP regular told me this was the worse weather they had at the party) I had a fun time. This is a great star party, well worth going to. Definitely try to attend the next one.

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Unusual telescopes are often seen at star parties. This one is no exception. It is a 12" Porta Ball Among the larger telescopes at the Nebraska Star Party is the Dobsonian belonging to Tom Miller. 30" mirror


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A message from the  President

Bob Manske

It's an exciting, busy time in space. Pathfinder is on the surface of Mars, Mars Global Sojourner is in orbit around the planet, and the Galileo spacecraft is busy investigating Jupiter. I've been passing along press releases at the meetings to keep you up to date on the progress of these missions, and will do so as well with the Cassini project, which is due to launch in October.

It's an exciting, busy time in Madison also. Mark Bauernfeind has been leading the building project for the 11 inch telescope at our observatory. We were planning first light festivities to be held at the Yanna Research Station on Saturday, Oct 11. It looks like the first light ceremony will be slightly delayed because some final work needs to be done on the building and the dome put in place before the C-11 can be re-mounted. We will announce details about the activities at the next regular monthly meeting on October 10. Make plans to come out and help put the finishing touches on the project and celebrate with us as it nears completion.

It's fun to do amateur astronomy, especially in a club setting where you can interact with other people who share the interest and the passion. But our club also has a business side to it. We own and manage an observatory, we maintain insurance policies to protect our assets, we produce this newsletter, we support a number of other projects, all of which enrich our activities. The next two monthly meetings, those in October and November, will be the budget and projects planning meetings for 1998. This year's meetings will be especially crucial. Two years ago we changed the way we forecast our income, which is derived solely from membership dues. We decided not to continue the practice of guessing how many people were going to renew and how many new members were going to come in. Accordingly, we determined that all memberships would come due in September and that we would budget only on what we had in hand. This practice doesn't stop people from allowing their memberships to expire for two, or three, or even six months before renewing, that tradition has, unfortunately, continued unabated. We simply don't count on those renewals any more at budget time. As a result, we are facing a possible cash flow shortfall and a possible dues increase, our first in about six years and only our second in about twelve years.

This dues increase could vanish if the renewals come in between now and the meeting on October 10th.

Here's how the budget process works.

Ray Zit, MAS Treasurer, and I will meet on Sept. 30th to prepare a budget proposal for the Board of Directors. That proposal will be mailed to them for their review. If necessary, a second mailing will be made to the Board just before the Oct. 10th meeting. There will be a Board of Directors meeting beginning promptly at 7:00 PM on Oct 10th, just before the regular meeting. All members are invited to attend. The Board will formally approve a recommended budget for presentation to the general membership. The budget will then be presented to the membership that evening for consideration. You will be able to amend amounts, delete items entirely, or add new ones. The matter will then be tabled until November so everyone has a month to reflect on it. The final budget will be passed at the Nov.14th meeting.

In addition to the possible dues increase, we have at least one other major item for you to consider. The building which houses the 16 inch telescope no longer adequately protects the instrument from the weather. The building is old and no longer repairable. The club will need to allocate funds to replace the building, if we can afford it, and if we have the workforce available to commit to the project.

The workforce within the MAS has decreased considerably in recent years. We are not alone in this, other clubs also report that they are having difficulty getting volunteers for work projects. Family, and especially work related issues, are taking ever larger chunks of everyone’s time. During the next two meetings we will discuss and determine the future of the 16" building and the telescope itself. If we do not have the funds or manpower to replace the building, we will lose the scope as well. We need both.

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