6 May TAAA Meeting

6_May_Lecture1_4570Most Tucson amateur astronomers know what happens on the first Friday of the month – the monthly meeting of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA)! Arguably living in the astronomy capital of the world, we have some pretty good meetings. With the Kitt Peak National Observatory, the Planetary Sciences Institute, Steward Observatory and the Lunar and Planetary Lab all headquartered in central Tucson, we are rarely lacking for world-class lectures about the universe or latest data from spacecraft. We even get great lectures from TAAA members themselves, some of them working at the above institutions!

6_May_Lecture2_4573Last night was the first Friday, so of course, we got together, but our normal lecture hall at Steward Observatory was being used for final exams – it is that time of year! So we arranged to meet across the street at the auditorium of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The location fell into the theme of the evening – celebrating the history of LPL. The traditional Beginner’s Lecture was a showing of the great documentary “Desert Moon”, a 2014 movie by Jason Davis. Using archival footage as well as interviews with early employees, it tells the story of how LPL played a central role in the space race and eventual landing on the Moon. Gerard Kuiper, who founded LPL in 1960 is at center in the right image, and Ewen Whitaker, one of the main interviewees, is at right.

6_May_Lecture3_4576The movie is a testament to Kuiper’s leadership and assembling this team around him, most just barely out of their teens! They played central roles as Kennedy surprised scientists by declaring the Moon as a goal for NASA. Starting with the lunar atlas Kuiper started at Yerkes Observatory, after founding LPL they supported virtually all the lunar missions leading up to the landing. Fortunately, the movie Desert Moon is free for viewing on-line, and at 35 minutes long, is a great watch, even on a computer screen. My favorite scene is the un-narrated final scene when some of the now “old-timers” who played such central roles, put their swagger on and strutted down the University Mall – shown at left!

6_May_Lecture4_4581The main meeting started promptly at 7:30, and after a few announcements and business (Springtime Board Elections!) the main lecture started – given by LPL director Timothy Swindle. He admitted that the first half dozen slides of his normal talk were well covered by “Desert Moon”, so modified his presentation somewhat. He also announced that much of what he presented was covered in a recent book, recently published by UA press – Under Desert Skies by Melissa Sevigny. Reading her book would likely be a great addition to the information gleaned from Dr. Swindle’s presentation.

6_May_Lecture5_4582Dr. Swindle points to the launch of Sputnik in the 50s, and the 6 week period in Spring of ’61 in forming the direction of LPL’s mission to the Moon and beyond.  So the developing space race kept funding levels high and the department focused both on the Moon and a fledgling planetary space program.  After the successes in the Moon landings, UA continued involvement in the Pioneer, Voyager, Cassini and Mars missions.

6_May_Lecture7_4586He told the story of Lujendra Ojha, an undergraduate from Nepal working on a student project with data from HiRISE, under the direction of principle investigator Alfred McEwen, and discovered “streaks” on the inner walls of craters and gorges that follow up spectroscopy showed was briny water – one of the first direct indicators of water on Mars.

6_May_Lecture6_4585He also told the story of Richard Kowalski. One of the primary research works of Steward and LPL consists of searching for Near-Earth Asteroids with the Spacewatch and Catalina Sky Surveys. Kowalski is the ONLY observer to discover objects BEFORE they struck the Earth, one exploding over Sudan, the other striking the Atlantic Ocean. He is shown at right holding a small piece of the asteroid/meteor that landed over Sudan.

6_May_Lecture9_4601He closed out his talk with the latest mission coming out of LPL – the OSIRIS-REx mapping and sample return mission to an asteroid. Facing a launch this September, it arrives at Bennu in 2018, and returning with its precious cargo in 2023. Answering questions for a good long time, it was a great talk and enjoyed by all.

After the meeting’s conclusion, most stayed to interact outside the auditorium over snacks. Another great meeting!  The next one will be the day before the Grand Canyon Star Party starts the first weekend of June!

Mercury Transit Across the Sun

A rather rare event will be happening on Monday May 9 — Mercury will appear to move across the face of the Sun.  For us in Tucson, the transit will already be underway when the Sun rises at 5:32 am.  The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) will have several Solar Telescopes set up at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park starting about 7:30 am.  We’ll be there until at least 10 am, but will hang around as long as there are people interested in viewing the Transit.  The Mercury Transit will end at 11:39 am Tucson time.

Mercury Transits are fairly rare, with only 13 or 14 per Century.  The last Mercury Transit was November 8, 2006 and the next one will be November 11, 2019.  After that, we’ll have to wait until 2032 for the next one.  Mercury Transits only happen within a few days of May 8 or November 10 of any given year.  The reason they don’t happen every year is because Mercury’s orbit is inclined 7 degrees to Earth’s Orbit, so most of the time, Mercury transits just above or below the Sun from our perspective.

Join TAAA at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park on Monday May 9th to view this rare event.

Jim Knoll

 

Astronomy Festival for National Astronomy Day

Join the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) on May 14th, from Noon to 9 pm at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park to celebrate National Astronomy Day.  This will be a fun-filled day and evening for the entire family.  We will have solar telescopes for safe viewing of the Sun and interactive exhibits for everyone during the afternoon.  There will be telescopes for viewing deep sky objects in the evening such as Jupiter, star clusters, galaxies, nebulae, and Mars (late evening).  We will have a door prize drawing at 7 pm for a 50mm telescope (must be present to win) and a Walk Around the Night Sky presentation around 7:30 pm.  The complete schedule is below.

Schedule

Safe Solar Viewing of the Sun                                            Noon – 6:30 pm
Interactive Astronomy Exhibits                                       Noon – 6 pm
Make Pocket Solar Systems & Sun Dials
Make an impact crater
Door Prize Drawing (must be present to win)              7 pm
50 mm Refractor Telescope
Night Sky Viewing                                                                     7:30 – 9 pm
Walk Around the Night Sky Presentation                  7:30 pm
Help with personal Telescope                                           All Day/Evening
Bring your personal telescope to receive
assistance in setup & operation

Jim Knoll