The Meteor
The Newsletter of the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt
  April 2012

Editor's Notes

April is when amateur astronomy really comes alive, as the nights lose their chill. As you'll see in the calendar, this month is also the "host" of the springtime Astronomy Day, at which we can bring the fun of astronomy to our neighbors. Consider spending a few hours with friends & neighbors, spreading our hobby to others!

Elected officers for 2011-2012

Email Address
Martha Gay AT
Ray Stevens
stvns.jacht AT
Cleton Henry
Cleton.Henry AT
Sue Bassett
wb3enm AT

Astronomical Events Around Greenbelt in April 2012

Sidewalk Astronomy at the Roosevelt Center
Planetarium Show at the Owens
Star Party at Northway Field
(NCA Event: Exploring the Sky at Rock Creek Park)
General Meeting at the Owens
Astronomy Day!
Star Party at Northway Field
Sidewalk Astronomy at the Roosevelt Center

For other astronomical events in the DC area, see: Astronomy in DC

Star Party & Business Meeting Reports

March 3, 4, & 5: Unable to make events due to prior commitments.

March 17: As your editor was unwilling to act as a carrier of his wife's cold, he is posting Doug's report:

We had a wonderful night. Lots of folks came by. Kevin and Bruce and someone else were out with portable scopes. We kept going from Jupiter, Venus, M43 and Mars.

Two things to note:
The Iris I planted behind Tom's bench last year are growing. They're 4" tall, and
will be 3' tall when the 5' bloom stalks come up in a month or 2.

Cleton and I shut down. Before we did, we aimed the scope at the north pole to figure out how far off we are. We found the mount pointed straight north, but the wedge is 1/4 degree low. We'll adjust it next time with a crowbar. We may do it this week when no visitors are out.

I need to take down the Diversity sign and remount it with plastic instead of glass.

March 23: The Family Science Night at the Owens was a lot of fun for all involved. We had families from all across the county at the Owens experiencing the pleasures of hands-on science & several planetarium shows.

March 29: Our speaker was Dr. Keith T. Strong, formerly of NASA & Lockheed. He talked about the Sun's role in global warming. He'd been asked to come up with a brief presentation earlier on the possibility that solar activity is at the root of global warming, & presented a form of that briefing to us.

He pointed out that climate change is a more general term-his work here was just on global warming, & noted that heliophysicists & climatologists study different things, so they often talk past one another.


The Sun sends us 3 forms of energy-light, particles with their kinetic energy, & magnetic fields caused by moving ions. The solar wind-the particles & ions-comes in 2 speeds:

¤ slow: 300-400 km/s, 1 million kelvin, like corona in composition

¤ high: 600-750 km/s, cooler, like photosphere in composition

The solar wind's density is low-around a millionth of a kg per second, amounting to 500 watts in knetic energy, so that's negligible.

Light is the real power source: 174 petawatts, 70% absorbed by air, land, & sea.

How variable is the Sun?  Flares & CMEs, Sunspots, Rotation, magnetic cycle-May be other cycles-in the end stellar evolution to red giant. Dr. Strong brought up the Maunder minimum, which ocurred at the same time as the Little Ice Age (LIA). Another low point in 1800 took place when bitter cold winters, the "Dickensian winters", were freezing people in London.

Dr. Strong also showed us a graph that claimed a link of sunspot cycle length to temperature anomaly, & one that claimed that the Sun was just generally getting brighter.

He also brought up another possible mechanism:  Galactic cosmic rays (GCR) getting into our solar system & affecting how clouds are formed here as the Sun's magnetic field fluctuates.

But-Dr. Strong asked-are the correlations real? Does the physics work? Are the changes on the Sun sufficient to cause observed change?

How does earth's eccentricty change the energy we get from the Sun? There is a 6.6% decrease from Jan. to July, but the real driver is the seasons: The change from winter to summer is a 50% increase, so a 44% change in solar input for leads to about 48 degrees of warming or cooling every year. The hypothesis that global warming comes from solar activity doesn't hold up once we look at that.

Other causes for LIA-volcanic activity & Gulf Current change, reforestation after the Black Death changed CO2 content of the atmosphere & cooled Europe.

Does SS cycle change irradiance? Not proven-the points look cooked, & besides, thetrend that the people who put it together were trying to demonstrate graph falls apart in the 1990's.

Irradiance trend is not enough-new data show even less effect, also, there's the inevitable difficulty in trying to normalize different instruments.

The GCR hypothesis also is weak. The flux of cosmic rays hasn't changed, & the Chernobyl accident also shows model of how clouds form doesn't work; besides later research showed that the part of the atmosphee where GCRs are absorbed isn't the same one that forms clouds.

Furthermore, the solar model predicts summer warming-it's really winter, most warming at day (really night), most warming in the torrid zone (really polar), & the upper atmosphere warming up the most (that's not happening either).

So the model doesn't fit what's really happening.

We can see more at his YouTube channel: drkstrong

Sue, Ray, Doug, George, Russ, Alan, Ivan, Martha, Elizabeth, & Craig received certificates & pins of appreciation from JPL's Night Sky Network.

March 31 & April 1: Both evenings were clouded out. However, Doug & Mike worked on the telescope's remote control, per Doug's report: 

Mike Chesnes came over today, and we did a connectivity test of the new controls. We found some loose wires and repaired them. I opened up the observatory and plugged in the new control. Right Ascension worked perfectly, but Dec did not. While playing with the manual crank, I noticed the Dec motor was unplugged! I plugged it in, and the remote controls worked perfectly.

A 'Titan'-ic Chance to Reach Out

At 7 PM on April 3, the Goddard Visitors' Center will host "Titan in History and Popular Culture". This lecture will cover how Titan has featured in science fiction & space art for over half a century, including the famous picture of Saturn seen through Titan's atmosphere by Chesley Bonestell. After the lecture, weather permitting, there will be an opportunity for the public to head out onto the grounds of the visitors' center & for some views of the night sky. We have been invited by the Goddard Astronomy Club, our nearest neighbor, to come & help out. This would be a great opportunity to make our presence felt in the area.

Astronomy Night on the National Mall

In addition to our own regular star party at the observatory on April 28, there's also Astronomy Night on the National Mall . April 29 will be the fallback for this event if weather prevents viewing on April 28. People who are interested should gather at the Washington Monument grounds, Northeast Quadrant, at 15th Street & Constitution Avenue, between the White House & the Washington Monument. Sunset will be at 7:58 pm & there will be a 1st quarter Moon. Saturn, Mars, & Venus will also be visible that night. This is the weekend of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, & Astronomy Night on the National Mall will be a USASEF event.

The City Dark at May's Meal & Reel

Come out to the New Deal Cafe at 7 PM on May 21 for a screening of the great film on light pollution, "The City Dark"!

Good News on Light Pollution

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona saved the billion-dollar astronomical industry of her state by vetoing a bill that would have allowed digital billboards! This is something which MD should look into as well.

Mason-Dixon Star Party

A few years ago, Elizabeth & I went out to the Mason Dixon Star party in PA & had a great time. In fact, the AstroScan she currently uses was her prize in a raffle there. The York County Astronomical Society is planning to hold the star party again this July. Please see their website for more information!

More Moon, Jupiter, Venus Conjunctions, and the ATREX Launches

by G.W.Gliba

One the evening of March 25th there was another spectacular conjunction of Jupiter and the Moon. The moon was about three degrees from Jupiter, which was similar to with Venus last month, except the location of the planets and Moon were switched from a month ago. The next night, on March 26th, the Moon and Venus were closest allowing several members of the ASG & GAC to see Venus in the daytime. Although it was easier to see near the end of the day than earlier, GAC members Kevin Hartnett, Cornelis DuToit, Steve Bilanow, Joe Novotka, Armen Caroglanian, and Peter Chen saw it with the naked-eye. However, Jeff Guerber said he needed binoculars to see Venus in the late afternoon. Later, at around 8:30 pm from the GGAO, while Peter was admiring the dramatic crescent Moon and Venus tableau, the laser ranging people started firing at the Moon (LRO or Grail). He said it was an amazing sight. He even took a nice picture of it.

It certainly was amazing watching these conjunctions on both nights, when Lynne and I saw the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus hanging like a beautiful picture in the sky, from our townhouse in old Greenbelt. I was able to see Venus with only the naked-eye, while the Sun was still 30 degrees up the next day. Then it was about 14 degrees from the Moon, making it harder to locate, but after several failed attempts earlier in the day, at about 4:30 pm in the afternoon, I could finally see Venus from the Lake at NASA/GSFC. About 10 minutes later, I was able to see it even easier, at the City of Greenbelt Observatory, when I blocked the brilliant disk of our star out in the shadow of the Ash-Dome.

On the morning of March 27th, after several delays, was the much anticipated launch of the ATREX rockets from Wallops Island, Virginia. Several GAC members also saw the results of the 5 rockets launched, which released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space. 

The launches and clouds were reported to be seen from as far south as Wilmington, N.C.; west to Charlestown, W. Va.; and north to Buffalo, N.Y.  GAC members who reported seeing these luminous clouds were Jeff Guerber, Steve Bilanow, and Brent Warner.  According to Steve: "It looked like fuzzy jet trails, created over maybe 10 or 15 seconds each, scattered over 5 or 10 minutes. Each changed shape fairly quickly at the beginning, getting a sideways V notch in a middle section.

The first one faded fairly quickly, nearly gone within a minute or two, but some lingered for over 10 or 15 minutes. I think the last trail seemed released on a descent path rather than on the ascent like the others, I assumed it was one of the rockets on it's way back down, but didn't study the launch plan." He stopped observing at about 5:20 am. Brent took some nice pictures from his home in Laurel.  It sounds like it was a pretty cool thing to see. I'm sorry I slept in that morning.