Ryukyu Astronomy Club Newsletter
Volume 1, Issue 1 March 2002

Next Club Meeting - March 9th, 7PM
Conference Room B at the Camp Lester Naval Hospital

February Meeting
The inaugural meeting of the Ryukyu Astronomy Club was held the 23rd of February, 2002 in the Navy Hospital's Conference Center. Seven members attended and we're off to a great start. There was a presentation on some of the basics of astronomy, a pair of binoculars was awarded as a door prize to celebrate this new beginning and several organizational issues were discussed. Tommy McGee, Ron Locker and Mike Swanson volunteered to serve as the Organizing Committee. They will be the focal point for organizing club activities. Please flood them with ideas of things you'd like to learn, see or do. Tommy also volunteered to create a club web site, so look forward to that in the future. Below you will find more info about the club web site.

After the meeting, Greg Nezat (4" apochromatic refractor) and Mike Swanson (11" Schmidt-Cassegrain and 3" achromatic refractor) set up their scopes in the grass next to the helicopter pad and everyone enjoyed a couple of hours peaking at objects like Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon through holes in the clouds. Hopefully the weather will be better this month! Despite the clouds, everyone had a good time.

For the rest of this year, meetings will be held the second Saturday of every month, 7PM, in Conference Room B of the Lester Hospital. This is very favorable for fainter objects as the moon will not be present in the evening hours. This schedule will start this month, on the 9th of March. This month's meeting will feature a presentation on equipment basics followed by more star gazing. Mark your calendars for rest of the year!

Things to See This Month
Time is running out for observing Jupiter and Saturn. Each night they are a little lower in the western sky and will soon be out of site until the autumn. Venus is starting to peek up above the western horizon right after sunset. It will get brighter as the month continues. On March 18th, look for a thin sliver of the Moon near by the fading planet Mars. They will be low in the western sky. On March the 20th, the Moon will practically run over Saturn right after sundown - quite rare, you might want to try and capture it with a 35mm camera on a tripod. You should use a cable release and try exposures of 2 through 30 seconds through your fastest lens (lowest F-stop).

Be sure to check out the Great Orion Nebula (M42) this month. The brightest nebula visible in the Northern Hemisphere, M42 is located in the 'sword' hanging from the 'belt' of the constellation Orion. Catch it on nights with no Moon. A pair of binoculars on a tripod will show the nebula, but a telescope at relatively low powers is best.

For more objects of interest and the locations of those listed above, download the latest chart from

The Messier Objects
Often you notice we refer to objects with an "M" number or Messier (think hockey) number. There are other designations such as NGC (New General Catalog) or IC (Index Catalog); all are simply catalogs or lists of objects that were located and mapped to celestial coordinates. They offer us a wealth of viewing pleasure and variety.

The Messier objects were cataloged in the 18th century by French astronomer Charles Messier. Messier's primary passion was the discover of comets and he started his catalog to identify object that might easily be mistaken as comets. Many of the 110 objects on the list could never be mistaken for comets, so it is likely that the catalog eventually became a list of objects he prized simply for their own beauty. Pierre Mechain, Messier's colleague, discovered many of the objects and added them to the Messier list.

Most amateur astronomers expand their horizons past the moon and planets by working through the items in the Messier catalog. In this way they can view some of the most spectacular objects visible to us and they greatly improve their observing skills. The Messier catalog has a little of everything: galaxies, nebulae, globular clusters, open clusters and more. If you are in doubt what to look at on a particular evening, check out the M objects.

One last note on the Messier list. In March, it is possible to view all 110 objects in a single night. Known as the Messier Marathon, amateur astronomers start during the twilight hours of one of the nights around the new moon (no moon in the sky to hide the fainter objects) and rush to find all the objects before the sun rises the next morning. This is impossible if you are too far north and gets easier the farther south you travel. Okinawa is well positioned for a successful run. It does require a good strategy to approach the objects in the right order. The March 2002 issue of Astronomy magazine has a good guide to help plan your run.

For more information on the individual Messier objects, visit the Students for Exploration and Development of Space web site:

RAC Web Site
Our web site will hopefully become a great source of information for our members. The following ideas have been suggested:

Submit your ideas and article to Tommy McGee at When submitting articles, simple text will be fine and if you have any images to include, try to submit them in JPEG format. Don't be shy, chances are, someone else needs that hard earned information in your head!

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Ryukyu Astronomy Club
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