Ryukyu Astronomy Club Newsletter
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Volume 2, Issue 4 November/December 2003

Next Club Meetings - November 29th and December 27th
Conference Room B at the Camp Lester Naval Hospital

September and October Meetings
Several new faces were present at the September and October general meetings.  In September we had a presentation on introductory astronomy and in October a presentation on equipment basics.  After each meeting the group went to Alivila for observing.  The sky was mostly clear both evenings, though very hazy in September.  Mars was still very prominent and provided a bit of detail despite being located low in the sky.  Lively discussion and good views of many deep sky objects highlighted both outings.  For the new visitors many of these objects were first-time views. 

Things to See in November and December
Saturn will be the highlight of the next few months, with Jupiter close behind.  The sight of Saturn in a telescope has hooked more backyard astronomers than any other jewel of the night.  The rings are nearly as "open" to us as they get, but as Saturn slowly works around the Sun, the rings will appear to close from our perspective.  From our line of sight, they will disappear in 2008/2009 as we view them edge-on.  Another treat awaits the observer with patience and a sharp eye - several of Saturn's many moons are visible through backyard telescopes.  Small telescopes can easily view Titan, the largest and brightest Saturnian moon.  6-8" telescopes can bag 5 and larger scopes can bring in as many as 8.  To positively identify the object you are seeing is a moon and not a background star, draw a sketch of Saturn and the suspected moons for three nights across the space of a week or more.  Each of Saturn's moons moves significantly in respect to the planet in such a time span.  To put names to each of your "discoveries", refer to planetarium software like TheSky, Starry Night or Cartes du Ciel. 

Venus is easily visible as evening twilight begins as the bright "star" low in the southwestern sky.  As December marches on, Venus will climb higher into the early evening sky.  During the first two weeks in December, hold your arm out with three fingers extended like the Boy Scout salute.  Mercury is below and to the right of Venus by the distance of a little more than the width of those three fingers.  If you've never seen Mercury, this is a great time to give it a shot.

Other sights for the end of autumn include:

For more objects of interest and the locations of those listed above, download the latest chart from www.skymaps.com or visit www.SkyandTelescope.com and customize the online star chart for Okinawa's general location of 128 degrees East longitude and 26 degrees North latitude.

Voyager 1 Has Departed the Building
On September 5, 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 space probe two weeks after launching its twin, Voyager 2.  The original mission plan called for both spacecraft to travel first to Jupiter and then Saturn for studies of these two largest of the planets as well as their moons.  If all went well (and it did), Voyager 2 would then travel on to Uranus and Neptune for the first - and to this day only - close up observations of the furthest two gas giants.  But Voyager 1 had a different final mission - discovery of the edge of our solar system.

Currently, Voyager 1 is more than 90 AU (astronomical units - the average distance between the Earth and Sun) from the Sun and traveling at more than 3.5 AU per year, is the fastest manmade craft in existence.  That puts Voyager 1 at more than 3 times Neptune and Pluto's distance and is the most distant manmade object.

The sensors on Voyager 1 have one remaining mission - detecting the point where the outbound solar wind gives way to the jumble of radiation from other nearby stars.  The solar wind is a steady stream of charged particles (observed as radiation) rushing out from the Sun at nearly the speed of light.  Naturally, all normal stars produce such charged particles and at a certain point, the "wind" from one source (star) is no longer predominant as it competes with particles from other stars.  Astronomers call the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space the heliopause.  The first indication that Voyager 1 is approaching the heliopause came in July of 2002.  At that time, the solar wind slowed dramatically and its composition indicated some of the particles came from interstellar space.

Read more about Voyager at NASA's official mission web site (http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/voyager.html) and at Sky and Telescope's web site (http://skyandtelescope.com/news/article_1095_1.asp).

Clear Skies!


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Ryukyu Astronomy Club

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