Ryukyu Astronomy Club Newsletter
Volume 2, Issue 3 September/October 2003

Next Club Meeting - September 27th
Conference Room B at the Camp Lester Naval Hospital

August - Public Star Party
For August, the Ryukyu Astronomy Club held a public meeting and star party on the 30th in the conference room at the Lester Hospital.  The theme was Mars.  During the week leading up to the event, announcements were made on AFN radio, generating quite a lot of interest.  In fact, AFN received so many calls about the announcement that they did an impromptu interview with Mike Swanson on Friday afternoon.  We didn't really count, but estimate somewhere between 75 and 100 people were in attendance.  Mike Swanson gave a presentation on Mars.  After the presentation John O' Briant and Mike treated the crowd to views of Mars and a few other objects with their telescopes.  We were hampered by clouds and the first views were lacking in detail as Mars was still too low in the sky, but by 9PM, we were able to make out good detail on the red planet. 

The Downloads section our web site has been updated with the PowerPoint presentation on Mars.

Thank you very much for all the RAC members on hand to help out and we would especially like to thank all the guests.  We hope you will come back often!

September's meeting will be held in the Lester Hospital conference room.  We will have an Introduction to Astronomy presentation and afterward we will travel to the Alivila site.  See the Meetings page on the web site for maps.  A reminder will be sent later this month.

Things to See This Month
September and October will still be great months for Mars.  Even though it is currently receding from the Earth as we out-race it around the Sun, Mars will still be larger through all of September than at any time until 2018.  With the exception of the Moon, Mars is currently the brightest object in the sky after sunset.  Look for it in the southeast in the evening.  The south polar ice cap is receding (melting), but may still be visible through September.  Dark surface features should remain visible unless Mars experiences a global sandstorm as it did during the last pass in 2001.  To help identify the features you are seeing in the eyepiece, visit the Downloads section of our web site and download Mars Previewer II.

Other sights for the early autumn sky include:

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

Observing the Moon 
The first object most of us saw through a telescope was the Moon.  The Moon is by far the largest object in the night sky and provides a great amount of detail with even modest optical aid.  The view changes from one hour to the next as the Moon slowly rotates and the line between light and dark - the terminator - crawls across the surface.  You can easily find enjoyment several nights each month by visiting the Moon.  In fact, the word month derives from the same root as moon and our measurement of a month is based upon the 29-day journey of the Moon around the Earth.

It is a common misconception that the best time to view the Moon is when it is full, but actually that is the least favorable phase.  The greatest detail is found along the terminator - the surface features extend long shadows as the Sun rises or sets upon them.  The landscape of the Moon offers craters, valleys, mountains and plains.  Literally thousands of features can be discerned in the eyepiece of a telescope.  You will likely find greater enjoyment if you can put names to those features.  For that, you will need a lunar map or atlas.  Orion Telescope ( and Sky and Telescope ( are good places to go shopping.  You might also want to try the Virtual Moon Atlas ( - a free lunar map program for Windows computers.

If you have even a modest pair of binoculars, take them out for a look.  You will need something to steady them upon - perhaps a pole or a swivel-head mop handle.  If you have a telescope, try all your eyepieces to see what features are visible at different magnifications.  With a telescope you can also make use a lunar filter; in fact, you will probably find it is absolutely necessary.  The filter reduces the amount of light that exits the eyepiece to a comfortable level that will allow you to concentrate on seeing more details.  Without a filter you will likely find the Moon so bright as to be painful.

When viewing the Moon, watch for smaller craters inside of larger craters.  Also, many larger craters have small peaks in them.  Some craters have lines of debris streaking away, evidence of the impacts that created them.  Watch for mountain ranges and other linear features.  Many of the longer features have terraced faces visible in moderately sized telescopes.  If you have an artistic talent, try sketching the features that you see.  Otherwise, keep track of your discoveries, entering them by name in your logbook.

Clear Skies!

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