Astronomy Day Meeting
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Chatan, Okinawa
April 21, 2007

Today's RAC meeting was postponed a week to coincide with this year's International Astronomy Day. As so many astronomy clubs around the world, RAC, too, was hoping to offer a large audience a view through telescopes of various apertures. Today, Saturn and the Moon were the best positioned bright objects. However, the front seat was occupied by thick rain clouds that originated from Ishigaki Island moving fast north heading for Okinawa's main island arriving just in time for the event. Even if you are not familiar with telescopes you are aware that no earth-bound optics are capable of viewing through clouds. Naturally, this kept away the larger audience we probably would have welcomed had we been blessed with clear skies.

Anyway, the theoretical part of the event took place as scheduled with an audience of 14, mostly first-time attendees, including, to our delight, a cute little boy (we have no age limits).

Tommy McGee was so kind as to guide us through the schedule and a multimedia tour of April's night sky. Since Saturn was on the observation plan, Michael Swanson performed a presentation about Saturn explaining the nature of the rings, why we see them wide open and for a brief period not at all. Mike also featured the latest discoveries of the ongoing NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission including a video of mankind's first machine that landed smoothly on the surface of Saturn's largest moon Titan with its lakes of cold liquid methane.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Mike also selected a NASA image which shows Saturn eclipsing the Sun as seen from the vantage of the Cassini spacecraft. The image clearly unveiled the fine structure of the rings and a faint "new ring" further out composed of water vapor gas and dust erupting from Saturn's active moon Enceladus as a result of Saturn's tidal forces. The appearance of Earth in the image as a small dot invited a size comparison of Earth and Saturn as if seen in the same distance.

Perhaps the best part of the presentation was Mike's model of Saturn constructed with a cardboard ring and a pink air ball with which in his hands he demonstrated the varying tilt angles of Saturn's rings by "orbiting" around the audience (photo at the left by Jennifer Lown). By the way, he brought only one air ball. If that had bursted during the rehearsal... :-) After this great presentation, we had time for questions and answers and free discussions.

Our meeting is on every second Saturday of a month and, if the clouds permit, followed by a little star party at a dark site. However, the weather in Okinawa is changing rapidly. Even when the sky is blue all day long, clouds may come about within minutes, unfortunately, mostly in the evenings. In order to eliminate this problem, Mike suggested to reschedule our meetings to the first clear night of a month ... but for now, we'll stay with the second Saturday of the month :-)

Well, even without the practical part, we did have some fun. Join us next time.

Supplement of May 25th., 2007
Jennifer Lown, working for the Stars & Stripes Newspaper, joined our meeting and created an article. Please feel welcome to download
Used with permission from Stars and Stripes. ©2007 Stars and Stripes.