PINE MOUNTAIN IMAGE
November-December 2007 Volume 16 No. 3

Written by Rick Kang (541) 683-1381
edited/published by Monica Geraths and Joshua Rose

In This Issue

Outreach Update

Rick has traveled to schools from Portland to Hidden Valley (west of Grants Pass) this Fall. He'd be delighted to visit your school to present a variety of programs to classes of any grade level. If you haven't seen the new brochure detailing some of the major topics available, please contact Monica Geraths so she can mail you one (mgeraths@earthlink.net). The mini science inquiry workshops for teachers before or after school have worked well, there are several new resources presented that include a relatively new sky simulation (Stellarium), and an interactive poster that can be readily constructed and used to plot and predict locations of Solar System Planets and background Constellations.

If you're in Central Oregon, contact Kent Fairfield, tualatinkent@aol.com, (541) 536-5795, he's in La Pine. He can probably schedule a classroom visit to Central and Eastern Oregon destinations more readily than Rick can during winter weather. Kent has an excellent repertoire of presentations and resources about the sky, and lots of experience doing actual observing from Pine Mountain and from other Observatories.

Eye on the Sky

(Download Stellarium sky viewing software to help you locate objects mentioned!)

The big news is Comet 17P Holmes, shining at naked eye visibility the past two weeks, at the left side of the constellation, Perseus, high in the NE evening sky, above the bright star, Capella. This comet unexpectedly brightened in late October. Due to its direction of travel, we are looking down the tail, so all we see is the bright nucleus surrounded by a circular haze. There are finder charts online, start at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/.

Last call for viewing Uranus and Neptune this year, they hang low in the SW evening sky, soon to follow Jupiter into the sunset. Bright Jupiter remains visible in the SW just after dark, but Earth's atmosphere begins to take a toll of the view as Jupiter sinks lower and lower each evening.

Mars, on the other hand, rises by 10 PM, and by Holiday Season will be easily available for viewing in the early evening. Mars reaches closest approach to Earth in December, not nearly as close as several recent years (and don't expect any Moon-sized views!), but should still readily show some surface details through a moderate telescope. Mars is the unmistakable reddish bright dot to the right of bright stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini, to the lower left of the reddish star, Aldebaran in Taurus, and to the far left of Orion, draw a line from Rigel through Orion's three belt stars, then through reddish Betelegeuse, and about twice that distance to the left.

Saturn rises around 200 AM in the east, under the bright star, Regulus, in Leo, and brilliant Venus rises about an hour later.

There are two upcoming meteor showers: The Leonid meteor shower peaks November 18th, but probably won't be as spectacular as it was several years ago. The Geminid meteor shower occurs December 13th-14th, unfortunately the predicted peak is during our daylight, but predawn on the 14th might offer some good views.

The Moon will pass in front of the Pleiades star cluster and in front of Mars, but both events are only visible to the north of Oregon or elsewhere in the world.

Richard Berry Posts Incredible Images of the Comet

See http://www.wvi.com/~rberry/astronomy/cometholmes/cometholmes.htm for some spectacular images taken by Richard Berry from his observatory near Lyons, Oregon, in early November.

Science Inquiry Project

Where do we find planets and other solar system objects in the sky? Why? What might this tell us about the formation of the Solar System?

Track the Sun and Moon across the day and night sky. Find some of the planets, currently Jupiter in early evening, Mars later on, and Saturn and Venus before dawn. Locate and track them over several weeks. Can you "connect the dots" (paths and locations of these objects)? What type of pattern does the connection make? Try to model what you've observed: one student is Earth, and other students the Sun and other Solar System objects. Use the "Mount Nose" concept for Earth (an observer standing on the tip of your nose which represents a mountain on your Earth-head), to position the observer relative to the Sun (facing the Sun would be 12 Noon, facing away would of course be 12 midnight). You can also use the diagram from ASP that I'm introducing at the mini inquiry workshops.

Why are the objects in the geometric pattern that you observe? Why don't we observe Solar System objects near Polaris or near objects in the southern part of our sky? Can you derive a basic structure for our Solar System? Consider the idea of a spinning "protostar", our early Sun, like a spinning blob of pizza dough, and see if you can come up with a way to form planets from the "dough" that results in your observations of the planets including the geometry of their locations and also the direction of their orbital motions.

New Book Published That Discusses Potential Astrophysics Observing Projects Doable by Students

The Sky is Your Laboratory, by Robert K. Buchheim, published by Springer, 229 pages, $34.95, received a very favorable review in the December issue of Sky and Telescope magazine (see page 46). The book describes 18 observing projects, ranging from unaided eye to digital images for data collection.