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Friday at the Fiftieth Annual Astronomical League Convention, 1997


Dr. John BrandtFriday, July 4, was a momentous day. While the convention program was going on, the Mars Pathfinder mission landed on Mars. Attendees could listen to the talks, or watch NASA-TV on the Copper Mountain Cable system. The talks included Dr. Ben Clark speaking on "Anticipated Martian Discoveries from Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder", and Dr. John Brandt (pictured at left) on "Recent Spacecraft Observations and Discoveries Related to Comet Hale-Bopp".

A conference call was then placed to Ken Wilcox in Bolivia where the Astronomical League's Southern Sky Star Party was being held. Southern Sky is a now annual event where Astronomical League members travel to South America to view all the objects in the southern sky that are invisible from the northern hemisphere. This was followed by the Astronomical League's Annual Business Meeting. Minutes of this meeting appear elsewhere.

During lunch, the Mars Pathfinder landed on the planet. NASA Select had live views from the Pathfinder Control Room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The Pathfinder was able to send back telemetry indicating it had survived the landing. This was exciting news!

The afternoon started with a talk by Mr. Adam Block on the "NOAO Public Outreach: A New Era for Amateur Astronomy". This was followed by this year's National Young Astronomer Award winner Heather Cameron who talked about her multi-year solar observing project in "To the Sun and Back".

Ms. Heather CameronMs. Cameron has been interested in observing the Sun in the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Her first observations were of ionospheric enhancement caused by solar flares. After building a receiver to observe a distant very low frequency (VLF) radio station and measure the signal strength with a chart recorder, she began correlating the signal with solar phenomena. When a solar flare occurs, the ionosphere is becomes more electrically charged, and the signal from the distant VLF station suddenly increase. This is called sudden enhancement of signal (SES).

After observing for many months, Ms. Cameron was able to correlate her observations with solar flares, auroral activity, and coronal holes. Non-solar phenomena she observed included sunrise, sunset, electric lights, refrigerators, and electric motors. She was able to determine a solar rotation rate of 31 days. Later, she obtained a used satellite "dish" antenna and used it to more directly observe the Sun. She is now trying to build an pair of "horn" antennas to study the temperature of the surface of the Sun.

The Mountain Astronomical Research Section and the Front Range Astronomical Super Cluster (MARS/FRASC) then held their business meeting. MARS is the Region of the Astronomical League that includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. FRASC formed from astronomical societies on the front range of the Rockies and spread out over some of the same area. All of the societies in these areas had the opportunity to tell everyone about their activities during the past year.

Before the evening program, news came in from JPL that the petals of Mars Pathfinder had successfully opened. This crucial event meant that the we would at least get images from the surface of Mars, and we even might be able to get the Rover onto the surface. It was announced that with the successful landing, the Pathfinder would be known as the "Carl Sagan Station" in honor of the man who had contributed greatly to the planetary sciences and did so much to popularize astronomy as well as found the Planetary Society.

Thunderstroms over the mountains

The evening meal was a Wild West Barbecue. Held near the horse riding stables, the food was plentiful and the company interesting. Ms. Jeannie Kuich, an author and story teller, told us about the "Soap Operas of the Sky". A wildfire many tens of miles away brought a pall of smoke to the startlingly clear mountain sky. The fire was extinguished later that night, and never affected observing. Those who wanted to see fireworks took the shuttle bus to Lake Dillon to see what was described as "some of the best fireworks ever" to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence 211 years earlier.


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