Saturday at the Fiftieth Annual Astronomical League Convention, 1997

Saturday, the last day of the convention, started with a talk read by Derald Nye of the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). The talk, "Timing Occultations of Bright Stars with Camcorders" by David Dunham, president of IOTA, describes how to use a camcorder to observe and time an occultation. These occultations can be either total occultations or grazing occultations. The main ingredient was a star bright enough to be recorded by the camcorder with the bright lunar limb nearby. It is not as hard as it sounds. It is helpful to record WWV time signals on the audio track while taping the occultation.

Dr. Richard W. Schmude, Jr., Chemistry and Astronomy Instructor, Gordon College, Barnesville, GA., talked on "The Seasonal and Diurnal Variations of Sporadic Meteors". Dr. Schmude had been studying the observed rates of sporadic meteors by four different observers and applied statistical techniques to these observations to study their variations.

Diurnal variations are fairly well known. After sunset, each succeeding hour almost linearly until sunrise. Hence the best time to look for meteors is just before dawn when the observer is standing almost in line with the direction of the Earth's motion around the Sun. The seasonal variations are somewhat more complex, but at least in the northern hemisphere, the later half of the year has many more sporadics than the first half of the year. Whether these are from old, uncataloged, meteor streams, or from other causes is not known. Nor is it known if the same pattern holds throughout the year in the souther hemisphere. More observations are desperately needed.

John BallyThe final talk was by Dr. John Bally, University of Colorado, Boulder, on "Jets, Outflows, and Proto-Planetary Discs". Using images obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Dr. Bally described the wide range of phenomena that has been observed from the Hubble. HST, with its above-the-atmosphere imaging, gives us high resolution views of objects that are badly blurred from ground-based telescopes.

Gas clouds condensing into new solar systems are the source of many of the phenomena in this talk's title. As its gravitational field pulls the parts of a cloud tighter together, the cloud begins to spin up just as a skater does when they bring in their outstretched arms. The gas above and below the plane of spin falls into the plane forming a proto-planetary disc. The gas and dust in the plane orbit the central condensation of the cloud, kept from falling toward the center by its angular momentum. Eventually, some of this dust and gas will form into planets circling the star-to-be.

During the last stages of star formation, material from the inner regions is squirted outward along the spin axis of the central condensation. These linear features, called jets, extend for many billions of miles from the central condensation out into interstellar space where we can observe them. First seen by radio astronomers, the HST has allowed us to see these jets in visible light.

As the central condensation gets hotter, it begins to fuse hydrogen into helium, transforming it into a star. As the energy from the fusion process leaves the new star, it pushes the remaining dust and gas out of the inner solar system, sweeping it clean. Dust and gas remain in the outer regions of the new solar system merging gradually into the remains of the original gas cloud.

In a star forming region such as the Orion Nebula, the outflows from the older young stars tear dust and gas from the outer regions of the gas clouds forming new stars. The HST has allowed us to see these tiny teardrop shaped clouds. At the heart of each of these teardrops is a new sun that we can barely see. The remaining dust blocks much of the light from getting out of the new solar system, and what does get out comes from the red end of the spectrum for the same reason we get red sunsets. So the final image starts with a bright background of dust and gas. Against that is a black teardrop shaped cloud with the new star appearing as a red dot in its middle. The tip of the tear drop is pointing away from an older, nearby star whose outflow dominates that region of space.

Space is full of many interesting and beautiful examples of "Jets, Outflows, and Proto-Planetary Discs". Dr. Bally showed many examples of each one from many regions of the sky.

Saturday afternoon was a free period for attendees to go out and enjoy the local tourist attractions. But as the sun sunk behind the mountains, the final event, the Awards Banquet dinner convened. The meal provided an opportunity for friends to dine together for the last time at the Fiftieth Anniversary Convention. The talk at the tables was friendly and full of astronomical gleanings.

After the dinner, special awards were presented to the early organizers of the Astronomical League, Ed Halbach and Charles A. Federer. No Astronomical League Award was presented this year. Dennis di Cicco was presented the Leslie Peltier Award for observing excellence. Finally, the National Young Astronomer Award was given to Ms. Heather Cameron for her work on solar observing. She received a 10-inch Meade LX-200 presented by Mr. Sheldon Fawarski of Meade Telescopes, and a lifetime observing pass to McDonald observatory in Texas.

The after-dinner speech was given by Leif Robinson, Editor-in-Chief, Sky and Telescope magazine reporting that "The Golden Age of Amateur Astronomy is Now". Mr. Robinson explained that even though many amateur astronomers feel that the days before the ever-present streetlights were the heyday for amateur, today's advanced technology put the amateur astronomer on the same plane as the professional astronomer.

One example that Mr. Robinson cited was Dennis DeCicco, who, from his backyard in Boston, had discovered over 100 minor planets using a sixteen-inch telescope and a CCD camera. The technology of the CCD camera allows the light pollution to be removed in the camera and faint objects to be observed. While film records both the object and the light pollution, the CCD camera can be set to remove the light pollution from the image. This leaves just the object and the noise, and after taking a number of exposures of the same field, they can be added together to average out the noise and leave only the object. This allows those who must work in a light-polluted environment to contribute to the science of astronomy.

Leif RobinsonLeif also related a meeting of the American Astronomical Association that brought together professional and amateur astronomers. This meeting is the first of many that will build a bridge between the professional and the amateur, allowing amateurs to begin gathering data for professionals to analyze. The American Association of Variable Star Observers, the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, and the International Occultation Timing Association have been doing this for years, but with shrinking budgets and the closing of the many small-aperture observatories, amateurs could really start to contribute.

There are many areas where professionals are unable to take the necessary data, but the amateur can. These include long-term variable star observing, minor planet discovery, comet and minor planet astrometry, and long-term binary star observing. The professional is constrained to perform observations that will quickly result in a paper in the professional journals. The amateur has the luxury of taking observations over a long period of time, and on a regular basis.

Telescope time is doled out by peer committees based on the importance of the observation, and with the number of telescopes being reduced, routine observations are being lost. With modern computer-controlled telescopes, CCD cameras, and fast PCs, the amateur is equipped to make the very observations that the professional cannot. Amateurs must answer the call to take-up where the professional can no longer carry on: our Golden Age IS now.

 

 


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