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Club Meeting Summary - Mar. 3, 2022

· Club Meeting Summary

Southern Maine Astronomers

Club Meeting

3 March, 2022 1830 hours

 

Attending were members Russell Pinizzotto, Jon Wallace, Greg Thorup, Bob Dodge, Forrest

Sumner, George Bokinsky, Al DiSabatino, Ron Thompson, Paul Schumann, Roy Reigel, Chris

Parent, Howie Marshall, Brad Irish, David Gay, John O’Donnell, Greg Shanos, Stevie Dembowski,

John Bucci, Anita DeVito, Ara Jerahian, Jack Gelfand, Rob Burgess and new member James

Hummer, and guests Evyn Lally, Carl Gurtman, Doug Lund-Yates, and Larry Berz, from Lee

Academy and Planetarium, in Lee, ME.

 

1900: Rob Burgess opened the formal portion of the meeting announcing that our guest speaker, Dr.

Jonathan McDowell had taken ill and was unable to present tonight. Dr. McDowell will be

rescheduled for a later date.

 

Recent activities by members: Jon Wallace reported he continues to image the Sun and that it

emitted an M-class flare recently. Solar Cycle 25 has begun. Jon also reported he has discovered

his 70 th micrometeorite. Russ Pinizzotto has continued to image with his new Unistellar scope,

recording a Mag 17.9 star from downtown Boston based on a 10-min exposure – an amazing

achievement from an instrument with a 4.5” aperture. An engaged and spirited discussion ensued

on scientific rubrics and search for extraterrestrial life, the writings of Arthur C. Clarke and related

topics.

 

Announcements:

The next club meeting on April 7, 2022 will feature Fred Martin, a retired engineer who played an

intimate role in the Apollo program. The club’s annual meeting will be April 7 when new directors

and officers are chosen. The club will have three open positions with the retirement of three

directors. Rob encouraged any member interested in helping run the club to contact him or any

member of the board.

Jon Wallace followed up on his recent email to club members eliciting volunteers for club star parties

at Neptune Drive starting in May and running through November. Rob emphasized that the club will

continue to field requests and support star parties throughout our footprint.

Ara and Russ will be providing another EAA star party via zoom through the Cape Elizabeth library

on March 8. Details on how to join the presentation are on the club’s website or the libraries

website.

James Shields will be hosting his third Night Walk star party for the Scarborough Land Trust

tomorrow night, March 4.

The club is co-hosting a star party event at the Rowe Elementary School in Portland tomorrow night

from 7-8:30. Volunteers to help are welcomed.

 

Guest Speaker: Dr. George Bokinsky, pinch-hitting for Dr. McDowell, on emerging issues in

the development of the nano-satellite industry and its impact on observational astronomy.

George reviewed a progression of literature on the emerging business of nano-satellites, primarily

used for communication, but also opening space to a variety of other research applications.

Science magazine in 2015 reported that 132 cube-sats were launched that year, representing more

than in the last decade, ominously declaring that “the swarm cometh.” The article suggested these

smaller satellites would lay siege to the traditional large satellite market but no one at that time

foresaw the impact on astronomical observing or the logistical challenges that lay ahead.

 

A 2019 article in Nature magazine highlighted the challenges posed to the Air Force that was

charged with tracking orbiting satellites and tens of thousands of pieces of space junk. Reportedly

the Air Force tracked more than 10,000 satellites over 10 cm ranging from low-Earth orbiting objects

out to the upper range of 860km. Not tracked were some nearly 411,000 pieces of miscellaneous

space debris, much of which the result of irresponsible behavior of several space-faring nations in

either permitting collisions of satellites or deliberately destroying them with ground-based missiles.

In that article author Jamie Moran called for global management of orbiting objects based on four

principles: 1) improved tracking, 2) better prediction and identification, 3) establishing standards and

norms for data sharing and operations and 4) reducing space debris.

 

A 2021 article in Science magazine brought us to the present day referencing the emerging swarms

of satellites in low earth orbit creating an environmental battleground over control of the night sky.

Not only are these swarms of satellites affecting astronomical research but they are also impairing

the ability to detect potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. The protagonists include the following

and their intended satellite networks:

  • Space X – Starlink – 40,000 – low and high orbit
  • Amazon – Project Kuiper – 3,000 – high orbit
  • Richard Branson – One Web - 6,400 (reportedly bankrupt)
  • China – 13,000
  • Rowanda Space Agency (Greg Wyler, formerly One Web) – 327,000

High-Earth orbit allows for greater coverage and fewer satellites. Low-Earth orbit is required for

many due to less (ideally imperceptible) time delays, essential to internet gaming users, among

others. Low-Earth orbiting satellites are brighter but set sooner; high-Earth orbiting satellites are

dimmer but stay illuminated longer. And obviously with more objects competing for low-Earth orbit

space there is risk of the “Kessler Syndrome” – the collision of two objects cascading into the

collision of many objects.

 

A November 27, 2021 article in the Economist magazine touched on the impact of these satellites

to the work being done at the Vera Rubin telescope in Cerro Panchon, Chile in its 10-year “Legacy

Survey of Space and Time” (LSST) of the Southern Sky. While new algorithms are being developed

to eliminate these satellite trails it adds work and uncertainty to astronomical observations. The

article identified four forums for raising these issues and giving the astronomical community a seat at

the table regrading further use of our night skies:

  1. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission)
  2. The International Telecommunications Union
  3. US Courts – asserting violations of NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act)
  4. The Commission on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (Vienna) that advises the UN General Assembly.

Russ Pinizzotto reminded the audience that within the last two years he submitted a letter to Space

X containing 150 names (several members of SMA plus astronomy faculty from many colleges and

universities) expressing concern for what was being done through the proliferation of these satellites.

No response was ever received from Space X.

 

(In defense of Space X was noted that Elon Musk recently delivered equipment to Ukraine to allow

its citizens to retain internet communication capabilities regardless of what occupying Russian forces

do to try to curtail or eliminate it.)

 

Constellation Tour of Lynx by Russ Pinizzotto

Russ started off by noting that Lynx was not a constellation with roots in antiquity. Rather, it was a

construct designed to fill essentially empty space in the 1700’s map of the heavens between Ursa

Major and Auriga. However, the name does have pedigree in that it was the name of an early

scientific society one of whose members was Galileo.

 

Lynx has a few interesting binocular stars: 5 Lyn is a nice double star and Mag 5.2 and 7.0 with 1.5

arc minute separation; and19 Lyn a triple star system akin to Albeirio. The “Inchworm” is an easily

recognized telescopic asterism. Caldwell 25 /NGC 2419 is a globular cluster called the “Intergalactic

Wanderer” because it was thought to be in intergalactic space, and not tied to a galaxy. It has since

been determined it is part of the Milky Way but hugely distant – 300,000 LY (farther than the

Magellanic clouds) out with an orbital period of 2 billion years!

 

The ”UFO Galaxy,” NGC 2683, is a spiral and one of the Herschel 400, although it doesn’t look any

more like a UFO than most other galaxies. NGC 2500 is an interesting barred spiral with many

distinct arms coming off of the central bar. Arp 6, NGC 2537, is the “Bear Paw Galaxy” that appears

quite blue with active star formation. Being in the Arp class, it is highly unusual in appearance,

seemingly tracing the outline of a bear paw. NGC 2770 is a veritable supernova factory with three

supernovae discovered in recent history – 1999, 2007 and 2008. It is very usual to have so many in

one galaxy so close together. Quasar APM 08279+5355, at Mag 15.2, will not be observed by many

amateurs. However, it is remarkable since it is very old and very distant, being the farthest know

reservoir of water establishing how ubiquitous water was in the early universe (as reported at last

month’s meeting on astrobiology). Estimates are that this object contains 100 trillion times as much

water as on Earth. Finally, Lynx has an amazing soup of a galaxy supercluster, as revealed in

Hubble images, exhibiting extensive gravitational lensing and having it most distant members be

about 12B LY away.

 

Next month, the constellation Cancer.

 

For those interested in staying online a 30-minute YouTube video from the “Insane Engineering”

series on the James Webb Space Telescope was shared. The video provided detailed explanation

of the more subtle but critical engineering advances in component cooling for the telescope to work,

lowering the imaging processing equipment to a mere 6.2 degrees K. The video can be found at

 

The meeting concluded about 21:00

 

Rob Burgess

President, SMA

 

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