Richmond Astronomical Society

Mars in the Desert, a New Telescope Sees First Light and Lots of Other Stuff

Feb 27th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog

February and March meetings: At the last meeting, Dr. Amy Treonis gave us a great overview of her work and research interests, specifically desert environments as analogs for Mars. You can read more about Amy and her work in astrobiology and extreme environments at the University of Richmond here. Sydney Mabry, one of our younger members, also described her adventure in building a Dobsonian telescope (with a little help from her dad, Mark). Sydney gave a nice presentation and she now has a telescope that should provide her with a lot of fun. Her dad might end up using it once in a while.

The next regular meeting of the Richmond Astronomical Society will be on March 8 at 7:30 PM in the Science Museum of Virginia. Betty Wilson, who is one of our Night Sky Ambassadors, will be presenting on “Stargazing with the Night Sky Network.” Ted Bethune will be giving a short talk on the Dragon spacecraft being developed by SpaceX. A number of us will also be gathering at Arby’s across the street from the museum about 6:00 PM for dinner. Please join us at the meeting and for dinner before the meeting if you can.

RavenCon: For those of you that don’t already know about it, there is a science fiction and fantasy festival held annually here in Richmond, called RavenCon. This year’s festival will be at the Holiday Inn Koger Center April 8-10. The RavenCon organizers are also including some guests with a scientific (as opposed to a science fiction) perspective. Since the Richmond Astronomical Society fits very well into the science category, we have been invited to participate in this year’s festival. Although details are not yet final, we expect to make a presentation about our organization and amateur astronomy as well as staff a fan table at the festival and provide RavenCon attendees with some views of the night sky at a skywatch. Please join us at this year’s festival if you can. Many thanks to RAS member Mike Lewis for connecting us with the RavenCon organizers.

Upcoming events: Although the year started a bit slowly for outreach events, we have received a number of requests for our volunteers to provide skywatches for several events and organizations. We have received lots of compliments and thanks from visitors and hosting organizations regarding our skywatches. Given the many expressions of gratitude and the popularity of these events, I’m convinced that these skywatches have a positive impact and provide memorable experiences for folks of all ages. The next event is a skywatch at the City Point Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield on March 19 at 7:00 PM. If you can help out by bringing a telescope along with your knowledge of the night sky, please let me know at All support is much appreciated.

Astronomy Day: This year’s Astronomy Day will be on May 7. Prashant Reddy has kindly accepted the position of coordinator for the event. He will be asking for a little help with our joint celebration of the day with the Science Museum of Virginia.

East Coast Star Party: Kent Blackwell will be hosting the East Coast Star Party on June 2-5. A few particulars from Kent follow:

    Star Party Admittance $25.00 per person
    Pay Kent Blackwell upon arrival, no need to register in advance
    Hampton Lodge Camping Resort – Coinjock, NC (252-453-2732)
    Portable restroom conveniently located near observing area
    Showers and store located in the campground
    For more info contact Kent directly at

Dark Skies Update: As many of you know, Laura Graham of our organization has been doing yeoman’s work in advocating for the preservation of our night sky resources. She serves as the Virginia Coordinator for the International Dark Sky Association. If you are interested in the cause of dark skies and how to preserve them, please give the Virginia IDA Section web site a visit to learn more about local efforts to fight light pollution in the region which directly affects amateur astronomers. You can also reach the Virginia IDA Section web site from the RAS web site. Below are some summary updates of recent IDA activity in Virginia provided by Laura.

  • Danville: A citizen in Danville is working on an idea to turn off unnecessary streetlights to save money (and reduce light pollution).
  • Washington: The IDA DC office is working on a state wide lighting ordinance in Maryland and has contacted a couple of Maryland Congresswomen to resolve their concerns about safety. The Virginia IDA Section has offered assistance.
  • Prince William County, Virginia: Prince William County has a lighting ordinance, but has had some trouble with enforcement, possibly due to some misunderstanding about the ordinance. The IDA has been contacted for assistance. As this situation indicates, ordinances are important, but following up on implementation of the ordinances is just as important.
  • Virginia, statewide: Laura reports that shielded lighting is becoming more common around Virginia, but that utilities are often still using unshielded pole-mounted lighting. Laura is planning long-term to approach utilities to make the case for automatically using shielded lights rather than using unshielded lights as a standard.

Nighttime keyboard idea: Tom Kennedy sent me an idea on the use of a wireless keyboard with a laptop in the field. Those of us that use laptops connected to our telescopes or use them with planetarium programs at the scope often need some sort of subdued light on the keyboard. Tom found a solution which may be of help to others. He picked up one of the new Logitech wireless keyboards that has internal, adjustable, lighting. They also have another feature in that the keyboard illumination is totally off unless your hands are on the keyboard. The only drawback is that the light is white. Since the light is adjustable in intensity, this is not such a bad feature. The new mouse, also Logitech wireless, works with the same USB transmitter unit, which is only very small, and does not stick out a county mile. It also works far better than the Microsoft mouse in Tom’s experience. Tom reports that this arrangement works well and had made laptop use in the field easier for him.

Image courtesy NASA

Spacecraft viewing: John Raymond brought our attention opportunities to view the Nanosail-D which is now visible from time to time over the US. You can check on possible sighting times of the Nanosail at the Heavens Above web site. While you are there, you might also want to make a special effort to see the Discovery orbiter pass over since this will be it’s last flight.  An extremely cool view of the Shuttle liftoff is here.




NASA / GSFC / Arizona State Univ

Half a gigabyte view of the moon: Sky and Telescope reported on a new interactive image / map of the Moon now available at very high resolution. One of the coolest views is of the Apollo 11 lunar landing site. It’s really worth checking out.


Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society






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