Richmond Astronomical Society

August 2015 Meeting Minutes

Nov 8th, 2015 | By | Category: Meetings

Richmond Astronomical Society
791st Consecutive Meeting
August 11, 2015

Greetings – approximately 41 in attendance at the meeting.
Jim Browder called our meeting to order in the Eureka meeting room

Announcements / Share Table
Sad news – Prashant Reddy, a long time RAS member and board member, unexpectedly passed away last night (August 10) after fighting a medical condition.
Funeral arrangements were announced.

Library Report: Virginia Eckert brought 6 books for display
Our Moon (1954) by H Percy Wilkins
The Realm of the Nebulae (1958) by Edwin Hubble
The Mysterious Universe (1930) by Sir James Jeans
A Traveler’s Guide to Mars (2003) by William K Hautman
The Dark Night Sky (1975) by Donald D Clayton
Contemporary Astronomy (1975), by Edward J Devinney, Jr

Welcome Visitors:
Chris Pahlad-Thomas
Rick Crook
Ro Toman
Corinne Callison

Events and Individual Observing:
RAS member observing,
Science Museum – 12 telescopes and 1 pair of binoculars; lots of people; planetarium show sold out,
Powhatan State Park – 50 visitors; decent viewing; thanks to Jim browder and Ray Moody for bringing scopes
Staunton River State Park – great crowd and skywatch, except for the mosquitoes
Visit to the Very Large Array in New Mexico- array of 27 dishes, each 82 feet in diameter, covering 22 sq miles. From 1873-1980, the arrays were moved along railroad tracks. The dishes are re-configured every 4 months. The dishes can receive signals in frequencies ranging from 74 to 50,000 MHz. The accuracy of the signal can detect a golfball at a distance of 100 miles away.
Various building have graffiti that are signatures of VIP visitors.
The array has 18,000-22,000 visitors annually.

Perseid Meteor Shower, August 12-13: Peaks Wednesday night/ Thursday morning — good viewing conditions near new moon.

Bryan Park Skywatch, August14, 7:30: Join us for a skywatch at the Bryan Park soccer fields. Please let Jim Browder know if you can bring a telescope at president©

RAS Board of Directors Meeting, Monday, August 17, 7:00 PM: RAS Board of Directors Meeting at Extra Billy’s Restaurant on West Broad Street. Dinner reservations at 6:00 PM; meeting begins at 7:00 PM.

Science Museum Skywatch, Friday, August 21, 7:00 PM: Our regular monthly skywatch at the Science Museum is scheduled to start at 7:00 PM after the Museum’s Science After Dark activities and planetarium show at 6:30. Please join us if you can.
Powhatan State Park Skywatch, Saturday, September 12, 8:00 PM: Skywatch at the trailhead / equestrian area parking lot near the end of the park access road. We will post signs in the park showing the way to the skywatch area. Please let Jim Browder know if you can bring a telescope at
Planetarium show is “Rock & Roll from Outer Space”

Monthly RAS Meeting, Tuesday, September 8, 7:30 PM: Please join us for the meeting at 7:30 PM and, if you can, for dinner at Arby’s, across the street from the Museum about 6:00 PM. For those that cannot attend the meeting in person, we will stream video of the meeting, starting at 7:30, internet bandwidth permitting, at this link:

Total Lunar Eclipse, Sunday, September 27: Total lunar eclipse visible from Richmond, starts at 8:11 PM, peaks at 10:47 PM local time. More details at
Have not heard if SMV will have activities during the eclipse

Annual Meeting of the Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies, October 3, Charlottesville: The annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies is being hosted this year by the Charlottesville Astronomical Society at the headquarters of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory on the grounds of the University of Virginia.
A Website for the event is available with more details to follow, check back often:
The following speakers have been engaged
— Rob Capon, Robotic telescopes and automated observing
— Ed Murphy, History of astronomy at UVa
— Shanil Virani, James Madison Planetarium
— Alan Aylward, auroras and atmospheric observing
The day will also include a tour and observing at the Historic McCormick Observatory.

East Coast Star Party, October 8-10, Coinjock, NC: Casual star gazing in a coastal environment. Contact Kent Blackwell at for more information.

Staunton River Star Party, Staunton River State Park, October 12-18: Star party in the newest dark sky park in the east! More information at


Presentation: “New Horizons and the Mysteries of Pluto,” Chris McCann
Chris started off with an overview of the story behind the discovery of Pluto. It was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, using calculations and results from Percival Lowell’s research. Later, he learned that Lowell’s research was erroneous and Pluto had been found while using this data. Pluto was not named after the Disney character, but after the Roman god of the underworld. Disney’s Pluto did not make his debut until after the discovery of the planet.
New Horizons’ venture started in 2006, when Pluto was thought to have 1 moon (there are 4 moons). New Horizons had several payload instruments, including
• Infrared, ultra-violet, and visible light imagers
• Spectrometers to study the light, solar wind, and plasma
• A student-designed meter to measures space dust during its mission
New Horizons sling-shoted by Jupiter to increase its speed and shorten its mission to Pluto by 2-3 years. While passing Jupiter, it took several photos of Jupiter and the moons, including erupting volcanoes all over Io.
Closest approach was on July 14, 2005. Detail photographs of Pluto showed it is an ice planet, with several types of ice – carbon monoxide, methane, and nitrogen. Diversity in the landscape showed that some of the ice is moving and the crust is a ‘new’ surface. A few theories expect liquid water or a dense slushy water ice to be flowing below the surface.
Pluto and its original moon, Charon, have a unique relationship. Since Charon is so massive, scientists look at Pluto-Charon as a planetary system (double planet). Its center of rotation is outside of Pluto and between the 2 masses. The orbit of Charon is considered a ‘wobble’ by the way the 2 react to each other. Pluto and Charon have the same rotation period of 6.4 Earth days. That also matches Charon’s orbitalal time about Pluto. The same parts of Pluto and Charon face each other at all times.
Charon shows deep craters and canyons, and massive fissures across the equatorial region, possibly caused by internal forces. The other 3 moons are much smaller and irregularly shaped.
After the fly-by, photos of a sun-lit atmosphere were very impressive. Scientists believe that Pluto is losing its atmosphere and may be ‘dying’. Other scientists believe this may be part of a cyclical process caused by its extreme 248-year orbit that goes inside Neptune’s orbit and closer to the sun.
New Horizons will continue to send data and photos back to the Earth for the next 18-months. Presently, it is heading off into the Kuiper Belt towards a smaller target, expecting to reach it within the next 10 years.

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