May 11 GAAC Program Note

GAAC is fortunate indeed to have Dr. Jonathan McDowell with us this month, at 8:00 pm Friday May 11 at the Lanesville Community Center, speaking on "Space Junk: A Traffic Crisis in Outer Space."

Dr. McDowell is an Astrophysicist with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a mathematician and a programmer. Dr. McDowell maintains one of the world’s best databases of orbital material launched into space – aka space junk.

It's been over 60 years since the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, and space is getting busier and busier.

There are over 1,500 working satellites up there, but there are also over 18,000 known pieces of orbital debris whizzing around at up to 18,000 miles an hour. At that speed, a collision with even a small piece of junk can ruin your whole day.

Dr. McDowell will talk about the demographics of the satellite population: who is putting satellites up there, what are they doing, what the space junk is, why there's so much of it -- and most important, what can we do about it?

Join us on May 11th for this colorful, engaging and important talk. Come early for great goodies, fun conversation with friends old and new, and really cool and accessible science.

You can subscribe to Dr. McDowell’s monthly space report here:

12/8 GAAC Meeting Program Note

GAAC is fortunate to have Sky & Telescope Magazine Senior Editor Kelly Beatty as a speaker for the December 8 Holiday meeting, with a riveting presentation on "The Sputnik Years." Kelly will show us how it all happened, who was involved and what some of the many important historic results of that event have been.

October 4, 1957 marked the beginning of the Space Age, with the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union. The satellite sped by over the heads of the world, and the space race was on. Everything that followed, from John Glenn orbiting the planet, to the moon landings, to the Mars rovers, to New Horizons' visit to Pluto, follows from this event.  

Kelly Beatty has been honored twice by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society. In 2005 he received the Harold Masursky Award for meritorious service, and in 2009 he was honored with the inaugural Jonathan Eberhart Journalism Award. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Astronomical League Award (in 2006) for his contributions to the science of astronomy and the American Geophysical Union's Cowen Award for Sustained Achievement in Science Journalism (2009).

Kelly holds a Bachelors degree in geology from the California Institute of Technology and a Master's degree in science journalism from Boston University. During the 1980s he was among the first Western journalists to gain firsthand access to the Soviet space program. Asteroid 2925 Beatty was named on the occasion of his marriage in 1983, and in 1986 he was chosen one of the 100 semifinalists for NASA's Journalist in Space program.

GAAC Meeting Friday October 20 @8:00 pm

We'll be meeting a week late, but we have a program worth waiting for! Our Oct 20 meeting, at the Lanesville Community Center, will feature Dr. Bill Waller, with a presentation titled "Surfing the Galactic Froth." As it turns out, space is not so empty after all, but instead is shot through with frothy stuff.

According to Dr. Waller, this phenomenon arises mostly from microscopic grains of dust, irradiated and warmed by stars within our Galaxy’s disk, and concentrated in nebular regions of recent star formation and subsequent stellar death.

There's a lot we can learn from these complex emissions, which provide a record of processes that have structured and powered the interstellar medium for the past 100 million years. Some of these features can be described in terms of “filaments,” “loops,” and “shell fragments,” while others appear more random – consistent with turbulence and other processes.

In his usual colorful and irreproducible style, Dr. Waller will consider some of the hot stars, intense stellar winds, and supernova explosions that power the galactic froth, and will present recent images of this nebular emission from three nearby galaxies.

GAAC Photography Show at the Sawyer Free Library

October 14th we have a free program of wonderful photography at the Sawyer Free Library in downtown Gloucester, from 2:00 to 4:00.

Well-known Gloucester photographer Roger Porter will show off his favorite photos of auroras and much more, and explain how he got each shot.

That alone is worth showing up for, but he'll be followed by expert astrophotographers and fellow Gloucester Area Astronomy Club members Barry Yomtov and John Hobbs with abundant examples of their best photos, as each presents a series of terrific, colorful photographs of the wonders of the night sky.

You won't want to miss this. Save the date!

Final HPSP Star Party of the Season Saturday July 22nd

Weather permitting, our final star party of the 2017 season will take place at Halibut Point State Park on Saturday July 22, from dusk to 10:30 or so.

The public is encouraged to come out and see Jupiter and its moons, Saturn, and an array of distant deep-sky objects like galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. Of course there is no cost.

If you have a telescope, please bring it. These events are always well-attended, and we can use every scope we can get. Turn left off of Gott Ave, drive up the gravel road and turn right -- we'll be set up next to the white building. The 22nd is new moon weekend, and there will be observing opportunities after the star party in what may be the darkest site this close to Boston.

As always, unless you are unloading a telescope, please park in the paved lot to the right of Gott Ave and walk the short distance up the hill to the Visitor Center. Please keep white lights to a minimum, so everyone’s eyes get a chance to adapt to the dark.

Check the club Facebook page for announcements regarding the weather.

Saturday June 17 Halibut Point Star Party

Weather permitting, Halibut Point State Park and the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club will be hosting a star party Saturday evening, June 17, next to the HPSP Visitor Center, where GAAC will have telescopes set up from dusk to 10:00 pm for public viewing.Everyone is invited! Come look through the club’s telescopes at Jupiter and its moons, and an array of distant deep-sky objects like galaxies, nebulae and star clusters. Of course there is no cost.

If skies are cloudy we'll try again at the next scheduled event on July 22.

Please park in the paved lot off of Gott Ave and walk the short distance up the hill to the Visitor Center, and please keep white lights to a minimum, so everyone’s eyes get a chance to adapt to the dark.

The Gloucester Area Astronomy Club meets at 8:00 pm on the second Friday of the month at the Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan St. in Lanesville. There is no cost, and the public is welcome.

GAAC May 12 Program Note

Ed Los of the Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard (DASCH) project will be with us at our May meeting, 8:00pm on Friday May 12, at the Lanesville Community Center, 8 Vulcan St..

Ed will bring us up to date on the project to digitize over 500,000 images of the night sky collected on glass photographic plates between 1885 and 1993.

These images offer far more than mere historic value. They have greatly advanced what we know of the composition of stars, their inherent luminosities and distances, and, as a 100-year record, they are sure to continue to inform our understanding. Already as part of this ongoing project more than 162,000 plates, along with data from a card catalog and 1200 associated log books, have been scanned into digital files, to preserve them and make them more readily available to researchers.

Ed will explain the ongoing project and its importance to our knowledge of the night sky, and will tell us some of the many ways that these data are even now helping us understand the universe around us. We're very pleased to have Ed as this month's presenter, for what is sure to be an entertaining and informative evening at GAAC. We hope to see you there!

The Gloucester Area Astronomy Club is open to all, with plenty of free parking; there is never any cost.

Image: Portion of Plate b41215 of Halley's comet taken on April 21, 1910 from Arequipa, Peru with the 8-inch Bache Doublet, Voigtlander.

NASA Spaceplace Newsletter, January 2017

Comet Campaign: Amateurs Wanted

By Marcus Woo

In a cosmic coincidence, three comets will soon be approaching Earth—and astronomers want you to help study them. This global campaign, which will begin at the end of January when the first comet is bright enough, will enlist amateur astronomers to help researchers continuously monitor how the comets change over time and, ultimately, learn what these ancient ice chunks reveal about the origins of the solar system.

Over the last few years, spacecraft like NASA's Deep Impact/EPOXI or ESA's Rosetta (of which NASA played a part) discovered that comets are more dynamic than anyone realized. The missions found that dust and gas burst from a comet's nucleus every few days or weeks—fleeting phenomena that would have gone unnoticed if it weren't for the constant and nearby observations. But space missions are expensive, so for three upcoming cometary visits, researchers are instead recruiting the combined efforts of telescopes from around the world.

"This is a way that we hope can get the same sorts of observations: by harnessing the power of the masses from various amateurs," says Matthew Knight, an astronomer at the University of Maryland.

By observing the gas and dust in the coma (the comet's atmosphere of gas and dust), and tracking outbursts, amateurs will help professional researchers measure the properties of the comet's nucleus, such as its composition, rotation speed, and how well it holds together.

The observations may also help NASA scout out future destinations. The three targets are so-called Jupiter family comets, with relatively short periods just over five years—and orbits that are accessible to spacecraft. "The better understood a comet is," Knight says, "the better NASA can plan for a mission and figure out what the environment is going to be like, and what specifications the spacecraft will need to ensure that it will be successful."

The first comet to arrive is 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak, whose prime window runs from the end of January to the end of July. Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova will be most visible between mid-February and mid-March. The third target, comet 46P/Wirtanen won't arrive until 2018.

Still, the opportunity to observe three relatively bright comets within roughly 18 months is rare. "We're talking 20 or more years since we've had anything remotely resembling this," Knight says. "Telescope technology and our knowledge of comets are just totally different now than the last time any of these were good for observing."

For more information about how to participate in the campaign, visit

This article is provided by NASA Space Place. With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit to explore space and Earth science!

Want to teach kids about the anatomy of a comet? Go to the NASA Space Place and use Comet on a Stick activity!

Image Caption: An orbit diagram of comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak on February 8, 2017—a day that falls during the comet’s prime visibility window. The planets orbits are white curves and the comet’s orbit is a blue curve. The brighter lines indicate the portion of the orbit that is above the ecliptic plane defined by Earth’s orbital plane and the darker portions are below the ecliptic plane. This image was created with the Orbit Viewer applet, provided by the Osamu Ajiki (AstroArts) and modified by Ron Baalke (Solar System Dynamics group, JPL).;sstr=41P