VOLUME XXXIV Numbers 1-2 January

Numbers 1-2
January-February 2009
President – Rick Hogue (850) 474-9119
V-P – Dewey Barker (850) 458-1591
Secretary – Sharon Bogart (850) 983-9860
Treasurer Jim Larduskey (850) 434-3638
Observing - Warren Jarvis (850) 623-8061
Librarian: Jacque Falzone (850) 261-9745
Observatory Chair - Paul Moffat (251) 621-0299
NWFAA Contact: Dennis Hausch (850)428-9467
Editor and ALCOR: Dr. J. Wayne Wooten,
Physical Sciences, Room 9704,
Pensacola Junior College,
Pensacola FL 32504-8998
Phone (850) 484-1152 (voicemail)
(E-mail) wwooten @ pjc.edu
Please mail all dues to EAAA Treasurer, 4660 Shannon Circle, Pensacola, FL 32504
Returning to Battery Worth this Summer
The EAAA was first formed by Robert Blake and friends 50 years ago this June...Our continued
participation in Sky Interpretation with the National Park Service is a fitting celebration for the 400th
anniversary of the telescope. The National Park Service has now set up a schedule of public gazes, which
we would love to get national publicity. These sessions usually drew 100-250 viewers, with slide
presentations of constellations, live images of planets and deep sky objects on screen, satellite tracking,
constellation identification, free star charts, and really dark skies kept dark by NPS rules. The gazes were
interrupted by the destruction of the Ft. Pickens Road by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and only now has it
been restored. Here is the NPS press release.
Can you believe we should be back at Fort Pickens next summer? I assume the Astronomy
Association would like to resume do some public stargazing events at Fort Pickens. I was looking at
some stargazing dates for next year at Battery Worth.
Friday, June 19, 8 pm to 10 pm for the public
Friday, July 17, 8 pm to 10 pm for the public
Friday, August 14, 7:30 pm to 10 pm for the public
Friday, Sept. 18, 7 pm to 10 pm for the public
Friday, Oct. 16, 6:30pm to 10 pm for the public
You may remember that the Fort Pickens Area officially closes for day use at 10:00 pm with the
exception of registered campers. In the past the Astronomy Association volunteers were sometimes
allowed to stay beyond the public event and leave as they wish. The Amphitheater may not be
operational, but you could still have public viewing.
From the attached messages, you will notice the National Park Service is trying to put together a calendar
of events for the International Year of Astronomy. It would be nice to include some events at Gulf
Islands. Thanks for the consideration.
--Steamer Lawhead, Gulf Islands National Seashore
Numbers 1-2
January-February 2009
Page 2
Sky Interpretation for October 24, 2008
We did have a few sucker holes in the fast moving clouds, so did get to do the mythology gaze
for Dr. Charlie Schuler's class members. It was too windy to break out the heavy artillery, but did get the
Eon 72 out for viewing Jupiter's moons and discussing their myths. Also went over Lyra (Orpheus's
harp), Aquila (the Roman Imperial Eagle), Cygnus, Hercules with Draco his victim, Ophiuchus and the
medical cabinet connection, Sagittarius and the new centaur connection on Old Spice commercials, Aries
the sacrificial Ram, and of course the Clash of the Titans cast, with Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda,
Perseus, Pegasus, and Cetus. Members assisting with the gaze were Dewey Barker, Roland McDavid,
Rick Little, Gary Wiseman, Bill Cristea, and Larry Mouton. Guests attending included Charlie's students
Hannah Geci, Jamie Shorey, Taylor Wachtel,and Branigan Wright, as well as Elise Fomularo, Chase
Landrum, and Troy Lambert from my astronomy classes. We also had about 20 other members of the
public walk over to enjoy the patches in the clouds framing the constellations with my laser pointer for a
few minutes at a time. It was a beautiful evening to feel the seasons changing with the cool winds
whipping down from the north. Special thanks to Beckie and the NPS for supporting these gazes, and we
are looking forward to getting back to Battery Worth for next summer, if plans for the new road are
--Wayne Wooten
Halloween Gazes
Historically, we get about a dozen witches, ghosts and goblins visiting on Halloween. Twenty is
pushing the high end. I have no idea what happened this year, but the number sky rocketed to between 60
and 70. Of that number, approximately 40 and their parents were lining up to gaze at the waxing, crescent
moon; then at Venus and finally at Jupiter with 3 of its 4 bright moons (Io, Europa and Callisto) visible.
Connie was handing out the candy and logging the identity of each kid (I don't know who the “Dead
Bride” is but she is certainly popular this year) while I was playing “Mr. GoTo” keeping a celestial object
in focus for the next person to take a peek.
Gotta love the kids. The thing to do with a telescope is to grab onto something and twist while
pushing your eyeball right down on the eyepiece. I was getting incredibly good at getting those targets
back into view using my finder scope. As each kid learned to hold onto the ladder instead of the scope
and to almost touch the eyepiece they were mostly able to spot whatever was in focus at the time. There
were lots of “Wow,” “Cool,” “Amazing,” and other terms often heard on star gazes. We referred
everyone to the EAAA meeting place, dates and times, and let them know they could have access to a
variety of scopes frequently set up for star gazes. Some were already familiar with the organization. It
would be handy to have a quantity of business cards or EAAA fliers to provide star gaze visitors with
contacts for additional information. Tonight I left the laptop, software and electronic eyepiece in the
house. For the kids there is always the upcoming 2009 star gaze.
---Richard L Walker
Thanks for the report, Richard. Carol and Rich Sigler brought their binocs, and helped Billy
Jackson and I at the Night Walk planetarium presentations Friday and an EAAA gaze outside. Had about
70 folks, including some of my students drop by there. Also had four new prospective members sign
up...fun time for all, with some Milky Ways left over.
--Wayne Wooten
Belleview Gaze Report
I arrived at the school around 5:15 PM and met with Evelyn Ballard to find out where we were
going to set up our scopes. We drove around the back side of the school and set up in the middle of the
track area. The school had coordinated with the Maintenance Dept and was able to get the nearby lights
turned off. As I was setting up, Tom and Kim Dragon, Ron Kruse and Bert Black arrived to help with the
Numbers 1-2
January-February 2009 Page 3
The night was crystal clear and transparency was quite high, I would guess at 7+ with seeing
about average for the area about mag 3 or so. Views to the North and East were washed out up to 30-40
degrees due to the nearby light pollution, Polaris was the only star I was able to see in the Little Dipper. I
guesstimate that we had between 40-60 students and parents and three teachers come out to look through
our scopes with the viewing starting around 6:00 PM. Overall, the kids were well behaved and waited
patiently in line for their turn at the various scopes the members set up. I had my Orion 100mm refractor,
Tom had his Celestron C-5, Ron had a home-made 4" dob and 10" Zhumell dob and I'm guessing Bert
had his 6" dob, since I didn't get a chance to see what he set up. I was busy for about an hour and a half
as I used red, blue and green colored filters to create interesting viewing effects while bouncing between
the Moon and planets. Two of the kids had an interest in clusters and nebulas, so I swung by scope over
to the Pleiades and to the Orion nebula after it cleared the trees. The Trapezium was easily spotted but the
nebulosity was quite tenuous and difficult to see because of the light pollution and it's low height in the
sky. The crowd thinned out around 7:30 or so with Bert and Tom departing shortly after them. Ron and I
swung his 10" scope over to look for Andromeda and finally found it after a little bit of difficulty, straight
up can be tough sometimes.....We chatted with the teachers for a short while and finally packed up about
8:00 PM. Everyone expressed their appreciation to us for coming out and I look forward to holding
another gaze here.
--Dewey Barker
Avalon Middle School Gaze on December 5, 2008
I arrived at Avalon Middle School around 5:15 PM and met Rick Little in front of the cafeteria.
We drove around behind the school and found Wayne Travis and Warren Jarvis already setting up their
scopes. The teacher that coordinated this event, Scott Faucher, set up his scope using a digital eyepiece to
show images on a computer monitor. Liz Rushing arrived a short time later and set up her scope. We
had a fairly nice night, it was slightly chilly and we had to do battle with a lot of high thin clouds. The
Moon, the Pleiades, Venus and Jupiter were the primary objects I focused on during the course of the
event. I estimate we had around 30-40 students and parents attend this event. Not a large crowd,
especially compared to the gaze we had last year but this one allowed me to provide a bit more hands on
experience to the attendees. I was able to show several students and parents how to manually drive my 4”
refractor between the objects we were viewing. I also used my laser pointer to give some constellation
tours and to demonstrate how to star hop to find objects to view. The event ran up to 8:00 PM or so
before we began tearing down for the night and we were thanked many times for taking the time to come
out and set up. I look forward to going out to this school and set up for more gazes.
--Dewey Barker
Endeavour’s Victory Lap
We just saw Endeavour and SCA!!!!!! WOOOOOHOOOO!!!!!! My Mom got some pictures of
it too. Should be over Pcola right now.
(Editor’s note; received at 12:23 PM on December 12, 2008; Austin was in Lillian, Alabama. By
the time I got back from lunch, it had passes Pensacola, but my alert allowed the Wheelers in Crestview
to spot it heading south over the horizon. Austin’s mom’s photo is on the cover).
It's beautiful isn't it? I remember one year (1994 or '95, I think), I had come home early one day to take
my wife (God rest her soul) to the doctor. As we were getting into the car, I heard a loud noise from
Eglin, like that of a plane taking off. Only it was more than just a plane!! It was a 747 carrying the
Shuttle. I don't know which one it was. It had made a fuel stop at Eglin, and was on its way to Denver for
a post-flight inspection. I got to see it from a distance of about 1000 ft. It passed right over my house!!!
WHOAH‼‼ WHAT A SIGHT‼‼ You could have knocked me over with a feather. I'll never
forget it.
--Tony Russo, NWFSC Astronomy
Numbers 1-2
January-February 2009
Page 4
Minutes of the EAAA Meeting/ Program November 14, 2008
Rick Hogue, EAAA president opened the meeting at 7:15 p.m. in the Astronomy Classroom at
PJC. There were approximately 40 members and guests present.
Sharon Bogart introduced Jay Gallops and Chris Hammond as guests. Jay invited interested
EAAA members to visit one of the USS Continuum functions. The Continuum group is still planning to
attend a shuttle launch in 2009. The Continuum group is interested in scientific advances, space
exploration, and other activities. The group helps with community service projects, has camping trips,
participates in a bowling league, and has many other activities including a monthly meeting.
Jim Larduskey, the EAAA treasure, reported there was $2008.18 in the checking account,
$1607.44 in the savings account, $346.05 petty cash and a total of $3961.67. Jim issued a $200 check to
the USPS for postage. He issued a check for the new supply of EAAA tee shirts. An up to date “Star
Shooting CD” will be available at the December Christmas for trade-in of a previous version or for $10.
The dues for 2009 will be collected at the Christmas party. Jim circulated a list for Astronomy Calendars
and “Ottewell” reference manuals.
In old business, Dennis Hausch had new tee shirts and hats for sale. The results of several
stargazes were reported.
The gaze at Trinity Presbyterian Church was successful.
Niceville/Valparaiso stargaze on Columbus Day evening was successful. Most of the other gazes were
hampered be weather.
Rick Hogue reported Dr. Clay Sharrod, Steve Self, and Rick got the EAAA 16” Meade telescope
in good order. Dr. Sharrod opined the instrument was a good optical instrument. Steve Sanford donated
funds to the EAAA to purchase the required repair parts. The EAAA members owe a debit of gratitude to
Steve, Dr, Sharrod, and Rick for getting the instrument in good working order.
The elections for the 2009 EAAA officers were held. Warren Jarvis, elections committee
chairman, introduced the nominations. The floor was opened for additional nominations. Tom Dragon
requested the EAAA by-laws be published for members review. After a brief discussion, Dr. Wooten
indicated the by-laws will be included in the upcoming Meteor.
The slate of officers was elected by acclamation. They are: President-Rick Hogue, Vice President
—Dewey Barker,
Treasurer—Jim Larduskey, and Secretary—Sharon Bogart. The program for
January will be “Digital Camera Astrophotography” by Mike Davey.
The EAAA Christmas Party will be December 12th at 7:00 p.m. (Set up at 6:30) Sharron Bogart
circulated a list for items to be brought to the party.
Dr. Wooten indicated our web page discussion board, “Draco’s Lair”, is to be discontinued
because of changes that Microsoft has introduced. The EAAA Webmaster has not been paid. The EAAA
treasure was asked to remit payment now that the treasury is solvent. (Has been done—editor.)
A discussion was held concerning the future use of the EAAA observatory. It is the consensus of
the members present that the 16” Meade be made available for sale at the current used market price. The
EAAA trailer and other equipment should be retained and an 8” to 10” telescope be used with the trailer.
The meeting was adjourned. Dr. Wooten conducted an interesting program entitled
“What Happened to Comet Holmes?” Dr Wooten showed EAAA member and local student photographs
of the evolution of the comet as it circled around our Sun from approximately a year ago until it faded in
the distance early this year. The possible reasons for the explosion were discussed.
--Bert Black
EAAA Meeting/Christmas Party December 12, 2008.
Rick Hogue, EAAA president opened the meeting at 7:15 p.m. Geology Classroom at PJC. There
were approximately 50 members and guests present.
Jim Larduskey, the EAAA treasure, reported there was $1096.68 in the checking account,
$1607.44 in the savings account, $432.05 petty cash and a total of $3136.17. The dues for 2009 were
collected and the Astronomy Calendars and “Ottewell” reference manuals were available. An up to date
EAAA “Star Shooting CD” was also available at the meeting.
Numbers 1-2
January-February 2009
Page 7
In old business, Dave Halupowski had new tee shirts and hats for sale. The results of several
stargazes were reported by Dewey Barker. The attendance at the Bellview Middle School was about 50
students and parents. The weather was cool but the view of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter with it’s moons
was fine. The Avalon Middle School was attended by approximately 30 students and parents. John
VeDepo spent Thanksgiving weekend at Chiefland and he reported that the astronomy viewing was fine.
The program for January will be “Digital Camera Astrophotography” by Mike Davey.
In new business, there will be a meteor watch at the Munson Air Field on January 2, 2009.
Weather permitting the watch will begin about 10:00 pm. The meeting was adjourned for the EAAA
Christmas feast. The food was excellent and enjoyed by all who participated. Thank you Sharon Bogart
for organizing a fine spread of food.
--Bert Black,
Minutes of the EAAA Meeting of January 9, 2009
Rick Hogue, EAAA president, opened the meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Geology Classroom at PJC.
There were approximately 41 members present including guests and students of Dr. Wooten. An award
was presented to Bert Black for his many years of service as secretary in the EAAA club.
In old business, Mike Davey has educational books for $4.00 for those interested in the clubs
education program. There are exactly 5 levels to the program.
Jim Larduskey, the EAAA treasurer, reported $1,746.18 in checking, $1,607.44 in savings,
$708.05 in cash, for a total of $4,061.67. A payment was made in December of $180.00 for a mailing
permit (annual membership fee). If you signed up for calendars, you can pick them up or pay for it. Extra
Ottewells and calendars are available as well as Star Shooting CDs which you can trade in or pay $10.00
for your initial copy of our club photo gallery. Shirts and hats are available through Dave Halupowski.
For our dark sky report, t was reported that in the February issue of Astronomy there is a good
article on the Dark Sky. So be sure to check it out!
In new business, on February 6th Steve Self to do a program on remote telescopes with
LightBuckets.com site. On March 6th, NPS Astronomy Ranger Becky Mims-Breeding will tell us what
the National Park service is doing for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. Dr. Wooten suggested
we get enough pictures together from the past 30 years of stargazes from Ft. Pickens
In upcoming events, Hurlburt Field gazes are planned for January 24 and March 28th , Ft. Pickens
gazes start on June 19, July 17, Aug. 14, Sept. 18, Oct. 6, April 2-3 is the Festival on the Green or (FOG)
as it is called with UWF, Sidewalk gazes – Dewey to set up at Pensacola Beach, April 23 is the annual
Georgia Sky View at Indian Springs State Park , April 24-25 is French Camp in Mississippi.
January 15 is the telecom for Night Sky Network.
A new comet has been spotted, Lullan. There is a lot unknown about how it will react as it nears
the sun. Should be above the head of Scorpius sometime around Feb. 15 th and hopefully will be visible
with the naked eye or binoculars. Check out updates at www.spaceweather.com.
On a note, Rick Hogue reported that Dr. Clay Sherrod from the Arkansas Observatory was
looking forward to coming back next year for another visit. Meeting adjourned at 7:25 p.m.
For our program, Mike Davey conducted a program on Digital SLR Camera’s for
Astrophotography. Some good starting Digital SLR Camera’s are: Nikon D40…..$450, Canon Rebel…..
$550 and Sony Alpha 20…..$450-$600. Some good places to shop are: Astromart and Craig’s List.
Program adjourned at 08:25 pm.
--Sharon Bogart, Secretary
Editor’s Note: Sorry this issue is so late, but Mr. Garber is on sabbatical this term, and I
have nine classes of astronomy at PJC and UWF, so time to work on EAAA projects such
as the Meteor is severely limited. Hope to have the March-April issue out in early March.
Keep those articles, photos, cards and letters coming, will do the best I can with them….
Numbers 1-2
January-February 2009
Page 8
Ft. Pickens Gazes for 2009 (Steamer Lawhead)….………….……………………………………………...….…………. .. 1
Gaze Reports (Wayne Wooten, Richard Walker, Dewey Barker) ……………………………………………….… 2-3
Endeavor’s Victory Lap (Austin Page, Tony Russo) ……………………………………………………....……..…3
Minutes of the November, December, January Meetings (Bert Black, Sharon Bogart), …..……………..………..4,7
Club roster for January 2009 (Jim Larduskey) ………………………………………………………………….….5-6
Calendar of Events
Jan. 30 Crescent Moon passes 2.5 degrees N of Venus in western sky…compare their phases telescopically
Feb. 2 Groundhog day finds the Moon at first quarter
Feb. 6 EAAA meets at 7 PM, room 1775, Steve Self takes us on-line to view through “Light Buckets”…
Feb. 9 Full Moon, the Wolf or Hunger Moon in native American tradition
Feb. 11 Moon passes 6 degrees south of Saturn, both rising about 8 PM; Saturn almost ringless now
Feb. 16 Last quarter moon
Feb. 20 Venus at greatest brilliancy, mag. -4.6; she is now about 25% sunlit, but about 40” of arc across
Feb. 23 Waning crescent Moon passes just south of Mercury, Jupiter, then Mars in morning twilight
Feb. 25 New Moon, Ceres at opposition, its closest approach to Earth since 1867; can you see it naked eye?
Mar. 2 Mercury passes .6’ south of Mars in early morning; both lie 22 degrees west of Sun in SSE
Mar. 4 First Quarter Moon
Mar. 6 EAAA meets at 7 PM in room 1775; plans for Sky Interpretations with NPS by Ranger Beckie
Mar. 8 Spring forward to daylight savings time; Saturn at opposition, rising in NE as Sun sets in SW
Mar. 10 Waxing gibbous Moon passes 6 degrees south of Saturn in early evening sky
Mar. 11 Full Moon, the Grass Moon as the snow melts up north
Mar. 20 Vernal Equinox at 5:45 AM CDT; for the rest of our lives, it will always be on the 20 th, not 21st
Apr. 24 Mid South Regional Stargaze at French Camp…remember to register early
Please remember to pay your annual dues. Mail check or pay at the meetings to Jim Larduskey,
4660 Shannon Circle, Pensacola, FL 32504. Regular - $24, Student and Senior - $12, Meteor - $10
Escambia Amateur Astronomers
c/o Physical Sciences
Pensacola Junior College
1000 College Boulevard
Pensacola, FL 32504-8998
Endeavour’s Victory Lap by Cindy Page
Non-Profit Org.
U.S.Postage Paid
Pensacola, FL
Permit # 918
What Happened to Comet Holmes?
by Dr. Tony Phillips
One year after Comet 17P/Holmes shocked onlookers by exploding in the night sky, researchers are beginning to
understand what happened.
“We believe that a cavern full of ice, located as much as 100 meters beneath the crust of the comet’s nucleus,
underwent a change of phase,” says Bill Reach of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of
Technology. “Amorphous ice turned into crystalline ice” and, in the transition, released enough heat to cause
Holmes to blow its top.
Anyone watching the sky in October 2007 will remember how the comet brightened a million-fold to naked-eye
visibility. It looked more like a planet than a comet—strangely spherical and utterly lacking a tail. By November
2007, the expanding dust cloud was larger than Jupiter itself, and people were noticing it from brightly-lit cities.
Knowing that infrared telescopes are particularly sensitive to the warm glow of comet dust, Reach and colleague
Jeremie Vaubaillon, also of Caltech, applied for observing time on the Spitzer Space Telescope—and they got it.
“We used Spitzer to observe Comet Holmes in November and again in February and March 2008,” says Reach.
The infrared glow of the expanding dust cloud told the investigators how much mass was involved and how fast the
material was moving. “The energy of the blast was about 10 14 joules and the total mass was of order 10 10 kg.” In
other words, Holmes exploded like 24 kilotons of TNT and ejected 10 million metric tons of dust and gas into space.
These astonishing numbers are best explained by a subterranean cavern of phase-changing ice, Reach believes. “The
mass and energy are in the right ballpark,” he says, and it also explains why Comet Holmes is a “repeat exploder.”
Another explosion was observed in 1892. It was a lesser blast than the 2007 event, but enough to attract the
attention of American astronomer Edwin Holmes, who discovered the comet when it suddenly brightened. Two
explosions (1892, 2007) would require two caverns. That’s no problem because comets are notoriously porous and
lumpy. In fact, there are probably more than two caverns, which would mean Comet Holmes is poised to explode
“The astronomer who can answer that question will be famous!” laughs Vaubaillon.
“No one knows what triggered the phase change,” says Reach. He speculates that maybe a comet-quake sent
seismic waves echoing through the comet’s caverns, compressing the ice and changing its form. Or a meteoroid
might have penetrated the comet’s crust and set events in motion that way. “It’s still a mystery.”
But not as much as it used to be.
See more Spitzer images of comets and other heavenly objects at www.spitzer.caltech.edu. Kids and grownups can
challenge their spatial reasoning powers by solving Spitzer infrared “Slyder” puzzles at
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology,
under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Comet Holmes as imaged by the multiband imaging photometer (MIPS) on the Spitzer Space Telescope. The
enhanced contrast image at the right shows the comet’s outer shell and mysterious filaments of dust.
Note to editors:
this image may be downloaded from http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/news_images/holmes_spitzer.jpg.
Severe Space Weather
by Dr. Tony Phillips
Did you know a solar flare can make your toilet stop working?
That's the surprising conclusion of a NASA-funded study by the National Academy of Sciences entitled Severe
Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts. In the 132-page report, experts detailed
what might happen to our modern, high-tech society in the event of a “super solar flare” followed by an extreme
geomagnetic storm. They found that almost nothing is immune from space weather—not even the water in your
The problem begins with the electric power grid. Ground currents induced during an extreme
geomagnetic storm can melt the copper windings of huge, multi-ton transformers at the heart of
power distribution systems. Because modern power grids are interconnected, a cascade of
failures could sweep across the country, rapidly cutting power to tens or even hundreds of
millions of people. According to the report, this loss of electricity would have a ripple effect
with “water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in
12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and
so on."
“The concept of interdependency,” the report notes, “is evident in the unavailability of water due
to long-term outage of electric power—and the inability to restart an electric generator without
water on site.”
It takes a very strong geomagnetic storm to cause problems on this scale—the type of storm that
comes along only every century or so. A point of reference is the “Carrington Event” of AugustSeptember 1859, named after British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington who witnessed the
instigating solar flare with his unaided eye while he was projecting an image of the Sun on a
white screen. Geomagnetic storms triggered by the flare electrified telegraph lines, shocking
technicians and setting their telegraph papers on fire; Northern Lights spread as far south as
Cuba and Hawaii; auroras over the Rocky Mountains were so bright, the glow woke campers
who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning!
“A contemporary repetition of the Carrington Event would cause … extensive social and
economic disruptions,” the report warns. Widespread failures could include
telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation. The total
economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion (some 20 times greater than the
costs of Hurricane Katrina).
The report concluded with a call for infrastructure designed to better withstand geomagnetic
disturbances and improvements in space weather forecasting. Indeed, no one knows when the
next super solar storm will erupt. It could be 100 years away or just 100 days. It’s something to
think about … the next time you flush.
One of the jobs of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) and the
Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) operated by NOAA is to keep an
eye on space weather and provide early warning of solar events that could cause trouble for
You can keep an eye on space weather yourself at the National Weather Service's Space Weather
Prediction Center, www.swpc.noaa.gov. And for young people, space weather is explained and
illustrated simply and clearly at the SciJinks Weather Laboratory, scijinks.gov/weather/howwhy/
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a
contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
On this power-grid map of the United States, the black-circled areas are regions especially
vulnerable to collapse during an extreme geomagnetic storm. Inside those boundaries are more
than 130 million people. Credit: National Academy of Sciences report on severe space weather.
Note to editors: This image may be downloaded from
Superstar Hide and Seek
by Dr. Tony Phillips
It sounds like an impossible task: Take a star a hundred times larger in diameter and millions of times more
luminous than the Sun and hide it in our own galaxy where the most powerful optical telescopes on Earth cannot
find it.
But it is not impossible. In fact, there could be dozens to hundreds of such stars hiding in the Milky Way right now.
Furiously burning their inner stores of hydrogen, these hidden superstars are like ticking bombs poised to ‘go
supernova’ at any moment, possibly unleashing powerful gamma-ray bursts. No wonder astronomers are hunting for
Earlier this year, they found one.
“It’s called the Peony nebula star,” says Lidia Oskinova of Potsdam University in Germany. “It shines like 3.2
million suns and weighs in at about 90 solar masses.”
The star lies behind a dense veil of dust near the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Starlight traveling through the
dust is attenuated so much that the Peony star, at first glance, looks rather dim and ordinary. Oskinova’s team set
the record straight using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Clouds of dust can hide a star from visible-light
telescopes, but Spitzer is an infrared telescope able to penetrate the dusty gloom.
“Using data from Spitzer, along with infrared observations from the ESO’s New Technology Telescope in Chile, we
calculated the Peony star’s true luminosity,” she explains. “In the Milky Way galaxy, it is second only to another
known superstar, Eta Carina, which shines like 4.7 million suns.”
Oskinova believes this is just the tip of the iceberg. Theoretical models of star formation suggest that one Peonytype star is born in our galaxy every 10,000 years. Given that the lifetime of such a star is about one million years,
there should be 100 of them in the Milky Way at any given moment.
Could that be a hundred deadly gamma-ray bursts waiting to happen? Oskinova is not worried.
“There’s no threat to Earth,” she believes. “Gamma-ray bursts produce tightly focused jets of radiation and we
would be extremely unlucky to be in the way of one. Furthermore, there don’t appear to be any supermassive stars
within a thousand light years of our planet.”
Nevertheless, the hunt continues. Mapping and studying supermassive stars will help researchers understand the
inner workings of extreme star formation and, moreover, identify stars on the brink of supernova. One day,
astronomers monitoring a Peony-type star could witness with their own eyes one of the biggest explosions since the
Big Bang itself.
Now that might be hard to hide.
Find out the latest news on discoveries using the Spitzer at www.spitzer.caltech.edu. Kids (of all ages) can read
about “Lucy’s Planet Hunt” using the Spitzer Space Telescope at spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/spitzer/lucy.
This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology,
under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The “Peony Nebula” star is the second-brightest found in the Milky Way Galaxy, after Eta
Carina. The Peony star blazes with the light of 3.2 million suns.