President’s Message

December 2020

I hope the club’s election process went well for you. Please provide feedback to us about your experience so can improve the setup for future elections. Thank you all for supporting me to be president for the next year. I hope we will have enough vaccinations available to hold in-person meetings and public events before the end of 2021. Parkland’s classes are online for the rest of the semester, with the exception of the career courses that require in-person training for certification. This was actually planned from before the semester began, but it seems especially timely. Based on the trends and the pending holidays, I don’t know if the spring semester will start with any in-person classes, but I do know we will have a spring break. I hope very few of my students plan to travel during that time. Keep your eyes on Jupiter and Saturn in the southwest each evening. There are a couple terms you will hear for this event, with the most common one being “conjunction”. It’s appropriate because they appear lined up in the sky, but it may be confused with an astronomical conjunction, which is defined based on a celestial body being lined up with the Sun and Earth. Jupiter and Saturn are the rarest of the conjunctions of visible planets since they have the longest orbits, so their “great conjunctions” occur every twenty years. Occasionally, those conjunctions occur when the planets are close to opposition, so their retrograde motions make them go through three conjunctions, i.e. a “triple conjunction”. Finally, I learned a term at the beginning of this year that would only apply to objects being close in the sky: an “appulse”. The great appulse of 2020 is the closest Jupiter and Saturn will be to each other in the sky since 1623! I want to see if I’ll be able to resolve the two apart from each other on December 21. I mourned the announcement of the decommissioning and likely demolition of the Arecibo telescope. I have never seen it in person, but I’ve been amazed to learn its role in radio astronomy over the years. Radar from this humongous 1000-foot telescope was used to determine the rotation periods of Mercury and Venus, and it was featured in the 1990s films Goldeneye and Contact. I’m hopeful that it will be replaced by another, better telescope, much in the way the 300-foot telescope at Green Bank Observatory was replaced by the 100-m telescope after it collapsed. The Arecibo telescope is no longer the largest single dish in the world. The Chinese built FAST, the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, and it’s exciting to see what discoveries that observatory will make. Thanks to Ken Murphy for joining us an amazing tour of OpenSpace at our last club meeting. I hope it encouraged some of you to install the software and try it out for yourselves. It was especially neat to see what custom imagery he added to the system, including the radio bubble showing the extent of human radio transmissions into space. This month’s club meeting on December 10 will have no set format. At our normal December meetings, we don’t book a speaker and invite everyone to socialize in the planetarium lobby and share a potluck. Instead, I’m asking everyone to consider bringing a small topic to share. It can be a photograph, an article, a video, a club idea, subject to discuss, a cool trick of using telescopes, cameras, image processing, or sky visualization software, or even a question about astronomy, photography, or software. It’s an open forum, and all contributions are welcome as long as they promote congenial conversation. Feel free to nibble on some food or enjoy a drink while you join us. Clear skies! Erik 3  

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