Peninsula Astronomical Society

A May D

May 2008 Schedule

May 5 Mon - NEW MOON 3:18 a.m. PDT May 9 Fri - PAS General Meeting: “Planet Formation” with Joe Baranco of SF State.
Room 5051, Foothill Campus. 7:30 p.m. Parking $2.00.

May 10 Sat - Astronomy Day Star Party at Foothill College. Bring your telescope! Sunset at 8:07
Also - Foothills Park Star Party. More details inside!

May 14 Wed - PAS Board Meeting Foothill Observatory. 7:30 p.m. May 19 Mon - FULL MOON 7:11 p.m. PDT

June Schedule
Jun 3 Tue - NEW MOON 12:23 p.m. PDT Jun 7 Sat - Foothills Park Star Party See last month’s issue for details. Sunset 8:28 p.m. Jun 13 Fri - PAS General Meeting: To Be Announced 7:30 p.m., usual location. Jun 18 Wed - PAS Board Meeting Foothill Observatory, 7:30 p.m. Members welcome! Also: FULL MOON 10:30 a.m. PDT

PAS Club Information and Foothill Observatory Hours
Foothill College Observatory is open to the public every clear Friday evening from 9:00pm to 11:00pm. The Observatory is also open for solar observing through special Hydrogen-α solar filters every clear Saturday morning from 10:00am until Noon. These programs are FREE, except $2 parking fee at Foothill (see next page) and everyone is welcome to attend. For information, please call the Foothill Observatory Information at (650) 949-7334 any time for a recorded message.

Check out the Club’s Web Site at To download a PAS membership application and information sheet, check our Web site (above), and send to:

Peninsula Astronomical Society, PO Box 4542, Mountain View, CA 94040

PAS Board Members

Read Your Mailing Label
The mailing label on a member copy of includes the Oak Ridge Road gate combination for the current month, the driveway combination lock, as well as the membership expiration date. All are printed on the top line of the label. The Oak Ridge Road gate combination is first, the combination for the lock on the driveway chain is next and the expiration date is last. If the label says "Dues Expired!" or "(No Disclaimer)" on the top line, then read the next two paragraphs. "Dues Expired!" means that your membership in the PAS has expired. If you wish to renew, dues are $25 per year for Senior and Family member-ships, and $10 per year for Junior (16 years of age and under) memberships. Make checks payable to Peninsula Astronomical Society and mail to the address below. “(No Disclaimer)" means that we have not received an Oak Ridge Road Site Use Disclaimer form from you. To get a copy, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the club at the address below along with a note asking for the Disclaimer form, and we'll send you one. If we receive your dues and/or your completed Disclaimer form before the next PAS Board Meeting, you should find the Oak Ridge combination on the label of your next copy of . The club's formal business and mailing address is:

Oak Ridge Road Gate and Driveway Chain Instructions (New!)
OAKRIDGE ROAD GATE: There is a gate at the entrance to the Oak Ridge Road Observing site. An electronic keypad is located to the left of the car driver. Enter the combination numbers in sequence (as shown on the label from left to right), one at a time. Make sure to begin with the “#” sign! If you make a mistake, just try again. The general gate procedure is as follows: #1. Stop car directly over concrete pad in front of the gate. #2. Enter combination on keypad. #3. Gate opens inward. #4. Drive through. Gate shuts automatically. DRIVEWAY CHAIN: The three-number combo will appear on the top of your mailing label if you’ve sent in your Disclaimer form. The lock works the same as any Master Lock #1 - Turn right (clockwise) three turns to the first number (on mailing label). #2 - Turn left past the first number to the second #3 - Turn right again directly to the third number If you’re the last to leave Oakridge, PLEASE make sure the chain is put back up and locked.

President and Nite Skies editor Vice Pres. Sect./Treasurer

Bill Sorrells

(408) 370-1215 sorrellw(at)

Sarah Wiehe

Rick Rodgers

(650) 493-2098 Judrick557pa(at)


Foothill Observatory Oak Ridge Programs

Gary Baker

(650) 424-2620 gary.j.baker(at)

Phelps, Sorrells, Barrett Ken Lum
(650) 508-1879 lum40(at)

Telescope Loans Membership

Oliver Barrett
(408) 749-0551 orbs(at)

Foothill Parking Fee Reminder
A parking fee is required for all visitors 7 days a week, from 7am to 10pm. This means that all attendees to our General Meetings will have to pay $2.00 for a parking permit or face the possibility of a parking ticket (at last check, $25.00). Foothill College Observatory users will also have to display a parking permit. Parking permits are available from RED dispensers using $2.00 in quarters; or from the hi-tech YELLOW dispensers which take $1 bills, (permit cost still $2, but you won’t need quarters!)

William Phelps
(650) 493-4742


Michael Kran
(415) 888-3293 michaelkran(at)

Peninsula Astronomical Society P.O. Box 4542 Mountain View, CA 94040

Terry Terman
(650) 967-0223 terry(at)

Steve Banville

Jeff Buell
(408) 252-9261 j_buell(at)

Brian Day
(408) 323-3350

The Peninsula Astronomical Society would like to thank Dan Walsh and family of DJ Electronic Graphics in Sunnyvale for their support in the production and printing of .

May Meeting: Planet Embryos in Vortex Wombs: The Origin of Planetary Systems
by Ken Lum The next PAS General Meeting will be this Friday, May 9 at 7:30PM in our regular venue in Rm. 5015 in Bldg. 5000 near Parking Lot #5 at Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills. Our speaker will be Dr. Joseph Barranco of San Francisco State University who will be speaking on “Planet Embryos in Vortex Wombs: The Origin of Planetary Systems”. The past 15 years have witnessed the discovery of planets in the most unexpected of places: terrestrial-size planets around such “dead” stars as pulsars , gas giant planets that orbit their parent stars much closer than Mercury does our Sun , and now even planets around “failed” stars known as brown dwarfs. Besides these unusual systems, astronomers have now discovered more than 200 planets around other Sun-like stars, and the search continues as we try to find a system that looks just like our own. Clearly, the mechanisms of planet formation are far more robust and varied than had been first imagined. These new discoveries have sparked a Renaissance in planet formation theory, an understanding of which is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on mechanics (both solid & fluid), thermodynamics, electromagnetism, astrophysics, and geophysics. Dr. Barranco will present recent computational simulations of the settling of dust sub-layers in the protoplanetary disks of gas & dust out of which planets must form. Alternative mechanisms will also be described for concentrating dust, including 3D vortices (“giant hurricanes”) in protoplanetary disks, which trap dust grains in the “eyes” of such storms. Dr. Barranco attended Harvard University where he earned a B.A. in Physics, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Magna Cum Laude, in 1993. His undergraduate thesis, “Velocity Coherent Structure in the Dense Cores of Dark Molecular Clouds,” was done under the guidance of Professor Alyssa A. Goodman. He earned his Ph.D. in Astrophysics in 2004. His Ph.D. thesis, “Theory and Numerical Simulation of Three-Dimensional Vortices in Protoplanetary Disks,” was done under the guidance of Professor Philip S. Marcus in the Berkeley Computational Fluid Dynamics Lab. In 2006, his thesis won the

Nicholas Metropolis Prize for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis in Computational Physics from the American Physical Society. He also received a National Science Foundation Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship, which was split between the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Institute for Theory & Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He joined the Department of Physics & Astronomy at San Francisco State University in the summer of 2007. Fortuitously, as my record of having our guest speakers track recent articles in the popular literature continues, the latest May issue of Scientific American has an article on the mechanisms of planet formation by Douglas C. N. Lin of UC Santa Cruz titled “The Genesis of Planets” if you want to prepare for this talk. Someday, we will also hear from him on this topic as well since he is nearby. I will let you know on our pastro network on the possibility of dinner with our guest at Chef Chu’s Chinese restaurant in Los Altos. If this happens, it will be held at 6PM. Don’t forget that parking is $2.00!

Astronomy Day May 10 at Foothill Observatory
Mark your calendars for this Saturday, May 12, when we will celebrate Asronomy Day with two public star parties! First, we plan to have our “standard” public viewing outside Foothill Observatory so all members are invitied to bring your telescopes and show the wonders of the heavens to the public (and each other!). Sunset is at 8:07 p.m., so try to be set up by then. In addition, we plan to have the solar telescope in the dome up and running for most of the day, so members who haven’t had the chance to see the new solar prominence telescope will have a fine chance to do so. If you would prefer to join William Phelps at Palo Alto’s Foothills Park the same evening, you will find details on the next page. Either way, we hope you will come out and have fun with PAS on Astronomy Day!

Foothills Park Star Party - May
by William Phelps
The next Palo Alto Foothills Park public star party for 2008 (the first “official” one) is scheduled for this Saturday, May 10. Sunset is at 8:07 PM; a 35% waxing crescent Moon sets at 1:08 AM on Sunday. As usual, anyone bringing a telescope gets in free and does not need to be a Palo Alto resident. If asked, tell them at the gate that you are an amateur astronomer participating in the public star party. This event is organized by PAS but you do not need to be a PAS member to participate. The view from Vista Hill is quite pleasant - bring a picnic supper and come early to watch the sunset! The park entrance will close at 10:00 PM; the star party ends at 11:00 PM for the public. Astronomers may stay later if they wish and a PAS officer is present to hold the gate key. Foothills Park is approximately 3 miles up Page Mill Road from Highway 280; the entrance is at the apex of a hairpin turn and pretty easy to find. The star party itself is held on Vista Hill, the highest spot in the park that you can drive to. Ask the ranger at the gate for directions or simply follow the signs. Astronomers may drive past the cones blocking the road and park at the top of the hill (assuming there is room left - the limited parking fills up quickly!). For further information contact myself at: william (at) or Ranger Curt Dunn at curt.dunn (at) If you are planning on going, *please* let me know so we will have an idea of how many scopes we will have. The next Foothills Park Star Party after this one is scheduled for June 7.
Sunset & Moon data from:

Fraknoi to Speak on “Fiction Science” in SF May 16th
The Center for Inquiry, San Francisco presents: ‘The White House Astrologer, the Roswell UFO, the ‘Face’ on Mars, and > a Young Universe: A Skeptical Look at Fiction Science” , a nontechnical talk by astronomer Andrew Fraknoi, Friday May 16th 2008, at the World Affairs Council Auditorium, 312 Sutter St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco. Thanks to the popular media, an enormous amount of attention has been given to some pretty amazing claims on the fringes of astronomy. These include the idea that your life path and romantic destiny are determined by the position of objects in the sky at the moment of your birth; that extraterrestrial space-craft have regularly landed on our planet (and kidnapped innocent citizens without being noticed); that an ancient race left us a message on the planet Mars in the shape of a human face; and that the entire cosmos is less than 10,000 years old. In this illustrated talk, Foothill’s own Andrew Fraknoi will discuss the most famous ‘fiction science’ claims related to astronomy, and provide the background and analysis needed to appreciate them properly. He will unveil some recent detective work about these cases, and show how there is often a lot LESS to them than initially meets the eye. And he will demonstrate how a few skeptical questions and a bit of careful investigation can often help bring these extra-ordinary cosmic claims down to Earth. Presentation starts at 6:30 pm, doors open at 6:00 pm. $10 General Admission, Free to ‘Friends of the Center for Inquiry’ For more information, contact: Michael D. Adkisson, Coordinator, Center For Inquiry, San Francisco, 2215R Market St #418, San Francisco CA 94114. Call 415.335.4618. Website: Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College and Senior Educator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He served as the Society’s Executive Director for 14 years, and has organized over 20 national workshops on teaching

astronomy. Fraknoi is the lead author of “Voyages Through the Universe,” which has become one of the leading astronomy textbooks in the country and recently wrote a book for children, “Disney’s Wonderful World of Space.” He appears regularly on local and national radio explaining scientific developments in everyday language. In 2007, he was selected as the California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education and won the Gemant Prize of the American Institute of Physics for a lifetime of contributions to combining physics and culture. The International Astronomical Union has named asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi in recognition of his contributions to the public understanding of astronomy.

Carter Roberts In Memoriam
PAS mourns the loss of longtime East Bay Astronomical Society President Carter Roberts. He was well known to virtually all of the amateurs on the West Coast, and will never be forgotten by any of us. See the obituary by Norm Sperling on the Sky and Telescope Web site:

This remarkable shot by PAS member Dr.Chris Kitting was taken in late December from Oak Ridge. It shows THREE comets (none of which is the outbursting comet Holmes, which was out of the image to the left). Composite of two exposures. Attendees at the March meeting may remember we spotted the second comet (which turned out to be comet Lovas) on the projected image, and Chris found the third (NEAT) later on closer inspection. Chris expresses his thanks to Richard Nolthenius for assistance in identification.

Peninsula Astronomical Society P.O.Box 4542 Mountain View, CA 94040

May 2008:
Friday, May 9th in Room 5015, Foothill College

“Formation of the Planets”
Join us for Dr.Joe Baranco of SF State, who will explain where and how the planets came into existence. More inside, including June schedule.
Meetings are free and open to the PUBLIC. $2 Foothill Parking Fee required. Park in Lot #5



Astronomy Day Fraknoi on “Fiction Science”