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Hi Down There

One of my friends was surfing the Internet when he came upon a series of photographs taken by Air Force that have been turned over to the USGS. Several photographs showed the area around the Frosty Drew Center In Ninigret Park. Not only are the roofs of both the Observatory Dome and the Nature Center visible but the walkways and the yard square telescopes pads on the northwest side of the building. The pictures were taken in 1995.

I suspect that these photographs are not the best possible images from the satellite which took them at an altitude near 250 miles. However even with the blurring and the distortion of the Earth's atmosphere it is possible to establish the exact latitude and longitude of the Observatory's Dome. We can even see the stripes in the center of Park Lane. These stripes are less than 6 inches wide. Our very best estimate our position prior to these photographs were based on USGS topographic maps. They were off by several yards in both the latitude and the longitude.

The moon is roughly 1000 times as far away as the satellite which took the picture of Ninigret park. When we look up the closest we see the Moon in our telescope is the equivalent of seeing it with ours eyes about 470 miles from the surface. The smallest object we could hope to see would be about 500 yards across. We might just see the swimming pond in Ninigret Park as a dot if it was on the Moon but nothing much smaller.

Kids often ask us if we can see the Lunar Rover or one of the landing sites. We can't since that is beyond the resolution of our telescope. The largest telescopes on Earth are able to resolve objects which are some 40 times smaller than the smallest ones we can see at Frosty Drew. Even these telescopes cannot resolve anything on the Moon much smaller than 35 feet across. The Rover is only about a quarter this size.

When satellites fly over, I've sometimes waved at them as a joke. Visitors at Frosty Drew get a laugh, but I'm wondering if the laugh is really on me. Perhaps somewhere there is a photo of me waving.

The great planets are back in our sky after a long absence. Venus awaits us in the western sky these evenings. It will stay in the western sky the rest of the year as it chases Earth, catching up slowly. Pluto, Neptune and Uranus are up most of the night in Ophiuchus and Capricorn. However, the really exciting constellation is Taurus. It is hosting Saturn and Jupiter. For a dozen years, Jupiter has lead Saturn though the skies. However, this year while they were on the other side of solar system, Jupiter drifted pass Saturn and Jupiter now rises later than the ringed planet. We can usually see four moons of Jupiter, but this fall there will be times that Himalia will be well placed for us to catch a glimpse. We normally also can see a half dozen of Saturn's moons as well as the wonderful rings.

Fall is always my favorite season for viewing. The long nights allow us to see the planets and the deep space objects for more hours. The kids can stay long enough to see half a dozen treats because the sky is dark well before bedtime. The cooler evenings and the steady dry air that is common in the Fall lets us get far better than average views. After such a damp summer with 63% more cloudy Friday evenings than normal, a Fall with dry Friday nights will be welcome.

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Sep 1, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Columns
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