Updates and Twitter

March 20, 2009

Hello all readers.

I know it’s been months since an update, but I promise to “get back on the horse” and maintin this site more faithfully. With this being the International Year of Astronomy, there is much going on.

In the meantime, I want to make everyone aware that the astronomy club now has a Twitter feed. With that, we will be giving more up-to-date reports in addition to our website and this blog.We believe it will especially come in handy during our public night season, as we make “go/no-go” decisions in case of “iffy” weather conditions.

So if you would like to check us out on Twitter, please follow the link below, or on the side menu.

GRAAA on Twitter


It’s a Great Time to See Mercury

May 11, 2008

Last week and this week are the best times to spot the elusive planet Mercury, as it’s orbit brings it nearly 1/3 of the way up our western horizon in the evening sky.

The bets time is about 1/2 hour after sunset. Go out and look to the west-northwest for a small, dim starlike object in the twilight.

Mercury in the western sky the evening of May 14th

Last week Mercury was very near the crescent moon on the 6th, making a striking pair.

If you miss Mercury this week (or next), you will have another chance in the evening sky when September comes along.

NASA Astronaut to Speak in Grand Rapids

April 14, 2008

The notice is a little late, but for those of you who might be interested, NASA astronaut David C. Leestma will be speaking on Wednesday evening, April 16th, at the Public Museum in Grand Rapids Michigan.

The Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association is proud to co-sponsor this special event with Grand Valley State University, the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, and the Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship Fund.

Captain Leestma is currently the Manager of the Advanced Planning Office at the Johnson Space Center, Houston. His position entails heading a team involved in strategy for development and implementation of this country’s most ambitious of all human space programs: return to the moon and an expedition to Mars.

His presentation, “Flying in Space: What It’s Like and What’s Ahead” will include his experiences as a NASA astronaut, his missions, and a look ahead to an exciting future for exploration, as humans progress toward missions throughout the star system.

The presentation begins promptly at 8.00pm. Persons interested in attending are encouraged to arrive early, as seating is limited. Please mark your calendars and join us for what is sure to be a memorable evening for all.

For more information, please visit this page on the GRAAA site.

Spring Just Has to Come Sometime

March 20, 2008

Yes, that’s correct. Soon it will be officially Spring.

At 01.48 EDT, the sun will appear to be directly above the equator, heralding the start of Spring in the northern hemisphere of our little planet. Astronomers like to call it the “Vernal Equinox.” At this time we have (for the most part) equal parts day and night, as the sun rises due east and sets due west in the evening (both of these times causes headaches for those persons driving on east-west roads).

The sun is slowly climbing in our sky, bringing with it the promise of warmer weather, the growing season, and more daylight, culminating in the summer solstice in June.

This is “astronomical spring” as opposed to “meteorological spring” which started on march 1st. While the weather people tend to think of the seasons as it pertains to the calendar, and weather averages over time, astronomers choose something less arbitrary: the position of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

Now to dispel a rumor that has been going around for years – that on the Vernal Equinox it is the only time you can stand an egg on end. That’s incorrect. You can do this any day of the year, and at any time of day (the author once stood 15 eggs on end in the middle of August, because he had nothing better to do, and also to debunk this rumor).

But instead of going into detail about why this egg-standing rumor is false, I am going to point you to Dr. Phil Plait, who owns the badastronomy.com website. He has an excellent page about the egg myth, and just recently posted a video on how to do it.

Standing an egg on end on the Spring Equinox

How to stand an egg on end

Once you’ve figured out the secret, tell your friends. And after you have perused the rest of Dr. Plait’s site, come back here for some more information later on about this month’s full moon, and why Easter is so early this year.

Have an eggs-citing first day of Spring!

Special Presentation: Mars Rovers

February 12, 2008

The Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association is having a special event on Tuesday, February 19th. A special guest speaker will give a program on the Mars Rovers, and meteorites on the planet Mars.

Special Presentation at the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Meijer Theater, starting at 7.30pm. Our special guest – coming in for this presentation – is James Ashley, NASA Fellow and Executive Director of Minor Planet Research, Inc. He will be speaking on “The On-going Search for Meteorites on Mars (their numbers, their significance, and their future…)”

About the Topic:

Meteorites do not just occur on Earth, but also on other bodies in the solar system. Discoveries of meteorites and meteoroid impact on the Martian surface have been made by the Mars Exploration Rovers and Thermal Imaging System (THEMIS) camera aboard the Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

Mr. Ashley will be explain the process of meteorite hunting on another world, the phenomenon of Near-Mars Objects (NMOs), what we have found, and why we care.

About the Speaker:

James Ashley is a NASA-sponsored doctoral candidate at Arizona State University’s School for Earth and Space Exploration, where he is working as a Payload Downlink Lead on the Mars Exploration Rover science team. He is also using the miniature thermal emission spectrometer (Mini-TES) instrument on both rovers to address questions relating to meteorite weathering on the martian surface. James co-founded Minor Planet Research, Inc., in 2000 to assist in addressing the impact hazard, and developed the Asteroid Discovery Station to foster interest in science and discovery among the world community of young explorers. He has given more than 1,000 public presentations on astronomical and geological topics, and served as science consultant for the History Channel program ~ Comets: Prophets of Doom.

The program begins at 8.00pm. This meeting is open to the public. All are encouraged to attend.

Presenting the Mars Rover Mission

February 9, 2008

If you happen to be in the Kalamazoo Michigan area on Monday, and have some free time in the afternoon, perhaps you would consider a trip to Western Michigan University for a space exploration lecture.

At 4.00pm EST, Dr. Ray Arvidson (Director of the Earth and Planetary Remote Sensing Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis) will present

“The Mars Exploration Rover Mission”


The two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have been traveling across the surface and making scientific measurements for over 1200 Mars days or sols. Opportunity landed on Meridiani Planum on what we now know are ancient lake beds formed in an acid-sulfate aqueous system. Spirit landed on olivine-bearing basaltic plains and then drove to the older Columbia Hills.

The Hills are an ancient volcanic complex with extensive evidence for the interaction of water and magmatic systems, including hydrated sulfate and silica deposits. The evidence for the interaction of water and crustal materials will be discussed, along with implications for habitability and life on Mars.

Monday, February 11, 2008
4:00 P.M.
1104 Rood Hall
Western Michigan University Campus

If you have been following the intrepid rovers for the past four years (and yes, it has been four years since they landed. Not bad for two little craft with a ninety-day mission) you know how wonderful and intriguing their story is.

This program is sponsored by the WMU College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geosciences.