MIRA 60
Spring 2002


MOON LANDING FRAUD??

Here at last is conclusive proof of NASA's fraud moon landing provided by our intrepid explorer and overseas correspondent, Mr. Mike Frost.  I'm sure that these images will impress all who see them and with the help of the text reveal all the mistakes NASA made.


Heroic images or NASA fraud? At last we have the conclusive proof!  The image on the left (Pic 1) clearly shows the supposed 25,000 of thrust generated by the lunar lander to arrest its descent.  Yet in the image on the right (Pic 2), where is the giant crater this would have created?  Looks like the complex web of NASA lies is about to unravel!


(Pic 3 Left) Another apparently inspirational image from the NASA archive.  All seems fine at first but notice the numerous directions in which the shadows are falling (marked with arrows)  This indicates that the image is probably composed of several images taken at different times (probably in a top secret studio guarded by specially trained aliens working as government agents) and joined together using advanced technology NASA always denies existed at the time.  This is the photographic equivalent of an automotive "cut-and-shut" job.  If this image was your car you wouldn't trust it to take you to the end of your road without breaking in half!

(Pic 4 Right) Not much wrong with this picture you may think.  Yet by thinking that, you would just become yet another of NASA's conspiracy victims.  Firstly, despite the absence of an atmosphere, no stars can be seen in the sky.  Secondly, the interior of the shopping basket can clearly be seen when all areas in shadow should be pitch black due to the absence of air molecules.  Nice try NASA, but we are not fooled that easily!


(Pic 5 Left) Just way too many things wrong with this picture!  Notice the absence of stars again.  The arrows indicate the various directions in which shadows are falling, again showing evidence of inconsistent scene illumination.  Yet, there is something even more obviously wrong with this picture.  If the length of the lower support column of the lunar lander was 4 feet tall, this would indicate that the astronaut was over 8 feet tall which none of the astronauts were.  Another careless mistake from NASA.

(Pic 6 Right) Oh yes NASA, it's all very well adding stars on this picture just to make us realize how wrong we have been.  We are not fooled so easily!  If we look a bit more closely we spot the constellation of Pegasus with the planet Saturn (marked S1) clearly visible in the top left corner.  Yet at the time of the mission, although Saturn appeared to be near Pegasus from Earth, from the moon it would have appeared to be in a completely different position (marked S2).  It is almost insulting to think that NASA thought they could get away with this obvious howler.


(Pic 7) Well with this image where does one begin?  Inconsistent shadows, too much ambient light and incorrect planetary positioning in the sky are all evident here.  Also notice how the focal length of the camera lens has changed compared to the pictures above even though the astronaut's Hasselblad cameras were only fitted with a single type of prime lens.  Just how stupid did the NASA officials think the public were?





Editors Bit
by Ivor Clarke

During a recent meeting of the C&WAS a discussion took place about the Moon Illusion, ”. . .why does the Moon looks so big when on the horizon and so small when high in the sky?"  Various tricks to try to see a different were discussed, looking at it up-side-down, from between your legs in the privacy of your garden, (so as not to frighten the neighbours), in a mirror, through a cardboard tube and so on:  well you get the idea. . .  I have read about this effect and have seen it on many occasions, and the Moon does look BIG coming up over the horizon.  It is not a physical effect of the atmosphere magnifying the Moon or the sun for that matter when they are low.  We have all seen that lovely sunset on holiday with a big red sun dipping down over the hills or setting over the sea.  And it does look bigger than it should do and a lot bigger than it did at midday when it was high in the sky!  But if a set of photographs are taken at say 5 or 10 minute intervals on the same piece of žlm, of the Moon rising up into the sky for an hour or two, all the images will be the same size.  Looking through a few old astronomical magazines, I found a picture that shows this affect clearly (May 2000 Astronomy Now, page 77).
This strange optical elusion is, I believe, answered by the way we see the world.  We, our species, have only had 200 to 300 generations  with civilisation, only 10 to 15 with any science ™ but many thousands of generations have been spent avoiding being eaten for lunch by a large wild hungry animal.  In that sort of environment the brain will try to protect us to live another day and if it does so, we may be able to live long enough to have children and pass on our skills at staying alive.   We, our species, are one of the slowest, weakest, animals on the planet, with poor eyesight, poor smell and hearing compared with nearly all other beasts.
But we do have one overwhelming advantage.  We are clever.  Well for the most part!
The eye/brain combination has developed to work together to detect movement, both to catch pray and most important, to avoid being eaten. The eye/brain is very sensitive to any movement, it has to be, too keep you alive when you could have only the smallest of chances of spotting trouble before it pounces.  The tiniest of movements is spotted even out of the corner of the eye.  Hopefully giving time to avoid the danger and reaching safety.
So if we look up into the sky the brain will switch into a wide angle mode to try to take in as much as possible of the scene, and every little movement in that wide želd will be registered.  If you lie on your back in a meadow and look up you can just about see the whole 180° of the sky in all directions.  Birds are spotted which are just dots in this vast area of sky.  The brain takes in all of this with ease.  But when you look towards the horizon, even if it is only a little way off, the brain will go into a zoom mode and focus on a smaller area of interest, just in case a sabre tooth tiger is in that bush.
The area around the horizon is quite small and it is here we need to see prey or danger.  We need to spot danger as we don‘t want to be lunch and we need to spot food, either a small furry creature or a berry.  In doing so we subconsciously focus on a far smaller želd of view trying to see detail in a tiny area.  All this is done because we are trying to make sense of the world around us, we focus on a small area because we ™ our eyes that is ™ are not like birds‘ eyes which have a spot in the centre which gives them a close-up magnified area just in the center of view.
So when the moon shows itself silhouetted on the horizon we look at it with curiosity.  Because it is an unfamiliar object at that place and time the old brain goes into tele mode magnifying it in its effort to try to recognize it.  Other objects near it are also magnified in our subconscious so we don‘t notice it so much.  So all objects on our horizon are magnižed but we don‘t notice it in everyday events, only when something catches our attention do we really look.
And looking is one of those things we do all the time without really thinking about what we see.  Things familiar to us are not studied because we know what they are, or think we do.  Try to draw from memory the view from your front door.  Then go and compare it to reality.  You will have a surprise how things are different sizes and position to your drawing.
Only in a few thousand more generations of civilization can we hope to loose this tiny handy-cap to our view of the world.
 








Life in the Extreme
by Ivor Clarke
Life under deep ice?  Is there a place on Earth that can help us to explore the ice covered world‘s of Jupiter's moons?  Is there anywhere were we can learn the techniques for sampling pristine water supplies without polluting it?    Yes there is. 
 

Hopefully in a few years from now we will have our first views of an extraterrestrial!!  Don‘t get too excited as it may well be only as big as a full stop on one of these pages.  And it will most properly be dead.  But it will be life from another planet, or rather a moon.  That moon is Europa.
Europa is the second of the large Galilean satellites out from the planet Jupiter, it is also the smallest of the four and it seems to be made mostly of water.  Each time the NASA Galileo spacecraft flew past taking photographs, it only deepened the mystery of how its surface formed.  The closer we look, the stranger the frozen surface of Europa appears.  Ridges and cracks run for miles and most of the surface lies in a broken mess which looks as if it has broken and frozen several times.  In areas near to impact craters white streaks spread across the surface, but the craters are very shallow, refilled from  water which then froze in the -150°C temperature.
Europa Lies about 600,000 km above the cloudtops of Jupiter and orbits the planet in 3.5 days, mostly outside of the harmful radiation torus which circles the planet in  Io‘s, the volcanic moons orbit.
What started as a part of the 2010, Odyssey Two story by Arthur C. Clarke, with the landing on Europa by the Chinese spaceship Tsien — is now part of an ongoing task to find the truth.  Does life exist on Europa?  In the story, a large black seaweedy life form crawls out of a crack in the ice and climbs over the ship to get to its bright work lights and tips it over killing most of the crew.  When 2010 was written in 1981, it was a novel idea to have an ice covered sea on a distant moon far from the sun.  This was the first time I had heard of a possible sea under the icy crust of Europa.  This idea was first put forward by Richard Hoagland in a magazine article in January 1981 and rapidly take up by others.
But how could there be liquid water so far from the warmth of the sun?  After all Jupiter lies 780 million kilometres from the sun and the temperature in the vicinity is a chilly 140°K.  Water at these temperatures will be frozen into ice as strong as steel.  Even though the surface is very cold, ice is a good insulator and deep down warm water may flow.

The ice covered world of Europa with its strange brown streaks and weird terrain, broken surface and a noticeable lack of impact craters implying a young surface remodelled recently.


The gravitational forces at work on the moon from both Io and Ganymede and also Jupiter pull the body of Europa first one way and then the other.  Like all close orbiting satellites, each turns the same faces to its parent planet in a synchronous rotation; ie. one turn of the moon to one orbital revolution — the same as our Earth‘s moon.  But because each of the three inner moons of Jupiter are locked together in a 4:2:1 dance, the rhythmic pulls every 42 hours generates a lot of heat by flexing the core of the moon first one way and then the other.  This causes friction and friction causes heat.
The volcanos on Io are the result of a lot of pulling from Jupiter and Europa.  So Europa is pulled by both Io and Ganymede, how much heat does this generate under the ice?  We don‘t yet know if the sea under the ice is only meters or kilometres deep, likewise the icy coating could be meters or kilometres thick.  If it‘s kilometres it will be a difficult job to drill through it to get instruments into the water to look for any sign of life.
As yet we don‘t know if there is life out there.  Could life exit in total darkness, at tremendous pressures, and maybe very cold?  A few years ago the reply would have been NO.  Without sunlight life will die because the food chain cannot start up with simple plants like the blue-green algae which the smallest crustaceans and fish feed on.  But since then "black smokers" have been discovered in very deep water near the mid ocean ridges.  With boiling water erupting out of towering chimneys they provide a home to various types of creatures.  Life in the hot, chemical enriched water thrives, but it‘s a very hostile environment to us.  Could this be happening 3 miles down under the antarctic ice?
Here on Earth we have our own unexplored ice covered ocean or in this case, lake.  Only in the last few years has it been discovered that a Russian Antarctic Research Station has been sitting for years on top of a body of water that no one knew about and no one has ever seen!


Work carried out at the Russian Vostok (East) station in the Antarctic on cores bored out of the ice by deep drilling have been examined for many years to determine the weather across the globe thousands of years ago.  The Vostok station is about 1,000 miles from the south pole and has been operational for over 37 years.  During that time they have been drilling holes into the ice to study the oxygen isotope composition of the ice from the last glacial period.
In 1995 they drilled the longest ice core ever at 3100m.  The lake was discovered in 1996, right under the base.  Ice cores have been extracted from the deep artic ice above the recently discovered the lake which is under 12,000 feet of ice.  Why the water in the lake is not frozen is a mystery, but it is under enormous pressure and it could be up to 1 million years old.  During all of this time it has been preserved from the rest of the worlds environment by the icy coating.  Could anything be living in such an hostile place without sun light?  Who knows what may by alive down there?
Samples have been taken from a depth of 1,250m, (4,000 feet) and from 3,600m (12,000 feet) just a hundred meters above the top of the water.  Work has gone very slowly as a precaution against breaking through into the pristine lake with a contaminated drill.  Work is continuing on how best to explore and sample the water with out contamination influencing the results.  As this water is completely unpolluted by any recent source, either organic or chemical the scientific value is enormous.  No attempt will be made to sample the lake until it can be established that no contamination can take place.  The drill must be sterile as must the sampling equipment.  Lessons learnt in the antarctic will be used 800 million kilometres away!
"It‘s possible to say that ancient impacts of asteroids on the Earth could have ejected soil, rocks, and seawater containing terrestrial microorganisms into space, and that they may have made it to other places in the solar system," explained Richard Hoover at NASA‘s Marshall Space Flight Center.  Hoover is an X-ray astronomer who is also is internationally known for his work on diatoms and he believes that living microorganisms locked in ice could remaining viable for long periods in space before landing on another body.  That earthly bugs can exist in space was found when bacteria was discovered to have survived on both the Long Duration Exposure Facility and the European Retrievable Carrier spacecraft after 6 years in space!
Ice seems to be a great preserver of low forms of life.  It has been found in artic ice 400,000 years old and in Siberian permafrost more than 5 million years old.  Most of the microbiology is in the form of fungi, algae, protozoa, bacteria, diatoms and pollen blown in on winds from all over the globe.  All this is captured by the ice and laid down to form a time capsule showing how earth‘s climate has changed over the enormous time scales since before the last ice ages.  It also offers the potential for showing how genetic material can change over time and how plant growing conditions change.

Europa Orbiter scanning Europa's surface sometime during 2011.


Lake Vostok was discovered by seismic and other tools which revealed the lake‘s presence.  The lake is overlaid by about 3,710 meters (12,169 ft) of ice and may be up too 1 million years old.  Since the discovery, drilling has gone slowly while procedures are worked out to keep it pristine.  No one has seen or sampled the lake - the deepest ice sample is from 100 meters (328 feet) above the liquid surface - nor is anyone sure why it is liquid, hence the scientific curiosity.  While Lake Vostok holds clues about life on Earth, it also is a good model for conditions on Europa.  The lake is about 48 by 224 km (30 by 140 miles) in size — about the size of Lake Ontario — and 484 meters (1,600 ft) deep.  Recent data indicate that it has about 50 meters (165 ft) of sediment at the bottom.
Europa is now one of the main "highest priority targets" in the solar system for the NASA planners.  If all goes well, a launch in 2008 will start the exploration with an orbiter to arrive 3 to 4 years later depending on the transfer orbit chosen.  The main science aims are to determine the presence of a subsurface ocean.  To measure the three-dimensional distribution of the water layers.  To map with precision the gravity field and determine heights with laser altimeter.  To map the surface and identify landing sites for follow-up future missions with ice penetrating radar.  Later missions will be planned on the information sent back be these orbiters, finding a location to land a penetrator to tunnel through the ice into the under water sea.  It is likely that it will not drill through the ice, but melt through it laying out a connecting cable as it does so.  When it gets through into the ocean, a hydrobot will be sent out to explore.  The pressure under kilometres of ice will be great even in the low gravity so the machines must strong and have a great deal of intelligence in their operation.  Can we build machines to do the job with no help from earth‘s operators?
Any organisms, if found, are collective known as extremophiles.  These are able to live in conditions of extreme salinity, acidity or alkalinity, as well as extreme heat or cold and radiation.  On Earth microorganisms have evolved to fill almost all of the gaps in the biosphere, from deep mid-ocean ridges to mountain tops.  We are constantly surprised by the amount of life we find in the most unlikely places.
One of the problems to be solved will be how to preserve the what‘s call the forward contamination of Europa.  This is how do we stop any microorganisms from Earth contamination the Europa environment?*  NASA is spending a lot of time and money on this — as it is extremely important that NO bugs get into the system.  This is one reason why the Antarctica lake is so precious.  We must find ways to explore without modifying the environment we‘re exploring.
A final thought — in the last few years over 60 extra-solar planets have been discovered orbiting other stars.  Whilst almost all of them are in the "Super Jupiter" class, in close orbit around its primary star, some are far enough away to be near the water zone around every sun.  This raises the interesting question of "do they have moons?"  As in the quest for discovering weather Europa has life, we are now beginning to see that it may not be planets which harbour the abundance of life in the universe — but it may be the moons around the inhospitably planets where life really lives.


* Unlike the socks in Mike Frost's last story!! MIRA 59
 







Some Enchanted Evening
by Mike Frost

This is the story of the expedition to Palau, in the Pacific Ocean, to see the Leonid meteor storm, of the strenuous attempts to find a dark sky site to view the meteors, of a scary midnight boat ride.  And perhaps even the tale of how an English astronomer entered the legends of Micronesia.

The Leonid meteor storm consists of debris shed from comet Temple-Tuttle, which orbits the Sun every 33.3 years.  Three times a century, therefore, as the comet returns to the inner solar system, there is a run of four or five years when the Earth intercepts the streams of debris shed on previous returns of the comet.  It only takes the Earth an hour or two to cross a stream of debris, and so it is important to be at the correct longitude on the Earth's surface.
In 1999, I had the privilege of seeing the Leonid meteor storm from a Bedouin encampment north of Sharm-el-Sheikh, in the Sinai Desert.  That wonderful evening proved one thing — astronomers can now model the progress of the debris, to predict accurately the timing and duration of meteor showers.  Rob MacNaught and David Asher, who had triumphantly forecast the peak of the Sinai shower correctly to within 5 minutes, predicted that the best longitudes for the 2001 shower would be in the Western Pacific. Japanese weather couldn‘t be relied on, Australia was too far south for an ideal display, and so I joined the Explorers Tours expedition to Micronesia.
Palau is remote!  It took us forty-two hours and four flights to get there, stopping over for twelve hours in Guam.  Fortunately we were neither hi-jacked by Al-Qaida nor shot down by the Ukrainian army; our connections were all on time and our luggage survived the attentions of two separate airlines.  The journey was worth it. Palau is an extraordinarily beautiful chain of islands, surrounded by a coral atoll.  There‘s one large island, Babeldoab, about 25 miles by 10. South of Babeldoab is Koror, on which lies the capital and only substantial town on the islands, where our hotel was located.  South of Koror, Palau breaks up into hundreds of desert islands, mostly steep sided with a thick cover of bush. The sea has eroded the bases of the smaller islands, leaving tiny overhanging rock islands which look a little like upturned button mushrooms.  Palau‘s nearest neighbours, Yap and Guam, are hundreds of miles away.
For the first two days I concentrated on scuba diving, which was fantastic.  There was a super variety of coral, and because of the mid-ocean setting, the dives on the outer reef were wonderful; we hooked on to the reef, inflated our buoyancy jackets, floated like kites in the current, and observed the reef sharks as they casually stalked shoals of fish sheltering by the coral.
Hidden in the maze of islands within the atoll are numerous wrecks from World War 2 — I dived a Japanese oil tanker torpedoed in 1944, and a sunken floatplane.  One Japanese boat was reputedly sunk by George Bush snr.  On one of the islands is a saltwater lake containing a colony of 1.5 million jellyfish.  Lack of predators has left the jellyfish "virtually" stingless  (not a reassuring qualifier) and we were able to snorkel safely amongst them, a weird and very memorable experience.
As you can tell, I was immensely enjoying the diving.  Unfortunately I had to switch to the night shift for the meteor observing — exhausting, as I was just getting over the jetlag caused by an 11-hour time-shift.  The peak night for observing the Leonids was predicted to be Sunday 18th, but to be on the safe side, and to give my body a chance to re-adapt, I resolved to observe all night on the 17th as well.
The die-hard observers in our party (42 strong) had of course already observed all night on the 16th, our first night in Koror.  They had immediately encountered the problem of where to find dark skies.  The accessible bits of Koror and Babeldoab are all developed for tourism or local habitation, and it isn‘t easy to find anywhere without lights.  The observing party tried locating themselves at the end of one of the jetties.  Unfortunately this turned out to be the hangout for the local youths, who turned up at regular intervals in their cars, destroying night vision for the stargazers.
John Mason, our tour leader, consulted with the local agent, a jolly and rotund chap named Mr. Swingley (of Swing Tours).  Mr. Swingley had a lot of business interests, organizing many of the day tours that people went on.  His "city tour", which I managed to avoid, consisted of several trips up and down Koror’s main street.  Mr. Swingley had a solution to our dark sky problems.  His fleet of boats, which had already undertaken a snorkeling expedition, would ferry us on a 40-minute journey to the northern end of Babeldoab Island, to one of the fishing villages; here we would travel inland to a truly dark observing site.  The direct road route north was only accessible to 4-wheel drives.
So, at 10pm on the Saturday night, we boarded Swing Tours buses to another jetty, where we were assigned to three boats. Mr. Swingley was jovial — "Ladies on this boat, please", before announcing that this simply because that was the boat he was driving.  Two of his employees, brothers, skippered the other two boats.  The brothers, Mr. Swingley assured us, knew our route inside out, and so would be the lead boats.  Mr. Swingley‘s boat would take up the rear.
We cast off from the jetty, steered through the harbour and underneath the bridge leading to the open sea.  As the expedition approached the bridge, another boat arriving from the other side of the harbour cut in between my boat, number two in the chain, and Mr. Swingley in the vanguard.  We passed beneath the bridge and swung right towards Babeldoab Island. The interloper boat carried straight on — followed by Mr. Swingley‘s boat.
Where was he going?  The brother piloting our boat shrugged. "He‘s taking the short cut across open water to Babeldoab.  We‘ll see him there."  We took the channel hugging the coast, then cut across to Babeldoab close to the point of narrowest separation.  It was clear that the first boat in the convoy was rather faster than ours, and was pulling away from us.
Twenty minutes later we had reached the coast of Babeldoab.  A solitary fishing boat turned out its lights as we approached.  A second boat, displaying scuba flags, kept its lights on (were they divers or spear fishermen?  Or smugglers?). The lead boat was waiting for us.  They had asked the captain of the scuba boat if he had seen Mr. Swingley.  No sign of the third boat.
What were we to do?  Clearly we had lost touch with the third boat, but was it ahead of us or behind?  We decided to carry on to our destination.  After all, it was only a 40-minute trip, and so we were already half way there.
Twenty minutes turned into thirty, forty, fifty, an hour.  After an hour and twenty minutes, the lead boat stopped again and came alongside. Kate, our tour rep, had some disturbing news. "The skipper has just told me that we are only about a third of the way to our destination". "Oh No. . .  well, carry on.  What else can we do?"
We carried on.  The weather began to freshen, with drops of rain.  The sea swell began to rise; perhaps we were due a squall.  I knew from my diving trips that Palau was visited by short but intense squalls of warm rain.  The lead boat pulled away from us, to the point at which we could barely see it.  Both boats had lights, but the skippers seemed reluctant to turn them on, claiming that they could not see when the lights were switched on.  The lights of the channel we were following seemed to show red, then green, then red and green.
Suddenly the lead boat was directly ahead of us, parked across the channel with its lights off. Argghhh!  The lead boat shot forwards, our boat swerved to the right, and we narrowly avoided a collision.  The lead boat had been waiting for us — with its lights off!  John Mason took charge.
"Right, that‘s it!  We‘re turning back."
The brothers informed us that we had just passed a fishing village.  We turned round and made our way back to it, tying the boats up at the jetty.  The shaken astronomers offloaded the boats and climbed up slippery stone steps onto the quay.  The rain had stopped but most people took shelter underneath a wooden structure on the quay, where, I supposed, fish were processed after being landed.  Some people lay down to attempt to grab some rest; others wandered round with packs of biscuits, offering sustenance.  Our tour leaders marched off to the houses in the village to try to find a phone.  A pickup truck full of locals arrived on the quay to find out who the visitors were.
One observer, Steve, was white.  "We were going in and out of that channel, that‘s why the lights were changing.  We could have run aground at any time and ripped the keel off!  I‘m not going back on that boat."
After half an hour, John and the tour reps arrived back.  There was some good news — the third boat had returned to the harbour and those onboard were now safe in the hotel.  There was also some bad news — there was no road route out of the village we were in.  The only way out was by boat.  And so they were proposing setting off back to town.  "We‘ll keep the boats together, and rig up some lights."
Steve had disappeared — he had already made his mind up not to travel.  But the rest of the party seemed to accept the decision without murmur.   I was astounded.
I piped up.  "Hang on a second.  There‘s another option.  We came out here to do some observing — let‘s stay here and do the observing. There are lights out here on the quay, but I‘m sure we can find a dark site."
That didn‘t go down well.  "It‘s clouded over here, but we were told it was clear in Koror."
"But the first priority has to be safety,"  I persisted. "Not observing."
"Of course safety is our priority.  That‘s why we‘ll make sure the boats stay together and show lights."
And with that, people began to make their way back onto the boats.  Steve stayed behind but I joined the boats.  The few lifejackets we had were shared amongst the non-swimmers.  And we cast off from the quay and set off back into the night. . .

* * * * * * * *

Of course, the trip back to Koror was uneventful.  The boats stayed together, the lights worked; the sea didn‘t get any rougher.  But it rained strongly at regular intervals throughout the night, as squalls came across from Babeldoab Island.  Back at Koror, many people returned to the hotel, but some of us stayed at the quay to try to salvage something from the observing session. We observed, in between showers, until 5 am, but there were little more than sporadic meteors.
In the morning, Mr. Swingley sent out a boat to the fishing village to collect Steve.  The villagers had, of course, asked him why the curious party of biscuit-munching westerners had turned up from nowhere in the middle of the night.  Steve told them about the storm of meteors due for the following evening.

* * * * * * * * *

You can imagine that no one was in the mood for another boat trip.  After a few hours sleep, I joined a tour to a dolphin encounter, an extraordinary establishment, just opened.  A winding inlet in one of the islands had been closed off and turned into a series of enclosures, where eight dolphins were kept in captivity.  An enthusiastic team was gradually winning the confidence of the dolphins, and they introduced us, a few at a time, to the tamer dolphins of the group.
When we returned, the arrangements for "the night" were up on the notice board, and to the immense relief of everyone, no boat trips were planned.  Explorers had secured the beachfront at the Palau Pacific Resort, a very exclusive establishment.  We even had a suite booked to put stuff into.
We went early to the resort, and tucked into an excellent meal.  Then we sauntered out onto the beach, and settled down on sun-loungers to watch the show.  The weather was warm, of course, and although there was some cloud cover there was no sign of rain.  By arrangement with the management of the hotel, all the lights were switched off, although there were some lights at the end of the beach and at the road side of the hotel.
The sun-loungers were very comfortable.  Too comfortable, in fact, I found myself falling asleep. To begin with, there wasn‘t much activity.  After mid-night, as the Leonid radiant rose above the horizon, rates gradually began to rise.  The path of any Leonid meteor traces back to the radiant (indicative of the direction at which the Earth intercepts the debris trail).  In the early hours of the morning, therefore, meteors appeared to radiate from a point close to the horizon, and fan out into the eastern sky.  Towards dawn, the radiant was much higher in the sky, and shooting stars rained out from overhead in all directions — a real sense of the "stars falling from the sky", as the old descriptions put it.
Best of all, we began to see fireballs, which left behind persistent trails.  One particularly bright fireball exploded to the north of us, with a brilliant flash of green, leaving behind a trail that persisted for several minutes.  Other fireballs had pink and red tinges — some of the colours were familiar from aurorae; others came from burning elements in the meteors.
At no stage during the night was the sky completely clear — at worst, the sky was 75% covered, but at best there was less than 25% cover and great clarity in the clearest patches. The peak rates of meteors were around 18 in a minute, and rates in the teens persisted from 3 am until 5 am.  Unlike in the Sinai, where there was a definite climax at 4 am, there was a plateau of activity.  Asher and McNaught had predicted two merging peaks of activity, and there was some evidence for this, but because of the cloud it was difficult to say for certain.
From 5 am onwards, the sky began to lighten, and gradually all we could see were occasional fireballs, the final one spotted less than ten minutes before sunrise.  As the Sun came up, I gave up following Jupiter in the blue sky, and joined the bus back to the hotel.  At 4 pm that afternoon I was diving on the Japanese floatplane.

* * * * * * * * *

I didn‘t see as many meteors as in 1999. However, for the purposes of comparison with other showers, corrections were made for cloud cover, background light and low altitude of the radiant.  When these were allowed for, the Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) calculated was approx 4000 per hour, slightly better than the same measure for the Sinai.  Elsewhere in the Pacific, Guam was clouded out completely. Japan and Australia had good displays, and the extended plateau of activity meant that longitudes west of Palau were also favoured — I have read enthusiastic reports from observers in Beijing.
What do you suppose the Palauans made of it all?  Those we talked to were proud of their country’s unique opportunity to see the meteors, and many people in Koror stayed up or woke early to watch.
And what of the villagers of Babeldoab?  Theirs was an isolated community, certainly, with poor road access, but it would be silly to think that they knew nothing of the outside world; after all they did have a phone.  But we like to think that, in years to come, villagers will be telling their grand-children of the night they were unexpectedly visited by dozens of biscuit-munching astronomers — leaving behind one wise soul who foretold, with great accuracy, that the following night stars would fall from the sky.

This, surely, is the stuff legends are made of.







The Very Large Telescope
by Paritosh Maulik

In the last article we looked at what we hope to see with the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope (VLT), at Paranal, Chile.  In this article we shall discuss the various instruments employed at the facility and briefly discuss the next generation of large telescope.

VL TI Instruments

The instruments at the focus of the VLT Interferometer are
1)  Astronomical Multiple Beam Recombiner (AMBER) Capable of imaging and spectroscopic work in the range of near infra red (0.7 - 35 micron)
2)  Mid Infrared Instrument (MIDI) Infrared instrument operating at 10 mm
3)  Phase - Referenced Imaging and Microarcsecond Astronomy (PRIMA).  This instrument will be primarily used for comparatively faint objects.
i)  Imaging- AGN, radio galaxies and quasars.  High redshift galaxies.  Stellar population in star clusters close to galactic centre.
ii)  Microsecond Astronomy.  Detection and orbits of extrasolar planets other motions of stellar objects.

Instruments at Individual Telescopes

VLT first generation instruments at a glance are listed below; some of theinstrument are in place and some under construction.  The majority of the instruments have been built by the participant members.  The members are Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal is to join soon and the UK is considering the pros and c
ons of membership.

Optical Region 300-l000nm 3000-10000 A°

The five major instruments in the optical regions are FORS (there are two of these instruments), UVES, FLAMES and VIMOS.  They will be used for either direct imaging, low and high resolution spectroscopy and multiple object spectroscopy.  The Focal Reducer/low dispersion Spectrograph (FORS) basic roles include: direct imaging: long slit spectroscopy: multi-object spectroscopy (up to 100 objects simultaneously): polarimetry (FORS1) (study of polarisation): medium dispersion spectroscopy (FORS2). This instrument is located at Cassegrain focus of UT 1 and UT2. The main science objectives of FOBS: redshifts of distant galaxy clusters (redshift >0.5): galaxy counts: quasar - galaxy associations, fuzz around quasars objects: gravitational
lenses: arcs, multiply lensed quasars, lensing galaxy.  Spectropolarimetry, white dwarfs: active galactic nuclei (AGNS): jets: broad absorption line quasars: BL Lacertae objects: optically violent variables (Ows): chemical abundance in extragalactic stars and emission line nebulae.

UV- Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES)

Echelle spectroscopes use diffraction grating, but the grating lines are widely spaced 30-100 lines per mm. The result is an overlapping spectrum, which is resolved/separated by a prism.  Often on a thin prism these gratings are drawn; this system is called a grism. Since there are a few lines, the echelle grating is easy to produce, but requires a rather complex spectrograph design.  The detector is CCD type.  The final spectrum is of high resolution.  This instrument will cover in the range of 300-500 nm (blue) and 420 - 1100 nm (red).  Some aspects of polarisation will also be examined.  There will be provision for mulfi-object spectroscopy using optical fibre.  This instrument is located at Nasmyth focus of UT2.  The CCD detectors are cooled by liquid nitrogen at -196°C.
The main science objectives of UVES are the structure, physical conditions and abundance of interstellar and intergalactic gas at early epochs from the absorption spectra of high redshift QSO'S.  The kinematics of gas and stars in galactic nuclei and mass distributions of star clusters: composition and physical conditions of the interstellar medium in the galaxy and in nearby systems.  The chemical composition and atmospheric models of galactic and extragalactic stars: substellar companions of nearby stars (high-precision radial velocity studies over long time scales): stellar oscillations.

Fibre Large Area Multi-Element Spectrograph (FLAMES)

This is essentially a rotating fibre optic positioner, capable of studying 8 individual stars with 8 individual fibres.  It can operate both in the optical and infrared range; it's positioned at the Nasmyth focus of UT2. The science objectives include: large scale structure through red shift surveys. Dynamics of clusters of galaxies: abundance of stars in clusters and selected regions: stellar populations in nearby galaxies: stellar kinematics in clusters and galaxies: gravitational lenses: AGN's, QSO's: dynamics of dwarf spheroidal galaxies: outflows in young stellar objects: structures in the central parts of galaxies: substellar companions in low main sequence stars.

Visible Multiobject Spectrograph (VIMOS)

There are basically two instruments VIMOS at UT 3, and Near Infrared MultiObject Spectrograph (NIMOS, 1-1.8 micron) at UT4.  These are multiple slit spectrographs, and in a single exposure detect the spectrum of 750 objects.  VIMOS will be used for deep surveys to study the early universe, when it was around 10-20% of the present age.  In this range the spectrum is in the optical region, range covered 0.36 to 1 micron.  The main scientific objectives are evolution of galaxies and large scale structure of galaxies in clusters.  Gravitational lensing and distribution of dark matter, quasars and radio galaxies.

Near-Infrared Region 1 - 5 micron

Infrared Spectrometer And Array Camera (ISAAC).  There are two cameras, one covering the range 1-2.5 and the other 2-5 micron range for wide field imaging.  The beam can be sent to either the camera or the spectrometer.  The optical system is cooled to -196°C and the detectors are maintained lower than -200°C.  Science objectives include deep surveys, galaxy counts, study of high redshift galaxies, starburst galaxies, physical conditions/abundance in super nova, distance scale cepheids, redgiants, type 1 supernova.  Nature of active galactic nuclei central sources and their interaction with circumnuclear gas, stellar populations in galaxies, AGB stars in Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and also in the galactic centre.  Galactic deep surveys for low mass stars, infrared objects embedded in molecular clouds.

High-Resolution Near-lnfrared Camera (CONICA)

This instrument is to be used in the high resolution near infrared range of 1-5 micron for high resolution images, low resolution spectroscopy and some polarisation work.  Coronographic masks can be used. The optical system is cooled as above.  The development of CONICA has been based on the following; galactic centre and outflows and disks of young stellar objects, search for low-mass sub-stellar companions of nearby stars, structure of young embedded objects, cir-cumstellar material around T-Tauri stars.  Quasars and host galaxies, search for Black Holes in centres of galaxies.

VLT High-Resolution Infrared Eechell Spectrometer (CRIRES)

This spectroscope works in conjunction with an instrument which provides an image of x8 magnification.  This increases the observational capability of fainter objects, it will be housed in a cryostat. Working range 1-5 micron.  The Infrared spectrograph will be used to look for gaseous compounds in solar and extra solar planetary systems and the interstellar medium, it will examine the AGN and quasars. From the data, radial velocity and magnetic information can also be deduced.

SlNgle Far Object Near-lnfrared Investigation (SINFONI)

This is essentially a infrared spectrograph (1-2.4 micron range), but the image is fed by an adaptive optics, which relies on a guide star, either a natural or a laser guide star.  This instrument is suitable for; detection/study of quasar fuzz, distant elliptical, primeval galaxies, distant radio/interacting galaxies, central regions of stellar formation, surfaces of planets/satellites.

Mid-Infrared Region 8- 25 micron

VLT Mid Infrared Imager Spectrometer (VISIR)  This is the first terrestrial instrument of its kind and will compliment the space based observations.  In some objects absorption by dust in the range of 8-25 micron is very small.  The temperature of dust is about -130° to 130°C and the spectrum line presence of atoms, ions and molecules can be detected.  Such as regions of planet and stellar formation, interstellar medium, galaxy evolution and nucleus of active galaxys.

Nasmyth Adaptive Optic System (NAGS)
Is an adaptive optic system to be used in conjunction with CONICA, by using a reference star, it will feed CONICA with 'atmosphere corrected' information about astronomical objects.  This will be useful to study objects in the obscure region of the galaxy. This is expected to be the best terrestrial based instrument in terms of resolution, next to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The VLT was based on the experiences gained at New Technology Telescope, La Silla, Chile.  The VLTI is expected to run for 25 years, but ESO concept studies has already began towards the next generation of ground based Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs).  These are expected to be 100m diameter, fully steerable instruments and has been appropriately dubbed as OWL, Overwhelmingly Large telescope. Other organisations are working towards 30-50 m diameter instruments.
One US suggestion has been to use one of the spare 8 m mirror blank from the VLTI could be used in the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST).  This group proposes that the mirror blank would be thinned to 2 mm thickness.  This thin blank would weight less than 1 tonne, split into 3 segments it could be carried in the space shuttle, launched in the space, and assembled during a series of spacewalks. Once assembled 5,000 actuators will maintain the shape of the mirror.





Positions of Voyager & Pioneer

Positions of the Pioneer 10 & 11 spacecraft and the two Voyager spacecraft as of the start of this year.  Both of the Voyager spacecraft are travelling much faster than the Pioneer's at (V1) 17.2km/s and (V2) 15.7km/s.   Voyager 1 is now 84 AU from the sun and over 11.5 hours light travel time away.   The sun glows at magnitude -17 from that distance!