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President's Message - Jan 2005

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January 2005

Scott Mair

Comet Machholz, Hyades, Pleiades - photo by David LeeIt's been great to have a few clear nights at the beginning of the month. I've enjoyed the flurry of emails and photos on the RASC-Victoria web site about Comet Machholz and I have to admit I've hauled out my telescope a couple times to mark Machholz's track through Taurus on its way to Perseus and beyond. Machholz is no Hale-Bopp, but it good to see a comet that isn't named Linear and the fact that this comet was discovered by a fellow amateur (Don Machholz of Colfax, California who discovered it last August) makes it all the more alluring.

Despite the excitement of seeing a naked eye comet (I can even see it from my Saanich driveway), I must admit that my eye is drawn to that bright yellow 'star' just below the twins. Saturn looks fabulous right now; all the more so for the daily discoveries being made at the ringed planet by the Cassini spacecraft. I start off my day with a quick trip to the Cassini-Huygens website to see what's new. Each visit never fails to astound: peering through the atmosphere of Titan for the first tentative glimpses of the surface; spectacular 3-d pictures of Iapetus and Phoebe; exquisitely beautiful images of Saturn's rings * every day is a new and wonderful surprise.

Huygens Probe Release graphicIts January 14th that is marked on my calendar, though. That's the day Huygens lands on Titan. Carried as part of the Cassini spacecraft, this ESA probe was released on Christmas Day for its historic encounter with Titan. No one knows what Huygens will see as it parachutes to the surface. Will there be towering cliffs of frozen methane and lakes of liquid ethane (fortunately, Huygens is designed to float)? Regardless, Huygens should see something * despite the thick atmosphere the surface illumination on Titan is 1000 times brighter than the full moon on Earth.

Huygens is scheduled to impact the surface of Titan at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, January 14th. I may have to set my clock early that day * how often do you have a chance to be part of history?


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Last updated: December 12, 2013

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