S&T News Bulletin - Jan 14



This past week thousands of professional astronomers gathered in Tucson,
Arizona, for the semiannual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. 
Not surprisingly, observations by the Hubble Space Telescope were a big
attraction. One example involves HST observations of quasars, distant
powerhouses recognized as the most energetic objects known in the
universe.  Their prodigious output has usually been attributed to
supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.  But HST observations
of 14 nearby quasars show that quasars exist in environments far more
violent and complex than expected. Often the Hubble images show no host
galaxy at all.  Others reveal quasars that are isolated in space but
situated very close to companion galaxies.  According to Princeton
cosmologist John Bahcall, "This is a giant leap backward in our
understanding of quasars."


HST data wasn't the only game in town, however.  A blue-ribbon panel
reported on the future of optical and infrared astronomy in the United
States.  The panel concludes that nation's highest priority should go to
developing and operating unique telescopes like the double-barreled 8-m
Gemini reflectors. However, the cost of operating such facilities will
have to be borne by the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, which
also runs Kitt Peak, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, and the
National Solar Observatory. Since NOAO's buying power has eroded by about
a third in the past decade, something may have to give.  Unless NOAO gets
another $5-10 million per year, the panel concludes, it may be forced to
close, mothball, or even give away some of its small telescopes.  The
biggest losers under this scenario would be astronomers and students at
small universities who carry out modest research programs with
1-meter-class instruments. Roughly half of all professional U.S.
astronomers fall into this category.


Periodic Comet Borrelly continues to drift slowly across western Ursa
Major. Later this month it will pass not far from the galaxies M81 and
M82.  We have not received any reports of its brightness in the last
couple of weeks, but it should be in the neighborhood of 9th magnitude. 
However, moonlight will pose a hindrance this week.  And this comet *is*
getting fainter, as it passed through perihelion back on November 1st. 
But if you should spot it, contact the editors at SKY & TELESCOPE with
your observing report.  Here are upcoming positions for 0 hours Universal

          R.A. (2000) Dec.
Jan 15   9h 51m   +65.5 deg
    17   9  50    +66.1
    19   9  49    +66.7


Be aware that observers in the United States are geographically in
front-row seats for an upcoming occultation of the bright star Spica by
the Moon.  The event occurs on the morning of January 23rd.  More details
will be given next week, but for now you can check out page 83 of
January's SKY & TELESCOPE.

The News Bulletin is provided as a service to the amateur-astronomer
community by Sky & Telescope magazine.  Electronic distribution is
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   | Stuart Goldman         Internet: sgoldman@cfa.harvard.edu  |
   * Associate Editor                 mrastro@aol.com           *
   | Sky & Telescope                                            |
   * P. O. Box 9111           Sky & Telescope: The Essential    *
   | Belmont, MA  02178           Magazine of Astronomy         |