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The View from Space: What a view!

By John Holliman

July 15, 1998
Web posted at 1:27 PM ET


In this column:

(CNN) -- As an amateur astronomer, I'm in a pretty exclusive club. There are a few more than 10,000 telescope-owning amateur star-gazers in the United States. I got to spend time this week with a couple of amateurs who are making history.

Tim Puckett built and operates the Puckett Observatory in Ellijay, Georgia. He's got a store-bought Meade 12-inch scope which he uses to find supernovas. He's found two in the past couple of weeks, putting him in the top 10 amateur supernova discoverers in the world. A partner, Alex Langoussis, helps Tim at the big observatory and also volunteers at the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta.

In the world of telescopes, bigger is better. Tim has gone from small hand-held telescopes to a home-built one with a 24-inch primary mirror. It's probably the largest amateur telescope in the southeastern United States, and it's amazing to use. The night we visited, we were able to look through hazy skies at distant galaxies, but the full moon was more spectacular than I've ever seen it. You could see the Apollo lunar landing zones on the surface.

Fernbank has a 36-inch telescope which is even larger than Tim's but because it's near downtown Atlanta, it's subject to pollution from the city lights. Even so, we could see the planet Mercury as it set just after sunset.

During the week, CNN broadcast the stories of Alex and Tim, and we plan to visit with them in the future. They both say that anyone can be an amateur astronomer by going outside and looking up at the night sky. I'm for it.

A busy time in the space biz

In the world of professional space exploration and coverage, it's been busy. John Glenn continues preparing for his journey into orbit in October. CNN is planning more exciting coverage of the Glenn mission, ranging from a couple of long documentaries with interviews from his childhood friends, to fellow Mercury astronauts, to the crew members who work with him today. It's a very ambitious project, in addition to CNN's two weeks of coverage around the launch itself.

The Galileo spacecraft is preparing to take another up close and personal look at Jupiter this week. The Jet Propulsion Lab reports that the next encounter will include a close pass by Jupiter's moon Europa, beginning Sunday night.

I heard from old friend this week, Alan Bean. He's the Apollo 12 astronaut who came home to create amazing pictures and paintings of the lunar surface and astronauts traveling to it. He's written a new book titled "Apollo" about his experiences with his illustrations, and additional text by Andrew Chaikin. It's not in stores yet, but it will be, in September.

Extra armor for the shuttle

The space shuttle fleet remains in the hangars at Kennedy Space Center with nowhere to go until October, but because it will face an increased risk of damage from meteoroids during construction of the new International Space Station, the shuttle cargo bay doors are being fitted with extra protection for the coolant pipes, which maintain the internal temperature of the U.S. space ship.

The new space station will remain on hold until November, when the first piece of Russian hardware is launched. CNN Interactive has conducted a QuickVote of readers, asking whether they think the Russians will do what they've promised in building and launching their parts of the station.

You don't trust them: 57 percent said they believe the Russian's won't fulfill their obligations to the station.

John Holliman's column appears on Wednesdays.

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