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Mon, March 25

Find out why Saturn runs rings around the other planets at last 2010 Star Party

The Prescott Astronomy Club will conclude its 2010 season this Saturday night with a Star Party that features an intriguing educational presentation about Saturn and its rings, as well as Titan, the planet's largest moon.

Stargazers from around the area are invited to attend the free event at the Highlands Center for Natural History, 1375 S. Walker Road, in Prescott.

Prescott Astronomy Club member Al Safallo, a retired high school economics teacher originally from southern California, will open the gathering at 6 p.m. with an hour-long discussion on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Cassini Mission. From 2004 to present, the unmanned Cassini spacecraft has captured incredible, up-close images of Saturn and its rings, and the first pictures of Titan's surface.

After the presentation inside the James Learning Center on the Highlands Center campus, astronomers will spend the rest of the evening, starting at 7 p.m., viewing the stars and planets through their telescopes behind the building outside.

Although viewers will not be able to see Saturn - the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest in the solar system - on Saturday, they will have the opportunity to spot Jupiter straight up in the sky along with whatever deep-space objects they find.

"The telescopes will stay out there until everybody's gone," said Safallo, who led a popular presentation on comets and asteroids for the club several months ago.

At Saturday's show, Safallo said he will guide participants on "an adventure to Saturn and its beautiful rings," and include a video about the Cassini Mission.

During its initial mission, Cassini snapped stunning images of the planet and its mysterious rings, which appear ordered and tidy from afar. However, close-up pictures of the rings have revealed, among other things, that it's a complex place where small moons and ring particles jostle and collide.

Safallo also will share pictures taken within the past several years from the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, a separate vehicle inside Cassini that traveled to Titan.

On the moon's frigid surface, Cassini and its Huygens probe revealed vast methane lakes and widespread stretches of wind-sculpted hydrocarbon sand dunes. Scientists believe Titan has several parallel features with earth, such as lakes, rivers and mountains, but they are hoping to learn more.

Now that Cassini's extended four-year tour of Saturn and its system is finished, the spacecraft is performing the extended Cassini Equinox Mission. NASA officials say this trip will include 60 additional orbits of Saturn, including 26 fly-bys of Titan.

For more information about Saturday's discussion on Saturn and/or the Star Party, call either club president Patrick Birck at 778-6324 or Safallo at 443-5943.


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