Volume XXVIII Issue 1

January / February 2002

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. Upcoming Events
3. Breaking News from CNN:
4. Dues are Due
5. Mythology of The Night Sky - Eridani
Meet BCAAS Public Events Coordinator…Paul Becker
7. My trip to Mt. Evans Observatory
8. The Formation of The First Stars in the Universe

President’s message

Happy New Year, fellow BCAAS club members! As we begin a new year of astronomy, we can look back with pride on our recent accomplishments. We held several successful public starwatches, as well as participated in the Discover Your Museum Day Event at Reading Public Museum. A number of new starwatches were held this fall, including one at Middle Creek Wildlife Preserve, one for the residents of Bethany Children’s Home, and some of our members attended a WHYY Skytour at West Chester University.

In the upcoming year, we have an excellent schedule of speakers lined up, some of whom are Peter Detterline in March, a Penn State astrophysicist in May, Inge Heyer from the Space Telescope Institute in June and Derrick Pitts from the Franklin Institute in September.

We have already started individual certificate observing programs, such as the Universe Sampler, Messier Certificate and Lunar Observing, led by Ron Kunkel.

Be sure to ask Ryan Hannahoe about his recent literary pursuits - better get his autograph now!

Hopefully, the club can continue to explore new observing sites and revisiting our old favorites as we put an emphasis on club observing in the coming year.

Here’s hoping for clear skies and I’ll see you out in the field!!

Barry L. Shupp, Pres. BCAAS

Pegasus is a bimonthly publication of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society

Editor/Desktop publisher: Melody Gardner

E-Mail submissions may be made to:

Upcoming BCAAS Events

Thursday, January 10th - General Meeting: 7:30pm (sharp!) at the Reading Museum Program: Larry Citro speaks on Astronomical Measurement

Thursday, January 24th - 7:00pm - Board Meeting at Paul Becker's Home

Thursday, February 14th - General Meeting: 7:30pm at the Reading Museum Program: Ron and Ryan expound on their Mt.Evans, CO expedition

Breaking News from CNN:

Heavy bombing from US forces pounded BCAAS positions outside Wyomissing today causing major damage. B-52 bombers, disguised as Leonid meteors destroyed unsuspecting members as they watched the "bombs" come toward them. Fortunately, there were no survivors.

Well whadda ya know!!! A meteor shower that actually lived up to the press. And press it got!

All the networks were touting this one, so at the November club meeting, Rick and Lorabeth Carpenter and myself decided to get together on the 17th , do some much needed observing, and watch the "storm".

Our actual observing spot was decided on at the last minute, and the Carpenters landed on Deerfoot Farm.

The weather was very pleasant for mid-November, but an entire night of observing can still frost the toes, so I provided a campfire, and Rick and Lora brought a bottle of wine, fittingly named Eclipse! Couple this with my big Dob and their awesome refractor and you have the makings of a great night.

We set things up around 7. Sky conditions seemed superb, and we quickly had great views of Jupiter and Saturn. But studying the views too long came with a price, namely missing seeing some fireball meteors! Rick had one of those rare times when his high-tech scope experienced alignment troubles. Fully automated, this voice activated, laptop controlled beauty suffered from low or malfunctioning batteries, and refused to "go-to" the right place. I felt like I was observing with the famed Steven Hawking as the mechanical voice in Rick’s computer said, "I hope you’ve enjoyed your observing session. Windows is shutting down for tonight!" After the third shut-down, it was determined that the scope would have to be moved from object to object..(GASP)..BY HAND! POOR BABY!

By midnight, my wife, son Dan, and several of his friends had joined us, taking turns looking through the scopes and sitting around the warm fire. My dear wife, after showing her a superb (for my skies) view of M 27, the Dumbbell Nebula, exclaimed to us it’s NOT a nebula, but just SPACE FOG. So make a note all BCAAS members, you only THOUGHT you were seeing nebula, when all this time it’s just SPACE FOG! Meteors were flying steadily after 1 AM. We kept being drawn back to the telescopes to see the gas giants who were high overhead now. Honestly, I have NEVER seen so much detail so clearly on those planets as I did that night. Any place, any time! Saturn revealed not just Cassini’s division in the rings, but the outer Crepe ring in addition to several cloud formations on the surface of the planet! Jupiter was breathtaking! The red spot transit with pink hues was exceeded by dark festoons and barges in the North equatorial belt, not fuzzy mind you, but tack sharp at 250 to 300X!

It was difficult to say how many meteors we saw an hour, but regardless the number, 2 or 3 at a time with most leaving neon-like trails after them made for the most fun I ever had watching meteors. Enjoyable enough for my wife to stay up till 5 AM before turning in with the rest of us when it became overcast. Conservatively, we witnessed 500 shooters, and probably missed equally that many as we soaked up the telescopes. For me, meteors flash brilliantly and disappear, but Jupiter, Saturn, and good friends are the best memories!

Dave Brown

Treasurer's Corner


It is that time of year again when it’s time to pay your dues. Anyone who has not already paid for the year 2002 should find a brightly colored notice stapled to your newsletter. If you joined during the year 2001, your dues have been pro-rated to bring you to the end of 2002. It is important that all but the pro-rated people pay by January 31 because after that date, the nasty late fee kicks in. In case you accidentally threw my very pretty dues statement away, due for individual is $20.00 and for a family it is $25.00. Late fee is $2.50. Please bring your dues to the January meeting, or send me a check payable to BCAAS. My address is 345 Douglass Street, Wyomissing, PA 19610.

Linda Sensenig, Treasurer

Mythology of the Night Sky - ERIDANI

When we think of great rivers, we think of the Amazon River, the Mississippi River, the Nile River, the Eridani River......the Eridani River? Where in the world would you find the Eridani River? Turns out, the Eridani River is not IN the world, it is ABOVE the world. There is a river of stars winding its way through the night sky, divided into the northern stream and the southern stream. The northern branch of the Eridani extends from the star Rigel to the paws of Cetus. The sourthern branch of the Eridani begins there and extends southward below the horizon of New York City. It is the longest constellation in the sky, although it only contains one star brighter than third magnitude.

The names of the constellations in the sky always have a counterpart down here on Earth. The big debate among scholars is which river was it supposed to represent. Some identify it as Homer’s Ocean Stream flowing around the world. Italians like to think it represents the Po, which happens to be one of Italy’s longest rivers. (And I like to think of it as the Mississippi.) My source lists a bunch of other rivers that are not familiar, then they go on to state that all of these are probably wrong! Eridani flows both north AND south, therefore the ancients who first named it must have had a more southern river in mind. The most obvious candidates would be the Nile or the Euphrates.

I think it doesn’t really matter which river the ancients had in mind. Why not let this beautiful river of stars stand on its own merit and simply call it Eridani.

Linda Sensenig

Meet BCAAS Public Events Coordinator…Paul Becker

One Thursday evening every other month, BCAAS board members wind their way along West Kent Avenue, a pleasant tree-lined street in Laureldale, to a little brick house with warm lights glowing in the windows. Standing at the door to greet them is a man with a welcoming smile on his face. Over the next several hours, the group sits comfortably in his living room enjoying the beverages and snacks their host has provided, while discussing club related issues. When the meeting’s over, he brings out their coats and sees them safely on their way home.

Paul Becker’s house has served as the site for BCAAS board meetings for the past five years. When asked if he minds always playing host, Paul shakes his head and says it makes sense since his place is centrally located. Besides, he adds with a chuckle, it gives him a reason to dust. But anyone who knows Paul will agree that accommodating others is just a reflection of his easygoing and gracious nature.

Born in Kutztown, the younger of two sons, Paul grew up in the Muhlenberg School District, by whom he is employed in the maintenance department. He joined BCAAS in 1986 after hearing all the hype about Halley’s Comet coming through. Although he’d never had an interest in astronomy before, Paul took a risk and invested in an eight-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. He says he was "one of the many who bought one and one of the few who kept it," after the comet didn’t get as bright as predicted. But he hasn’t regretted it for a minute.

Among the highlights of his observing career is seeing the flash on Io when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter in 1994. Using his own telescope, he watched the collision along with other BCAAS members from a field in Schuylkill County. He regards it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Paul has traveled across the world to see three total solar eclipses: in the Caribbean off Aruba in 1998; in the Black Sea off the coast of Bulgaria in 1999; and in Zambia, Africa in 2001. He considered traveling to Antarctica in 2003, but he would have to take the only ship available, a Russian icebreaker. The cheapest fare is $20,000 per person, and a suite is $35,000 per person. Paul is not sure he’ll have enough pennies saved by then.

The next trip Paul is definitely taking will be to Europe in June 2004, when there will be a transit of Venus across the sun. Since it’s not a narrow path like an eclipse, the transit will be visible all across Europe and it will take six hours to complete. He plans to take a leisurely vacation at the same time, flying on his own and following his own itinerary. It won’t be Paul’s first trip to Europe; he visited Germany two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

When he’s not working, reading Sky and Telescope magazine, or gazing at the heavens, Paul plays trombone for the Wyomissing Band, an organization of about 25 people who perform at church picnics and parades in the summer and practice once a week all year long. He’s been involved since 1980.

He also does public speaking to Boy Scout troops, camera clubs, and rotary clubs. His area of expertise is solar eclipses, and he includes many photos of his travels in his presentations. Paul is currently the only BCAAS member who owns a hydrogen alpha filter, which he has used extensively for solar observing. Some observant BCAAS members might have noticed that Paul does not have an e-mail address. That’s because he doesn’t have a computer. When asked why not, he explains that he has no need for it. If he wants information from the Internet, he’ll call up a friend. For example, to find out when the international space station will be flying overhead, he calls Dan Davidson. He also frequently calls the person he considers his most inspiring figure in the field of astronomy, Dave Brown. Dave’s always got an answer.

As for not having e-mail, Paul says phones do just as well as e-mail—he would rather spend his money on traveling than a computer. Since PC prices have been coming down, however, he does keep his eye on specials and maybe one day he’ll pick one up. "Who knows?" he asks with a typical shrug and smile, "anything’s possible."

Regarding BCAAS, Paul is quick to say that the best part of the club is its people. There’s a positive, friendly feeling at meetings and events. Including, thanks to Paul, those warm and fuzzy bi-monthly board meetings at 3529 West Kent Avenue.

--Kathy Matisko


My trip to Mt. Evans Observatory

Elev. 14,260 ft above sea level

Denver University

By: Ryan M. Hannahoe

Imagine the doors of the observatory slowly drifting open and with in nanoseconds the immense beauty of the Milky Way pours in, through the slit of the observatory. Before long a cloud drifts by but wait, that cloud is not above you it's below you. As you are getting ready to do a night of discovery, you realize that you stop for a couple of minutes to stare at the Awe-inspiring site of the Milky Way. Before long, your being asked to finish setting up for a night of research.

Now that you are all set up, you're doing one of two things: either giving commands or following commands. To your surprise you were the one giving the commands. You think, "wow, I get to tell the PA's what to do and how to do it!" Sooner or later they ask you what you want to do over the course of the night. You tell them, were going to look for comets! First off, you say (ask nicely), "Go to 2100RA: 1855DEC."

You're then asked, "Ready to slew?" Slewing… Beep you're there! You pier through the eyepiece and to your surprise the image scale blows you away. Then you flip the flip tilt mirror, to the CCD camera. Your then wondering over to the computer to give the command to the CCD to start the exposure. Within real time, a FITS image pops up on the screen. You begin the process over and over again, about 150 times per night. You take images of other sky fields of course, but you take images of the same sky fields 3 times over!

You look at your watch and realize it is 6am. Now the director of the observatory takes over, and your asked to pack up and head down the mountain. Within 45 minutes time, you are at the lodge. You head over to your room, undress, and climb in bed.

After a nice comfortable resting period, you wake up, with only about 4 hours of sleep. You begin to work on the computer and begin aligning the some 50 fields of images you took the night before. As you check for asteroids and comets, you see a supposed but not yet discovered binary super nova. Everyone gets around you and the excitement begins!

To be continued for the February BCAAS meeting. So be there! Don't miss out on the exciting stories of Ryan M. Hannahoe and Ron Kunkel as they tell their stories.


The Formation of The First Stars in the Universe

Condensed from an article in the December 2001 issue of Scientific American

After the big bang, the universe was dark for a long period of time, perhaps for 900 million years, despite that the first stars appears perhaps a few 100 million years after the big bang. How did this dramatic transition from darkness to light come about? Researchers have recently made great strides toward answering this question using sophisticated computer simulation techniques to generate cosmo logic models. These new models have shown how minute density fluctuations left over from the big bang could have evolved into small proto-galaxies containing the first stars.

The new models indicate that these first stars were likely quite massive and much more luminous than any stars that exist today. Additionally, the models indicate that the formation of these first stars fundamentally changed the universe and its subsequent evolution in at least three ways. First, these stars altered the dynamics of the cosmos by heating and ionizing literally all of the gases in the universe, making it transparent to light. Second, these earliest stars, being very short lived, produced and dispersed the first heavy elements, paving the way for the eventual formation of the myriad of smaller stars like our sun. And third, the collapse of some of these stars into black holes, may have seeded the growth of the super- massive black holes that formed in the centers of galaxies and which became the spectacular power sources we now see as quasars in the distant and early universe. In short, these earliest stars made possible the universe that we see today. Just how did these first stars form?

By 400,000 years after the big bang, the universe had cooled enough for the elementary particles formed in the big bang to form atomic nuclei, but the universe was still not transparent to light because these nuclei were neutral and not ionized. However, the continued cooling of the universe did enable this material to become gravitationally bound into small proto-galactic structures. In fact the distribution of material in this era is now observable as the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. And although the distributio n of the CMB radiation is very smooth, it does show evidence of smallscale density fluctuations or clumping on the order of one part in 100,000. The cosmological models predict that these clumps should have evolved into gravitationally bound structures, forming small proto-galaxies capable of forming multiple stars. These proto-galaxies should have appeared between 100 million and 250 million years after the big bang. Their sizes were just 30 to 100 light- years across and had masses between 100,000 and one million solar masses. The sizes of these proto-galaxies are in fact not much different from current star forming regions seen in the Milky Way galaxy.

However, these proto- galactic structures differed from the currently observed star forming regions in two fundamental ways. First, the matter in them, consisting of both ordinary matter and dark matter which was uniformly mixed. Second, the composition of the matter consisted of almost no elements other than the hydrogen and helium originating from the big bang. Note, 90% or so of the mass in our universe consists of dark (very faint and as yet undetected or non-light emitting) matter, and it is currently separated from the ordinary (light emitting) matter. In our galaxy this dark matter now resides in a vast spherical halo surrounding the visible Milky Way galaxy and possibly extending halfway to the Andromeda galaxy. Modeling star formation in these proto-galactic structures is actually simpler than modeling star formation in current star forming regions of the Milky Way, because of their simpler structure and composition.

The proto-galactic clouds contracted due to gravity and heated to about 1000K. As the matter in the cloud contracted, some hydrogen atoms in the denser parts of the cloud paired up to form molecular hydrogen. The formation of molecular hydrogen resulted in the release of infrared light (aka heat), which enabled the cloud to further cool to 200 to 300K, and enabled it to then cont inue contracting into a still denser clump. This cooling and ensuing contraction resulted in the dark matter separating from the ordinary (light emitting) matter. The ordinary matter moved toward the center of the clump, but the dark matter which did not emit light and thus could not cool, stayed scattered in the outer reaches of the clump. Inside the proto- galactic cloud, the densest contracting clumps of ordinary matter continue their runaway collapse until eventually nuclear fusion ignited in their centers when it got hot enough and stars formed. Due to the absence of heavy metals which would have enabled the cloud to cool below 200K and form stars of typical sizes seen in current Milky Way star forming regions, the resultant masses of these first formed stars in proto-galaxies could have been possibly as large as the 500 to 1,000 solar mass range. These are humongous stars, since by today’s standards, the largest known star in the Milky Way is the Pistol Star currently forming in the Orion Nebula. It has a mass of only 50 to 100 solar masses.

These first stars, because of their extreme size, would consume their large stores of hydrogen fuel at phenomenally fast rates, and quickly, in only a million years or so, go supernova forming neutron stars or simply collapsing to form black holes. In the nova process they produced elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, spewing these heavy metals into the surrounding space and seeding successive generations of stars with material prone to forming smaller, but longer lived stars with rocky planets. Evidence suggests that the period of most intense star formation peaked a few billion years after the big bang and that current star formation continues but at a declining rate. These first stars because of their huge size and high output of ultraviolet energy literally ionized most of the matter in universe so it was no longer a dark universe, but now the stars could emit their light and it would travel across the cosmos. Also, the death of some of these first stars, formed black holes, which probably collected in the center of the proto- galaxy and as these proto-galaxies merged by collision forming larger structures, formed the huge galactic mass black holes that now exist in the center of large galaxies, and which are the origin of the energy source for the brilliant quasars that are seen in the earliest visible epoch of our universe that is visible by telescope.

In summary, these early massive stars forever changed the evolution of the universe, and made it evolve into what we experience today, and which continues to evolve before our eyes. These first stars made possible the planets on which we live and the very eyes with which we now see the universe.

Submitted by Ron Kunkel

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