Volume XXVIIII Issue 3

May / June 2003

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. Women of the Stars
3. Winter Star Watch Project - Pleiades
7. In Search of Alien Oceans
8. Upcoming Events

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

Editor/Desktop publisher: Melody Gardner

E-Mail submissions may be made to:

President's Message

Well it does look like winter has finally ended, although that last snow was a bit unsettling. At either rate, my daffodils are up and blooming, the Hosta has sprouted, and the grass is greening, growing, and soon to need a mowing. But best of all, day-light saving time is now in effect and it’s WARMER, and with the new warmer season come more comfortable viewing conditions.

The faithful targets of Jupiter and Saturn are still with us. Jupiter’s moons are still showing their mutual events. In fact, just the night before last I watched Io eclipsing Jupiter. It was not a mutual event involving multiple moons but it was a moon event and it was neat. Saturn is also still presenting it’s wide open ring system for a grand view. And the asteroid Vesta is still easily visible with even a small scope. Coming up in the month of May are some new targets. Early in the morning on Wednesday, May 7, Mercury will transit the surface of the sun. Paul Becker and I, weather permitting, are planning to be at the Flying Field to observe this challenging event. Anyone wishing to join us is welcome and more details will be posted on the hotline and the web as the date nears. Then on Thursday, May 15, we will host the first of two total lunar eclipses for this year. As a club we’ll be viewing this event with the general public at the Berks County Heritage Center starting at 8:00 that evening. Note, the event lasts until 2:15 am, Friday morning.

Besides the new observation targets, the next few months are also going to be very busy with numerous public talks and star parties. If it hasn’t already happened by the time you get this issue of Pegasus, Sunday, April 27 is Earth Day at City Park in Reading. The on Friday, May 9 (rain date Saturday) will be our first public star party of four to be held this year at the Berks County Heritage Center. May 15 will be the Lunar eclipse mentioned earlier. On Friday, May 23 we have a talk and star party scheduled for the Blue Ball Elementary School’s students and parents. Friday, June 6 we go the Camp Wood Haven in Schuylkill County for a star party and talk for some Girl Scouts. The reason for mentioning these events is that we expect rather large numbers of the public to attend all of these events and thus need to have as many telescopes and members on hand to assist the viewing public. Additionally some of these events will have tables with our "Planets" and "Constellations" games and these will need someone to supervise them. So your assistance at these events is most welcomed.

In closing, I’d like to thank some members for their special efforts at some recent activities. Ryan Hannahoe and Mike Bashore, judged the Berks County Engineering and Science Fair and then prepared six awards which I had the pleasure of presenting. BCAAS was also well represented at the Great Outdoor Expo held at PSU-Berks campus in March. Thank you to Keith and Karen Duda, Paul Becker, Dan Davidson,   Janet Vitalos, and Barb Geigle for manning the indoor and outdoor displays we had set up there. And lastly, Thank you to Michel Ramsey for bringing to our attention the Pleiades Winter Observing project and for submitting our observation reports to the Astronomy League.

Looking forward to seeing everyone at upcoming events. Clear skies to all till then.

Ron Kunkel, at

Women of the Stars

You can find information on women astronomers in the least expected sources. I was looking through a tour book on the State of Delaware for points of interest for a group of bus passengers that I was going to escort in the Dover area. Much to my delight my interest peaked when I read about Dover’s favorite daughter astronomer – Anne Jump Cannon. Her birthplace is located in the Old Dover Historic District. Ms. Cannon had developed a prismatic technique of telescopic photography that enabled her to classify more than 400,000 stars. Her work at the Harvard Observatory during the first half of the 20th century contributed greatly to the Henry Draper Catalog, which is still used by astronomers today. While working at the Harvard Observatory, Ms. Cannon found a smooth sequence in which the pattern of strong absorption lines in stars that changed g radually from one type of spectrum to the next. Having already assigned letters of the alphabet to the various types, she placed them in the sequence of: "O, B, A, F, G, K, M" . Ms. Cannon’s work proved that the differing appearances of stellar spectra were due not to differences in chemical composition, but to differences in temperature. The hotter a star, the more highly ionized the gas in its outer layers is. The degree of ionization in turn governs the pattern of spectral lines that will form. Ms. Cannon’s sequence of spectral types was a temperature sequence the hottest stars are the "O" stars, and the coolest are the "M" stars. Our own sun is a "G2" star classification; it is intermediate between type "G" and "K".

In our modern classification system, the key spectral lines establish types of a given star: "O"stars, have ionized helium, which required a very high temperature for its formation. "B" stars are slightly cooler stars; it is atomic helium; for the " A" stars, atomic hydrogen. " F" stars have a strong hydrogen lines."G" stars have a mixture of ionized and atomic metals, and the "K" and "M" stars have elements that are nearly all in atomic form. Ms. Cannon cataloged over 400,000 stars a task that took over five years, however, the publication of her results in the nine volumes of the Henry Draper Catalog took place over a much longer period, between 1918 and 1924. During her lifetime, Ms. Cannon also discovered over 300 variable stars and five novas (stars which brighten suddenly). She was born into a large prosperous family and learned about astronomy from her mother, herself an amateur astronomer. She had an old astronomy textbook as a guide, and they would study the night sky from the attic of the house. Many years later, after graduating from Wellesley, her physics professor, Sarah Whiting, introduced her to spectroscopy. Partially deaf from an early age, Ms. Cannon possessed great powers of concentration, tremendous patience and a keen memory, qualities that made her unusually well suited to the classification projects that were assigned to her.

Ms. Cannon received significant international recognition for her stellar classification work. In 1925, she became the first woman ever awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. She also, was elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1931 (women were not allowed to be full members). That same year she won the Draper Gold Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the first woman to be so honored. Ms. Cannon was also the last woman to receive the Ellen Richards Research Prize from the Association to Aid Scientific Research by Women (the prize was discontinued after that). Ms. Cannon gave the cash prize of her award to the American Astronomical Society to establish a means to recognize outstanding contributions in astronomy by women, this award is now known as the Annie J. Cannon Prize.

With all the outstanding and groundbreaking work that Ms. Cannon did over forty years of her life she never received any academic recognition from Harvard until 1938, shortly before her death, when she was made a professor of astronomy. What an enormous contribution this remarkable lady gave to the study of astronomy and the understanding of the composition of stars. She is truly a "Woman of the Stars".

References: Snow, T. Universe Origins and Evolution 1997
Emberlin, D. Science: Contributions of Women 1977
Mack,P. Straying From Their Orbits: Women in Astronomy In America 1990
AAA – Tour Book Mid-Atlantic 2002 edition

p.s. Do you have a favorite women astronomer that you would like to read about? Please let me know. Would love to hear from you! Or, maybe you would write about it and share with us.

by Michel Ramsay

Winter Star Watch Project - Pleiades

Just a reminder to all members who participated in this project during the months of February and March 2003, to please return your completed forms to me as soon as possible. There is still time to participate; we have until the end of March, to be able to do some more observing. You may bring your completed forms to the next club meeting or mail them back to me. I will record them for future reference on viewing sites within our local areas before I forward them to the Astronomical League. We will be able to make a comparison of viewing sites when we do this again next year. My sincere thanks to all who helped and participated in this project. I know that we were out in very cold and uncomfortable weather during this time period and your efforts are very well appreciated. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at: or call me at (610) 926-3483.

Don’t forget that Barry Shupp is available to help anyone who will be taking pictures as part of this project. He has written a wonderful in-depth article on getting set up and started that was featured in the March-April 2003 issue of the "Pegasus". Check it out!


For one brief and twinkling moment in 18th-century France, cats had their place in the heavens with the rest of the astronomical menagerie. The astronomer Joseph Jerome de Lalande took a little here from the star formation Hydra and a little there from Antilia Pneumatica and made the constellation Felis. Although Felis is still on the books at the Paris Observatory, eventually its stars were returned to its better-known progenitors.

John Dobson: A Brief Biography

He has been called the "Pied Piper of Astronomy," the "Star Monk," and the "MacGuyver of Astronomy." He is arguably the most influential person in amateur astronomy in the last 30 years. He has almost single-handedly revolutionized backyard astronomy by bringing it out to the street, making it accessible for anyone who has ever looked up in wonder, and asked "Why?"

John Dobson was born in Peking (Beijing), China, on September 14, 1915. His maternal grandfather was the founder of Peking University. His mother was a musician; his father taught Zoology at the University.

In 1927, John's parents moved the family to San Francisco due to political & social unrest in China. John had 3 brothers: Ernest, Lowry, and Harrison. John's father accepted a teaching position at Lowell High School and taught there from 1927, until he retired in the 1950's. After completing a degree in Chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley in 1943, John took defense-related jobs which he held until he joined the Vedanta Monastery in San Francisco in 1944, becoming a monk of the Ramakrishna Order. He spent the next 23 years in the Monastery. When he joined the Order, known for its intellectual rigor and public service, he was given the assignment of reconciling the teachings of religion with those of science.

Having graduated from the university as a chemist, he wanted to see for himself what the Universe looked like, so John built his first telescope in 1956. It was a 2", made from a lens he got in a junk store, and an eyepiece from an old pair of Zeiss binoculars; through it, he could see the rings of Saturn. One of his fellow monks told him that it was possible to grind a telescope mirror, so John then made his first mirror out of a marine-salvage 12" porthole glass. When he looked at the third-quarter moon with his finished telescope, he was surprised and deeply moved by what he saw. His first thought was, "Everybody's got to see this." So began John's long commitment to public-service in astronomy.

John was transferred to the Vedanta Monastery in Sacramento in 1958 and started getting seriously involved in telescope making. The first telescope he made at Sacramento was a 5- inch reflector; the mirror made from the cut-out bottom of a discarded gallon jug. It was John's greatest delight to share the beautiful things he saw through the telescopes with others. One of his friends was so amazed by what he saw through the 5-inch telescope, that he told John, "You've got to make something bigger!", and donated some salvaged portholes which had to be smuggled into the monastery in fertilizer boxes.

John had to screen his own sand for grinding and made his own rouge out of garden supplies (ferrous sulfate and oxalic acid). All of this had to be done without attracting the attention of those members of the monastery who felt that public service astronomy was not an appropriate pursuit for monks. The noisy job of grinding mirrors had to be done under water to deaden the sound. Since John was a monk and had no money, he had to find a way to mount the mirrors using scrap materials that could be gathered up at no cost. His telescopes were made from discarded hose reels, lumber core cutouts from school house doors, and scrap wood. This was the humble origin of what has come to be known as the "Dobsonian" mount.

These are Newtonian telescopes. A Dobsonian mount is really a type of alt-azimuth telescope mount. It's like re- inventing a cup. We've had cups all along, and if you try to patent a cup with a handle, you can't.

The desire that drove John to make more and larger telescopes, and to put himself in increasing peril of expulsion by monastic authorities, was to give everybody the opportunity to see the Universe first-hand. He put discarded wagon wheels on his telescopes to facilitate wheeling them around the residential neighborhood surrounding the monastery - delighting kids and adults with the views of the night sky.

Naturally, when people started to look through John's telescopes some of the neighbors and their kids wanted John to help them make their own telescopes. He realized that this would cause his AWOL hours from the monastery to increase. Nevertheless, he continued and expanded his activities, till he was thrown out of the monastery in the Spring of 1967, after 23 years as a monk. He was not expelled because the monks were against his telescope making, but because they couldn't imagine that that was all that he was doing.

John decided to dedicate the rest of his life to public service and hitchhiked to San Francisco. Then as now, John had many friends, and they helped to keep him fed, clothed, and sheltered. He retrieved some of his telescopes from Sacramento and set them up at the corner of Broderick and Jackson streets, in San Francisco, every clear night. Thousands of people looked through the telescopes while John talked to them in detail about what they were seeing. (This practice is still an integral part of Sidewalk Astronomy: astronomical information must be supplied by the telescope operator so the viewers can understand what they see.) Eventually, John was able to support himself by teaching classes in telescopemaking and astronomy at the Jewish Community Center and at the California Academy of Sciences, where, among other places, he still teaches to this day.

In 1968, some of the kids who had made telescopes under John's guidance, and who joined him in setting up scopes at Jackson and Broderick, started a public-service organization named the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. As the organization grew, larger telescopes were made and taken out to the streets. By 1970, the Sidewalk Astronomers had a 24- inch telescope which was freeway portable. The possibility of showing deep sky objects to large numbers of people through very large telescopes led the growing band of Sidewalk Astronomers to National Parks and Monuments, Native American reservations, and out of the country to places where "dark skies and the public collide."

Several years ago, as members of the original San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers spread out into new areas of the country and new chapters started to form, it was decided to remove the "San Francisco" from our name and call our organization simply the Sidewalk Astronomers.

Millions of people all over the world have looked through the telescopes of the Sidewalk Astronomers. John has helped to simplify the art of mirror making enabling thousands of kids and adults with no previous experience or special training in optics to experience the joy of turning slabs of glass into powerful eyes into the heavens with their own hands. The "Dobsonian" mount has made large, "user friendly" telescopes affordable and accessible to the general public. Thousands of people have made their own sturdy, low-cost telescopes under John's direction or on their own by using his simple design. Telescopes with light- weight mirrors previously considered unusable, long focal ratios previously considered unmanageable, and apertures previously considered unthinkable are now in the hands of lovers of astronomy around the globe.

John Dobson's life has been a tremendous inspiration to a great many people. John and the Sidewalk Astronomers continue to serve the public with large telescopes, providing free "star parties" and slide shows under dark skies and city lights, encouraging the citizens of this planet to think and wonder about the Universe and give them a chance to see its beauty with their own eyes. To members of the Sidewalk Astronomers., John continues to provide guidance and inspiration. His life of enthusiastic, selfless public service and his genuine love and concern for this planet and those that live on it are the foundation and guiding principle of our organization.

Astronomical Distances

By Dale Carey
Back Bay Amateur Astronomers, Virginia Beach

Ever try to explain to kids, or anyone the vastness of space? Sometimes the distance in space is just to far to visualize and comprehend. Here is a story I read to kids, when doing star parties, that helps them with a reference point.

Say you're in the family car, traveling at 65mph down the highway. You came upon a road sign that read, "Moon and other places". So you turn. Sorry kids, you should have went before we left, it will take 5.1 months to get to the moon, 85 yrs. to Mars, 1390 yrs. to Pluto. Our nearest star is Proxima Centauri (PC) and will take 44.3 million yrs. Andromeda, our nearest galaxy is 25,700 billion yrs away. We better take a plane. Most passenger planes run about 500 mph. That's less than 0.01% the speed oflight, (SOL). It will take only 19 days to get to the moon, but 11.1 yrs. to get to Mars, 818 yrs. to Pluto, 5.76 million yrs. to Proxima Centauri and 3350 billion yrs. to Andromeda (A).

Lets take a diving fighter jet traveling at 2500 mph. Now we’re moving, we make the moon in just 4 days, Mars in 2.2 yrs., Pluto in 163 yrs, Proxima Centauri in 1.2 mil. yrs. and a big 670 billion yrs. to Andromeda (A).

Well, it's obvious we need more speed. Lets take that fighter jet, hook up some rockets and make it go 10,000 mph. Think that's fast? It is still less than 0.01% the Speed of Light. Even at this speed Mars is a 6.7-month trip (one way), Pluto is 41 yrs. from Earth, Proxima Centauri is 288,000 yrs., and Andromeda 167 billion. Well at least the moon is only a day away.

Enough of the slow stuff, if we are to search other stars, we need MORE SPEED.

Now, we take that plane that went 10,000 mph, put in a dilithiam crystal and our speed now is 10,000 miles per SECOND. Imagine, circle the globe 3 times a second. But, tha t's still only 5.4% the Speed of Light. We need MORE SPEED. Now we discover impulse power, and we are up to 100,000 miles per second. That’s 55% the Speed of Light. We could be on the moon in 2 seconds, Mars in 8.1 minutes., Pluto in 10 hrs. and Proxima Centauri in just 8 yrs. but still 4.65 million years to Andromeda.

The time will come when we reach the Speed of Light and our ship will travel at 186,335 miles per 1 second. At this speed the moon is a mere 1.3 second. trip, Mars, 4.36 minutes., Pluto will take 5.34 hours and we reach Proxima Centauri in 4.3 years. Poor Andromeda is still 2.5 million years away. At the speed of light a "5 year mission" would only let you visit a few stars, and still take you 5 years to get back.

In Search of Alien Oceans

by Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips

A robotic submarine plunges into the dark ocean of a distant world, beaming back humanity's first views from an alien ocean. The craft's floodlights pierce the silty water, searching for the first, historic sign of extraterrestrial life.

Such a scenario may not be as fantastic as it sounds. Many scientists believe that Jupiter's moon Europa conceals a vast ocean under its icy crust. If so, heat from the moon's interior-which would keep the ocean from freezing solid-may also drive subaquatic volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. On Earth, such deep-sea vents provide chemical energy for ecosystems that thrive without sunlight, and some scientists even suggest that Earthly life first got started around these vents.

So a warm Europan ocean spotted with thermal vents could be a natural incubator for life. That's why some scientists hope that someday we will send a probe to Europa that could bore through the ice and explore the ocean below like a submarine.

To plan for such a mission, scientists would first need to put a camera in orbit around Europa. By looking for places where water has welled up to fill the spindly cracks that riddle Europa's surface, scientists can estimate where the ice is thinnest-and thus easiest to bore through.

That mission scenario presents a problem, though. Europa orbits Jupiter inside the giant planet's punishing radiation belts. Continuous exposure to such high radiation would damage today's scientific cameras, making the information they gather less reliable and perhaps ruining them completely. That's why NASA is designing a more radiation-tolerant CCD that could be used on a mapping mission to Europa. A CCD (short for "charge-coupled device") is a digital camera's chip-like core, which converts light into electric signals.

"We've seen the effects of this radiation during the Galileo mission to Jupiter," says JPL's Andy Collins, principal investigator for the Planetary Imager Project. "Galileo has orbited Jupiter for many years, dipping inside the radiation belts only for brief intervals. Even so," he says, "we've seen clear signs of damage to its instruments." By using the hardier CCD's developed by the Planetary Imager Project, a future probe could remain in Jupiter's radiation belts for many months, gathering the maps scientists will need to finally get a peek behind Europa's icy veil. And who knows, maybe there will be something peeking back!

To learn more about the Galileo mission to the Jupiter system, visit . For children, a fun, interactive "Pixel This!" game at introduces CCDs and how a really tough one will be needed for a future mission to Europa.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Upcoming BCAAS Events

Thursday, May 8th @ 7:30pm - BCAAS meeting; Inge Heyer

Friday, May 9th @ 7:30pm - Heritage Center Starwatch (rd - May 10th)

Thursday, May 15th—Lunar Eclipse @ Berks County Heritage Center

Saturday, May 17th & Sunday, May 18th—Northeast Astronomy Forum

Friday, May 23rd @ 7:30pm—Blue Ball Elem. Starwatch (rd-May 24th)

Friday, May 30th - Sunday, June 1st — Mason Dixon Starparty

Friday, June 6th —Woodhaven Girl Scout Starparty (rd - June 7th)

Friday, June 21st - First day of Summer!!! I hear the beach calling my name!

"What butter and whiskey will not cure there's no cure for." - Irish proverb


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