Volume 32 Issue 3

May/June  2006

In this issue:

1.  President's Massage
2.  2006 Reading Berks Engineering and Science Fair
3.  Who Wants to be a Daredevil?
4.  Late Breaking News
5. Where's Saturn?
6. Up Coming 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:

Slate of 2006 Club Officers

Prez—Dave Brown

Veep—Bret Cadmus

Trea$urer—Linda $en$enig

Secretary/Night Sky Network—Barb Geigle

Webslinger—Mike Bashore

That’s Hot line—Paul “Paris Hilton” Becker

PR—Barry Shupp

Pegasus et al—Moi

President's Message

Greetings all BCAAS members!

Just returned from our member's field trip to Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County. This was the first but I am sure not the last group trip we will be taking to this site, and I feel there will be trips to other attractions as well.

The weather dampened the plans to go on the original date of April 22, and since we all have busy schedules, some who wanted to go could not make an alternate date. I want these folks to know that although some good observing took place on Saturday night, nothing spectacular was missed, and since the dark sky of that park will be there for some time to come, future trips will give you and I hope many more the chance to experience a really dark sky.

At our regular monthly meetings, some changes will be taking place. The planetarium will be going through some much needed renovations that have been planned for more than a year and starting in June will finally be taking place. A new digital projector for the dome will be installed, as well as new seating, amplification, and presentation features that will bring the planetarium up to cutting edge productions. It will also make it MUCH more suitable for meetings such as ours.

In the meantime, we can meet in the lobby for a few meetings till construction is completed in October. Since our picnic replaces our regular meeting in August, we will only have a few meetings impacted. We held our Christmas party in the lobby with no issues, so we can make do.

I hope you can attend one of our public star watches this summer. The public is very open to our sharing of the night sky, and you will meet some interesting folks in the process. Check our website for current information on upcoming events, and we will keep the hotline current if there is postponement to the rain date on any of them.

Clear skies to you all!

Dave Brown, BCAAS president

2006 Reading Berks Engineering and Science Fair

By Michael Bashore

Well another year has gone by again and I found myself judging for yet another science fair. I’m getting to know the various fair coordinators and judges quite well over the many years of doing the judging. This year I got into a discussion with Doctor Preston Scoboria, long time fair organizer and a past college math professor of mine when I attended Berks Campus of Penn State many years ago. We were discussing how few astronomy projects were appearing at the fair in the past years and what the cause may be. My thoughts were that there wasn’t much going on astronomy wise therefore the students probably weren’t giving a thought to an astronomy project when they were conjuring up their projects. Doctor Scoboria’s idea was that the current school curriculum has the students so busy trying to keep on with the basics, Math, English, Geography, General Science and Biology that the students and schools do not have the time to attend and the teachers do not have the luxury to conduct an astronomy course any longer. I know for a fact that my son who is now in first grade brings homework home every night. That’s math homework, adding subtracting, and reading and spelling homework. I never had homework every night in my entire school career. And I believe that I could barely read “See Spot Run” when I was in first grade. They are also tested throughout the year to make sure they meet the “No childleft behind” standards. So again, it would look like unless our speakers get around to the schools and groups and generate some interest for astronomy, the kids will just stick to the basics and play video games in their spare time. Back to the Science Fair.

This year as in the past couple of years, there were very few astronomy related projects. As a matter of fact, there were only four that I found that had an inkling of be considered astronomy projects. There were no actual astronomy related projects. So, as I had originally intended to hand out two award packages, I only found the best one in the senior division and best one in the junior division. The choices in the Senior Division were a project on the uses of varying methods of attitude adjustment on satellites in orbit and a project on Astrology and Horoscopes. No brainer.

The Project that I chose as the winner in the senior division was entitled “Which Type of Attitude Control Best Orients a Satellite in Outer Space”. Brian Farina of Central Catholic High School was the owner of this project. The project was to compare the efficiency of two methods of zero gravity attitude control, attitude thrusters and momentum wheels. He built a miniature momentum wheel mounted on a mass and compared his results to statistics for an attitude thruster. His conclusion was inconclusive. When the voltage to the motor was increased the momentum wheel jerked in the opposite direction. The Attitude could be controlled with this method with further study.

The two projects found in the junior division which consisted of 6th thru 8th grade projects, both dealt with rocketry. I choose the best / most unique project from the two of them. The project that I chose in the Junior division was developed by 6th grader, Macy Bosshard of St. Ignatious School. Macy’s project was entitled “How Does the Mass of a Rocket Affect the Thrust and Distance a Rocket will Travel”. The project consisted of three rockets constructed from poster board. Macy used baking soda, water, white vinegar and alka seltzer for the rocket fuel and quarters as the weights. The alka seltzer with vinegar made the best rocket fuel. The more quarters added the lower the attained altitude as most would assume to be true. The project was well organized and thought out. It was also neatly presented.

So after the judging comes the presenting of awards on the following evening at the Albright Chapel. The year’s awards ceremony was very nicely done and very well attended. I must commend the efforts put forth by the Reading Berks Engineering and Science Fair committee. They do a very good job promoting the sciences in the high schools in our area. This year there seemed to be more monetary awards presented. The average award presented by sponsoring groups and organizations was $50 and higher. And there were four $500 awards given out be the Ontelaunee Energy Center. The Center had given out the same amounts last year. I believe next year I will petition our BCAAS board to give out $100 awards to the two projects selected by the BCAAS. If that is the case, we should speak about this to the people that attend our astronomy events this year. Maybe we will entice more students to try their luck in the Astronomy projects next spring.

As for presenting the BCAAS award this year, I stood on the stage as the award recipient names were announced and then silence, none of the winners had showed up for the event. Well what did you expect? Better luck next year. The Science fair chairman, Dr. Scoboria informed me that the awards would be delivered to the winning students.

This year’s awards included a certificate of Achievement mounted on an oak plaque, the book entitled “Mars” and a full years family membership to our club.

Brian Farina’s Project

Macy Bosshard’s Project

Who Wants to be a Daredevil?

By Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips

When exploring space, NASA naturally wants to use all the newest and coolest technologies—artificial intelligence, solar sails, onboard supercomputers, exotic materials.

But “new” also means unproven and risky, and that could be a problem. Remember HAL in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”? The rebellious computer clearly needed some pre-flight testing.

Testing advanced technologies in space is the mission of the New Millennium Program (NMP), created by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in 1995 and run by JPL. Like the daredevil test pilots of the 1950s who would fly the latest jet technology, NMP flies new technologies in space to see if they're ready for prime time. That way, future missions can use the technologies with much less risk.

Example: In 1999, the program’s Deep Space 1 probe tested a system called “AutoNav,” short for Autonomous Navigation. AutoNav used artificial intelligence to steer the spacecraft without human intervention. It worked so well that elements of AutoNav were installed on a real mission, Deep Impact, which famously blasted a crater in Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. Without AutoNav, the projectile would have completely missed the comet.

Some NMP technologies “allow us to do things that we literally could not do before,” says Jack Stocky, Chief Technologist for NMP. Dozens of innovative technologies tested by NMP will lead to satellites and space probes that are smaller, lighter, more capable and even cheaper than those of today.

Another example: An NMP test mission called Space Technology 9, which is still in the planning phase, may test-fly a solar sail. Solar sails use the slight pressure of sunlight itself, instead of heavy fuels, to propel a spacecraft. Two proposed NASA missions would be possible only with dependable solar sails—L1 Diamond and Solar Polar Imager—both of which would use solar sails to fly spacecraft that would study the Sun.

“The technologies that we validate have future missions that need them,” Stocky says. “We try to target [missions] that are about 15 to 20 years out.”

A menagerie of other cool NMP technologies include ion thrusters, hyperspectral imagers, and miniaturized electronics for spacecraft navigation and control. NMP focuses on technologies that have been proven in the laboratory but must be tested in the extreme cold, vacuum, and high radiation environment of space, which can’t be fully recreated in the lab.

New NMP missions fly every year and one-half to two years, taking tomorrow’s space technology for a daredevil test drive.

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

Artist’s rendering of a four-quadrant solar sail propulsion system, with payload. NASA is designing and developing such concepts, a sub-scale model of which may be tested on a future NMP mission.

Late Breaking News, E-mails, and Other Cool Stuff!!!!

Hello Guys,

Check out BCAAS made it into the John Dobson movie. Credit is mentioned to the club and to Ron Kunkel.

Ryan [Hannahoe, of course!]

From Mike Bashore:

We would like to make all of your members aware of the East Coast Conference on Astronomical Imaging (ECCAI), to be held on August 11-13, 2006, in Philadelphia, PA. Please visit our website for more details:

Please call me with any further questions.
Thank you.
Steve Mazlin, MD

From Barb Geigle:

Subject: Mini-Comets Approaching Earth

Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 01:05:00 +0000

Hi! I thought you'd be interested in this story from Science@NASA: A cometary "string-of-pearls" will fly past Earth in May 2006 giving astronomers a fantastic view of a comet in its death throes.

From Tim Siminski:
We just got back from the Inner Harbor where I encountered this guy Thursday night. He set up his scope with a donation basket (suggested $1.00). Watching him for a few minutes, I'd estimate he was getting around $50.00 per hour.


[Editor’s Note: Obviously, this guy’s on to something! Maybe we ought to try it!]

Where’s Saturn?
By Gary Shugar

At the March meeting of the BCAAS, the apparent discrepancy between the astrological and the astronomical positions of Saturn was pointed out. As astronomers, we can easily point to Saturn in the constellation Cancer (in March 2006), while the astrologers claim the planet is in Leo. Who has the planetary position right? Of course we do, but so do the astrologers!

Astronomers will predict that Saturn will cross the meridian at roughly 8:45 p.m. EST on the night of March 15 (the ides of March). But then again, so do the astrologers!

In fact, astronomers and astrologers agree on the position of the planets, moon and sun relative to an observer on earth. What they disagree on, is the position within the zodiac. The discrepancy in the position within the zodiac is due to precession.

Precession is the apparent slow eastward movement of the stars caused by the cyclic wobbling of the earth’s axis due to the gravitational influences of the sun and moon (and to a lesser degree the other planets) acting on the earth’s equatorial bulge. This causes the year of seasons to be about 20 minutes shorter than the earth’s rotation about the sun. For the cycle to be completed, takes roughly 26,000 years.

The astrology of today began roughly 2,000 years ago. Notice that 2,000 divided by 26,000 is 1/13th. Therefore, the background of stars should have changed by about one zodiacal constellation. This is exactly what we see! If there were no precession, Saturn would be in Leo and this question would never have come up.

If you compare the astrological positions of the sun, moon and stars, in the zodiac, with the astronomical position, all of them are "off" by about one constellation. Astrologers recognize this discrepancy. They consider a certain part of the sky to be associated with a particular zodiacal "sign" even if that "constellation" no longer occupies that space. In another 24,000 years, if we are still around and if astrology is still being practiced, astrologers and astronomers will once again agree on the zodiacal location of the heavenly bodies.

The Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, first discovered precession while compiling his famous star catalog about 162 to 127 B.C., but I guess the astrologers had not heard the news.

Precession is also the reason why Aries is considered the first constellation in the zodiac. Two thousand years ago, the sun entered this constellation on the first day of spring (the vernal equinox). The sun is now in Pisces during the vernal equinox.

The position of the sun in the zodiac also determines your astrological zodiacal sign. Two thousand years ago, the sun entered Aries on March 21st and moved into Taurus on April 21st. Therefore, the sign for a person born from March 21st to April 20th is Aries. Your sign is the constellation where the sun would have been on the day of your birth if precession did not occur.

Finally, precession is the reason that the ancient Egyptians at the time of the pyramid building used Thuban as their north star. At that time Thuban, not Polaris, was almost directly above the north pole of the earth.

If astrology is based upon the belief that the heavenly bodies, by their positions relative to the earth and the zodiacal "signs" (and not their present positions in the constellation zodiac) exert an influence on the lives of humans, their calculations are as true, or false, today as they were 2,000 years ago.

Still under Construction


Friday May 5 - 7:30pm — Public Star Watch @ Kaercher Creek State Park East of Hamburg, PA on State St. There will be an Astronomy talk before the Telescope viewing begins. Rain / Cloudout date is Saturday June 3rd, 8:00pm.

Thursday May 11 - 7:30pm — Monthly club meeting at the Reading Planetarium. Tonight's program will be presented by Steve Walters, entitled "High- Resolution Imaging - Climbing Mount Everest".

Friday May 12 - 8:00pm — Star watch for the Wyomissing Hills Elementary School. Keith Minnich is coordinating this event. The are about 200 adults and children expected to attend. If you can help, please contact Keith Minnich. Rain/ Cloudout date is Friday May 19th, same time.

Saturday May 27 - Dusk — BCAAS Starwatch hosted by Larry Citro at Larry's Home at Charming Forge near Womelsdorf. Click HERE for info and directions. Also check out Larry's website at

Thursday June 8 - 7:30pm — Monthly club meeting at the Reading Planetarium. Tonight's program will be announced.

"The truth is more important than the facts." - Frank Lloyd Wright