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Volume XXIV Number III

May/June 1996

Welcome to the First Electronic Edition of the Pegasus!

Thursday, May 9th

7:30 p.m. at our regular meeting place in the Reading Museum. Dave Brown will present a program about the life and dreams of an early century local astronomer, Herschel Ice. Dave has inherited historic photos, maps, and plans whick detail this man's unrealized dreams to build an observatory here in Reading on top of Mt. Penn. Come hear the fascinating story of this early astronomer.

Thurday, June 13th

7:30 at the Reading Public Museum. Dr. Donald Lauer, Professor Emeritus of Kutztown University, will present an exciting program on Radio Astronomy. As a youthful radio ham, Don discovered the wonder of astronomy through a radio telescope, a medium that allows us to see sources of energy not visible to the naked eye. It is through Radio Astronomy that the Crab Nebula was found to be a mysterious source of incredible energy. We will compare photos of the visible cosmos with those of radio telescopes, and discover a whole new universe!

Thursday, June 27th

Deadline: July/August Pegasus

Special Events and Star Watches

French Creek Star Party

May 11

Star watch planned for 8:30 PM at French Creek State Park. One night only, no rain date. If you need directions to the park or the observing site inside the park, call Dave Brown (926-3797), or the hotline. Let's all enjoy a real dark sky!

Saturday - Public Star Party

May 18

7:30 PM - held at the Heritage Center on Rt. 183 N. In conjunction with the Berks County Department of Parks and Recreation, the B.C.A.A.S. will inform (and no doubt entertain) the public with the offerings of the Spring Sky. Globular clusters and famous galaxies will be ours for the pointing of our telescopes.

Dave Brown will instruct the crowd before astronomical twilight to what they will be seeing, and then it is up to us to show them! Again, much publicity will be circulated by the Parks Department, so this may prove to be a major event in our calendar year.

Mason Dixon Star Party

June 14 - 16

The 7th Annual Mason-Dixon Star Party will be held this weekend outside of York, PA at Spring Valley Park. This popular regional star party, sponsored by the York County Parks Astronomical Society, is a favorite with Berks observers. Our club usually has a good representation at this event and for good reason. Besides being conveniently located to us, it is held at a beautiful facility and is well worth attending. For those who want first hand information about the event or a registration form, talk to Priscilla, Dave Brown, John Dethoff or just about any of the "veteran" members. You can also call directly to (717) 840-7440.


August 9 - 11

The 61st Annual Stellafane Convention will be held in Springfield, Vermont. This is the granddaddy of all star parties and considered "the Woodstock of Astronomy Conventions." It's origin is deeply rooted in the amateur telescope making movement of the 1930's and to this day has a strong emphasis on telescope making. Even though it is a long distance, every serious amateur should make this trip to "Mecca" once in his life. Send a SASE to: Stellafane, P. O. Box 50, Belmont, MA 02178 USA to get your Convention Bulletin. Send no money for registration until you receive the bulletin! Campsites and area motels fill up fast, so contact them as soon as possible. For firsthand information about the event and where to stay, talk to John Dethoff. You can also contact their web site at:

Click here for the Stellafane web site.

Berenice's Braid

"A curious twinkling, as if gossamers spangled with dewdrops were entangled there."

-G. Serviss, Turn-of the-Century

American Astronomer.

That shimmering, barely perceptible constellation which magically twinkles beneath the handle of the Big Dipper bespeaks a story begun over two thousand years ago. During the reign of Ptolemy III, the beauty of his wife's soft flowing amber hair became legend. Berenice's fame spread from the First Cataract to the Delta.

It is said that during a particularly lengthy war campaign, Berenice prayed to the Goddess Aphrodite for the safe return of her husband Ptolemy. In exchange, Berenice willingly sacrificed her golden locks, an act which insured her husband's return, but had the unexpected effect of eliciting Ptolemy's ire. Her hair was the crowning jewel of her beauty, and Ptolemy did not appreciate her priorities

To make matters worse, the mysterious theft of her golden hair from the temple vault escalated Ptolemy's anger so that no peace could be found anywhere in the palace.

Apparently, Canon, the court mathematician (and probably magician), saw only one solution to this discord. He assigned the softly studded wisp of light in the sky near the Ark (Ursa Major) to be Coma Berenices, Berenice's Hair, to shine for all people everywhere and forever.

It is not a coincidence that the word Coma. in the constellation, as well as the name describing the soft glow around the head of a comet, is the same word. Derived from the Greek kome it means Hair, as the word Comet itself means "long-haired". Without optical aid to resolve the constellation into individual stars the ancients often chose this image of Hair to describe a nebulous glow in the sky.

I was reminded of this beautiful story on the night of March 24/25 when atop Pulpit Rock, my friends John Dethoff, Paul Becker, and Charlie Palulis and I were witness to a sight relatively few in history have seen. There, streaming out of Berenice's spangling hair was a gorgeous glowing braid, with a brilliant jewel tied to its end. Over 35 degrees long, Comet Hyakutake's resplendent tail spanned the handle of the Big Dipper all the way to Coma Berenices. For one glorious night, Berenice's hair shone more beautifully than it had in two thousand years.


Richard Hinckley Allen, Star Names,Their Lore and Meaning., Dover Publications, Inc., New York, l963.

Chet Raymo, 365 Starry Nights., Prentice Hall Press, New York, 1982.

(I would be interested, if anyone has the software resources, if, and when, any other major naked-eye comets have visited Coma Berenices. Call me a 610-683-6397.)

Midnight Confessions

by: Candie Simmons

I have a confession to make. I am fey. I have always been fey. ( I said fey! not anything else that rhymes with that! ) There have been moments in my life when I get this little buzz in my brain and I know what is going to happen. I told Kevin on Saturday afternoon, before the star party, that we were in fact going to have clear weather and, most importantly, we were going to see the comet. We really have my Mom to thank.

You see, last Saturday was the anniversary of her death and I am sure that Mom, taking pity on our stunted social life, arranged it with God to get a clear evening. Thanks Mom! You were always a great organizer. The weather report hadn't been too great so we were stunned by the lovely skies on Saturday.

We pulled into the fields at Dave's house and rearranged a few rows of his plantings before we realized that we were not quite going to the right part of the field. Sorry Dave. Those funny stripes in your field are not crop circles. After a conference with Mike Bashore, we realized that the blue tarp and wood fabrication in the middle of the field was not the temple of some obscure religious cult, but a wind break.

Dave's lay out was impressive. He had a wind screen, a fire pit complete with wood and a whole pile of goodies for sustenance. There was a brief moment of confusion when Lloyd attempted to use Dave's light bucket as a Porto-Potty, but Dave quickly cleared up that misunderstanding.

I was truly astounded at the number of cars rolling into the field. It seemed as if we were all so starved for astronomy. I always have a hard time figuring out who everyone is in the dark, but that can be a blessing. I can't tell for sure who actually was there. Kevin & I were busy fiddling with our Oddessy and setting up our new "pup" - a 10" Starsplitter. We had purchased the 'scope in the fall in preparation for a camping trip this summer. We had set it up a few evenings and had been very disappointed. We were hoping to have the scope vetted and work our some of the bugs, well before we finally get to those dark skies.

Everyone that knows us knows that we are not obsessive in our viewing. We were fooling around with looking at some Messier objects and oohing and aahing over our first decent view of the Orion Nebula in a year. We don't need no stinking logs. We just cruise around the heavens and look for interesting places to stop.

During one of the fiddling sessions, a voice came to our elbows and said, "Watch this. Dan, give me a potato. Candi, you hold this and Kevin, you spray this into here, you're our munitions man." Being obedient, Kevin and I did as told, by the voice from the dark. The still night was punctuated by clicks and mutters and curses. "I don't know why this doesn't work. It must be too cold. Wish I had some WD 40." Kevin, being a resourceful soul piped up that he had some in the van. I was still holding the stick which had been handed to me in the first minutes. I also now was the proud possessor of a can of hair spray and I had a bag of potatoes nestled at my feet. Kevin returned and we repeated our ritual of arms. This time, the click was accompanied by a boom and a streak of fire trailing a potato into the upper atmosphere. In the rockets red glare, we saw the triumphant Spudmeister. The "Spud Blaster" had arrived. We fired off a few more rounds, probably pelting Dave's house with a new planting of potatoes before we got back to the business at hand.

We wandered around and visited a few scopes, mostly in the hopes of getting feeling back in our feet. In one of my perambulations I came across the fire and marshmallows Now, I can tell Chris Brown why they call this a "messier marathon". The more marshmallows you toast on that vampire stake Dave had for a fork, the "messier" you get. Yes, gang I had found my niche. I sat and chatted with other frozen stargazer and toasted an occasional "mallow". Damn! What a great star party.

As the wispy clouds covered a larger area, the number of gazers around the fire increased. Talk ranged back and forth and even included a spirited discussion on how to improve the "Spud Buster" and turn it into a "Big Bertha" for watermelons. We fired a few rounds skyward as a demonstration of the Spud Blaster's prowess and in an attempt to take out at least one spectator or possibly one of the $10,000 worth of telescopes that dotted the hilltop.

In spite of the fact that most of us had long since abandoned the serious pursuit of our Messier certificate for the lure of warm feet, some just wouldn't quit. Of course, anybody who goes out with Priscilla knows who that "someone" is. Priscilla had decreed that "the comet should be up!". Unfortunately, there were some thin bands of clouds in the general vicinity of the comet. There was also a great deal of confusion regarding a mystery star that was perhaps Alpha and Beta something and they had just so happened to go super nova. The mystery resolved it's self when the star turned in it's course and landed at the Reading airport.

Priscilla still managed to salvage her credibility when she shouted, triumphant, "I found it!". Indeed, she had succeeded in locating Comet Hyakutaki. Visible, as the clouds cleared out as a luminous patch, it was even more spectacular in the telescopes. The most impressive view was certainly in Dave's light bucket where the distinct areas of the comet began to resolve themselves in the eyepiece.

This 100,000 year voyager has come in to grace our skies and again I remember why we look up into the infinite. I suspect that I am not the only one in that field that found a lump in my throat from the splendor and mystery of our heavens. I have been privileged to see a few of those once in a lifetime moments and they always leave me shaken to the core by their sheer magnitude in the face of my puny life. For me, the night skies are not a marathon to be run in a attempt for a certificate. For me, they are an endless banquet, where each course is new and unique, to be savored for every possible moment. Saturday night's course was rich in the broth of beauty and mystery with a dash of awesomeness thrown in for good measure. It was a satisfying meal. And the marshmallows were great, too.

Observers Notepad

by: Dave Brown

What an outstanding group of star watches BCAAS had this March—the month of "Comet H!!"

First up, the planned Messier Marathon on March 16, defied all the laws of physics. How so? Consider these amazing facts:

A. The night of a planned BCAAS marathon, 35 folks attend and there is no typhoon, hurricane, or thunderstorm, just partly cloudy, albeit windy, until 1:00 AM.

B. It was proven that evening that potatoes actually fly.

In the instance of fact "A"— a large turnout at Deerfoot Farm, for observing, was blessed with nice skies on a typical windy, and chilly March evening.

Venus was bright enough in the West, to read a star chart by, and M31 was easily caught low to the horizon, not always the case in these skies! Comet Hyakutake was due to rise about 11:00 PM and until then we enjoyed ourselves in true BCAAS fashion. We had a large collection of scopes, a literal army of binoculars, politically incorrect jokes, and lots of laughter around a big campfire and a wind barrier to keep out the cold. The comet did not disappoint - a big fuzzball in the east with a slight tail in the bino's, a harbinger of thing's to come.

As for fact "B" in the midst of our merriment of toasting marshmallows and logging "M" objects, along came a long time BCAAS member who will remain anonymous.(This person is paranoid that ATF agents will begin surveillance of his home) He was carrying a device that can only be described as wacky - a spud gun. Yes, spud as in Potato, gun as in the means of launching said potato into low earth orbit! How does it work? Trade secrets prohibit me from revealing the details, suffice to say that much credit goes to Helene Curtis!

When you factor in wayward projectile spuds that are invisible at night, landing in a field full of telescopes and silly BCAAS members, you have the perfect star party!!! Rush Limbaugh couldn't ask for more!!

But we got more! One week later, March 23, same field, same time, even better sky, we did it all again. This time Hyakutake stealing the show with a marvelous 15 degree tail. (Longer from pulpit rock.) Plus, Channel 69 showed up with camera crew, taped everyone there, and our story ran on the 5:30 evening news the following Monday.

Dan and I would like to express our thanks to all who came. We enjoyed it all immensely! It was great to have the newest BCAAS members come, and get to know them. I've been around to talk to other astronomy clubs in the region —This club is the best! "Ya Man!"

Well, the Secret is Out.

By Chris Brown

A friend of a friend told me that some members from the astronomy club, with my husband, will be spending an entire evening, the 11-7 shift looking for messier objects.

I looked up the word messier in my Microsoft dictionary and found that it is a form of the word messy. The definitions being; disorderly and dirty; exhibiting or demonstrating carelessness, unpleasantly difficult to settle or resolve.

When I questioned my husband if anyone could join, he said sure! He also said you would receive a paper on which you need to note what time it was when you first saw the object, (isn't it difficult to check your watch in the dark?) and you must describe just how messy the object is, (he means in words not pictures) and the most difficult part, where it was when you first noticed it. (Yeah, right! Don't they keep moving?)

I have to admit, after pondering this event for a few minutes, there is a dog, horse, crab, fish, lion and a bull that I know of out there and these alone can make quite a mess. Also a hunter, some sisters, and twins. Talk of carelessness, with wagons and dippers lying about someone could get hurt. Then there is the difficulty in resolving the problems that seem to be there, such as the hunter, what is his problem? He just can't seem to let go of that arrow. The poor lion has no place to hide. To whom does that ladle and that wagon belong?

One thing I was surprised at was, that my husband told me there are 109 messy objects out there. I think the club should just draw a picture of all of them and have you just circle them. That way it's not so much like a test and it's not timed, so if you get tired you can come back to it later.

Pluto - Fact or Fiction?

By Michell Koch

On March 7, 1996, an important event transpired in astronomical history. The Hubble Space Telescope turned it's attention to Pluto and for the first time ever, confirmed some speculations about its nature. Pluto has an atmosphere, which was studied by Hubble. It also has an orbit and a moon. Therefore scientists and other planetary enthusiasts had the information to truly classify Pluto as our ninth planet. I was excited, because Pluto has always been of interest to me. I will now be able to enjoy clear, concise images of the planet, and learn more about the elusive stranger.

However, it was also discovered that Pluto was smaller than scientists originally speculated. It could easily fit across the United States and is not much bigger than some asteroids. With these developments, the controversy regarding Pluto's ''planethood" surfaced again. Some astronomers regard Pluto as an "ice dwarf" - celestial bodies left over from the formation of the solar system. According to astronomers, there are many ice dwarfs beyond Neptune. Pluto was the first to be discovered.

There are some astronomers who propose that Pluto be officially called an ice dwarf. In science textbooks the solar system would consist of the sun, eight planets, and an ice dwarf. But where has the mystery and excitement surrounding our ninth planet gone? Must we retouch those millions of people that learned about the nine planets of the solar system?

Imagine the dismay of Clyde Tombaugh. Tombaugh was asked his thoughts about the developments of March 7th. He was still excited to have discovered the ninth planet, and will always regard his discovery as nothing less than amazing.

I am disappointed with the ongoing debate concerning Pluto's planethood. I believe that Pluto is truly a planet, and will gladly call it the ninth planet of our solar family. Of course, Pluto does not meet the rigid standards that classify an outer planet. It still has an atmosphere, a moon, and an orbit. I plan to see Pluto in a telescope this summer, so if you see me at a star party be sure and point it out. To those Pluto enthusiasts, keep looking up! I'm sure that time will only provide us with more interesting facts and information about the elusive world. As for me, I will strive to learn more about our ninth planet.


Science Fiction Fans

Remember Dr. Who? He's back! After years of negotiations with the BBC, the long-promised 2-hour movie is a reality.

The made-for-TV movie will show on Fox Tuesday, May 14, at 8:00 p.m. It will star British actor Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, Daphne Ashbrook at the companion Dr. Grace Holloway, and Eric Roberts as the Master. It was produced for Fox by Universal and BBC. There is a possibility that if the ratings are good, this will become a regular TV series again!

If you'd like to be kept informed about the latest important info regarding Dr. Who, contact either Linda Sensenig or Betty Hanf.

Mythology of the Night Sky-Virgo

By: Linda Sensenig

The constellation has generally been pictured as a young maiden with the palm branch in her right hand and the spica (ear of wheat) in her left. There are some who claim this constellation designation goes back 15,000 years when the sun was in Virgo at the spring equinox. Another story of Roman origin, not nearly as old, identifies her as the daughter of Icarus—you remember Icarus? He's the forerunner of the Wright Brothers who thought he could fly by attaching wings to his arms, only he flew too close to the sun and the wax in his wings melted causing him to plunge to his death. Virgo was supposedly his daughter who hung herself in grief upon the death of her father and was transported to the sky with Icarus (as Bootes) and their faithful hound Maira (as Procyon).

In Egypt, Virgo was drawn on the zodiac much disproportioned and without wings (wings? Since when did this young maiden sprout wings! My book does not say.) Some Egyptians picture her holding an object said to be a distaff marked by the stars of Coma Berenices; other Egyptians identified her with Isis, the thousand-named goddess with the wheat ears in her hand that she afterwards dropped to form the Milky Way.

The early Arabs made from some stars of the constellation the enormous Lion of their sky; and other stars were said to form the Kennel Corner with dogs barking at the Lion. Their later astronomers, however, adopted the Greek figure and called it The Innocent Maiden.

Virgo even appears in the annals of ancient astrology where it was believed that the appearance of a comet within its borders implied many grievous ills to the female portion of the population. I'm going to pay very close attention to Hale-Bopp next spring!




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