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Volume XXVI Number III

May/June 1998

Meeting Highlights

Thursday May 14

7:30 at the Reading Public Museum - Departing from the normal meeting format of a single topic, we will be featuring several subjects. After we complete business matters, the forum will be small groups interacting on interesting areas of astronomy. The areas of coverage include: telescope collimation, beginners’ photography and Milky Way objects. Come one, come all, for your questions are begging to be answered or at least pondered.

Thursday June 11

7:30 at the Reading Public Museum - We are fortunate to have a true expert on the latest astronomical instruments give his insights on what is available. Joe Varady is the proud proprietor of Earth Echoes, an authorized Celestron, Meade and other goodies dealer. If you have a question this is the person who can give you the answer. Having known Joe for several years, I can attest to his skills as a telescope designer, builder and observer. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet and discuss issues with him.

Thursday June 25

Deadline: July/August Pegasus

Pegasus is a bimonthly publication of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society. Editor/Desktop Publisher: John Dethoff. Regular contributors: Priscilla Andrews, George Babel, Linda Sensenig and Donna Weinsteiger. E-mail submissions may be made to: John Dethoff

Special Events and Star Watches


Thursday, May 21, Observers 101 course - see article on page 3 for more information.

Friday, May 29 Heritage Center Star Watch 8:00 p.m. (or dusk), north of Reading on Rt. 183. Rain date is Saturday, May 30. The last time this event was held, over 100 people excitedly expressed their interest in observing, and anxiously wait our return! Well, here we come! Again, we need everyone's time, talent, and telescopes for this one. Weather permitting, I think this one will be extremely well-attended, thanks in large part to the Berks County Recreation Departments efforts at advertising. Be there!

Friday, June 19 to Sunday June 21 Mason-Dixon Star Party - at the Spring Valley County Park in York. For more information contact Jeri Jones, York County Parks, 400 Mundis Race Rd., York, PA 17402, (717-840-7226), or visit their website at:

Friday, July 24 & Saturday, July 25 Stellafane - The 63rd Annual Stellafane Convention will be held in Springfield, Vermont. Mark your calendar now and make your plans early. More information will appear in future issues or check out their web site at:

Note: Check the hotline for upcoming club star parties that have yet to be announced.

Greetings fellow amateur astronomers!

Please mark your calendar for round seven of MegaMeet to be held at Pulpit Rock, September 19th, 1998! Rain (cloud) date will be the following Saturday, September 26th. My message machine will be ready with instructions for go or no go at 610-683-6397, starting around midnight on Friday, September, 18th. Gates open at 4:00 pm the afternoon of the event.

We're finally back to the middle-of-the-month in the cycle of New Moons for September, which, I hope will give a good chance for clear weather. Not too close to hurricane season, and not too far into the autumn for freezing nights. Of course we will have to "wait and see" what is actually in store for us!

As usual, the event is free and is limited to amateur astronomers, and their well-chosen guests. Camping is encouraged, but remember to bring your own water.

Members from twelve regional astronomy clubs are invited! Please tell your fellow club-members, and try to mark it on your club calendar ASAP. Any questions or comments, please e-mail me!

Also … anyone wishing to submit a photo taken at Pulpit Rock with recognizable features of the domes, the view from the rock, interesting angles of equipment inside the domes, etc., may submit them for selection as the "official" MegaMeet VII invitation photo! (Sorry, Hale-Bopp has already been used in last year's invitations)

Send photo before June 1st to:

Priscilla Andrews
P.O. Box 262
Kutztown, PA 19530

If you wish it returned, please send SASE. I'll inform you immediately after selection if I will need your negative to make copies for the invitations (and LVAAS historical record book).

Clear skies....

Priscilla Andrews


Indoor Astronomy - Pocket Guide

Wonderful things come in small packages. As is true with the National Audubon Society Pocket Guide - Planets and Their Moons. My favorite thing about this book is it's size. It's only about 4 inches by 6 inches and just 192 pages. That makes it great for travel. With 80 photographs taken from Earth, the space shuttle, and numerous spacecraft, it can also be an excellent "coffee table book". I keep it laying around for quick reference, because it's inspiring to learn about our closest neighbors. Sometimes we search so far into the deep sky that we miss interesting objects right in front of our nose.

The beginning introduction explains the formation of the solar system and planetary motion in simple terms. Remember - it's only 192 pages. Then the bulk of the book is illustrated descriptions of the planets and their most popular moons. Each planet has a quick reference data table including: distance from the Sun, diameter, mass, density, gravity, rotation, axial tilt, sidereal period, synodic period, and satellites. The moon data table includes: distance from the planet, diameter, and orbital period. Vivid pictures really help tell the story. These images of the planets and moons are compiled from the Hubble Space Telescope, Voyager, Galileo, Viking, and other radar and satellite photos. Size comparison graphs are also included.

Comets are explored near the end, with Comet West, Haley's, and Shoemaker-Levy 9 being the most prominent. The final section touches on observing the planets with Zodiac charts and a Planetary Longitudes table to help you plot planet locations in the sky, at any time. This book is filled with informative descriptions and beautiful pictures to make it easy for you to pick up at any time and learn something new.

*The Learning Channel has scheduled a couple Science Frontiers episodes in May dealing with space. On May 24th starting at 1 pm are five one-hour shows in a row. Titles include: Edge of Darkness, Heavens Above, Alien Neighbors, A Star is Born, and Space Trek. Set your VCRs!

Donna Weinsteiger

Beginners Observing Program

Beginning Thursday, May 21, Observers 101 course will commence. George Babel will meet and lead the group from Kenhorst Plaza, which is located by Route 724 and 625 (New Holland Road). The time of departure from the parking lot next to the Dairy Queen will be 7:45 p.m. Please bring the following items if you have them:

It will take approximately 15-20 minutes to reach the observing site. In the event of questionable viewing conditions or directions, please contact George at (717) 445-7954. The rain date will be Friday, May 22. I promise not to keep you out too late.


1998 Reading/Berks County Science and Engineering Fair

The 1998 Reading/Berks County Science and Engineering Fair produced many outstanding astronomical projects. I had to choose the six best projects related to the science of astronomy and I was very please to find a higher caliber of astronomy related projects this year. The 1998 winners are listed below and are not in any winning order. We pick the six best and award each of them with a certificate of recognition, a one year family membership to the Society and a copy of the book Observing For The Fun of It, by Melanie Melton. The book is an excellent gathering of information about astronomy for the beginning astronomer.

Stephen Fehnel, a seventh grade student at

St. Ignatius Loyola School


Stephen conducted a study of how comets are affected by the gravitational attraction and heat energy produced by the sun. The project included stretching a cloth across a wooden frame to represent space and a heavy weight placed in the middle of the stretched cloth to represent the gravitational pull of the sun. An incandescent light bulb was suspended over the test area to represent the heat from our bright star. A variety of spherical objects were then rolled across the stretched cloth to see the sun's affect on the motion of the test object.

Brain Lacki, an eighth grade student at

Wilson Central

Radio Astronomy with Household Items

Brian conducted a very in depth study of radio astronomy using items such as a tape recorder, radio and piano wire to construct a parabolic antenna. He used a Qbasic program to gather information on the altitude and azimuth of objects at a given time to pin point them in the sky to conduct his studies. Objects studied were the Sun, Cygnus A, M-1, M-87, Cassiopeia A, Sagittarius A, M-31, Quasar 3C-273, Jupiter, M-82, and NGC1275 (two colliding Galaxies in Perseus)

Jennifer Keinard an eighth grade student at

Muhlenberg High School


Jennifer created a very neat display and study of the sky's constellations. Their mythology and how they were conceived by early cultures were discussed. She also noted the time of year many of our northern constellations could be seen in the evening sky. A constellation viewer was constructed out of plywood and beautifully illustrated with moons and stars. One would place a representation on one of the many constellation drawings in the viewer and switch on the interior illumination then peer inside to glimpse the starry image.

Lauren Versagli an eighth grade student of

Muhlenberg High School

Star Bright, Star Light, What's Your Magnitude Tonight?

Lauren's project was the study of the period of the star Delta Cephia. She used a photometer attached to the eyepiece of her telescope and recorded the amount of photons gathered by the instrument on clear nights from October 3, 1997 to December 15, 1997. She used two comparison stars as fixed sources of light to get more accurate readings on the star being studied. As a side note, Paul Becker was mentioned in her acknowledgements.

Nicole Kauffman an eighth grade student of

Muhlenberg High School

Venus, The Evening Star

Nicole conducted an in depth study and evaluation of our sister planet, Venus. Studies included atmospheric analysis, climate analysis, geography, orbit, mass and many other interesting facts.

Alexandra Niculce of Reading High School

How do Black Holes Effect Our Galaxy?

Alexandra conducted a theoretical study of how a black hole would become a controlling factor in our universe. She enlisted the help of two individuals whom she assigned the characters Jupiter and Pluto. Jupiter being the larger and more dominant planet was pitted against Pluto, the smaller planet. Each was given ideas and facts of information about the universe to be used to attain dominance over the other and become the ruler of the universe. If you would like to find out the outcome of the battle of wits, ask Alexandra at one of our next meetings.

I am very pleased with this year's science fair projects. The students are becoming more knowledgeable about all aspects of science. Their projects are becoming more in depth and very well constructed. The procedures of conducting scientific experiments are becoming used by more and more of the students thus allowing them to better focus on the subject they are studying. I sincerely hope that this year’s winners will continue to pursue the science of astronomy and solicit the Society’s assistance whenever they may need us. We are more than happy to help one learn about our hobby.

Michael Bashore

Lincoln Elementary Star Party

  • I have a confession to make. I love to do star parties, as long as someone else is in charge. I like to give Priscilla a hard time when she worries about the weather. I figured that the weather is just a bit beyond our control and it doesn’t pay to worry about it. It isn’t as if we can change anything. Now that I’ve set up and run a few school Star Parties myself, I realize that I was a total fool.

    I still know that we can’t change the weather, but that knowledge certainly doesn’t keep me from biting a few nails on the day of an event. The morning of the Lincoln Elementary Star Party was pristine, but clouds built steadily during the day and my nerves frazzled. I knew that we were committed to this event. The Lincoln PTA had both indoor and outdoor events and we were scheduled to go on, even if cats and dogs poured from the sky. (That would be Sirius!) I even figured that I would survive my talk on the solar system if I had to give it. I had Dave Brown’s wonderful program, along with a few random thoughts of my own. I figured that as long as Ian Lawrence didn’t ask too many questions, I would survive a talk. (Ian is a terribly sweet and terribly bright boy who persists in asking me to join in the debate over whether Pluto is a planet or not. I can’t offer an opinion. I can’t even find the blasted thing on star charts.)

    I wasn’t unduly unnerved by the rumors of media attention. The grapevine hinted of appearances by Channel 69. Then our local PCTV jumped on the bandwagon. In the end, even the reluctant Pottstown Mercury was forced to cover the event. (The Pottstown Mercury is loathed to cover any event where the Pottstown School district might actually look good. In this case their revenge was to list Karl Kuehn as a member of the Berks Astrological Society in the photo credits.) I wasn’t really concerned about talking to the media. The school guidance counselor knows me well. He laughed and nudged me and said, "I bet you won’t be able to find anything to say if they interview you. Ha!" He knows that I am always in the running for the Dave’s Brown Award.

    I suppose that my concern was for the kids. These children at Lincoln know me and I know them. I provide their Art Goes to School Program. I fly kites for several classes. I tutor in others. I have done Artist in Residence days. I see most of them every day. I wanted them to come away from the experience and feel the excitement inherent in astronomy. I should have known not to worry.

    My safety net was wrapped up in the energy and creativity of another Lincoln mom, Jodi Wenzel. Jodi managed to stage a star party extraordinare. It’s true that the Lincoln Four- including Kevin, Mike Bashore, Karl Kuehn and myself managed to show every child something, in spite of having to play tag with the clouds for most of the night. Ian was the only child who came out after the cloud blanketed almost the entire sky. I was reduced to showing him an unknown binary star in an unknown constellation. Talk about humiliation. For just one moment my skin prickled with apprehension when he looked in the eyepiece. I expected him to say, "Why that’s XCT 798564, the Wildly Wobbling Binary." I was spared. Instead, a steady stream of children played games and made projects in the all purpose room and then wandered out under the evening skies to glimpse things that they only read of in the classroom.

    Just for once though, I think the night belonged to what unfolded under the inside lights. The children took the BCAAS Solar System Challenge (renamed Pin the Planet in the Solar System, for this event) and then were treated to an extraordinary array of space related projects and games. They could pose as an astronaut on the moon and have their photo taken. They could make a space shuttle or space helmet. We had to remind several children that the air was breathable and they could remove their helmets so that they could actually see though the telescopes. They could jump on a comparative chart and see how far they would have traveled on the moon. Children made their own little planetarium. Dotted throughout the entire gym were colorful displays filled with astronomy facts. Jodi wrapped education in a coating of fun and creativity and did us all proud. It was a great evening.

    It’s true that the stars didn’t shine at their best. It’s also true that a freak shower sent the Lincoln Four scrambling to pack their gear. Never the less, it was a night of stars. They were in every childs’ eyes as they learned and loved it. Oh and by the way, after the shower, the sky cleared completely and was filled with all the things that we couldn’t see before. I even knew most of the constellations.

  • Candi Simmons

    Astronomical greeting cards available

    The club received a notice from East Greets West that they are offering astronomical greeting cards to members of astronomy clubs at a discount. The cost is $1.25 a dozen. The only catch is that there is a minimum order of 4 dozen cards! While no individual member will use 48 blank cards — if four of us wants a dozen, we'll have the minimum order.

    At the May meeting Linda Sensenig will have a sample as well as a picture (in color) of all the cards available. Give your money to her at the May meeting if you would like to order cards.

    Mythology of the Night Sky - Bootes

    The title of this constellation goes back a very long way; Homer makes mention of Bootes in his Odyssey, therefore we know that the name goes back at least 3,000 years. It might even be older than that, although back in those ancient times, the constellation of Bootes was basically one star — Arcturus. Because of it's position in the sky, following Ursa Major, Bootes was viewed by some ancient people as a hunter in pursuit of the Bear, as written by Carlyle in Sartor Resartus:

    "What thinks Bootes of them, as he leades his Hunting Dogs over the zenith in their leash of sideral fire?"

    Bootes has also been referred to as the Wagoner, or the Driver of the Wain (whatever a wain is!), the Keeper of the Wain (There's that wain again!), a shepherd, and Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter of the Bible (which I am sure you remember from a previous Pegasus was also associated with Orion, as well.)

    Some people believe that the ancient Arabians did not recognize Bootes as a single constellation, but instead included it in this huge Lion that they saw in their night sky: Arcturus and Spica were the shin bones, Regulus was the forehead, Gemini was one of the fore paws, Canis Minor the other, and Corvus was the hind quarters. This Lion extended over a third of the sky which, I might add, surely simplified things because they had a lot fewer constellations to remember!

    Today most people simply think of this constellation as a kite.

    Linda Sensenig  




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