Volume XXVIIII Issue 5

September / October 2003

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. Women of the Stars
3. The Mars Card
4. Frisbees in Space
5. From the Belly of an Airplane
Ryan Hannahoe
7. 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

As September rolls around we can now savor the splendid views of Mars we’ve just witnessed based on its August 27th closed approach to earth and the opposition following on the 28th. With the recent lull in the MONSOON, just the past two evenings I’ve personally been out looking at Mars. I’m very pleased with the amount of detail I can see with my 8" SCT using choice filters and thanks in no small part to the unusually clear skies and favorable moon position. Too bad we can’t be around for the next 8000 years to witness this good of an opposition again. In case you haven’t seen Mars at its best, you still have a few weeks in early September to get a once in a lifetime, actually many lifetimes, view of our nearest neighbor before it rapidly recedes away from earth. Note, our club’s last public Mars Watch will be September 12th at The Berks County Heritage Center. The August Mars Watch at the Heritage center went very well, thanks to the cooperation of the weather and Dave Brown’s talk. Hopefully, this month’s Mars Watch will be just as successful.

Speaking of "monsoon", did you realize that the August Mars Watch was our first public star party of the year at the Heritage Center not cancelled due to rain? I think we’ve cancelled no less than 3, if not 4 of these, including their alternate nights.

Coming events for September-October are the LVAAS MegaMeet on September 26th to the 27th. This event is a no frills star party hosted by our sister club at the Pulpit Rock observatory site located on the mountain between Hamburg and Lenhartsville. The gates for this restricted access site will be manned and opened staring early in the evening. With this year’s date shifted so it doesn’t conflict with the Black Forest Star Party, we can now attend both of these events. If you haven’t ever been to Pulpit Rock, you should attend. Camping is encouraged, but you need to cook on a stove as no open fires are permitted. Hope to see many of you there!

Of course, the main item coming up on the BCAAS agenda is our 30th Anniversary Banquet on Saturday night October the 18th. We’ll be enjoying the company of fellow astronomers and the graces of none other than John Dobson from San Francisco as our keynote speaker. John is renowned for his design of the Dobsonian telescope mount, his sidewalk approach to bringing astronomy to the public, and his non belief in the Big Bang Theory. Come join us on the 18th. Please contact Linda Sensenig for tickets.

Here’s to continued clear skies.

Ron Kunkel, at or 610-488-6039 (Please note new email address.)

Ron Kunkel

Women of the Stars

Maria Mitchell is truly the first lady of modern observing and teaching of astronomy, and the first well-known American astronomer. Growing up in Nantucket from a Quaker family, who believed in educating not only the males in the family but also that their female children should receive the same education. Maria’s father, who was an amateur astronomer in his own right, was contracted by the United States Coast Guard to make star observations using a 4-inch telescope on the roof of their home. This work consisted of observations that were needed to rate the chronometers of the whaling ships. Maria would often assist her father in his work for the USCG. During the many years of their work, the Mitchell’s had made thousands of observations of altitudes of stars for the determination of time and latitude, and of Moon culminations and occultations for longitude. Quite a challenging field for a 19th century young lady to embark on!

The night of October 1st 1847, she was looking through the same 4-inch telescope on the roof of her home and discovered a comet located five degrees above the North Star (Polaris). Maria promptly notified her parents and all their guests of her discovery that night. That must have been quite a sight – a proper young woman of that day, all excited and thrilled at her discovery, running downstairs into a living room full of people to inform them of a new comet! Her father sent word of her discovery to his long time friend William Bond, who was then director of the Harvard College observatory, who confirmed her findings and sent the report to the president of Harvard, Edward Everett. Maria’s discovery was then sent to the Netherlands to have an award presented to the first person, male or female, to find a comet that was not visible to the naked eye at the time of discovery. (The King of Demark sponsored this gold medal award sixteen years before and the scientific world had been waiting for any yearly future astronomical discoveries).

Now, you would think that when all was said and done with Maria Mitchell finding a comet (Comet Mitchell 1847VI also known as "Miss Mitchell’s Comet), receiving a gold metal from the King, and having international acclaim and accolades from the international community and the astronomers of her day, that would be that! Not hardly! The astronomical committee that reviews and oversees the awards wanted to originally give this award to Father Francesco de Vico of Rome, who had also discovered the same comet two days later than Maria Mitchell. (But please remember that transatlantic mail was very slow bac k then and there was no "e-mail" in the 1800s, so the decision to make this award to Father De Vico was made prior to the news of Maria Mitchell’s discovery).

But, President Everett of Harvard felt that another American astronomer, by the name of Bond (No, not James Bond) but George Bond was unjustly deprived of the medal the year previously (1846), that he was determined that an American would not be outdone a second time (and be prevented from receiving this award). I am sure that there was a bit of diplomatic wrangling over this award across the ocean and between the two continents.

Finally, Maria Mitchell did receive the much-coveted astronomical award that she deserved and it propelled her into history. Maria accepted a position with the United States Nautical Almanac Office as a computer (one who performed lengthy mathematical calculations). Her work for the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac for 19 years was calculating the positions of the planet Venus.

In 1865, Vassar College opened to women and asked Maria to become director of the college observatory and professor of astronomy. (Vassar had a 12-inch telescope at the time). Vassar wanted to offer the same college courses to their female students that all male colleges offered to their students. However, she had no college degree or teaching background and she was also taking care of her ailing father, so I am sure that this decision was not easy for Maria to make. However, she agreed to the position and spent the rest of her life to preparing her students for the scientific studies that they would encounter in Vassar’s newly formed graduate degree program. Maria and her students studied the Sun, and followed the changes in sunspots. They traveled around the country to observe several solar eclipses – to Burlington, Iowa and Denver, Colorado. (O.K! So it’s not in Aruba or off the coast of Africa but in the late 1800’s this was a big deal for single women to travel that far away from their home and family to watch – SUNSPOTS! Are they out of their minds?)

Maria Mitchell not only proved to be a gifted teacher and astronomer. She also gave her students inspiration – not only in her belief in learning, but in observations. Her observations of the planet Jupiter led her to conclude that she was only seeing the uppermost clouds of a planet that was made up entirely of clouds. She also pioneered the daily use of photographing sunspots and faculae and in observations in the changes on the planetary surfaces, of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and their satellites.

Maria Mitchell was the first women professor of astronomy in the United States. She was most famous American scientist of the 19th century. Maria studied first with her father and then learned astronomy from books in the Nantucket Atheneum where she was librarian. Some of her accomplishments are:

1847 – discovered the comet of 1847 – Comet Mitchell 1847VI
1848 – appointed the first woman to the Academy of Arts and Science
1853–awarded the first advanced degree given to a woman-from Indiana Hanover College
1859 – awarded the Medal of Merit from Switzerland and the Republic of San Moreno
1865 – appointed to the American Philosophical Society
1865 – appointed the first woman to the faculty of Vassar
1875 – elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women

Two of Maria Mitchell’s students became astronomers in their own right were Mary Whitney who became her successor at Vassar and Antonia Maury, who was the niece of Henry Draper, began an analysis of photographic plates of the northern sky and the studies of the spectroscopic binary star, Beta Lyrae. Her two-dimensional classification system, helped astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung realize that stars of a given temperature could have different sizes and luminosities, a major step in the understanding of that some stars are giants and others are dwarfs.

In 1875, in an address to the Association for the Advancement of Women, Maria Mitchell had told the audience: "In my younger days, when I was pained by the half-educated, loose and inaccurate ways women had, I used to say ‘How much women needed science.’ But since I have known some workers in science who were not always true to the teachings of nature, who have loved self more than science, I have now said, ‘How much science needs women.’"

Maria Mitchell is the first woman of the stars – her pioneer work not only advance our understanding in astronomy, but our knowledge of sunspots, and the surfaces of various planets. But for her work as a gifted teacher who was able to inspire other young women to add their contributions in the study and understanding of astronomy and to follow their own dreams into the stars and beyond.

Submitted by: Michel Ramsey

Kass-Simon, Women of Science – Righting the Record (1993)
National Women’s History Project
Opalko, J. Maria Mitchell’s Haunting Legacy (Sky&Telescope May 1992)

The Mars Card

The AAAA Mars Card is a concise way to share the essential information about Mars during the current favorable opposition in August and September 2003. Download our FREE PDF from the AAAA website, print it off, and make copies for yourself and to hand out at your own Mars Observing Events for friends and the general public!

Astronomy Adventures on the Web!!!
Frisbees in Space

by Dr. Tony Phillips

When Pete Rossoni was a kid he loved to throw Frisbees. Most kids do-it's pure fun. But in Pete's case it was serious business. He didn't know it, but he was practicing for his future career in space exploration.

Grown-up Pete Rossoni is now an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. His main project there is figuring out how to hurl spacecraft into orbit Frisbee-style.

The spacecraft are small-about the size of birthday cakes. "This wouldn't work with big satellites or heavy space ships like the shuttle," notes Rossoni. But a cake-sized "nanosatellite" is just right.

Nanosatellites-nanosats for short--are an exciting new idea in space exploration. Ordinary satellites tend to be heavy and expensive to launch. The cost alone is a deterrent to space research. Nanosats, on the other hand, can travel on a budget. For example, a Delta 4 rocket delivering a communications satellite to orbit could also carry a few nanosats piggyback-style with little extra effort or expense.

"Once the nanosats reach space, however, they have to separate from their ride," says Rossoni. And that's where Frisbee tossing comes in.

Rossoni has designed a device that can fling a nanosat off the back of its host rocket. "It's a lot like throwing a Frisbee," he explains. "The basic mechanics are the same. You need to impart the spin and release it cleanly-all in about a tenth of a second." (The spinning motion is important because it allows the science magnetometer to measure the surrounding field and lets sunlight to play across all of the nanosat's solar panels.)

The ST5 nanosats are designed to study Earth's magnetosphere-a magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet and protects us from the solar wind. But their primary goal, notes Rossoni, is to test the technology of miniature satellites.

"We haven't done anything like this before," says Rossoni. Soon, however, the concept will be tested. A trio of nanosats is slated for launch in 2004 on the back of a rocket yet to be determined. The name of the mission, which is managed by JPL's New Millennium Program, is Space Technology 5 (ST5).

Can groups of nanosats maintain formation as they fly through space? Will their internal systemsminiaturized versions of full-sized satellite components-satisfy the demands of both the harsh space environment and critical science measurements? Is Frisbee-tossing as much fun in orbit as it is on Earth?

ST5 will provide the answers. Read about ST5 at at Budding young astronomers can learn more at

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

From the Belly of an Airplane: Galaxies

By Dr. Tony Phillips

On April 28th a NASA spacecraft named GALEX left Earth. Its mission: to learn how galaxies are born, how they grow, and how they die.

"GALEX-short for Galaxy Evolution Explorer-is like a time machine," says Caltech astronomer Peter Friedman. It can see galaxies as far away as 10 billion light years, which is like looking 10 billion years into the past. The key to the mission is GALEX's ultraviolet (UV) telescope. UV rays are a telltale sign of hot young stars, newly formed, and also of galaxies crashing together. By studying the ultraviolet light emitted by galaxies, Friedman and colleagues hope to trace their evolution spanning billions of years.

This kind of work can't be done from the ground because Earth's atmosphere absorbs the most energetic UV rays. GALEX would have to go to space. To get it there, mission planners turned to Orbital Science Corporation's Pegasus rocket.

"Pegasus rockets are unusual because of the way they're launched-from the belly of an airplane," says GALEX Project Engineer Frank Surber of JPL.

It works like this: a modified L-1011 airliner nicknamed Stargazer carries the rocket to an altitude of 39,000 feet. The pilot pushes a button and the Pegasus drops free. For 5 seconds it plunges toward Earth, un-powered, which gives the Stargazer time to get away. Then the rocket ignites its engines and surges skyward. The travel time to space: only 11 minutes.

"The aircraft eliminates the need for a large first stage on the rocket," explains Surber. "Because Stargazer can be used for many missions, it becomes a re-useable first stage and makes the launch system cheaper in the long run." (To take advantage of this inexpensive launch system, GALEX designers had to make their spacecraft weigh less than 1000 lbs.-the most a Pegasus can carry.)

A Pegasus has three stages--not counting the aircraft. "Its three solid rocket engines are similar to the black powder rockets used by amateurs. The main difference is that the fuel is cast into a solid chunk called a 'grain'-about the consistency of tire rubber. Like black powder rockets, once the grain is lit it burns to completion. There's no turning back."

In this case, turning back was not required. The rocket carried GALEX to Earth orbit and deployed the spacecraft flawlessly. On May 22nd, the UV telescope opened its cover and began observing galaxies-"first light" for GALEX and another success story for Pegasus.

For adults, find out more about the GALEX mission at . Kids can read and see a video about Pegasus at

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

Ryan Hannahoe's Extra-circular Activities

As some of you may know, Ryan Hannahoe is not only involved in astronomy. Some of his other pursuits (girls) include (girls) football (girls) and (girls) weight-lifting. These pictures show Ryan pulling a Harley- Davidson truck at the 1st Annual Keystone Strength Challenge, held in Reading on June 28th. Ryan placed 1st in his division and was the only one under 18 to attempt to pull this truck.

Ryan’s first football game of the season is next Friday, August 29th, so wish him luck in his senior year!!

Upcoming BCAAS Events

If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman there to hear his words, is he still WRONG?

Thursday, September 4th @ 7:00pm — BCAAS Board Meeting

Thursday, September 11th @ 7:30pm—BCAAS meeting; Ted Nichols—Pluto Mission

Friday, September 12th @ 7:30pm (raindate Sept. 13th)—Mars Party at Heritage Center

Friday, October 17th @ 7:00pm—John Dobson at Heritage Center (no raindate!!!)

Saturday, October 18th @ 5:00pm—BCAAS’ 30th Anniversary Banquet at Chef Alan’s Come out and celebrate 30 years of amateur astronomy with friends and family. There’ll be a cocktail hour, followed by great food, entertainment, a revolutionary speaker, door prizes, and dancing. Tickets may be purchased at meetings or by contacting Linda Sensenig at or 610-375-9062 or by mailing checks payable to BCAAS to the address listed on the newsletter.

Join us for a festive evening that’s sure to have something for everyone!

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