Volume XXX Issue 5

September / October 2004

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. More H2O on Mars?
3. In Memory Of….Vincent Lanzetta
4. Green Bank StarQuest
5. Treasurer’s Corner
6. Cassini-Huygens
7. Night Sky Network
8. UpComing Evnets

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 I write this message, the weather is an absolutely beautiful day with a cloudless sky, rather cool for late August, and with very low humidity. It’s a far cry from the majority of the weather we’ve experienced for most of this summer. In looking at last year’s president’s message for the September/October newsletter I notice that I referred to "continuing MONSOON". Well I’m sorry to say but this year’s weather has eclipsed last year’s with parts of Berks County setting an all time record for rainfall in July, and August is also doing quite well. We can be glad that there were actually very few events scheduled. Here’s hoping that the weather is kinder to us this fall.

One of the club events cancelled, actually due to a forecasted hurricane that veered out to sea and never materialized, was our annual picnic. That picnic is now rescheduled to Saturday, August 28th at 5:00 PM. The venue is still Dave Brown’s Deer Foot Farm just north of Leesport. Please refer to our website for directions.

As regards other coming club activities please remember our September meeting on the 9th, which will be a program on "Dark Energy" to be presented by Dr. Ruth Daly from the physics department at Berks-PSU. Then for our October meeting on the 14th we’ll have a presentation on "Stellacam Astrophotography" by our own Glen Hacker.

Beyond our own club activities, there are two prominent star parties that deserve mention. On September 10 to the 12 is the Black Forest Star Party held at Cherry Springs State Park in north-central Pennsylvania. This star party is held at a premier dark sky site that is actually visited every weekend by many observers. Registrations for this event are filled, but you can visit the site any other time to experience a truly dark sky site. The other event of note would be MegaMeet, September 17 to 19. This annual event is organized by our sister club LVAAS and held at their Pulpit Rock Observatory Park just east of Hamburg. This is a no fee, no frills, just plain observing star party. No registration is required, just show up, observe and campout if you wish. It’s open to members of all local clubs.

The last thing I wanted to alert the membership to is changes to our monthly meeting arrangements. Starting September 1st the museum will have moved our meeting room to the Planetarium. Unless you hear otherwise at least our September and October meetings will be held in the Planetarium. We have two other sites, a church in Wyomissing and a room at the UGI building on Route 10, as potential sites for consideration for future meetings. At this point we’ll see how September and October’s meetings come off before deciding on a more permanent meeting site.

Tantalizing clues about possible Mars water from

Thursday, August 19, 2004 Posted: 6:09 AM EDT (1009 GMT)

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- The hills of Mars yielded more tantalizing clues about how water shaped the Red Planet in tests by NASA's robotic geologist, Spirit, while its twin, Opportunity, observed the deep crater it climbed into two months ago, scientists said on Wednesday.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said Spirit discovered a swath of bedrock that showed signs of being altered by water and may yield clues about the planet's primordial atmosphere.

Scientist believe the bedrock was thrust up from below the lava-covered surface of the vast Gusev Crater, where Spirit landed January 3 and spent months crossing to arrive at a series of promontories dubbed the Columbia Hills.

For the past week, the rover has conducted a series of tests on a rock nicknamed Clovis that is perched on a spur about 30 feet (9 meters) above the plain, chief scientist Steve Squyres said at a briefing on Wednesday.

Both Spirit and Opportunity found ancient evidence of water on Mars earlier in their missions but new data recorded by Spirit's scientific instruments this week suggests that the life- giving liquid was once more plentiful than they thought.

"This is different from the rocks out on the plain, where we saw coatings and veins apparently due to effects of a small amount of water. Here we have a more thorough, deeper alteration, suggesting much more water."

Clovis is situated among rocks that do not show signs of water wear, which Squyres said could help scientists "get a handle on what took place."

"So far we have intriguing clues hinting that this rock Clovis had interacted with liquid water," Squyres said. "We need to understand whether it was cold or hot ...liquid or gas. That should tell us a lot about the alteration by water."

Opportunity, which landed on a flat gray plain on the opposite side of Mars that scientists said was once drenched by a salty sea, planned to investigate a dune field inside Endurance Crater, where the rover has explored since June.

The six-wheeled rovers have operated in Mars' harsh atmosphere more than twice as long as they were designed to but are beginning to experience minor mechanical problems, NASA engineers said.

One of Spirit's wheels has lost power, while Opportunity's rock abrasion tool jammed twice last week, engineers said.

In Memory Of
Vincent Lanzetta

 There are people in this world who change your life for the better, just by sheer association. Their enthusiasm for living each day to the fullest is contagious and being around them brings a smile to your face almost effortlessly. By all accounts, Vinnie Lanzetta was one of those people.

He was a crazy man who routinely showed up at frigid starparties in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt (apparently de rigueur for Vinnie); a man enthralled by the mysteries of the boundless skies; a Volkswagen enthusiast who once removed a squirrel from a friends’ engine block; a man who wholeheartedly embraced this world instead of shrinking from its challenges.

Whether it was a shoulder to lean on when times were rough, a talent for vehicle maintenance, his extreme pyrotechnics expertise or a knack for bringing out the kid in everyone, Vinnie seemed to be the sort of guy that you could always count on to liven up the party.

Though he leaves us too soon, our memories will keep him close and his pure joy at living each day will inspire us to reach towards that sometimes elusive spark of happiness we all possess within. Then we’ll see what Vinnie always knew, that each day is a gift that we should make the most of.

His memorial inscription reads: "In Loving Memory of Vinnie, who is now free to roam the galaxy and enjoy all its beauty up close, from Earth to the Pleiades, and beyond. Never give up; never surrender."

1st Annual GreenBank StarQuest

By Melody Gardner

From the minute Ralph’s ticket was drawn at the Chinese raffle at Mason-Dixon, I knew this was bound to be a wild trip. A free registration at a totally new starparty? In the heart of West Virginia? And there’s a gimungous radio telescope on the premises? How could we be so lucky?!?

For a nominal fee, we were allowed to bring along two more campers, so we asked the adventurous Joe and Lisa Zelinski along to check out this awesome opportunity to learn what radio waves can teach us about our own universe. It turned out to be a very good thing we were traveling together, since Ralph’s car took this trip as a chance to show us what happens when essential parts decide to wear out on a remote mountaintop. (Yikes!) Somehow, once we got there, everyone seemed to know us; the kids from PA with a questionable ride. I’ve never heard so much free car advice in my LIFE!

Although our arrival was somewhat delayed, we were treated to a very scenic drive over the gorgeous hills of West Virginia and still managed to get settled at our campsite before darkness fell. There was a little observing between the clouds that first night, but the big show turned out to be the dueling green lasers chasing each other across the sky from different points on the camping field. (Even though they were specifically banned from the event, more than a few seemed to sneak past the registration desk!)

While it is true that the weather was uncooperative for observing, with it raining roughly 20 minutes out of every hour, the clouds moved through so quickly that it wasn’t long before the grass was dry and the sun was peeking through again. The most striking thing about the trip was the fact that the radio telescope was in use the entire time, and we could see it moving, but we never heard a sound. The immense nature of the instrument was enough to make you anticipate at least a rumbling of gears as it turned, but it moved silently, searching out its next observing point without a whisper.

The facility itself housed an auditorium, gift shop, brand-new dorms with state of the art indoor plumbing (definitely a plus!), a snack bar whose idea of a "small" ice cream cone is bigger than a "large" is around here, and display of all sorts of science related to space and radio telescopes. There was even a display of the earliest attempts at radio astronomy and the salvaged parts used to create it so many years ago. My favorite part was the hallway lined with sound- muffling material, mirrors and fiber optic rainbow lights.

Tours of the grounds were held every hour on the hour, starting with a short presentation involving dry ice and balloons and concluding with a bus tour around the various telescopes that have been or are still in use. When we arrived at the base of the newest, biggest scope, the sheer size was incredible. The fact that the dish is actually comprised of thousands of independently- moving pieces, all aligned in tandem to produce the optimum observing results, is hard to comprehend.

With the beauty of nature (in all its precipitating glory) surrounding us, the deer peering at us in the early morning light before bounding away through the field, and Lisa’s blueberry-lemon coffee cake, this couldn’t have been a better 1st Annual StarQuest. I highly recommend this starparty to anyone who has any interest in learning something new about the universe from some very friendly people. This gathering has the makings of a very successful annual event. Here’s hoping that next year’s skies will be a little clearer and our drive somewhat less eventful. See y’all there!

Treasurer’s Corner

By Linda Sensenig who Makes Sense of Our Dollars

CALENDAR ORDERS DUE. I will be placing our order for Astronomy wall calendars for the year 2005 after the September meeting to insure they get our order before they run out of calendars. The cost is $6.00 per calendar. If you will not be at the September meeting, please e-mail me and let me know you want a calendar. If you miss this ordering deadline, all is not lost! I can place an order at any time. However unless the order is for 12 calendars or more, instead of costing $6.00, it will cost $6.50. I can order as long as their supply lasts. The safest thing to do is to place the order in September.

RENEWAL TIME IS HERE. I will also be collecting renewals for Astronomy and Sky and Telescope magazine subscriptions. As far as I know, the price has not gone up. Astronomy is $29.00 and Sky and Telescope is $32.95. If the price goes up later on, I will collect the balance at that time. If you wish to begin a subscription for either of these magazines, you can do that, as well.

Cassini-Huygens Mission Status Report

August 23, 2004

The Cassini spacecraft successfully completed a 51-minute engine burn that will raise its next closest approach distance to Saturn by nearly 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles). The maneuver was necessary to keep the spacecraft from passing through the rings and to put it on target for its first close encounter with Saturn's moon Titan on Oct. 26. Mission controllers received confirmation of a successful burn at 11:15 a.m. Pacific Time today. The spacecraft is approaching the highest point in its first and largest orbit about Saturn. Its distance from the center of Saturn is about 9 million kilometers (5.6 million miles), and its speed just prior to today's burn was 325 meters per second (727 miles per hour) relative to Saturn. That means it is nearly at a standstill compared to its speed of about 30,000 meters per second (67,000 miles per hour) at the completion of its orbit insertion burn on June 30. "Saturn orbit insertion got us into orbit and this maneuver sets us up for the tour," said Joel Signorelli, spacecraft system engineer for the Cassini-Huygens mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The maneuver was the third longest engine burn for the Cassini spacecraft and the last planned pressurized burn in the four-year tour. The Saturn obit insertion burn was 97 minutes long, and the deep space maneuver in Dec. 1998 was 88 minutes long. "The October 26 Titan encounter will be much closer than our last one. We'll fly by Titan at an altitude of 1,200 kilometers (746 miles), 'dipping our toe' into its atmosphere," said Signorelli. Cassini's first Titan flyby on July 2 was from 340,000 kilometers (211,000 miles) away.

Over the next four years, the Cassini orbiter will execute 45 Titan flybys as close as approximately 950 kilometers (590 miles) from the moon. In January 2005, the Europeanbuilt Huygens probe that is attached to Cassini will descend through Titan's atmosphere to the surface.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

For the latest images and more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit and



Has the universe always existed? How did it become a place that could harbor life? Are we alone, or are there alien worlds waiting to be discovered? NOVA presents some startling new answers in "Origins", a groundbreaking four-part NOVA miniseries airing on PBS stations September 28 and 29, 2004.

NASA is arranging for Night Sky Network club members to participate in an exclusive teleconference with the producer, Tom Levenson, and the host, Dr. Neil Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium. It is scheduled for September 8, 2004 at 9 PM Eastern. Any club member can call in and participate. Here is the call-in information:

Call toll-free, 1-888-791-1856 anytime after 8:45 PM on September 8.

You will be asked for the pass code: NIGHT SKY NETWORK

You will be asked for the call leader: MICHAEL GREENE

You will be asked to give your NAME and the CLUB you belong to.

We are supposed to receive a preview DVD a few days prior to the teleconference. If you are interested in viewing the DVD, or if you have any questions, contact me at

For more information on the NOVA series, go to FREE DRAWING: From among the clubs with members attending the teleconference, two clubs will be drawn at random to receive a copy of Dr. Tyson’s soon-to-be-released book, "ORIGINS: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution".

I participated in the July teleconference with Dr. Stephen Gillam of JPL, and it was well done. Callers were given the opportunity to ask questions after the presentation.

NEW OUTREACH TOOLKIT COMING IN OCTOBER: The next toolkit, "Our Galaxy, Our Universe", is currently under development and will be shipped in October. It will feature materials and activities to convey concepts of distance and scale in our galaxy and the universe.

I am also pleased to announce that we have logged five events, which is the minimum required per year to maintain our membership in the Night Sky Network. If anyone has questions about the Night Sky Network or Outreach Toolkit, please contact me.

Hoping we will have a clear night some day,

Barb Geigle


Saturday August 28 - 5:00pm, Rescheduled Annual Club Picnic at Dave Brown's Farm. Please bring a covered dish, snacks or drinks to share.

Thursday September 9 - 7:30pm, Monthly club meeting at the Planetarium at Reading Museum. Tonight's Program will be presented by Dr. Ruth Daly of Penn State University. Her program is entitled "Dark Energy". Everyone one is invited.

Friday September 10 thru Sunday September 12 - Black Forest Starparty at Cherry Springs State Park

Friday September 17 thru Sunday Sept 19 - MegaMeet XIII @ Pulpit Rock Observatories. Event is hosted by the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society, LVAAS. Check out their website for more info.

Wednesday September 22 - Vernal Equinox!!!! Make way for falling leaves and sweater weather !!

Thursday October 14 - 7:30pm, Monthly club meeting at the Planetarium at Reading Museum. Tonight's Program will be presented by Glen Hacker. The program is entitled "Stellacam Astrophotography". Everyone is invited.

Friday October 22 - 6:00pm - Public Star Watch at the Berks Heritage Center. We will be viewing the night sky through binoculars and telescopes. Members of the public can bring their own scopes to have club members help them use their scope or they can view the galactic objects through the club scopes and members' scopes.. Rain/cloud out date for this event is Saturday October 23rd, same time.

Wednesday October 27 - 8:00pm - Public Lunar Eclipse Watch at the Berks Heritage Center. The Full Eclipse of the Moon will be visible this evening, weather permitting. The Lunar eclipse will begin at 8:05pm tonight and end at 2:02am in the morning. The middle of the eclipse will be at 11:04pm. Hope to see everyone there.

Sunday October 31HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!






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