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Volume XXVI Number I

January/February 1998

Meeting Highlights

Thursday Jan. 8

7:30 at the Reading Public Museum - The New Year is always a time of review and revision. Been waxing nostalgic for the old days? Looking forward to the New?

We start our astronomy New Year with an appeal to our philosophical side. Our very own Mr. Bruce Dietrich, Professor for the Reading Area Community College will address our place in the universe and our desire to define reality, in a presentation called Cat's Cradle. “We approach the grand theory of everything led by aesthetic longing. From the circle through a particular time we move to touch the strings of a fresh reality. When we finally fashion a cradle, what will be its shape, and who is the cat? Join with us as we slip through the stargate.” This sounds like a mystery we don't want to miss!

Thursday Feb. 12

7:30 at the Reading Public Museum - One of the most oft-heard remarks in our 1997 club-wide survey, was the desire to have a basic introduction to astronomy program. Here it is! A great review for our seasoned amateurs and a much-requested topic for our beginners!

George Babel, newly elected President of BCAAS, will present the basics - the reason for the seasons, why constellations have been so important in measuring our progress through the solar system, what is the difference between an open cluster and a globular cluster, why are planetary nebula's not related to planet's at all, etc. Between all of us, we'll answer any other question, conundrum, or confusion concerning the basic precepts of astronomy that you might have. There is no question "too easy" or too hard!

Thursday Feb. 26

Deadline: March/April 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, January 29 - 6:00 p.m. - First Board Meeting for 1998! At Paul Becker's house, all members are invited to come with ideas and/or questions to help “set the tone” for our new 1998 BCAAS administration. We'll discuss our own Introduction to Astronomy course for the public, our events calendar, our progress of the Observatory Site Committee etc. Potluck dinner at 6:00 p.m., actual business around 7:30. Come one, come all!!

Saturday, January 24 - BCAAS Star Watch - Let's hope the New Year will be kinder to us mere mortals and quit with the clouds already! Let's meet at Dave Brown's farm on Saturday evening at the stroke of dusk, for a winter star party! Dress in layers, and bring the marshmallows and hot chocolate, cookies etc., for what is now our traditional “Bonfire Bonanza” at Deer Foot Farm, Shoemakersville. For directions, see map below or call Dave (926-3797).

A Message from Your President

As we begin another New Year, it is always prudent to reflect on the past. The experiences we’ve gained form a foundation for continual improvement and success. You, the membership, are responsible for our past success, but even more important, you will be responsible for our future success.

I thank you for your confidence, in electing me to serve as president of BCAAS. More importantly I thank Priscilla, the officers and members who have selflessly served for the betterment of our club. In a time where some local astronomy clubs are facing difficulties retaining new members, BCAAS has flourished. That revelation is not meant to be a basis of brag, but a somber fact that bears investigation.

Remember when I alluded to keeping BCAAS user friendly? That statement was not made as my platform slogan, but as an observation of the most important aspect of our club’s success. Most new members come to our meetings in search of knowledge. It is up to us as a club to provide a nurturing environment in which new members can learn about astronomy. I hope to form a beginner observation program that will teach the basics of constellations, equipment and viewing techniques.

Due to the many goals on our club’s agenda, I call upon our member’s participation and experience in attaining our full potential. Most importantly let us not forget to have some fun along the way.

George Babel

Mythology of the Night Sky — Orion

He was a mighty hero of Roman mythology, and he knew it! He would boast of his mighty deeds to anyone who cared to listen — and even to those who did not care to listen. Finally, Jove responded by sending a scorpion to kill him. As bold and as boastful as he was, he was no match for the sting of the tiny scorpion. Orion, the mighty hunter, was killed. After his death, he and the scorpion were transferred into the night sky, where Scorpio is in eternal pursuit of Orion. (And you thought you were just looking at stars!)

Many classical writers alluded to Orion as a calendar sign, for its morning rising indicated the beginning of summer, and its midnight rising marked the season of grape gathering. And it's evening appearance marked the approach of winter and winter's storms. Even Hindu literature made allusions to Orion's direful influence.

Later on, the Jews called Orion Gibbor, the Giant, considered as Nimrod, bound to the sky for rebellion against God. (Nimrod is the infamous mighty hunter of the Bible who was in charge of building the Tower of Babel, and you know how that idea turned out!)

Orion is the most recognizable constellation in the cold, winter sky. It's one constellation that actually does resemble what it was named after. In instructing beginners on how to find their way around the night sky for observing, it is helpful to remember that the celestial equator (0 degrees declination) runs through the belt of Orion. It is also the location of the Orion Nebula, in the hunter's belt. This Nebula can be seen easily in binoculars or a small telescope. It is one of the best known stellar nurseries, where baby stars are being born right now as I write this article!

Linda Sensenig

New Observing Club

The Astronomical League has organized a new observing club aimed at all observers who live in urban areas under light polluted city skies. If you don't always feel like driving 20 or more miles to escape the light pollution, what can you actually see!

Check out the new Urban Sky Club. Feel free to contact John Wagoner, 1409 Sequoia Drive, Plano TX  75023; phone 214-422-1886, e-mail

The League's observing clubs are no longer just limited to the Messier Club. For instance, if you already have your Messier Certificate and want a challenge, check out the Herschel Club, run by Brenda Branchett, 515 Glen Haven Drive, Deltona FL  32738, phone 407-574-7741.

If even the Messier Club is advanced for you, try the   Lunar Club run by Steve Nathan, 10 South Street,
Ware, MA 01082, phone 413-967-9435,

If you are a member of BCAAS, you are a member of the League and eligible for any of its observing clubs.

Linda Sensenig

Indoor Astronomy

What does an amateur astronomer do on a cloudy night? Stay indoors and sulk? Probably not. Most of our lives include a huge “to do” list, that are only checked off when our priorities get canceled. That's why we need (and look forward to) those star gazing nights. That rejuvenating time. Nothing’s worse than planning a relaxing night to search the heavens, when the sky doesn’t cooperate. Don’t despair. There are still ways to enjoy astronomy — indoors. Many books, videos, TV programs, web sites, computer software and radio programs deal with astronomy and space.

Some of you already know about my vision problems and how even a few clear nights can be hazy through my eyes. So rather than spend a frustrating night searching for a hazy speck in the night sky, I’ll search the libraries, video stores and Internet. This year I decided to write about indoor astronomy. I'll review a book I recently read or a video too good to miss. I’ll try to keep you updated with new web sites or programs planned for TV and radio.

Let's begin this new year with a favorite book that sparked my interest in the hobby. Night Watch: An Equinox Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickinson. It must be a good book, because I received it as a gift — twice! My sister bought it for me, Christmas 1992 and then a co-worker gave me another one in 1996. I recently read it again and remembered why I love this book. It takes the gigantic view of the universe and simplifies it into small steps. In other words, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand it. Dickinson takes the reader through the universe in eleven steps of widening views. Starting with Earth, to the Solar System, to the Milky Way Galaxy, to the edge he calls Event Horizon — Creation — Time Zero. Since Night Watch is a beginners book, it has all those handy sky measurements, magnitudes, season sky charts and a helpful pronunciation list. The planets, our moon and sun are covered and you don’t have to worry about missing new discoveries. This book is constantly being updated. Check in the front for the latest revisions. Beautiful pictures and charts of important dates for meteor showers and planetary conjunctions makes this book a constant reference.  Before you buy, see if the author is updating it for use past the year 2000. It’s creeping up on us all too fast!

Don’t miss a good clear night of star gazing, but on those cloudy ones — enjoy indoor astronomy.

*Sky Talk: Derrick Pitts, from the Franklin Institute, and Neil Tickner discuss what's new and interesting in astronomy. Hear this short program on WHYY 90.9 FM     Monday mornings right after the 6:30 and 8:30 news.

*Einstein Revealed: This was a great PBS special. Read a condensed version on-line:

Donna Weinsteiger

Excerpt from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The British historian, Edward Gibbon, writing more than two hundred years ago about the undeveloped state of the Arabic sciences, during the rise of the Saracens, had the following to say about Arabian astronomy during that period:

John Stutzman





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