Volume XXVIIII Issue 2

March / April 2003

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. Women of the Stars
3. Winter Star Watch Project - Pleiades
4. It's In The Sky!
5. The Age of the Universe
6. Mythology of the Night Sky
7. Seven Strangers
8. 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 I write this message, desk literally next to a propane gas stove, I must tell you how I look forward to some warmer weather and no snow. Last night was crystal clear, but by 9:00 PM it was also 0 F, a bit too cold for my poorly insulated body to spend any extended period outside, and thus the reason I sit here and instead type away in my cozy and comfortably warm little nest. Geez, I can’t wait for the some warmer weather.

Speaking of looking forward, here’s a glimpse of what’s up for March and April. Our 13th March meeting speaker is the familiar Dr. Dana Bachman from Franklin and Marshall College. He will be speaking on Extra Solar Planets and the Seti and Sofia Programs. Then on the 16th we will have a table or three set up at the Great Outdoor Expo at PSU-Berks. The following week on the 19th, our club will be presenting awards at the Berks County Science Fair being held at Albright College. And on 10th of April we’ll have our regular meeting at the Planetarium. Please remember that this year we will be paying $5/adult and $3/child for this show.

I am pleased to announce that some, well one member anyway, has responded to my request for articles for Pegasus. Michel Ramsey will be writing a regular column on prominent people in astronomy. Actually, to be exact, many of her articles will be on prominent women in astronomy. Thank You, Michel. Now let me again repeat my plea for more article writers. Note, one time and done articles are also welcome, a regular column is not necessary. Surely you have something worth sharing with the membership.

A new addition to our meeting agenda has been a short, 10 minute, talk called "Gadget of the Month". This agenda addition was first formally unveiled at our February meeting where Michel Ramsey presented on her recently purchased Sunspotter Solar Telescope. March’s talk will be Barb Geigle presenting the Meade Electronic Eyepiece. Future "Gadget of the Month" talks are open for your personal presentation. Remember, these are short, short sweet, and informal. Please contact me with your ideas

BCAAS now has two new telescopes available for member use. They are 4" Bushnell Voyager reflectors, similar to the Edmund Scientific Porta-ball telescopes. These scopes have their own individual foam lined storage containers with room for their eyepieces, tripod and a homemade Baader film solar filter. And in a coming Observer I will probably be announcing two more telescopes being added to our arsenal of equipment. These latter telescopes are being donated to the club, but for now that news is for the next Observer.

Lastly, everyone is reminded to participate in the Pleiades Winter Project. This involves observing the Pleiades both with and without binoculars, and can be repeated as off as possible or desired during the months of February and March. Guess who, none other than again Michel Ramsey is coordinating this effort. These reports will be sent into the Astronomy League and will be used to monitor world wide light pollution. So please go to the web site, down load the simple form to fill out, and participate. It only takes 15 or 20 minutes for your eye to acclimate so the cold does not need to be endured for any prolonged time. Cold-averted little old me has already done two observations so certainly you can also.

Clear, and warmer skies to all,

Ron Kunkel, at

Women of the Stars

I love reading! I also love reading about people who have made a difference in our world. Several years ago, I became interested in women who have made a difference in the study of astronomy and helped to open the doors of knowledge to others (both men and women) who wanted to learn and know more.

Most of us know about Sir William Herschel, the famous astronomer who discovered the famous planet Uranus. But, do many of us know about his sister, Caroline Herschel? She assisted her famous brother in his studies of the universe and was content to walk in his shadow. Caroline did many tasks which were unsuited for women of her day; mainly she pounded the manure used to make the molds for telescope mirrors and helped to grind and polish the mirrors William, her brother, used. She also recorded his observations, performed calculations, copied drawings and prepared most of his papers for publication.

Along the way, she developed a love of astronomy and fire in her heart that lead her to discover more about our universe. But, did you know that Caroline was also an astronomer in her own right? She discovered her first comet in 1786; this would be the first of eight more comets she discovered in her lifetime. Caroline’s work consisted of the discovery of three nebulae, including a companion of the Andromeda Galaxy. In 1835, Caroline Herschel and another woman astronomer, May Somerville, were the first women ever elected honorary fellows of the Royal Astronomy Society. Caroline died in Hanover, at the age of 97.


A woman astronomer, Mercedes Richards , studied binary stars, in which stellar material has been transferred from one star to the othe r. Her research focused mainly on Algol-type binaries (named after the prototype Algol in the constellation Perseus), in which the less massive star has evolved to a stage between a sub-giant and red giant while the more massive star remains on the main sequence. A more massive star would be expected to evolve to the red giant stage faster than its cool companion. We now know that in this system, the cooler companion is the more massive star. Mercedes was born in Jamaica and is now a United States citizen. As a young child, she would spend the nights sitting with her father under those wonderful night skies filled with stars. Mercedes’ father instilled the love of the stars in her. However, Mercedes did not study astronomy until she entered graduate school in Canada. Her undergraduate major at the University of the West Indies was physics and math. Her Ph.D. degree is from the University of Toronto.

Reference Works:

(Dobson, A. & Bracher, K. "Urania’s Heritage: A Historical Introduction to Women in Astronomy", Mercury, Jan/Feb 1992)

(Lubbock, C. The Herschel Chronicle 1933)

If you are interested in these and other women astronomers, check your local library for more information.

by Michel Ramsay

Winter Star Watch Project - Pleiades

Please join in the Winter Star Watching Project - Pleiades, (M45 - also known as the Seven Sisters), several of our members are participating in this project already and I am looking for more members to help out. The project is to assist the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) in Japan to determine the extent of light pollution around the world.

When do we watch? Anytime during the months of February and March. There is no limitation to whom may join, how many participate in any one location or how many such parties are held. No experience necessary and you do not need any special equipment, just a clear night and a small pair of binoculars. Observations are best done on a moonless night without fog or clouds or more than an average amount of haze or smog. All you need is a good tolerance for cold weather and a good sense of humor.

I will have forms available for your use & envelopes to mail forms back or you may download a form from our club’s website. Any questions, please feel free to call: Michel Ramsay at   e-mail michelramsay711@ Also, for those of us who are more daring and would like to try some photography, Barry Shupp will be available to help us get set up.

It's In The Sky!

Last issue I wrote about winter observing, and astrophotography. In this issue I would like to talk about a winter observing project our club is doing throughout the month of March. At a recent Board meeting, Michel Ramsey introduced us to a project being sponsored by the Astronomical League in association with the International Dark Sky Association. This observing project will help to determine the extent of light, and air pollution in local areas.

The project involves looking at both the Pleiades, and the Milky Way and reporting how well you can see them. There is a data sheet to be used which can be downloaded from the club’s website, or from the A. L. website. Michel has forms available for those without computers. Please call her if you would like to participate. Observations are recorded on the sheet and then returned to the I.D.A. Please send your results to Michel Ramsey and they will be returned as one group (BCAAS). You do not need to belong to BCAAS to participate.

Basically the project involves two things: First- observe the Milky Way with your naked eye and note which constellations you can see it in (Perseus, Gemini, and Monoceros). Consult a sky chart if necessary. Second- count the number of stars you can see in the Pleiades with your naked eye, and then with binoculars. Record the results on the data sheet. That’s it! Send the results to Michel and they will be submitted to I.D.A.

If you are really adventurous there is a photo project that can be completed too. I have agreed with Michel to assist anyone who would like to try this part. Feel free to email me ( You will need a 35 mm camera with a 50 mm lens, at an f/ stop of 4. Use color slide film with an ISO of 400, and shoot three frames exposing for 80, 150, and 300 seconds. Use a tripod and don’t worry about star trails. Center the Pleiades in the frame, and have the film processed by Kodak. Send the slides along with the data sheets.

Also, plenty of time remains for enjoying the winter constellations including Gemini, Orion, Taurus, and Pegasus, with the spectacular Andromeda galaxy floating majestically nearby. Don’t forget the Pleiades either! Especially beautiful is the Orion nebulae located in the great hunter’s sword. Try to view it with a large pair of astro-binoculars. It is a magnificent sight! Jupiter, and Saturn are prominent in the evening sky, while Mars shines at magnitude 1 in the pre-dawn sky. Look for Mars to visit several celestial wonders on March 5th, and 6th as it passes near the Lagoon nebulae, and the Trifid nebulae. In April don’t miss bright Mercury in the west about a half hour after sundown, and Venus likewise in the morning, half an hour before the Sun rises.

All of these wondrous sights are there for your enjoyment- if you can stand to brave the cold weather we’ve been having!

by Barry L. Shupp

The Age of the Universe

Most everyone has some familiarity with the measurements being taken of the microwave background, the relic afterglow of the big bang, also known as the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background). These measurements are detailing the geometry of the universe to a high precision and the nature of the matter and energy that fill the Universe. Now the latest measurements of the CMB by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) have nailed these measurements with an uncanny accuracy.

The first evidence of structure in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) was found in 1991 by NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which mapped the entire sky with high sensitivity but coarse angular resolution. Then BOOMERANG, a balloon-mounted telescope that circumnavigated Antarctica mapped only about 2.5% of the sky but with an angular resolution 35 times that of COBE. BOOMERANG revealed hundreds of complex structures that are visible as tiny variations -- typically only 100 millionths of a degree (0.0001 C) -- in the temperature of the CMB. By observing the characteristic size of these hot and cold spots the geometry of space was determined to be very nearly flat. BOOMERANG data also provided an estimate of the matter and energy density of the universe, but only to an accuracy of about 10%.

On February 11, 2003 additional CMB data was released based on measurements by Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). WMAP measured the CMB to 1 millionths of a degree. Based on this data the portrait of the universe can now be described with an unprecedented accuracy on the order of 1%. The values of various cosmological parameters are summarized below.

1. The patterns in the big bang afterglow were frozen in place 0.38 billion (380 million) years after the big bang.

2. The first generation of stars to shine in the universe first ignited only 0.2 billions years (200 million years) after the big bang, much earlier than most scientist’s expected.

3. The precise age of the universe is pegged at 13.7 billion years, plus or minus about 0.15 billion (150 million) years.

4. WMAP data confirms the both the big bang and Inflation theories continue to ring true.

5. The total matter content of the universe is 27%, with baryon (ordinary) matter content contributing on 4% and the dark matter content at 23%. The dark matter thus comprises 85% of the matter in the universe. It is unseen, unknown.

6. The mysterious dark energy content is 73%.

7. The universe will continue to expand forever, rather than collapse.

The WMAP probe orbits at the second Lagrange Point or "L2", about a million miles from earth. It will continue to observe the CMB for another three years, and it’s data will reveal yet more insights into the theory of Inflation and the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy which so dominates our universe.

The WMAP probe was named in honor of David Wilkinson who died in September 2002. Dr. Ruth Daley, currently at PSU-Berks and our speaker at February’s meeting was a member of David Wilkinson’s team during her 10 years at Princeton University.

This article is based on an Internet email supplied by the web site that was titled The Oldest Light in the Universe.

Submitted by Ron Kunkel.

Mythology of the Night Sky

The lesser dog. The small dog. I don’t know what it is about this particular dog that makes it lesser or smaller than Canis Major. Of course if we called both constellations Canis, it would be hard to tell them apart. The ancient Greeks did not designate this particular canine constellation as major or minor. They simply called it Procyon. But somewhere along the line, Procyon became the name for just it’s brightest star and a small constellation was built around it.

What is the dog that is commemorated by this constellation? Some say it represents Actaeon’s dog. Some say it is Diana’s dog. Some say it is the Egyptian dog Anubis. The most popular idea is that it represents Orion’s second hound, with Canis Major being his primary hound. Considering the constellation follows Orion and Canis Major in the night sky, this seems to be the best answer.

However, just because ancient people living hundreds of years ago saw Orion’s dog in these stars means little to us today in our culture. Even the ancients couldn’t agree on what dog this represents. So let me give you my own personal modern interpretation of Canis Minor. Diego, the chihuahua that visits my office from time to time! Now THAT would be a constellation I could relate to! Although Diego would definitely take exception to being called "Minor".

Whatever dog you wish to see in these stars, the constellation itself is very small. Ptolemy only had it containing TWO recorded stars! Hardly worth calling it a constellation. But later star maps increased the stars to as many as 51. The mystery of what dog this constellation represents is only surpassed by how anybody could count 51 stars in it!

Linda Sensenig

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Seven Strangers?

A NASA Space Place article
by Dr. Tony Phillips

At the dawn of the space age some 40 years ago, we always knew who was orbiting Earth or flying to the Moon. Neil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn. They were household names--everywhere.

Lately it's different. Space flight has become more routine. Another flight of the shuttle. Another visit to the space station. Who's onboard this time? Unless you're a NASA employee or a serious space enthusiast, you might not know.

Dave Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool, and Ilan Ramon.

Now we know. Those are the names of the seven astronauts who were tragically lost on Saturday, Feb. 1st, when the space shuttle Columbia (STS-107) broke apart ove r Texas.

Before the accident, perhaps, they were strangers to you. But if that's so, why did you have a knot in your gut when you heard the news? What were those tears all about? Why do you feel so deep-down sad for seven strangers?

Astronauts have an unaccountable hold on us. They are explorers. Curious, humorous, serious, daring, careful. Where they go, they go in peace. Every kid wants to be one. Astronauts are the essence of humanity.

They are not strangers. They are us.

While still in orbit Dave Brown asked, jokingly, "do we really have to come back?"

No. But we wish you had.

Please see the NASA Home Page ( for more information on the Columbia Investigation.

Upcoming BCAAS Events

Thursday, March 13th @ 7:30pm - BCAAS meeting; Dr. Dana Bachman

Sunday, March 16th - Great Outdoor Expo at PSU-Berks Campus

Wednesday, March 18th - Berks County Science Fair awards ceremony

Thursday, March 20th - Vernal Equinox—It’s FINALLY Spring!!

Tuesday, April 1st - April Fool’s Day—It’s a work day, so watch it!!

Thursday, April 11th - BCAAS planetarium meeting ; $5/adult & $3/child

Tuesday, April 22nd - Earth Day

Sunday, April 27th - Berks County Earth Day at Reading Park

"Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got." - Janis Joplin

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