Volume XXX Issue 3

May / June 2004

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. 2004 Berks Science & Engineering Fair
3. Deep Space Network
4. Once Apon a Convention

5. Astronomy Cooperative of PA - Organizational Meeting
6. NASA- Robotic Repair of Hubble Possible
7. Mondo 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

Summer is fast approaching and BCAAS is now in full swing with our Spring and Summer agendas. As a prelude to this agenda, BCAAS officers attended an Astronomy League Regional meeting and the organizational meeting for the newly forming Astronomy Coop of PA. Also, numerous members attended the annual "rite of spring", a.k.a. NEAF (North East Astronomy Forum) in Suffern, NY. We’ve already held one Spring Star Party, April 9th, and depending on when you receive this newsletter, possibly a second one, May 7th, with many more scheduled for the next few months.

This Spring promises to be the season of comets as we anxiously await the reappearance of comet C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) and the appearance of C/2002 Q4 (NEAT). And as if that’s not enough, now there is also comet C/2004 F4 Bradfield to add to the mix, although this comet is an early morning object. To observe these comets, we’ve scheduled a number of star/comet watches, May 7th, May 14th, and June 11th at the Heritage Center and also June 4th at Blue Marsh Lake.

As regards Summer events, I would be remiss if I would not mention some of the area’s major star parties. If you’ve never attended one of these, you should try and make it to at least one. You get to camp out with friends, have a few nights of hard-core observing, listen to a number of interesting speakers, the opportunity to view and purchase items from dedicated vendors and, if you’re lucky, possibly win a door prize. These events are a great opportunity to interact with fellow amateur observers. Upcoming events include the Mason-Dixon Star Party in nearby Codorus State Park on May 20 – 23 and the Laurel Highlands Star Cruise Star Party on June 14-20 in Hazelton, W. Va. Later in Summer, there’s the Susquehanna Spring Star Spectacular on July 16-18, and in Fall there is our sister club, LVAAS’ MegaMeet held at the very nearby Pulpit Rock on September 17-18. And then the overall favorite of mine, the Black Forest Star Party held at Cherry Springs State Park, near Coudersport on September 10-12. For more information on these star parties please see the article posted by member Bob Bukovsky on the LVAAS Yahoo group at under the Files section in a file titled Star Party Guide.doc. *Note* you will have to join the Yahoo Group to view this file.

And the MAJOR EVENT of SPRING has to be the June 8th transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun. This is a very rare event as no living person has witnessed this type of event. The transit is already well underway as the Sun rises on the morning of the June 8th, but we will see about two hours of the six hour transit. We’re planning a club watch at the Flying Field for this event since that site affords a superb horizon so we can see the maximum duration of this ext raordinary event. Note, you MUST use a solar filter like those used to observe sunspots to safely observe this event. If you don’t have a solar filter, plan on attending the club watch as a number of club members have these filters.

Well, here’s clear skies to you and hoping we’ll see you at some of the coming events.

Ron Kunkel, at or 610-488-6039, and Clear and Dark Skies to All.

2004 Berks County Science and Engineering Fair BCAAS Winners
Co-written by Mike Bashore & Melody Gardner

This year’s Fair was less than fruitful when it came to finding Astronomy related projects to award our BCAAS prizes. Out of the estimated 250 projects on display, only four could be classified as Astronomy related. Judging the fair for BCAAS were Melody Gardner and mys elf. Presenting the awards was our Vice President, Ryan Hannahoe. This year’s awards consisted of a Certificate of Achievement, the book, Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet MARS by Paul Raeburn and a One Year Family Membership to BCAAS.

Taylor Boeve, 7th grader at Holy Guardian Angels

Project Title, Effectiveness of Sun Screen Four pieces of photographic paper were displayed in block format. One had no sunscreen, the other three had different brands of SPF 30 applied to them and were exposed to sunlight. This showed that all of the exposed areas reacted with the sun, but were protected by sunscreen, with different brands producing different levels of exposure. The hypothesis of this experiment was that the effect of the sun, while not completely blocked, would be lessened by sunscreen. Also, it was noted that the weather does not prevent the sun from damaging unprotected skin, as this experiment was duplicated on overcast as well as sunny days.

Juan Cajigas, Senior Division, Holy Name High School

Project Title, Space Shuttle’s Thermal Protection System This experiment tested the hypothesis that accurate thermal sensing instrumentation inside the space shuttle’s frame could detect a breach in integrity. This useful information could be detected via a comparison of recorded temperature and normal operating temperature data within a database accessible in the shuttle. This research comes in the wake of the shuttle disintegration upon re-entry and may play a greater part of space science technology in the future.

Elizabeth Tieman, 6th Grader at Spring Ridge Elementary School

Project Title, Mystery Moon, The Effect of Moon Phases on Plant Growth This project is based on the planting of seeds during specific phases of the moon and the results in growth of those plants. Some results were that peas planted at the start of last quarter moon grew taller than those planted during the other phases of the moon. Lettuce did better when planted at the start of a full moon. All results of the experiment were predicted accurately and reinforced the hypothesis put forward that certain plants grow better when the seeds are sown during a specific lunar phase. The project was based on an article in the Reading Eagle, The Farmers’ Almanac, and Historical Weather Chart Calendar.

Eric Focht, 7th Grader at Holy Guardian Angels

Project Title, The Efficiency of Solar Cells His project utilized three solar collecting cells, a voltmeter and a mounting board that could be adjusted to provide varying angles for the solar cells. The object was to see if the angle of the collecting cells to the sun would have an effect on the amount of voltage gathered from the sun. The other variable in this experiment was the weather. The experiment determined that on cloudy days the best collection angle was 100 degrees. The best angle on sunny days was between 120 degrees to 140 degrees, but twice the voltage was collected on the sunny days.

Hopefully this year with the coming Comets to spark the imagination of the youth of the world, we will have more astronomy projects to pick from at next year’s science and engineering fair.

Deep Space Network 2-for-1 Sale!

By Patrick L. Barry

Call it a "buy one, get one free" sale for astronomers: Build a network of radio dishes for communicating with solar-system probes, get a world-class radio telescope with a resolution nearly as good as a telescope the size of Earth!

That's the incidental bonus that NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) offers the astronomy community.

Designed to maintain contact with distant spacecraft in spite of the Earth's rotation, the large, widely spaced dishes of the DSN are ideal for performing a form of radio astronomy called "very long baseline interferometry" (VLBI).

VLBI produces very high resolution images of the cosmos by combining the output from two or more telescopes. The result is like having a giant "virtual" telescope as large as the distance between the real dishes! Since bigger telescopes can produce higher resolution images than smaller ones, astronomers need to use dishes that are as far apart as possible.

That need dovetails nicely with the DSN's design. To maintain continuous contact with deep space missions, the DSN has tracking stations placed in California, Spain, and Australia. These locations are roughly equally spaced around the Earth, each about 120 degrees of longitude from the others- that way at least one dish can always communicate with a probe regardless of Earth's rotation.

That also means, though, that the straight-line distance between any two of the stations is roughly 85 percent of Earth's diameter-or about 6,700 miles. That's almost as far apart as land-based telescopes can be.

"We often collaborate with other VLBI groups around the world, combining our dishes with theirs to produce even better images," says Michael J. Klein, manager of the DSN Science Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Since our 70-meter dish in Canberra, Australia, is the largest dish in the southern hemisphere, adding that dish in particular makes a huge difference in the quality of a VLBI observation."

Even though only about 1 percent of the DSN's schedule is typically spared from probe-tracking duty and scheduled for radio astronomy, it manages to make some important contributions to radio astronomy. For example, the DSN is currently helping image the expanding remnant of supernova 1987A, and Dr. Lincoln Greenhill of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is using the DSN dishes to explore a new way to measure the distances and velocities of galaxies.

And all this comes as a "bonus" from the dishes of the DSN.

To introduce kids to multi-wavelength astronomy, NASA's website for kids, The Space Place, has just added the interactive demo, "Cosmic Colors," at

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


Long ago there was a time when I was the secretary of MERAL and traveled to the Regional Conventions. Now these were always held in a civilized location such as a college or a hotel where we met in air conditioned meeting rooms. And back in the old days, the banquet was an occasion to really dress up; in fact, many women even wore long dresses. That is - until the National Capital Astronomers decided to host the convention and had this sadistic idea that it was time to do something a little different (and cheap - don’t forget cheap. THAT place sure shouldn’t have cost them much). So they reserved the Smith Environmental Center in Rockville, Maryland.

We were cautioned, of course. The promotional material said that this year instead of hotel rooms or dorm rooms we’d be in bunk rooms.

Still, the banquet would still be the elegant banquet, wouldn’t it? So, I packed my long dress. (Sometimes I can look downright feminine!)

My parents dropped me off and then went on to their memorable vacation in Washington D.C.

When I saw what the Smith Environmental Center was, I was horrified. It was a farm!! There were chickens running around outside and other animals off in the distance! The bunk rooms? All the women were in the same room; it was like summer camp. Forget about air conditioning.

I headed for the meeting room, thinking it couldn’t get any worse and immediately, it got worse. Everything was going to take place in the same room. When it came time to eat, we all helped the kitchen workers by moving the tables and chairs and turning the meeting room into the dining room. That evening the banquet would be held in the SAME ROOM! Forget the long dress - it was slacks for the banquet.

Being on a farm, it was, of course, full of flies. That was addressed in the meeting room by placing electric fly zappers around the room so that everytime a fly got caught, the speaker was interrupted by a loud ZAP! It was so bad, it had actually become funny. Especially the next morning when I was rudely awakened by a rooster crowing at 4:30 AM! Another misconception was immediately cleared up, as I learned roosters don’t just crow once and get it over with - they continue to crow over and over and over again.

Still - when I look back on the past Regional conventions, the one I am telling you about is not one of those that was well organized or civilized. It is, however, the one I recall most fondly.

Linda Sensenig

Astronomy Cooperative of Pennsylvania Organizational Meeting

By Joe Zelinski

On April 3, 2004, representatives of 14 astronomy societies from across Pennsylvania met near Harrisburg, uniting to form a new organization which benefits both amateur astronomers and the public. The meeting was held at ASH’s headquarters, Naylor Observatory, located near Lewisberry, PA.

The Astronomy Cooperative of PA is the brainchild of Ted Nichols II, president of the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg.

The purpose of the cooperative is to serve as a tool, allowing the member organizations to assist their membership and the public in enjoying and understanding astronomy, not to duplicate functions or services of the Astronomical League.

Goals of the cooperative are as follows:
·Champion light pollution abatement.
·Exchange speakers among member organizations.
·Maximize usage of dark-sky observing sites.
·Foster pro-am research collaboration in PA.
·Share fund-raising ideas and efforts.
·Help officers to improve their member organizations.
·Improve communication among member organizations.
·Post a statewide calendar of astronomical events and observing opportunities.

Scott Fowler and Joe Zelinski represented LVAAS. Also present were representatives of BCAAS (Reading), ChesMont AS (Chester), BucksMont Astronomy Society (Valley Forge), DVAA (Doylestown), Tri-State Astronomers (Carlisle), Starlight Astronomers (Altoona), Allegheny Highlands Astronomy Society (Ridgeway), York County Astronomy Society, Lackawanna Astronomy Society (Scranton), Central PA Observers (State College), Oil Region AS (Oil City) and Amateur Astronomers of Beaver County.

Generic and tentative by-laws were adopted to enable incorporation and acting officers were elected. Serving until June 1, 2004 will be Ted Nichols II director, John O’Hara (ORAS) assistant director, Ron Kunkel (BCAAS) secretary and Scott Fowler, treasurer.

One designated representative of each member organization will conduct business of the Co-op. Most Coop business will be conducted and documented on the web and via email. Periodic meetings will be held at star parties and events hosted by the member organizations. Each member organization will pay annual dues of $25.00 to support the effort. A web site featuring a State Wide Astronomy Event Calendar will be established in the near future.

During a break in the proceedings, attendees were treated to light refreshments and a tour of the Naylor Observatory grounds, including 3 observatories with phones and computers in each, and one still under construction.

Instruments include a 7" Maksutov, a 10" Cave Newtonian, and a 16" Cassegrain. The grounds also include an Administration building with hot and cold running water, a library and meeting space.

According to Nichols, Sky and Telescope is considering an article on the new endeavor. Stay tuned to the Pegasus and our web site ( for new developments regarding the Astronomy Cooperative of PA.

NASA: Robotic repair of Hubble 'promising'

By Brian Berger and Leonard David - Tuesday, April 27, 2004 Posted: 11:48 AM EDT (1548 GMT)

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe told U.S. lawmakers worried about the Hubble Space Telescope's future that robotic servicing of the orbiting observatory appears to be more feasible than agency officials initially believed.

"It's looking a lot more promising than I would have told you a few weeks back," O'Keefe told members of the House Appropriations VA-HUD subcommittee during an April 21 hearing on NASA's 2005 budget request.

O'Keefe said what changed his mind was the quality of some of 26 responses the agency received in response to a recent call for ideas for servicing the Hubble Space Telescope without putting a space shuttle crew at risk.

"Some of the ideas we've heard are using capabilities that exist right now- actual hardware exists right now," O'Keefe said, adding, "It looks feasible at this juncture ... I'd have to put more stock in it right now."

Ed Weiler, NASA's space science chief, told reporters in February that extensive robotic servicing did not appear feasible given the current state of technology.

O'Keefe said NASA is now taking a closer look at two or three robotic options for extending Hubble's service life and possibly even outfitting the telescope with one or more new instruments. NASA engineers will pick the most promising robotic option by June, he said, and then spend the rest of the summer examining it in greater detail.

O'Keefe said that while it is not yet clear that robotic servicing will pan out, his intent is that NASA be ready by September or October to move ahead with such a mission if it still seems feasible after closer scrutiny.

Among the robotic technologies presented to NASA were Johnson Space Center's Robonaut and the University of Maryland's Space Systems Laboratory's Ranger robot.

Robonaut is a human-like android designed by the Robot Systems Technology Branch at Johnson in a collaborative effort with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Robonaut project is focused on developing and demonstrating a robotic system that can perform the same duties as a spacewalking astronaut.

The University of Maryland's Ranger robot is flight ready, according to its designers, and has dexterous manipulators capable of working on Hubble. The Ranger robot has already undergone testing against Hubble servicing tasks, according to project personnel.

O'Keefe would not say whether these robots had made NASA's short list of promising approaches.

Scientists and engineers expect Hubble to fail in 2007 or 2008 unless its gyroscopes and aging batteries are replaced. NASA announced January 16 that it was canceling a final planned space shuttle mission to repair and upgrade Hubble, saying the mission was too risky in light of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Public and congressional outcry prompted NASA to solicit alternatives to a space shuttle mission for servicing Hubble.

The National Academy of Sciences, at the urging of Congress, is also reviewing the safety assumptions that went into NASA's decision to scrap the shuttle servicing mission. That report is due in September.

The academy panel includes scientists, former astronauts, NASA managers, aerospace industry executives, a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and a robotics expert.

The study, "Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope," is to be completed under the auspices of the academy's National Research Council and its Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board.

Louis Lanzerotti was selected to chair the study group. He currently consults for Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies and is a distinguished professor for solar-terrestrial research at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The study group will consider issues of safety in using the space shuttle to service Hubble with an astronaut crew; examine robotic approaches; assess how servicing the telescope will affect its scientific capabilities and judge the risks and benefits of the options.

The group will also estimate the time and resources that will be needed to overcome any unique technical or safety issues to ensure they conform to the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and NASA's Stafford-Covey Return-to-Flight committee.

Copyright © 1999-2004, Inc.


Please return your completed Winter Observing Project forms for the Pleiades Winter Star Watching Project that we participated in during the months of February and March 2004. You may return them to me at the club meetings, mail them to me or if you did them electronically, e- mail them to me, at After I tally up the reports they will be forwarded to the Astronomical League’s coordinator. Thanks to all members who braved the cold weather and did such a great job.


Friday, May 7th @ 7pm — Comet NEAT Q4 Watch at The Heritage Center, rain date May 8th

Thursday, May 13th @ 7:30pm — BCAAS meeting, Inge Heyer from the Space Telescope Science Institute—"Mars, the New (But Not Final) Frontier".

Friday, May 14th @ 7pm — Comet NEAT Q4 Watch—Heritage Center, rain date May 15th

Thursday, May 20th through Monday, May 24th — Mason Dixon Star party at Codorus State Park

Sunday, May 23rd — Editor’s Birthday!!!

Monday, May 31st — Memorial Day!!! Sounds like a party day to me!

Friday, June 4th @ 7:30pm — NEAT Q4 & LINEAR T7 Watch — Blue Marsh Dry Brooks Area, rain date June 5th

Tuesday, June 8th @ 4:30am to 7:00am — Venus Transit Observing at The Flying Field

Thursday, June 10th @ 7:30pm — BCAAS meeting, Member’s Night (volunteers welcome !!)

Friday, June 11th @ 7:30pm — NEAT Q4 & LINEAR T7 Watch—Heritage Center, raindate June 12th

Monday, June 21st — First Day of Summer!!!!

Thursday, June 24th @ 6:30pm — BCAAS Board meeting/Cookout at Barb Geigle’s

Happy Summer Observing!!