Volume XXXI Issue 3

May/June 2005

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
Asian Tsunami Seen from Space
Treasurerís Corner
2005 Science and Engineering Fair
5. Web Gems
Space Tourism Taking Shape
7. Up Coming 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:

Slate of 2005 Most Likely To's

"Be abducted by aliens from a quiet field" ó Farmer Brown

"Intimidate a grizzly bear" ó Bret Cadmus

"Smile at you when she thinks youíre dumb" ó Barb Geigle

"Ask for a receipt" ó Linda $en$enig

"Pawn off his drink on anyone thatíll take it" ó Paul Becker

"Sleep with a Nagler under his pillow" ó Barry Shupp

"Vote for a President thatíll say Ďsuckí a lot" ó Mike Bashore

"Have an astronomy event freak story" ó Melody Gardner

"Read the Pegasus if itís funnier" ó Maybe You

President's Message

Warm greetings, members:

Spring is here, and hope is renewed that we can enjoy being out in nature and take in the sky in comfort again. Some of us trekked to French Creek Park on April 9 and had a chilly but wonderful evening observing.

It has been a while since we were there, and "sky glow" has invaded even that remote location. We all must promote local ordinances in our townships to curtail light "trespass", for doing so will also conserve energy. The latter point is more important to make than astronomers trying to keep the sky "dark", and is much easier to sell to local government.

At the North East Astronomy forum in New York on April 16/17, BCAAS sold 2 of our clubís telescopes. Both pieces were 30 plus years old, and had more classic value than usable value to us, thereby the sale. We now have $2350 more in the treasury, and are entertaining ideas to maybe spend some of it to benefit our organization. Please contact or come to the next meeting with your idea. (No Melody, you're not getting a limo to come to club meetings, I'm getting one!) [Editorís note: Iíll deal with you at the meeting, Dave .]

Has anyone seen any aurora lately? Some of our members are dying to see one, but find out after it's OVER how lovely it WAS. Since observing this phenomenon cannot be planned, and the event sometimes only lasts an hour or two, quick communication is essential. We are therefore compiling the I DON'T CARE WHAT TIME THE AURORA IS SEEN CALL ME ANYWAY list.

To get on the list, call or e-mail me by the next meeting, May 14, with your name and telephone number. If you see an aurora, you will be expected to call only 3 others to notify them of the event. The lists will be mailed to all participants, and will contain instructions on how it will work. Future participants will be added with subsequent mailings. To respect privacy and unwanted phone calls, the list will not be posted on the website.

We had 2 great school events in April to showcase the heavens, one at Spring Ridge elementary, which netted a nice club donation, and one at Wyomissing Hills elementary. Both nights had perfect weather and long lines at the telescopes. Many thanks to members who helped donate their time for the kids; they and their families really enjoyed it.

There will be a public event for us at the Heritage center this month. See elsewhere in Pegasus for details. Hope to see you all out there to share the sky with others, and come see some new "toys" that were picked up over the winter by our members.

ĎTil we observe together againóDave

"You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself."

Galileo Galilei

Asian Tsunami Seen from Space

 by Patrick L. Barry

When JPL research scientist Michael Garay first heard the news that a tsunami had struck southern Asia, he felt the same shock and sadness over the tremendous loss of human life that most people certainly felt. Later, though, he began to wonder: were these waves big enough to see from space? So he decided to check. At JPL, Garay analyzes data from MISRóthe Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite. He scoured MISR images from the day of the tsunami, looking for signs of the waves near the coasts of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand. Looking at an image of the southern tip of Sri Lanka taken by one of MISR's angled cameras, he spotted the distinct shape of waves made visible by the glint of reflected sunlight.

They look a bit like normal waves, except for their scale: These waves were more than a kilometer wide! Most satellites have cameras that point straight down. From that angle, waves are hard to see. But MISR is unique in having nine cameras, each viewing Earth at a different angle. "We could see the waves because MISR's forward- looking camera caught the reflected sunlight just right," Garay explains. In another set of images, MISRís cameras caught the white foam of tsunami waves breaking off the coast of India.

By looking at various angles as the Terra satellite passed over the area, MISRís cameras snapped seven shots of the breaking waves, each about a minute apart. This gave scientists a unique time- lapse view of the motion of the waves, providing valuable data such as the location, speed, and direction of the breaking waves. Realizing the importance of the find, Garay contacted Vasily Titov at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington.

Titov is a tsunami expert who had made a computer simulation of the Asian tsunami. "Because the Indian Ocean doesn't have a tsunami warning system, hardly any scientific measurements of the tsunami's propagation exist, making it hard for Dr. Titov to check his simulations against reality," Garay explains. "Our images provide some important data points to help make his simulations more accurate. By predicting where a tsunami will hit hardest, those simulations may someday help authorities issue more effective warnings next time a tsunami strikes."

Find out more about MISR and see the latest images at Kids can read their own version of the MISR tsunami story at .

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

Treasurerís Corner
 by Linda $en$enig, who makes cents of our dollars

ASTRONOMY FIELD TRIP: Are you interested in observing occultations where the moon occults a planet? According to Sky and Telescope, this will not be a good year for planetary occultations at home. In fact, of the 11 occultations that will occur in 2005, only two of them are even visible from the Northern Hemisphere. On August 8, the moon will occult Venus in Alaska. However, on December 12, the moon will occult Mars in East Siberia ! Anyone interested in taking a field trip to East Siberia in December! I think weíll wait until 2006 and hope for Hawaii.

2. Jonathan Shalter has back issues of Astronomy Magazine he would like to get rid of. If you are interested in any back issues, please contact Jonathan at 610-929-2755.

3. THANK YOU FROM DANA BABEL. The BCAAS received a thank you note from George Babelís widow for the gift we sent to her sonís educational fund. It reads as follows:

"Please thank the Society for their very generous contribution to Brandtís Educational Fund. It means so much to me to know people care. Your interest and concern in Brandtís future has touched me deeply. Brandt is adjusting nicely in his new surroundings. He misses his Dad and talks about him often in the evening. This is our together time for remembering. I have Georgeís astronomy equipment. If there is any interest in it, please call me at 610-486-0784." Dana and Brandt moved in with her parents after Georgeís death, so if anyone is interested in any of Georgeís equipment, donít worry - you wonít have to go to Chicago to get it.

2005 Berks Science and Engineering Fair

By Michael Bashore

This yearís fair produced only two Astronomy Projects and two indirectly related projects. There were also fewer science project overall this year. After talking to the some of the event organizers, they thought the lack of projects was due to the science fair falling on the week before Easter this year, (spring break time). I personally donít believe that is the cause. I think that a larger group of kids in this day in age are looking for things to be done for them, and projects to go lickety-split, like everything else in the world is becoming. Enough of my preaching again.

This yearís awards included a one year Family membership to the Berks Astronomy Club, a Certificate of Achievement mounted on a wooden plague, and the hard cover book entitled, "Astronomy: A Visual Guide", by Mark A. Garlick.

This year I found a very nice project done on the constellations entitled "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". This project was constructed by Brandi Goodwin, an 8th grade student at Muhlenburg Middle School. She studied all of the northern sky and southern sky constellation and related some of the mythology behind some of the constellations. She also constructed a viewing booth that she create a northern sky constellation and star map with glow in the dark paints. Then had the inside of the booth lit with a black light. A very nice effect. She also did the same thing with the southern skiesí stars and constellations. Brandi did not show up for the awards ceremony so I turned over her awards to the members of the science fair committee who said that they would get the prizes to her. I hope to meet her at one of our events.

The senior division project that I selected was a very complicated and unique experiment. Thomas Trudel, a student at Muhlenburg High School, was also the champion, second place winner, for the entire science fair this year. He will travel to Arizona to compete in the national science fair. His experiment was titled "Ion Thruster Development and Analysis" and was to design, construct and test an Ion Propulsion engine. How does it work you ask? Well, Iím not a very intellectual person when it comes to those sort of things, but as far as I could tell from reading his project, he shot an ion plasma trail through the propulsion engine and focused it with FM radio frequencies. He made numerous trips to Penn State University to use their vacuum chamber to do his testing. He may be one of this planets future space propulsion engineers; we can only hope that he can succeed.

The Third project and not necessarily meaning it was the third best, was entitled "Can You Tell the Time More Accurately by the Moon or by the Stars". The project was presented by Christopher Jenkins, a 6th grade student at The Kingís Academy. By using a moon phase comparison chart and determining the moon elongation from the sun and using a sun template, the student could fairly accurately determine the time of the day. He tested another method by using the Big Dipper and the North Star to get an angle. Then, he would take the time on the angle chart and subtract the number of months past March 6, multiplied by 2. The conclusion of the experiment was that the Moon phase comparison worked best.

The last astronomy related project that I found was entitled, "Flying High 2005" presented by Matthew Fura, a 7th grade student at LaSalle Academy. His experiment was to determine which fin design on equally built rockets would yield the best results in altitude. His project was very neatly done and presented very well.

Good job to all students and we hope to see you at some of the BCAAS events in the future.

Web Gems
by Melody Gardner

Hereís the Joke of the Day from Sound familiar to anyone?

Academic Phrases

The following list of phrases and their definitions might help you understand the fuzzy language of science and medicine. These special phrases are also applicable to anyone reading a PhD dissertation or academic paper.

"IT HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN"... I didn't look up the original reference.

"A DEFINITE TREND IS EVIDENT"... These data are practically meaningless.


An unsuccessful experiment but I still hope to get it published.

"THREE OF THE SAMPLES WERE CHOSEN FOR DETAILED STUDY"... The other results didn't make any sense.

"TYPICAL RESULTS ARE SHOWN"... This is the prettiest graph.

"THESE RESULTS WILL BE IN A SUBSEQUENT REPORT"... I might get around to this sometime, if pushed/ funded.





"IT IS GENERALLY BELIEVED THAT"... A couple of others think so, too.




"A CAREFUL ANALYSIS OF OBTAINABLE DATA"... Three pages of notes were obliterated when I knocked over a beer glass.


"AFTER ADDITIONAL STUDY BY MY COLLEAGUES"... They don't understand it either.

"A HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT AREA FOR EXPLORATORY STUDY"... A totally useless topic selected by my committee.

Space tourism taking shape

By Leonard David

Ticket to ride commuter flights to the edge of space may not be too far off -- with spaceliners departing several spaceports here in the United States.

New facts regarding the emerging personal space travel business were presented last week before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics in Washington, D.C.

Testifying before lawmakers and making the technical and business case for public space travel were Burt Rutan, chief of Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, joined by Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic -- a space tourism venture that is a subsidiary of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

Last year, privately-financed, single-seat suborbital flights of SpaceShipOne were achieved, snagging the Ansari X Prize in the process. That $10 million purse was put in play to spur both suborbital and orbital public space transportation. SpaceShipOne was designed and built by Scaled Composites.

Also in 2004, a deal was struck between Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a joint venture formed by Rutan and billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, and the Virgin Group. For their part, Virgin has created a new subsidiary, Virgin Galactic, which has plans to contract Scaled Composites to build a fleet of suborbital vehicles based on the SpaceShipOne -- but able to haul up to five passengers high above Earth.

The negotiations between the groups last year resulted in a $21.5 million deal for the use of SpaceShipOne technology. In addition, a $100 million investment plan was developed to build up to five SpaceShipTwo vehicles at Rutan's Scaled Composites factory in Mojave, California.

The plan for the ships themselves is being developed by Rutan to a specification created by Virgin Galactic, Whitehorn testified.

Second site: Florida, Texas or New Mexico?

In his written testimony, Whitehorn told Congress that his company's current plan is to begin suborbital operations in Mojave, and then develop a second site in another location, possibly Florida, Texas or New Mexico.

In terms of first flight, the Virgin Galactic chief said that service could start in either 2008 or 2009.

Let me be clear, this is an estimate only," Whitehorn testified, noting that "safety is our North Star and it will determine our launch date." Commercial suborbital jaunts would start as soon as safety assessments and training dictate that the firm could do so, "and not a day before," he said.

Virgin Galactic has a memorandum of understanding with Scaled Composites to customize the Space- ShipOne vehicle for commercial use. Design work to that end continues. However, Whitehorn's firm has not yet formally ordered the spacecraft.

As far as making money on the venture, Whitehorn reported that their business plan projects profitability in the fourth or fifth year of operation. This estimate assumes five spaceships, two launch aircraft or mother ships, and two launch bases in the United States. "If the schedule for deploying any of these assets slips, it would negatively impact our target date for profitability," he explained.

Pay-as-you-go astronauts

For their $200,000, Virgin Galactic customers are promised a two hour trip on the "spaceliner". Half of the voyage, Whitehorn reported, will involve climbing to a safe altitude with the mother ship. Pay-as-you-go astronauts would then spend an hour on SpaceShipTwo as it rockets to over three times the speed of sound and climbs to well in excess of 62 miles (100 kilometer) altitude and returns to Earth.

That suborbital height is officially recognized as entering space. But Whitehorn also identified a future goal of Virgin Galactic.

"Our long-term goal is to develop commercial space tourism into an orbital business which could in the future carry payloads as well as people into orbit," Whitehorn stated. Aerospace designer, Burt Rutan, also explained last week that the markets for a future personal spaceflight industry - meaning access to flight above the atmosphere by the public -- will likely take on two basic forms, or scenarios.

Commercial companies that develop lower-cost versions of the classic government booster and spacecraft concepts.These firms then conduct commercial flights in 4 to 6 years that are funded by passenger ticket sales. Perhaps 50 to 100 astronauts would be flown the first year with the rate topping out at maybe 300 to 500 per year. The second scenario involves players that do not find the dangers of space flight acceptable.

It is recognized that extensive improvements in safety are more important than extensive improvements in affordability. These players are faced with a much greater technical challenge and the need for new innovations and breakthroughs. If successful, however, a far greater market can be realized, starting out at 500 astronauts the first year, increasing to about 3,000 astronauts per year, headed toward 50,000 to 100,000 astronauts by the twelfth year of operations.

Rutan said that his plans do not involve a 'scenario one' approach. "We believe a proper goal for safety is the record that was achieved during the first five years of commercial scheduled airline service which, while exposing the passengers to high risks by today's standards, was more than 100 times as safe as government manned space flight," Rutan explained in his written testimony.

Rutan remarked that he's aware suborbital tourism has been criticized by some as "joy-riding for billionaires" and that such flights are just about having fun.

"I'm not at all embarrassed that we're opening up a new industry that will likely be a multi-billion dollar industry that's focused only on fun," Rutan told lawmakers. He expects -- like the first personal computers that were used just for game playing -- having fun by traveling into space will bloom in a decade's time into uses that are "long lasting and significant for our nation."

Interim spaceport

In a related development, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced earlier this month that October 4-9 will be celebrated as X Prize Cup Week. White Sands Missile Range will be the interim spaceport until a Southwest Regional Spaceport in Upham, near Las Cruces, is opened in 2007 or 2008.

The news that Virgin Galactic envisions use of several takeoff points for propelling patrons toward space is welcome news to Peter Diamandis, Chairman and Founder of the X Prize Foundation, based in St. Louis.

"Our hope is that the X Prize Cup activities will help bring suborbital tourism operators to the southern New Mexico site for year-round passenger launch operations," said Diamandis. He told via email that the drivers to encourage this prospect are very clear.

First, New Mexico is setting up, and paying for, customized facilities specifically designed to support this class of vehicle. Secondly, the X Prize Foundation and the State are jointly planning to assist companies in getting the required licenses and approvals. Lastly, Diamandis continued, the State is offering economic incentives to attract these operators to the Southern New Mexico facilities.

"Clearly there is room for a number of locations for suborbital personal spaceflight. If all goes well, this will be a rising tide that lifts many spaceports, and for the first time enables a true commercial market," Diamandis explained.

Time to climb

Diamandis explained that this coming fall they plan to have a number of the key X Prize teams demonstrate various aspects of their hardware. "This will include engine tests, low-altitude flights and drop tests. In the future our intent is to put up multimillion dollar prizes to incentivize continued breakthroughs in suborbital operations," he said. Prizes might be tied to such areas as maximum altitude, cross-range, turn-around-time, and time-to-climb, Diamandis added.

"We are very proud of our partnership with New Mexico, Las Cruses and Governor Richardson," Diamandis said. "We're working to make the X Prize Cup an exciting annual event that will move the industry forward at the same time that it allows the public to personally participate in the future of the personal spaceflight revolution."



Thursday May 12 - 7:30pm, Monthly club meeting at the Reading Planetarium. Tonightís program is Inge Heyer (STScI) with a talk entitled "Mars Rover Mission".

Saturday May 14 - 8:00pm, Public StarWatch at the Berks Heritage Center off of Rt 183, one mile north of the Reading airport. There will be a talk on an astronomy subject before the skies darken for the observing. Rain/cloudout date is Friday May 20th at the same time.

Monday, May 23 ó Editorís birthday. Hey, itís not a national holiday yet, but I keep trying!

Thursday June 9 - 7:30pm, Monthly club meeting; LOCATION TO BE DETERMINED. Tonightís program is Larry Citro, with a talk titled "Letís Look at the Moon". ó Believe it or not, some chemists do have a sense of humour, and this page is a testament to that. Here we'll show you some real molecules that have unusual, ridiculous or downright silly names. [Ed. NoteóTrust me, itís worth it.]


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