Volume XXVIIII Issue 4

July / August 2003

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
Women of the Stars
4. Subscription Renewals
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

Geez, what a difference two months makes. In the last issue I was anticipating spring and the warmer weather. Well, the warmer weather came, but along with it came spring showers, or should I say the MONSOON. Seems like all it does is rain, and if not ra ining, then it’s still cloudy. Gosh, there have been periods where I haven’t seen the sun or the stars for what seems like two weeks, and I must confess that I haven’t observed at all recently. And as most BCAAS’ers are aware, virtually all of our recent observing parties have been cancelled due to the rainy or cloudy weather. Here’s hoping that for July and August this rain eases up a bit so we can get in some observing sessions.

Despite the weather, as a club, we did get in some astronomy related activities. On May 17 and 18, a few club members and I did attend the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) in Suffern, NY. I’m aware that at least the following members, Barb Geigle, Ryan Hannahoe, Barry Shupp, Melody and Ralph Gardner, Mike Aulenbach, and Tim Siminski, made the journey to this great astronomy show. Ryan and I, plus I believe Barb, enrolled in the Video Astronomy course held Sunday. At the show, I purchased two finder scopes for our recently acquired 8" Cave Astrola’s. I also picked up an observer’s chair for member Michel Ramsey. The only other club activity held for the last two months was a talk I gave at the Camp Wood Haven Girl Scout Camp back on June 6. Their star watch was, of course, cancelled due to rain.

So what’s coming up for July and August? July 2 we have a Sun Watch scheduled for Mulberry Pre-school. July 21 is a talk at Penn Laurel Girl Scout Day Camp. August 1 is star party at Umbenhauer Park in Bernville and on the 15th a Mars Watch at the Heritage Center. On August 23 we have a Star Party /Mars Watch at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Here’s hoping that the MONSOON stops and we have at least some of these activities. Oh yes, lest I forget. July meeting is Member’s Night on July 10th. At least three club members will be presenting short programs for your enlightenment. In lieu of our August meeting, we will be having the traditional Club Picnic on Saturday, August 9th at Dave Brown’s farm outside Leesport.

Some FYI for you more adventurous members - two things come to mind. First, our sister club, LVAAS, is going up to Cherry Spring State Park, on the weekend of July 4-6 for an impromptu star party. As a member of both clubs, I’ll also be representing BCAAS. If this newsletter reaches you before that weekend and you would like to join me, please call or email me for particulars. Secondly, August 29 – 31 is the Black Forest Star Party at CSSP. In my opinion, this is the premier star party and site on the East coast. I’ve registered and can’t wait, in fact that’s why I’m planning on going to CSSP with LVAAS over the 4th.

Here’s to clear skies and some observing.
Ron Kunkel, at or 610-488-6039 (Please note new email address.)

Ron Kunkel

Women of the Stars

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a new generation of college-educated women astronomers who were fortunate to have some chance for employment in the scientific field of astronomy. An American physicist and astronomer who had been instrumental in this change was Edward C. Pickering of Boston. He was the director of Harvard College for forty-two years. Pickering also established the first systematic laboratory instruction in the United States and was noted for his investigations in photographic photometry, variable stars and stellar spectroscopy and for developing the instruments for their investigation. His research also included the first thorough study of the Magellanic Clouds. Needless to say, Pickering had a lot of work facing him and not enough time to complete it. In order for him to work on these many projects that he had undertaken, Pickering organized a large staff of "lady assistants" called "computers" who with much industry and patience, began to measure and catalogued the stars according to spectral type, magnitude and the classification of different type of variable stars.

The Harvard College Observatory hired its first lady assistants (computers) in 1875. Between the years of 1875 and 1919, Pickering had employed over 45 women, more than any other observatory at that time. Pickering encouraged many bright young women of that day to continue with their higher education. He believed that the intellectual abilities of women suited them for very repetitive, noncreated data-gathering projects, not for original theoretical work. (Well, so much for his thinking!)

Also, since Pickering could hire three times as many women assistants as one male assistant, this seemed like a good financial arrangement. These lady assistants were able to gain employment in a field that promised to be interesting as well as providing gainful employment and for Pickering, he was able to process large amounts of technical data and to have this data categorized for analysis, s torage and retrieval. I should mention that these "lady computers" only received between 25 and 35 cents per hour, and had no hope of being in any position were they could advance to independent research projects of their own.

These early women of the stars worked over the decades recording, cataloging, and classifying the stars, galaxies, clusters, and phenomena of the heavens. Because of the time spent and their extreme familiarity with their subjects, these "lady computers" produced very valuable work.

Among their ranks, who are known today a leaders in astronomy are: Willamina Paton Fleming who discovered 94 of the 107 Wolf-Wayet stars, 10 of the 28 known novae, and 222 long-period variable stars. The bulk of the first Henry Draper catalogue of stellar spectral types was based on her classifications

Antonia C. Maury who studied spectroscopic binaries – stars whose double nature is evident only through spectroscopic analysis. Her two dimensional classification system, however, helped astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung realize that stars of a given temperature could have different sizes and luminosities, a step forward to understanding that some stars are giants and others are dwarfs. In 1943, the American Astronomical Society awarded her its Annie J. Cannon Prize for her work.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who went to the observatory as a volunteer in 1895. Ms. Leavitt was the daughter of a Congregational minister and she graduated from Radcliffe College (at the time was known as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women). She discovered that the Magellanic Clouds, which are visible from the southern hemisphere, are small companion galaxies to the Milky Way. She also worked cataloging variable stars by identifying over 2000 to add to Harvard’s collection. While studying photographs of the Magellanic Clouds (small companion galaxies to the Milky Way) taken in Peru, Leavitt found over 20 Cepheids (named after the prototype star of this class, Delta Cephei). Since stars in the Magellanic Clouds can be assumed to be approximately the same distance from Earth, Leavitt realized that the Cepheids’ periods must be related to their intrinsic luminosities, not just their apparent brightness. Knowing both how bright a star looks to us and how bright it really is allows astronomers to calculate its distance. Leavitt’s Period - Luminosity Relation thus evolved into one of the most fundamental methods of calculating distances in the universe. Now astronomers can observe the variability periods of Cepheids in many parts of our own and other galaxies and obtain distances to those regions.

All of us are the recipients of the work of these dedicated women. I doubt that we could ever appreciate the long hard work and the many hours that they contributed to advancing our understanding of modern astronomy. Yes, they did receive some type of a salary for their work, but not the amount of money they would have received if they were men. Nor did they receive the recognition in their respected fields of research from universities, male peers or even their sister astronomers. These women of the stars are the early pioneers of astronomy who pushed back the darkness of the night skies and expanded our understanding of the universe.

Spradley, J. "The Industrious Mrs. Fleming", Astronomy, July 1990
Hoffeit, D. "Antonia Maury", Sky and Telescope, March 1952
Mitchell, H. "Henrietta Leavitt and the Cepheid Variables" 1976

by Michel Ramsay


Zubenelgenubi, Zubeneschamali, Zuben Mehta (Oops! He’s a symphony conductor, still living. Can’t put him in the sky yet). The first two zubens are stars that are otherwise known as the Claws. Since Libra is scales and the last I looked, scales don’t have claws, this requires a bit of explanation. Ancient writings indicate that there was a named star group in this part of the sky all the way back to the time of the Chaldeans, however we don’t know what the Chaldeans called their constellation. The earliest name we have for this constellation is The Claws of Scorpio. The two zuben stars that are now part of Libra actually at one time were part of the constellation Scorpio and formed the scorpions claws. (Aha! That’s why it was called the Claws!). The Greeks referred to it as the Claws. Until Julius Caesar came along.

Ole Julius decided to take these two claw stars away from Scorpio and add them to a new constellation that he just decided to put in the sky as a twelfth Zodiac constellation. This new constellation he named Libra, the Balance (or, the Scales). It is the only Zodiac constellation not named after a living being. The earliest appearance of Libra is in the Julian calendar of 46 BC - yet another project of Julius Caesar.

The sacred books of India also mention it as a Balance and on the zodiac of that country it is a man bending on one knee and holding a pair of scales. However since I do not know how old the sacred books of India are, I don’t know whether they copied Caesar or whether Caesar copied them. Or whether both cultures decided independently that there needed to be a little justice in the night sky.

In China, it was Star of Longevity until the Chinese came into contact with the West and then they, too, decided it should be the Celestial Balance. China had a law for the annual regulation of weights supposed to have been enacted with some reference to this sign.

Subscription Renewals

In years past I would collect for magazine renewals and Astronomy calendars at the September and October meetings. This year due to the 30th Anniversary Banquet falling in October, I will not be collecting money that month. I will send in magazine renewals as I receive them, rather than wait for October and send in bulk. I will also wait until the end of October to send in the calendar order, since we won’t need the calendars until the November meeting.

It would be a good thing this year if you renewed your Astronomy and Sky & Telescope a month early. I will collect money at the September meeting. I will be prepared to collect at the August picnic if you want to be bothered with financial stuff at a picnic.

I will collect the same amount as I did last year for the subscriptions and if the amount goes up, you can always pay the additional amount at that time. Astronomy Magazine will be $29.00 and Sky & Telescope is $29.95. If you do not currently subscribe to one of these magazines but you would like to, this is a good time to begin a subscription. You get a SUBSTANTIAL discount by subscribing through the club. If you have a current subscription, you may renew it through the club at the same discount.

This year’s Astronomy wall calendar is devoted to deep space mysteries. The pictures depict the Tarantula Nebula, the Great Attractor, the Eta Carinae Nebula, the Seagull Nebula, Interacting Galaxies (The Mice), Eagle Nebula, Star Cluster NGS 1850, Omega Nebula, Milky Way in X Rays, Flaming Star Nebula, Pinwheel Galaxy and Fox Fur Nebula. Each calendar is $6.00.


A bird was sent out by one of the gods with a cup of water, however the bird lingered at a big tree until the fruit became ripe. Then he finally returned to the god with a watersnake in its claw, accusing the snake of causing the delay. In punishment, he was forever fixed in the sky with the cup (the constellation Crater the Cup) and the snake (Plenty of snakes up there, but this one is Hydra). There, Hydra forever guards the contents of Crater. The name of our foolish bird is Corvus the Raven or the Crow, depending on which mythology you are reading.

There is another mythological connection between Corvus and Hydra that goes back to a Euphratean myth from far back in classical days that made Corvus one of the monster ravens of the brood of Tiamat that Hydra represented. Again, this bird ends up being a very unpleasant creature. The Roman poet Ovid, in writing the "Metamorphoses", has this bird as the bird who brought Apollo the news that his girlfriend was being unfaithful to him. Okay, it was true, but you know how the gods always treated messengers who brought bad news. To this beautiful silver bird, he said,

"Then he turned upon the Raven
‘Wanton babbler! See thy fate!
Messenger of mine no longer,
Go to Hades wit h they prate!

Weary Pluto with thy tattle!
Hither, monster, come not back,
And - to match thy disposition
Henceforth be thy plumage black!’"

Of course Ovid wrote it in Latin. In most of the myths surrounding this poor bird, he doesn’t come out looking very good! Even being the sacred bird of Apollo didn’t help him in the end. The same fate seems to have befallen it’s stars, as Corvus is a small, faint constellation with very few naked eye stars (at least in OUR times), located very low to the southern horizon.

Linda Sensenig

Astronomy Adventures on the Web!!!

Calling all Amateur Astronomers!

Take this opportunity to complete the new online survey supported by Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) and have a chance to win a $100 gift certificate to the ASP Catalog!

You will be assisting in developing training and materials for amateur astronomers to help the public understand concepts of astronomy. In addition, the survey is collecting your experiences with any astronomy misconceptions you have come across in your encounters with the public. Click on this link to access the survey:

Or from the ASP web site:

As an added bonus, if 15 or more of your club members respond to the survey, you will receive a copy of your club's responses (no names or other identifiers will be included). This could help in planning programs for your club and can serve as a topic of discussion at a club meeting. Just have your members put your club's full name on the form where they enter their name for the drawing.

We're expecting to close the survey by the end of August or September and will distribute club responses within six to eight weeks after that.

To find out more about the survey and to access it, click on this link:

Thank you for your participation and your contribution to research in amateur astronomy outreach!

Marni Berendsen
Education Project Coordinator
Astronomical Society of the Pacific
390 Ashton Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112 USA

Cool astronomy website !!!

From Michel Ramsay:

"Can you put a web site in the newsletter? It is so neat!

I don't know if anyone has seen it before - But it is so interesting. Click on Play, Way Out! It has three levels of questions for different skill areas to take you to the end of the galaxy by correctly answering questions on astronomy. Click on Where is Hubble Now? and you can find out where the HST is. I had so much fun with this site!"

30th Anniversary BCAAS Banquet

Our anniversary banquet will be held at Chef Alan’s in West Reading, Saturday, October 18th, beginning at 5pm.

Tickets are $35 per person and are available for purchase by contacting Linda Sensenig. (E-mail: or the return address on the Pegasus.) All tickets will be mailed in September, to minimize confusion.

The evening will include a cocktail hour, dinner & dessert, a brief and entertaining history of BCAAS, our main speaker John Dobson, door prizes and dancing until they kick us out!!! Come out and help us make this the most memorable BCAAS anniversary to date!



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