Volume XXVII Number 5

September / October 2001

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
BCAAS Survay Results
Mythology of The Night Sky - Draco
Meet BCAAS Member - Barb Geigle
5. The Great French Creek M13 Fiasco
Bob Frantz - An Autobiographical Sketch
Upcoming Events
Grasshoppers in My Suitcase

President’s message

Hello fellow BCAASers. As we near the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall, I think we can look back on a very successful few months. Several of us had an enjoyable time at Mason-Dixon, Dave Brown had two star-watches at French Creek State Park, we had a strong showing at ALCON in Maryland, where Ryan spoke several times during the week, and we had two new starwatches with the Poetry Society, and at Blue Marsh Lake Dry Brooks Area. We will have several more public starwatches this Fall, including a return trip to Muhlenberg. Especially enjoyable to me was the opportunity to talk about astrophotography at the Blue Marsh starwatch. Several BCAAS members attended to both hear the talk, and to set up their scopes for the public.

This leads me into one of our ideas for this Fall. November will be Member’s Night where any club member can get up and give a short 10-15 minute talk about an astronomy subject of their choice. If you are interested, please contact me (; 717-336-7008) or any of the other officers, as well as Ryan, Program Coordinator. I know we will have a fun filled and interesting evening!

As a result from our club survey we will also be setting up some beginners and advanced observing programs for those interested in learning about the night sky, how to move around in it and identify things, as well as how to find and catalog the faint targets that we search for. V.P. Ron and Ryan will have more about this in the coming months. We also hope to have regular club starparties once or twice every month where you will be able to work on your observing programs.

In view of our busy schedule, we will begin meetings promptly at 7:30 PM starting in September, as was the preference indicated by our recent survey results. Vice President Ron Kunkel will be in charge of the September meeting in my absence. I hope to be there in spirit, however, and with some special photos.

Also, don’t forget about Mega-Meet on September 15th at Pulpit Rock, and Stella-Della Valley 15 on the weekend of October 12-14. This is also the weekend (Oct. 13) for the Muhlenberg starwatch. I hope to do both by going to SDV for one night, and returning Saturday for our starwatch. Looking forward to a fun Fall observing with you.

Barry L. Shupp, Pres. BCAAS

Pegasus is a bimonthly publication of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society

Editor/Desktop publisher: Melody Gardner

E-Mail submissions may be made to:

BCAAS Survey Results

The results are in! Every member of BCAAS received a survey in their July/August issue of Pegasus and we got a grand total of 20 back. *sigh*

The respondents varied from complete beginners to long-standing members, but a few common themes ran through them all. There was a strong desire to see our meetings start in a timely manner, with some asking for an even earlier start time.

While some people asked for some technical and specific programs, presentations stressing the identification of objects in the night sky and the operation of a telescope were also requested by many of our newer members. Hopefully, we can present information at both ends of the spectrum and keep everyone happy in the process.

Everyone that submitted a survey noted their reason for joining the club was a desire to become more educated in the area of astronomy. I’m happy to report that the reason everyone’s stayed is that they have made lasting friendships and love to pass on their knowledge to others.

Let’s keep it going and make every year better than the last!


As far as I can tell, the cost for Sky & Telescope and Astronomy will remain the same. The cost for Sky & Telescope is $29.95 and the cost for Astronomy is $29.00. I would like all money in by the October meeting to insure that nobody’s subscription lapses. For the benefit of new members or members who have not taken advantage of the club discount as yet, I want to stress that if you now subscribe to either of these magazines, or would like to start a subscription, doing so through the club will give you a HUGE discount! You may decide at any time during the year and be added to the plan at that time, however most of the members have their subscriptions fall due in the fall. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Linda Sensenig, Treasurer


Time to order your Astronomy wall calendars for the year 2002. These very popular gift ideas only cost $6.50 if you order one through the club. If you buy one at the book store it costs $12.95. MAJOR discount through the club! I need all orders in by the end of October so I can order them in time for the November club meeting. See me at the September or October meeting. Hopefully I will have remembered to bring the advertisement that shows what the 2002 pictures will be.

Linda Sensenig, Treasurer

Mythology of the Night Sky - Draco

There is a dragon in the night sky winding its way among the circumpolar constellations that might be of interest to our own Farmer Brown - according to one legend, a man named Cadmus killed this dragon at the fount of Mars, planted its teeth and reaped a harvest of armed men! Dave could really diversify! His crop of armed men could guard the rest of his crops! This is just one of many myths associated with this part of the sky. Some say the constellation represents the snake snatched by Minerva from the giants and flung into the night sky. I’d like Minerva to fling all snakes into the night sky! In Persia, Draco was the man-eating serpent. Very early Hindu records show it as the Alligator, or Porpoise.

As a Chaldean figure, it probably bore the horns and claws of your typical dragon and the wings that Thales used to form Ursa Minor, hence these are never shown on our maps. (What is it with these heavenly bears? We picture them with a long tail, and Thales pictured them with WINGS! Didn’t anyone in ancient times ever SEE a bear?)

For all you Babylonian scholars, this constellation has also been identified as Tiamat who was the personification of primeval chaos, hostile to the gods and opposed to law and order before a Babylonia hero defeated the monster in a struggle by driving a wind into its opened jaws and splitting it in two!

About 5,000 years ago, the pole star was in Draco.

Linda Sensenig

Meet BCAAS Member…….Barb Geigle

Imagine lying on a boat beneath a velvet sky, gazing silently at the stars as waves ripple gently beneath and around you. Cares and troubles drift away as you become lost in contemplating the magnificence of the universe.

This is Barb Geigle’s favorite place to be—on the water, binoculars in hand, under a clear, dark sky. As children growing up in Maryland, Barb and her siblings had rowboats, which they’ve replaced with adult-size vessels. Her father also has a pontoon boat, and her sister-in-law a canoe. Barb regularly makes the hour-and-fifteen-minute trip to visit her dad, nicknamed "Snort," at "Snort’s Port," originally the family cabin and now his year-round residence.

Barb says she has been interested in astronomy since she was small. She’ll never forget the summer afternoon when she was grade-school age and a meteor flashed across the sky—brilliant even in broad daylight. The image so impressed her, it remains fresh in her mind to this day. Her fascination with the heavens never wavered through the years. When Hale-Bopp passed by in 1997, Barb was out every clear night to watch it with her binoculars.

She attributes much of her enthusiasm to her older brother, a science fiction buff who attended Star Trek conventions and subscribed to every sci-fi magazine available. When he died in January, leaving Barb an inheritance, she bought a four-inch Celestron NexStar at the World of Science store in the Berkshire Mall. Soon afterwards, the store’s website announced that they were going out of business and Barb returned. This time, she walked out with an eight-inch NexStar, including tripod, at the regular price of a five-inch.

Like a kid with a new bike on Christmas morning, Barb couldn’t wait to try out her scope. On a clear, frigid February night, she bundled up, went outside, and found the Orion nebula, the moons of Jupiter, and the rings of Saturn. It was the first time she had ever looked through a telescope, and she was hooked.

Eager to learn more, Barb searched the Internet and found "The Night Sky: An Introduction to Astronomy," on the Barnes and Noble website. The free on-line course is taught by Ken Hewitt-White, a Canadian writer for several magazines, including Astronomy and Sky & Telescope. She signed up and bought the two books recommended for the course—NightWatch and The Universe and Beyond—both by Terence Dickinson.

Barb explained that the six-week, ten-lesson course posts two classes a week, on Tuesday and Friday. One can access the classes at any time, and take the course at one’s own pace. Answers to quiz questions are submitted on-line, and scores are returned. The teacher posts detailed comments with each correct answer, providing additional information.

Impressed with the wealth of knowledge she gained, Barb highly recommends Barnes and Noble University’s "Introduction to Astronomy" to any novice. She continues to check the Barnes and Noble message board, where she has learned of different websites discussing astronomy. People from all over the world put observation reports on the message board, relating what they’ve seen. One regular contributor is a creative writer whose observation reports are like poetry.

When she’s not observing, surfing the Net, perusing astronomy magazines, or catching a show about cosmology on PBS, Barb likes to sew and crochet. She also swims and water skis, and was an equestrian until she went to college and sold her horse. A former insurance agent and customer service representative, Barb is now a full-time homemaker and "mother" to five cats.

Aware of her passion for astronomy, Barb’s husband, Mike, picked up a brochure at the BCAAS Earth Day booth this past April and brought it home. Barb joined the club in May. She loves participating in star watches, and she’s looking forward to using her old 35 mm camera to learn astrophotography.

Barb says she has enjoyed the programs, especially Dave and Dan Brown’s hysterical summer observing tips. The club activities and events have been fun and educational, and she’s happy to be a part of BCAAS. With her easy laugh and friendly personality, we’re glad she is, too.

Kathy Matisko

The Great French Creek M13 Fiasco

I expect a distorted version of the events of last weekend’s Star Party to circulate in the club like wildfire through brush, singeing my name forever. For that reason, I want to speak out in defense of my reputation and publish the true events of the Star Watch at French Creek, forever to be known as "The Great French Creek M13 Fiasco".

It has been a long time since we have had the opportunity to participate in one of the club events. Our work and kid’s activities kept us hopping through the school year and summer brought no real relief as we prepared ourselves for a five week trip out west. The occasional event that happened to coincide with our schedule was invariably rained or clouded out. Still, we kept our passion for the club alive by packing the scope along with the two kids, camping gear, three bikes and six-thousand pounds of rock hounding gear. We hoped that we would have good stories to tell the club when we returned of pristine skies and the splendors of the universe.

Instead, we had clouds every single night except for two. The first night we were in the hotel in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Given all the lights sur rounding our room, we probably had a better chance of seeing stars the next day while we were in the caverns. We wouldn’t have a clear night again until Thermopolis, Wyoming. It was our second to last night of camping and at that point, Kevin and I were too tired to do more than look up at the sky and say, "Yep, it sure is clear." Even when an obliging fellow camper set up his scope and invited us over for a peek; we stayed glued to our chairs. We were still trying to recover from the white water rafting. Needless to say, by trip’s end we were hungry for the cosmos.

That is why, the day after our return, we decided to shrug off our post-trip blues and bundle everything into the car (Oh Lord! Do we have to pack the car again!!!!) for an evening at French Creek with Dave Brown. I should have known that everything went too smoothly. We arrived in good time and I didn’t have a raging case of asthmatic bronchitis like last year. There was no thick pall of smoke over the area. No children came flying down the hill, fell off bikes and turned into walking road rash. (Although one woman on a wheel chair made a rather spectacular and rapid descent of the hill.) There were a significant number of scopes so it seemed that the lines would be manageable. We even remembered the stool for the children and vertically challenged. Dave wasn’t there but we weren’t unduly worried. Dave is never there. We were ready, willing and able.

Dave showed just in time to get set up and gather his groupies before the show started. (We do think that the club should spend a few bucks and buy them pom-poms so that they can cheer as well as adore him.) We stayed behind to collimate his scope for him while he talked to his fans. (Boy, was he ever sorry he left it to us ! He figured we were only off by a light year or two. In actuality, we have scope envy and we were sabotaging his act.) Then the Mongolian Star Party Hordes arrived and we were off and viewing.

We all pitched in to help. Eric is learning the ins and outs of using the Telrad. Lindsey, after she finished spraying a soda all over the inside of the car, came out and helped ferry little people up and down the step stool. Kevin and I took turns (mis)informing people about the splendors of the heavens. The Ring Nebula was a hit but at zenith was proving hard for us to track. We decided to switch to M13 in Hercules. And that is where it all started.

Don’t let anyone misinform you. I did not look at the star chart in the beginning. I found the trapezoid section in the middle by eye. When you are constellation challenged, as I am, the next step is to check your star charts. I then compare the chart with what I am seeing. That night I didn’t. Instead, Kevin piped out to Paul Becker, "Which side is the cluster on?" And Paul said ‘"The right." So I looked into the sky and began to search along the right side. Those of you who observe with me know that while I know fewer constellations than John Dethoff and can never remember the names and locations of objects, I am a heck of a star chart person. I may not know the temperature of the sun but by goodness, I can find the faint and invisible fuzzies that fill our charts.

Yet, there I was, with a long line of hopeful viewers and I couldn’t find M13. I walked over to the chart, squinted as I was sans glasses, and judged the proportions again. I struggled for a few more minutes and went back to the chart. My confidence was just a tad rattled. When I turned around, Paul Becker was at our scope, condescending to look through a Telrad and, more humiliatingly, finding M13. Blast him to shards! We were off and running for a few minutes when one of our budding observers tried to waltz with the scope and swung it way off the mark. So I went back over and again attempted to find M13. It was a repeat of my earlier humbling experience. And it was worse this time because the crowd was beginning to buzz about my bumbling attempts and again it was Paul that rescued me.

I wish I could say that it ended there but it didn’t. Twice more Paul "I hate Telrads" Becker used our Telrad and found the cluster. By this time, I was seething. Then, I walked over to the star chart, slammed my glasses on and took a look. That’s when I noticed something. First, I normally align the star chart with the sky and leave it that way on our table. Kevin hadn’t done that. So I picked up the book adjusted it and looked up. That’s when I realized that Paul’s definition of "Right side" and mine were two entirely different things.

None of this would have happened if way back in the beginning, I had asked "Which right side?" See Paul claims he meant the right side of the figure of Hercules. I figured he meant the right side of the trapezoid as seen from the ground. I was looking for M13 in the wrong place. I stalked back to the scope, adjusted it, with the Telrad and a high power eye piece and guess what. Gee Whiz! There it was right smack dab where it was supposed to be. And just to prove that I still had it, I swung the scope around and picked out NGC 6543 in less than a minute with out a blasted star chart. So phooey to youey, Paul Becker, you and the finder scope you rode in on! I still have it!

Candi Simmons

Bob Frantz—An Autobiographical Sketch

I am a 66 year old retired electrical engineer. I came to Berks County from western Pennsylvania in 1959 to work at Western Electric. I always have been interested in astronomy, aerospace and cosmology.

One of my early experiences, around age 10, was to be taken to the Allegheny Observatory near Pittsburgh to spend an hour with the astronomers using the big refractor that they had. My uncle just talked us right into the place! That observatory would now be completely surrounded by city for many miles in all directions.

During my high school years I was rather isolated from any sources of inspiration to study astronomy, but I can remember observing meteor showers and watching a solar eclipse through a piece of glass darkened by smoke from a candle. At one time there was a beautiful, bright naked eye comet visible in the evening sky. I couldn't get anyone in my family to walk outside to look at it! I lived in a rural area where light pollution hadn't been invented. It was just ordinary to look up on a clear summer night and see the full extent of the milky way.

After college, I did a lot of work on space related proje cts. This kept me interested in astronomy. During the nineteen sixties I built a three inch reflector that I used for several years from my back yard in Wernersville. We later built a house in the woods in Muhlenberg Township, greatly limiting my view of the sky.

I have three sons, and as they grew up we got involved in many outdoor activities, especially fishing and boating. This led to an interest in sailing and we had a cruising boat on Chesapeake Bay for many years. As a member of the local U.S. Power Squadron I taught celestial navigation for about ten years.

A visit to a star party at the Heritage Center last spring rekindled my interest in astronomy. I built a small refractor from some optical parts that were in the basement. I have purchased a Meade ETX125, a five inch Maksutov telescope, but it arrived badly damaged and is back at the factory. Lately, I have been taking wide field star photographs using an old 35MM reflex camera. I have built a "barn door" equatorial mount for it so that I can make longer exposures without getting star trails. I find that getting pictures of stars is relatively easy, but getting GOOD pictures is a real challenge. I have been enjoying the meetings and activities of the BCAAS and plan to stay active.

Bob Frantz

Upcoming BCAAS Events

Thursday, September 13th - General Meeting: 7:30pm (sharp!) at the Reading Museum
Program: Ron Kunkel - How to Make a Solar Filter

Saturday, September 15th - Mega Meet at Pulpit Rock, hosted by LVAAS

Saturday, September 22nd - Berks Youth Expo: 10am-9pm at Fairgrounds Square Mall

Sunday, September 23rd - Berks Youth Expo: 12-5pm at Fairgrounds Square Mall

Thursday, September 27th - BCAAS Board Meeting: 7pm at Paul Becker’s House

Saturday, October 13th - Muhlenberg Twp. Starwatch: dusk-11pm at Stoudt’s Ferry Playground - raindate - Saturday, October 19th

Friday, October 18th - Heritage Center Starwatch: 6:30pm—? Berks County Heritage Center - raindate - Saturday, October 19th

Grasshoppers in My Suitcase

by Paul Becker

Whoever said "Getting there is half the fun," never went to Africa. But once you’re here! Our first stop was a lodge in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, 18 South of the equator and no lights for hundreds of kilometers! You just walk out of your room and look up to see the fantastic Southern Milky Way, then look across a field to the watering holes to see the passing elephants, giraffes, lions, baboons and zebras. I could definitely live here!

After a few days at the incredible Victoria Falls, it’s on to Lusaka, Zambia for the first total solar eclipse of the millennium! Our observing field is 40 kilometers North of the city and our buses top speed is 20 KPH (downhill). We know we’re in trouble when half of us have to get off so the bus can make it up one dinky hill. But, we just made it in time.

Yes, after five vaccinations, including yellow fever, polio and hepatitis, two days in airports and airplanes, a coup le of torturous bus rides and four days of food poisoning, here we are in a field infested with grasshoppers. For what? Three minutes and forty seconds of totality. Is this worth it?

Absolutely!!! First contact occurs and the excitement is building. As the moon creeps across the sun, something none of us has ever seen before, a Baily’s Bead, erupts as a high mountain on the moon cuts off a tip of the sun about fifteen minutes before second contact. "Did anybody take a picture of it?" I asked as everyone looks at me shaking their heads, "No."

There’s only a minute until totality and the sky looks like twilight while we’re watching shadow bands rippling across a white sheet spread out on the ground. Then the moment we’ve been waiting for. I didn’t see any Baily’s Beads but it is a long diamond ring, maybe four or five seconds. The corona is uniformly round and bright with countless prominences.

People tell me later that there was wild screaming from the crowd, but I was so hypnotized, I didn’t hear it. Unfortunately, it’s all over, much too fast; it’s time to pack up and think about the next eclipse in December 2002. But first, I’ve got to clean the grasshoppers out of my camera bag.

Our last stop is Capetown, where we visited the Royal Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope, founded in 1820 to map the Southern sky.

Oh, did I tell you about the lion that chased me? Well, you’ll just have to come to our next Member’s Night to hear that one and see my slides of the eclipse.

Astronomy Terms You’ve Never Heard Of…..

black dwarf

A non-radiating ball of gas resulting from either a white dwarf that has radiated all its energy or gas which has contracted but contains too little mass to begin nuclear fusion.


Non-circular; elliptical (applied to an orbit); Weird (applied to some of our members).

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