Volume XXVIII Issue 5

September / October 2002

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. Did You Know?
3. Upcoming Events
4. Mythology of the Night Sky - URSA Minor
5. Treasurer's Corner - Astronomy Wall Calendar
Treasurer's Corner - Magazine Renewal
7. Sattelites to the Rescue
8. Dr Robert Stencil

President’s message

Whew! That was a hot one (Summer that is). We could have used some of that snow I was cursing out last winter. While we had a few problems with weather for our Blue Marsh, and Hawk Mt. starwatches, we did have a very successful bake sale in June, and many of us enjoyed a nice BCAAS picnic and hayride at Dave Brown’s farm in August. This month we will have another attempt at a Blue Marsh starwatch, and in October we can enjoy our annual Fall Heritage Center starwatch. Don’t forget our club starwatch on September 6th at the Flying field.

As we move into September we can expect clearer skies as summer’s humidity begins to fade. Soon we will be enjoying autumn’s constellations, with the well- known winter offerings right behind them. One local event to note is Mega-Meet, October 4-6 sponsored by LVAAS. This starwatch is a good one for rubbing elbows with local area astronomers from neighboring clubs.

We will be continuing our astronomy courses where members can work toward a certificate. Vice president Ron will have more on that later. In October we will have a major speaker, Dr. Robert Stencel, from the University of Denver.

So as the Summer winds down and we look forward to Fall activities, I hope to see all of you at the upcoming meetings.


Barry L. Shupp, Pres. BCAAS

Did You Know?

You can self-talk at 600 words a minute but only speak at a rate of 100 words per mi nute.

So, yes, you CAN talk yourself out of eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Just think, "I-can-resistput- it-DOWN!!!!"

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

Editor/Desktop publisher: Melody Gardner

E-Mail submissions may be made to:

Upcoming BCAAS Events

Friday, Sept. 6th @ dusk: Club starparty at the Flying Field. (r.d. Sept. 7th)

Friday, Sept. 6th—Sunday, Sept. 8th: Black Forest Starparty at Cherry Springs, PA.

Thursday, Sept. 12th @ 7:30pm: Gary Becker—Anasazi Astronomy

Friday, Sept. 27th @ 6pm: Program by Barry Shupp and observing at Blue Marsh (r.d. Sept. 28th)

Friday, October 4th—Sunday, October 6th: Mega Meet Starparty hosted by LVAAS at Pulpit Rock

Friday, October 4th—Sunday, October 6th: Stella Della Valley Starparty in Ottsville, PA

Thursday, October 10th @ 7:30pm: General Meeting—Dr. Robert Stencel

Friday, October 11th @ dusk: Heritage Center starparty (r.d. Oct. 12th)


Back to School!!

(Ha-ha! That means you, Ryan!)

Mythology of the night sky—Ursa Minor (Little Bear)

One of the things most ancient civilizations had in common was that their people thought it important to observe the stars at night and how they moved. Some cultures needed the stars because they sailed the seas and needed the stars to be their road map. Most of the ancient people believed stars to be deities and therefore directly affected what happened on earth. The ancient Mayans calculated the period of Venus nearly perfectly even without instruments because it was important to them to know where Venus would appear.

One thing that would have become apparent to any stargazer is that all the stars to the north would appear to be moving around one particular point in the sky and that point was located in the grouping of stars that many cultures called the Lesser Bear. It was a bear to the Greeks and Romans as well as to the Arabs. To the Babylonians it was the leopard. Egyptians called it the Jackel of Set. The Danes and Icelanders called it Smaller Chariot or the Throne of Thor. And modern day stargazers call it the Little Dipper.

Perhaps it was the fact that all the heavens seemed to be revolving around that one point in the sky that caused the Arabs to also call this area of the sky the Hole in which earth’s axis found its bearing. In early northern India, Polaris was known as the Pivot of the Planets. The Chinese had many names for the pole star that translate to Great Imperial Ruler of the Heavens. Chinese mythology has its first use in navigation attributed to their emperor Hong Ti, who they believe was a grandson of Noah!

Not bad considering this polar constellation has no bright stars. In our own modern world of stargazing through light pollution we’re lucky to even SEE these stars!

Linda Sensenig, Treasurer

Treasurer’s Corner


Once again, if you are a member of BCAAS you may purchase an Astronomy wall calendar at half the retail price. The retail price of these calendars is a little lower than usual, so this year you may but a calendar for $6.00 rather than the usual $6.50 (which makes the Treasurer happy because now I won’t have to mess around with those quarters!) We need an order of at least 12 to take advantage of this low price. That should be no problem. We usually end up ordering twice that amount.

You may give me your order as early as the September meeting, however I won’t place the order until near the end of October. Your money should accompany the order. If you decide you don’t want a calendar, but change your mind after our order is placed, it’s still not too late.

Linda Sensenig, Treasurer


If you need to renew your subscription to Astronomy or Sky and Telescope, you can give me your money at the September or October meeting. I have not been informed of any increase in the subscription amount. So at this point, I am still going to collect $29.00 for Astronomy and $29.95 for Sky and Telescope. If they raise the cost, I’ll collect the balance later.

If you would like to subscribe to these magazines but you don’t already have a subscription, no problem! You may start a subscription. If you already do receive these magazines, but you paid full price and they are not up for renewal, no problem! You may give me your renewal money now and the publisher will extend your subscription. Or, you can get on board this program at any time of the year. The only stipulation is that you must be a member of BCAAS.

Linda Sensenig, Treasurer

Satellites to the Rescue!!

A ship on the ocean is swamped by a giant wave. A small airplane loses power and crash lands on a mountain field. A snowmobiler in Alaska breaks a tread and is lost far from civilization. How do the brave people who rescue folks in peril find out where they are?

Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking, called SARSAT for short, uses two types of satellites to help people (and their pets!). Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, nicknamed "GOES," fly in place. They never stray from their spots above Earth. Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites, called "POES," are in constant motion. They orbit Earth several times a day. The main job of these spacecraft is to track environmental conditions around the world. But GOES and POES also hear special distress signals from ships, planes, and individuals. The satellites send the information to a control center in Suitland, Maryland. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Government, operates the center. They learn who's in danger and where the emergency is. Then they send the Coast Guard or the Air Force to save the day!

Ships, airplanes and people use different kinds of equipment to transmit emergency signals. All these devices broadcast distress messages to GOES and POES. Personal Locator Beacons for individuals are available only in Alaska, but soon may be sold in the rest of the United States. Backpackers and others who travel to remote areas could carry these devices in case they get into trouble.

NASA provided the satellites used for SARSAT and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates them. SARSAT has helped to locate and rescue more than 12,800 people worldwide and 4,300 people in the United States. The Air Force and Coast Guard also rescued dogs and other pets that were traveling with their families when disaster struck!

Find out more about SARSAT at http:// Also check out The Space Place Web site at to learn how these satellites orbit Earth and how GOES can hang over one spot all the time!

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

Dr. Robert Stencel—A Biography

A quick biography:
Robert Stencel is the William Herschel Womble Professor of Astronomy at Denver University. He became interested in Astronomy as a result of Sputnik, and was fortunate to have as a mentor during high school Ed Halbach, one of the founders of the Astronomical League. Following graduate study in astronomy, Dr. Stencel worked at several NASA sites and headquarters, prior to joining Denver University in 1993 where he teaches astronomy and is director of the DU Observatories.

A few milestones:
1977 PhD Astronomy, U of Michigan, Ann Arbor & Married Susan C. Conat
1993 Named William Herschel Womble Professor of Astronomy, U of Denver
1997 First light, Mt. Evans Meyer-Womble Observatory
2001 Helped pass State of Colorado Light Pollution statute & Named Patron Member of the Astronomical League
2002 Launch of the Student Telescope Network

More biography:
Robert Stencel likes to brag about being born "near the center of the northern half of the western hemisphere" at 45N, 90W (1950, near Wausau, WI). His interest in astronomy and space science was kindled with the flight of Sputnik (1957). He obtained his B.S. in Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1972, and his PhD in Astronomy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1977, where he met his wife Susan.

His thesis concerned spectroscopy of evolved stars, under the direction of Richard Teske and Richard Canfield. Typical of the times, he spent a long time in postdoctoral jobs working with the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite, including National Research Council appointments at NASA Johnson and NASA Goddard, JILA - U of Colorado and a stint as a Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters. The NASA HQ job featured starts for the Astro mission of Shuttle-based telescopes, and the launch of the Astrophysics Theory Program. In 1985, he joined the U of Colorado Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy as its first Executive Director, while also developing new research interests in infrared astronomy.

In 1992 he accepted a faculty position at the University of Denver as the first William Herschel Womble Professor of Astronomy. The bequest charged him to pursue "educational astrophysics and to develop, equip and operate a mountaintop observatory". Soon thereafter came the rehabilitation of Denver's historic Chamberlin Observatory (1894), the construction of the new Meyer-Womble Observatory atop 14,268 ft elevation Mt.Evans in Colorado (1997), and the outfitting of a new Student Astronomy Lab with rooftop telescope on campus (2001). During the same interval, two thermal infrared astronomical instruments were developed at Denver -- an imager/polarimeter (TNTCAM) and spectrometer (TGIRS). In addition to these activities, there always seemed to be time for experiments in renewable energy sources for Mt.Evans observatory, archaeoastronomy, local histories and political activity to address light pollution problems in Colorado.

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