Volume 32 Issue 5

September / October  2006

In this issue:

1.  President's Massage
Night Sky Network
3.  Deadly Planets
ECCAI, Digital Astrophotography Conference
5. SETI @ Home Update
6. Medicine Wheel
6. 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 2006 Club Officers

Prez—Dave Brown

Veep—Bret Cadmus

Trea$urer—Linda $en$enig

Secretary/Night Sky Network—Barb Geigle

Webmaster—Mike Bashore

Hot line—Paul Becker

PR—Barry Shupp

Absolutely Fabulous—Melody

President's Message

The "Debate" over the status of Pluto as a planet is all over the media, possibly changing the way we are supposed to view that distant world.

Just between you and me…why must we change 76 years of belief just because a brain trust group replete with their pocket protectors have determined that, in their eyes, we have been wrong?

Pluto the planet is instilled in our society for crying out loud; never once has its status been questioned by the everyday person. I have NEVER been to a public star watch by BCAAS or any other club where someone didn't ask if they could see Pluto. I HAVE been to watches where no one asked to see Neptune or Uranus.

If we were to make a planetary list of importance according to the opinion of the general public, we could narrow the 9 planets to 3, those being Earth, Mars, and Pluto.

Nobody cares if Mercury falls out of the sky, Venus is always mistaken for a "spaceship" hovering in the trees, and even mighty Jupiter is virtually unknown until BCAAS members show them how cool it looks in a telescope. But if I had a nickel for every time I heard "Can you see Pluto?" I could retire!

As amateurs in this field, I can see that we will have to take a stand as to how we believe, because we WILL be asked countless times by the public, "Do YOU think Pluto is still a planet?” How you answer is up to you, but just remember how many times in the history of astronomy that perceptions of our universe rapidly changed, and how many times those flip - flopping perceptions were proven so very wrong in retrospect.

I have even heard that the astrologers have jumped on the bandwagon, complaining that removing Pluto from planetary status will change the way they "predict" things! Well EXCUSE ME for pointing it out, but it seems that these “rocket scientists” fail to recognize the ancient astrology of the Chinese didn't know that Pluto existed, and the modern day prophets can't plot its movement through the stars BECAUSE THEY CAN'T SEE IT, so would someone please tell these people to jump OFF the wagon?!?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to e-mail my friends in the Flat Earth society, and then take a nap because Mercury has moved into my Seventh House, causing me to be irritable and tire easily.

Dave Brown, president

Night Sky Network Announcement

"Mr. Eclipse" Fred Espenak speaks to NSN members in September:

Just in time to get primed for the November Mercury Transit, the Night Sky Network will host a teleconference on Wednesday, September 27 featuring Fred Espenak, widely known to the amateur astronomy community as "Mr. Eclipse". This teleconference will discuss the latest toolkit "Shadows and Silhouettes" (shipping out to all qualifying clubs early in September!), planet-finding using transits, and our upcoming celestial event, the November Mercury transit.

Shadows & Silhouettes Toolkit Ships in September:

The Shadows & Silhouettes Toolkit covers the topics of phases, eclipses, and transits and features NASA's Kepler Mission. The Kepler Mission, due for launch in 2008, is NASA's first mission dedicated to detecting transits of Earth size planets in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars.

Any club that has logged at least two events since receiving their last Toolkit will receive Shadows & Silhouettes by September 22. (BCAAS has qualified for this toolkit.)

Just in time for the Mercury Transit in November, this Toolkit provides activities to make the Transit come alive and spark imaginations about faraway worlds, possibly like our own. The Toolkit also provides hands-on explanations to prepare for the lunar eclipse next March. Accompanied by activities to demonstrate moon phases and why eclipses don't happen every month, the Toolkit can be used at almost any star party.

Dr. Geoff Marcy's "Habitable Worlds" Secret Revealed:

Did you miss the last teleconference? If you did you will want to be sure to hear for yourself the amazing revelation that was uncovered when a Night Sky Network member asked just the right question!

To download the transcript from this teleconference:

Hear the words from Dr. Marcy's lips by downloading the MP3:

The URL for the companion PowerPoint for Dr. Marcy's talk is:

Remember, you heard it on the Night Sky Network first!

Moon Globes in October:

The Fall Quarterly Drawing prize will be October 5 and features the ever-handy Moon Globe, provided by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. All events logged from July 1, 2006 through midnight September 30, 2006 count as a "ticket" in the drawing. The more Night Sky Network events we hold and report, the more chances we have to win!

The Night Sky Network is all about uncovering the mysteries of the Universe: whether that is helping astronomy clubs share their knowledge of the Universe with others or by giving members the latest scoop on what is happening in astronomy today!

Clear Skies!

If you have any questions or want additional information regarding the Night Sky Network, please contact Barb Geigle at

Deadly Planets

By Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips

About 900 light years from here, there's a rocky planet not much bigger than Earth. It goes around its star once every hundred days, a trifle fast, but not too different from a standard Earth-year. At least two and possibly three other planets circle the same star, forming a complete solar system.

Interested? Don't be. Going there would be the last thing you ever do.

The star is a pulsar, PSR 1257+12, the seething-hot core of a supernova that exploded millions of years ago. Its planets are bathed not in gentle, life-giving sunshine but instead a blistering torrent of X-rays and high-energy particles.

"It would be like trying to live next to Chernobyl," says Charles Beichman, a scientist at JPL and director of the Michelson Science Center at Caltech.

Our own sun emits small amounts of pulsar-like X-rays and high energy particles, but the amount of such radiation coming from a pulsar is "orders of magnitude more," he says. Even for a planet orbiting as far out as the Earth, this radiation could blow away the planet's atmosphere, and even vaporize sand right off the planet's surface.

Astronomer Alex Wolszczan discovered planets around PSR 1257+12 in the 1990s using Puerto Rico’s giant Arecibo radio telescope. At first, no one believed worlds could form around pulsars—it was too bizarre. Supernovas were supposed to destroy planets, not create them. Where did these worlds come from?

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope may have found the solution. Last year, a group of astronomers led by Deepto Chakrabarty of MIT pointed the infrared telescope toward pulsar 4U 0142+61. Data revealed a disk of gas and dust surrounding the central star, probably wreckage from the supernova. It was just the sort of disk that could coalesce to form planets!

As deadly as pulsar planets are, they might also be hauntingly beautiful. The vaporized matter rising from the planets' surfaces could be ionized by the incoming radiation, creating colorful auroras across the sky. And though the pulsar would only appear as a tiny dot in the sky (the pulsar itself is only 20-40 km across), it would be enshrouded in a hazy glow of light emitted by radiation particles as they curve in the pulsar's strong magnetic field.

Wasted beauty? Maybe. Beichman points out the positive: "It's an awful place to try and form planets, but if you can do it there, you can d o it anywhere."

More news and images from Spitzer can be found at . In addition, The Space Place Web site features a cartoon talk show episode starring Michelle Thaller, a scientist on Spitzer. Go to for a great place to introduce kids to infrared and the joys of astronomy.

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

Earthy Word Games

The interdependent web of life on Earth is a fine principle to teach kids and adults. But understanding how it works in detail is a lifelong process, even for Earth scientists. A good way to introduce some basic concepts to kids is through a small, simple model wherein life forms survive by depending on each other. Such is the EcoSphere®, a small, closed system aquarium that needs only light to stay healthy and in balance. A new game activity on The Space Place explains the EcoSphere® as a microcosm of Earth. Visitors to the page can then choose one or more interactive word-find

Artist’s concept of a pulsar and surrounding disk of rubble called a “fallback” disk, out of which new planets could form.


ECCAI, Digital Astrophotography Conference
 By Barry L Shupp

I recently attended the East Coast Conference on Astronomical Imaging held at the Renaissance Hotel near the Philadelphia airport. The event took place the weekend of August 11-13 and was attended by approximately 60 people. I decided to make this my birthday present this year, foregoing attendance at this Summer’s star parties.

There were two days of talks by well-known astrophotography experts including Richard Berry, Jim Burnell, and Jerry Lodriguss. On Friday the 11th, there was a workshop for beginners in digital processing which I attended. The workshop was conducted by Adam Block, known for his expertise in using Registax, and MaxIm DL, both fine applications for processing of digital images. While not announced as a digital imaging conference, there was little talk of film processing. I learned quite a bit about using these two programs.

Friday evening was vendor setup time, and a reception was held for attendees. Over the course of the conference, I met people from all over the U.S., Canada, and even the Caribbean. Many of them are advanced digital imagers, but the talks were not over a beginner’s head by any means. I came to know several individuals more than others: David Kolb of Kansas (, and James and Yvonne Roe of Missouri.

Both Dave and Jim are accomplished imagers with their own websites filled with planetary and deep space photos. Dave also teaches astronomy at Kansas City Community College. An outline of his course is available on his website. Jim is an active member of the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri where he is involved with educating the public. His club recently acquired a 32-inch Dobsonian for use in their public programs. Jim’s website is at

Saturday began with a continental breakfast and the sessions started promptly at 8:30 with “Image Acquisition Best Practices” by Richard Bennion of CCDWare. He talked about the necessity of proper polar alignment, and accurate tracking of the object being photographed.

Next up was Jim Burnell, coauthor of AIP4Win software. Jim gave an overview of what the program can do, including what files are handled (FITS, TIFF, JPEG, and RAW). Calibration, image enhancement, and deconvolution were some of the topics discussed. He showed AIP’s usefulness as a research tool, batch processor, and image editor. Overall, I was impressed with the features of this program. Should I get into this type of photography, it is probably the program I will use. Another program presented was PixInsight, a new and free program. It uses a module approach and can be customized as you wish.

The highlight of the day was Richard Berry’s talk on “Deconvolution and Wavelets”, another aspect of the AIP software. Richard is coauthor with Jim Burnell of AIP4Win. Image restoration and enhancement couple d with image editing were included in the talk. Deconvolution involves getting more detail from the image, while wavelet processing reduces noise. The afternoon session finished with a panel/game show format where contestants tried to guess what errors occurred in images shown on a screen and judges awarded points. Prizes were given to the three contestants.

Meals were included in the registration fee and we enjoyed a nice chicken and beef dinner served by the hotel staff. In the evening, demos of different workshops were presented by the coordinators of the event, Bob Benamati, Steve Mazlin, and Jim Misti. Afterward, those with laptops could use different software to process images included on a sample disk given to each attendee, while the rest of us chose between two lab sessions presented on PixInsight, and AIP4Win. I chose the latter and spent an enjoyable evening in a small group session with Jim Burnell, and Richard Berry. They showed some of the more popular, as well as lesser-known, features of their program.

Sunday saw an early start to the day as we moved the schedule up by an hour to accommodate all those who flew into Philly. Sessions began at 7:30 AM (yawn) and included several good presentations on planetary, lunar, and solar imaging. These types of photos can be done without the pricey CCD cameras, using webcams, or by using digicams afocally. This is where you place the camera lens at the eyepiece to take your photo.

The main talk of the morning was by Jerry Lodriguss, staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. When not shooting sports pictures, Jerry is imaging the heavens with a DSLR camera. The D stands for digital. As well as shooting through a telescope, Jerry shoots directly off a tripod. Finally they were talking about some of the types of pictures that I take on film. While Jerry uses a DSLR, the techniques could be used with a fixed lens digicam also.

I recently bought a new 5 MP digicam to use in my astrophotography, which will make it easier submitting photos to contests, for use online, and in our club newsletter. Jerry has written a new book on CD entitled “A Guide To Astrophotography With Digital SLR Cameras” a copy of which I obtained. Jerry showed how a digital camera works, and how the image created must be tweaked by the camera to represent what the human eye expects to see. Jerry Lodriguss’ website is at

Concluding talks dealt with Supernova searches, and a presentation on what publications are looking for and how to submit photos. This was presented by Imelda Joson, formerly of Sky and Telescope’s Gallery section. She is currently setting up her own stock photo agency and I’m sure she would love to represent us!

Finally the conference came to a close with a door prize raffle and, yes Ron, I won something. I received a copy of CCDWare’s CCDAutopilot Pro worth $399. Now what the hey do I do with it!?????

Everyone received a free 2007 calendar featuring images taken by Jim Misti and viewable on his website (www.mist A group photo was also taken and should appear soon on S&T’s website.

We won’t even talk about how I got there and back!!

Attendees of the ECCAI Astro Conference - Barry is the 2nd person on the left, 4th row back!! Looks like they took the picture from the ceiling!

This just in: Pluto is no longer a planet!! To the IAU: PFFFTT! I’d draw the symbol for this if I could!

SETI@home Update
 by Dan Brown

SETI@home ( is a distributed computing project run by the University of California at Berkeley that is dedicated to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. (SETI) It was launched on May 17th, 1999 and is currently the largest distributed computing project in the world. The software is run as a screensaver that is generally set up to be active when your computer woul d otherwise be idle. Almost since its inception, this project has piqued the interest of BCAAS members due to our passion for space and the possibility of life beyond our own planet. A team was created for club members to join as early as 1999.

That team has hit a milestone recently. Since June of 2006, the BCAAS members participating in our SETI@home team have contributed 1 TeraFLOPs of work towards the search for life beyond our solar system. That is equal to 1 Trillion floating point mathematical calculations! In fact, during the history of our team we have contributed well over 10 years of computer time to SETI! That is quite an accomplishment, but there is still much work to do.

In early 2006, the SETI@home ‘classic’ client was discontinued and replaced with a new open source client called BOINC. (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) The upside is that the new system is more sensitive by a factor of two than the old system. The downside is that the transition was not well publicized. As a result many of our BCAAS team members never made the switch to the new client. We had 13 members using the ‘classic’ client who submitted 3,700+ ‘work units’, but there are only 3 members running BOINC right now.

I wanted to write this and increase awareness about SETI@home and our BCAAS team so that some of our inactive members come back, and hopefully so that we can add new members to our team. I’m very competitive by nature and I feel that while we have done a lot of work, we can always do better. With 102,000+ credits since June, we have done more work than the Astronomical Society of Nevada, and the Peoria Astronomical Society, but we’re getting our butts kicked by the Klingon Imperial Diplomatic Corps. That’s just embarrassing!

Seriously though, I am a firm believer in this project and it gives me a good feeling to know that my computer is contributing to real scientific research while I sleep. All this does come with a cost however. Running my CPU at 100% increases the power usage of my computer when otherwise it would be idle. To me, the extra 10˘ a day of electricity doesn’t matter, but it can add up.

For more information about SETI@home, and the new BOINC client, visit the website at

I would also encourage you to check out the other BOINC projects. Specifically Einstein@home (, which is dedicated to the search for gravitational waves using the LIGO and GEO gravitational wave detectors.


In the afternoon of Friday, July 7th, I parked my car in the parking lot at the end of a dirt road on Medicine Mountain in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. From here, I walked the final 1 ˝ miles to the summit. There is located the Medicine Wheel, a sacred site for Native Americans. It is a place for meditation and prayer.

The wheel is a circle of stones 80 feet in diameter with 28 spokes radiating from the center. Seven stone cairns are there: one in the center, five adjacent to the rim (four just inside the circle and one just outside), and one outside the circle about 10 feet beyond the rim. The number of spokes is the same as the number of lodge poles in the Lakota Sundance ceremonial lodge and approximates the length of the lunar cycle.

The Medicine Wheel was built sometime between 1200 and 1700 A.D. Its true purpose is uncertain. In 1974, Jack Eddy, an archaeoastronomer found cairn alignments for the rising and setting of the sun on the summer solstice, and the heliacal risings (rising immediately before the sunlight obliterates the stars from view) for Aldebaran, Rigel, and Sirius. Astronomer Jack Robinson added the heliacal rising of Fomalhaut to the list. Interestingly, Fomalhaut has its heliacal rising about 28 days before the summer solstice; Aldebaran, 2 days before; Rigel, 28 days after the solstice; and Sirius, 28 days after that. The time period of these events corresponds roughly to the time when there is little or no snow in this location and would thus be accessible for observations.

No one knows if this actually was an astronomical observatory, but it is hard to imagine such alignments being just coincidence. It is interesting that about 28 days separate 4 of the events, the same number as the number of spokes.

This is not the only wheel. Between 70 and 120 wheels have been found, primarily in surrounding states and provinces. Were these also observatories or were they copies used for ceremonial purposes?

Only a handful of people were there at the time I visited. One was performing a ceremony that involved smoking a pipe, shaking a hoof rattle, circling the site and chanting.

Located on a peak of 9,642 feet elevation, there are fantastic views of the Bighorn Basin and surrounding mountain peaks, as well as the sky. As I left, I wondered if I had visited an ancient Native American observatory, a sacred spot, or a beautiful view. Perhaps it was all three.

Gary Shugar

Additional information:
Krupp, E.C. Skywatchers, Shamans and Kings, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1997, pages 212-220.

Photo of Medicine Wheel From: “Medicine Wheel”, Bighorn National Forest pamphlet, 2006

Eddy Diagram
From: “Ancient Observatories, Timeless Knowledge: Big Horn Medicine Wheel”, Stanford SOLAR Center, Solar Observatories Group, Stanford University, CA,


Thursday September 14th - 7:30pm — Monthly club meeting at the Reading Planetarium. Tonight's program will be announced.

Friday September 15th—Sunday September 17th - Megameet XV — LVAAS campout and observing weekend at Pulpit Rock in Hamburg, PA.

Please visit for further details or just bug Bob Bukovsky—he likes it!

October 7th (11am-5pm) & 8th (12pm-5pm) — Reading Planetarium Grand Re-opening with presentation by astronaut Story Musgrave!

Thursday October 12th - 7:30pm — Monthly club meeting at the Reading Planetarium (or in the Museum?) Tonight's program will be announced.

“The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.” — Sonya Friedman