Volume XXX Issue 6

November / December 2004

In this issue:

1. Presidents message
2. Hunting Gravitational Waves
3. NASA's Image of the Day
4. Night Sky Network Update
5. Treasurerís Corner
6. A Summer Vacation Tracking Down UFO's
7. UpComing Evnets

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

As October is closing and we near the end of the year, I realize that my term as president is rapidly coming to a close. After two terms as president, I feel it is time for some new leadership, lest the organization stagnate. At our November 11th meeting, the nominating committee consisting of Paul Becker and Barry Shupp will again present a slate of officers for 2005. Further nominations from the floor will be accepted. Elections will then be held following month at the December 9th "Christmas Party" meeting. As of this moment there are still some openings on the slate of officers. If you would like to get more involved in the operation of this fine organization, please donít hesitate. We are a society of amateurs and I encourage everyone to participate to the level of their ability and we do have many capable people . I will continue to stay involved where needed.

Coming events for BCAAS are our program for Novemberís meeting on the 11th. Our speaker will be our own Barb Geigle. She will be talking about the new kit received from the Night Sky Network. This kit has as its theme Our Galaxy/Our Universe. I look forward to this program, as I personally am very interested in the structure of our Galaxy and Universe. Incidentally, BCAAS was one of five winners of green laser pointers, courtesy of the Night Sky Network. Iím sure Barb will mention this at her presentation. Barb is our "chief" Night Sky Network coordinator, but she has support from other coordinators, namely Bret Cadmus, Barry Shupp, and myself.

As previously stated, December 9th will be the election of officers for 2005. This meeting, as well as the November meeting, will be held in the Planetarium. The December meeting is our traditional "Christmas Party", so please plan on bringing a covered dish. We usually get a wide variety of fine goodies, so please come out, vote, eat, and enjoy the fellowship.

Clear and dark skies to all, and Thank You all for your support.

Ron Kunkel at

Hunting Gravitational Waves: Space Technology 7
 by Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips

Among the mind-blowing implications of Einstein's general theory of relativity, direct verification is still missing for at least one: gravitational waves. When massive objects like black holes move, they ought to create distortions in space-time, and these distortions should spread and propagate as waves--waves in the fabric of space-time itself.

If these waves do exist, they would offer astronomers a penetrating view of events such as the birth of the Universe and the spiraling collisions of giant black holes. The trick is building a gravitational wave detector, and that's not easy.

Ironically, the gravitational waves spawned by these exceedingly violent events are vanishingly feeble. Gravitational waves exert a varying tug on objects, but this tug is so weak that detecting it requires a device of extraordinary sensitivity and a way to shield that device from all other disturbances.

Enter Space Technology 7 (ST-7). This mission, a partnership between NASA's New Millennium Program and the European Space Agency (ESA), will place a satellite into a special orbit around the Sun where the pull of the Earth's and Sun's gravities balance. But even the minute outside forces that remain -- such as pressure from sunlight -- could interfere with a search for gravitational waves.

To make the satellite virtually disturbance-free, ST-7 will test an experimental technology that counteracts outside forces. This system, called the Disturbance Reduction System (DRS), is so exquisitely sensitive that it can maintain the satellite's path within about a nanometer (millionth of a millimeter) of an undisturbed elliptical orbit.

DRS works by letting two small (4 cm) cubes float freely in the belly of the satellite. The satellite itself shields the cubes from outside forces, so the cubes will naturally follow an undisturbed orbit. The satellite can then adjust its own flight path to match that of the cubes using high-precision ion thrusters. Making the masses cube-shaped lets DRS sense deviations in all 6 directions (3 linear, 3 angular).

ST-7 is scheduled to fly in 2008, but it's a test mission; it won't search for gravitational waves. That final goal will be achieved by the NASA/ESA LISA mission (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), which is expected to launch in 2011. LISA will use the DRS technology tested by ST-7 to create the ultra-stable satellite platforms it needs to successfully detect gravitational waves.

If ST-7 and LISA succeed, they'll confirm Einstein (again) and delight astronomers with a new tool for exploring the Universe.

Read more about ST-7 at . For kids in a classroom setting, check out the "Dampen that Drift!" article at .

NASAís Image of the Day

Four hundred years ago, sky watchers, including the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler, were startled by the sudden appearance of a "new star" in the western sky, rivaling the brilliance of the nearby planets. Now, astronomers using NASA's three Great Observatories are unraveling the mysteries of the expanding remains of Kepler's supernova, the last such object seen to explode in our Milky Way galaxy.

This combined image -- from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope, and e Chandra X-ray Observatory -- unveils a bubble-shaped shroud of gas and dust that is 14 light-years wide and is expanding at 4 million miles per hour (2,000 kilometers per second). Observations from each telescope highlight distinct features of the supernova remnant, a fast-moving shell of iron-rich material from the exploded star, surrounded by an expanding shock wave that is sweeping up interstellar gas and dust.

Photo Credit: NASA , Archives of Picture of the Day

Night Sky Network Update

By Barb Geigle


I have received the newest toolkit from the Night Sky Network Ė "Our Galaxy, Our Universe". It is full of ideas for describing the scale and size of our universe, either in a presentation, or at the telescope. I will give you further details at the November meeting.


Mark your calendars for Tuesday, November 9th at 9 p.m. Eastern for an exclusive Night Sky Network Teleconference with Dr. Massimo Stiavelli. Dr. Stiavelli is an astrophysicist with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field project lead. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) is a million-second-long exposure revealing the first galaxies to emerge from the so-called "dark ages." His talk will be followed by a discussion session where you may ask questions and discuss his presentation. This is your chance to expand your understanding of our universe to share with others.

You do not need to be registered on the Night Sky Network to participate in the Teleconference, and it is totally free. As I donít have the details yet, please contact me at, for further information. The details are supposed to be set up at least several days before the teleconference.


Night Sky, the new magazine for beginning stargazers, is a great way to help people of all ages get started in astronomy. From the simple, jargon-free language to the easy-to-use star charts, to the "how to" equipment information, Night Sky is a great resource for the club members who meet at star parties and other events each month. Now, free copies of Night Sky Magazine can be ordered by network members to hand out at events. If you are interested, please contact me.

Night Sky Network clubs can share copies of Night Sky Magazine at any public events they feel appropriate - even events where Network ToolKits are not used. Only those events using ToolKit components, however, count as "official" events for the purpose of logging.


BCAAS won an engraved green laser pointer to use at outreach events. The deadline to participate in the next quarterly "Events Logged" drawing is December 31st. All events logged from October 1st through midnight December 31st count in the next drawing which will be held on January 4th.

The annual drawing at the beginning of January will choose five clubs. Each winning club will choose one representative to attend the JPL Open House in 2005 - airfare and hotel expenses paid! All events logged during 2004 by eligible clubs will be included for the January drawing. We are eligible for this drawing, as we have logged over five outreach events already.

The more events we do, the better our chances at winning! Remember, you donít have to do a big public event to qualify. All you have to do is use something from either of the ToolKits, for any number of people. It can be just your family or a few friends. GET INVOLVED!

Thanks for your help,
Barb Geigle

Treasurerís Corner

By Linda Sensenig who Makes Sense of Our Dollars

HELP WANTED: A computer buddy; someone I can e-mail with questions. In the unlikely event that I would have to disconnect my computer and send it away for repairs, it should be someone willing to come to my house and uninstall the computer and then install it again. My nephew is moving to California in January and that will be a little too far away for him to make a house call. I will not make a pest of myself - I am learning that I know more about the computer than I thought I did. If you are interested, just let me know.

CALENDARS ARE HERE! The Astronomy calendars came in time for the October meeting. Those of you who missed the October meeting can pick them up at the November or the December meeting. After the December meeting I will mail the calendars to those who have not picked them up. Everyone should have their calendars before Christmas.

A Summer Vacation Tracking Down UFOs

Erin Schumacher's summer job for NASA was to look for UFOs. Erin is a 16- year-old high school student from Redondo Beach, California, attending the California Academy of Mathematics and Science in Carson. She was one of ten students selected to work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena as part of the Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program, or SHARP.

But is studying UFOs a useful kind of NASA research? Well, it is when they are "unidentified flashing objects" that appear in certain images of Earth from space. Erin worked with scientists on the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) project to track down these mysterious features. MISR is one of five instruments onboard the Earth-orbiting Terra satellite. MISR's nine separate cameras all point downward at different angles, each camera in turn taking a picture of the same piece of Earth as the satellite passes overhead. Viewing the same scene through the atmosphereat different angles gives far more information about the aerosols, pollution, and water vapor in the air than a single view would give. Ground features may also look slightly or dramatically different from one viewing angle to another.

Erin's job was to carefully examine the pictures looking for any flashes of light that might be visible from just one of the nine angles. Such flashes are caused by sunlight bouncing off very reflective surfaces and can be seen if a camera is pointed at just the right angle to catch them. Because the satellite data contain precise locations for each pixel in the images, Erin could figure out exactly where a flashing object on the ground should be. Her job was then to figure out exactly what it was that made the flash-in particular, to see if she could distinguish man-made objects from natural ones.

When Erin began working at JPL, scientists on the MISR project had already identified two large flashes out in the middle of the Mojave Desert in Southern California. These turned out to be from solar power generating stations. Soon, Erin began finding flashes all over the place. She learned how to apply her math knowledge to figuring out how the objects would have to be oriented in order to be seen by a particular MISR camera. One time, she and a team of MISR scientists and students went on a field trip to the exact locations of some flashes, where they found greenhouses, large warehouses with corrugated metal roofs, a glass-enclosed shopping mall, and a solar-paneled barn. For some flashes, they could find nothing at all. Those remain "UFOs" to this day!

Learn more about SHARP at and Earth science applications of MISR at Kids can do an online MISR crossword at This article was written by Diane K. Fisher. It was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Thursday November 7 - 7:30pm,  Monthly club meeting at the Reading Planetarium. Tonight's Program will be Barb Geigle presenting on the Night Sky Network: Our Galaxy/Our Universe. We will also be holding the nominations for next years' BCAAS officers. (Hint, hintó someone please run for President!!!!!) Everyone is invited.

Thursday November25 - HAPPY TURKEY DAY!

Thursday December 9 - 7:30pm,  Monthly club meeting at the Reading Planetarium. Tonight's event will be the annual Holiday Party. We ask that you bring a covered dish or drinks so that all can enjoy the feast. We will also be holding the elections for next years' BCAAS officers. Everyone is invited. (See you under the mistletoe!!!)

Saturday December 25 ó MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Friday December 31 ó HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." - Margaret Thatcher






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