Summer 2003


What’s  Up


Morgan County Skies?


News of the Morgan County Observatory Foundation (MCOF)         

Learn more at the MCOF website:


Summer Skies - Coming Events: MARS!  Closest in 60,000 years!!  

June 27  MCOF Members’ Night at the Observatory (New Moon, June 29)

June 29  Moon, Mercury and Saturn are close to each other

July 2    Moon and Jupiter are 4 degrees apart around 5 pm

July 4    Public Star Party at Greenwood School

July 8    Venus and Saturn seem within 1 degree of each other (4 am)

July 10  Pegasid meteors (maybe?); Antares is close to the Moon

July 13  Full Moon – Hay Moon or Thunder Moon

July 16  Moon and Mars within 1 degree after midnight

July 19   Star Show at the Ice House

July 25  MCOF Members’ Night at the Observatory (New Moon, July 29)

July 25  Jupiter and Mercury are less than 1 degree apart (9 pm)

August 1  Public Star Party at Greenwood School

August 2-3  Morgan County Youth Fair, Widmeyer Elementary School

August 12  Full Moon – Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon

August 22  MCOF Members’ Night at the Observatory (August 27 New Moon)

August 28  Mars is at its nearest to Earth in 60,000 years (more or less)

August 29   Public Star Party at Greenwood School

September 10  Full Moon – Harvest Moon or Fruit Moon

September 19  MCOF Members Night at the Observatory (September 25 New Moon)

September 23  Autumn Equinox – Summer ends at 6:48 pm

September 26  Public Star Party at Greenwood School

October 10    Full Moon – Hunter’s Moon

October 11-12  MCOF Observatory Open House – Apple Butter Festival


More information can come from:

Kevin Boles, President MCOF  ( )

Dave Fye, The Sky Guy  ( )

Johnna Armstrong, MCOF webmaster ( )

Bill Lands, Newsletter Editor (

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The big story in this years summer sky will be the planet Mars.  Mars begins the summer rising around midnight with the brightness of the brightest star, Sirius. Mars rises earlier and earlier and grows brighter and brighter as the weeks go by.  In the month of August, the Earth will come about as close to Mars as it ever gets.  It will be close enough so that much detail will be visible in a small telescope.  I would certainly recommend attending the Foundation Star Parties this summer where Mars will be a big attraction.


                      The Earth passes Mars in its orbit about every two years.  This happens because the Earth travels faster in its orbit than Mars since we are closer to the Sun.  So we pass Mars as we did in 2001, move ahead and finally catch up with the Red Planet again.  This time though, since our orbits aren’t exactly round, we are going to be closer when we pass than we have been in over 1000 years; 34.7 million miles.  This will happen on August 27th.  The member’s night on August 22nd and the public Star Party on August 29th should give us the best views we have ever had of the planet Mars. 


Mars will be in the evening sky all summer.  Go outside after dark and look to the south about halfway up the sky.  You will see a bright reddish star shining with a steady light.  This will be the red planet Mars.  There is another reddish star in the southern sky in the summer, and that would be Alpha Scorpio, Antares.  Mars will be farther east than Antares and will be much brighter.  Mars will also shine with a steady light, and Antares will twinkle.


                      Of course we shouldn’t forget the Perseid Meteor Shower, peaking August 11th to the 15th.  You could see up to 100 meteors per hour.  Meteors are small pieces of rock that enter our atmosphere at  great speed, heating up for a second or two due to friction, then  disappearing.  Annual meteor showers are caused by pieces of discarded matter from passing comets.  The Perseids are known as The Tears of St Lawrence and are traveling in the same orbit as that of Comet Tuttle of 1862.  The biggest meteor display ever recorded was the Leonid meteor storm of November 1966.  More than 10,000 meteors per hour were seen that night.


                      Be sure to check out the Summer Triangle of first magnitude stars:  Vega in the constellation Lyra, Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, and Altair in the constellation Aquila.  They all can be seen high in the eastern sky after dark and form a noticeable triangle.  Vega is one of the brightest stars in the sky.


          Lots of meteor showers occur over several days, and the maximum time is still a matter of guesswork – and also good luck in not having a full moon that decreases the darkness.  This year, 2003, has lots of moonlight interference.  Why not visit  for some ideas on picking good times for viewing the different meteor showers?

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Kevin’s Corner: Kevin’s Corner:


MCOF will hold a public Star Party on Friday night July 4th 9:00PM on the observatory grounds at Greenwood School.  Everyone is invited to come out and view the wonders of the night sky through the many wonderful telescopes available with the experts from the Foundation to guide you.  Many wonderful celestial objects will be visible including the planet Jupiter, the Ring nebula, Andromeda galaxy, double stars and much more.  Refreshments will be served and door prizes will be given away.  Come out and see the construction progress on the Morgan County Observatory and get a peek through the powerful 16" Cassegrain telescope housed there.  A short movie on the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab will be shown.  Informative exhibits, contests for kids and hands on astronomy activities will be present.


          The Foundation would like to thank the following new or returning members and donators for their generous support: Dave & Barbara Fye, Kathern & Ansel Gere, Bert Muti and John Menke of Menke Scientific (, Charles Braun, Luke Christie, Morgan County Retired Teachers Association, United Way of Berkeley & Morgan County, and the Town of Bath.  Member benefits include: quarterly newsletter, yearly calendar, voting rights at MCOF general meeting, admission to 'Members Only' events and notification of all events.  All donations of $50 or more will be memorialized on Founding Members’ plaques to be displayed inside the Observatory.  The next 'Members Only' night will be held Friday July 25th 9:00PM at the observatory.  If you are not a member, you may obtain membership there for $20/individual or $35/family.


          Come out and enjoy the dark skies of Morgan County while learning more about astronomy and the stars. In the event of rain or mostly overcast skies, this event will be rescheduled for Saturday night July 5th. Upcoming events include an Indoor Star Show July 19th 7PM at the Ice House, Public Star Parties at the observatory August 1st and 29th,  Exhibit and lectures at the Morgan County Fair August 2nd and 3rd.  To get to Greenwood from Berkeley Springs, follow Rt 522 South 2 miles and take a left on Winchester Grade Rd (Rt 13), then travel 9 miles and park at the school on the left. For information 304-258-1013, , or .



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Morgan County Observatory Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit educational organization founded in 1999.  Current officers are:  Kevin Boles, President; Brice Williams, Vice-president; Roger McIntire, Secretary ; Karen Shoemaker, Treasurer.  Additional members of the Board of Directors are:  Pat Aragon, Robert Campbell, Warren Hart, Leigh Jenkins, Bill Lands.  

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Let’s go to Mars!  This summer has lots of people sending up their rockets.  Have you seen this NASA challenge that seems timely?


A LOT MORE about Mars is at this site! 


What the Mars Global Surveyor does and sees: 


Learn more from the latest news releases of the Ames Research Center 


Of course, it takes a little time to travel millions of miles!  The NASA's Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project began by launching the first of two unique robotic geologists on June 8.  The second, bound for a different site on Mars, launched about June 25.   The first MER will arrive at Mars on Jan. 4, 2004, the second, Jan. 25. Plans call for each to operate for at least three months.  More information about the Mars Exploration Rover Mission will be updated at : 


Monster Trucks on Mars  by Patrick L. Barry and Dr. Tony Phillips

We all know what Mars rovers look like now: Robotic platforms, bristling with scientific instruments, trundling along on small metallic wheels. Planetary rovers of the future, however, might look a little different-like miniature monster trucks!

Enormous, inflatable tires can easily roll right over the rocks and rugged terrain of alien planets, just as they bound over old cars like as many speed bumps.

That's the idea behind a novel concept for robotic planetary rovers known as the "big wheels inflatable rover." Unlike rovers similar to the Sojourner robot that explored the surface of Mars in 1997 that depend on instructions sent from Earth or complex programmed intelligence to steer through rough terrain, this rover has three beach ball-like tires roughly five feet across that make it a true off-road vehicle.

"We sent this rover out to Death Valley, to a place called Mars Hill that has a general geological formation like Mars, and nothing could stop it," says Jack Jones, the mastermind of the inflatable rover concept at JPL. "It just kept going and going and going."


Lots of current research is devoted to developing advanced robotic intelligence that allows rovers to detect rocks in their path and maneuver around them. The alternative to such on-the-spot intelligence is tedium: Ground controllers on Earth working out the maneuvers by hand and waiting an hour or more for the instructions to travel to the distant planet.

A "big wheels" rover would need such computer intelligence to avoid very large boulders, but Jones asks, "Why worry about every little rock, pebble, and crack when you can just roll right over most of them?"

Jones imagines a scenaro where multiple inflatable-wheel rovers could be sent out to explore the Martian terrain-easily and quickly traversing the rugged terrain. Samples gathered by the rovers could be returned to a central, stationary laboratory module for detailed analysis.



The "Big Wheels" inflatable rover doesn't mind a few boulder-sized rocks,

no matter what planet they're on!

"The Martian surface is really very, very rough with a lot of rocks, and to be banging this laboratory equipment up and down over all of these rocks aboard the rovers doesn't make much sense," Jones says. "I suspect it might be better to leave it in a central location."

At the moment it's all very speculative; NASA currently has no definite plans to send inflatable rovers to Mars. But who knows, one day monster truck-like vehicles could be zipping over Mars' rough, red surface.

Kids can baffle their friends with a robot puzzle (including a "Big Wheels" rover) they make themselves at .  For adults, find out more about NASA's inflatable rover program at .

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


Other NASA links for all ages and interests are:

http://spaceplace.nasa.gov  ;  ;  ;   ; .





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Senior Moments - - Enjoying A Sense of Place and Time   by Bill Lands


MARS – A Roamin’ Roman War God

The Viking lander reported our neighboring planet Mars may be the richest source of iron ore in the solar system.  Its iron oxide rust-colored reflected sunlight led astronomers to name it for the bloody god of war.  Mars has a 4,200 mile diameter, but it had only an apparent 6 arcsecond diameter in February with a reflected sunlight brightness of about 1.0 magnitude.  However as Mars came closer to Earth at the summer solstice, it gained a brighter magnitude of  -1.5 and a diameter over 10 arcseconds - - - that will expand to 16 arcseconds within weeks and eventually reach 25 arcseconds by August 27.  Then, it’s distance of 34 million miles (0.373 astronomical units) may be the closest approach of Mars for over 50,000 years.  For a while, it’s visual brightness of -2.9 apparent magnitude makes it one of the brightest objects in the sky until it moves on and becomes dimmer.  By the time of the Apple Butter Festival, it will pale to about the brightness of Sirius (-1.45) and then be near magnitude 1 by New Years Eve.


ARES – A Giant Greek War God

A red supergiant star at the heart of the constellation Scorpius glows with its own reddish light of absolute magnitude -4.7 from over 600 light years away (more than 3 billion million miles). By the time that light reaches Earth, it has an apparent brightness only near 1 - - like the “red” planet named for the Greek war god, Ares (later the Roman, Mars).  That led to the name, Antares (anti-Ares), the rival of the war god.  Antares doesn’t approach and withdraw the way that Mars does. They may look similar in January, but certainly NOT this summer!



More than two thousand years ago, the Greek astronomer, Hipparchus listed stars from first magnitude (the brightest) to sixth magnitude (the faintest) with a second-magnitude star appearing 2.5 times brighter than a third-magnitude star.  Later measurements found that four stars are brighter than first-magnitude, but instead of changing the scale, these bright stars were given negative magnitudes (Sirius, -1.45; Canopus, -0.73; Rigel Centaurus, -0.1; Arcturus, -0.06). The most important thing to remember is that as a star's brightness decreases the assigned magnitude becomes more positive.  Usually, people in cities see only the few dozen stars that are more brilliant than magnitude 2. (See ).  Better sky conditions in Morgan County let you easily see three stars in the Little Dipper's bowl and six of the Seven Sisters (Pleiades; M45), which are brighter than 4.4.  The apparent brightness of a star decreases inversely and exponentially with its listed magnitude, with magnitude 1 stars being a hundred times brighter than magnitude 6. 



            The Full Moon is about one-half of a degree wide (30 arcminutes) with its 2,160 mile diameter from 238,000 mile distance.  With an extended arm, your little finger covers an angle of about one degree, three fingers covers 5 degrees, a fist covers about 10 degrees, extended index and little fingers cover about 15 degrees, and extended thumb and little finger cover about 20 degrees.   My unaided eye’s 1X - 60 degree field of vision is converted with binoculars into a 7X – 8 degree angular field with greater details about “what’s out there”.  How much more detail could we see with the 16-inch Cassegrain telescope with its 240X – 0.25 degree angular field of view?  One-quarter of a degree, or 15 minutes of arc, is a small piece of sky to see compared to the 60 degrees sweep of view with an unaided eye - - but it comes with a wonderful increase in details with its deeper focused view of our universe.  Visit the MCOF observatory and take a look.



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