Southern Maine Astronomers
3 February, 2022 1830 hours
Attending were members Russell Pinizzotto, Jon Wallace, Greg Thorup, Bob Dodge, Forrest
Sumner, George Bokinsky, Kerry Kertes, Al DiSabatino, David Manchester, Abby Gardner, Mike
Mack, Ron Thompson, John Saucier, Paul Schumann, Roy Reigel, Dave Thibeault, Chris Parent,
Rowan Goebel-Bain, Kevin Kane, Steve Lovejoy, Maame Andoh, Howie Marshall, Brad Irish, David
Gay, Thomas O’Conner, John O’Donnell and new members Greg Shanos, Stevie Dembrowski, Kat
Taylor and John Bucci, and Rob Burgess, and guests Joanne Mullen and Fred Martin.
1900: Rob Burgess opened the formal portion of the meeting noting the club continues to enjoy new
members with six having joined since our January meeting.
Recent activities by members: Rob reported on the following:
The club participated in a Night Hike star party with the Cape Elizabeth HS Outing Club at Bradbury
Mountain State Park in Pownal on 2/1/122. It was coordinated by James Shields. Greg Thorup
snowshoed with the kids to the top and while no stars were visible the low clouds provided a vivid
example of the effects of light pollution and sky glow. Greg answered many good questions and
enjoyed the evening. James also hosted a small gathering at the Waterboro Public Library on 1/8/22
using their library telescope.
The next club meeting on March 3, 2022 will feature Dr. Jonathan Mc Dowell from the Center for
Astrophysics at Harvard. Prof McDowell will be speaking on the effects of nano-satellite deployment
on astronomical research. The April 7, 2022 meeting will Fred Martin, a retired NASA engineer who
was heavily involved in the Apollo missions.
The club’s annual meeting will be April 7 when new directors and officers are chosen. The club will
have three open positions with the retirement of three directors. Rob encouraged any member
interested in helping run the club to contact him or any member of the board.
Jon Wallace explained the planned offering of regular star parties at Neptune Drive through the
warmer months of 2022. He has devised a regular program offering of telescopic and laser-pointer
constellation observing, along with recurring short talks indoors. The program is designed to allow
people attending the star party to come and go within the two hour window, and to be able to plan to
attend months in advance. If the weather is overcast, the indoor program can be expanded.
Volunteers will be needed and Jon urged members to consider volunteering for these events. Rob
emphasized that the club will continue to host star party events throughout the club’s footprint.
Guest Speakers: Dr. George Bokinsky, on Part 2 of his Astrobiology talk, on the creation,
ubiquity and importance of water as a condition for life as we know it.
George started off by stating that there was a minimum set of elements required to assemble
molecules from which life can emerge: Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus and
Sulfur. He presented a fascinating slide of the Astrobiological Periodic Table of elements with each
subdivided by the type of stellar source from which it was produced and the biological use for it. For
example, an element could emerge from the Big Bang, low mass stars, high mass stars,
supernovae, cosmic rays or artificial sources. Uses are: considered essential for life, major cations1
in all life, major anions in all life, essential trace elements in all life, specialized uses for some life,
transported, reduced or methylated, inert or unknown use and major transition metals in life.
Hydrogen and Carbon are everywhere and form the basis of numerous chemical combinations.
Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen became available from massive exploding stars.
1Cations and Anions are both ions of atoms or molecules that contain a positive or negative charge. The charge
helps in the formation of compounds.
George noted there are five steps to the formation of water, created by radiation driven reactions.
Hydrogen ionized by cosmic rays leads to dihydrogen cation, then triatomic hydrogen and sets into
motion a series of interactions with oxygen producing hydroxyl cation then Oxonium yielding water.
Liquid water is a solvent for life as it allows for reactions and new combinations to occur. It is no
accident that 75% of the human body is water: water allows the transport of nutrients to cells and the
elimination of waste; it also allows, through evaporation, for stable temperatures in the organism.
While methane and ammonia might also serve as solvents, they would be toxic to life as we know it.
There is an abundance of water in the universe. A water maser (formations, often near black holes,
that emit low energy in the form of microwave and radio frequencies) was discovered nearly 12B LY
away, indicating it was part of the early universe. Closer to home it is estimated that the amount of
water molecules that form in the Orion nebula every day equates to more than 60 x the Earth’s
oceans! Water may have been present in the Universe after the “deaths” of the first massive stars.
How did water get to Earth? In Earth’s earliest days, Earth was too hot to hold liquid water. What
might have been present was likely eliminated when the Earth was hit by a large object, producing
the moon. However, the earliest water could have emanated from regolith, or been delivered by
comets and asteroids. Carbonaceous chondrite meteorites contain about 22% water. Research
based on the Japanese mission to the asteroid Itokawa calculated the regolith contained about 20
liters of water per cubic meter of material. Even the solar wind is considered a contributor of water
where tiny grains of matter may have water that collects on them. In short, there are many delivery
channels whereby this ubiquitous element in the universe could have arrived on Earth. Once here,
the universal solvent went to work!
Constellation Tour of Aries and Triangulum by Russ Pinizzotto
Russ noted that these two constellations are the 29th and 30th constellations he has presented at
SMA meetings. Both are in relatively dim areas of the sky, somewhat in the southwest at this time of
year, following Pegasus as it sets. Aries, the Ram, has been depicted as a ram since Babylonian
times. Uranus is currently in Aries and can be easily found when using star maps. It is believed
Galileo may have seen Uranus, but he would not have known that it was planet. There are no
Messier objects in Aries and only one Hershel object. 14 Aries is a nice double star shining at Mag
5 and 8. NGC 772 (Arp 78) is an irregular spiral galaxy at Mag 9.8. NGC 1156, known as the
Cherry Tree Galaxy, with clumps of reddish hydrogen mimicking cherries in its elliptical shape.
Triangulum has one Messier object, M33, the Pinwheel Galaxy. It is a spiral with a low surface
brightness, lying about 2.3M LY from Earth. 15 Triangulum is a nice double star, showing blue and
gold, at Mag 5.2 and Mag 6. David’s D is a telescopic asterism shaped like the letter. R
Triangulum is a Mira variable star with a period of 200 days, ranging from Mag 6.2 to Mag 11.7.
Mira variables actually pulse, growing larger and smaller. NGC 925 is a large and wispy barred
spiral galaxy. Finally, Quasar 3C 48 at Mag 16.5 and 4B LY, confounded scientists because its
spectra was so off conventional measures. It was then understood that the whole spectrum was
hugely red shifted due to the object receding from us.
Next month, the constellation Lynx.
The meeting concluded about 21:00