Southern Maine Astronomers
7 October 2021, 1830 hrs
Attending were members Roy Reigel, Russell Pinizzotto, Ara Jerahian, Greg Thorup, Dwight
Lanpher, Bob Dodge, Ron Thompson, Forrest Sumner, George Bokinsky, Kerry Kertes, Al
DiSabatino, Howie Marshall, Paul Schumann, David Manchester, Abby Gardner, Scott Lovejoy,
John Saucier, Rob Burgess, and guests Anita DeVito, Rachel Rosner, Larry Borysyk and our
speaker, Dr. Renee Bergland.
1900: Rob Burgess opened the formal portion of the meeting welcoming new member Abby
Gardner, a HS student from Cumberland and several new guests. Ara reported on the opening
of his astrophotography exhibit at the Cape Elizabeth library on October 5 th that included a
virtual presentation of the images and techniques used to obtain them, attended by about 50
people. The program was recorded and will be available soon for viewing by others. Rob
reported on the Cumberland Library Star Party that while ultimately clouded out was still
attended by about 50 people who enjoyed a talk and Q&A session with Ed Gleason and himself.
Rob thanked Greg Thorup, Dwight Lanpher, Bob Dodge and Kevin Kane for coming and sharing
their equipment and expertise. Finally, Rob reported on two items relating to the club’s
commitment to fight light pollution. Brunswick just adopted a streetlight policy for its purchase of
its streetlights from CMP and their conversion to LEDs that limits the Correlated Color
Temperature of the lamps to 3000K. Rob was a member of the Town Committee that
developed the policy that will affect 1,100 streetlights. Rob also reported he submitted
comments to the Land Use Planning Commission on an application to install a 300’
communications tower in the Rangeley Lakes area that would flash white strobes by day and
red by night negatively affecting the dark skyscape of the region that is seeking to develop its
status as an Astro-tourism area.
Upcoming events include a star party at Fort Allen Park on Portland’s Eastern Prom on
Saturday, October 16, as part of the International Observe the Moon night effort. Outreach
Coordinator James Shield will host the event and members are requested to check our website
for details. The club will host a star party for The Lady Adventurers Club at Neptune Drive in
Brunswick on October 29/30. The club will host an EAA star party on Tuesday, November 9 (or
16 th ) for the CE Library, hosted by Ara and Russ. The club has been requested to participate in
a Windham Library event on November 12 celebrating the impending launch of the James
Webb Space Telescope. Rob also reminded the audience of the “Stars over Katahdin” virtual
star party on Thursday, October 14; details on the Katahdin Woods & Waters National
Monument’s website. Next month’s meeting on November 4 th will feature Greg Shanos from the
RI astronomy club Skyscrapers talking about traveling to a comet and December 2 nd ’s meeting
will focus on cometary debris in the form of meteorites and micrometeorites presented by club
member Jon Wallace.
Invited Speaker: Dr. Renee Bergland, Simmons University: “Maria Mitchell, America’s
Russ introduced Professor Bergland, a teacher of American Literature, Research and Writing
and Critical and Culture Theory at Simmons. Prof. Bergland received her B.A. at St. John’s
College in Annapolis, MD and her Ph.D. from Columbia. She has written extensively about
women and science, particularly in the 19 th century and her books include “Maria Mitchell and
the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer among American Romantics” and “National Uncanny:
Indian Ghosts and American Subjects”. Professor Bergland has also had teaching
appointments at both Harvard and Dartmouth Colleges.
Maria Mitchell was born into a Quaker family of 10 children in 1818 on Nantucket. She was a
gifted and studious child such that by age 10 she was assisting her father in his job of
calibrating the chronographs used by the Nantucket whaling fleet. By 13, this distant cousin of
Benjamin Franklin, was handling this job herself. In their tiny Nantucket home her parents
carved out a small study area for Maria, and a catwalk on the roof allowed her to marvel at the
At that time, astronomy was still believed to be part of a clockwork universe, where all motion
was precisely choreographed, subject to the rules of mathematics. As a young girl Maria and
her father calculated their longitude by observing a solar eclipse. Interestingly, astronomy was
considered a girl subject, taught to girls in secondary school but not to boys, who were busy
with a classical education focused on learning Latin and Greek. The notions surrounding
astronomy started to change in this period, all part of an expanded view of natural systems
flowing from theories in other scientific disciplines such as evolution advanced by Charles
On the wealthy island of Nantucket a beautiful new Greek-inspired library, the Antheneum, was
constructed. Its first librarian was 18-year old Maria Mitchell! This provided her with the time
and resources to flesh out her self-education. About this time Maria calculated Venus’ orbit for
the US Nautical Almanac.
What catapulted Maria into fame was her discovery, on October 1, 1847 at the age of 29, of a
new comet. It turned out to be a hyperbolic comet, unlikely to ever return. Her father reported it
to Harvard but at the time the official repository for such discoveries was the Greenwich
Observatory in England. Apparently this incensed the President of Harvard so much so that he
travelled to Europe to argue for elevating Harvard’s status and was successful. Maria was
credited with the discovery and it elevated her to the first significant scientist (The term
“scientist” was relegated to women and it was somewhat of a disparaged designation. A “Man
of Science” was the appropriate term for men in scientific disciplines) in the New World
(at least as seen by Europeans) and she was feted and celebrated in Europe. She was
America’s first Astronomer, who happened to be female.
In 1865 Maria became a founding member of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. She used
her celebrity to help promote women in astronomy. She was one of two females in the faculty of
12. Pay, perks and accommodations were very unequal between men and woman faculty.
Maria argued for equality but was not granted it, so in a display of defiance she moved into the
observatory making her apartment on the lower floor. The observatory had a state-of-the-art 12”
refractor (that now resides in the Smithsonian). Maria taught astronomy at Vassar until she
retired, some twenty years later. Despite their excellent education women graduates found it
very difficult to obtain jobs in astronomy, often playing peripheral roles to men astronomers,
such as counting stars of glass plate images taken at larger observatories, or doing calculations
for almanacs and chronographs used in all manner of commerce. It is interesting to note that
such roles continued through the 1960’s where NASA continued to use women mathematicians
to perform the calculations associated with the space program.
Maria was given another first class telescope as a gift resulting from a fundraising effort among
women all across America, in acknowledgement of the important role she played for women in
science. Maria died in 1889, at the age of 71.
A lively question and answer session followed Prof. Bergland’s presentation.
Russ Pinizzotto provided a wonderful tour of Aquarius, one of the original 48 constellations
established by Ptolemy and among other water-related constellations of Pisces and Pisces
Australus. Aquarius is the radiant location of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower in early May each
year. The planet Neptune is in Aquarius now, visible in binoculars, directly east of Saturn and
Jupiter along the ecliptic. Aquarius contains the Water Jar asterism (also seen by some a
propeller), with three Messier objects, two Caldwell objects and four Hershel objects. M 2 is a
large globular cluster, currently due north of Jupiter, that is about 175 LY in diameter and an
estimated 13B years old. At Mag 6.5 it is observable in binoculars. M 72 is another but dimmer
globular cluster, currently the tip of a shallow triangle with Jupiter and Saturn. M 73 is an open
cluster of only four stars, than are not gravitationally related, only optically. NGC 7009 is a
beautiful planetary nebula known as the Saturn Nebula, with its ring-like configuration. NGC
7293, the Helix Nebula, also known as the Eye of God, is another stunning planetary. NGC
7723, at 92million LY, is a beautiful barred spiral galaxy, with a well-defined bar, and the best
guess at what the Milky Way looks like. NGC 7252 is a Peculiar Elliptical Galaxy, also called
the Atoms for Peace Galaxy, with a tight spiral center but a diffuse halo all around it, suggestive
of an atom’s proton and neutron nucleus with a cloud of electron potentiality around it. Aquarius
also contains a dwarf galaxy and the Trappist 1 system, with seven planets orbiting a dim star
but with three within the habitable zone. This system is a mere 40 LY away. Russ concluded
with an image of a weird object, R Aquarii, a “symbiotic binary system,” of two stars entangled in
a web of nebulosity.
Next month’s constellation: Pegasus.
The meeting concluded about 21:00.