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Club Meeting Summary - Oct. 7, 2021

· Club Meeting Summary

Southern Maine Astronomers

Club Meeting

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

First Astronomer”

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.

Rob Burgess