WAA News

  • February 2021 Lecture (1/17/2021) by lfaltz

    Friday, February 12 at 7:30 p.m. via Zoom

    Link: https://zoom.us/j/99588774272?pwd=YXBIUXAySDdEZEZtQUo4TmY3UUtHUT09

    Current Searches for Methane and other Organic Molecules in Mars’ Atmosphere

    Br. Robert Novak 
    Professor Emeritus of Physics 
    Iona College, New Rochelle, NY 

    Three searches for methane in Mars’ atmosphere are currently ongoing. The Mars Curiosity Rover (Launched Nov. 26, 2011, landed August 6, 2012) has detected methane repeatedly throughout its time on Mars. The Trace Gas Orbiter launched by the European Space Agency in 2016, makes solar occultation measurements at sunrise and sunset. This instrument measures gases in the atmosphere above an altitude of 10 km; no detectable methane measurements have been reported up to now. NASA’s Astrobiology Group, headed by Dr. Michael Mumma, has been using infrared spectrometers attached to NASA’s 120-inch Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea. They regularly detect methane on Mars and have reported upper limits for other organic molecules (such as ethane, methanol, etc.). The methodology used to make these measurements will be described, along with the criteria used to determine if these organics originate from living or non-living sources.

    Br. Novak holds degrees in Physics from Iona College (B.S.,1972), Stevens Institute of Technology (M.S.,1977), and Columbia University (M.Phil., Ph.D.,1980). He taught at Iona College from 1976 to 2018, and worked in their Advancement Department between 2018 and 2020. He continues to observe Mars using the NASA-IRTF (Dec. 9, 10, and 11, 2020; Feb. 24, 25, and 26, 2021), analyzes data from these and previous data runs.



  • Star Party, October 10th (9/17/2020) by lfaltz

    The September public observing event went very smoothly, so we plan to hold our next scheduled event on October 10th (rain/cloud date October 17th).


  • Star Party, Saturday, September 12, 2020 (9/11/2020) by lfaltz

    As of 7 p.m. on 9/11, the weather looks good. The event will be held in accordance with NY State pandemic guidelines. Screening and contact information will be collected at the entrance to the Meadow Parking Lot. Masks and social distancing are required.

  • March 13th Meeting & Lecture (2/12/2020) by lfaltz


    Microquasars: What Can We Learn From Them (and Why Bother)?

    Diana Hannikainen, PhD
    Observing Editor, Sky & Telescope Magazine

    Friday, March 13th, 7:30 PM
    Wilcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville

    Most of us are familiar with quasars – supermassive black holes in galaxies far away – and their iconic jets that spew matter at relativistic velocities into intergalactic space. Less well known are their smaller cousins, the quasars’ miniature counterparts that we call – for reasons that shall become obvious – “microquasars.” What does unite the two classes of object is the process of accretion around a black hole and the subsequent ejection of matter at speeds approaching that of light. In this talk, you’ll hear about the history of microquasars, how we use X-ray and radio observations to understand them better, and what they can tell us about the behavior of matter in extreme gravitational fields.

    Diana Hannikainen studied for her BSc in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and then moved to Finland, in part to explore her Finnish roots. While there, she embarked on graduate studies at the University of Helsinki, and received an MSc followed by a PhD in Astrophysics, the latter in conjunction with the University of Sydney in Australia. The subject of her PhD thesis was multiwavelength observations (X-ray, radio) of microquasars, a topic she continued throughout her time in research. A couple of years ago, she switched careers and moved to Cambridge, MA, to take up the position of Observing Editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.



  • February Meeting (1/25/2020) by lfaltz


    February Meeting and Lecture, Friday Feb. 7th at 7:30 pm

    Lienhard Hall, 3rd floor
    Pace University, Pleasantville, NY

    Methane on Mars

    Br. Robert Novak, CFC, PhD
    Iona College

    February is Mars month at WAA. Brother Novak is a member of the team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Solar System Exploration Division, studying the Martian atmosphere using large terrestrial telescopes in Hawaii. He will bring us up to date on exciting recent findings from his group and from the Mars Curiosity rover that may suggest a biologic origin to atmospheric methane on the Red Planet.

    Brother Novak is a member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers (Latin: Congregatio Fratrum Christianorum), an order within the Catholic Church dedicated to the education of youth, especially the poor. Iona College was founded by the Christian Brothers in 1940 specifically to provide higher education opportunities for the disadvantaged. Br. Novak recently retired from the Chairmanship of the Physics Department at Iona. He is also a member of WAA.

    Pre-lecture socializing with fellow WAA members and guests begins at 7:00 pm!


  • WAA January 10th Meeting (1/1/2020) by lfaltz


    Lecture Friday, January 10th at 7:30 pm

    Lienhard Hall, 3rd floor, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY

    Why Go Back to the Moon?

    Andy Poniros

    NASA Solar System Ambassador

    Andy has been a NASA volunteer since 1997 and a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador since 2004. He has a degree in Electrical Engineering and has worked as a Medical Imaging Engineer for 45 years. He is certified by NASA to handle Lunar samples, is a science correspondent for radio station WPKN in Connecticut where he produces astronomy and space mission radio shows and podcasts. He’s also an amateur astronomer and telescope maker.

    Pre-lecture socializing with fellow WAA members and guests begins at 7:00 pm!



  • Star Party Saturday November 30th (11/30/2019) by Daniel

    As of Saturday morning 11/30, decent observing conditions are expected. It will be quite cold, so dress accordingly – think sledding. Sunset is at 4:30 pm so observing will start around 5:00-5:15 pm.


  • WAA December Meeting (11/21/2019) by lfaltz

    Friday, December 6th at 7:30 pm

    Lienhard Hall, 3rd floor
    Pace University, Pleasantville, NY

    The History of Glass: The Power Behind Discovery

    Alan Witzgall
    Senior Optician, ESCO Optics

    Alan is an active member and officer of several amateur astronomy societies in New Jersey. In his professional life, he is a Senior Optician for ESCO Optics of Oak Ridge, NJ. His career in optics started with building telescopes in his basement during his high school and college years. In 1977, one of them, a 10-inch reflector, took first award at Stellafane, the birthplace of the amateur telescope-making hobby in America.

    Mr. Witzgall has been “pushing glass” for a living for over 40 years, and will speak on how his favorite material has built the modern world and opened up all sciences and technologies.

    Pre-lecture socializing with fellow WAA members and guests begins at 7:00 pm!




  • Star Party Saturday October 19th (10/18/2019) by lfaltz

    As of Friday morning 10/18, excellent observing conditions are expected. It will be cool, so dress accordingly. Sunset is at 6:07 pm so observing will start around 6:30-6:45 pm.


  • WAA November 1st Meeting (10/18/2019) by lfaltz

    Friday, November 1st at 7:30 pm

    Lienhard Hall, 3rd floor, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY

    Christopher Clavius & the Gregorian Calendar

    Paul R. Mueller, S.J., Ph.D.

    Superior of the Jesuit Community and Vice Director, Vatican Observatory, Castel Gandolfo, Italy, and Tucson, Arizona

    In this year marking the 480th anniversary of the birth of Christopher Clavius, S.J., it seems appropriate to focus on his life and legacy. That legacy ranges from the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar that we all use today, to the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It ranges from popular textbooks to worldwide curricular reform. And it ranges from the history of science in China to the Vatican Observatory, which Pope Gregory XIII established in 1580 to help confirm and refine astronomical observations made in support of Clavius’ reform of the calendar. Paul Mueller, S.J. will explore Clavius’ life and work in their early and modern contexts and illuminate his enduring legacy for modern science, religion, and culture.

    Pre-lecture socializing with fellow WAA members and guests begins at 7:00 pm!