WAA News

  • October 2023 Lecture & Meeting (9/19/2023)

    Friday, October 13, 2023 at 7:30 p.m.
    Live at David Pecker Conference Room, Willlcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY
    or via ZOOM (link on Home page)

    Space Volcanos

    Caitlin Ahrens, PhD
    Postdoctoral Fellow
    NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    Caitlin Ahrens’ research involves remote sensing of icy surfaces and volatile interactions, including permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles, focusing on the composition and thermodynamics of ices. Dr. Ahrens’ specific expertise focuses on modeling of thermal phases of ices, and applications to geomorphological and geophysical data on icy surfaces, including cryovolcanism. Dr. Ahrens also works on a number of planetary volcanism projects, including lava flow morphology, caldera formation, and rheology, on Mars, Ceres, Titan, and Pluto. Dr. Ahrens is currently applying LRO Diviner data with a myriad of other remote sensing data to investigate the volatiles at the lunar surface and lunar volcanism.

    Dr. Ahrens received her B.S. in Physics/Astrophysics and Geology from West Virginia University in 2015, and a Ph.D. in Space and Planetary Science at the University of Arkansas in 2020.

    Dr. Ahrens is currently a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center, advised by Dr. Noah Petro. She is also a member of the Diviner Science Team.

    In 2018, Dr. Ahrens received the Ten Outstanding Young Americans award (presented by the Jaycees) for her efforts in science communication and outreach.

    Free and open to the public!




  • September 8th Meeting: Members’ Night (6/14/2023)

    Friday, September 10th
    Live at David Pecker Conference Room, Willcox Hall, Pace University and via Zoom

    Members’ Night

    One of the most popular meetings of the year is our annual “Member’s Night.” Club members present talks on a vast range of subjects of astronomical interest, including their astronomy trips, observations, new equipment, imaging techniques, and other topics.

    Members interested in presenting should email WAA’s Vice President for  Programs, Pat Mahon, at waa-programs@westchesterastronomers.org.

    In-person attendance is always encouraged. Meet and greet fellow amateur astronomers.

    Roman Tytla at WAA Members’ Night




  • June Meeting and Lecture (5/22/2023)

    Friday June 9 at 7:30 p.m.

    Live at Willcox Hall and via Zoom (link on WAA home page)

    Searching for New Physics in the Universe’s Oldest Light

    J. Colin Hill, Ph.D.
    Columbia University Department of Physics

    Dr. Hill will begin with a general review of the state of physical cosmology — what do we know about our universe, and how do we know it? He will then discuss recent and ongoing work focused on attempts to resolve a potential discrepancy amongst some measurements of the current cosmic expansion rate (the “Hubble  tension”). He will then describe how this discrepancy could potentially be resolved via the introduction of new physics into our cosmological model around the time of “recombination”, the moment when photons in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) last scattered in the primordial plasma, a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang.

    He will discuss constraints on these new-physics models derived using the latest CMB data from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT), as well as new data from Supernova Refsdal just published in May, and will conclude with a look ahead to forthcoming CMB measurements from ACT and the Simons Observatory, which will definitively detect or exclude these scenarios.

    Free & open to the public!


  • May 2023 Lecture (4/17/2023)

    Friday, May 12 at 7:30 p.m.
    LIVE at Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville or VIA ZOOM
    Link to the meeting is on the home page

    Introduction to Astrophotography
    Jordan Webber, Senior Vice President, WAA

    The hobby of astrophotography has changed radically in the last decade with the introduction of CMOS cameras, specialized accessories and powerful image acquisition and processing software. The learning curve can be steep but every journey stars with a single step. This talk will be aimed primarily at folks who don’t know anything about astrophotography and are thinking about getting started or are just interested in how it works in a general sense. More experienced astrophotographers will benefit from Jordan’s experience and may add their insights during the discussion.



  • April 2023 Lecture (4/1/2023)

    Friday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m.

    Christopher Lindsay
    Department of Astronomy, Yale University

    Christopher Lindsay is a third year PhD candidate and Gruber Science Fellow at the Yale Astronomy department working with Sarbani Basu. He graduated in 2020 from the University of Southern California with degrees in Astronomy, Environmental Studies, and Jazz Studies. He went on to receive an M.S. and M.Phil from the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2022.

    Currently, he is  primarily interested in using asteroseismology to study interior mixing and angular momentum transport processes in evolved low mass stars. Understanding what is going on inside stars requires a combination of data analysis and stellar modeling techniques. During his undergraduate studies, he was an observer for the Mount Wilson node of the Birmingham Solar Oscillations Network and studied high angular degree solar oscillations with data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

    Lindsay was raised on the island of Oahu in Hawai’i, which, due to proximity to the University of Hawai’i’s Institute for Astronomy, spurred his interest in Astronomy from a young age. He’s taken multiple trips to Mauna Kea, including a recent observing run with Keck .




  • WAA March Lecture (2/13/2023)

    Friday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m.
    Live or on Zoom (link on Home page)

    Artificial Intelligence and its use in Astronomy
    Marwan Gibran, PhD
    Chairman of Physics, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana

    Artificial Intelligence applications have been used extensively in astronomy over the last decade. This is mainly due to the large amount of data that are recovered from space and ground-based observatories. In the era of big data, the use of automated tools is essential. Dr. Gebran will introduce the most used techniques in Machine and Deep Learning that astronomers are using and show some of their applications. He will present some of his on the use of neural networks for classifying stellar spectra.

    Dr. Gibran received a PhD in Astrophysics in 2007 from Montpellier University, France in 2007. He was a post-doctoral fellow in Barcelona working on calibration of the Gaia space telescope. He received a Fulbright grant to work at Columbia University in 2018, and then Joined the Department of Chemistry and Physics at Saint Mary’s College in fall 2021.



  • February 2023 Lecture (1/14/2023)

    Friday, February 10 at 7:30 pm

    Live at Pace University or via Zoom

    How Are Orbits Determined?

    Dan Platt, PhD

    IBM Watson Research Labs & Westchester Amateur Astronomers

    When I was young, my family had a book on the history of astronomy. Its discussion of how Gauss determined the orbit of Ceres from the sparse measurements Piazzi had obtained fascinated me. Later, my interests in math and physics led me to celestial mechanics and methods for computing orbits, so I added to my bucket list the goal of doing an orbit calculation from scratch. Now, after many years, I decided to take the question seriously and complete these calculations. The first thing I realized is that there is a lot to it. I needed to understand coordinate systems. I will present a short history of those systems and of the precision required for these orbit methods to work. The second goal was to find how much measurement precision we need today to determine orbital elements. I wanted to see whether commercial telescopes have the precision required to permit us compute orbits. My approach was first to check my code output for known orbits from Stellarium, then to add noise to the “observed” angular measurements, and then see whether I could still compute a reasonable orbit. That will give a standard check if our commercially available scopes can deliver the required precision. As an aside, I’ll tell you just what Tycho Brahe’s fight was about that made his nose famous (and other history).




  • January 2023 Meeting & Lecture (12/14/2022)

    Friday, January 13 at 7:30 p.m.

    Live at Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY or via ZOOM (link on WAA home page)

    Cosmic eras in the infant universe: what was happening during the first billion years?

    Paul O’Connor
    Instrumentation Scientist, Brookhaven National Laboratory

    The more scientists discover about the ingredients that make up our Universe and the ways in which they evolved from a featureless gas to the systems of stars and galaxies that we see today, the more we recognize the need for new observations — ones which can extend our reach across time and space to resolve questions at the foundations of fundamental physics. This has led to an effort within the High Energy Physics community, formerly concerned with particle accelerators to study the subatomic world, to build large facilities and instruments designed to tackle the big open questions of cosmology. This lecture will review progress on Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (Vera Rubin Observatory) construction, and will present several new instrument concepts for studying the physics of the early universe using the highly-redshifted radiation from atomic hydrogen which we observe in the radio frequency wavelength range.

    Free and open to the public!



  • WAA December Meeting (11/12/2022)

    Friday, December 9 at 7:30 p.m.
    David Pecker Conference Room, Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY
    or via Zoom (link on the WAA home page)

    DART and the Dinosaurs

    Dany Waller
    Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

    The bold, ingenious and successful DART mission may make it possible to prevent devastating asteroid impacts that could wipe out much of life on Earth. Dany Waller is a member of the DART team at JHU-APL. She’ll discuss the risks of asteroid impacts and review the planning, execution and results of the DART mission.

    The December meeting is also the official Annual Meeting of WAA, at which the officers will be elected.



  • WAA November Meeting (10/17/2022)

    Friday, November 11 at 7:30 pm

    David Pecker Conference Room
    Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY
    or on-line via Zoom

    The McCarthy Observatory: A Refuge for Science

    Bill Cloutier
    Founding member, McCarthy Observatory

    The McCarthy Observatory is the centerpiece of a community science center in New Milford, Connecticut. It was conceived, designed and constructed by volunteers from the local communities with a common goal  to establish a teaching tool to promote science literacy.

    The observatory is different from many other astronomical facilities in that its focus is on accessibility and educational outreach. While capable of real science, the mission of the non-profit organization that operates the facility is to encourage critical thinking and promote STEM-related learning. Over the past 22 years, the all-volunteer staff has continued to add to the observatory’s educational offerings and look for new and innovative means to engage with the public.

    The talk will focus on the history of the McCarthy Observatory, as well as the challenge of managing a small, all-volunteer organization with lofty goals.

    Bill Cloutier is an amateur astronomer and founding member of the McCarthy Observatory. He is also on the Board of Directors that oversees the all-volunteer, non-profit organization that operates and maintains the Observatory, which opened to the public in December 2000. Bill is the author of the observatory’s monthly newsletter, covering topics related to astronomy and space exploration, a regular presenter at public events, an adult education classroom instructor for a night sky appreciation course, NEO observer, and the caretaker/public outreach coordinator for the observatory’s antique refractor telescope. Before retiring, Bill worked in the nuclear industry for 42 years. He has had a life-long interest in astronomy, lunar photography, the history of lunar exploration, and sharing those pursuits with the public. He is also a NASA Solar System Ambassador, a volunteer outreach initiative conveying the latest happenings in space exploration to the general public to generate interest in the STEM disciplines.