WAA News

  • October Club Meeting & Lecture (9/22/2022)

    Friday, October 14 at 7:30 p.m.
    David Pecker Conference Room, Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY
    or on-line via ZOOM

    A Synthesized View of Planetary Systems
    Malena Rice, PhD
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    A tremendous diversity of exoplanets and protoplanetary disks has been discovered over the past three decades, offering an unprecedented lens into the range of formation pathways available for planetary systems. In parallel, studies of the solar system have revealed tantalizing, complementary constraints with exquisite detail. I will describe how, taken in conjunction, these two lines of evidence can be combined to advance our current understanding of planetary systems.

    Drawing from the relationship between stars, planets, and neighboring minor planets, I will focus on the interface between subfields. I will discuss how minor planets, including interstellar objects and distant solar system bodies, provide evidence for hidden, wide-orbiting planetary perturbers in both the solar system and extrasolar systems. I will also describe a novel algorithm to directly search for the most distant solar system objects using the TESS dataset. Then, I will highlight how observational constraints on planetary system architectures and compositions provide complementary information regarding the key planet formation pathways. I will conclude with the prospects for future constraints on planetary system evolutio

    Malena Rice is a 51 Pegasi b Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where her research focuses on planetary system dynamics. Originally from Simi Valley, California, she earned her Bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Astrophysics from UC Berkeley in 2017 and her M.S. (2020), M.Phil. (2020), and PhD (2022) in Astronomy at Yale University. Outside of her degree work, Malena has also conducted research at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and at the University College London. Malena is passionate about STEM education and accessibility, and she regularly leads both public outreach events and graduate-level teaching workshops. In her free time, she enjoys playing the flute and piano, visiting art galleries, reading, traveling, and spending time outdoors.



  • Members’ Night: Friday, September 16th, 7:30 p.m. (7/12/2022)

    Join your fellow club members to hear about a wide range of astronomy topics. Members’ Night is one of our favorite traditions. Topics range from equipment, techniques, observations, trips, teaching techniques and even creative arts.

    Members are asked to present topics in 10-15 minute segments.

    Members interested in presenting should contact Pat Mahon at

    Live or on-line: your choice!


  • WAA July 8 Meeting (6/27/2022)

    Friday, July 8 at 7:30 pm
    David Pecker Conference Room
    Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY

    Or on-line via Zoom! (link on the WAA home page)

    Make Plans Now to Observe the 2023 Eclipse!

    Charles Fulco
    NASA Solar System Ambassador

    The next major solar eclipse to cross the U.S. is little more than a year away. If you want to be in the path of annularity, Charles will show you how to start making your plans now. He’ll also describe terrestrial landmarks along the path that can enhance your photos.

    An enthusiastic and experiences science educator, Charles is particularly interested in solar phenomena.



  • Meeting/Lecture June 10 at 7:30 pm (5/19/2022)

    Live and via Zoom (see Home page for link)

    Urban Astrophotography Update

    Mauri Rosenthal
    Westchester Amateur Astronomers and Amateur Astronomy Association (NYC)

    Mauri will talk about a range of topics relating to imaging:

    • Living with Light Pollution: Perspectives from several years of doing and teaching urban astrophotography
    • Catalogue of targets accessible from the NY metropolitan area without traveling to darker skies
    • Updates regarding gear that makes this easier than ever
    • Solar imaging update – also easier than ever and the sun is going nuts
      • Bonus — Good times for aurora chasers (albeit not in the metro area!)
    • Everyday AI – ways in which cheap and readily available Artificial Intelligence are benefitting backyard imagers

    Mauri Rosenthal combined longstanding hobbies of backyard astronomy and photography to begin astrophotography in earnest 8 years ago. Surprised by the image quality achievable with small telescopes from his yard in Westchester County, Mauri has been developing deep expertise in Ultraportable Urban Astrophotography and is on a mission to use new technology to extend the access of city-dwellers to the wonders of the night sky. Mauri has played a central role in developing and teaching New York City’s Amateur Astronomers Association courses in Astrophotography which have helped dozens of city dwellers to get started in imaging since 2019.  Follow Mauri’s imaging on Instagram and Flickr.



  • WAA Meeting/Lecture May 13 at 7:30 p.m. (4/22/2022)

    In person at Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville, AND on-line via Zoom

    The Night of the Shooting Stars

    Joe Rao
    Associate and Guest Lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium, Contributing Editor for Sky & Telescope

    In 1995 Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 broke apart in dramatic fashion. Now a number of meteor dynamicists have confirmed what Joe Rao predicted last year: a stream of particles ejected during the comet’s disruption may yield a dramatic meteor outburst at the end of May 2022. The predictions are uncertain because no one knows for sure how fast the concentrated dust swarm left 73P’s disintegrating nucleus. But there is a chance that we could see meteors briefly fall at rates numbering in the scores or maybe even in the hundreds per hour! In this presentation, Joe will explain the reasons why late on the night of May 30th, you may see more shooting stars than you’ve seen in your entire life!

    For 21 years, Joe Rao was the Chief Meteorologist and Science Editor at News 12 Westchester. He was nominated for 8 Emmy Awards and in 2015 was voted first among weathercasters in New York State by the Associated Press. Since 1986 he has served as an associate and guest lecturer at the Hayden . He is a contributing editor for Sky & and writes a syndicated weekly column for the online news service space.com. He also pens a monthly astronomy column for Natural History magazine and provides annual astronomical data for The Farmers’ Almanac. Joe is a long-time friend of WAA.



  • WAA April Meeting Friday, April 8 at 7:30 pm (3/13/2022)

    David Pecker Conference Room, Willcox Hall, Pace University, Pleasantville,
    or on-line via Zoom
    (see home page for link and instructions for live attendance)

    The Amazing Variability of T Tauri Stars
    Department of Astronomy, SUNY Stony Brook

    The T Tauri stars are young pre-main sequence stars of about Solar mass, with ages of a few million years. They are protostars – still collapsing from their natal dust clouds and not yet stably fusing Hydrogen in their cores. As indicated by the namesake of the class, these are variable stars. But all stars, including the Sun, are variable. What is so special about the T Tauri stars?

    The talk will summarize some recent observations of pre-main sequence stars, motivated in large part by the high cadence, long term monitoring afforded by TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Although designed to find exoplanet transits, TESS watches about 8% of the sky at any one time continuously for about 27 days, so it sees everything.

    From above the atmosphere there are no day/night cycles, no weather to interrupt observations, and no twinkling except what the stars do on their own. TESS observations of stellar variability, coupled with ground-based spectroscopy, have given us fantastic new insights into the environments of these protostars.

    Professor Walter has a PhD is in Astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley, has been teaching astronomy at Stony Brook University since 1989. He studies the birth and death of stars and stellar magnetic activity (stellar weather) using telescopes in Arizona, Chile, Hawaii, and in Earth orbit.



  • WAA March Meeting: Friday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m. (2/28/2022)

    On-line via Zoom

    Comets, Asteroids and Near-Earth Objects
    Steve Bellavia
    Brookhaven National Labs & Suffolk Community College

    Steve will discuss comets, asteroids and Near Earth Objects that have been discovered in the last several years, including visitors from other star systems as well as close neighbors that pose potential hazards, crossing Earth’s orbit every several years.

    Steven Bellavia is an amateur astronomer and telescope maker.  He is an aerospace engineer who worked for Grumman Aerospace with the Group of the Space Division. He performed the analysis, design and fabrication of the micro-gravity liquid droplet radiator that flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-029. Steve has been at Brookhaven National Laboratory since 1992 and was the principal mechanical engineer for the camera on the Vera Rubin (formerly called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, LSST).

    Steve is an assistant adjunct professor of astronomy and physics at Suffolk County Community College and the Astronomy Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Custer Institute and Observatory in Southold, New York.



  • February is Mars Month at WAA (1/16/2022)

    WAA Lecture Friday, February 11 at 7:30 pm via Zoom

    Diurnal, Seasonal, and Inter-Annular Variations of Gases in the Mars Atmosphere
    Br. Robert Novak, PhD
    Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, Iona College

    The NASA Infrared Telescope is a 3.2-meter telescope located on top of Mauna Kea (4200 m above sea level) on the Big Island of Hawaii. iSHELL is a high resolution (R > 70,000) infrared spectrometer that was installed on the telescope in September 2016. Spectral/spatial images taken by iSHELL can detect gases in Mars’s atmosphere such as water (both H2O and HDO), carbon dioxide, and methane. Searches have been conducted for other organic gases, such as ethane and propane, but up to now, only methane has been positively detected. Since January 2017, Br. Novak has taken data to measure these gases during Mars’ early northern winter (January 2017, Mars Year 33), mid-northern summer (MY 34), mid-northern winter (MY 35), and early northern spring (MY 36). He will discuss the detection and variation of these gases in the course of a day, from season to season, and from one year to the next.

    Br. Robert Novak was Chair of Physics at Iona. He works with the NASA Astrobiology group at Goddard Spaceflight Center, and has published a number of important papers on the Martian atmosphere and evidence for an ocean on Mars in the distant past.


  • January 14th Lecture (12/13/2021)

    On-line via Zoom. 7:30 p.m.

    Building a Gravitational Wave Telescope out of Stars

    Tyler Cohen, BSc
    Graduate Research Assistant, New Mexico Tech

    Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime. A consequence of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, they were first detected from inspiraling black holes in 2015 by LIGO. Now, another observatory is on the verge of detecting gravitational waves of a different sort. Its detector is the size of the Milky Way galaxy and constructed from some of the most exotic stars in the universe. Tyler will discuss how the North American Nano-hertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves uses pulsar timing to search for low-frequency gravitational waves, and the premier radio telescopes that this work has brought him to.

    Tyler Cohen is a PhD student at New Mexico Tech and a tour guide at the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico. A Westchester native and former WAA member, he went on to receive his BSc. in physics and astronomy at Stony Brook University. He has since worked at the Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii and Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.



  • WAA Lecture December 10, 7:30 p.m. (11/13/2021)


    Massimo Capasso, Ph.D.
    Columbia University & VERITAS Array at Fred Whipple Observatory, Arizona

    Single-photon technologies for ground-based gamma-ray astronomy

     Gamma rays from space can reach energies up to several trillion times those of visible light, in dramatically explosive phenomena that shape the Universe as we know it. At these energies, the observable fluxes so low that very large collection areas or long observing times are needed to reach a significant detection. For both these reasons, space-born instruments are not suited for the detection of Very-High-Energy (VHE) gamma rays; instead, ground-based observatories can exploit the atmosphere as a huge detector to observe VHE gamma rays indirectly. The light that is emitted as a by-product of the interaction of gamma rays and the atmosphere is very faint and very fast (on the scale of billionths of seconds). Therefore, extremely sensitive detectors coupled with fast electronics are the enabling technology for ground-based gamma-ray astronomy.

    In this talk, Dr. Capasso will present an overview of the physics that produces VHE gamma rays in space, of how to detect them on the ground and of the latest single-photon solid-state technology that enables such technique: Silicon photomultipliers (SiPMs).