WAA News

  • 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.



  • 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.