March 2014 Newsletter
By Art Meyer

Welcome to the March 2014 STARS Newsletter

From the March SOS meeting: a couple of young star-gazers using the Springfield Science Museum’s 20-inch telescope. Photo by Richard Sanderson.

The purpose of the newsletter is to communicate information about the club and astronomical events and topics. It is also a place where members can contribute articles, comment on STARS activities and give suggestions for the club and for this newsletter. Email them to me at and a copy to the STARS president Alan Rifkin at If you don’t use email, then please talk with me at a future meeting. I’m the guy with a beard, probably sitting near the first row.

Looking for member contributions! What did you think of the last meeting? See anything special in the night sky recently? Get a new telescope? Do you have a photo to grace our Welcome page? Please share with your fellow members!

Here is one of Dr. Ethan Siegel’s recent blogs: When or if scientific issues are ever ‘settled’.

Index to this Newsletter:

1-2) Welcome

3-4) The President’s Page - Rants and the Winter Carnival

5-6) Some Upcoming Events

7) Future Speaker Lists for STARS and SOS (Stars Over Springfield)

8) Contact Info Supplied by Board Members and Officers

9-11) Astronomy Club Article from NASA: GPS

President Alan Rifkin’s Page


First, I want to give a big thank you to Art for doing a great job on this newsletter and giving me a place to rant and rave. I can't believe no club members have submitted any information to the newsletter. This is your chance for fame.

So much for my rant. Now I would like to rave about the members who do come out for events. I am looking for more of you for the Pioneer Valley Outdoor Festival. I also get to talk about the great job we did at the Holyoke Winter Carnival.

First I would like to thank Dan, Tom, Ed and Fred for coming out to the event.
And to the organizer Ken Johnston and to La Veracruzana for the nice Mexican lunch. Then a boo to the weatherman.

Our club outreach programs are the lifeblood of the club. First, I think they are fun to do and help me recharge my batteries; second, they provide a chance to get new members. Third, and most important, is that sometimes the club gets an honorarium for our work, and this is what keeps the gears of the club turning.

The day started out nice and clear, but soon after we got set up, a thin overcast moved in. It was not too cold and we were all dressed properly. You could also take a break inside to warm up.

Even with the overcast we still showed people a fuzzy yellow ball. But at 2:45 the sky opened up a bit and we had the sun in one scope and the moon in another. People came out to view. I think we had half our visitors in that short period.
We had about 60 to 100 people come by. Mostly it was a parent and young child. Some were a little younger than I like, as they are still playing with dinosaurs and have not gotten into space ships yet.

This is the first year the STARS have done the Holyoke Winter Carnival, and only the third year the carnival has taken place. We will do things differently next year if we are invited back. If you want to think of indoor activities for younger kids, please send me your ideas. I am thinking of rocket building, but recovery is going to be difficult, and I don't know if the state park will allow us to shoot them off. The fire jugglers were not allowed to light their torches. Maybe a paper plane or telescope building activity would work.

I ended the day with a ride on the Merry-Go-Round. It brought back many old memories as I originally moved here to work at arcades and amusement parks. I have worked on many old Calliopes. If you have never done so, take a child or your spouse down to the park and go for a ride. It is a grand part of the valley’s history that you can still take part in.

Thanks again to everyone who helped out!

Upcoming Events

Saturday March 29th
From Alan Rifkin: Spring Astronomy Association Dinner and STARS Club make up for the holiday party that was derailed by a winter storm. All Astronomy club members, family and friends are welcome. Because of the bad weather for the holiday party and the resulting reduced attendance, this is a make-up party on Saturday March 29th at Nippon Grill, near Kohl's at the Riverdale Shops in West Springfield at 6 PM. There will be slide shows of general interest and a swap table and or show and tell. If you have a new toy to show off, bring it. If you want to do a slide show, please let me know so I can add it to the schedule.

There is an all you can eat buffet of Japanese, Chinese and American food.
Cost is $16/pp and includes tip, tea or a soft drink. There is a bar if you want something else. More info on Nippon Grill at the web site


Northeast Astronomy Forum April 12-13

The Pioneer Valley Outdoor Festival is Saturday April 26
From Alan Rifkin:This is the second year we are doing the outdoor festival at Holyoke Community College. We are in a much nicer and bigger space this year
I am looking for volunteers to sit at the table and be outside baby-sitting scopes if it is sunny.


Don’t forget Amanda’s monthly astronomy articles (AKA “Reach for the Stars”):

Here is a link to “Reach for the Stars” columns posted by Masslive. It's in chronological order starting with the most recent, and going back as far as July, 2011. The columns before that date would still have to be accessed through the Stars Club website. If you want to see the more recent ones as they appeared in the paper and on Masslive, with photos and all, you can view the more recent ones through this link.

Here is a link found by Amanda illustrating the relative sizes of planets and stars in the universe. Some have suggested turning off the sound – it’s up to you!


Speakers and Topics for Upcoming STARS Meetings

March 25: David Wexler - Time and Space
From David Wexler: This talk will be about why we need to put space and time together and how to do it; where does energy come into all of that and how does it affect space-time.

April 22: Jack Megas and Kevin Kopchynski - Star of your Birth (expanded version of prior talk)

May 27: To be decided: Alan Rifkin will try to get a well-known speaker such as Jay Pasachoff


Speakers and Topics for Upcoming SOS (Stars Over Springfield)

April 4: Tim Connolly- Our Night Sky.
From Tim Connolly: We all started stargazing with just the naked eye. The presentation is about what our telescopes can find that our human eyes can’t. I have photos from my telescope and other back yard amateur astronomers.

May 2: Jack Megas - Summer Observing


Updated Contact Info for Board Members and Officers
(Attention Board Members: it's important for board members and club members to be able to communicate with one another, and we can't do this if we don't have contact info, at least email. Thanks to those that have provided information!)

President: Alan Rifkin 413-519-9393

Vice-President: Mike Kozicki

Secretary/Treasurer: Richard Sanderson 413-263-6800 Ext 318

Website: Mike Kozicki


Dave Gallup

Amanda Jermyn 413-567-7425

Jack Megas

Crystal Mengele

Joan Presz

Dr. David Wexler

Alan added,” I have room for new board members and board advisors. A board advisor is someone, not necessarily a club member, who is invited to Board of Directors’ meetings to help out.”

Article from NASA:

Some info on this month’s contributor, Alex H. Kasprak.

Old Tool, New Use: GPS and the Terrestrial Reference Frame

By Alex H. Kasprak

Flying over 1300 kilometers above Earth, the Jason 2 satellite knows its distance from the ocean down to a matter of centimeters, allowing for the creation of detailed maps of the ocean’s surface. This information is invaluable to oceanographers and climate scientists. By understanding the ocean’s complex topography—its barely perceptible hills and troughs—these scientists can monitor the pace of sea level rise, unravel the intricacies of ocean currents, and project the effects of future climate change.

But these measurements would be useless if there were not some frame of reference to put them in context. A terrestrial reference frame, ratified by an international group of scientists, serves that purpose. “It’s a lot like air,” says JPL scientist Jan Weiss. “It’s all around us and is vitally important, but people don’t really think about it.” Creating such a frame of reference is more of a challenge than you might think, though. No point on the surface of Earth is truly fixed.

To create a terrestrial reference frame, you need to know the distance between as many points as possible. Two methods help achieve that goal. Very-long baseline interferometry uses multiple radio antennas to monitor the signal from something very far away in space, like a quasar. The distance between the antennas can be calculated based on tiny changes in the time it takes the signal to reach them. Satellite laser ranging, the second method, bounces lasers off of satellites and measures the two-way travel time to calculate distance between ground stations.

Weiss and his colleagues would like to add a third method into the mix—GPS. At the moment, GPS measurements are used only to tie together the points created by very long baseline interferometry and satellite laser ranging together, not to directly calculate a terrestrial reference frame.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of serious effort to include GPS directly,” says Weiss. His goal is to show that GPS can be used to create a terrestrial reference frame on its own. “The thing about GPS that’s different from very-long baseline interferometry and satellite laser ranging is that you don’t need complex and expensive infrastructure and can deploy many stations all around the world.”

Feeding GPS data directly into the calculation of a terrestrial reference frame could lead to an even more accurate and cost effective way to reference points geospatially. This could be good news for missions like Jason 2. Slight errors in the terrestrial reference frame can create significant errors where precise measurements are required. GPS stations could prove to be a vital and untapped resource in the quest to create the most accurate terrestrial reference frame possible. “The thing about GPS,” says Weiss, “is that you are just so data rich when compared to these other techniques.”

You can learn more about NASA’s efforts to create an accurate terrestrial reference frame here:

Kids can learn all about GPS by visiting and watching a fun animation about finding pizza here:

Graphic follows on next page.

Macintosh HD:Users:akasprak:Desktop:ostm.jpg

Artist’s interpretation of the Jason 2 satellite. To do its job properly, satellites like Jason 2 require as accurate a terrestrial reference frame as possible. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Editors: download photo at

End of the March 2014 Newsletter