StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MAY  2019


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1185    MAY 5, 2019:   Goodbye, Mr. Gorsky
Many years ago, I received the following story from a friend who asked if I had ever encountered this incident regarding Neil Armstrong’s last moments on the lunar surface, and whether it was authentic. I read it with wide-eyed interest and knew in all of my research regarding Armstrong, I had never come across any mention of it until then. An Internet search led to and the following narrative which is in quotes from that source and which also comprised the bulk of the correspondence from my friend. Enjoy it and see if the narrative doesn’t sound completely authentic. “When Apollo Mission Astronaut Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, he not only gave his famous ‘one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind’ statement but followed it by several remarks and usual com traffic. Just before he re-entered the Lander, however, he made the enigmatic remark, ‘Good luck, Mr. Gorsky.’ Many people at NASA thought it was a casual remark concerning some rival Soviet Cosmonaut. However, upon checking, there was no Gorsky in either the Russian or American space programs. Over the years many people questioned Armstrong as to what the ‘Good luck, Mr. Gorsky’ statement meant, but Armstrong always just smiled. On July 5, 1995, in Tampa Bay, FL, while answering questions following a speech, a reporter brought up the 26-year old question to Armstrong. This time, he finally responded. Mr. Gorsky had died and so Neil Armstrong felt he could answer the question. When he was a kid, he was playing baseball with a friend in the backyard. His friend hit a fly ball that landed in the front of his neighbor's bedroom windows. His neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. Gorsky. As he leaned down to pick up the ball, young Armstrong heard Mrs. Gorsky shouting at Mr. Gorsky, ‘…Sex! You want …sex? You'll get …sex when the kid next door walks on the moon!’ True story…” With the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first footsteps on the moon’s surface to be celebrated in just over two months, July 20, 2019, it should be noted that the Gorsky story still continues, but it is merely an urban legend. It never happened. The full NASA transcript with comments regarding the closeout on the lunar surface can be found at At 111:37:22 into the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong pulled himself up onto the ladder in a “giant leap” reaching the third step in the 1/6th Earth gravity which is found at the lunar surface. “Okay?” (111:37:15) was his last comment made from the ground at Tranquility Base in reference to the placement of a package of memorial items Buzz Aldrin had just let drop onto the moon from the Lunar Module. The full discussion of the origins and spreading of this urban myth can be found in more detail at According to, “When the space shuttle Columbia crew completed a repair mission on the Hubble Space Telescope in March 2002, chief repairman John Grunsfeld called out (in homage to this legend), ‘Good luck, Mr. Hubble’ as the telescope drifted off.” Regarding the Gorsky legend; it is simply not true. Goodbye, Mr. Gorsky.

1186    MAY 12, 2019:   The Thunder Tube
While a night sky interpreter during the summer of 2000 at Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Nageezi, New Mexico, I met Elizabeth Churchill (now Churchill-Kurimjan), who one day popped into my trailer to introduce herself and then made off with a pair of my Smartwool socks. She told me that she was just borrowing them. My interest was piqued. Liz was an SCA worker, a Student Conservation Association employee, working as a park interpreter in this wonderful place that showcased the best of Ancestral Puebloan culture. In return for her summer internship, Liz received financial support to help her through college the following year. Liz was brilliant, and at the same time, compassionate and funny. She could dissect the geology of a landscape like a pastry chef slicing through a multilayered cake; and when it came to weather, Liz understood the dynamics of the atmosphere and the predictive powers of keen observation. She was also constantly in trouble with her supervisors, not because she was a troublemaker, but because she knew more about the park and its history than the professional interpreters leading tourists on their daily treks of the Puebloan ruins. When she caught wind of an error, Liz dove into the extensive library at the Chaco park headquarters and usually found the correct answer, much to the chagrin of her superiors. For me that was a natural attractor. I gave her my Smartwool socks and a lot more of my time as we talked about archaeology, geology, meteorology, astronomy, and hiked the park. She was really a hoot when it came to humor. It was my 50th birthday that year and in a place as remote as Chaco, everyone celebrates everything; so, there was a party for me in honor of that milestone, complete with ice cream and presents. Great Bear, the park astronomer, who I called the soul of Chaco Canyon, and who was sympathetic towards Liz, gave me a Thunder Tube as a gift that evening. It was a hollow cylinder, seven inches in length and just over two inches in diameter with a 15-inch coiled metal spring attached to the back. When the tail was swung in a circular motion, a supernatural sound emerged that was pure scary—and it was loud. GB later said its purchase and gift to me was the biggest mistake of his life, but he was equally happy that he hadn’t bought me the larger version. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Paul Simon song, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Well, Liz and I found 50 ways to scare the bejesus out of park employees and visitors all with that tiny thunder tube. The best prank was probably on the full moon morning of July 16, 2000. The beauty of the park at night with the light of the full moon bathing the rock canyons was simply breathtaking. Add to that coyotes, their distant calls echoing back and forth off canyon walls, the comfort of a cool night breeze, and it was pure ecstasy. Around 2 a.m., Liz and I found ourselves scrambling up North Mesa, stealthily jumping over rocks and skirting brambles until we came to the other side overlooking Gallo Campground. There about 70 feet below us were 150 campsites, all dark and quiet, illuminated by the surreal moonlit splashed landscape. We nestled ourselves into crags in the rocks at the edge of the mesa. It was hard not to giggle as I pulled my thunder tube from my backpack and slowly began to swing its coiled tail around and around creating that low moaning noise, similar to the Australian didgeridoo only much, much louder. I paused for a while and then continued—paused and continued. Gradually, flashlights began to illuminate the inside of tents all across the campground, but no one was courageous enough to emerge and explore what was actually happening as we continued the on and off wail of the thunder tube for at least a half hour. The next day, GB stationed at the front desk was queried by one camper after another regarding the eerie sounds that they had heard emanating from North Mesa the previous night. What could he say except (with a slight grin on his bearded face) that Chaco Culture National Historical Park was still a place of mysteries. Liz and her husband Kevin live near Los Alamos, New Mexico. If you’re reading this, Liz, and I know you get StarWatch, I’m visiting Chaco Canyon in three weeks, and I will be packing my thunder tube.

[Chaco Canyon Hike]
To hike the Pueblo Alto Trail at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, near Nageezi, New Mexico, it is necessary to climb to the top of North Mesa. An ancient Ancestral Puebloan path along a fissure in the huge sandstone blocks that make up the canyon walls, provides access to the mesa top. Left, Brandon Velivis (front), and Sam Hopkins (Kiva Boy), former astronomy students of mine, pause for a photo at the beginning of the faulted blocks. Liz Churchill poses at a possible Ancestral Puebloan sun watching station located about halfway up the fissure. The smooth indentations in the sandstone were made, perhaps a thousand years ago, by an Ancestral Puebloan priest who probably ground small amount of corn to present as offerings to the winter setting sun. Gary A. Becker images...

1187    MAY 19, 2019:   In Astronomy Lab 106
When the school year ends and grades are finally submitted, I usually sit down with my computer and spend some quality time thinking about the pros and cons of my course during the past semester. I like to do that right away because remembrances dull over the interval of a summer’s break. In addition, every semester reflects changes in the order of my presentations because I want my students outside under a dark sky to make observations. The moon, as everyone knows, is not in synchronization with the calendar year. Simply witness how the date of Easter changes, and even more importantly, how all celebrations and requirements for participation vary in the Islamic and Judaic calendars. I also include some poetry in the “Student Information” section of my book because I agree with Moravian College’s Liberal Arts philosophy. I personally feel that astronomy is the “beautiful science,” mixing the art of an inspiring skyscape with some of the most cutting-edge inquiry that humankind is attempting. However, it has always been the aesthetics that first drew me into the subject, and like an addict, I really get restless for my fix of dark sky, accented with a vibrant Milky Way, as temperatures warm and observing becomes more pleasant. In a major way my liberal arts philosophy has been strongly influenced by my wife, Susan, a soul with the love of the English language and a prolific writer who manages to inscribe commentary into numerous journals during the course of a day. Every StarWatch that I have ever written has been tempered by the softness of her pen and made more readable by her eclectic insights. Her writings, however, are very private. I don’t go snooping into her journals looking for secrets, but every once-in-a-while she shares her poetry with me. It happened yesterday, when she read a verse about her insights as she sat in my classroom while I was probably copying something upstairs. With her permission granted, I’d like to share her thoughts on that June 2, 2018 afternoon because I believe it provides an understanding of what a nonscience person, surrounded by science, feels when confronted by an unfamiliar situation, which in her or his mind has the chance for failure. There is a happy ending, and the poem is now included in the newest evolution of my Astronomy Survival Notebook.

[In Astronomy Lab 106]
—Susanna—(June 2, 2018) written in Room 106 Collier Hall of Science...

[Martin Tower Implosion]
The entire demolition of Martin Tower took about 10 seconds. Each frame is separated by two seconds. Gary A. Becker images…

1188    MAY 26, 2019:   Martin Tower’s Astronomical Legacy
I cannot say that I was in favor of the demolition of Martin Tower, although it was a spectacular event to witness, one that kept me awake most of the night in anticipation of the implosion and basically catatonic for the rest of the day in expectation of a deep sleep the following evening. It is nothing that I haven’t endured many times, pulling all-nighters under the stars, but this was a little different. Although, anytime that anything blocks the horizon should be considered bad for astronomy, Martin Tower, at 332 feet and five blocks distant from the Sky Deck atop the Collier Hall of Science, did not obscure much of the skyline. It was an iconic landmark that I did not mind seeing and a beautiful reference point that was positioned just a little bit to the north of due west. The importance lay in the fact that the sun is a mover, changing its rising and setting positions with respect to objects along the horizon. After the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and the farthest north of the equator that the sun travels, it sets well to the north of west and to the right of Martin Tower. During the next six months, the sun travels from this northern solstitial limit to its farthest location south of the equator where it shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Using Martin Tower as a reference, students could witness Sol at sunset essentially intersecting the building at the beginning of the fall term, and then moving steadily southward until it began to set behind the A-framed rooftop of PPHAC at sundown. Now there is a building that needs its top flattened because it completely blocks the true horizon with its roofline, making it virtually impossible to calibrate the sun’s movement after early October. I will say that the new Sally Breidegam Miksiewicz Center for Health Sciences which opened in 2017 has done wonders to block the lights from center city Bethlehem, so you win some and lose some in the wonderful world of Moravian College astronomy. Martin Tower also served as a favorite target for my introductory lab on instrumentation, where students learned some of the pros and cons of astronomical viewing by sketching, usually a terrestrial object, through a small, handheld telescope. They also used the building to focus and align Moravian’s larger scopes so that finders and main instruments were pointing in the same direction. And then there was my laser. Its beam always elicited wows as its green dot moved across the facade of the building. Not anymore… Perhaps my favorite story about Martin Tower was when Comet PanSTARRS graced the western sky in the early evenings of March 2013. It was never a naked eye object from Bethlehem, but it was easily recorded with a digital camera. On the evening of March 14 my calculations indicated that it should be just a few degrees south (left) of the building. That night was just at the correct moment for my introductory sketching lab with telescopes. Students arrived dressed for winter conditions, but with a 10 to 15 mile per hour “breeze” blowing across the Sky Deck, and subfreezing temperatures, conditions were more than a little brutal. For almost two hours they bravely fought the elements, retreating back into Collier to build up a little body heat before coming back outside to continue their observations and drawings. I got my image of Comet PanSTARRS next to Martin Tower, but by that point everyone was literally chilled to the bone, even me. If you check the photo at, you’ll understand immediately why Martin Tower had to be demolished. Historically, comets have always been considered bad omens, and PanSTARRS was leaning towards the building. What can I say? Martin Tower was destined to come down, and it finally did fall on May 19.

[Comet PanSTARRS, March 14, 2013]
Comet PanSTARRS, visible on the brutally cold evening of March 14, 2013 “leans” towards Martin Tower. Because comets have been historically thought of as evil omens, Martin Tower was doomed to demolition. Gary A. Becker image...

[May Star Map]

[May Moon Phase Calendar]