Telescopic Topic #5 – Rockets and von Braun


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Werhner von Braun in 1961 Image Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Rockets and von Braun by Darren Dobroski

Dr. Wernher Von Braun was a Nazi engineer who created the rocket technology that would fuel the space race. Inspired by science fiction novels, Von Braun learned calculus and trigonometry at a young age so that he could grasp the concepts of rocketry. He joined the German army to develop missiles at the age of twenty.  The V-2 ballistic missile is sometimes considered the brainchild of Von Braun’s early career, although many of the components were based on the work of American physicist Robert H Goddard. The V-2 launched against London on September 7, of 1944. Von Braun primarily studied rockets for the purpose of space travel, and after the attack on London was quoted to say “the rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet.”  Von Braun, who had been personally promoted by Hitler, came under suspicion of sabotage and intention to join the Allies. The rocketeer was overheard expressing regret about the war and the violent use of their scientific talents, and he was detained for several weeks without knowledge of his crime. After some deliberation, Hitler conceded to release Von Braun as long as was useful to their cause.  Yet other factors began to spell doom for the Nazi regime, and Von Braun began to prepare for an Allied victory. Fully aware of the infamous brutality of Soviet forces, Von Braun and his assistants chose to surrender to the United States.  After the Allied Forces captured the V-2 complex, the United States transported Von Braun and other German engineers to American soil through a program called Operation Paperclip. Von Braun was one of several officials who were expunged of Nazi involvement and given new employment histories. Many Americans protested this move, namely Albert Einstein, who had been Von Braun’s childhood idol.  The German engineers had to grow accustomed to the American way of business: they had indulged in all Nazi accommodations, but the United States neglected their living conditions and scientific freedom. Despite these hindrances, Von Braun helped to design the Jupiter-C rocket that sent the first satellite of the West, Explorer 1, into orbit in 1958.  As the Soviet space program grew, Von Braun struggled to earn the trust of his American hosts and improve their lacking interest in rocketry, but their focus was ever on his questionable history rather than his visions of space exploration. To this day, the extent of his loyalty to the Nazi party is still debated, though his contribution to the science of rocketry is unquestionable.


1. Brzezinski, Matthew. Red Moon Rising: New York, New York, Times Books, Published 2007.

2. Wright, Mike D. MSFC History Office: Dr. Wernher von Braun, at


Telescopic Topic #4 – The Extraterrestrial Traveler


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Iron Meteorite found in Sibera Image Credit: Raab


The Extraterrestrial Traveler by Joshua Rice

What do you think of when you hear the word meteorite? A giant space rock that is crashing into Earth? Well you are close! A meteorite is an extraterrestrial rock that enters Earth’s atmosphere, falling to the surface of our planet. It may be a giant rock when it starts crashing into Earth, but it begins to burn up when it hits Earth’s atmosphere. By the time it actually hits the ground, it is usually quite small. But what exactly are meteorites and where do they come from? Often people think of meteorites as just space rocks, but this is only partially true. There are several different types of meteorites, with one of the most common being iron meteorites. Iron meteorites are composed of about ninety percent iron, with nickel and some other trace elements. This type of meteorite may even have trace amounts of precious metals in it, such as iridium, gallium, or even gold.

By now perhaps you are wondering where these meteorites came from. Well from what scientists can tell, iron meteorites originate from the depths of our Solar System. Specifically, iron meteorites come from the cores of very small, young planets. When our Solar System was just beginning, there was an abundance of small planets forming with iron and nickel cores. Unfortunately, the early stages of our Solar System were very unorganized. This resulted in many collisions that occurred between the different young planets, tearing them apart. These pieces of small, young planets from catastrophic collisions are what make up the iron meteorites we see today. In fact, because these meteorites are from the early stages of planet formation, iron meteorites offer scientists a great snapshot of the early stages of planetary development in our Solar System. So the next time you encounter a meteorite, remember that not all meteorites are created equal!



Notkin, Geoffrey. Iron Meteorites, The Heart of Long-Vanished Asteroids [Internet]. Geoffrey Notkin; [cited 2013 Mar 15] .

Yang, Jijin , Goldstein, Joseph I, Scott, Edward  RD. 2007. Iron Meteorite Evidence for Early Formation and Catastrophic Disruption of Protoplanets. Nature.  446:888-891.

Bottke, William F, Nesvorny, David , Grimm, Robert E ,Morbidelli, Alessandro , O’Brien, David P. 2006. Iron Meteorites as Remnants of Planetismals Formed in the Terrestrial Planet Region. Nature. 439: 821-824.

Telescopic Topics #3 – Naming of planets and moons


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The Galilean Moons of Jupiter Image Credit: NASA Planetary Photojournal

Astronomy Name Game by Jamie Binkley

Ever wonder how the planets and moons are named? Who chooses the names and how do those titles they become official?

We can trace the history of the names of planets, moons, craters, asteroids, comets, and their features beginning in the late 1500’s when naming of astronomical bodies was unregulated and disorganized to today where we have an official organization dedicated to titling space objects in a systematic, traditional manner.  To identify, remember and talk about things, we give them names. In the beginning of our discoveries in space, scientists historically were responsible for the naming of such objects. The names chosen had a common theme and were first based on Roman mythology and later Greek mythology as well.  What happened when two astronomers discovered the same object and name them differently? This indeed occurred with four moons of Jupiter when Galileo and Simon Marius each dubbed the moons separately. In the end, it was Marius’ choices (suggested by Johannes Kepler) which we call them today – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.  Problems such as double naming were eliminated in 1919 when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) was founded. In the inaugural meeting, members created a committee to name planets and satellites which is now known as the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. As of November 2012, they have officially named over 15,000 objects in space.  The IAU bases the nomenclature on a variety of topics – themes, Latin, traditional, historical people, musicians, writers, poets, scientists. Only comets and asteroids may be named after a person living; however, they may not be a political figure.

Today, the IAU officially brands names for planetary objects and satellites as well as other astronomical objects chosen carefully based on themes and tradition. They transformed the nomenclature of our solar system from chaotic and disorganized to regulated and orderly.


1. Shatner’s mission: To name Pluto moon after Vulcan. South Florida sun-sentinel. 2013 February 23.

2 Faircloth K. Don’t You DARE Try to Name Pluto’s Moons After Some Internet Nonsense. New York Observer, The (NY).

2013 February 11.

3 Lopes R. From Handel To Hydra: Naming Planets, Moons & Craters. Sky & Telescope. 2012 November:28-33.

4 Nature. The name game. Nature. 2012 August 23;488(7412):429.

Telescopic Topics #2 – The woman who looked up


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Caroline Herschel, Age 92 from original lithograph by George Muller

The woman who looked up by Allison Oats

Famous and important women can sometimes seem to be hard to find in history.  However, there are an abundant amount whether their role is primary or secondary.  One such historic woman is Caroline Herschel.  She is an important woman because of her contributions and dedication to the continuation of astronomy. Caroline Lucretia Herschel was born on March 16, 1750 in Hanover.  Her father Issac Herschel gave her basic lessons in mathematics, music, and French.  Caroline, along with her brother William, was musically talented and they both developed a passion for astronomy.  After her father died in 1767, she moved to England to live with her brother William.  She soon became immersed in her brother’s obsession.  They built a huge telescope to help them view everything the sky had to offer. William would call out what he saw in the night sky and Caroline would record and catalogue it.  In 1781, William discovered the planet Uranus.  Caroline’s research impressed King George III so much that she was eventually given money by his majesty to continue her research as an employee to the court.  Caroline is credited with the discovery of eight comets and she submitted a new index to Flamsteed’s Observations of the Fixed Stars adding 560 stars which had not been included in the previous edition.  She received honorary membership of the Royal Society of England in 1835 and was the first of two women to do so.  She received other honors and medals from the Irish and the King of Prussia.  In 1889 an asteroid was named 281 Lucretia in her honor and a lunar crater was named C-Herschel as well.  Caroline Herschel is irreplaceable in the history of astronomy.  Her dedication helped astronomers like her brother and young nephew to excel in their field and she herself was a remarkable astronomer.  She had the respect of her male counterparts at home and abroad and proved that, even though she came from humble beginnings and had the disadvantage of being a woman during her time, she could make a great difference.  Caroline Herschel was a role model around the world and inspired future generations of women to reach for the stars.


Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey.  Caroline Herschel’s Contributions to Astronomy.  Annals of             Science, 32.  1975: 149-161.

Hoskin, Michael.  Caroline Herschel: ‘the unquiet heart.’  Science Direct. 2005.  Volume         29 (Issue 1).  22-27.

Telescopic Topics #1 – The Isolation of Space Travel


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The Earth and Moon as seen from Mars by the HiRISE Camera Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The Isolation of Space Travel by Diane Devine

When the first mission to the planet Mars blast off from earth, a crew of at least six people will be confined together for around two and a half years, and millions of miles from home. They will be completely isolated and have only delayed communications with people on earth.  The size of the distance will make real time conversations impossible, on average there will be a forty four minute delay in communications with people on earth.  There is no way to know exactly how this kind of isolation and monotony will affect the crew members psychologically. The longest amount of time anyone has been in orbit has been fourteen months. We know from past missions that space travelers have rated the experience of space travel as a positive one that gave them a new appreciation of life and the planet earth. The astronauts from earlier missions have said that one the most positive parts of their experience was gazing through space to look at earth. This was the one thing that was rated the highest in making the space travelers feel better.  The Mars mission will be the first time that humans have ever experienced something scientist call “earth out of view” phenomenon.

The space community is concerned that increased isolation will lead to severe homesickness and possible suicidal or psychotic thoughts. Researchers believe that increased training and careful screening will reduce the risk of psychological stress on the crew members. However, it may be that an on board telescope allowing the astronauts to view the earth in real time, will be their greatest link to sanity. Sometimes seeing really is believing.

Sources  1. Laing JH, Crouch GI. LONE WOLVES? ISOLATION AND SOLITUDE WITHIN THE FRONTIER TRAVEL EXPERIENCE. Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography 2009;91(4):325-342.  2. Nick K. From Earth’s orbit to the outer planets and beyond: Psychological issues in space. Acta Astronautica;68:576-581.

How this all started

Telescopic Topics is a podcast series developed by Dr. Erin Kraal’s Mission to the Planets (AST 30) general education course at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.  The two minute segments are designed to bring aspects of planetary science and astronomy into focus, zooming in on interesting and unique views of the world above.  Segments are recorded and aired on campus radio station KUR.