We’re thrilled to share that Mike Menasco, owner of Artistic Indulgence gallery in Minneapolis, MN, has allowed us the use of his amazing artwork (pictured above).
The piece, entitled Into the Depths of the Devonian, is based on fossils found in the vicinity of Eighteen Mile Creek and Penn Dixie. Mike generously agreed to allow us to use this piece for promotional and educational purposes. Since it’s both scientifically accurate and full of predatory action, we couldn’t be happier.
We are very pleased to announce to that Erie County has approved their budget with the full amount of funding, $92,920, requested by Penn Dixie during the Cultural Application Process to help fund operations in 2018.
In addition to being awarded this amount for operations, Erie County approved an additional $2,000 to be put towards our fund for a building on site. On behalf of the organization I would like to thank County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Legislator Lynne Dixon, and the entire County Legislature for their support of the Penn Dixie and the value that cultural organizations bring to the region.
Legislator Lynne Dixon adds “I am pleased that Erie County was once again able to support Penn Dixie in the budget and thank my colleagues in the Legislature for supporting my request to increase 2018 funding. This site draws visitors from around the world and I couldn’t be more proud of the work being done there. Supporting Penn Dixie at the county level helps ensure it will remain open and continue to educate the thousands of visitors it has each year.”
On behalf of the Hamburg Natural History Society/Penn Dixie, I thank all who helped to make our fundraiser dinner on Thursday November 2 the largest and most successful yet. We welcomed 170 guests for an evening of music, food, and prizes — all in support of our geological treasure in Hamburg.
Moving our fundraiser to Buffalo Riverworks really jazzed it up (photo above)! My friends Chuck Porreca (bass, left), J.F. Oliver (saxophone, right), and Dean Davis (drums, not pictured) created a great atmosphere for our guests. Maybe I’ll join them for a song at our next fundraiser?
You helped us raise $11,056 for Penn Dixie — a tremendous accomplishment!! These funds will be used to develop new programming, create new promotional materials, and push towards our goals of hiring a third full time staffer and a building a permanent facility on our site.
As you know, our fossil digs are notable contributors to local tourism and also help to inspire youth towards careers in science and engineering. We were especially fortunate in 2017 to welcome 17,914 visitors — a record number! Our previous high was 15,589 visitors in 2016. Notable events included the solar eclipse on August 21 with 2,207 guests — our biggest program ever, Earth Science Day on October 7 with 1,216 guests — our second biggest program ever, and 300 guests for Dig with the Experts on May 20-22. During a very busy collecting season we welcomed visitors from 40 states and 14 countries.-
There’s plenty more planned for 2018, but for now we hope that you’ll celebrate all of our success with us. Penn Dixie would not exist without the support of our community backers, government leaders, society directors and members, dedicated volunteers, friendly staff, science colleagues, and extended family in the cultural community. We’re so grateful to have you along for the ride!
Penn Dixie thanks the following individuals and businesses for their donations to our fundraiser:
Achieve Personal Fitness
Blasdell Rod & Gun Club
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens
Buffalo & Erie County Naval Park
Buffalo History Museum
Capello Salon & Spa
Comfort Zone Café
Congressman Chris Collins/Zeptometrix
Darien Lake Theme Park Resort
Ed & Linda Riederer
Explore & More Children’s Museum
Gear for Adventure
Helium Comedy Club
Irish Classsical Theatre Co.
Kenmore Fish Market
Living Well Massage Therapy
Loughran’s Bar & Restaurant
Lutz’s Market & Touch Free Car Wash
Main Street Ice Cream
Nickel City Design
Past & Present
Patty and Alan Yuhnke
Philip J. Stokes
Philip T. Stokes
Picture Your Walls
Revolution Indoor Cyclying
Savory Sips, Inc
Salvatore’s Italian Gardens
Seneca Gaming Corporation
The Orignial Pancake House
Theatre of Youth
Uncle Joe’s Diner
Wild Birds Unlimited
Solar Viewing Draws Record Crowd
By Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director
It’s official: Penn Dixie’s eclipse viewing event on Monday August 21, 2017 was our most attended program of all time! Our dedicated crew of 26 volunteers and 15 employees welcomed 2,207 guests for an afternoon of educational fun. Our next biggest event — the Transit of Venus in 2012 — drew 631 visitors. The event went on without a major hitch, though we do apologize for the neighborhood traffic delays — another Penn Dixie first!! Here’s how it all unfolded.
We decided to split the work of creating print and web materials for the public, seeking sponsors for eclipse glasses, and collecting educational materials for our respective organizations. Subsequently, Anne Conable from the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library joined our group to coordinate an additional event on August 19. We exchanged countless emails and met several times at the different viewing locations to solidify our plans and train our staff and volunteers. I thank our team for their effort — what a payoff!
Each organization tried to gauge the respective demand for solar viewing glasses based on our relative sizes. We were all wayyy off. Kevin Williams was able to secure a consortium sponsor — Buffalo State College — for the entire group. We initially asked for 500 sets. Thanks to a grant from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Buffalo, Penn Dixie purchased an additional 1,000 sets of glasses through the NASA Museum Alliance. The glasses sat in our office, nearly forgotten, for a very long time.
I’ll admit that I had my reservations. Even though we had a great bulk deal through a NASA supplier, I was concerned that we would have too many glasses and the glasses would sit, boxed and unused, in our office for years. About two weeks before the eclipse — and assuming that we had plenty to spare — we split our supply in two. We kept some for the viewing and began handing out the rest out to our visitors. Initially, only a handful were given away, and I decided to issue a press release about the free glasses.
That did it.
It seemed like every local media outlet picked up the story. Penn Dixie experienced a nonstop stream of visitors asking for glasses. It might have been several hundred each day. The frenzied pace of requests meant that we had to limit the requests to four per family. Most people were happy to receive something for free, but occasionally someone would ask for many more than what we could offer. The glasses are definitely shareable and most of our visitors seemed more than ready to help us spread the love.
At the office, we were inundated with phone calls for the glasses. The phone was either ringing, playing our outgoing message, or recording a message. I estimate that we received close to 10,000 calls about the glasses during the week prior to the eclipse. We couldn’t possibly respond to everyone who left a message. Once we ran out of free glasses, we changed our outgoing message and updated our website and social media to indicate this fact. But, it didn’t matter. The calls kept coming and visitors kept arriving. The national distributor was out of stock, which meant that our consortium partners would also be unable to meet the demand. With no hope for reordering, it was dire.
However, the eclipse gods were smiling. Despite the national shortage, we were able to obtain additional glasses in time for the eclipse. Kevin Williams from Buffalo State College graciously provided an additional 300 sets from his supply. That helped, but our luck continued to improve with an unexpected phone call from a man who operates in the dark — of a planetarium.
That unexpected phone call let me to a Park-N-Ride parking lot just off the Thruway on a rain soaked afternoon. Wearing a hooded rain jacket that shadowed my features, I awaited a special delivery. At last, the driver arrived and parked next to me. The deal went down. Mark Percy from Williamsville North was headed to watch the eclipse in person and gifted us the remainder of his glasses! I thanked Mark and wished him the best in his journey. The extra supply allowed us to give out a total of 2,600 glasses.
Building Up To It
The week leading up to the eclipse was a whirlwind. We — along with all of the viewing locations — were fortunate to receive lots of media attention including spots on all of the local TV stations and on the radio. The local newspapers also featured us several times. Penn Dixie was in the news every day! It was an exhausting time for us, but this was an opportunity that we couldn’t miss.
Our website, bless it’s bandwidth, did not crash during the frenzy. We had our busiest web traffic of all time on Monday along with our busiest day overall. For a (hopefully) complete listing of our appearances, please visit our media page.
The Gates Open
We started the day with a 7:30 am phone call from Ball Toilet & Septic — our portable toilet provider. “You’ve got a line of cars here outside the gate,” the delivery person said. “What do you want me to do?” Since we didn’t officially open until 9 am and no employees were on site, I told him to lock the gate and do his best to escape unharmed.
A short time later, our staff arrived to greet the guests who were in line. The guests were eager to receive solar viewing glasses, they asserted, and wanted to ensure that they could receive a set. This was surprising for us. Occasionally, we’ll have a visitor or two at the gate when staff arrive prior to opening, but never a line of cars. When we opened the gates, visitors began to quickly fill the usual parking area. Fortunately, our grounds keeping crew (i.e., me) had spent several evenings mowing a huge swath of our 54-acre park and we had roughly 7 acres available for parking — more than ample, I thought.
From about 9:30 to 10:30 we were reasonably busy. Our full staff arrived — including the parking lot team — and we checked our guests in while making final preparations for the viewing. I credit our staff for keeping our queue short and our visitors happy. By 11:00, a steady stream of arrivals heralded the events to unfold. By 12:00, over 1,000 guests had arrived and we began to form the queue for solar viewing glasses. Once we determined that some 1,500 guests had arrived, we made the decision at 12:30 to begin handing out glasses to the queue. The line moved quickly and the glasses were gone by 12:50.
Some guests opted to leave with their glasses, and this unfortunately created two-way traffic on our narrow entrance road. In addition, many visitors who had only come for the glasses immediately departed, creating a simultaneous exodus along with the steady flow of arrivals. I ended up directing traffic outside until we found the perfect board member for the job. Inside, our parking lot team expanded from three to five employees to accommodate the late rush of guests. Outside, both sides of the neighborhood streets were filled with parked cars. We thank our guests who respected the private lawns and driveways of our neighbors.
Inside, the scene reminded me of a festival. There was a sense of community and everyone seemed to be enjoying the spirit of the celestial event. We had large groups of fossil collectors, telescope gazers, and folks just relaxing and taking it all in. We had scheduled one or two small crafts activities, but the unusually large crowd made it difficult for us to find enough table space for our needs. Eventually, we decided that we couldn’t do the activities as we didn’t want to inconvenience those who were using our picnic tables. There were just so many guests! As one longtime volunteer exclaimed, “We’ve had more people today than we’ve had in some years.”
Now that I’m recovered from the eclipse, I wanted to make sure to thank those who made this possible. Without your help, we could not have succeeded in running the most successful Penn Dixie program of all time. Special thanks to:
You — yes, you!
Our incredible volunteers and board members
My amazing superstars on staff
Dr. Holly Schreiber (our Director of Education who moved from California(!) to be here) and her family
The Buffalo Eclipse consortium and the Buffalo Astronomical Association
Our local supporters including Erie County, Legislator Lynne Dixon and the Erie County Legislature, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the Town of Hamburg and Supervisor Steven Walters, and Congressman Chris Collins
The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities of WNY, and the many other foundations that have helped us to reach our goals since 1993
The inspired community members, scientists, teachers, political leaders, and fossil collectors who stood up for Penn Dixie way back in the beginning, when we were just trying to protect a bunch of fossils from being paved over
Our local media who share our mission with the community
One of the goto targets for summertime stargazing is M57, the Ring Nebula. Located in the constellation Vega, it’s relatively easy to find and is visible in most equipment used by amateur astronomers. The Ring Nebula has been featured prominently in promotional material for our upcoming (July 29th) Astronomy Night at Penn Dixie. So what is it? What’s with the “M57” thing? Where is it? What can be expected when looking through the eyepiece?
Deep Space Objects
The Ring Nebula is what astronomers refer to as a Deep Space Object or DSO. Basically a DSO is any object beyond our solar system (something other than the Sun, Moon or the Planets). Galaxies, Nebula, and Star Clusters are all examples of various types of DSOs. The Ring Nebula belongs to a type of DSOs known as Planetary Nebulae. There are a few types of Nebulae: Reflection, Emission, and Planetary. Planetary Nebulae are the remnants of stars similar in size to our Sun. Stars up to about eight times the mass of our Sun are too small to explode in a Supernova at the end of their lives. Once the stars can no longer fuse Hydrogen or Helium, the star sheds it’s outer layers of gas.
A hot dense ember known as a White Dwarf is all that remains of the star and the expelled outer layers are ionized by the this White Dwarf remnant, creating the object that we view. So why are they called Planetary Nebulae? Do they have anything to do with planets? When they were originally discovered, astronomers had no idea of their true nature. In the telescopes of the time (eighteenth, nineteenth centuries) they appeared very similar to planets. One Planetary Nebulae looks so much like Saturn (NGC 7009) it’s called the Saturn Nebula.
The Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009). Image Credit: NASA (The Hubble Space Telescope)
So now we know what the Ring Nebula is and what the “Nebula” part means in the name. What’s the deal with the “M57” thing? Well the Ring Nebula is contained in a Catalog (a list) of objects created by Charles Messier. The “M” refers to Messier and it’s number 57 on the list. Charles Messier was a French Astronomer that lived from 1730 to 1817. He was primarily interested in finding comets, indeed he found several, but ironically he is not known for finding comets. Messier started a list of objects which appeared fixed with respect to the stars, moving each night with stars as opposed to moving through them as comets do. He created the list so fellow comet hunters wouldn’t waste anytime observing these objects. The objects are relatively bright and are therefore easily observed by amateurs and are popular targets at Public Astronomy Nights or Star Parties.
In March/April it is possible to view all 110 objects in one night in what is called a Messier Marathon.
In addition to being well suited for the equipment frequently used by amateur astronomers, M57 is relatively easy to find. It’s located near one of the brightest stars in the summer night sky (Vega), within a prominent summer asterism (the Summer Triangle), and right between the two bright stars Sheliak and Sulafat in the constellation Lyra. These factors make finding the Ring Nebula relatively easy.
Time and Distance
So that’s how to find it in the Night Sky, but where is it in relation to Earth? The Ring Nebula is 2,283 light-years from Earth. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year (about 300,000 meters/second or 186,000 miles/second). That is about 5.8 Trillion miles in a year. Space is unimaginably large and requires truly astronomical units of measure. Nothing can exceed this cosmic speed limit. The result of the finite speed of light, is that looking through a telescope is like looking through a time machine. We see these objects not as they are now but how they were. We see the Moon as it was a few seconds ago, the Sun as it was about nine minutes ago, Jupiter as it was about forty five minutes ago, and the Ring Nebula as it was 2,283 years ago. The Ring Nebula, cosmically speaking, is very young at about 7,005 years old.
Our Eyes vs. Telescopes
Finally, it’s time to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. What will M57 look like when viewed through one of our telescopes? Major spoiler: it will not look like the colorful images like the one used to promote our upcoming event or that can be found in many other forms of media. So what’s going on? Well, to be completely honest, this is one of the greatest challenges the we face with astronomy outreach. With the advent of digital imaging techniques, the Hubble Telescope, & the internet, astronomy has benefited tremendously from the excitement that these amazing images generate. Unfortunately, for some it can be disappointing that what they view through the telescope is not as colorful and detailed as in these images. So what’s going on? Are NASA and astrophotographers tricking us? Is our equipment used for visual observing substandard? The answer to both questions is no. What is needed is an understanding of how both technologies work so that expectations can be properly set.
When observing distant objects through a telescope it is important to understand that it is very difficult to see color in the objects viewed, unless they are very bright. Typically, it is possible to discern colors in the planets (Jupiter, Saturn & Mars for example) and sometimes in the Orion Nebula (M42). In some cases color can be perceived in other objects under favorable viewing conditions (clear and dark sky) with telescopes that have a large aperture. The reason we don’t perceive color when looking through a telescope has to do with the part of the eye we use when observing (cones vs. rods) and our sensitivity/ability to collect light with our eyes. Our eyes are truly amazing, and in no way is this intended diminish their amazing capabilities in any way. The cones are good at detecting color but are not that sensitive. The rods are more sensitive and are therefore able to detect the light. Unfortunately the rods cannot detect colors and have poor resolution.
Additionally, our eyes work much differently than a camera. In some cases this is an advantage. When looking through one of our telescopes at the planet Jupiter, it is common to be able to see Jupiter’s Belts/Bands and the four Galilean moons at the same time. Ours eyes have incredible dynamic range. When imaging Jupiter it is a challenge to capture the details of Jupiter’s clouds and the moons at the same time. In order to see the details on the planet’s disk, the exposure setting must be low. The consequence is that the moons, which are much dimmer than the planet, may no longer be visible with a lower exposure setting. Increasing the exposure to reveal the moons blows out (over-exposes) the planets surface.
However, cameras do provide a distinct advantage over eyes when it comes to capturing images of distant, faint, and diffuse objects. The camera’s shutter can be left open for extended periods, increasing the amount of photons collected on the camera’s chip.
Let’s perform a little thought experiment to help understand what’s going on. Imagine you have a paper plate resting on a flat surface. Now sprinkle something granular on the plate, grains of sand for example. Do this for a second or two. How well will the grains of sand cover the plate? When poring the sand out quickly, there won’t be enough grains of sand to thoroughly cover the plate. There will be many places where there is no grain of sand covering the plate and the grains will be non-uniformly distributed over the plate. The plate represents our eye or the camera sensor. The grains of sand represent the photons of light from a distant object.
Now lets repeat this experiment. This time increase the amount of time that the sand is poured onto the plate, let’s say a minute or two. Now the plate has collected more photons and there are significantly less gaps if any. This is why photographs of astronomical objects can show so much more detail and color. Additionally, there are other techniques of capturing the images and processing that impact the color of the image as well. We won’t get too technical, but the colors in the image may not be what can be seen with our eyes, but the do represent real aspects of the object.
When looking through our telescopes visually (we often have one of our telescopes setup to image during an event) the Ring Nebula will look like a small, faint smoke ring or doughnut, not the spectacular psychedelic image from the Hubble Telescope. However, it’s just as amazing. The light hitting your eyeballs left the Ring Nebula almost 2,300 years ago. What was Penn Dixie like 2,300 years ago — that’s a question for a geologist not an astronomer. What civilizations existed 2,300 years ago? As previously stated, looking through a telescope is like looking back into time. It provides an opportunity to try to comprehend the incomprehensible vastness of the universe and our humble place in it.
Hope you come out Saturday July 29 and we hope the weather cooperates. We’ll have a nice nearly quarter moon to look at, the planets Jupiter and Saturn, and many DSOs like the Ring Nebula to show you. Additionally, I will be joining our Buffalo Astronomical Association (BAA) colleagues at Wlikeson Pointe on Friday July 28th for some observing at the Outer Harbor.
Special Statement on Hamburg Tornado
By Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director
Since we’ve had several inquiries regarding yesterday’s tornado, I decided to make a brief update to share with our members, supporters, and friends in the community.
Penn Dixie was very fortunate to avoid damage from yesterday’s (7/20/17) tornado that touched down in Hamburg, NY. As you can see below, the tornado touched down roughly one mile southwest of our park. That’s a little bit too close for comfort! Please note that there is an inconsistency in the graphic: the tornado had max winds of 105 mph and meets criteria for EF 1. According to the Enhanced Fujita classification system, EF 1 tornadoes typically result in:
“Moderate damage. Roofs severely stripped; mobile homes overturned or badly damaged; loss of exterior doors; windows and other glass broken.”
EF 2 tornadoes typically cause:
“Considerable damage. Roofs torn off well-constructed houses; foundations of frame homes shifted; mobile homes completely destroyed; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.”
As you can read about in many reports, there was light to moderate damage in Hamburg, including both property and auto damage. Fortunately, there was no loss of human life.
At Penn Dixie, our staff acted immediately when they recognized the threat of the approaching storm. Following protocol, the park was closed and visitors were ushered to their vehicles. Our summer day camp was suspended and our camp staff transported the campers to the safety of Big Tree Volunteer Fire Co. The park remained closed — and the campers remained in safe quarters — until the storm had safely passed over the area. See below for post-storm video clips from Jay Wollin.
I thank our diligent staff — Jeffrey Dietz, Jonathan Hoag, Rhiannon Starks, and Jason Wollin — for making informed decisions and taking swift action. They made visitor safety the top priority. I also thank the volunteers from the Town of Hamburg and Big Tree Volunteer Fire Co. who gave our campers a special tour of the fire hall during the storm. I’m sure they won’t forget the experience!
Three Partial Pseudodechenella rowi Specimens Uncovered
By Jay Wollin, Educator
Anyone who has ever visited Penn Dixie knows first-hand that trilobites, or at least “trilo-bits”, are a common occurrence at the site. Visitors flock from around the globe to try their luck at uncovering one of the site’s treasured complete trilobites. The most common of which by far is the Eldredgeops rana (Green, 1832) which is often still referred to, albeit erroneously, as Phacops rana (1). In addition to the abundant E. rana specimens, visitors are often fortunate enough to stumble across examples of the less common, and undescribed Greenops sp. It is even possible to find the even more uncommon Bellacartwrightia sp. (Lieberman & Kloc, 1997), which is frequently mistaken for a Greenops sp. based on similar features and overall appearance.
This season has marked the beginning of a banner year with the uncovering of not just one, and not just two, but three of one of the site’s rarest and most sought after species. The Pseudodechenella rowi (Green, 1838) was first discovered in 1837 in Otsego county, New York by George L. Le Row, and is considered a rare trilobite in all but one locality where it is found (2).
Unlike the other trilobites at Penn Dixie, which are members of the order Phacopida, the P. rowi is a member of the order Proetida. From a cursory examination, it may be difficult to recognize any significant difference between the Phacopids and the Proetids, in fact they share many similarities.
Trilobites in general were some of the first animals on Earth to develop eyes. The trilobites of the Cambrian period all exhibited advanced compound eye structures known as schizochroal eyes. In these trilobite eyes, up to 700 individual eye lenses with individual corneas separated by sclera are grouped together in rows and files creating compound eye surfaces. Later in the evolutionary timeline, many trilobites developed even more complex holochroal eyes. In these eye structures as many as 15,000 tiny lenses are combined without sclera under one cornea to create the eye surface.
An example of holochroal eyes. (Clarkson, 1975)
An example of schizochroal eyes. (Levi-Setti, 1993)
It is with these features that we can most easily differentiate the Phacopids from the Proetids. All members of the the order Proetida feature the more common holochroal eyes, whereas the Phacopida—which translates literally to “lens face”—all retained the more primitive schizochroal eyes (3).
While the Phacopids did not survive the end of the Devonian period, the Proetids managed to persist through the Carboniferous and Permian periods as the last remaining order of trilobites, finally going extinct during the great Permian extinction.
Like the Phacopid Greenops sp. and B. whitelyi, the cephalon, or head, features extended and tapered genal spines on either side. However, the P. rowi can be easily distinguished from these other species by its large, smooth, and laterally elongated glabella, or nose.
Greenops sp. (American Museum of Natural History)
Bellacartwrightia whitelyi (American Museum of Natural History)
Pseudodechenella rowi (American Museum of Natural History)
To easily distinguish between the P. rowi and the E. rana trilobites, the glabella can be compared when visible. The E. rana features a broad, stout glabella which is covered in small bumps, whereas the glabella of the P. rowi is elongated and very smooth. In the event that the cephalon is missing, damaged, or simply obscured from view, the pygidium can also be used for identification. The pygidium of the E. rana has pleural furrows that extend to the edge, while the P. rowi has a distinct margin or border between the ends of the pleural furrows and the edge.
Eldredgeops rana (Jay Wollin)
Pseudodechenella rowi (American Museum of Natural History)
The increasing number of P. rowi finds at the site has us hopeful that there are many more yet to be uncovered. If you happen to be among the fortunate few to find one of these rarities, we invite you to submit to us your photographs and information so that we can share your fantastic finds with our friends and trilobite fans around the world!
As always, happy hunting!
Author’s notes: Special thanks to Gerald Kloc and Karl Wilson for their assistance! Karl Wilson’s book — Field Guide to Devonian Fossils of New York — includes a detailed listing of these trilobites and many other Penn Dixie fossils. The book is available for $18 through the Paleontological Research Institution and is in Penn Dixie’s gift shop.
(1) The Phacops rana classification was changed by Struve in 1990 after a morphologic study of differences between African and North American/Northern European Phacops examples. For further information see this article posted by trilobite expert Gerald Kloc.
(2) Hall, James. Paleontology of New York 7 (1888): 119-122.
(3) Additional information about trilobite eyes can be found here.