Observatory will be open for public nights beginning Friday June 11.

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Director

Rex
by Rex Parker, Phd director@princetonastronomy.org

June 8 Meeting via Zoom.  We hope to see you on June 8 for the presentation by Dr. Anna Schauer, NASA Hubble Fellow from the University of Texas, who will join us from Austin.  See Program Chair Victor Davis’s section below for information on the talk.

Anticipation is strong that the June meeting will be AAAP’s last totally remote regular session, but let’s not tempt fate.  It will be the final meeting of the academic year, as we used to consider it when regular semesters on campus guided our schedule.  While there are positive signs that normal on-campus operations will resume at the university this fall, one sticking point for a possible return to Peyton Hall auditorium is whether the university will require proof of vaccination status (and how that would be executed) in order to be on campus. This has not been formally decided yet, and so our best advice for AAAP members is the obvious one – get the vaccination.

Renewal at the Observatory.  With the state relaxing COVID guidelines, the situation at AAAP’s Observatory in Washington Crossing Park is swiftly changing too.  We’ll discuss observatory attendance guidelines at the June 8 meeting and will continue to provide updates on opening status on the website. At this time we anticipate being fully open with normal operations for members who have been vaccinated.   

If you haven’t been to the observatory in the last year or two you may be amazed to see the equipment in action.  Much credit goes to our current (and past) Observatory Chair and several AAAP observer members who have assembled, upgraded, and fine-tuned the equipment and systems to their current state.  All of the telescopes are guided using a state-of-the-art program “TheSkyX” which directly controls two robotic equatorial mounts, the “Paramounts”.  A ZWO ASI294 color CMOS camera is at the focus of the Celestron-14 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope atop one Paramount.  This camera has been a ground-breaking success story as one of the first of the new generation of high speed video-capable color cameras using the back-illuminated Sony sensors which provide remarkable sensitivity, with QE ~75% for the ASI294.  The image is displayed on one or two large LCD monitors set up inside and sometimes outside the building to provide good viewing angles of the telescope target.  The 5” apochromatic refractor (Explore Scientific) with glass eyepiece sits astride the C14 to give a visual wide field comparison of the higher-magnification astrovideo target.  On a second Paramount sits the venerable and very long Hastings 6.25” refractor, one of the best planetary telescopes in central NJ.  Co-mounted with it is the 10” Takahashi Mewlon Dall-Kirkham-Cassegrain reflector scope, which comes close to  the Hastings in planetary capability but is better for deep sky objects, particularly globular clusters with its greater light grasp.  Both of these scopes are set up for visual eyepiece observing and are aligned for complementary views of the same target by two people at the same time.  I urge you to re-acquaint yourself with these fine instruments as we head towards prime observing season and clear skies at the Observatory this summer.

The Problem with Starlink.  I had intended to review the Starlink issue at the May meeting but time ran out, so this will be on the agenda for the June 8 meeting.  No doubt you’ve heard about Starlink, an ambitious project being constructed by SpaceX.  The satellite internet constellation is intended to give fast, low-latency internet access to broad stretches of the earth.  It consists of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit which communicate with ground transceivers.  The problem with all this is that the low orbit results in bright visible trails from reflected sunlight as the trains of satellites cross the night sky. 

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) and Noir Lab released a summary of the last summer’s workshop SATCON1, “Impact of Satellite Constellations on Optical Astronomy and Recommendations toward Mitigations” – see the link here, https://aas.org/satellite-constellations-1-workshop-report.  A second workshop, SATCON2, is planned for July 12-16 this summer to discuss how to implement mitigation strategies from SATCON1, aiming to reduce the impact of satellite constellations on astronomy.  SATCON2 has 3 objectives:

  • Define and quantify resources, metrics, and collaborations to implement SATCON1 recommendations, many of which will require substantial effort and funds to address.
  • Engage astronomers and satellite operators collaboratively in exploring policy frameworks and developing policy points for operations in low Earth orbit (LEO).
  • Increase the diversity of stakeholders and perspectives working to address both the challenges and the opportunities for astronomers, satellite operators, and all of humanity created by the industrialization of space.

There is clearly an opportunity for amateur astronomers to be one of those voices among the diversity of stakeholders.  I urge you to read up on the issues and consider becoming an amateur member of AAS in order to participate in the expanding conversation on this major topic.  You can become an amateur affiliate member of AAS through this link (on the application state your affiliation with AAAP).  https://aas.org/join/classes-membership-and-affiliation

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

From the Program Director

by Victor Davis

The June 2021 meeting of the AAAP will take place (virtually) on Tuesday, June 8th at 7:30 PM. (See How to Join the June Meeting below for details). This meeting is open to AAAP members and the general public. Due to the number of possible attendees, we will use the Waiting Room. This means when you login into Zoom you will not be taken directly to the meeting. The waiting room will be opened at 7:00 PM. Prior to the meeting start time (7:30 PM) you may socialize with others in the waiting room. The meeting room has a capacity of 100 people.

For the Q&A session, you may ask your question using chat or may unmute yourself and ask your question directly to the speaker. To address background noise issues, we are going to follow the rules in the table below regarding audio. If you are not speaking, please remember to mute yourself. You are encouraged, but not required to turn your video on.

Meeting EventParticipant Can Speak?Participant Can Self-Unmute?
Director Rex’s General RemarksYesYes
Program Chair Victor’s  Speaker IntroductionYesYes
Speaker PresentationNoNo
Q&A SessionStart All on MuteYes                                    
5-minute bio break YesYes
Journal Club presentationStart All on MuteNo
Business MeetingStart All on MuteYes
Director’s closing remarksNoNo
   
Only the Business part of the meeting will be locked.

PLEASE NOTE:  June is traditionally the month when AAAP members travel to the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium in Trenton for a custom show presented by AAAP member and Planetarium staffer/educator Bill Murray. Due to Covid restrictions, the museum remains closed. The club will continue virtual meetings via Zoom until further notice.

Featured Speaker: Dr. Anna T.P. Schauer is a NASA Hubble Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. She will talk about her research investigating “First Star Formation and the Lunar Ultimately Large Telescope.”

Dr. Schauer’s research focuses on the high-redshift Universe, running hydrodynamic, cosmological simulations to study the first stars and black holes. She studies large-scale effects that influence “minihalos,” the early building blocks of galaxies.  By investigating these first objects, she aims to understand how the Universe through successive generations of stars and supernovae underwent the transition from metal-free to metal-enriched. Capturing the light from objects so long ago and far away will take extraordinary instrumentation, and to that end Dr. Schauer is looking forward to observations using what she and her colleagues are calling the “Ultimately Large Telescope.” They hope to revive a design proposed by Roger Angel and collaborators that described a 20-meter telescope (shown below) with a mirror of rotating liquid operating on the Moon. Dr. Schauer and colleagues believe that a 100-meter instrument is feasible, with which they could study the first stars that formed in the Universe, the so-called Population III stars.

Credit: The University of Texas McDonald Observatory

Anna T.P.  Schauer grew up in Munich, Germany, where she earned her BS in Physics and two Masters Degrees in Physics and Astrophysics at Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität. For her PhD, she moved to the star formation group at Heidelberg University. After defending her PhD thesis, she remained in Heidelberg as a transitional postdoc before starting at UT Austin as a NASA Hubble Fellow in October 2018. Dr. Schauer has been a reviewer of HST proposals, chaired a conference on “The First Stars,” and is a member of UT Austin’s Astronomy Outreach Group. This past year, Dr. Schauer focused on a new area of long-term research by becoming a new mother.

AAAP webcast:  This month’s AAAP meeting, beginning with Rex’s opening remarks and ending at the break before the business meeting, will be webcast live on YouTube and recorded for subsequent public access on AAAP’s YouTube channel. Be aware that your interactions during this segment, including questions to our guest speaker, may be recorded for posterity. 

AAAP webcast:  This month’s AAAP meeting, beginning with Rex’s opening remarks and ending at the break before the business meeting, will be webcast live on YouTube and recorded for subsequent public access on AAAP’s YouTube channel. Be aware that your interactions during this segment, including questions to our guest speaker, may be recorded for posterity. Here is YouTube live linkhttps://youtu.be/TrXEKOM4VTs

This session will be recorded and saved on YouTube. Send me an email at program@princetonastronomy.org if you have any concerns.  Due to technical difficulties, the May meeting was not recorded on YouTube, and so is unavailable for public (or private) viewing.

Using Zoom: While we are, social distancing the AAAP Board has chosen to use Zoom for our meetings, based our belief that many members have already have used Zoom and its ease of learning. One of its great features is you can choose whether you want to install the software on your computer or use it within your browser.

How to Join the June Meeting: For the meeting, we are going to follow a simple two-step process:

  1. Please make sure you have Zoom installed on your computer. You do not need a Zoom account or need to create one to join the meeting. Nor are you required to use a webcam.
  2. Please visit our website for the link to the meeting
  3. This session will be recorded and saved on YouTube. Send me an email at program@princetonastronomy.org if you have any concerns.

NOTE: We plan to open the meeting site 30 minutes to the 7:30 start time. This way you won’t have to rush to join the meeting. A maximum of 100 attendees can join the meeting.

More Information: The Zoom site has many training videos most are for people who are hosting a meeting. If you’re unsure how Zoom works you might want to view the videos on how to join a meeting or how to check your computer’s audio and video before the meeting.

We hope to make these short presentations a regular feature of our monthly meetings. If you are interested in presenting a topic of interest, please contact either director@princetonastronomy.org or program@princetonastronomy.org. We’d like to keep our momentum going!

WANTED: Members with interesting stories to tell.  As of this writing, no member has volunteered to offer up a brief story or presentation for Journal Club this month. During the past months, we’ve enjoyed interesting and informative talks from AAAP members, and we’d like to keep the momentum going! We hope to make these short presentations a regular feature of our monthly meetings. We’d like to know what members are doing or what members are thinking about in the broad range of topics encompassed by astronomy. A brief ten-minute (or so) presentation is a good way to introduce yourself and the topics you care about to the club membership. If you are interested in presenting a topic of interest, please contact either director@princetonastronomy.org or program@princetonastronomy.org.

Looking forward to you joining us on-camera on Zoom or YouTube Live webcast at the June meeting!

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Minutes from the May 11, 2021 Members General Meeting (Online)

by John Miller, Secretary

●  The meeting convened at 7:30 PM via Zoom and Yahoo (online).  There were initially about 59 Zoom attendees.

●   The Board of Trustees candidate slate, for 2021 – 2022, presented at last month’s meeting, was voted via an online survey app.  The results, matching/exceeding the required quorum of 50% current AAAP membership:

           *Rex Parker, Director

           *Larry Kane, Assistant Director

           *John Miller, Secretary

           *Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

           *Victor Davis, Program Chair

           *David and Jennifer Skitt, Observatory Co-chairs

●  Progress regarding the WCSP Observatory repairs and State permissions for same was discussed. The State Park officials are requiring the AAAP have a State-approved engineer certify our final repair plans/objectives.

● Victor Davis introduced the evening’s guest speaker: Alexander Hayes, Associate Professor, Department of Astronomy at Cornell University.  Professor Hayes talk was titled:Ocean Worlds of the Outer Solar System.”  The topic included studying the possibility of Europa, Enceladus or Titan having environmental conditions biochemically favorable to forms of life.  

●  Member Sam Sherman introduced a current project on which he is working, using Calculus to prove Kepler’s 3rd Law and determine the mass of Jupiter using calculations derived from thr four Galilean moons.  The law states that the ratio of the square of an object’s orbital period with the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit is the same for all objects orbiting the same primary. This captures the relationship between the distance of planets from the Sun, and their orbital periods.  Sam is 17 years old.

●  AAAP member Ira Polans gave a short presentation describing his visit to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. Ira highlighted the history of the Apollo missions with additional information and images relating to the Shuttle and ISS missions.

●  Observatory Chair David Skitt reviewed ongoing plans to train observatory key-holders on operational procedures. This included added management of visitor management to adhere to Covid 19 restrictions. Currently, only AAAP members are allowed on-site.  We have entered  observatory visitation rules “Phase 2” (temporarily modified for Covid precautions). <20 people on premise at one time.

●  Observatory Chair David Skitt reviewed ongoing plans to train observatory key-holders on operational procedures. This included added management of visitor management to adhere to Covid 19 restrictions. Currently, only AAAP members are allowed on-site.  We have entered  observatory visitation rules “Phase 2” (temporarily modified for Covid precautions).

<20 people on premise at one time.

<6 people inside the observatory at any given time.

Up to four telescopes in the observing field.

The meeting adjourned at 10 P.M.

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Observatory Report

by Dave and Jennifer Skitt, Observatory Chairperson(s)

Figured I give everyone an update on a recent Keyholder (KH) refresher training session.  We had nine persons total, 6 KH’s and 3 KH’s in training.  Rafael Caruso received his key at the end of the night as he successfully completed his fourth session.  A few others are close to receiving their keys.

Jennifer and I showed how to set up the two EAA monitors and ran through mount startup and slewing.  We covered how to use ASICap for camera focus with the Baht mask and for bright objects like the Moon. The moon was visible as a spectacular tiny crescent.  We then showed how to use ASILive for deep sky objects.  Everyone had a chance to practice what was shown. 

As the night went on, Jacob Kosowski took to finding objects to image with ASILive.  In the process, he found the reason Tom Swords and I had star trails after re-running the TPoint model a few days before.  A setting to stack and align frames in the software had gotten turned off.  Have no clue how this happened but problem solved!

The pointing of the C-14 is very good with the TPoint model that we have so we’ll stick with it for the time being.  Tom and I will soon run a new TPoint model for the Hastings.

Sam Sherman was there and told me he was able to get the measurements he needed for his AP Calculus project by logging into the computer and using SkyX.  He was very appreciative for the help the club members provided.

Near the end of the night, I was able to show how to use the FOV indicator, Angle measurement and Image link features in SkyX to the few who were left fighting off the cooler temperatures.

It was a very rewarding session!

Addendum: the TPoint model has since been successfully completed for the Hastings mount.  Celestial objects can now be easily found in both primary telescopes.

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Black Brandt XII Rocket Launch

by Janet Pickover

Launched at 8:44 p.m. EDT, Sunday, May 16, 2021, from the Wallops Flight Facility.

Even though this video is not of the stars, planets or other celestial objects   I thought  it would still be of interest to our members.  This is the launch of the Black Brandt XII about two weeks ago from NASA’s Wallop facility in Virginia.  It was very exciting to view my very first rocket launch. Purpose  of the mission is -How are energy and momentum transported between different regions of space that are magnetically connected?

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Saul’s 108th Story

by David Kaplan

My good friend Saul Moroz was an active member of AAAP, who reintroduced me to our beautiful science, astronomy. But there was another part of Saul’s life, just as there are with all our members, but Saul’s life was documented in this short film “Saul’s 108th Story” created by Minnesota-based filmmaker Joshua Carlon. It has been an official selection in twelve film festivals throughout the country. https://www.pbs.org/video/sauls-108th-story-qxxlxs/

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Close-Focusing Test with the Hastings-Byrne Refractor

by John Church

In recent issues of Sidereal Times I’ve been discussing whether our 1879 Hastings objective was designed using John Herschel’s 1822 procedure.  Herschel’s method was a major advance that gave very good results for its time.  As part of my investigation, I adapted it for an Excel spreadsheet.

Sixty years earlier in France, Clairaut and d’Alembert had published design methods equivalent to the best ones even today. However, their equations were too complicated for general use.  Besides the goal of helping opticians in their design efforts, Herschel proposed that a refractor should be able to focus sharply on both distant astronomical objects and nearby land objects.  This is unimportant for permanently mounted refractors, but could be useful for smaller hand telescopes.

As mentioned in the April Times, the four surface radii of the Hastings lens elements are somewhat different from what Herschel’s formulas would have required.  However, air-spaced doublet achromats with surfaces shaped in the general neighborhood of the “Herschel condition” are relatively forgiving for visual use at f/10 and above.  For wide low-power fields and photographic applications where coma should be minimized, fully optimized design methods should be used instead.

We’re fortunate that our Hastings objective comes fairly close to the best possible design.  I became interested in how well it would perform on nearby objects.  Fraunhofer is said to have tested his own lenses this way in the long galleries of the Benediktbeuern monastery. Dave and Jennifer Skitt and I did some similar tests on the afternoon of April 18th.  We mounted a book with small print at distances of 95 and 60 feet and used eyepieces to give us 105 to 116 power. 

Jennifer Skitt, Credit: Dave Skitt

Focusing at such short distances requires racking an eyepiece much farther out than for sky objects.  I brought an extension tube that I use on my own 4-inch Edmunds refractor. We obtained sharp images of the book print, somewhat better at 95 feet than at 60 feet as might have been expected.  Although I have no record of Hastings having actually tested his objective this way, my guess is that he did do this before releasing the lens to Byrne for the final cell, tube, and mounting.  One of his papers mentioned some successful 1879 observations of close double stars before letting the lens go, so he must have had a temporary mount of his own. 

I plan to do a similar test with my own refractor.  Other club members with refractors of different sizes and focal ratios might be interested in trying this experiment themselves if they have suitable extension tubes.  I would like to hear about any results.  Those with reflectors might also like to try it.

So far, I have found no evidence that Herschel did actual experiments on lenses designed by his equations and reduced to practice.   He had made a fine contribution to applied optics and went on to other areas.

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

ISS capture by AAAP member

by John Miller

Fellow AAAP member, John Harding, sent this ISS image he shot some years ago (he describes just below). Grab your camera and tripod for the next flyby.  Contest time! Send in your entries to secretary@princetonastronomy.org by August 15, 2021 and we will declare a winner in the September issue of Sidereal Times.

“Very easy to spot the ISS. I got this photo with a DSLR in July, 2018 from my severely light polluted backyard, looking south. (F/1.8, ISO 400, 3s, 35mm). The bright red star is Antares.  Aircraft lights are visible through the leaves, left side of image.”

You can reach John at john_a_harding@me.com

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review

by Rich Sherman

First Light: Switching on the Stars at the Dawn of Time by Emma Chapman

Published 2021

Grade:  B+

Hardback $23.40 on Amazon

276 pages

Award-winning astrophysicist Dr. Emma Chapman (Imperial College, London) just published “First Light: Switching on the Stars at the Dawn of Time” earlier this year. In the book, she reveals there is no observational evidence of the first “Population III” stars that lit up the universe for the first time approximately 380 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang. Her research on this subject is challenging, since the overwhelming percentage of Population III stars were high mass, short-lived metal free gems that, upon their death, gave life to new stars, heavier elements, and life on Earth. And yet, astronomers believe the first generation of stars must also have included low mass, long-lived stars that should still be burning today. This book discusses how and why we are searching for these elusive stars. The author adds a bit of humor along the way to lighten, what at times, becomes a bit technical and dry.  

“First Light” is an interesting book that opened my eyes to dwarf galaxies (e.g., Segue 1), the Sagittarius Stream, and astroarchealogy. In a hopeful note, Dr. Chapman tells us that the lower mass Population III stars shine for approximately 16 billion years. This gives us a couple billion years to discover these hard-to-find relics of the early universe—my only question is: is that enough time?  

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Club member Dennis Miller needs help with his telescope

Club member looking for (paid) onsite help with various AP-related software and hardware issues, including checking polar alignment, slewing troubles, achieving successful meridian flip and proper installation and use of filters/Barlows. Hardware consists of Skywatcher Esprit 100 ED (triplet refractor), Skywatcher AZ-EQ6 mount, et al (auto-focuser, Pegasus Advance Powerbox…). Prefer familiarity with Sequence Generator Plus, but especially EQMOD and Cartes de Ciel. Hopewell/Pennington area. Call Dennis at 781 820 7039 for details. 

Posted in June 2021, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment