From The Director

by Rex Parker, PhD director@princetonastronomers.org

Gravitate to Our Spring Events!  A total lunar eclipse, fantastic galaxies high overhead, and a close collection of planets before dawn make up a spectacular astro palette over the next month as spring emerges in full glory.  With social life returning to normal around the state, we’ve scheduled a few events to bring you back to shared astronomy experiences with fellow members – see the list below.  Note that the May 14 gathering is mostly a daylight event (starting at 5pm) to give us a chance to greet each other in person, maybe the first time in over two years.  On May14 we ask you to bring your personal telescope equipment to display and share your knowledge, or on the other hand learn how to set up and use it, ask questions and solve problems.  Shake off the cobwebs and get the hang of setting up your astro equipment in the daylight so you can better use it at night.  And if you feel like staying after sunset on May 14, this can be an observing night too.  But read on…

On Sunday May 15 we will have a total lunar eclipse here, and the Observatory will be open after sunset for members to observe it through the club’s top-notch telescopes.  The eclipse begins in earnest when the moon enters the deep shade part of earth’s shadow, the umbra, just after at 10:30 pm. Total eclipse begins about an hour later. Full eclipses occur on average only about once every 2.5 years at any given location, so don’t miss it.  And if you decide to get up before twilight that morning and throughout spring, you can see Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus all lined up in the southeast sky.

AAAP Spring Events

  • May 10, monthly meeting (7:30pm, Zoom);  election of officers;  guest speaker info below (see Victor’s article).
  • May 14, Rescheduled to May 22 – Members Day at Observatory (daytime event).  We’ll gather at 5:00 pm and continue into darkness as desired (sunset is at 8:08pm).  Meet and Greet, make contacts within the club, learn more about how to use your own telescope equipment (bring your telescope) and learn about the club’s observatory at Washington Crossing Park.   
  • May 15, Lunar Eclipse at Observatory (night event).  Moon enters umbra at 10:34pm, totality starts ~ 1hr later.  Members are invited to view the eclipse through telescopes — weather permitting.
  • June 14, monthly meeting (7:30pm) in person at the Planetarium in Trenton.  Hosted by Bill Murray, AAAP member and staff associate at the Planetarium.  This is the last meeting of the traditional academic season for AAAP.

Board Election May 10.  At the regular meeting on May 10 (Zoom) we will elect officers.  The bylaws set out 1-year terms for the 7 members of the Board of Trustees, with elections to be held at the May meeting.  Here I’d like to thank the Nominations Committee (Joy Saxena, chair;  Mark Walker, and Jennifer Sturgiss) for reaching out to the membership for candidates.  We got a couple of responses from newer members, but as the slate shaped up it has turned out to be the incumbents (below).  We do need to vote them in of course, so I am asking you to join us by Zoom for the May meeting.

Don’t Miss It – the Best Season for Galaxies Is Spring.  Many dozens of galaxies are visible this month in small telescopes from right here in New Jersey, and even more if you’re doing astro video/photography with your scope. The constellations Virgo, Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici, and Ursa Major are chock full of galaxies, and these remain well overhead in good observing position after twilight all through May. A fine example is Messier 101 which I was fortunate to photograph last week (below).

The Pinwheel Galaxy, Messier 101, from a Telescope in New Jersey.  M101 is a face-on spiral galaxy about 25 million light-years away from us in Ursa Major.  It’s huge, about 170,000 light years diameter, twice the size of our Milky Way galaxy.  Astrophoto by RA Parker from NJ using 12.5” telescope and ASI2600MM LRGB filter technique, total exposure ~8 hrs.

Posted in May 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Program Chair

By Victor Davis

The May 2022 meeting of the AAAP will take place (virtually) on Tuesday, May 10th at 7:30 PM. (See How to Join the May Meeting below for details). This meeting is open to AAAP members and the general public. Participants will be able to log in to the meeting as early as 7:00 pm to chat informally with others who log in early. We will not be using the “waiting room;” participants will enter the meeting as soon as they log in. However, you will enter the meeting space with your microphone muted. This will help to remedy some of the background noise we experienced during some previous meetings. Please be aware you must unmute yourself to be heard by other participants.

For the Q&A session, you may ask your question using Zoom’s chat feature or you 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 Event~TimeParticipant Can Speak?Participant Can Self-Unmute?
Pre-meeting informal chatting7:00 – 7:30Start All on MuteYes
Director Rex’s General Remarks7:30 – 7:40YesYes
Program Chair Victor’s  Speaker Introduction7:40 – 7:45YesYes
Speaker Presentation7:45 – 8:45NoNo
Q&A Session8:45 – 9:00Start All on MuteYes                                    
5-minute bio break9:00 – 9:05YesYes
“Unjournal Club” – No presentation scheduledN/AStart All on MuteNo
Business Meeting9:05 – 9:50Start All on MuteYes
Director’s closing remarks/Informal chatting9:50 – 10:00NoNo
   
Only the Business part of the meeting will be locked.

“Reality favors symmetry.” Jorge Luis Borges

It’s worth noting, as club member Ira Polans pointed out to me, that this month’s speaker Bob Vanderbei was the first guest speaker to address the club virtually via Zoom after Covid-19 chased us out of Peyton Hall. Two years later, it may be (yes, I’m saying it out loud) that he may be the last wholly-virtual presenter. Next fall, in-person meetings may resume in an as-yet-undetermined venue. 

Robert-J-Vanderbei

Featured Speaker: Robert J. Vanderbei Professor, Operations Research and Financial Engineering, Princeton University (rvdb@princeton.edu)

Welcome to the Universe in 3D Prof. Vanderbei will discuss his recently published book of this title he co-authored with J. Richard Gott, Michael Strauss (both also at Princeton) and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of NYC’s Hayden Planetarium. His book depicts in 3D the things we see in the night sky, from planets and moons to nearby stars and out to nebulae, galaxies, and beyond. In this talk, Prof. Vanderbei will show some of the stereoscopic pictures from the book, and describe the various methods he used to make these stereoscopic pairs of images give an accurate 3D rendition of how things really are.

Vanderbei-book1 Vanderbei-book2

A bit about Prof. Bob

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Vanderbei earned his BS in Chemistry and MS in Operations Research and Statistics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). He completed his PhD in Applied Mathematics at Cornell in 1981. In his thesis, he developed probabilistic potential theory for random fields consisting of tensor products of Brownian motions. He was awarded an NSF postdoctoral research fellowship to pursue his interest in probability theory at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Following his fellowship, he moved to the Mathematics department at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. A few years later, Vanderbei left academia for a job at Bell Labs, where he made fundamental contributions to the field of optimization and holds three patents for his enhancements to a new class of algorithms for linear programming.

In 1990, Vanderbei returned to academia to teach at Princeton University. He is a Professor in the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and chaired the department from 2005 to 2012. He also holds courtesy appointments to Princeton’s departments of Mathematics, Astrophysics, Computer Science, and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Vanderbei holds leadership positions in many professional organizations and is the 2017 winner of the Khachiyan Prize for his work in optimization.

In addition to hundreds of research papers, Vanderbei has written two widely adopted textbooks, a popular software package, and two popular-level books. Sizing up the Universe is an introductory astronomy book written jointly with J. Richard Gott and published by National Geographic in 2011. Welcome to the Universe in 3D was published just this April by Princeton University Press.

Vanderbei was an active glider pilot and flight instructor for many years. In 1999, a colleague enticed him to move his sights a bit higher by taking him to a star party hosted by AAAP. Vanderbei quickly transitioned from visual observing to astrophotography, and regularly posts new astroimages on his website vanderbei.princeton.edu.

AAAP webcast:  This month’s AAAP meeting, beginning with Rex’s opening remarks and ending at the beginning of 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. 

YouTube Link: Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton, April 12, 2022 Meeting, 7:30 PM EST

This session will be recorded and saved on YouTube. Send me an email at program@princetonastronomy.org if you have any concerns. 

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 May 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 Zoom link.

This session will be recorded and saved on YouTube. Send me an email at program@princetonastronomy.org if you have any concerns.

NOTE: The Zoom site has many training videos. 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.

“Unjournal Club”

There is no “Unjournal Club” presentation scheduled this month. As you may know, guest speakers receive a baseball cap with the AAAP logo embroidered upon it as a “thank you” for making a presentation to us. We’re expanding the hat giveaway to members who contribute an “Unjournal Club” presentation to encourage participation.

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 other club members. If you are interested in presenting a topic of interest, please contact either director@princetonastronomy.org or program@princetonastronomy.org.

Upcoming Webinar

Last month, Dr. Paul Daniels spoke to our club on the Megaconstellation threat. He and his organization, Federation of Astronomical Societies in the UK, are hosting a free, two-day international Zoom webinar on May 7th and 8th, before our next meeting but hopefully after you’ve perused this newsletter. The aim of the webinar is for professional space operators and astronomers to explain the many challenges posed by satellite megaconstellations and future policy prospects for mitigating their adverse effects on the environment.

Dr. Daniels has sent along a brochure in PDF format that gives more information on the goals of the webinar, its roster of speakers, and details of how to register. The file is also posted on our website.

A look ahead at future guest speakers:

June 14, 2022Bill Murray, AAAP Outreach Chair and astronomer at the New Jersey State Museum will once again (following a Covid hiatus) give club members a private sky tour at the museum’s planetarium. He’ll show off the refurbished planetarium’s state-of-the-art Digital Sky 2 8K projection system. This is an opportunity to put aside Zooming and commiserate with AAAP members in the real world.
July – August, 2022There will be no monthly meetings of AAAP during the academic hiatus of July and August, though the observatory (and public observing every clear Friday night) will be operating. There are not yet guest speakers confirmed for post-summer – and hopefully post-pandemic – meetings. It is not known whether we’ll have the option to meet corporeally, though we intend to include a Zoom component for the foreseeable future.

Thanks to Bill Thomas, Ira Polans, and Dave Skitt for all that you do. Special thanks this month to Bob Vanderbei, who so quickly and gracefully became this month’s guest speaker.

As always, members’ comments and suggestions are gratefully accepted and much appreciated.

Posted in May 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Minutes of the April 12, 2022, AAAP Members General Meeting (online)

by Gene Allen, Secretary

The meeting was convened on Zoom by Director Dr. Rex Parker at 1930 with the agenda for the evening.

  • He noted that this marks two years of Zoomed meetings.
  • His desktop computer failure disappointingly followed closely on the hijacking of our domain name by the current registrar, which shut down our website and group email capability for several days. Thanks go to Tech Chief John Miller for unraveling and correcting the issue with support from Princeton University IT alumni.
  • Covid restrictions have been lifted at all NJ state parks. While they still recommend prudence, we are thrilled to be back to near normal at the observatory.
  • Upcoming events have been collected here:
    • April 13: Assistant Director Larry Kane reported a Sierra Club webinar about light pollution. He will send the invitation to all members.
    • April 15: Simpson Observatory opens the season with our first Public Night. It will be a Full Moon.
    • April 22: Lyrid meteor shower peak with possible 20 per hour before Moonrise at 0150.
    • April 22 or 23: Outreach Chair Bill Murray is expecting a group at the observatory and will need additional Keyholder support, whether on the Friday Public Night or to open on Saturday.
    • May 10: The next AAAP meeting will feature the election of officers.
    • May 14: Members Day at Simpson Observatory 1700 (5pm) to dark. Just meet and greet or bring your unfamiliar scope for some help setting up.
    • May 15: Outreach Chair Bill Murray added the total eclipse of the Moon from 2230-0130. He invited members to bring scopes. We may consider shifting the Members Day from the preceding evening. Stay tuned!
    • May 22-30: International Dark Sky Week. Member Rich Sherman suggested trying to get some IDA (International Dark-Sky Association) literature to hand out at the observatory.
    • June 14: The June AAAP meeting will once again be held in the Planetarium of the NJ State Museum in Trenton.

At 1945 Program Chair Victor Davis introduced featured speaker Paul A. Daniels, FRAS, President, Federation of Astronomical Societies. The plummeting cost of launching small satellites has led to several companies having ambitions to place tens of thousands of them (potentially 100,000+) into low Earth orbit over the next few decades. Dr. Daniels, a leader in the Royal Astronomical Society’s Megaconstellation Working Group (Optical) will discuss the serious threats to professional and amateur astronomy posed by the projected astronomical growth of these reflective and emissive objects. A ten minute question session concluded at 2110.

We reconvened at 2115 with Observatory Co-Chair Dave Skitt offering observatory updates:

  • A special opening by Outreach Chair Bill Murray and Observatory Co-Chairs Jen & Dave Skitt on April 2 for a scout troop of 20 kids and 15 adults revealed that guests seem to need to look through scopes. Having only monitors displaying the greatly enhanced EAA images of deep sky objects is not enough.
  • We still need someone to offer to coordinate professional installation of new carpet.
  • Training has been difficult with our miserable spring weather and ranks have thinned. We need more Keyholders.
  • There is no new news on the progress of the repair of the ZWO astronomical camera.
  • We are encouraged that Treasurer Michael Mitrano has been able to connect with a human in our long-frustrated efforts to obtain permission to repair the columns. The contractor we previously identified is still onboard to perform the work.

Members were moved to social activism by the depressing future presented by Dr. Daniels.

Member Michael DiMario suggested trying to encourage the IDA to engage on satellite proliferation as a light pollution issue.

Director Rex Parker suggested contacting legislators jointly for a more powerful voice, perhaps engaging with activists among the Princeton University astrophysics faculty.

Member Dave Misiura suggested trying to find a PAC (Political Action Committee) that is focused on the satellite proliferation issue.

Program Chair Victory Davis has offered a “Night Under the Stars” at Simpson Observatory as a silent auction fundraising item on behalf of the New Jersey Ballet Company Gala to be held at the Chrystal Plaza in Livingston, NJ. He will coordinate a private opening by a few Keyholders for five or so guests of the winning bidder.

A question about progress toward securing a meeting venue was met with the response that we are working on it.

We are looking into the possibility of Zooming the planetarium meeting in June.

AAAP officer nominations are open through the end of April. Any member who wishes to be considered for a position should email the nominating committee at nominations@princetonastronomy.org.

Consider acquiring summer season merchandise from the AAAP online store. Merchandise Shop Lead Facilitator Rich Sherman advises that more items are available than we are able to display, so if you want something not shown, email him at merchandise@princetonastronomy.org. A suggestion was made that we add items suitable for children and grandchildren.

Facebook Lead Facilitator Debra Mayes was encouraged that she was approached by a PA park through Facebook about arranging a star party. They ended up engaging a more local club, but activity has been increasing. She invites members to like and share entries on Facebook and Twitter.

Member Len Cacciatore is still supporting Discord but wishes to identify a replacement or two to assume his role. He indicated that we need to transfer ownership to the club.

Webmaster/Editor Surabhi Agarwal is withdrawing from her role as webmaster but continuing as Co-Editor of the Sidereal Times newsletter along with Co-Editor Sam Sherman. She will continue to be available for webmaster duties on an emergency backup basis. Tech Chief John Miller leads on all IT issues and coordinates with Webmaster Jeff Pinyan. Monthly updates of speaker and such are critical. While redesign of the website is highly desirable, it is an extensive, time-consuming project. For now, moving our domain name from Network Solutions to another registrar is the top priority.

Member Tom Swords shared his astrophoto of the conjunction of Saturn and Mars taken with his 4” refractor. He managed to capture them between the branches of a tree on April 4.

The meeting was formally adjourned at 2204.

There were some 40 Zoom attendees throughout the speakers presentation and question session. 38 remained for the start of the business meeting and 33 were still hanging on at 2152.

The AAAP Roster presently shows 193 members. So far this year 11 members have failed to renew after three renewal notices and their email addresses have been removed from the server. Another 21 members have been sent notice that they are currently overdue and their membership will expire at the end of the month. This large group is the last of those who were not reminded in a timely manner during the transition to individual renewal terms and the change of Secretary.

Posted in May 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Introducing New Member Dennis Jamison

(In his own words)

Dennis-Jamison

I joined the AAAP in January after moving to Franklin Twp from Reno, NV in May ’21. I love the talks and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone!   This summer I would like to train to use the club’s telescopes, do some observing, and do some outreach. Along the way I’d like to get some experience with video astronomy and digital astrophotography.

 

My interest in astronomy started in the 1970s when I was an undergrad at the University of Washington. I was attracted to geology (drifting continents) and astronomy (expanding universe). I became a professional geologist and an amateur astronomer.  I bought my first telescope (a C5) in the 80’s and began doing astrophotography with film.  I still have that C5 and a C8 as well.

 

While living in Reno I had a chance to rebuild and use my club’s 24″ dobsonian. That  was an amazing experience. I had access to dark skies and enjoyed visual observing.  My club also had a portable 20” dob, which I took to annual star parties at Lassen and Great Basin National Parks and public outreach events in the Reno area.

Posted in May 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Plasma And Heat Shields

by S. Prasad Ganti

Every year between January and March, there is a series of “Science on Saturday” lectures at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.  These lectures have been virtual for the past two years due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the lectures are recorded and are available in the archives. One such lecture caught my attention this year. It is titled “Feeling the Heat: Fusion Plasmas Used to Study Spacecraft Heat Shields”.  The link given below has the complete lecture. I am summarizing at a high level.

https://www.pppl.gov/events/2022/science-saturday-feeling-heat-fusion-plasmas-used-study-spacecraft-heat-shields

Taking the heat! Entry, descent and landing payloads on atmospheric bodies require special materials, Large Heat Shield for Mars Science Laboratory, Photo Credits: NASA

Let us start with plasma. It is the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid, and gas. As the temperature increases, the state of a substance changes from solid to liquid to gas and then to plasma. So plasma is very hot indeed and can be found wherever intense heat is there like in the sun, the stars, the nuclear fusion reactors etc. In fact, it is said that 99% of the visible universe is plasma. Visibility comes from the stars anyway.

On the earth, we have neon lights which contain plasma when they glow. Similarly, the northern lights or the southern lights at the poles result from heating up of earth’s atmosphere by charged particles coming from the sun. Fusion reactors are mainly engineering structures used to generate energy by creating a sun on the earth in a magnetic bottle. They are largely experimental and the goal is to move towards generating energy on industrial scales.  

In the sun and the stars, such huge temperatures are generated by gravitational compression of gasses like hydrogen wherein it fuses together to form helium. In the process, it releases huge amounts of energy in the form of light and heat. In the fusion reactors, heat is supplied by electricity to fuse together the hydrogen. The expectation is that the fusion reaction will generate much more electricity than what it consumes.

Whenever a spacecraft returns to earth’s dense atmosphere from space or enters the dense atmosphere of another planet like Mars or Jupiter, intense heat is generated. Mainly because spacecraft travel very fast in space. Like tens of thousands of miles per hour. Such speeds when encountering dense atmospheres, heat up the surrounding air and create a layer of plasma. 

Heat shields are designed and placed in front of spacecraft to absorb such heat from the surrounding plasma and protect the structure and the contents of the spacecraft. These heat shields take the shape of a cone on the nose of the spacecraft or the thousands of tiles lining up the front part of the now retired space shuttle. These shields are made of specific materials to absorb the heat and are engineered very carefully.     

Since we have plasma in the fusion reactors on the earth, studies are being done on how specific heat shields behave in the presence of plasma. Fusion reactors are being used as design tools for the heat shields. To determine which materials hold up well and which shapes or the structures  are better suited for the job. This is better than guesswork and learning from how the heat shields function on re-entries. It will give us a chance to know exactly how a particular heat shield will perform.  

Designing heat shields is a very good application of the fusion reactors. It does not disturb the main functioning of the fusion reactor. Just a minor placement of the material to be studied in a small corner of the reactor and making observations. We can expect better heat shields for future space missions. The number of space missions will only increase in the future and optimizing heat shields will be an important milestone in such a journey. 

Posted in May 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Lens of Lisa

by Lisa Fanning

Mars-Saturn conjunction 📷: iPhone 13
🔭: @celestronuniverse NexStar Evolution 8

The planets are dancing! 
(L-R) Venus, Mars, Saturn 📷: iPhone 13 Taken 4/15/21 5:18 AM EDT

99% Full Moon 📷: iPhone 13 single shot
🔭: Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 + 40 mm eyepiece Taken 4/15/22

The Morning Triangle It’s about time we got a clear morning in New Jersey, and just in time … Jupiter (l) and Venus (r) form a triangle with the 11% Waning Crescent Moon 4/27/22, just before sunrise!

Finally, I would like to share that I was a guest on Explore Alliance’s 90th Global Star Party, themed “Cosmic Flow,” hosted by Scott W. Roberts, Founder and President of Explore Scientific.

The show is a weekly star party live streamed over various media, such as Facebook and YouTube, and on Explore Scientific’s website.

I discussed my favorite topic to explore these days, “Moon and Migration.”

A replay of the episode can be found here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=l6kLnDvknt0&feature=youtu.be

 (For my segment, visit hour 2:16)

Posted in May 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Snippets

compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

-NYT

Astronomers Find What Might Be the Most Distant Galaxy Yet The Jodrell Astronomers have been leapfrogging each other into the past lately. Last week, a group using the Hubble Space Telescope announced they had discovered what could be the most distant and earliest star ever seen, nicknamed Earendel, which twinkled 12.9 billion years ago…more

-BBC
-BBC

Winchcombe meteorite gets official classification The Winchcombe meteorite is now official. The rocky material that fell to Earth in a blazing fireball over the Cotswold town of Winchcombe in February has had its classification formally accepted. Details have just been published by the international Meteoritical Society in its bulletin databasemore

-BBC

Make Uranus mission your priority, Nasa told The US space agency Nasa should prioritise a mission to Uranus, an influential panel of scientists says. The “ice giant” is the seventh planet in our Solar System, orbiting the Sun 19 times further out than the Earth…more

-NYT

NASA Will Move Its Moon Rocket Off Launchpad for Repairs NASA’s new big moon rocket is headed back to the garage for a few small repairs, possibly pushing back its maiden launch to late summer or later. That means NASA is giving up, for now, trying to complete what it calls a wet dress rehearsal for the rocket…more

-NYT

Military Memo Deepens Possible Interstellar Meteor Mystery The U.S. Space Command seemed to confirm a claim that a meteor from outside the solar system had entered Earth’s atmosphere, but other scientists and NASA are still not convinced…more

-BBC

Astronomers stand up to satellite mega-constellations Astronomy is finally putting up a co-ordinated front to defend its interests as thousands of satellites are placed in the sky. Huge networks of spacecraft are being launched that are making it harder to get a clear view of the cosmos…more

– BBC

James Webb telescope’s MIRI instrument goes super-cold It is perhaps the very definition of cool. The Mid-Infrared Instrument on the James Webb Space telescope is now at its super-low operating temperature. The UK-assembled instrument has reached a decidedly chilly -267C, or just six degrees above “absolute zero”…more

-BBC

Nasa scientists spy ‘largest comet ever seen’ A comet with a nucleus 50 times bigger than normal is barrelling towards Earth at 22,000 miles per hour. Nasa’s Hubble telescope has determined the comet’s icy nucleus has a mass of about 500 trillion tonnes and is 85 miles (137km) wide – larger than the US state of Rhode Island…more

-NYT

E-ELT: Contract to construct giant telescope A contract has been signed that will lead to the construction of one of this century’s key astronomical facilities. The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be the biggest optical and infrared observatory ever built, with a primary mirror nearly 40m across…more

-NYT

Imagine Another World. Now Imagine 5,000 More NASA recently announced that it had detected more than 5,000 exoplanets, so we asked astronomers, actors and an astronaut to share their favorite worlds orbiting distant stars. In January 1992, a pair of astronomers reported a discovery that changed the course of scientific history: They found planets outside our solar system…more

Posted in May 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From The Director

by Rex Parker, PhD director@princetonastronomers.org

Spring Events — Back to (Nearly) Normal.  COVID restrictions have been lifted in NJ state parks, though individuals going to the AAAP Observatory are urged to remain careful especially with the public, and recognize that COVID cases continue to occur in central NJ. Soon the Princeton area will be vibrant with blooms and warmer days and nights. Clear nights seemed scarce this winter, so if you miss seeing the sky, check out the events we’re lining up to get you back in the celestial flow – see the list below.

This spring we will also elect officers, as we do each May according to the bylaws.  The 7 members of the Board of Trustees serve one year terms:  director, assistant director, program chair, treasurer, secretary, observatory chair, outreach chair.  To keep the club vibrant we need members to segue onto and off of the board over time.  Please consider helping by serving on the AAAP board.  Here’s how:  as set out in the bylaws I have appointed a member, Joy Saxena, to be nominations chair. The chair will poll current board members to see if they wish to run again, and will contact the membership by e-mail to see who would like to run for a board position. If you are interested, send a note to nominations@princetonastronomy.org. The slate will be announced at the April 12 meeting (Zoom) with the election in May. 

AAAP Activities Coming Up

  • April 12 Meeting (Zoom) – slate of candidates presented;   guest speaker info below (see Program Chair’s article).
  • April 15, begin Public Friday Nights at the Observatory.  Keyholders will be contacted by the Observatory Chair.  All members as well as the public are welcome on these public outreach nights (weather permitting).
  • May 10 Meeting (Zoom) – election of officers;  guest speaker info below.
  • May 14, Members Day at Observatory, 5pm and into darkness (sunset 8:08pm and the moon is near-full).  Meet and Greet, and how to use your own telescope.  We’re aiming for a second date in June.
  • June 14 Meeting in person at the Planetarium in Trenton, hosted by Bill Murray. Bill is a AAAP member and staff associate at the Planetarium.

Notice of Job Vacancy – Planetarium at the NJ State Museum.  Issue date March 18, 2022, closing date April 29, 2022.  POSTING # STA-2022-014. 

Title: Assistant Curator, Planetarium Education.

Definition: Under the general supervision of the Curator of Education in the State Museum,  initiates, designs, implements and evaluates planetarium programming; creates planetarium shows; monitors the operation of planetarium instruments and equipment; initiates, designs, plans, implements, and evaluates exhibitions related to astronomy and space sciences; assists with the marketing and promotion of planetarium shows; does other related duties as required.

Contact: email Bill Murray, William.Murray@sos.nj.gov

Telescope equipment at the AAAP Observatory for keyholder use, as of April 2022.  For information about keyholder training, contact observatory@princetonastronomy.org

  • Paramount-ME #1, robotic equatorial mount
    • TheSkyX planetarium and control software under Win10 computer. 
    • Celestron-14 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, D=355mm (14-inch), f/11, FL=3900mm.
    • Stellarview 80 mm right-angle finder scope on the C-14.
    • Explore Scientific ED127 refractor telescope, D=127mm (5-inch), f/7.5, FL=950 mm, triplet air-spaced apochromatic refractor.
    • Numerous 2-inch and 1¼-inch eyepieces for these telescopes.
    • ZWO ASI 294 Pro color CMOS camera.
    • Starlight Xpress Ultrastar Colour CCD camera.
    • Starlight Live and SharpCap software cameras.
    • Verizon FiOS available inside the Observatory.
  • Paramount-ME #2, robotic equatorial mount
    • TheSkyX planetarium and control software under Win10 computer. 
    • Hastings-Byrne 6¼-inch refractor, f/14.6, FL=2310mm. This historic instrument, dates to 1879 with original air-spaced doublet lens and steel tube.
    • Takahashi Mewlon-250, D=250mm (10-inch) Dall-Kirkham reflector telescope, with 2-inch TMB dielectric diagonal and Feathertouch 2-inch Crayford focuser.
    • Numerous 2-inch and 1¼-inch eyepieces, e.g., Panoptic 27mm and 41mm.

Goodbye to the Winter Constellations.  As we begin to see the spring constellations in mid-evening we bid farewell to the winter deep sky objects.  I was fortunate to get great telescope imaging data for a less-commonly observed but amazing Messier object in Orion, Messier 78.  M78 is located above and to the left of Orion’s belt, not far from the more famous nebula M42. 

Messier 78 near the belt of Orion from a 24” telescope in Chile.  M78 is a reflection/ emission nebula with many new stars forming amidst giant clouds of gas and dust. Astrophoto by RA Parker.

Posted in April 2022, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment