From The Director

by Rex Parker, PhD  director@princetonastronomy.org

New Season Starting, Campus Return Delayed.  The highly anticipated new season of monthly AAAP meetings will begin on Tuesday September 14 (7:30pm).  Guest lecturers from near and distant locales will again be the theme this year as we continue to meet virtually by Zoom.  See the section below for information about the guest speaker for Sept 14.  Despite our hopes, Princeton University and the Astrophysical Sciences Dept have communicated that on-campus groups should be limited to students and staff.  Our return to Peyton Hall is going to be delayed for a while.  

Our virtual meeting format features two halves with intermission, with the guest speaker presenting during the first hour.  Club activities and conversations highlight the second hour, giving us a chance to elevate the art of amateur astronomy with discussions of hands-on observing and other perspectives from members.  One way you can participate and promote club interactions is by giving an informal “Journal Club” presentation, a short ~10 minute talk about an astronomy topic you especially care about. This works well with audiovisuals (e.g., Powerpoint slides, JPEGs, etc.) using screen-sharing in Zoom.  But it certainly doesn’t need to be scholarly, rather it’s intended to be fun and help club members engage.  To get onto the agenda for an upcoming meeting, shoot a note to me at director@princetonastronomy.org or to program chair Victor Davis at program@princetonastronomy.org.

New Roles – Looking for a Few Members to Help the Club.  As we move further into the virtual meeting era, several opportunities have evolved for members to contribute as facilitators of club activities.  The Board has endorsed the following new roles (special thanks to Dave and Jenn S. and Victor D. for thoughtful ideas).  If you are interested in volunteering to take on one of these new roles, please e-mail me at director@princetonastronomy.org.

  • Night Sky Network Toolkit facilitator:  Promote the ongoing link between AAAP and NSN.  Sort through the various NASA/JPL Night Sky Network toolkits we’ve received and determine how best to utilize them in our outreach and public night events.  Practice with the toolkits and train others how to use them.  For the NSN website go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/index.cfm

Facilitator Benefits:  You get to explore interesting packages delivered from NSN.  Learn about astronomy from well thought out materials for all age groups — cool stuff to play with.  Interact with members and public.  Get to teach astronomy facts and concepts.

  • Loaner telescope program facilitator:  The club owns a few telescopes and related equipment and occasionally receives donations which we keep or sell.  The role here would be to set up and run a loaner telescope program for members.  Learn about, practice with, maintain, and possibly store the telescopes and make them available for members to use.  Train members on how to use telescopes.  Develop a system to keep track of loaner whereabouts and ensure good condition of the equipment.

Facilitator Benefits:  You get to graciously accept occasional donations from the public.  Learn how to evaluate telescope completeness and condition.  Learn how to set up and use different scopes and mounts, eyepieces and cameras.  Get to play with donated scopes at your leisure.  Interact with members and share knowledge.

  • Social media facilitator:  Provide contents and update our ongoing AAAP Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.  Look into other forms of social media and how they could be utilized for the club’s benefit.  Develop means for members to privately contact/message other members in or out of our current email and newsletter systems for daily chat, invitations to observatory, share stories or photos, etc.  This could be a message board or similar function so that members can connect.

Facilitator Benefits:  Connect with members and public who are heard but not necessarily seen.  Utilize various resources to learn more about astronomy. Interact with members and share knowledge.  Broaden our network of AAAP followers.  Pass the knowledge on to new generations of members and public.  

  • AAAP “merch” facilitator:  Arrange acquisition of AAAP-logo emblazoned clothing, hats, and other merchandise for members to purchase and to give away to speakers and special guests.  Examine possible on-line stores to create AAAP-branded minor merch offerings.  Acquire free literature from various sources to hand out at the observatory and public outreach.

Facilitator Benefits:  Connect with vendors and on-line merchandisers.  Learn what it takes to make, buy, and sell custom merchandize and marketing materials.  Share the stuff and interact with members and public.

Stay Tuned for Big News.  What are the most important scientific questions in astronomy? For the overarching goals of astronomy, research at the cutting edge will need new instrumentation and larger than ever telescopes. Moreover, these telescopes need to gather and measure different ranges of wavelength and energy of light.   The challenge from a science planning perspective is prioritizing the funding for big astronomy, and only a few major projects will ultimately succeed in receiving the needed billions. Competition among proposals is fierce. 

Astronomy in the US has evolved a process in which the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine conduct the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey.  This formal 10 year planning process ranks the proposed projects, and prioritizes which major new telescopes and observatories on earth and in space will receive federal funding.  Recent big project examples such as the James Webb and the Hubble space telescopes became reality in part due to endorsements from Decadal Surveys of the past.  The imminent release of the current Decadal Survey summary is going to produce waves of excitement and disappointment and make its impact in the direction of astro science throughout the 2020’s.   

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From the Program Chair

by Victor Davis

The September 2021 meeting of the AAAP will take place (virtually) on Tuesday, September 14th at 7:30 PM. (See How to Join the September 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. During this pre-meeting period, you have the opportunity to commiserate with other meeting attendees informally either verbally or using the app’s “chat” function. Instructions for using Zoom’s chat function are available at https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/203650445-Using-in-meeting-chat. At the conclusion of the meeting’s agenda discussions, we’ll leave the zoom link open until 10:00 pm to allow informal chats among meeting attendees.

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 breakYesYes
Journal Club presentation (none scheduled)Start All on MuteNo
Business MeetingStart All on MuteYes
Director’s closing remarksNoNo
   

Only the Business part of the meeting will be locked.

Featured Speaker:  Prof. Emily Levesque is a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington. Her presentation is entitled “The Last Stargazers,” a behind-the-scenes tour of life as a professional astronomer. Spoiler alert: Eyepieces are rarely involved.

Prof. Levesque’s research explores how the most massive stars in the universe evolve and die. She’s observed using some of the most powerful telescopes in the world, and has experienced engaging true stories (and collected tall tales) of the adventures and misadventures that accompany our exploration of the universe: A bird that mimicked a black hole. The astronomer that discovered microwave ovens. A telescope that got shot. And…wait for it…a telescope support engineer who advised, “have you tried turning it off and back on again?”

We’ll learn how professional astronomers collect data using world-class telescopes, meet the people who run them, and explore the crucial role of human curiosity in the past, present, and future of scientific discovery. “The Last Stargazers” is based on her critically acclaimed popular science book of the same title.

   

Prof. Levesque has also created a course for The Learning Company, “Great Heroes and Discoveries of Astronomy,” which explores the science and heroes behind the great astronomical discoveries of the past few centuries.

Emily Levesque earned her undergraduate degree in physics from MIT and her PhD in astronomy from the University of Hawai’i. She has observed for upwards of fifty nights on many of the world’s largest telescopes. Her research has taken her into the Antarctic stratosphere in an experimental aircraft. Her academic accolades include the 2014 Annie Jump Cannon award, a 2017 Alfred P. Sloan fellowship, a 2019 Cottrell Scholar award, and the 2020 Newton Lacy Pierce prize. 

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. 

YouTube live Link: https://youtu.be/ow6cmB3Sm1Y

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 September 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: 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.

WANTED: Members with interesting stories to tell. 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

A look ahead at future guest speakers:

October 12, 2021           Tansu Daylan, TESS postdoctoral research associate in astronomy at Princeton University, will talk about his ongoing projects with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. 

November 9, 2021         Jesus (Jesse) Rivera, Visiting Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Swarthmore College, will discuss radio astronomy and his work researching dusty star-forming galaxies (DSFGs).

December 14, 2021       Joleen Carlberg will talk about her work as a Support Scientist on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) team.

January 11, 2022           Robert Williams, former director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSci), will talk about his controversial and courageous decision to commit about 100 hours of time on the HST to staring at what was at the time considered to be a relatively bare patch of sky, creating what is now known as the Hubble Deep Field.

February 8, 2022           Chris Spalding a 51 Pegasi b postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at Princeton University, will talk about his research to understand planet formation by way of simple theoretical descriptions of planetary dynamics.

In the C where C is D department, I’d like to acknowledge the advice, moral support, and social media wrangling provided by Bill Thomas, Ira Polans, and Dave Skitt. Thanks so much, guys, for all that you do. As always, your comments and suggestions are gratefully accepted.

NOTE: At this time, we do not know when we’ll be invited to return to Peyton Hall for in-person meetings. Based on Rex’s correspondence with the folks in the Princeton astrophysics department, they have established restrictive measures regarding public events on University premises, so it seems our return is not imminent. We expect to be zooming for the foreseeable future, and we are discussing the logistics of zooming even when we are able to meet in person. Several potential guest speakers have expressed a desire to speak to our club only when live meetings are possible, so a sooner-than-expected return to “normalcy” may involve revising our roster of speakers. 

Victor

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From the Treasurer

by Michael Mitrano

The income statement and balance sheet below show the AAAP’s financial results for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2021, and our financial position at the beginning and the end of the year.


The AAAP had strong $1,546 surplus for the fiscal year, driven primarily by substantial increase in membership.  The chart below shows member dues for the past 15 years:

We ended the year with a record 147 dues-paying members.

PayPal fees – incurred when members pay via PayPal – account for most of our banking fees and roughly equal five members’ dues income.  Payments via check to the PO box are always welcome. Some members use their bank’s recurring billpay service to send a dues check each July.

We received $7,645 in donations toward observatory repairs during FY 2021 but these are not included in the income statement. Rather, they show as a restricted donation liability on the balance sheet at June 30.  Under the rules of accounting for restricted donations, they are taken into income at the time when they are used for their restricted purpose.  Hopefully the observatory repairs will take place in FY 2022.

The chart below shows AAAP reserves over the past 15 years.

Our cumulative reserves are close to $16 thousand, equaling nearly four years of the association’s expenses at last year’s level.

Kindly let me know if you have any questions about the report.

Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

August 26, 2021

Posted in Mid-summer 2020, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Snippets

compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

Fastest Orbiting Asteroid Found In Our Solar System
A newly discovered asteroid is sticking close to our sun — much closer than our own planet Earth. The asteroid, called 2021 PH27, completes an orbit around the sun every 113 days and comes within 12.4 million miles (20 million kilometers) of our star. That gives this space rock the distinction of having the shortest known orbital period for an asteroid …more

The European Space Agency is proposing a precise navigation system at the Moon, much like the sat-nav technology we have here on Earth. It would enable spacecraft and astronauts to know exactly where they are when moving around the lunar body and to land with precision. The initiative, known as Moonlight, would also incorporate a telecommunications function. A large flotilla of lunar missions will be launched this decade…more

Deflecting an Asteroid Before It Hits Earth May Take Multiple Bumps. After years of shooting meteorites with a special gun owned by NASA, researchers highlighted challenges for a preferred method of planetary defense. There’s probably a large space rock out there, somewhere, that has Earth in its cross hairs. Scientists have in fact spotted one candidate…more

Boeing’s Starliner Launch Is Delayed, Again, Possibly Until Next Year Problems with the capsule’s propulsion system require more troubleshooting, a setback for a program to carry NASA astronauts to the space station…more

Astronomers See Galaxies in Ultra-High Definition Astronomers have captured some of the most detailed images ever seen of galaxies in deep space. They are in much higher definition than normal and reveal the inner workings of galaxies in unprecedented detail. Many of the images could yield insights into the role of black holes in star and planet formation. The researchers say that the pictures will transform our understanding of how galaxies evolve…more 

Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View Parts of the Mountain West still largely free of light pollution or cloudy weather are losing their famed spectacular views of the night sky to smoke from fires burning hundreds of miles upwind…mor

–NYT

Mars Has Auroras and a U.A.E. Spacecraft Captured New Pictures of Them When barrages of charged protons and electrons erupted from the sun head our way, Earth’s magnetic field deftly deflects them around the planet. This buffeting generates shimmering, glowing curtains of color known as the aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere’s polar regions, and aurora Australis in the south. That same phenomenon happens on Mars, too. …more

–NYT

Astronomers See Moons Forming in Disk Around Distant Exoplanet Scientists have never before gotten such a clear view of moons in the making…more

Gilbert V. Levin, Who Said He Found Signs of Life on Mars, Dies at 97 - The  New York Times
–NYT

Gilbert V. Levin, Who Said He Found Signs of Life on Mars, Dies at 97 Most planetary scientists dismissed his conclusions, but he remained steadfast that the experiment he conducted in the mid-1970s had been a success…more

2 Red Objects Were Found in the Asteroid Belt. They Shouldn’t Be There. The space rocks may have come from beyond Neptune, and potentially offer hints at the chaos of the early solar system…more

 

NASA Says an Asteroid Will Have a Close Brush With Earth. But Not Until the 2100s. Scientists have improved their forecast of the orbital path of Bennu, a space rock the size of the Empire State Building that was visited by the OSIRIS-REX spacecraft…more

Toshihide Maskawa, 81, Dies; Nobelist Helped Unlock a Cosmic Mystery - The  New York Times
–NYT

Toshihide Maskawa, 81, Dies; Nobelist Helped Unlock a Cosmic Mystery Why did the universe not destroy itself in the Big Bang, in a collision of matter and antimatter? A eureka moment in the bathtub led to an answer…more

Biggest ever rocket is assembled briefly in Texas - BBC News
–BBC

Biggest ever rocket is assembled briefly in Texas The American SpaceX company has stacked the biggest rocket ever constructed. The vehicle’s two segments – an upper-stage called Starship and a booster called Super Heavy – were connected together at the firm’s Starbase R&D facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Standing roughly 120m (400ft) in height, the SpaceX rocket dwarfs any previous launch system…more

Perseverance Mars rover's first rock sample goes missing - BBC News
–BBC

Perseverance Mars Rover’s First Rock Sample Goes Missing Engineers are trying to work out what went wrong when the US space agency’s Perseverance rover tried to gather its first rock core on Mars. The robot’s mechanisms seemed to work perfectly but when a metal tube expected to hold the sample was examined, it was found to be empty. The mission team think the particular properties of the target rock may have been to blame…more

Peculiar Galaxies
–NASA

Hubble Returns to Full Science Observations and Releases New Images NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, exploring the universe near and far. The science instruments have returned to full operation, following recovery from a computer anomaly that suspended the telescope’s observations for more than a month. Science observations restarted the afternoon of Saturday, July 17. The telescope’s targets this past weekend included the unusual galaxies shown in the images above…more

What Animals See in the Stars, and What They Stand to Lose - The New York  Times
–NYT

Man who 'killed Pluto' has no regrets - BBC News
–BBC

The man who ‘killed’ Pluto In 2005 Professor Mike Brown and his team discovered a new dwarf planet at the edge of our solar system. Eris, as it is now known, was more massive than Pluto and left astronomers with a dilemma: whether to add it and other larger bodies, to the list of planets or to strip Pluto of its 75-year status as the ninth planet…more

The International Space Station (ISS) could suffer “irreparable” failures due to outdated equipment and hardware, a Russian official has warned. At least 80 percent of in-flight systems on the Russian segment of the ISS had passed their expiry date, Vladimir Solovyov told state media. He also said small cracks had been discovered that could worsen over time…more

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

Book Review: 110 Things To See With A Telescope

By Lisa Ann Fanning

OFFICIAL REVIEW OF 110 THINGS TO SEE WITH A TELESCOPE 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Must have for your Astronomy library!

John A. Read has done it again!  His writing style demystifies astronomy, which can be such an intimidating topic, especially for a reader like me, who grew up in the light-polluted skies of New York City. And this time, he has brought Chris Vaughan along to help bring the reader through the night sky. This book, 110 Things To See With A Telescope is no exception and a must have for ANY enthusiastic Astronomy buff, regardless of experience.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Astronomy!

New to Astronomy? Not a problem – there are 20 pages of introductory information that is helpful in understanding things like types of telescopes, how to plan viewing sessions, how to record observations, and of course, history and background of the Messier catalog.

The design team has thought of so many little format touches that make this book incredibly user friendly. Objects are organized by season to help the reader plan their observing sessions easily and the page edges are even color coded accordingly.

Each object has a brief description in simple terms, common and alternative names, object brightness, distance, a subjective rating for difficulty to see.  Additionally, each object is depicted to a scale of about 100x, similar to the size of the full moon. They are also depicted in relation to the easier to find objects (stars, constellations, etc.) that surround it, making it easier much easier to locate than other books which do not typically show this information. Diagrams even include a depicted Telrad ring to aid the reader.

Also helpful is space to record your observations, with prompts for information and space to sketch that is helpful whether submitting observing certificate applications or just maintaining a record of your sightings that you can look back on in years to come.

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RASC Halifax Member John A Read Releases Guide to Observing Messier Catalog

By Lisa Ann Fanning


Three years in the making, and 110 Messier objects later, 2020 RASC Simon Newcomb Award Recipient and RASC Halifax Centre member John A. Read has published his 12th non-fiction title, and it is a must have for any Astronomy buff. 110 Things To See With a Telescope is a guide through Charles Messier’s famous catalog of deep sky objects. 


Read began penning the book in April 2018, beginning with M13 and ending with M24, the last object he photographed for the book. 


Reviews have been consistent, five out of five stars on amazon.com and amazon.ca, and it has earned accolades as #1 Best Seller in telescopes (amazon.ca) and #1 New Release in telescopes (amazon.com). Many of the reviews point out the book’s features, and design. 
The design team has thought of so many little format touches that make this book incredibly user friendly. Objects are organized by season to help the reader plan their observing sessions easily and the page edges are even color coded accordingly.


Each object has a brief description in simple terms, common and alternative names, object brightness, distance, a subjective rating for difficulty to see.  Additionally, each object is depicted to a scale of about 100x, similar to the size of the full moon. They are also depicted in relation to the easier to find objects (stars, constellations, etc.) that surround it, making it easier much easier to locate than other books which do not typically show this information. Diagrams even include a depicted Telrad ring to aid the reader.


Also helpful is space to record your observations, with prompts for information and space to sketch that is helpful whether submitting observing certificate applications or just maintaining a record of your sightings that you can look back on in years to come.
The book is geared towards observers of all skill levels, and contains comprehensive background information for beginners as well, with 20 pages of introductory information that is helpful in understanding concepts like types of telescopes, how to plan viewing sessions, how to record observations, and of course, history and background of the catalog itself. Want to take the book out in the field? The book is designed and printed to be used under red light as well, so no need to lose your night vision while observing.


When asked what motivated Read to write this book, he replied, “This is the book I want to use when I go observing, and it simply didn’t exist. Sure, there are other books on the messier list (most are out of print), but there are none that you can simply pick up, use to find your specific target, and record your observation, all without turning a page. I believe my method for creating a book containing customized star maps with only one target per page is unique.”


In Autumn, 2020, fellow RASCal, Chris Vaughan, joined Read in writing the book, after they teamed up with Outreach Coordinator, Jenna Hinds on the Mars opposition live-stream for the RASC. “In early 2021, I watched Chris doing a presentation on the Messier objects during another streaming session, and asked him to co-write the book with me shortly after. Chris has more dark-sky observing experience than I do, and the book needed someone who could speak to the finer details on the lesser known targets.” 

I had the opportunity to ask Read some Q&A and it follows below:


Q: Which object(s) would you say are the easiest to see (for beginners?)
JR: M13 (Great Globular Cluster in Hercules), M22 (Globular Cluster), M45 (The Pleiades), M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), M57 (The Ring Nebula) and M42 (Orion Nebula)

Q: Which object(s) presented you with the biggest challenge and why?
JR: I didn’t see Leo Triplet until recently. This is a springtime target, but is a challenge to see from the city. Most of my dark-sky observing is done in the late summer, when Leo is below the horizon. 


Q: Do you have a favorite / favorites ?
JR: I tend to return over and over to the ones that are easy to find. M57 (The Ring Nebula), M27, the Dumbbell, M13 in summer. M42 in winter, The Beehive (M44) in spring, and M31 in autumn. M81 and M82 are nearly circumpolar, so I check in on those quite often as well. 

Q: Do you have any interesting stories that happened while you were writing the book?
JR: After I first reached out to Tim Russ (Star Trek Voyager actor) to write the forward for the book, he responded quickly, and we began exchanging lots of emails. Several of my friends are Trekkies, and if it came up, I’d let them know I was talking with “Tuvok,” Tim’s character on the show. One of my friends asked me to ask Tim if he thought Captain Janeway was a murderer for killing Tuvix ( a character created when Tuvok and Neelix became one person in a transporter accident). I was too shy to ask.


Q: Do you have a favorite moment?
JR: Taking the photos for the “Eyepiece view” images was a lot of work, but probably the most fun, and most challenging. I had an excel file going to track which photos I had, and which photos I was missing. For consistency, I used robotic telescopes for about 80 percent of the images, but several were too far south, so I had to learn to use other robotic telescopes located down in the states. For wide field shots I ordered a wide field telescope (Sharpstar 61), but due to the pandemic, my order was delayed for months. Then Ray Khan from Khan Telescopes went to his store, found the display model, and shipped that to me. 

Q: Did you apply for both certificates?   
JR: I plan to re-observe the Messier objects over the next year, using the book to document my progress and apply for the certificate. 

Q: What/ when was your best night of viewing? (Most objects in a single session) + describe the evening
JR: It’s hard to say what my best night of viewing was, probably one of the evenings at a past Nova East Star Party. I LOVE doing mini-marathons, challenging myself to see how many objects I can see in a single session. I usually use my 12 inch dobsonian for this, hopping around from target to target. On a good night, I typically hit up about 30 different objects.  

Q: Were there any objects that made your family members or friends go “wow!” when you showed them?
JR: Only the brightest objects like M42 typically get the wows. The dimmer more obscure objects take time and effort to appreciate, so a wow is generally not the goal for most Messier objects. 

Q: Are your boys passionate about astronomy?  What do they love most?
JR: My boys love looking at the Moon, and different colored stars. I think they’re a little young to be passionate about astronomy, but I’m hoping that will come with time.

Q: How has the pandemic changed your viewing? Do you view more /less? Do you miss anything in particular? Have you gained anything from the pandemic?
JR: I still stargaze whenever I can. So I don’t think the pandemic changed the frequency of my observations. What I really miss is the hands-on work I did at the Burke-Gaffney Observatory; getting the 5 dobsonians on our school’s observation deck and helping dozens of students (per session) with their observing projects for SMU’s introductory astronomy course for non-science students. 

Q: Any new and exciting projects coming up?
JR: I have some projects with Formac publishing for the 6th grade science curriculum. For the next few months, I’d like to focus on creating helpful content on my LearnToStargaze YouTube channel to supplement the books. 

Q: Any advice you’d like to add for us newbies?
JR: Get the book and get to work observing! You’ll be surprised how much you can see, and how fun it can be to record your progress toward seeing all 110 targets. 

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Book Review: The God Equation by Michio Kaku

by Prasad Ganti

“The God Equation” is a recent book written by Michio Kaku, the popular Physicist and String theorist. This book comes on top of several other popular ones he wrote earlier. It emphasizes on the holy grail of Physics – unifying all the four fundamental forces of nature. From the weakest one, Gravity which spans over astronomical distances to the strong force which rules over the length of an atomic nucleus. The book presents the concepts  in a very lucid style. And not many equations although the title has the word “equation” in it.  Below is my summary. 

Mathematical equations are used to define physical and conceptual parameters and the relationships between them. More than three hundred years back Isaac Newton came up with an equation describing the gravitational force as attraction between two bodies. The bodies could be apples or oranges or planets, or stars. Using this equation, the trajectory of the planets or spacecraft or falling apples or terrestrial ballistics could be calculated. It was a triumph of human thought in expressing a pragmatic concept so succinctly.

Then came James Clerk Maxwell about two hundred years ago, who showed that electricity and magnetism are related to each other. A changing electric field can generate magnetism and vice-versa. His set of equations described the electromagnetic radiation as a wave propagating through changing electric and magnetic fields. These waves encompass a wide range from radio, to microwaves, to infrared, to visible light, to ultra violet, to X rays, to Gamma rays etc. Each varying from the other in frequency and thus the wavelength. He calculated the speed of such a  wave which is now recognized as the speed of light.  Our eyes are only sensitive to the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. But all the types of radiation being described by the set of Maxwell’s equations is a triumph of the human mind in relating the abstract concepts to the practical reality. 

About a hundred years back, Albert Einstein stretched Newton’s equations to incorporate some “out of the world” concepts like space time curvature. In the special theory of relativity, he set the speed of light as  a cosmic speed limit for most practical purposes. And described what happens when objects travel at very high speeds and why they cannot exceed the speed of light. He postulated  time as a dimension like the three dimensions of space.And that time can slow down if an object is travelling at very high speeds. 

Einstein’s crowning achievement was the General theory of relativity which considers accelerated motion and gravity as equivalent to each other. Further in the presence of gravity, space curves, and time slows down. All these concepts were expressed using mathematical equations. In fact, for space curvature, Einstein had to use Bernard Riemann’s geometry. Riemann’s geometry is a stretch of Euclid’s geometry which stood for thousands of years and deals with flat spaces. Concepts like Black holes, Gravity waves came as a result of multiple solutions to Einstein’s equations.      

Parallelly, during the twentieth century, a lot was happening at the atomic and subatomic levels. Atoms and its constituents like electrons, protons and neutrons were discovered. The forces binding these particles were being formulated into mathematical equations. These particles were also postulated to be waves. Erwin Schrodinger came up with an equation to describe the electrons as particles and waves. Paul Dirac improved upon this equation to add space and time together (known as Einstein’s relativistic effects). All these postulations were part of a broader field called Quantum mechanics. 

QED (Quantum Electro Dynamics) resulted from the combination of Dirac’s theory of electrons with Maxwell’s theory of light. Thus were combined Quantum mechanics and electromagnetism. Only gravity remained outside the orbit of a unified theory of everything. Einstein himself spent decades but was not successful. In the last three decades or so, a new theory called string theory is being developed which can help with this unification. But the theory needs the existence of ten space dimensions and one time dimension as a foundation. But we see only three space dimensions in our life. Speculation is that the extra dimensions are curled into tiny spaces, much smaller than nuclear lengths, in the order of Planck’s length. 

Experimentation at such small lengths or higher dimensions is nearly impossible. The kind of energies required are huge, much much beyond the reach of the current particle accelerators. Even the biggest one LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in Switzerland, which produced evidence for the Higgs Boson, incidentally known as the God particle. If the God’s particle can be found, if the miniscule perturbations of space resulting from Gravity waves can be discovered,  can the God equation be that far behind? I am optimistic.

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