From The Director

by Rex Parker, PhD director@princetonastronomers.org

Our future is in Princeton.  Many of you, like me, would rather have our monthly astro gatherings in person at a prestigious science place in Princeton rather than Zooming.  This may happen this fall, and I hope you’re on board as we transition back to real 3-D meetings.  But the venue for our last 30 years, Princeton’s Peyton Hall, is not going to be available for the foreseeable future.

We’re awaiting a decision on a good alternative – Wolfensohn Hall at the Institute for Advanced Study. The IAS is steeped in Princeton’s science and math history and counts 35 Nobel Laureates and many other big medal recipients as members and faculty. The big Hollywood production “Oppenheimer”, filmed in part at IAS, may be the buzz around Princeton next summer. https://patch.com/new-jersey/princeton/christopher-nolan-cillian-murphy-film-princeton-oppenheimer  Wolfensohn Hall is known for outstanding acoustics, home to the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, and has a nearby parking lot plus easy driving access.  While it will be a technical challenge, the option of hybrid meetings with video from the live stage in Wolfensohn with Zoom/You Tube is the intention.

Finally, if we do meet monthly at IAS, we will be required to monitor all attendees for COVID vaccination status, so long as this continues to be the Institute’s policy. No vaccine = no admittance and proof will be required.  IAS uses the software system Crowd Pass for external attendees, and is considering allowing us to use this for vaccine certification and security.

All systems are go for Observatory reconstruction.  At long last we have received all the permits from the State and authorization to proceed with the big masonry job.  The steel reinforced concrete block columns which hold the roll-off roof at Washington Crossing Observatory will be torn down and replaced.  A big thanks to each of our members who contributed to the reconstruction fund.  We have now raised nearly all of the money to meet the $9700 estimate for the job. Especial thanks to our Treasurer Michael for sticking with it to get us through the permitting process.  Last week we met with the contractor to confirm the plan and now we wait only for the company to schedule the start date.  Hopefully the Observatory will be closed for construction for only a few days.

Mid-summer supernova remnant The Cirrus Nebula in Cygnus, NGC 6992, is high overhead after sunset in August and makes a great target for EAA and astrophotography.  It is part of a large circular structure expanding in space like a shock wave from the nova event 15000 years ago.  During a few clear nights recently, I was able to obtain some decent data on this colorful though faint supernova sequel.  The image below was processed from about 6 hours of data, with 10 min subs using a 12.5” scope and ASI2600MM camera with filters.  Astrophoto by RAParker from NJ

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The Columns of Observation

by Dave Skitt, Observatory Chairperson

After two+ years of planning, coordination and an unnerving NJDEP permitting process, the columns that allow for open sky observation from within the walls of AAAP’s Simpson Observatory have finally been replaced.  The original cinder-block columns built in the summer of 1978 to support the roll-off roof had become deeply cracked from water damage.  Internal video inspection of the blocks revealed total replacement was sorely needed.

CWC Masonry, LLC began replacement work on August 3, 2022.  I was present to observe and answer questions as they arose.  Before work began, CWC documented the current “levelness” of the steel I-beams so their positions could be monitored.  CWC then installed steel column jacks to support the I-beams for the duration of the project.  By the end of the day, two of the four columns had been removed and replaced.

The second pair of columns were replaced on August 5.  The demolition and reconstruction process was the same for each column.  The old cinders blocks were saw cut down the middle and knocked out with a demolition hammer-drill.  The original concrete footers were then carefully cleaned and inspected.  Fortunately, the footers were still in excellent condition. 

Next, the first concrete column block was mortared in place after careful alignment below the I-beam structure.  Four holes were then drilled into the footers to accept ¾-inch rebar that would run through the center of the blocks.  After several blocks were laid, cement was poured into the central opening around the rebar.  Two courses of overlapping rebar were used to span the height of the columns. 

At the top, the final block was shimmed into place to meet the underside of the steel I-beam.  Mortar was then packed into the gap between the blocks.  Stainless steel J-bolts were inserted into pre-existing bolt holes in the I-beams and their lengths adjusted to overlap the rebar.  Cement was then poured in to fill the block.  The new columns were finished off with a layer of Fiberglas mesh mortared in place.  Pre-colored white stucco was then troweled onto the outer surface.  The job was completed on August 6.

Many thanks to CWC Masonry, LLC and to all of those inside and outside of AAAP working behind the scenes to get this ball rolling and finished after such a long process.  I am confident that these new columns will allow AAAP to roll the roof back and view the heavens for many more years to come!

Here are some photos taken throughout the project. Photo credits:  Dave Skitt, John Church, Tom Swords and CWC Masonry.

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60th Anniversary Merchandise

by Rich Sherman, Merchandise Chair

The AAAP store now has NEW merchandise that features our “Anniversary Edition” logo celebrating AAAP’s 60 years. Check it out at:  https://aaap1962.logosoftwear.com/.  The password is SiderealTimes.  The items with the new anniversary logo will have “**Anniversary Edition** ” as the first words in the product description (note that the first 21 items on the page have the Anniversary Edition logo; the remaining items have our traditional logo).  If you want a different color or are looking for a product that you don’t see on the site, please email Rich Sherman at merchandise@princetonastronomy.org, and we will make every effort to get that item for you.  Also, note that it takes about 3-4 weeks to receive your order. 

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Manhattanhenge 2022

by Victor Davis

“This’ll be a great city once they finish building it.” -Aaron Sorkin dialog spoken by Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom”

One of Manhattan’s enduring and farsighted design elements has been the street grid devised in 1811, in which the rural area of hills and streams northward of Houston Street was encompassed by a rectangular grid of twelve north-south avenues and 155 east-west streets. At the time “The Greatest Grid” was devised, most of the great cities of Europe were characterized by haphazardly zig-zagging streets that could be difficult to navigate, and where air currents often trapped the malodorous products of human habitation. Manhattan’s grid was devised not only to aid in way-finding but also to allow breezes to whisk unpleasant and unsanitary vapors out of town.

Though we refer to a generally northward heading as “uptown” and southward as “downtown,” and to an apartment at 95th and Central Park West as being in the “Upper West Side,” Manhattan’s street grid is actually oriented 29 degrees eastward from true north.  What this means for Manhattanhenge is that the dates where the Sun sets parallel to the streets are around May 29 & 30 and July 11 &12, rather than at the equinoxes when the Sun rises and sets east/west.

Below are two views of Manhattanhenge on July 11, 2002.

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From Hubble to the Webb Space Telescope

by S. Prasad Ganti

The first pictures from the James Webb telescope were released recently. The prize comes after decades of hard work by thousands of scientists and engineers and billions of dollars of cost overruns. In the end it was worth it. These are only the first pictures and there is a lot of science left to be done with this latest science-engineering marvel.  The story of the telescope starting from its inception to the first pictures has been captured eloquently in the recent TV program titled “The Ultimate Space Telescope” in the Nova series on the PBS. The link below can be used to watch the one hour video in its entirety. 

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/ultimate-space-telescope/

Webb’s predecessor is the Hubble space telescope. It is still going strong watching the skies and reporting back what it sees. While the new vanguard picks up the mantle. The time used on such expensive telescopes is really valuable and the watching projects need to be prioritized appropriately. In 1995, scientists took a gamble using Hubble. They decided to focus the telescope on a dark patch of the sky where there seems to be nothing visible either to the naked eye or the other powerful ground based telescopes. They were surprised to find thousands of galaxies from the early history of our universe showing up in this deep field image. They followed it up with an ultra deep field image in 2004. The image given below courtesy NASA, required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around the Earth. Obviously, such complex images are assembled from thousands of individual pictures and colors are assigned based on the frequencies of the signals received. 

To enable us to look further out into the Universe and look back into the time when our Universe was in its infancy, there was a need for a more powerful telescope. The quest for the new Webb telescope started. After going through long travails of design challenges and increasing costs, it was launched on Christmas day in 2021. And everything happened in a text book fashion thereafter. The unfolding of the heat shield and the complex mirror in space and its travel of a million miles into space to L2 Lagrangian point where the gravity of the Sun almost cancels out the gravity due to Earth. And the telescope gets a free ride to watch the Universe.   

To watch the early Universe, the observations need to be done in the infrared region. Because the ancient light is red shifted due to the expansion of the Universe. So much red shifted that it has passed into the invisible infrared region. Hubble had some infrared capabilities but Webb is exclusively built for infrared observations. As a result, while Hubble can observe 500 million years after the Universe was formed, Webb pushes back the timeline to the 200 million year old Universe. These timelines are very early compared to its present age of about 13 billion years.

To meet the challenges of observing in the infrared region, there should be no other source of heat around the telescope or even from within itself. It has to be cooled to very very low temperatures, close to absolute zero. A giant heat shield was built to prevent the heat from the Sun, the Moon and the Earth reaching the telescope. The whole telescope is kind of a large freezer. 

The mirror is about an order of magnitude larger than that of Hubble. It is made of specially processed  material Beryllium whose expansion and contraction due to temperature differences is very minimal. It is very conducting with heat flowing uniformly across the complete surface. It is very stiff to encounter the harshness of the space. It is coated with a very thin film of gold to get the maximum reflectivity. Yet it is about a tenth as heavy as Hubble’s mirror. Unlike Hubble’s, the mirror was constructed from 18 hexagonal segments. Each of them could be moved very precisely using the attached motors. Very minute movements were required to align all of them to get a perfect picture. The movement of a millimeter took almost a day. Anything quicker would generate more heat and jeopardize the telescope. It was literally watching the paint dry. That is why it took several months to do the alignment. The engineering specifications are clearly mind boggling.       

Electronics contained within are also state of the art. Having fancy acronyms, basically they are the infrared cameras and spectrographs (which analyze the spectrum of the infrared radiation received). The first pictures from the Webb telescope have been released recently. They are spectacular. More like Van Gogh paintings. My favorite is an equivalent of the Hubble extreme deep field and is shown below. Courtesy of NASA and titled “SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster”, it represents a tiny sliver of the sky, yet contains thousands of galaxies. 

Located at a vast distance where no human has ever gone, the telescope needs to be abandoned if it cannot be fixed. There cannot be any servicing missions of any sort. So far things are good. Let us hope for the best for the life of Webb. Such scientific observations triggered by engineering marvels inspire us. Coming in the wake of the dirty side of the human mind which results in divisive politics and territorial wars. Not long ago, Hubble was the ultimate space telescope. Now it is Webb. What would the future space telescope look like?

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All My Planets!

by C. Todd Reichart

On Friday night, June 24, I fell asleep on the couch in front of the television. I woke up around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, June 25, my body contorted and failing to get comfortable on the short couch. As I tramped toward my proper bed, I had just sufficient clarity to remember the planets-all-in-a-line observing opportunity that very night with my fellow amateur astronomers. I was awake, I was dressed in yesterday’s clothes, I could disguise my unruly hair with a baseball cap, so I had no good excuse not to get out to see this rare phenomenon. I confirmed that the sky was clear, grabbed my red-light headlamp, got in the car, and drove to the soccer fields at Washington Crossing Park. Wow! It was totally worth it!

I saw Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn just by looking up along the ecliptic. I saw the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn through reflectors setup by Dave and Jennifer Skitt. I saw Uranus and Neptune through a refractor setup by Tom Swords. And as day was just breaking through, I saw Mercury through a pair of borrowed binoculars. That’s seven planets in one night! I looked at the ground beneath my feet to add Earth to my list. Eight planets, the complete set! That was the first I’d ever seen Uranus and Neptune and the only time I’d ever seen all the planets in our solar system at once.

I managed to snap a photo handheld with my iPhone 13 Pro (attached). Along the ecliptic from left to right are Venus, the moon, Mars and Jupiter. The two stars paralleling the ecliptic between the moon and Mars are Hamal and Sheratan in Aries.

I have no recollection of what I was watching on TV earlier that night, but I’ll long remember what I saw in the sky that night into morning. Thank you so very much to the Princeton amateur astronomers who setup and shared their equipment to make that experience possible.

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I Tried!

by Gene Allen

Well, I did try to capture it on June 18. It was a fulfilling view: all the visible planets spread – in order – across more than half of the span of the brightening dawn. I walked away from home enough to see brilliant Venus low above the other houses. No way could I get clear of enough houses and trees to even think of glimpsing Mercury.

I had just woken on my own at 0417 and bolted up, realizing what might be visible if those persistent New Jersey clouds were not denying me yet another astronomical event. No, I would have had to set an alarm and driven somewhere to peer close enough to Mother Earth herself to tease Mercury from the impending daylight. It was too late for that.

Up quite a bit from Venus, hung dim ruddy Mars. Mostly to the right giant Jupiter glowed unmistakably, nearly as bright as Venus. Still more to the right, just above an expiring Last Quarter Moon, floated Saturn. I breathed in the expanse of it, inhaling the photons reaching me from all those distant worlds, cherishing them.

Then I tried. Set up the Nikon D750 on the Gitzo tripod. Tried the SharpStar2 focusing screen on the 20mm f/1.8 on Jupiter. Nothing. Couldn’t tell a thing. “Regular” Bhatinov masks are known to be unable to work on wide angle lenses, but the SharpStar claims to. I’ll research it more, try to see if it’s just that ever-threatening curse of “operator error” or I wasted money on the screen and a Lee 100mm filter holder. I know that the infinity focus stop on this lens is not at infinity, because that novice presumption trashed a couple dozen Milky Way photos from Monument Valley. Jupiter didn’t show big enough so I settled for making the Moon as small as I could. Then I reframed to get Venus in the lower left corner and Jupiter ended up near the upper right. Saturn and the Moon might have fit in the field of my 12-24mm zoom, but that is a DX lens, only f/4, and I hadn’t prepared to try that or my 10mm fisheye. Besides, the Moon was so much brighter it would have blown out that part of the sky. I began taking wide open aperture photos at all sorts of exposures.

The results were most disappointing, not worth keeping. One could make out only Venus and Jupiter. It was a bust.

What you could have seen at 0430 on June 18, and what others have probably captured, is something like this:

Uranus, Neptune and Pluto joined the string, invisibly, making it indeed a full house. They were in sequence with each other, but displaced conveniently sunward, as if to make them all fit into the same sky. It was quite a show, and I was glad to have experienced it, even though I failed to capture it.

But hey, I got another chance! The Public Night at the observatory on June 24 was a good one, with decent skies and plenty of folks enjoying the views afforded by the eyepieces and the camera. We finally wound things down and closed up at midnight. A bunch of Keyholders and faithful had talked about gathering at the soccer fields at 0330 to experience the planetary alignment.

I had put the camera and tripod into the SQ5, along with the 10mm fisheye this time, just in case. That meant I could choose between making an hour round trip home for something like two hours in bed, or napping as much as I could in the car. The wild card, as always, is the cloud cover. From home, I could check and maybe save the return trip. Hanging out at the soccer fields, the whole night was pretty much trashed either way.

All nighters used to be what I did for a living, so it shouldn’t be all that big of a deal. Of course, the last time I captained a triple seven to Heathrow overnight was a month short of fourteen years ago. Whatever. I’d save the gas. I maybe slept an hour, in part because the fully reclined seat still needed a pillow, and that I had not anticipated.

The clouds did not encroach, and eleven hearty souls gathered to witness the alignment. It was somewhat more complete this time, because the Moon was less illuminated and had moved to properly represent Earth in the line up. There were several telescopes that nicely brought the planets to life, and my Fujinon 14×40 did a passable job revealing the four Galilean moons. Saturn was not so hot in them, looking just oval.

I set the camera on the tripod, this time with the 10mm. Its field got all the visible ones, and I shot a bunch of exposures a bunch of times. Several came out fairly respectably, capturing all the visible planets, but I have no idea how well it will show in the newsletter.

In case it shows poorly, or to provide labels for the photograph, here is the same view as shown by Sky Safari.

We hung around to try to catch Mercury, and we did! It rose above a low band of clouds, found first by a go-to scope but afterwards by even my binocs. It was great fun to experience the entire string of planets, and it was not all that painful!

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Planets from 43rd floor of a Manhattan Building

by Sulakshana Jain and Kurien Jacob

Sharing my sister Surabhi’s excitement, we went to our balcony to see whatever was visible in our light polluted city skies. Jupiter, Saturn and Venus, the three brightest were shining beautifully in our view. Hopefully you can find then in the pictures below.

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From the Lens of Lisa

by Lisa Ann Fanning

The skies just haven’t cooperated in pursuit of some of my targets. On the few nights/ early mornings I managed to get out, I made some captures, and embraced the clouds in some cases! 

6/3/22 18% Waxing Crescent Moon

6/4/22  WaxingCrescent Moon (26% illuminated) 

📷: iPhone 13

🔭: Celestron NexStar Evolution 8

Full “Strawberry” Moon rises in the Southeast sky on a warm June night in New Jersey.  

6/14/22 9:52 PM EDT

📷:

(L) iPhone 13

(R) Canon PowerShot SX70 HS

6/19/22 4:17 AM EDT A 70% illuminated Waning Gibbous Moon sits between Jupiter and Saturn (not pictured) this morning! Love the detail on the lunar terminator

📷 + 🔭 = iPhone 13 through Celestron NexStar Evolution 8

It was an early wake up, but so worth it! 🙂 6/25/22

📷 iPhone 13 for wide field 

📷+ 🔭 iPhone 13 through Swarovski Optik spotting scope for Mercury

💻 stitched in Bazaart

Another sight from 6/25/22 4:14AM EDT – Pleiades, Moon and Venus

iPhone 13 – night mode, 10 sec exp.

6/30/22 Waxing Crescent (~2% illuminated) Moon peaking out behind our trees.  

📷: Canon PowerShot SX70 HS 

💻: slight crop

Double Moon? 

The real one is the 7% illuminated Waxing Crescent Moon 7/1/22 at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk. 

📷 : iPhone 13

Gave it a shot early this morning 7/11/22 to try to see the comet, but no luck with the full-ish Moon.  But seeing the Moon and Antares together were a nice consolation prize. 

Closeup of the Moon: iPhone 13 through Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 telescope 40 mm eyepiece 

Wide field: iPhone 13

7/13/22 9:58 PM EDT

Ten second exposure of the International Space Station (ISS) 🛰 passing overhead, through the constellation Draco. 🐉 

📷: iPhone 13 ⏰: 10 second exposure 

Wishing everyone clear skies! 

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Snippets

compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

-NYT

The Cartwheel Galaxy Scientists on Tuesday published the latest images from NASA’s triumphant James Webb Space Telescope. The newest release documents the Cartwheel galaxy, which is about 500 million light-years from our planet and is aptly named for its wheel-like appearance…more

-NYT
-NYT

Weave: New device will investigate Milky Way’s origins Scientists have supercharged one of Earth’s most powerful telescopes with new technology that will reveal how our galaxy formed in unprecedented detail. The William Herschel Telescope (WHT) in La Palma, Spain will be able to survey 1,000 stars per hour until it has catalogued a total of five million…more

-NYT

NASA Will Send More Helicopters to Mars The first helicopter that NASA sent to Mars worked so well that it is sending two more. The helicopters are similar to Ingenuity, the “Marscopter” that accompanied NASA’s Perseverance rover to Mars. But they’ll have the added ability of being able to grab…more

-BBC

UK Mars rover will have to aim for the Moon A plan to send another UK-assembled rover to Mars has been formally binned by the US and European space agencies. The vehicle was to have played a key role in getting rock samples from the Red Planet back to Earth so they could be studied in labs for signs of life…more

-BBC

Giant Lovell radio telescope at Jodrell Bank to become space light show The UK’s largest radio telescope – the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire – is being turned into a light and sound show. For the first time since 2019, at the Bluedot festival, the giant radio telescope will take center stage. Images from space, including some stunning pictures from…more

-BBC

Scottish astronomers push James Webb deeper back in time Scottish astronomers have spied what they believe to be the most distant galaxy ever observed, using the new super space telescope, James Webb. The red smudge is 35 billion light-years away. We see it, as it was, just 235 million years after the Big Bang…more

– BBC

Neutron stars: New telescope detects dead suns colliding Astronomers can for the first time detect the smashing together of dead suns known as neutron stars, thanks to a powerful new telescope. Collisions of neutron stars are key to our understanding of the Universe. They are thought to have created…more

-NYT

NASA Shows Webb’s View of Something Closer to Home: Jupiter The new James Webb Space Telescope can capture photographs not only of galaxies across the universe, but also of objects in our celestial backyard. NASA on Thursday released images of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, which is currently just 430 million miles away from Earth…more

-NYT

The Lonely Work of Picking the Universe’s Best Astronomy Pictures After the image flashes up on the projector, a few quiet beats tick by, punctuated only by a soft “wow.” Everyone is processing. Then more “wows” bubble out, and people are talking over one another, laughing. Suddenly two astronomers, Amaya Moro-Martin and Karl Gordon, are out of their chairs, sticking their noses closer…more

-BBC

Why asteroids are the next big prize in the space race Asteroids hold large amounts of valuable minerals and metals. That is what International Asteroid Day is raising awareness about on 30 June. As resources are depleted on Earth, some scientists suggest asteroids could be mined instead. But could developing countries be left out of this new space race?…more

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