From the Director

by Rex Parker, Phd

Zoom meetings continue for May and June meetings. There is some light beaming through the dark nebula, and a tiny sliver of hope emerges that we might be able to return to Peyton Hall next fall.  Meanwhile we hope that you are well and keeping your sense of humor and perspective despite the challenges of COVID. 

For the May 11 meeting, we are again taking advantage of the situation by inviting another non-local guest speaker-astronomer.  See program Chair Victor Davis’s section below for details on the talk. After that, we’ll hold a members business meeting including results of the election of officers and plans for the Observatory this spring/summer.  In order to more smoothly handle the election we are again using a survey to conduct the vote – please go to the election link below.   

Officer elections – voting link.  In order to conduct elections of officers in May, consistent with the by-laws, we have sent a link to a specific survey on-line where you can vote on the slate of officers.  There are two additional questions in the survey that we need member input on.  Results will be discussed at the May 11 meeting.  If you haven’t yet responded, please do so by going to this secure link.

A sea change in planetary sciences – and a book recommendation from an expert.  After last month’s fascinating presentation I asked the guest speaker, Dr. Alexandra Davatzes of Temple Univ., for insights on a text or other book that could help amateur astronomers better understand geochemistry and planetary formation.  She noted that the science changes fast and texts may become outdated.  I realized after checking out a few book reviews and journal articles that there is a big change underway in how planetary sciences are being taught in academe.  There previously was a strong physics approach to the subject as part of the astronomy curriculum, typically using a tour of the solar system bodies as framework.  But with NASA’s spacecraft exploration and lab-based analysis of extraterrestrial materials over the past decade or more, a new geological perspective on planet formation and evolution seems to be at hand. 

Dr. Davatzes suggested looking at one of the first textbooks to take the newer approach, “Planetary Geosciences” by Hap McSween. Although I haven’t bought that one, I did get another one she recommended (and has used in her classes) which has the catchy title “Planetary Crusts”, by S Ross Taylor and Scott McLennan. (Planetary Crusts:  Their Composition, Origin and Evolution; Cambridge Planetary Science, Series Number 10).  After starting in on the book I already agree with Dr. Davatzes that it is very well written, and it brings a perspective I had not before realized.  The amazing situation that a planet forms out of the solar nebula, how the elements are distilled and congeal into the rocky and gaseous planets, and the conditions needed for a surface crust to even form at all, are where this books starts. Here on earth, the crust is everything we as a human species has going for it – all of evolution and anything we ever imagined are all a result of this process.  So I am especially hoping that AAAP members will look into this title (you can download a free sample from Amazon that includes all of Ch.1).  It would be a good follow-on discussion (chapter by chapter at least) to our review a couple months ago of Avi Loeb’s “Extraterrestrial”.

Observing in the spring.  While the club’s Observatory at Washington Crossing Park is open on a limited basis to members (please check with Observatory Chair Dave Skitt before going out), we are continuing to plan for astro video live sessions.  Plans will be discussed at the May meeting.  Meanwhile, hopefully you’re getting outside in your yard at home and observing using your own personal telescope.  In many ways this is the most essential domain of the amateur astronomer.  Below, I offer a recent image taken with my own amateur equipment.  I hope you can get outside to take in some of the views in your own telescope.

Messier 96 in the constellation Leo, a galaxy 31 million light years away.  The faint streak above the core of the galaxy is the asteroid 9098 Toshihiko (1996BQ3), magnitude 18 and a mere 7 km in diameter!  Astrophoto by Rex Parker from Titusville NJ; 12.5” telescope with ZWO CMOS camera for color and Atik 383l+ CCD camera for luminance.

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From the Program Director

by Victor Davis

The May 2021 meeting of the AAAP will take place (virtually) on Tuesday, May 11th 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. Due to the number of possible attendees, we will use the Waiting Room. This means when you login into Zoom you will not be taken directly to the meeting. The waiting room will be opened at 7:00 PM. Prior to the meeting start time (7:30 PM) you may socialize with others in the waiting room. The meeting room has a capacity of 100 people.

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

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

Featured Speaker: Dr. Alexander Hayes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University and Director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science. His presentation is entitled, “Ocean Worlds of the Outer Solar System.”

Titan is the only solar system body besides Earth that supports standing bodies of liquid on its surface. There’s compelling evidence that beneath Europa’s icy shell is a global ocean of liquid water. Might these support life? Solar system exploration stands on the verge of a golden age of exploration, with the opportunity to search for signs of life in one or more of the ocean worlds of the outer solar system within the next two decades. Prof. Hayes’ talk will review what we know about the habitability of the ocean worlds Europa, Enceladus, and Titan, and discuss upcoming mission concepts designed to determine if they are, in fact, inhabited. 

Dr. Hayes’ research is focused Solar System exploration, using a growing armada of spacecraft to study the properties of planetary surfaces.  Hayes’ NASA flight project experience includes Cassini, MER, MSL, Mars2020, Europa Clipper, and Dragonfly. He has also worked on instrument design and characterization for several Missile Defense Agency Programs. Hayes’ research program focuses on planetary surface processes, with a special interest in the ocean worlds of the outer solar system, Mars, and comets. He is a recipient of the Zeldovich Medal from the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Ronald Greeley Early Career Award from the American Geophysical Union, the Sigma Xi Young Scholar Procter Prize, and a NASA Early Career Fellowship. Prof. Hayes earned an M.Eng in Applied Physics at Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Planetary Science from the California Institute of Technology. He is currently the chair of the Ocean Worlds and Dwarf Planet panel of the 2023-2032 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey. Prof. Hayes has also been involved in preflight development, calibration, in-flight operation and scientific analysis of data generated by Mastcam-Z, the panoramic and stereoscopic camera on NASA’s Perseverance rover.

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

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 link to the meeting
  3. This session will be recorded and saved on YouTube. Send me an email at if you have any concerns.

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

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

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

Upcoming Programs: Here’s a look ahead at upcoming guest speakers. We’re expecting to conduct virtual meetings for the remainder of this academic year. In an effort to turn necessity into a virtue, we’re casting our recruiting net a bit wider than usual, inviting speakers for whom a visit to Princeton would be impractical or inconvenient. Suggestions for guest speakers for September, 2021 and beyond are welcome.

June 8 – Anna Schauer: Dr. Schauer, a new mother, is the NASA Hubble Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. She leads the team researching what she’s nicknamed the Ultimately Large Telescope, a lunar liquid-mirror telescope that will aim at investigating First Star Formation.

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

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

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Minutes from the April 13, 2021 Members General Meeting (Online)

by John Miller, Secretary

●  The meeting convened at 7:30 PM via Zoom and Yahoo (online).  There were initially about 47 Zoom attendees.

●  Victor Davis, Program Chair, introduced the evening’s guest speaker: Professor Alexandra Krull Davatzes, Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Temple University.  Her presentation was titled: “Precambrian Meteor Impacts and Implications for Early Earth.”  The talk was well-received. An extensive Q&A followed.

●  The Association member topics discussion began at 9:00 P.M.  Subjects included:

           *Astro Video processes and presentations.

           *Pending slate of candidates for the Board of Trustees, 2021-2022.

           *Observatory policy and procedures for 2021 (Covid modifications).

           *Observatory repair schedule, permit reviews and possible adjustments.

●  Observatory Chair, David Skitt, invited AAAP members to visit the observatory April 16 to review the current equipment and observatory procedures.  He added there is a AAAP member Memorial Day solar observing session in the planning.

●  A Board of Trustees candidate slate was presented for 2021 – 2022:

           *Rex Parker, Director

           *Larry Kane, Assistant Director

           *John Miller, Secretary

           *Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

           *Victor Davis, Program Chair

           David and Jennifer Skitt, Observatory Co-chairs

●  The meeting adjourned at 10 P.M.

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Minutes of the April 6, 2021 AAAP Board of Trustees meeting (online)

by John Miller, Secretary

● Director Rex Parker opened the Zoom meeting at 7:30 P.M.

● The agenda included:

           * Calling for a slate of Trustee candidates for 2021-2022.

           * Observatory policies for the upcoming season.

           * Observatory repair permit statuses.

           * Observatory repair funding update.

● Member Bill Murray offered to manage the position of Outreach Chair beginning            immediately..

● The Board of Trustees all offered to manage their current responsibilities for the         current and upcoming year (July 2021 through June 2022).

● The Board discussed Observatory rules as established by the State of New Jersey,            particularly as deemed under the Covid 19 pandemic.  There was reticence to the idea of expanding any event to include the general public (non-AAAP membership).

● There was agreement regarding holding a member’s night on April 16th.  This would include a series of astro-video sessions.

●  Bill Murray made the reminder there will be a partial annular solar eclipse visible from the Princeton area on the morning of June 10. The eclipse will already be engaged at sunrise (approx. 5:49:50 a.m. Trenton/Princeton).

● Treasurer Michael Mitrano reported Observatory repair contributions, spearheaded by Assistant Director Larry Kane, have currently reached about $6,000. He added this balance is over and above the club’s current operating balance of approximately $15,000.  

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compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan


How NASA’s Roman Space Telescope Will Uncover Lonesome Black Holes NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will provide an unprecedented window into the infrared universe when it launches in the mid-2020s. One of the mission’s planned surveys will use a quirk of gravity…more


Muons: Scientists have ‘strong evidence’ for new force of nature Scientists say they have found “strong evidence” for the existence of a new force of nature. They have found that sub-atomic particles, called muons, are not behaving in the way predicted by the current theory of sub-atomic physics. There are four fundamental forces of nature…more


Ariel: A space telescope to study distant worlds The Ariel space telescope, which will study the atmospheres of distant worlds, has the green light to proceed. This video illustrates what the observatory, to launch in 2029, will look like. It also shows how the mission will do its science. Ariel plans to observe…more

-Nigel Ball

Why are people counting stars this week? Experts want to get an accurate picture of light pollution levels, by asking members of the public to count how many stars they can see. Light pollution can be harmful to birds, insects and other creatures….more


What Do You Call a Bunch of Black Holes: A Crush? A Scream? There are pods of whales and gaggles of geese. Now astronomers are wondering which plural term would best suit the most enigmatic entity in the cosmos. What do you call a black hole? Anything you want, the old joke goes, as long as you don’t call it late for dinner. Black holes, after all, are nothing but hungry…more


Hubble Captures Giant Star on the Edge of Destruction In celebration of the 31st anniversary of the launching of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers aimed the renowned observatory at a brilliant “celebrity star,” one of the brightest stars seen in our galaxy, surrounded by a glowing halo of gas and dust….more


An Artist Sketches the Giant Gender Gap on the Moon The moon’s surface is pockmarked with craters, the relics of violent impacts over cosmic time. A few of the largest are visible to the naked eye, and a backyard telescope reveals hundreds more. But turn astronomical observatories or even a space probe on our nearest celestial neighbor, and suddenly millions appear…more

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