December 11, 2012 AAAP Meeting Minutes

by Michael Wright, Secretary

The meeting was called to order by Director Ludy D’Angelo. He welcomed everyone to the meeting and announced that the club has Astronomy magazine’s 2013 Deep Sky Mysteries calendars on sale and speaker Ken Kremer will have photographs for sale outside the lecture after his talk.

Kate Otto, Program Chair, introduced journalist, Ph.D. research scientist, speaker, photographer and NASA ambassador, Dr. Ken Kremer. In his talk entitled “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars in 3-D”, Ken explained the latest discoveries of the Curiosity rover’s expedition across the surface of the red planet, and showed his clean room and launch pad photographs, spectacular 3-D images of the Martian surface, and his new Curiosity photo-mosaics.

After a brief break, Ludy reconvened the business portion of the meeting.

  1. Observatory:
    1. Gene Ramsey reported that the park is open; however, vandals have broken several gates that the club uses to enter the park. The park staff has temporarily barricaded the gates to prevent vehicular access. The observatory can only be accessed during the daytime through the main gate. The park budget is very tight so restoring access is not priority and will be slow. Ludy suggested that AAAP offer to repair the gates if the State will agree to reimburse us for the cost. Jeff said that opening Brick Yard Road should be the highest priority. Ludy said he is coordinating with the park staff regarding moving the locks to give us access from Brick Yard Road. Gene said he will discuss the situation with the park superintendent.
    2. Possible ways to handle the one-way flow on Brick Yard Road on public nights was briefly discussed but no consensus was reached.
    3. Bill Murray’s team is short handed. We need a few more keyholders. Gene will conduct keyholder training after the gates are repaired so he is looking for members interested in becoming keyholders.
    4. Ludy said that the new mount should be installed and other maintenance completed before the spring.
    5. Rex Parker asked about the mortar repairs. Gene said that he will get a quote from a mason.
    6. John Giles said that he working on repairing the controller on the G11 mount.
  2. Treasurer’s Report: Michael Mitrano reported that the club’s finances are sound and that membership is down slightly as compared to the same time last year.
  3. Secretary’s Report/Sidereal Times : Michael Wright said that the deadline for submitting articles for the January Sidereal Times is December 27, 2012, which falls between Christmas and New Year’s holidays. He encouraged writers to submit their reports before the holiday. The deadline for submitting a press release to the papers is December 21, and he will need the speaker information the day before.
  4. Outreach Report: David Letcher was not in attendance. Jeff Bernardis reminded that the club is hosting a star party on Friday, December 14 at the Newell Elementary School in Allentown, NJ. Anyone interested in helping should contact David.
  5. Program Chair: Kate Otto said that she is still working on a speaker for January, but speakers are arranged for February and March. The committee to organize the 50th anniversary dinner had a meeting, and they are moving forward with plans. The dinner is tentatively scheduled for May or June.
  6. Observatory Donation:
    1. Michael Mitrano presented a report that was emailed to all members before the meeting. The very thorough reported discusses the condition of AAAP’s Jenny Jump observatory and the feasibility of installing a dome on the existing structure. The report concludes that the existing structure needs significant repairs; however, the framing could be reused for the proposed dome. Also, the obstruction to neighboring observatories would be modest.
    2. Ludy summarized the potential donation as including a 10-foot diameter Observadome, a Celestron C14, a Paramount, accessories to fully automate the dome and scope, and approximately $4000 . The equipment is from a defunct observatory in New Hampshire. It is owned by a 501(3)c non-profit organization and is currently in storage in Medford, NJ. The owner has to donate to another non-profit. Jeff added that AAAP should reply to the donor within about one month.
    3. Ludy said that the Board, at the July meeting, considered various options for the donated equipment, including referring the donor to S. Brunswick school district, who wants to build an observatory for their students. The Board decided to investigate the feasibility of installing an automated observatory at Jenny Jump for remote viewing and astro-photography. UACNJ approved the concept subject to submitting plans for the park’s approval.
    4. Ludy listed four options for AAAP’s Jenny Jump observatory:
      i. Dismantle the observatory and quit Jenny Jump
      ii. Fix the structure, restore the Newtonian and continue existing use
      iii. Accept donation except dome, fix existing structure, install new C14 and Paramount on existing pier, and retire the Newtonian
      iv. Accept compete donation; reconstruct observatory using dome, C14 and Paramount; and retire Newtonian
    5. The merits of the each alternative and the requirements of running a remote, automated observatory were discussed at length. Members with experience with astro-photography felt that setting up and running an automated observatory for remote viewing or astro-photography would be a difficult project that would tax the clubs expertise and help would be needed from outside the club. Members who built the Simpson and the Jenny Jump observatories recalled that well-organized efforts over more than one year by dedicated members made those projects successful. Also, the 1½-hour drive time from Princeton to Jenny Jump makes construction, repairs and maintenance difficult for club members. Local help would be needed to maintain the facility. The consensus was that building at Jenny Jump was not feasible for the club.
    6. Surabhi Agarwal explained S. Brunswick YMCA’s plans to build an observatory. She said they would take the donation if the club does not.
    7. The feasibility of using the donation at Washington Crossing was discussed. One concern was the availability of a suitable location on the existing site that has sky views and does not obstruct the existing scopes. Also, a 10-diameter dome would not be suitable for public observing because it is too cramped. A video feed into the main observatory was suggested. The consensus was that using the donation to construct a second observatory at Washington-Crossing would be a better use of the donation and the club’s resources.
    8. Ludy said that club should not undertake the project unless there is a dedicated group of members who will commit to seeing the project through to completion. He will send an email to members asking for volunteers to form a committee to plan and execute the project. If there is not enough enthusiasm, the club should not undertake the project. The fate of the Jenny Jump observatory will be decided after a decision is made about the donation.
  7. The next Board meeting will be on January 15, 2013.

Ludy adjourned the meeting.

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