From the Director






by Rex Parker, PhD 

Help Make 2015 a Great Year for Astronomy! We have several projects and opportunities in motion to help make this the most meaningful, accessible, and really fun year ever for astronomy in the AAAP. Stay tuned to Sidereal Times — the official voice of the AAAP – and our website: to catch the latest updates on events and activities that you can participate in. Upcoming events include our regular public lecture meetings on the 2nd Tuesday of each month, now at a new location on the Princeton campus as Peyton Hall undergoes HVAC renovation. We are also planning a special field trip to PPPL on February 4. I will send an e-mail announcement with sign-up instructions during the last week of January.

Slipping through the Lion’s Paws.  If the sky is clear on January 7-8 after 10 p.m., look at the constellation Leo rising in the east, as the waning gibbous moon slips right between the Lion’s front paws. Jupiter is the moon’s brilliant companion on the 7th, rivaled by Leo’s brightest star Regulus on January 8 (each only 5 degrees away from the moon on those dates). The name Regulus is a derivative of Latin “Rex”, little king or prince – so, Lion King? Thanks to its sky position on the ecliptic, this star is occulted by the moon often, and by Venus, Mercury, and asteroids rarely. The March 2014 occulation by the asteroid Erigone would have been the brightest star occultation ever recorded in N.America. I say “would have been” because cloudy weather blocked the entire path, and it went unseen. So, philosophically, was there an occultation? Spectroscopic studies have revealed a four-star system:  Regulus A, a bright young main-sequence blue-white binary star with white dwarf companion (not directly observable) is famous for being an extremely fast rotator with a period of only 16 hours and a mass 3.5 times our sun, giving it an unusual oblate shape.  Regulus B and C are fainter main-sequence companions about 170 arc-seconds from “A”, so they are visible in amateur telescopes – what colors do you see? Yes, this is an observing challenge!

Colors of the Season. I just can’t resist sharing this image:  the Great Orion Nebula (M42), a vast gaseous birthplace of new stars about 3500 light years distant on the next spiral arm of the Milky Way. The colors are real, as captured by the RGB Bayer matrix filters of the CCD camera and telescope.


M42, the Great orion Nebula, taken from Titusville NJ Credit: Rex Parker Equipment: Starlight Xpress SXVR-M25C camera, AG Optical 12.5-in iDK telescope, Paramount-MX.

The Dome Goes to Carolina Skies. As discussed at recent meetings, we sorted through over twenty responses to our ad on Astromart and reached a decision on the fate of the dome. The three-meter aluminum Observa-Dome goes to Carolina Skies, an astronomy club with connections to Pitt Community College, East Carolina University and the nature/science learning center “A Time for Science” in Grifton, NC (Greenville area, eastern NC). On December 20, Michael Mitrano, John Giles, Jeff Bernardis and I met in Pennington with Tim Christensen and Charles Goodman from Carolina Skies to load the dome and ancillary equipment onto the large truck they had driven up from North Carolina. The dome will become part of their substantial efforts to expand outreach with observational and imaging astronomy in the lowlands of east Carolina, a dark sky area relatively free of light pollution, and much in need of science outreach to the community. For more information see this link.


Tim Christensen and Charles Goodman (Carolina Skies/ Pitt Coll./ E. Carolina Univ.) flank Michael Mitrano, John Giles, and Jeff Bernardis (AAAP) as the three-meter Observa-Dome is loaded for transport to eastern North Carolina on Dec. 20, 2014.

Believe in the Future – Astronomy Equipment in Memory of Thomas Dixey. AAAP has accepted a very generous donation of astronomy equipment by John Dixey and family of Manalapan NJ, in memory of John’s uncle, Roy Thomas Dixey. Tom was a self-taught expert astronomer, always willing to share with family, friends and neighbors.  His devotion to the science and outreach was evident as astronomy reflected his personal writings and beliefs — Tom believed that the stars held many answers.  He taught himself calculus, physics and other sciences to better understand, and this helped him find peace after losing his wife years earlier.  His personal dedication to learn and share reflects what is possible when someone truly has a passion for something important.  The telescopes and other donated equipment are significant and too extensive to list here, but we will have the opportunity to sort out best placement in the next several months. The AAAP honor’s Tom by accepting these fine instruments and books for the benefit of our club, for members’ observing and learning, and for public outreach and sharing, all part of the AAAP’s mission.

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