From the Director

Rexby Rex Parker, PhD

Solar Eclipse Triptych by Howard Russell Butler.  Last month before the AAAP speaker dinner, six of us were escorted to an upper floor of the Princeton Firestone Library to see the famed Howard Russell Butler solar eclipse paintings from the 1920’s.  These scientifically and historically significant renderings are perhaps the highest expression of eclipse art, which dates as far back as the early Renaissance interpretations of the phenomenon.  We were amazed at the shimmering colors and detail of the prominences and corona in these remarkable paintings.

Butler was invited to participated in the 1918 solar eclipse expedition with the US Naval Observatory because of his uncanny ability to paint detailed astronomical images using contemporaneous notes on spatial and color details of the object.  The newly conserved paintings at the Firestone are the half-size version of the larger triptych which wound up at the Hayden Planetarium when it was first built in the mid-1930s.  A small version is also at the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute and another series of solar prominence art by Russell are held by the American Museum of Natural History.  His paintings of Mars as seen from its moons Phobos and Deimos, and the Earth from our Moon, are also owned by Princeton University.  His technique and astronomy knowledge enabled him to surpass the quality of solar photography at the time.  (citation: Pasachoff JM and Olson RM, abstracts, American Astronomical Soc. Meetings, 2013 and 2014).

AAAP members visit the Princeton Firestone Library to view the Butler eclipse paintings Nov 10, from left: John Giles, Henry Kugel, Tony Coventry, Ira Polans, Rex Parker, Arshad Gilani

AAAP members visit the Princeton Firestone Library to view the Butler eclipse paintings Nov 10, from left: John Giles, Henry Kugel, Tony Coventry, Ira Polans, Rex Parker and Arshad Gilani

Year in the Mirror.  As we head toward solstice and the conclusion of 2015, a look into the mirror seems appropriate.  It’s been a wonderful year for me as Director of the AAAP.  We’ve had great speaker presentations and outstanding public outreach and astronomy experiences at the observatory.  Here are a few highlights of what we accomplished together in the AAAP over the past year.

December 2014:  The 3-meter aluminum Observa-Dome was donated to the Carolina Skies Astronomy Club.  We transferred it from storage, and they trucked it to NC to be part of their new observatory for outreach and community college programs.

January 2015:  Moved our monthly meetings to Green Hall as Peyton underwent extensive renovations.  Acquired significant new astro hardware from the family of Roy Thomas Dixey of Manalapan NJ.

February:  Special AAAP tour of Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL) highlighting the fusion research program.

April:  Equipment upgrades at Washington Crossing Observatory:  installed a new Paramount ME to control the historic Hastings refractor and a 5-in apochromatic refractor with a Mallincam video camera on the old C14 and Paramount.

May:  Unveiled the new astro equipment at the Observatory.  Membership approved expenditure proposal for $5000 for continued computer and equipment upgrades.

June:  Cherry Springs observing trip rained out so we made up for it with a well-attended members’ night at WC Observatory.  All summer long the Observatory Keyholders did a great job running the facility with large public turnout on clear Friday nights.

September:  Returned to the renovated Peyton Hall for our monthly meetings.

October:  The club’s first-ever Astro Auction was held at the pavilion in WC Park on Oct 18, with a good turnout and excellent results. The club made nearly $3000 and placed many telescopes, eyepieces, mounts, and books into the hands of club members.

November:  Field trip to the US Naval Observatory in Washington, DC on Nov 2.  Fourteen members and significant others made the special night tour of the historically and scientifically important USNO.  Reconstruction of the WC Observatory north roof, a long-standing problem, was completed by dedicated core team of members.  On Nov 10 prior to the monthly meeting, several members joined for a brief viewing of the famous but rarely seen Howard Russell Butler solar eclipse triptych in the Firestone Library.

December:  Replaced the original Celestron C14 with a newer C14 – an instrument with better optical performance and Fastar capability.  The hardware swap was completed and alignment of the telescope is underway.

Timekeeping Insights from the USNO. Clocks are based on exactly 24.00 hour days, while a solar day (the period between solar transits) varies and is seldom exactly this value.  In December, the span from one solar noon to the next is 24 hours plus about a half a minute.  For example, the sun reaches its southernmost (noon) position about seven minutes earlier on Dec 7 than Dec 21.  The function expressing the relationship between apparent solar time and accurate clock time is more complex, as shown in the graph below (credit, U.S. Naval Observatory) which shows the equation of time. Above the axis the sundial is faster than the clock, and below the axis the sundial lags behind the clock.

Equation of Time

Equation of Time

Next Meeting at Peyton Hall (7:30 pm, Dec 8). Our tradition of interesting and inspiring speaker presentations continues this month with a talk by NASA Ambassador Ken Kremer, PhD.  He will discuss “America’s Human Path Back to Space and Mars with Orion, Starliner, and  Dragon”.  Check out the announcement by Program Chair Ira Polans and on the AAAP website

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