by Rex Parker, Director
Reflecting over the past year in AAAP. As we head toward solstice and the conclusion of 2016 a look into the mirror seems appropriate. It’s been an honor for me to continue to serve as director. We’ve had wonderful speakers’ presentations thanks to the program committee, and we’re grateful to Princeton Univ. and the Astrophysics Dept. for use of the terrific venue that is Peyton Hall. Our tradition of public outreach continued at WC Observatory and on the road, thanks to efforts of keyholders and observatory co-chairs. Here are a few of the highlights.
- Outstanding programs in 2016 included talks by Dr Jim Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences division; Dr Jim Stone, new chairman of Princeton Astrophysical Sciences; the documentary movie “Saving Hubble” presented by its director David Gaynes; and a discussion by author Frank O’brien on “The Apollo Guidance Computer” (his book is available on Amazon).
- A newer Celestron 14” telescope was installed at WC Observatory, with noticeably better off-axis optical performance than the previous model. The new C14 was the last component of a generous donation received a few years ago (along with Paramount #2 and the aluminum Observa-Dome which we gave to another organization a year ago).
- Other changes at the Observatory included modernizing the computers and preparing for the jump to The SkyX software to control the two Paramount-ME’s, and a new video monitor for the Mallincam-5”refractor. These efforts were led by Observatory Chair Dave Skitt and others. Verizon FiOS was installed giving us high speed internet and telecomm at the Observatory, thanks to member Jim McHenry.
- Night-sky refresher sessions were held at the NJ State Museum Planetarium, including “Planetarium Retro”, helping members better understand and more effectively show others the deep sky as seen in central NJ. Thanks to Bill Murray for hosting these events.
- Our new improved website came alive with content showing AAAP to the on-line world. Thanks go to webmaster Surabhi Agarwal for redesigning and configuring the site.
- We now claim 3 Mercury transit observations over 3 centuries with the Hastings 6” refractor telescope at WC Park (1881, 1973, 2016), a feat unmatched anywhere in the world to the best of our knowledge. The authenticity of this claim is based on historical research by John Church (see May 2016 issue of Sidereal Times). Thanks to John Church, Bill Murray, Gene Ramsey, Larry Kane, and Dave & Jenn Skitt for organizing the May event. The Dec 2016 issue of Sky and Telescope features an article “Three Centuries, One Scope” about this historic achievement along with a photograph of members alongside the Hastings refractor at the Observatory – see this link http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/newtrack/st_201612/index.php#/86
- More history – 150 years of the Rutgers Schanck Observatory. Ten AAAP members attended a celebration hosted by the Rutgers Cap & Skull Society, unveiling the renovated Schanck Observatory on the Queens campus. The presentation included the restoration of the building and telescope, and it was noted that AAAP’s 6” Hastings refractor spent 3 decades as the telescope mounted in the Schanck (ca. 1904-1937).
- To acquire another telescope to co-mount with the Hasting 6” refractor on the 2nd Paramount, the Board authorized expenditure of up to $10,000. After researching the topic, we acquired a pristine Takahashi Mewlon 250, a 10” f/12 Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain telescope. This high quality instrument has a 3-meter focal length and offers high resolution and contrast, and now sits alongside the Hastings refractor.
- Jersey StarQuest was successfully held in Hope NJ at the end of October. With 16 telescopes and 22 people on the observing field for one beautiful clear and cold night, we kept alive the ~25 year tradition in the club of an annual dedicated observing weekend at a relatively dark sky site.
- Fate of AAAP’s UACNJ Jenny Jump Observatory came to the forefront. The Board on Aug 23 resolved to continue AAAP’s commitment to the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey Observatories at Jenny Jump State Forest. A proposal to repair the observatory and upgrade equipment is being developed, and will continue to be a topic needing further attention by members in 2017.
- RIP Gene Ramsey, who passed away Sept 9. AAAP members share a deep sense of loss for our esteemed astronomer and friend. Gene was AAAP’s long-time Observatory co-chair, one of our most expert observers, and a wizard at dreaming up new gizmos and accessories to use with telescopes and mounts.
Remember the night of the Supermoon, Nov 13 2016. The November full moon often occurs when the elliptical orbit brings the moon closest to earth, and this year it was closest in our lifetimes for many of us (since 1948). Here’s my attempt at photographing it that night, along with a poem (first published in ST Dec 2014, edited 2016) to close the year in Sidereal Times.
Sharp are these cold nights
Moon and frost earth’s shadow share
Stars beckoning beyond globe’s rim
Waypoints and patterns for closing eyes.
We dream in these wintry climes
Wishing heaven to be our home
Wrapped in misting clouds embrace
Chilled yet warmed by lunar light.
– R A Parker –