by Rex Parker, Director
Hands-On Astronomy at AAAP. The upgrades continue at the Observatory in Washington Crossing State Park. Thanks to Observatory Chairs Dave and Jennifer Skitt, who have been spearheading the improvements and getting things ready for the new season. Most recently, two new Windows10 PC’s have been brought in and TheSkyX (by Software Bisque) has been installed to control the Paramount MEs running the telescopes. Accessories for the Tak Mewlon-250 have been acquired: Panoptic 27 and 41 eyepieces and TMB Optical 2” diagonal. Now that we have high speed Verizon, the new computers are being set up with remote control software, allowing Keyholders to access TheSkyX software remotely from home PCs (Windows or Mac). We’ll be scheduling some training sessions for the new setup in the near future.
Seeking AAAP outreach co-chair. One of the things AAAP is noted for is public outreach. We’re aiming to identify an assistant(s) to help current co-chair David Letcher further develop these opportunities in the club. This important role involves communicating with teachers, scout troop leaders, other educators, and community leaders to help set up local astronomy events, and coordinating with club members participating in the outreach. The events typically involve observing at night, and are often held at our Observatory in Washington Crossing State Park or sometimes on location at schools and parks and public facilities. Please contact me or David (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested in helping.
Comet 45P/Honda Mrkos-Pajdusakova observing challenge. Last month’s observing challenge proved to be a good test, as the ability to see Comet 45P during it’s close approach depended a lot on weather conditions and the 4th quarter moon rising behind the comet in the east, tending to drown out the comet if you waited too long. This comet was not bright, reaching only magnitude ~8 as it neared earth, making binocular observation difficult. However I was able to image the comet with a CCD camera on Feb 10 as it moved through the constellation Hercules. I used a technique of multiple sequential short (30 sec) frames acquired as the telescope tracked at the sidereal rate, and compiled the subframes into a brief video (below). Attempts to take a deeper color image of the comet weren’t so pleasing, as the comet lacked a noticeable tail by this date.
Video of Comet 45P (below). (The MP4 video should play with Windows Media Player.) Comet 45P/Honda Mrkos-Pajdušáková in the constellation Hercules as seen on Feb 10 at around 5AM from central NJ as it made close approach to earth and continued on to the outer solar system. MP4 video file from 37 x 30-sec frames (18.5 min elapsed time) compiled using AVI codex. Images were taken by RAParker using an AGO-12.5″ imaging Dall-Kirkham reflector telescope, SBIG ST-10 CCD camera, and Paramount-MX.
Upcoming Club Activities
• Night-sky refresher at Planetarium (May 13, 2017). We’re reprising the “night sky refresher” session so that members can improve deep sky skills. We’ll utilize the Planetarium equipment along with the expert knowledge of AAAP member Bill Murray who is also on the Planetarium staff. Meet on May 13 at 10AM, at the Planetarium located at the NJ State Museum at 205 W State St in Trenton.
• Member nights – star parties at Washington Crossing Observatory (May 27 and June 24). Plans are being made to hold two special celestial observing events for members (friends and family welcome too) at our observatory on May 27 and June 24. This is a good chance to check out the new hardware and software and bring your own telescope for a great night of observing and camaraderie.
• Solar eclipse plans (Aug 21, 2017). A solar total eclipse is rare at any single location on earth, happening about once per 360 years on average. Several AAAP members are making plans to view the upcoming eclipse in Oregon. If you’re interested in participating contact assistant director Larry Kane. The chosen locale is near the town of Monmouth OR, where one of our members has a family connection. This site is in the path of totality running W to E across the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. In Oregon the duration of totality will be about 2 min. Of course, a clear sky is key to eclipse observing, and August weather considerations are favorable at this site. NJ and surrounding states will see only a partial eclipse, far less impressive than totality.