From the Director





by Rex Parker, Phd

Zoom AAAP Meetings for May 12 and June 09.
We hope that you are well and keeping your sense of humor and perspective despite the social and personal challenges of COVID. As you know, club meetings at Peyton Hall and Observatory activities at Washington Crossing Park remain suspended. While we see some positive signs, it is not clear when we will get back to gathering for meetings. So in response, we’re making plans to bring the May 12 and June 09 AAAP meetings to members on-line using the well-established Zoom platform. The Board reviewed available options and concluded that Zoom is the best choice for our next 2 meetings, based on wide-spread acceptance and familiarity, and functionality for groups our size.

For the May 12 meeting we will have a guest speaker, and structure the meeting more or less the same as we do in Peyton Hall. After the talk we’ll hold a members business meeting. So we’ll ask for your patience as well as participation in this experiment, and hope we all become more adept amateur astronomers through the experience. See Ira’s Program Chair section (below) for speaker information and for the Zoom details, and stay tuned for e-mails with more about using Zoom for these meetings. If you haven’t yet used Zoom and would like a pilot run ahead of the meeting, we can offer a practice session before May 12 – stay tuned for emails about this.

Officer Elections – Voting Link.
In order to conduct elections of officers in May, consistent with the by-laws, we sent a link to a specific survey on-line where you can vote on the slate of officers Results will be discussed at the May 12 meeting. If you haven’t yet voted please do so by going to this secure link.

Capital Expenditure Recommendation for Observatory Columns Repair.
The Board recommends the expenditure of up to $9500 for observatory columns (pedestals) repair.  The proposal will be discussed at the May 12 meeting and voted on at the June 09 meeting, each conducted by Zoom.  Our current Treasury balance is sufficient to absorb this amount;  as of March 31 the Treasury balance was slightly over $15,000.  Of course it will be wise for us to raise money in the near future to offset this expense.  I’d like to ask all members to give some thought on ways to generate additional funds .  One example is to donate to the club and apply for a matching gift, if your company or organization has a charitable donation program. We are a tax-exempt 501c3 organization.

The background on this proposal is that the concrete block pedestals that support the roll-off roof of the AAAP-owned observatory at Washington Crossing State Park are in need of serious repair, due to substantial deterioration of the mortar and blocks over time. We have concluded that prompt action is prudent. Options were reviewed by the Board and a few members with engineering and construction expertise over the last half-year, and these were discussed in previous business meetings. We recently obtained cost estimates from professional contractors. The best proposal, from CWC Masonry LLC, of Trenton NJ, is to completely rebuild four pedestals (demolishing and removing the old) on the existing concrete footers which are in good shape. The cost estimate is $8500; the request to authorize up to $9500 helps provide for unexpected issues during construction.

The Bylaws stipulate: … expenditure in excess of $1000 must be recommended by the Board of Trustees and the recommendation must be published in AAAP’s monthly newsletter together with the meeting date on which the expenditure will be voted. The expenditure must then be approved by a majority of the votes cast and not less than 30% of the paid membership. Members not attending the meeting may vote by mailed or e-mailed ballot provided that their ballot is received by the Secretary within 40 days of the meeting.

Next steps:

  • Discuss expenditure proposal at May 12 meeting (Zoom)
  • Members vote on expenditure authorization at June 09 meeting (Zoom)
  • Obtain Park administrative approval (pending)
  • Schedule contractor, execute job, and pay for the work

The Domain of the Amateur Astronomer.
The domain of the amateur sometimes overlaps with the professional. Such was the case with a fascinating Nature Astronomy report which made the mainstream media last week. Two amateur astronomers made the novel discovery of an unusual “teardrop” shaped star. The amateurs carefully analyzed data emerging from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and communicated their initial findings to astronomers at MIT and UT-Austin (reference – Handler, Kurtz, Rappaport, et al., Nat Astron, Mar 9 2020). The TESS data revealed unexpected brightness variations of a pulsating variable star named HD74423. The interpretation is that the star attained its ovoid shape due to gravity of a companion red dwarf star with a rapid orbital period, 2 days. The surprise was the dependence of brightness variation on exactly when the observation was made. Tidal forces in the system shift the orientation of the pulsation axis so that the main star forms a teardrop shape in synchrony with the binary orbital period. In their words, “the pulsation mode amplitude is strongly modulated at the orbital frequency; this is the first time that oblique pulsation along a tidal axis has been recognized”. But not the first time that an amateur astronomer contribution has been recognized.

We’re all waiting for the club’s Observatory to reopen. Meanwhile, hopefully you’re getting outside in your yard at home and observing using your own personal telescope. In many ways this is the most essential domain of the amateur astronomer. And here in central NJ we’ve been fortunate to get a few clear nights between spring rainstorms. Below, I offer a few images taken with my own amateur equipment, showing some of the magnificent Messier objects well-positioned now for observing in the early evening. I hope you can get outside to take in some of the views in your own telescope.

Messier 94, sometimes called the “Cat’s Eye Galaxy”, in the constellation Canes Venatici. Astrophoto by Rex Parker from home observatory in Titusville NJ; 12.5 inch telescope with ZWO CMOS camera.
Astrophoto by Rex Parker from home observatory in Titusville NJ; 12.5 inch telescope with ZWO CMOS camera.

Elliptical galaxies Messier 105 and NGC 3384, and spiral galaxy NGC 3389 in the constellation Leo. Astrophoto by Rex Parker from home observatory in Titusville NJ; 12.5 inch telescope with ZWO CMOS camera.

Messier 3, globular cluster in in the constellation Canes Venatici. Astrophoto by Rex Parker from home observatory in Titusville NJ; 12.5 inch telescope with ZWO CMOS camera.

This entry was posted in May 2020, Sidereal Times and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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