From the Director





by Rex Parker, Phd

Virtually Like the Professionals.
While COVID has wiped out a lot of ground-based astronomy around the world, astronomers are ahead of the curve in virtual and robotic technologies. Astronomy and all the sciences are community-driven activities even though they sometimes must be solo.  Innovation helps uncover ways to share under isolating social conditions and is advancing the field in ways we only imagined yesterday.  For example, AAAP Observatory Chair Dave Skitt has been exploring ways to stream video astronomy from the club’s telescopes and cameras to make it accessible to members and public.  Not only telescopes, but remote meetings and conferences are the way forward for the near future.  For example the professional American Astronomical Society (AAS) shifted its 236th annual meeting in June to virtual.  I will remind AAAP members here that AAS recently established an amateur membership category, and that you are eligible to join (as I have) using AAAP as your local organization.  And so, as AAAP member meeting via Zoom and participating in remote streaming video astronomy, you can be in the front wave of the evolving astronomy community.  You can play your part by participating and helping us move forward faster than the social shock wave expanding behind us.

Important AAAP Meeting June 09 via Zoom.
We will hold the last meeting of the academic season June 09 using the Zoom platform.  The May meeting had 59 members via Zoom and the feedback was generally positive.  I urge you to join the meeting June 09 because we have several important things to accomplish.  The June meeting has historically been held at the NJ State Planetarium, hosted by member and planetarium staffer Bill Murray.  So we thought it appropriate to invite Bill to give a presentation for the June 09 Zoom meeting as the guest speaker — see Ira’s Program Chair section below.

Key agenda items for June 09 “business” meeting on Zoom: 
(1) Resolution:  Capital Expenditure Authorization, vote by members.  

(2) Plan for re-opening the Observatory 

(3) Future meetings if Princeton University doesn’t open

Vote June 09 – Capital Expenditure for Observatory Columns Repair.
A resolution will be presented at the June 09 meeting for vote by members, which would authorize the expenditure of up to $9500 for observatory columns (pedestals) repair.  The member authorization vote is stipulated by the By-Laws (paragraph below).  The Treasury balance is approximately $15,000.  We recognize concern about the scale of this expenditure, yet balance this with the need to accomplish the repair.  There is no doubt that it is necessary for the continued operation of the Observatory.  

Regarding when to execute, there are a few points to consider.  We currently await State Park administration approval, based on a construction plan and cost estimate we obtained from a licensed masonry contractor who inspected the site.  Once the state allows us to proceed, we’ll need to schedule the work with the contractor.  In the interim the Board will continue to monitor the situation and determine the best time to execute the work and incur the expense, whether it goes as soon as possible or is deferred until later this year.  

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.

Reopening the Observatory – a Draft Plan for Operating in the Time of COVID.  
We’re all hopeful about reopening the Observatory at Washington Crossing State Park. The NJ DEP (which oversees state parks) requires that we provide an operating plan for reopening in the time of COVID.  The state has several restrictions in place, including 25 person limit and social distancing.  The Board is developing a draft Plan in reply to the state, but not all of the Plan is established yet.  Please feel free to offer your input by e-mail to me or the Observatory Chair.


  • Phase 1 – virtual astronomy originating from the Observatory (start date depends on state)  
    • State guidelines will be followed.  
    • AAAP Keyholders only will be allowed access to the observatory.  No more than 8 Keyholders can be in the building at any time, and not more than 25 total can be on the property.  The Observatory Chair will coordinate schedules. 
    • We will focus on setting up, enhancing, and training Keyholders in video astronomy capabilities, including setup of monitor and/or projector + screen outside the observatory building.  
    • Remote streaming video astronomy on internet platforms will be developed and a protocol established to bring remote astro sessions originating from club observatory equipment to members and the public.
    • Best practices to manage member and public social distancing are being analyzed and reviewed by the Board and others.  Phase 1 is intended to provide an opportunity to figure out what is practical and acceptable.  Procedures will include hand sanitizers, swiping surfaces, and displaying signs for public instruction.
  • Phase 2 – member and public astronomy at the Observatory (start date depends on state)
    • State guidelines will be followed.  
    • Not more than 25 people total will be permitted on the premises at any time.  Keyholders on duty will monitor. Visitors exceeding this count will be asked to wait at the Observatory gate.
    • Not more than 8 people total will be permitted in the Observatory at any time.
    • Best practices developed in Phase 1 (above) will be used to manage social distancing, group sizes, and hygiene for Friday “Open House” nights for members and public.  
    • The focus will remain on video astronomy until acceptable procedures for safe use of glass eyepieces are established.
    • All cars will be parked outside the gate, except for on-duty Keyholders who may park inside the gate on the field east of the building.
    • Up to 4 personal telescopes will be permitted on the observing field west of the Observatory, while groups of not more than 4 people may cluster around a given telescope, subject to social distancing.

Seek the Stars!

Meanwhile, to get away from all these concerns, seek out the stars!  I hope you’re getting outside at home and observing using your own personal telescope.  In many ways this is the essential domain of the amateur astronomer.  Below, I offer a few images taken in the past couple weeks with my own amateur equipment.  

Messier 63, sometimes called the Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 63, sometimes called the “Sunflower Galaxy”, in the constellation Canes Venatici. Astrophoto by Rex Parker from home observatory in NJ; 12.5 inch telescope with ZWO CMOS color camera.

Supernova in Messier 61 in Virgo

Supernova in Messier 61 in Virgo. Astrophoto by Rex Parker from home observatory in NJ; 12.5 inch telescope with SBIG ST10-XME CCD camera.

The Crescent Moon on May 26. 2020

The Crescent Moon on May 26. Astrophoto by Rex Parker from home observatory in NJ; 12.5 inch telescope with ZWO CMOS color camera

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

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