From the Director

by Rex Parker, Phd

The Solstice Cometh                                                                                                                 After what seems a long weary hike over treacherous terrain we approach our destination at last.  Am I speaking of the Covid pandemic?  No, though it fits, but I allude to the coming of light, winter solstice.  December 21 marks the lowest declination of the sun and shortest day of the year (at ~5:05 AM in Princeton area).  As we look to the south sky at noon now the sun does appear lower than ever.  Note in the figure below that the sun’s declination at winter solstice is equal to the negative of the value of earth’s axial tilt.  It’s well known that the earth is closer to the sun in winter than summer, but as seen below, the closest distance comes a few weeks after solstice due to earth’s elliptical orbit and tilt.  Last month’s lecture covered the development of star charting and astrometry over the centuries. The data for the Excel graphs below were generated using MICA software (Multiyear Interactive Computer Almanac), the essential ephemeris program produced by the US Naval Observatory (available at Willmann-Bell, $29.95, PC or 32-bit Mac).  I highly recommend MICA for amateur astronomers because it teaches the fundamentals of astrometry. Using it helps interpret some of the graphically advanced programs that we’ve been talking about in recent meetings, such as TheSkyX, Sky Safari, and Stellarium.  MICA computes the exact quantities and positions that lie behind those beautiful graphs in the star charting programs. 

New Program Chair Joins AAAP Board                                                                                 The search among the membership for a new Program Chair to succeed Ira Polans’ 5 year tenure has reached a happy conclusion.  The Board voted unanimously to appoint Victor Davis as Program Chair for the remainder of this term (through May).  It’s apparent to us all that Ira’s act will be hard to follow, and from my perspective of over 25 years with the club, the programs of the past 5 years have been many of the best. Yet resilience is undeniably a needed feature of our organization. I would like to thank Victor on behalf of all AAAP members for stepping up to take the reins of this critical position.  Importantly, member Bill Thomas has offered to research and help identify topics and speakers, comprising an actual committee which Victor will chair.  As before, we welcome member input on future speaker programs.  Please communicate ideas directly to Victor by email to

The Search for a New Outreach Chair                                                                                  The ability of our club to carry out its mission – bring astronomy to our fellow beings – depends on having a vital and committed membership.  This is especially true of the Board positions whose roles are to guide the operation and future course of the AAAP.  Unfortunately unexpected consequences of pandemic situation led to Gene Allen deciding to step down from the Outreach Chair in which he was highly effective over the previous 2 years.  In Gene’s wake there remains the tradition of our club offering exciting astronomy connections to appreciative public and school participants. 

Now there is an opportunity to reinvent how we do outreach.  The next Chair will have a key role in developing the new virtual outreach strategy. We continue to receive requests for astronomy presentations by schools and a range of adult as well as youth organizations. What we need is a coordinator to link the talent in the club to those outside.  But the days of face-to-face observing sessions or presentations are on hold if not permanently altered. We’ve learned that Zoom and related technologies actually are pretty well suited to the needs of amateur astronomy.  The new Chair could develop contacts in regional schools and public organizations such as local Land Trusts and special interest groups and connect them to virtual astronomy presented by members of our club.  The club’s video astronomy project is a prime example of capabilities that could be directed towards virtual outreach.  Keep in mind that this is one of 7 Board level positions (Director, Asst. Director, Treasurer, Secretary, Program Chair, Observatory Chair, and Outreach Chair).  Thereby it includes fiduciary responsibilities, such as voting on larger expenditures, helping guide strategy, and participating in the Board Meetings.  If you would like to consider helping reinvent this essential role, please contact me at or phone (609) 306-1480. 

5 Ways to Do Astronomy in AAAP – Revised for the Time of Coronavirus!

  • Attend the monthly meeting via Zoom (2nd Tues each month, 7:30pm)
  • Participate in the new Journal Club – at the monthly meeting after break, give a 10 min talk sharing your screen in Zoom (contact
  • Come out to Washington Crossing Observatory for astro-video with telescopes, done safely with large monitors (contact
  • Join the Astro-Video interest group – live telescope astro-video by members on Fridays near new moon, next event is Dec 11 (contact
  • Borrow the club’s SX Ultrastar color CCD camera to use with your own scope (contact

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

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