Next meeting by Zoom on March 09 at 7:30pm. The recurring dream of getting together for astronomy in Princeton’s Peyton Hall hasn’t faded, but again this month and for the rest of this season AAAP will meet virtually via Zoom. For the March meeting our astronomy speaker will Zoom in from Nashville Tennessee – see the section below by Program Chair Victor Davis for more information about the program. Also please note in Victor’s section a discussion of our intention to live stream and record on our dedicated You Tube channel the program section of AAAP meetings.
All systems are (almost) go for Observatory repair. The countdown has begun and the Observatory reconstruction project should lift off soon. That might be a bit optimistic, but the bottleneck has been overcome. We finally received a written response from the state officials in charge of reviewing construction plans at the Park. Therefore we’ve initiated the formal permit request process. A masonry contractor has been identified and an estimate obtained. Once the application review and permitting are done the project should get off the ground, hopefully this spring.
Because the reconstruction expense will take a significant chunk out of the treasury, we formed the Gene Ramsey Memorial Reconstruction Fund. Contributions from members are a great way to honor Gene, who did so much for many years for the AAAP and the Observatory. Under review is how to memorialize Gene in this project, maybe a bronze plaque affixed to the new column. Your ideas on this are welcome — please send me an e-mail or comment during upcoming meetings. Donating now will also help ensure the future of our efforts to bring telescope observing and video astronomy to members and the public and kids. Donations can be made directly and securely on the AAAP website (the yellow “Donate” button on the right side of the home page), or checks can be mailed to: Treasurer, Amateur Astronomers Assoc. of Princeton, Inc., PO Box 2017, Princeton, NJ 08543. For larger amounts a check is helpful because the PayPal fee is significant. Contributions are tax-deductible. Please consider corporate matching if it’s an option for you.
Mars rocks. Ever since the Viking landers studied Martian geology — but didn’t quite answer the biology question — the quest for evidence of life present or past on Mars has lured open minded thinkers and some of the world’s best engineers and scientists. The Vikings were technological marvels of the 70’s – remember that Viking-1 landed on Mars exactly 7 years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Last week NASA’s 5th rover, Perseverance, landed amidst a swirl of red dust as we watched entranced. AAAP members answered the call to join the NASA Night Sky Network, with the AAAP-NSN roster now counting 45. It was great to see a AAAP presence at the NSN Mars landing party just ahead of Perseverance’s feat on Feb 18. The session included a display of member’s Mars images and the amazing photo by AAAP member Bob Vanderbei from last fall was the first one shown (and longest displayed) in the NSN live Zoom session. There will be more cool events with this group in the future, so if you haven’t yet joined the Night Sky Network as a AAAP affiliate member, send a note to me or to Dave (AAAP-NSN coordinators) for the instruction set.
A different way of looking at the Drake equation. In the early 1960’s astronomer Frank Drake formulated an equation that has never been solved. It helped promote wider understanding and interest in the SETI quest. The equation was really meant more as a provocative tool than a solvable algebraic formula. As astrophysicist and Harvard Astronomy Dept Chair Avi Loeb says in his new book “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” (2021, HMH Books), it’s unlikely we will ever be able to plug in values for all of the Drake variables, let alone determine their output. One of several new ideas that Dr Loeb brings to the “Are we alone?” question in the book is the concept that we should be more prepared to look for evidence of astro-archaeology rather than extant life. He explores the idea that civilizations may “wink in and out of existence”, perhaps inevitably and serially, over the unfathomably long history of the universe. This might serve as a powerful warning for our own civilization.
Some may not know that Dr Loeb was a post-doc at the Institute for Advanced Study here (1988-1993), and the strong Princeton connections in the book will be familiar to AAAP members. In the book Dr Loeb shows how the existing paradigm of astronomy and science needs to change, and how it might be able to, in order to see this question differently. This important work is central to the interests of most AAAP members. This is why I am challenging all AAAP members to read the book for a discussion at the March meeting.