From the Director

by Rex Parker, Phd

Zoom meetings continue for May and June meetings. There is some light beaming through the dark nebula, and a tiny sliver of hope emerges that we might be able to return to Peyton Hall next fall.  Meanwhile we hope that you are well and keeping your sense of humor and perspective despite the challenges of COVID. 

For the May 11 meeting, we are again taking advantage of the situation by inviting another non-local guest speaker-astronomer.  See program Chair Victor Davis’s section below for details on the talk. After that, we’ll hold a members business meeting including results of the election of officers and plans for the Observatory this spring/summer.  In order to more smoothly handle the election we are again using a survey to conduct the vote – please go to the election link below.   

Officer elections – voting link.  In order to conduct elections of officers in May, consistent with the by-laws, we have sent a link to a specific survey on-line where you can vote on the slate of officers.  There are two additional questions in the survey that we need member input on.  Results will be discussed at the May 11 meeting.  If you haven’t yet responded, please do so by going to this secure link.

A sea change in planetary sciences – and a book recommendation from an expert.  After last month’s fascinating presentation I asked the guest speaker, Dr. Alexandra Davatzes of Temple Univ., for insights on a text or other book that could help amateur astronomers better understand geochemistry and planetary formation.  She noted that the science changes fast and texts may become outdated.  I realized after checking out a few book reviews and journal articles that there is a big change underway in how planetary sciences are being taught in academe.  There previously was a strong physics approach to the subject as part of the astronomy curriculum, typically using a tour of the solar system bodies as framework.  But with NASA’s spacecraft exploration and lab-based analysis of extraterrestrial materials over the past decade or more, a new geological perspective on planet formation and evolution seems to be at hand. 

Dr. Davatzes suggested looking at one of the first textbooks to take the newer approach, “Planetary Geosciences” by Hap McSween. Although I haven’t bought that one, I did get another one she recommended (and has used in her classes) which has the catchy title “Planetary Crusts”, by S Ross Taylor and Scott McLennan. (Planetary Crusts:  Their Composition, Origin and Evolution; Cambridge Planetary Science, Series Number 10).  After starting in on the book I already agree with Dr. Davatzes that it is very well written, and it brings a perspective I had not before realized.  The amazing situation that a planet forms out of the solar nebula, how the elements are distilled and congeal into the rocky and gaseous planets, and the conditions needed for a surface crust to even form at all, are where this books starts. Here on earth, the crust is everything we as a human species has going for it – all of evolution and anything we ever imagined are all a result of this process.  So I am especially hoping that AAAP members will look into this title (you can download a free sample from Amazon that includes all of Ch.1).  It would be a good follow-on discussion (chapter by chapter at least) to our review a couple months ago of Avi Loeb’s “Extraterrestrial”.

Observing in the spring.  While the club’s Observatory at Washington Crossing Park is open on a limited basis to members (please check with Observatory Chair Dave Skitt before going out), we are continuing to plan for astro video live sessions.  Plans will be discussed at the May meeting.  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.  Below, I offer a recent image taken with my own amateur equipment.  I hope you can get outside to take in some of the views in your own telescope.

Messier 96 in the constellation Leo, a galaxy 31 million light years away.  The faint streak above the core of the galaxy is the asteroid 9098 Toshihiko (1996BQ3), magnitude 18 and a mere 7 km in diameter!  Astrophoto by Rex Parker from Titusville NJ; 12.5” telescope with ZWO CMOS camera for color and Atik 383l+ CCD camera for luminance.

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