From the Director

Rex
by Rex Parker, Phd director@princetonastronomy.org

June 8 Meeting via Zoom.  We hope to see you on June 8 for the presentation by Dr. Anna Schauer, NASA Hubble Fellow from the University of Texas, who will join us from Austin.  See Program Chair Victor Davis’s section below for information on the talk.

Anticipation is strong that the June meeting will be AAAP’s last totally remote regular session, but let’s not tempt fate.  It will be the final meeting of the academic year, as we used to consider it when regular semesters on campus guided our schedule.  While there are positive signs that normal on-campus operations will resume at the university this fall, one sticking point for a possible return to Peyton Hall auditorium is whether the university will require proof of vaccination status (and how that would be executed) in order to be on campus. This has not been formally decided yet, and so our best advice for AAAP members is the obvious one – get the vaccination.

Renewal at the Observatory.  With the state relaxing COVID guidelines, the situation at AAAP’s Observatory in Washington Crossing Park is swiftly changing too.  We’ll discuss observatory attendance guidelines at the June 8 meeting and will continue to provide updates on opening status on the website. At this time we anticipate being fully open with normal operations for members who have been vaccinated.   

If you haven’t been to the observatory in the last year or two you may be amazed to see the equipment in action.  Much credit goes to our current (and past) Observatory Chair and several AAAP observer members who have assembled, upgraded, and fine-tuned the equipment and systems to their current state.  All of the telescopes are guided using a state-of-the-art program “TheSkyX” which directly controls two robotic equatorial mounts, the “Paramounts”.  A ZWO ASI294 color CMOS camera is at the focus of the Celestron-14 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope atop one Paramount.  This camera has been a ground-breaking success story as one of the first of the new generation of high speed video-capable color cameras using the back-illuminated Sony sensors which provide remarkable sensitivity, with QE ~75% for the ASI294.  The image is displayed on one or two large LCD monitors set up inside and sometimes outside the building to provide good viewing angles of the telescope target.  The 5” apochromatic refractor (Explore Scientific) with glass eyepiece sits astride the C14 to give a visual wide field comparison of the higher-magnification astrovideo target.  On a second Paramount sits the venerable and very long Hastings 6.25” refractor, one of the best planetary telescopes in central NJ.  Co-mounted with it is the 10” Takahashi Mewlon Dall-Kirkham-Cassegrain reflector scope, which comes close to  the Hastings in planetary capability but is better for deep sky objects, particularly globular clusters with its greater light grasp.  Both of these scopes are set up for visual eyepiece observing and are aligned for complementary views of the same target by two people at the same time.  I urge you to re-acquaint yourself with these fine instruments as we head towards prime observing season and clear skies at the Observatory this summer.

The Problem with Starlink.  I had intended to review the Starlink issue at the May meeting but time ran out, so this will be on the agenda for the June 8 meeting.  No doubt you’ve heard about Starlink, an ambitious project being constructed by SpaceX.  The satellite internet constellation is intended to give fast, low-latency internet access to broad stretches of the earth.  It consists of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit which communicate with ground transceivers.  The problem with all this is that the low orbit results in bright visible trails from reflected sunlight as the trains of satellites cross the night sky. 

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) and Noir Lab released a summary of the last summer’s workshop SATCON1, “Impact of Satellite Constellations on Optical Astronomy and Recommendations toward Mitigations” – see the link here, https://aas.org/satellite-constellations-1-workshop-report.  A second workshop, SATCON2, is planned for July 12-16 this summer to discuss how to implement mitigation strategies from SATCON1, aiming to reduce the impact of satellite constellations on astronomy.  SATCON2 has 3 objectives:

  • Define and quantify resources, metrics, and collaborations to implement SATCON1 recommendations, many of which will require substantial effort and funds to address.
  • Engage astronomers and satellite operators collaboratively in exploring policy frameworks and developing policy points for operations in low Earth orbit (LEO).
  • Increase the diversity of stakeholders and perspectives working to address both the challenges and the opportunities for astronomers, satellite operators, and all of humanity created by the industrialization of space.

There is clearly an opportunity for amateur astronomers to be one of those voices among the diversity of stakeholders.  I urge you to read up on the issues and consider becoming an amateur member of AAS in order to participate in the expanding conversation on this major topic.  You can become an amateur affiliate member of AAS through this link (on the application state your affiliation with AAAP).  https://aas.org/join/classes-membership-and-affiliation

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