From The Director

by Rex Parker, PhD  director@princetonastronomy.org

New Season Starting, Campus Return Delayed.  The highly anticipated new season of monthly AAAP meetings will begin on Tuesday September 14 (7:30pm).  Guest lecturers from near and distant locales will again be the theme this year as we continue to meet virtually by Zoom.  See the section below for information about the guest speaker for Sept 14.  Despite our hopes, Princeton University and the Astrophysical Sciences Dept have communicated that on-campus groups should be limited to students and staff.  Our return to Peyton Hall is going to be delayed for a while.  

Our virtual meeting format features two halves with intermission, with the guest speaker presenting during the first hour.  Club activities and conversations highlight the second hour, giving us a chance to elevate the art of amateur astronomy with discussions of hands-on observing and other perspectives from members.  One way you can participate and promote club interactions is by giving an informal “Journal Club” presentation, a short ~10 minute talk about an astronomy topic you especially care about. This works well with audiovisuals (e.g., Powerpoint slides, JPEGs, etc.) using screen-sharing in Zoom.  But it certainly doesn’t need to be scholarly, rather it’s intended to be fun and help club members engage.  To get onto the agenda for an upcoming meeting, shoot a note to me at director@princetonastronomy.org or to program chair Victor Davis at program@princetonastronomy.org.

New Roles – Looking for a Few Members to Help the Club.  As we move further into the virtual meeting era, several opportunities have evolved for members to contribute as facilitators of club activities.  The Board has endorsed the following new roles (special thanks to Dave and Jenn S. and Victor D. for thoughtful ideas).  If you are interested in volunteering to take on one of these new roles, please e-mail me at director@princetonastronomy.org.

  • Night Sky Network Toolkit facilitator:  Promote the ongoing link between AAAP and NSN.  Sort through the various NASA/JPL Night Sky Network toolkits we’ve received and determine how best to utilize them in our outreach and public night events.  Practice with the toolkits and train others how to use them.  For the NSN website go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/index.cfm

Facilitator Benefits:  You get to explore interesting packages delivered from NSN.  Learn about astronomy from well thought out materials for all age groups — cool stuff to play with.  Interact with members and public.  Get to teach astronomy facts and concepts.

  • Loaner telescope program facilitator:  The club owns a few telescopes and related equipment and occasionally receives donations which we keep or sell.  The role here would be to set up and run a loaner telescope program for members.  Learn about, practice with, maintain, and possibly store the telescopes and make them available for members to use.  Train members on how to use telescopes.  Develop a system to keep track of loaner whereabouts and ensure good condition of the equipment.

Facilitator Benefits:  You get to graciously accept occasional donations from the public.  Learn how to evaluate telescope completeness and condition.  Learn how to set up and use different scopes and mounts, eyepieces and cameras.  Get to play with donated scopes at your leisure.  Interact with members and share knowledge.

  • Social media facilitator:  Provide contents and update our ongoing AAAP Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.  Look into other forms of social media and how they could be utilized for the club’s benefit.  Develop means for members to privately contact/message other members in or out of our current email and newsletter systems for daily chat, invitations to observatory, share stories or photos, etc.  This could be a message board or similar function so that members can connect.

Facilitator Benefits:  Connect with members and public who are heard but not necessarily seen.  Utilize various resources to learn more about astronomy. Interact with members and share knowledge.  Broaden our network of AAAP followers.  Pass the knowledge on to new generations of members and public.  

  • AAAP “merch” facilitator:  Arrange acquisition of AAAP-logo emblazoned clothing, hats, and other merchandise for members to purchase and to give away to speakers and special guests.  Examine possible on-line stores to create AAAP-branded minor merch offerings.  Acquire free literature from various sources to hand out at the observatory and public outreach.

Facilitator Benefits:  Connect with vendors and on-line merchandisers.  Learn what it takes to make, buy, and sell custom merchandize and marketing materials.  Share the stuff and interact with members and public.

Stay Tuned for Big News.  What are the most important scientific questions in astronomy? For the overarching goals of astronomy, research at the cutting edge will need new instrumentation and larger than ever telescopes. Moreover, these telescopes need to gather and measure different ranges of wavelength and energy of light.   The challenge from a science planning perspective is prioritizing the funding for big astronomy, and only a few major projects will ultimately succeed in receiving the needed billions. Competition among proposals is fierce. 

Astronomy in the US has evolved a process in which the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine conduct the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey.  This formal 10 year planning process ranks the proposed projects, and prioritizes which major new telescopes and observatories on earth and in space will receive federal funding.  Recent big project examples such as the James Webb and the Hubble space telescopes became reality in part due to endorsements from Decadal Surveys of the past.  The imminent release of the current Decadal Survey summary is going to produce waves of excitement and disappointment and make its impact in the direction of astro science throughout the 2020’s.   

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