Minutes of the September 13, 2022, AAAP Members General Meeting (online)

by Gene Allen, Secretary

The meeting was convened on Zoom by Director Rex Parker at 1930. Twenty-three people were logged on at the start. He briefly described his four agenda items:

  • Michael Strauss, Department Chair of Astrophysics at Princeton University, has officially invited us to hold our meetings in Peyton Hall once again. Our October speaker is remote, so our first expected return will be in November.
  • The piers at Simpson Observatory have been rebuilt and look as if they will last the rest of the century.
  • The AAAP was organized in 1962, and we have met very nearly every month since. Ideas for how to celebrate our 60th Anniversary are being sought. Send ideas to editors@princetonastronomy.org.
  • Rex issued a Lunar South Pole Challenge. The NASA Artemis Program is targeting the south pole due to water being discovered there, but that region is barely viewable even when the Moon librates, or wobbles upward a bit. Members are challenged to view or image Shackleton Crater and its vicinity.

Program Chair Victor Davis introduced Speaker/Member Dr. Michael DiMario and he began his talk, “Pluto Precovery and the Resurrection of Yerkes Observatory,” at 2047, with 35 people logged onto Zoom. Michael was part of a team that found Pluto on photographic plates recorded in 1909. These pre-dated its official discovery by more than two decades and this effort is credited with the earliest “precovery” of that distant dwarf planet / Kuiper Belt Object. Yerkes Observatory had been decommissioned and was headed for destruction until it was purchased from the University of Chicago by the Yerkes Future Foundation in 2020. They predict that it will take a decade to repair and renew the observatory after a century of wear and deferred maintenance, but now that historically significant site will not be lost to us forever.

Program Chair Victor Davis introduced Speaker/Member Lisa Ann Fanning and she began her talk, “Astronomical Events and Bird Behavior,” at 2021, with 36 people logged onto Zoom. Lisa has gathered and analyzed data from multiple diverse sources that show how many different species utilize features of the night sky and the Earth’s magnetic field to guide their migrations and more ordinary activities. New studies are adding evidence almost daily.

After a period of questions being directed to both speakers, with 35 people still logged onto Zoom, a 5-minute break ended at 2103.

Ivy Lane itself and the parking lots we used before the pandemic have been consumed by extensive campus construction that is expected to last years. Peyton Hall is no longer accessible from the north. The nearest parking is now the Stadium Drive Garage off Faculty Road, a fifteen-minute walk away. While that may limit participation by some, we feel we need to try. Renewing a connection to either the university or the IAS is important to maintaining our prestige. While the facilities may be better and the parking closer, our attempt to gain access to the IAS has not yet been successful. Four board members walked the route and observed that the Peyton auditorium has been reupholstered and recarpeted. Some additional research must be done to determine how we can accomplish hybrid (in-person plus Zoomed) meetings with the existing equipment. The auditorium will be unavailable to us in January because its equipment is being “brought up to campus standards.” That may help us a lot. Our speaker next month is Avi Loeb, author of the controversial book Extraterrestrial: The First Evidence of Life Beyond Earth. Since he is a professor at Harvard University, he will be addressing us via Zoom, and that is why we propose our first meeting in Peyton would be November.

Thirty-seven people contributed enough money to the Gene Ramsey Memorial Reconstruction Fund to nearly cover the cost of rebuilding the crumbling piers that support the observatory roll-off roof. Ingenious, quality work was performed by what may be the only 5-generation masonry company in the country. Member John Church was an original member along with the late Freeman Dyson, and they labored together with others to build the observatory in 1978. John shared some of his photos showing the construction, including one of Freeman wielding a shovel in a trench! Another of his photos appears in a book about Washington Crossing that he recommends to us, ISBN 978-1-5402-5167-1. We will assimilate his material into the AAAP history archives.

Director Rex Parker reissued his Lunar South Pole Challenge and described the difficulties of viewing and imaging the very bottom of the Moon. The lower left corner of the two-page star chart in Sky & Telescope magazine gives the date of the most favorable lunar libration for specific south polar features. The only listed libration for the remainder of September is Bailly Crater on the 22nd.  Member Bob Vanderbei chatted links to a couple of Moon images and his very helpful lunar libration video (https://vanderbei.princeton.edu/images/NJP/LunarLibration.html).

Discussion proceeded about how to celebrate our 60th anniversary sometime this fall. We held a gala banquet at the IAS for our 50th and some say we are unlikely to be able to top or even match that event. Member Rich Sherman suggested a flashy half or full-page commemorative ad in Sky & Telescope magazine. Editor Surabhi Agarwal agreed to try to come up with such a design. Member John Church thinks he can come up with an article that S&T would publish for free. Member Tom Swords suggested a catered commemorative star party on Baldpate Mountain. The consensus was to develop all these ideas to see which ones offer the most promise. Assistant Director Larry Kane volunteered to work on a committee for this event, but no one spoke up to join him. What it seems we most need is a central contact point to encourage and coordinate the development of the various proposals.

Observatory Co-Chair Dave Skitt offered additional updates on the Observatory.

  • The ZWO ASI294MC Pro astronomical camera has been repaired and returned to service. With its cooler once again working, Member Tom Swords created a library of dark and bias calibration frames that can be applied to improve the quality of its images.
  • Recent Public Nights have helped us recover from a poor summer, offering decent viewing and gathering crowds numbering in the 30s and more. A particularly fun target this last Friday was NGC 40, a red planetary nebula.
  • We still seek someone to coordinate and oversee professional installation of new carpet.

Zoom participants numbered 29 through most of the meeting and dwindled to 24 as we approached 2200.

The meeting was adjourned at 2211.

Our membership currently numbers 189. Those who joined this calendar year number 48, with 22 of them joining since our June meeting. Sadly, 46 have failed to renew, so our membership total has barely changed. Renewal reminder emails are continuing to encourage members to praise what is working for them and call our attention to what we might do better. Very few respond to that request, but most still renew. We have a 65% retention rate year-to-date.

This entry was posted in October 2022, Sidereal Times and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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