From the Director


by Rex Parker, PhD, Director

Change is in the wind for AAAP.  As director this season, my goal is to enhance the connections you make with AAAP, to expand your access to the Princeton Astronomy experience, to enrich the role of astronomy and scientific fellowship in your life.  A few impending changes follow.

  • Meetings will start at 7:30 p.m (instead of 8 p.m.) to get you in/out at a reasonable time. This will get you home earlier, and make it easier to stay around for the “business” meeting after the talk.
  • 5 min “Astronomic Experiences” to begin each meeting. I will be calling on you for a brief anecdote, a memorable recent experience, that shows why astronomy matters to you.
  • “Telescope of the Month” on display in Peyton Auditorium at our meetings. I will ask many of you to participate.  Does not need to be state of the art, rather whatever instrument you have to share.
  • Track & recognize volunteer contributions. Vibrancy of the club depends on your contributions.
  • Video astronomy is coming to AAAP Washington Crossing Observatory (see below).

We will continue our tradition of great monthly speaker presentations from faculties, community, and membership.  Please do let the Program Chair, Kate Otto ( and me know your thoughts to help identify future topics and speakers.

Video astronomy is proposed in order to evolve AAAP’s public outreach astronomy capabilities.  We recognize that Washington Crossing Observatory is a great place and that AAAP Friday night observing is well-received by members and public, kids and adults alike.  However, light pollution and poor sky conditions take a toll on effectiveness.  All of our keyholders can relate to the challenges that we often face.

  • Light pollution and sky conditions sub-optimal, yet public turnout is large.
  • Difficult for Keyholder Teams to showcase the deep sky.
  • Disappointing views through the telescope eyepiece, lost opportunities.

Members and observatory visitors tend to be technologically savvy.  While the eyepiece can be wonderful, it is not the only, nor best, approach under some conditions.  Most visitors are likely able to appreciate video images of the deep sky on a monitor.

  • I am proposing to improve our technology/hardware to provide live video astronomy. In this context, video is related to, but distinct from CCD imaging.
  • Video technology can break through mediocre weather/sky conditions. We can provide both video monitor and visual eyepiece presentation of deep sky objects through the telescopes.
  • Telescope/instrument changes at WC Observatory are necessary to achieve this goal.

How we can bring video astronomy to WC, and other topics, will be under discussion at the September meeting of AAAP.  Hope to see you there!

Important note: AAAP meetings at Peyton Hall will begin at 7:30 p.m. starting Sept 9.

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From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane

When I first heard that a group of interested people were getting together to form an organization that would be there to help Washington Crossing Park, I knew that I should offer my time and energy to that task. This was going to be an organization that would protect the park in which our observatory was located. I offered my services to a group that turned out to include historians, authors, naturalists and many who are skilled at designing and implementing strategies that will provide support and enhancement of the Washington Crossing Park.

The months that I have been fortunate enough to serve as a Trustee of the Washington Crossing Park Association, NJ have been both educative and rewarding. I have helped to nurture the birth and early development of an organization that will grow and thrive. It will allow the WC Park to provide a range of experiences and memories to attendees of all ages. Plans are now being made for events that will bring many people to the WC Park. As an organization within the WC Park, the AAAP can take part in these events through its outreach efforts. Many of those who have attended events in the Park were surprised to learn that it had an observatory. Our outreach efforts will be more productive as the programs of the Washington Crossing Park Association are implemented.

This organization has to date, organized and participated in three major events: two involving the clean-up of trails damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the annual historical event in May that included dozens of organizations and brought in hundreds of visitors to the park. The organization is still in the process of its initial growth and needs the input from interested members of the public and members of organizations that have an affinity for the programs it inspires and supports. I think it provides for a natural alliance between our two groups. Members of the AAAP should support the development of the Washington Crossing Park Association. Check out its website at and visit it on Facebook. Membership in the organization is $25 per year. A strong showing of AAAP members who joined the WCPA, would send a clear message that our club and its members stand behind the efforts of the WCPA to repair, renew and improve the park for those who will be able to enjoy it. Annual dues and/or donations to the WCPA may be mailed to the Washington Crossing Park Association, P.O Box 83, Titusville, NJ, 08560-0083. The capacity to accept on-line memberships and donations is in the works.

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StarQuest 2014 – Sept 26 to 28 – Hope, NJ

SQ LogoHope Conference and Renewal Center, Hope, NJ

Friday, September 26, 2014 to
Sunday, September 28th 2014

This is a great opportunity for members and their friends and families to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow astronomy enthusiasts and observe at the best dark-sky site within 90 minutes of Princeton.

Gene Ramsey, ready to go copy

Gene Ramsey, ready to go. Credit: Ludy D’ Angelo

Solar observing with white light and H-alpha telescopes
All night observing under dark skies
Deep sky observing contest
Astronomy gear flea market (free tables)
“The Earth as a Peppercorn” – Solar system scale model
Telescope tutorials by experienced observers
Hiking, fishing, kayaking & canoeing (bring your own equipment)

A rustic lodge for activities, meals and socializing
Heated bunkhouses with semi-private baths
Tent and RV camping sites
Hot showers

Registration Fees
Camping and RV — $35.00 per person ($45 after September 24th), children (6-12 yrs.) $25
Bunkhouse — $55.00 per person ($65 after September 24th), children (6-12 yrs.) $35

Optional Saturday Brunch and Dinner
Adults — $20.00 per person
Children (ages 6–12 yrs.) — $10.00 per child
Food items may contain beef, pork, shellfish, nuts and wheat. Please contact us if you have dietary restrictions.

Download: Registration form and more information.

Observers Prepare Their Scopes

Observers Prepare Their Scopes

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Apollo 13

by S. Prasad Ganti

By 1970, man had been to the moon twice on successful Apollo 11 and 12 missions.  Jim Lovell the commander had dreamt for a long time to set his foot on the moon. Midway to the moon, a loud explosion destroyed an oxygen tank powering the fuel cells. Leaving the crippled spacecraft with much less power to the extent that landing on the moon was ruled out completely. Even getting the astronauts safely back to Earth was considered a slim chance.

Apollo 13 Crew: Commander, James A. Lovell Jr., Command Module pilot, John L. Swigert Jr.and Lunar Module pilot, Fred W. Haise Jr. Photo Credit: NASA

Apollo 13 Crew: Commander, James A. Lovell Jr., Command Module pilot, John L. Swigert Jr.and Lunar Module pilot, Fred W. Haise Jr. Photo Credit: NASA

Since the near space disaster in 1970, a lot has been written about it: articles, a book, a documentary and a full-length feature film with Tom Hanks playing the role of Jim Lovell. The salvaging of the mission, returning the astronauts safely back to Earth and finding out the root cause of the loud explosion is considered a shining moment for NASA and its contractors who did all kinds of thinking on the steps to be taken for a safe return of the astronauts. The mission was later termed the most successful failure !

At the time of the launch, the whole rocket and the spacecraft looks like a huge tall metallic monster. The Saturn V rocket which pushed the spacecraft into the space along with the massive fuel tanks makes up bulk of the structure. Once in space, most of that structure was jettisoned. What went to the moon is just three compact pieces joined together like blocks of Lego: the Command Module, Service Module and the Lunar Module. The Command Module was used by astronauts to pilot the spacecraft to the moon. After reaching the moon, the Command Module along with Service Module orbitted the moon while the Lunar Module landed on the moon. Once the mission on the moon’s surface was over, the Lunar Module took off and joined with the orbiting Command Module and Service Module combination.

The Service Module contained all the support systems for the astronauts to live and work in the Command Module including generating power using the fuel cells that combine oxygen and hydrogen. With the explosion in the oxygen tanks, the power generation was almost lost. There was no chance of landing on the moon and no way to turn back either because in space a spacecraft keeps going in the same direction at the same speed. Any change in direction or speed requires burning fuel. The rescue plan was to reach the moon and use its gravity to sling back towards Earth.

The circumlunar trajectory followed by Apollo 13, drawn to scale; the accident occurred about 5½ hours from entry into the Moon's sphere of gravitational influence. Credit: NASA

The circumlunar trajectory followed by Apollo 13, drawn to scale; the accident occurred about 5½ hours from entry into the Moon’s sphere of gravitational influence. Credit: NASA

The Command Module was shut down to conserve power. It was required to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere. The Lunar Module then became the astronauts’ home for the remainder of the journey. The Lunar Module was not built to support three astronauts for four days. Only essential systems were switched.  The astronauts lay in the cold Lunar Module hanging on to a very slim hope of making it back home, while hundreds of engineers on the ground were figuring out power conserving strategies and the steps required to restart the Command Module, which was never shut down in space before.

As the spacecraft swung around the moon and headed home, the astronauts were in constant conversation with Mission Control trying to understand and review the checklists for the different maneuvers. As it neared the Earth, the Service Module was first jettisoned and then the Lunar Module, which provided hope and shelter for the astronauts on their long journey home. The Command Module was restarted and it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. There is usually a radio silence of a few minutes during reentry due to interference to the radio waves. This time it was longer thereby extending the anxiety and suspense in the Mission Control. Finally the Command Module appeared in the sky and the astronauts were deposited on to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The nation heaved a sigh of relief. The astronauts were honored by President Nixon.

For those who are technically inclined, here is the root cause of the explosion in the oxygen tank. There are thermostats in the tank which control the heat or cooling  in the tank. The thermostats were not redesigned when the specification for the electrical system changed from 28 to 65 volts. As a result, one of them malfunctioned  and caused heat to build up and destroy the insulation on the wiring. When the astronauts switched on a system to stir up the oxygen in the tanks on the way to moon, the wires short circuited and caused the damage.

But why did heat build up inside the tank in the first place? While on the ground, the tank was dropped accidentally. As a result, a drain pipe that is used to drain all the oxygen went out of alignment. This damage was not noticed. During the dress rehearsal, oxygen is filled and drained to check the different systems. The draining was not complete due to the problem with the pipe. The electric heater was switched on to boil off the liquid oxygen to drain completely. The heater stayed on due to the malfunctioning thermostat. Like the proverbial nail in the horseshoe which caused a battle to be lost, an inexpensive thermostat brought an expensive space mission to its knees.

Odyssey was the name of the Command module, and Aquarius was the name of the Lunar module. They proved to be apt names which came in handy during the nearly doomed mission !

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A Pilgrimage to Palomar Observatory

by Michael Wright

On a recent business trip to San Diego, I had the good fortune to have a free day before my red-eye flight home so I rented a car and headed up into the mountains to visit the Palomar Observatory. The observatory is located in Palomar Mountain State Park at an elevation of 5,617 feet. The scenery on 1½-hour drive was worth the trip alone, particularly the last 45 minutes up the mountain to the park entrance.

Scenic 3

From Palomar Mountain Credit: M Wright

The observatory is an active research facility run by Caltech and the home of four telescopes: the famous 200-inch Hale Telescope, a 60-inch reflector, 48-inch Schmidt camera and a 24-inch robotic telescope. Visitors are limited to daylight hours so as not to disturb the astronomers working at the facility. The Greenway Visitor Center houses a small museum and gift shop, which is about 300 yards from the main dome. An 18-inch Schmidt telescope that was used to provide targets for the 200-inch and for systematic surveys of minor solar system bodies is on display along with exhibits about the observatory and the cosmos.

Palomar Dome

Palomar Observatory Dome Credit: M Wright

I recommend taking the guided tour because you get better access to the dome than the self-guided tour. Very knowledgeable docents from a local astronomy club begin the tour by taking visitors into the lower level of the dome where the optics workshop and storage areas are located. Then the tour proceeds to the main floor where the instrument cluster at the base of the OTA can be seen. Here they explain the history and operation of the scope using a scale model before proceeding to the upper level for a better view of the OTA and mount. Photography inside the dome is difficult because of the low light levels and the huge size of the scope.  More exhibits and models are on display in the visitor’s gallery including a view of the massive wheels that the dome rotates on.  More information including a podcast about visiting the observatory is available on the Palomar website: The visitor center is handicapped accessible, but visiting the dome requires climbing 70 steps.

Model of Hale Telescope  Credit: M Wright

Model of Hale Telescope Credit: M Wright

Astronomer and Caltech founder George Ellery Hale oversaw planning and construction of the 200-inch scope that bears his name. When it was completed shortly after Hale’s demise in 1948, it was the largest telescope in the world and the third record holder constructed under Hale’s supervision. Construction of the dome took place between 1936 and 1939. The construction of the telescope began in 1937 and was completed long before the 200-inch mirror was ready. The scope components were fabricated primarily at the Westinghouse South Philadelphia plant, then shipped by boat through the Panama Canal to San Diego and trucked to Palomar Mountain for assembly inside the dome.


Instrument Assembly Mounted Below the OTA Credit: M Wright

The original plan was to fabricate a 200-inch disk out of quartz, but the idea had to be abandoned. Instead Corning Glass Works were hired to cast the 200-inch mirror out of Pyrex. After a failed attempt to cast the mirror, a second disk was successfully cast in 1934. The disk remained in the oven at pouring temperature for just over a month and then was gradually cooled over a period of ten months. In 1936, the blank was shipped by rail under armed guard from New York because religious groups threatened to destroy it because they considered it blasphemous to try to look into God’s domain. All across the country thousands of people lined the train tracks to watch it pass.

For 11½ years including delays due World War II, the mirror disk was in the Caltech’s optical shop for grinding and configuring into the proper shape. It was finally trucked up the mountain to Palomar in 1947. Following two years of performance testing, additional polishing, adjustments and aluminizing, the first “official” photos were taken by Edwin Hubble on January 26, 1949.

2014-07-26 13.32.41

200-inch Hale Telescope Credit: M Wright

The 200-inch Hale Telescope has been associated with several cosmological discoveries and technical innovations. Early on Walter Baade made observations of Cepheid variables in the Andromeda Galaxy that led him to double Hubble’s estimate of the distance to Andromeda. Allan Sandage refined the estimate of the Hubble constant and the age of the Universe at Palomar. Baade, Jesse Greenstein, and Rudolph Minkowski worked on identifying stellar populations of different age and elemental composition that led to new understandings of galaxy formation and stellar evolution. Based on spectra photographed with the Hale scope, Maarten Schmidt determined that radio source 3C 273 lay far beyond the Milky Way and coined the term quasar (quasi-stellar object) to describe these highly luminous objects.

James Gunn (center), James Westphal (far right), and their team inside the Hale Telescope’s Cassegrain cage with Four-Shooter, the prototype for the Hubble Space Telescope WFPC camera, c. 1984. (Credit: J. Gunn)

James Gunn (center), James Westphal (far right), and their team inside the Hale Telescope’s Cassegrain cage with Four-Shooter, the prototype for the Hubble Space Telescope WFPC camera, c. 1984. (Credit: J. Gunn)

The Hale Telescope is connected to Princeton through the work of Prof. James Gunn. While at Caltech in the early 80s, Gunn, James Westphal and collaborators pioneered the use of CCDs to boost the sensitivity of the Hale scope. An early instrument with four 800×800-pixel CCDs was the prototype for Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera.

One of the current objectives of the observatory is to produce images of comparable precision to those of space telescopes for mapping the surface of Solar System bodies and directly imaging close multiple stellar systems, young planetary disks and extrasolar planets. Caltech scientists and engineers with collaborators from other institutions have developed adaptive optics for the Hale Telescope that are applicable to other ground-based research telescopes.

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Summertime Favorites: Messier 13 and 92

Member Robert Vanberbei captured these stunning images of two favorite summertime deep sky objects: Messier 13 – the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules and Messier 92 another globular in the same constellation.


M13 -the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules. [23:36 EDT Jul 20, 2014. Starlight Express SXV-H9 on 10" RC at f/9. L = 10 min (best 30 out of 199 twenty-second images), R = 6 min, G = 6 min, B = 6 min Log, Unsharp Mask.]


M92 also in the constellation of Hercules [21:21 EDT Jul 30, 2014.
Starlight Express SXV-H9 on 10" RC at f/9. L = 63.3 min, R = 6.0 min, G = 6.0in, B = 6.0in (unguided 20-second subexposures). Richardson-Lucy deconv, Log stretch, Unsharp mask. ]

M13 & M92

Comparing the two similar globulars M13 & M92

For M13 and M92’s H-R diagrams and more of Bob’s deep sky astrophotography visit his website.

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Discovery Dobsonian for Sale

15” f/4.2 Premium DHQ Discovery Dobsonian

PastedGraphic-115” f/4.2 split tube Dobsonian, great optics (Ronchi test photo of mirror included). The scope is solid tube, which helps prevent dew, but breaks into two pieces for easier transport. I’ve had this scope out at Cherry Springs, PA on a night when every other truss tube dob around was shut down because of dew but my scope just kept on chugging. Scope gives great deep sky views but the tube is short enough that you don’t need a stepstool. Scope includes a Telerad finder and an AstroGizmos scope cover. I love this scope but is getting to be too much for me to transport in a Prius so I’m downsizing to a smaller dob. Will deliver anywhere in a 150 mile radius of Trenton, NJ. Otherwise, pick up only.

Price: $1800

Contact Bill Murray if interested.  See membership roster for his contact information

PastedGraphic-2 PastedGraphic-3

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Dead Stars ‘Can Re-ignite’ and Explode

Astronomers have shown that dead stars known as white dwarfs can re-ignite and explode as supernovas. The discovery appears to solve a mystery surrounding the nature of a particular category of stellar explosions known as Type Ia supernovas.

Theorists suspected that white dwarfs could explode due to a disruptive interaction with a companion star, but lacked definitive evidence until now.

Read more…

Source: BBC News

Europe’s Rosetta probe goes into orbit around comet 67P.

In a first for space exploration, the satellite was maneuvered alongside a speeding body to begin mapping its surface in detail. The spacecraft fired its thrusters for six and a half minutes to finally catch up with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

“We’re at the comet!” said Sylvain Lodiot from the European Space Agency (ESA) operations centre in Germany.

“After 10 years, five months and four days traveling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion km, we are delighted to announce finally ‘we are here’,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of ESA.

Source: BBC News, Rosetta probe

The Importance of Playing the Long Game in Life, be it Extraterrestrial or Earthly.

I don’t get out of bed every morning thinking, “Will I find extraterrestrial intelligence today?” But I do think every day, “How can I improve the search?” Fifty years of silence doesn’t mean SETI is a failure; it means we’re just getting started. We may not succeed tomorrow or next year or next decade or even next century, but a critical part of our job is passing on what we’ve learned to the future generations of cosmic scientists.

Jill Tarter, the Bernard M. Oliver Chair at SETI and the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the iconic 1997 film Contact, adapted from Carl Sagan’s novel of the same title.

Source: Brain Pickings (See also short video of Dr. Tarter at this site.)

Ordering the Heavens: Hevelius’s Revolutionary 17th-Century Star Catalog and the First Moon Map

How a visionary manuscript, completed by the first female astronomer of the Western world, survived three fires to become a beacon of scientific dedication.

Source: Brain Pickings

A Celestial Traveler Closes on Mars

One day early last year, the Australian comet hunter Robert H. McNaught spotted something unusual from his post at the Siding Spring Observatory in the foothills of the Warrumbungle Mountains.

As a member of a team sponsored by NASA that searches the skies for potentially dangerous asteroids and comets, he generally focuses on objects that orbit the sun on the same plane as the planets. But coming up from below that plane was a comet that had apparently originated in the Oort cloud, a vast, primordial region that surrounds the solar system.

Read more…

Source: New York Times


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My Journey Inside the Boeing CST-100 Astronaut Taxi

by Dr. Ken Kremer, AAAP and Universe Today

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In the ‘new race to space’ to restore our ability to launch Americans to orbit from American soil with an American-built commercial ‘space taxi’, Boeing recently unveiled a full-scale mockup of their CST-100 spaceship at an invitation only ceremony for Boeing executives and media.

Boeing's CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule features with Ken Kremer seated inside full scale mockup at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer

Boeing’s CST-100 project engineer Tony Castilleja describes the capsule features with Ken Kremer seated inside full scale mockup at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer

I was invited to attend the event, which was held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for a tour and first hand inspection of the CST-100’s capsule’s interior and exterior.   My tour took place inside the newly renovated shuttle era facility where the capsule would start being manufactured later this year.  The refurbished processing hangar was known during the shuttle era as Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3).

The CST-100 is a privately built, man-rated capsule being developed with funding from NASA under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) in a public/private partnership between NASA and industry.

‘Thumbs Up’ for Boeing CST-100 space taxi at the Kennedy Space Center.  Florida’s US Sen. Bill Nelson (left), final shuttle commander Chris Ferguson (now Director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations, center) and Ken Kremer pose in front of capsule with stairway leading to open hatch. Credit: Ken Kremer

‘Thumbs Up’ for Boeing CST-100 space taxi at the Kennedy Space Center. Florida’s US Sen. Bill Nelson (left), final shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, Director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations, (center) and Ken Kremer pose in front of the capsule. Credit: Ken Kremer

Boeing is one of three American aerospace firms vying for a NASA contract to build a ‘space taxi’ to ferry US astronauts to the space station and back as soon as 2017. The SpaceX Dragon V2 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser are also receiving funds from NASA’s commercial crew program. NASA will soon award one or more contracts to build America’s next human rated spaceship sometime in September.

Since the shutdown of NASA’s shuttle program in 2011, US astronauts have been 100% dependent on the Russians for rides to the station and back at a cost exceeding $70 million per seat.

The vehicle includes five recliner seats, a hatch with a window, the pilot’s control console with Samsung tablets for the crew to access wireless internet and an ISS docking port.   It also features Boeing’s LED Sky Lighting adapted from its 787 Dreamliner airplanes.  It will launch atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

Read more about the CST-100 in my Universe Today articles and exclusive, one-on-one interviews with Chris Ferguson, NASA’s final space shuttle commander for the STS-135 mission.  He now serves as director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations.

Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer

Antares Rocket Launch to ISS, mid-Oct: NASA Wallops Island, VA. Evening outreach at Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA.

The Future of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Program: AAAP, Princeton University, Fall 2014.

Please contact Ken for more info, science outreach presentations and his space photos. Email:   website:,

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