From the Director






by Rex Parker, PhD, Director

May your mid-summer night dreams include starry vistas and glimpses of the great arc of the Milky Way Galaxy across the splendid constellations from Cygnus to Sagittarius!  On July 12, we witnessed another supermoon with spectacular reddish beams gleaming through the clouds.  This happens when a full moon coincides with perigee, the closest approach on the elliptical lunar orbit.  By odd chance of orbital mechanics, this summer brings three supermoons (July 12, Aug. 10, Sept. 9).  The July supermoon had an angular diameter ~33.5 arcmin (the range is 29.3 to 34.1 arcmin).   Despite its beauty, we often think of the moon as the deep sky nemesis.  The waning gibbous moon will be only a minor pest for the upcoming Perseid meteor shower, especially if you go out after midnight on Aug 10-13.   Are you making celestial observing a part of your family vacation or weekend getaway up north?  Pack binoculars, or better a small (or large) telescope to go deeper than you can here in the mid-Atlantic.

Change is in the wind for the upcoming season of AAAP meetings and events.  One key change is an earlier start for the monthly meetings at Peyton Hall – meetings will begin at 7:30 pm, keeping to the second Tuesday of the month as always.  Astronomers know sleep deprivation all too well.  Hopefully this better fits your home and professional schedules, and will make our meetings a little more enjoyable.  Additional changes for the meetings and enhancements of other club activities will be announced in the next Sidereal Times issue – stayed tuned.

A field trip to Mt Lemmon Observatory near Tucson Arizona was proposed last spring.  The focus would be visual use of the splendid 32-inch Schulman RC telescope. Considering weather, lunar conditions and costs, I am proposing one or two nights on the mountain Friday Oct. 24 and/or Saturday Oct. 25.  New moon is Oct 23.  If you are able to stay through the next week, the Arizona Science and Astronomy Expo in Tucson is the following weekend (see their website).  We may be able to get a tour of Steward Mirror Lab at U. of A.  Other Tucson adventures could be exploring the desert and possibly a drive out to Kitt Peak.  Costs would include flights (into Phoenix or Tucson), possibly sharing a rental car, meals, rooms at a hotel while off the mountain and the Mt Lemmon astronomy costs.  The Mt Lemmon “Astronomer Night” cost per night would be $1200 for a group of 4; for each addition person add $200 (so 6 people would be $1600, 8 people would be $2000 per night) including lodging on site.  We would have a professional telescope guide all night.  The option for one or two nights depends on what you want, but we need a minimum of 4 people (maximum 8) to make this happen.  See the Univ. of Arizona Mt Lemmon SkyCenter website (below) for more info.  Please send me a note by August 15 ( if you seriously want to participate, and indicate if you would commit to one or two nights.


Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

AAAP Enjoys Annual Planetarium Show

Thank you to Bill Murray for again hosting AAAP’s annual pilgrimage to NJ State Museum Planetarium for an informative and entertaining show.

Bill Murray at the original analog control panel at the NJ State Planetarium

Bill Murray at the original analog control panel at the NJ State Planetarium. Credit: Rex Parker


Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

StarQuest 2014 Update

by Michael Wright

Welcome astronomers

Welcome Astronomers. Credit: M. Wright

AAAP is holding StarQuest, our annual star party, Friday, September 26 through Sunday, September 28 at the Hope Conference and Renewal Center in the bucolic hills of Warren County.  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.

Organizing is on going and we are looking for members willing to help plan and run the event.  Please contact me is you are willing to volunteer.

In addition to all night observing, we would like to offer the following activities:

  • Day-time solar observing with white light and H-alpha telescopes – The club’s H-alpha scope will be set up, but we invite members to set up their scopes with solar filters on the observing field during the day.
  • Telescope tutorials – We are looking for experienced observers to tutor those who need help learning how to use their telescope and navigating the night sky.
  • Deep sky observing contest – Bill Murray will offer a list of objects for this observing challenge.  Anyone who completes the list will receive an official AAAP observing pin and admiration of their peers.
  • Astronomy gear flea market –This will be an opportunity to sell or swap astronomy gear, books or other paraphernalia or pick up some new treasure. Check your gearbox and bookshelves for items that you no long use.  We will setup tables to display you wares.
  • “The Earth as a Peppercorn” – A crowd pleaser at other star parties!  We will show how big space really is by walking off a scale model of the solar system based upon Guy Ottewell’s book The Thousand Yard Model.
  • Saturday afternoon activities – If there is enough interest, we will organize a trip to a nearby roadcut to dig for fossils or visit our observatory at Jenny Jump.
Observers Prepare Their Scopes

Observers Prepare Their Scopes

If anyone has any suggestions for other activities, please forward them to me.  The member who submits the best suggestion approved by the Board will receive a free registration to StarQuest 2014.

In addition, our Program Chair, Kate Otto, is looking for a speaker for an afternoon lecture.  If anyone has any suggestions, please contact Kate.

Hope Conference and Renewal Center is located is just off exit 12 on I-80 and not far from Jenny Jump.  It is situated on a hillside overlooking Little Silver Lake, with 125 acres of forests, wetlands, fields and lawns. Luxurious accommodations (by star party standards) include tent sites for camping and bunkhouses with semi-private baths and showers.  The camp lodge has showers for campers and a large hall where meals will be served.  The observing field will be set up on the lawn conveniently near the lodge and away from the bunkhouses and camp sites.

As in recent years, we will be offering brunch and dinner on Saturday for an additional fee.  Free coffee, hot chocolate and snacks will be provided at night for observers.

Waiting Patiently for the Raffle to Begin

Waiting Patiently for the Raffle to Begin

In my opinion, it is the people who attend that make StarQuest a success.  I have attended several StarQuests and have always had fun even if observing conditions are poor.   Hanging out with other astronomy enthusiasts, swapping stories, sharing views through our scopes, learning new skills and enjoying the camaraderie make me look forward to StarQuest 2014.  I hope you will help make this year another success by volunteering.  If you cannot, come on out anyway and enjoy the event.  See you there!

Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged | Leave a comment

Treasurer’s Report

by Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

The income statements and balance sheet show the AAAP’s financial results for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014, and the AAAP’s financial position at the beginning and the end of the year. (Click on links below to view tables.)

You will see that, once again, the AAAP had a strong surplus for the year: about $2,400.    StarQuest made a positive contribution and our income from dues and contributions was larger than expenses for the observatory and lecture programs.

As you will also see in the eight-year income statement history also shown below, the AAAP has achieved a surplus in each of those years and has added $13 thousand to its reserves during that time.

Our cash balances and cumulative reserves are close to $25 thousand, equaling roughly four years of the association’s total annual expenses.

Kindly let me know if you have any questions about the report.

AAAP 2014 06 30 P&L and BS

AAAP Income Trend

Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Minutes of June 10, 2014 AAAP Meeting

By James Poinsett, Secretary

  • Rex Parker called the meeting to order and welcomed all to the planetarium
  • He reminded everyone that StarQuest was coming up on the weekend of  Sept 26-28
  • He announced plans for a board meeting on June 30 (meeting was actually held on July 1)
  • Observatory Chair Gene Ramsey introduced Daniel Benjamin as our newest keyholder and notified everyone that we only need 2 more keyholders to have a full roster.
  • Treasurer, Michael Mitrano, reported everything was good.
  • Outreach announced an event at the State Museum in Trenton on June 22nd. Everyone should have received an email about this.
  • Gene notified the club that the Gemini mount was installed at the observatory, the goto works and the wi-fi works.
  • Larry Kane brought news from the Friends of Washington Crossing Park.  The the park is down to three maintenance workers and perhaps it would be best if we could arrange for our members to mow the grass at the observatory.
  • Rex adjourned the meeting.
  • Bill Murray then presented one of the newest planetarium shows on “Black Holes” and also showed us several objects that we could show visitors to the observatory during the summer months in addition to the usual star clusters.
Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Minutes of the July 1, 2014 Board Meeting

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

Attendees: Director Rex Parker, Program Chair Kate Otto, Secretary Jim Poinsett, Observatory Co-chairs Gene Ramsey, David Skitt and Jen Skitt, Outreach Coordinator David Letcher and ST Co-editor Michael Wright.

Director Rex Parker opened the meeting.

The meeting schedule for the next season will be as follows: Sep. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 11, Dec. 9, Jan. 13, Feb. 10, Mar. 10, Apr. 14, May 12 and possibly Jun. 9.  Rex submitted a request to the Astrophysics Dept. to reserve Peyton Hall for these dates except Jun. 9, which would be at the planetarium. Rex proposed that the monthly lectures start at 7:30 PM instead of 8:00 PM.  Those present agreed that an earlier start would be better.

Rex proposed the following Board Meetings: Oct. 7, Jan. 7, Apr. 7 and Jul. 7 (1st Tuesday of month, quarterly).

Rex proposed the Mt. Lemmon trip be scheduled for early November 2014.  He will do more research on the costs and write a piece for Sidereal Times.  The amount of commitment to the trip was discussed.  The group agreed that it needs to be tested before making arrangements.

Rex initiated a discussion about the vision for AAAP over the next five years.  The group considered suggestions to maintain existing members and gain new members, continue the tradition of great monthly speakers and evolve public outreach such as:

  • Start interest groups such as astrophotography, observing and cosmology
  • Expand interaction among members, particularly new ones by:
    • Tracking and recognizing volunteer contributions
    • Setting up a “Telescope of the Month” in Peyton Hall
    • Begin each meeting with a 5 min. member talk on a book, recent observations, trip, software, etc.
    • Having more member nights
    • Having more hands-on astronomy talks
    • Holding an astrophotography workshop
    • Giving telescope lessons
    • Reinstitute the fall picnic

Rex had a suggestion to improve the viewing experience at the observatory.  He proposed that the club purchase and install a Mallincam video camera on the Paramount next to the C14 to capture live video that would be displayed on a monitor mounted on the observatory wall.  The monitor would allow keyholders to explain objects while visitor wait on line to look through the scope.  The board members present thought this was an idea worth exploring.  It will cost a couple of thousand dollars and will need to be approved by the membership.  More information will be presented at the September meeting.

If anyone has any ideas on topics for lectures or speakers let Kate Otto know. The subject of sponsors for StarQuest was brought up. Kate will look into it. Again if anyone has any ideas on that subject let Kate know. Gene had seen an ad for a clamp to use a smartphone to take pictures through a telescope. The board agreed to purchase one. Gene will order it. The topic of activities for StarQuest weekend was brought up. Mike had the following ideas:

  • Set up a display of the solar system to scale based on “Earth as a Peppercorn”
  • A fossil hunting trip to a nearby rock outcrop

If anyone has any other ideas please send them to Mike.

The Board agreed to give a free StarQuest weekend to the person with the best activity idea.

Gene had seen an ad for a clamp to use a smartphone to take pictures through a telescope. The board agreed to purchase one. Gene will order it.

David Lechter told the board that the club was invited to host a public viewing party at Unionville Vineyards. The board had some questions and David said he will get more details and let the club know.

David also reminded everyone that his series of classes/talks at the Nature Center in the park will be held the end of September, the exact dates will be announced shortly.

Gene told the board that the repairs to the observatory were expected to be done on July 15th.  He also noted that we will soon have 5 members per observing team and wanted the boards approval to start adding a 6th person should more members become interested.

Many of the items on the Observatory projects list were completed. The remaining ones were the roof repair (to be done July 15th), stone to widen the parking area and fill in potholes, larger pulley to make the flap on the roof easier to operate, painting the interior, cutting the nails in the computer room ceiling, replacing the wax ring on the toilet to stop the odor and bench testing the donated C14.

A decision needs to be made on the donated equipment. Rex will bring this up at the September meeting to get ideas from the membership.

The board agreed to purchase red glow sticks to mark the gates at the observatory entrance to the park to make it easier to give the public directions.

A storage shed/container was suggested for the observatory.

A green laser will be purchased for the observatory to be used by keyholders only to point out the constellations and such at public nights.

Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Eleven-inch Teeter Dob for Sale

Member John Giles is offering a Teeter’s Telescope STS07, eleven-inch, f/4.5 dob with accessories such as Sky Commander digital setting circles.

sts7This is a special one and can be viewed on Teeter’s website production log.

This is a wonderful telescope.

Please contact John through his email or phone number in the AAAP membership roster.  Non-members should leave a comment here if interested.

Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Athena to Study Hot and Energetic Universe – suggested by David Kaplan

27 June 2014 – ESA has selected the Athena advanced telescope for high-energy astrophysics as its second ‘Large-class’ science mission.  The observatory will study the hot and energetic Universe and takes the ‘L2’ slot in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–25 plan, with a launch foreseen in 2028.

By combining a large X-ray telescope with state-of-the-art scientific instruments, Athena will address key questions in astrophysics, including: how and why does ordinary matter assemble into the galaxies and galactic clusters that we see today? How do black holes grow and influence their surroundings?

Scientists believe that black holes lurk at the centre of almost all galaxies and that they play a fundamental role in their formation and evolution.  To investigate this connection, Athena will observe X-ray emission from very hot material just before it is swallowed by a black hole, measuring distortions due to gravitational light-bending and time-delay effects in this extreme environment. Athena will also be able to determine the spin of the black hole itself.

Athena’s powerful instruments will also allow unprecedented studies of a wide range of astronomical phenomena. These include distant gamma-ray bursts, the hot gas found in the space around clusters of galaxies, the magnetic interplay between exoplanets and their parent stars, Jupiter’s auroras and comets in our own Solar System.

“Athena will be a state-of-the-art observatory that will provide a significant leap forward in scientific capabilities compared with previous X-ray missions, and will address fundamental open questions in astrophysics,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “Its selection ensures that Europe’s success in the field of X-ray astronomy is maintained far beyond the lifetime of our flagship observatory XMM-Newton.”

Now officially selected for L2, Athena now moves into a study phase. Once the mission design and costing have been completed, it will eventually be proposed for ‘adoption’ in around 2019, before the start of construction.

After launch, Athena will travel to its operational orbit around the gravitationally semi-stable location in space some 1.5 million kilometres beyond Earth as seen from the Sun – a position coincidentally known as L2. ESA’s Herschel, Planck and Gaia missions have also used L2 orbits.

We Are Part of the Rainbow – submitted by Michael Wright

Although rain and sunlight have been part of Earth’s environment for four billion years, coloured rainbows occurred quite recently with the appearance of animals possessing colour vision. Our visual world with its brightness and colours occurs within our skull. Nevertheless, by some feat of mental projection we think that our visual world coincides spatially with the external world.  Thus we confuse the neural rainbow with the external rainbow, and naively attribute the indescribable colours of the former to the latter.  Three centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton, aware of this overpowering illusion, wrote: “The rays to speak properly are not coloured. In them there is nothing else than a certain power and disposition to stir up a sensation of this or that colour.”  Yet, even today, most people regard the cone cells of the retina as “colour receptors,” as if colours existed in the external world.  They speak of “the true colours of moonbows and nebulae revealed by time-exposure photographs,” unaware that they are attributing a unique property of the neural photograph in their brain to the external photograph in their hands, and subsequently to moonbows and nebulae in the sky.  The eye does not detect the colours of the rainbow; the brain creates them. We are part of the rainbow, its most beautiful part.

Excerpt from Rainbows and Some Other Sky Phenomenon by Roy Bishop, RASC Observers Handbook 2014.

Lost and Found in Space – suggested by David Kaplan

How would you like to reboot a long abandoned NASA spacecraft and collect useful data? A dream, you say.  Well this group of space enthusiasts did it.

An op-ed from the July 19, 2014 the New York edition of the NYTimes.


Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Mysterious Neutrino

by S. Prasad Ganti

The first half of twentieth century was a very interesting period for particle physics. All the matter in this Universe can be broken down into atoms and atoms were found to contain subatomic particles called electrons, protons and neutrons. Among the zoo of particles discovered since then, neutrinos are mysterious particles. Italian for “little one”, they weigh very little and do not have any electrical charge.

There are millions and millions of neutrinos coming to Earth from space every second, particularly from our own Sun. Some get produced in the vicinity of nuclear reactors. They do not interact with matter. Millions may pass through our body without any effect. This makes them very difficult to detect or trap. If they are so invisible yet ubiquitous, how did we come to know about them? It is an interesting scientific detective story.

PauliWolfgang Pauli found out that some energy is missing when a beta decay occurs. A beta decay is a form of radioactivity in which unstable elements change their form and structure. For example, C14 (carbon) has eight neutrons and six protons. During a beta decay, one of the neutrons splits into an electron and a proton. The new nucleus with seven protons and seven electrons is N14 (nitrogen). Pauli explained the missing energy to be that of a neutrino. Thus was born a theory whose quest triggered a multitude of scientific experiments over several decades.

Detectors have grown pretty sophisticated like the optical telescopes used to gather and study light. Neutrinos may generate muons when they hit water. A large number of neutrinos when passing through a huge tank of water may produce a few hits that produce a blue light called Cherenkov cones. Super KThis is the basis for a neutrino detector. The problem is that cosmic rays also generate muons in Earth’s atmosphere. Going deep inside Earth’s surface or under water is a way to filter out the cosmic ray muons. Cosmic rays decrease as one goes deeper inside the Earth, but upward moving neutrinos from other side of the Earth also pass through the detector. Detectors were built, each more sophisticated than the previous one. There are neutrino detectors at the bottom of Lake Baikal and at the South Pole called the Ice Cube.  Eventually the mysterious neutrinos were detected.

In 1956, Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan detected the neutrinos near a nuclear reactor for the first time. The 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics went to Reines. In 1968, Ray Davis detected solar neutrinos deep inside in Homestake mine in South Dakota. Kamiokande detector in Japan, also known as Super K, detected the first neutrinos from outside of the solar system from the 1987A supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way located 160,000 light years away. Ray Davis and Masatoshi Koshiba the Director of Super K, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002.

An interesting book on this topic is “The Neutrino Hunters” by Ray Jayawardhana.

Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Antares/Cygnus Commercial Resupply Spacecraft Launches from NASA Wallops in Virginia

by Dr. Ken Kremer, AAAP and Universe Today

NASA WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY, VA – A commercial Antares rocket carrying the private Cygnus cargo freighter thundered aloft from a beachside launch pad in Virginia on July 13, bound for the space station and packed with a wide range of science experiments and essential supplies for the six person crew.

The flawless blastoff of the Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket on the Orb-2 mission occurred precisely as planned at 12:52 p.m. (EDT) from Pad OA at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia – about a five-hour drive south from Princeton.

After a 10 minute ascent, Antares placed the Cygnus resupply spacecraft into an initial orbit of 120 x 180 miles (190 x 290 kilometers) above the Earth, inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator.

After nearly a three day journey, Cygnus was delicately flown on an approach vector using GPS and LIDAR lasers to within about 32 feet (10 meters) of the massive orbiting complex.  Then it was captured in open space by Commander Steve Swanson as he maneuvered the 57-foot (17-meter) Canadarm2 from a robotics workstation inside the station’s seven windowed domed Cupola,

The US/Italian built pressurized Cygnus cargo freighter delivered 1,657 kg (3653 lbs) of cargo to the ISS Expedition 40 crew including over 700 pounds (300 kg) of science experiments and instruments, crew supplies, food, water, computer equipment, spacewalk tools and student research experiments.

IMG_8130_1b_Antares Orb 2_Ken Kremer

Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft blast off on July 13 2014 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility , VA, bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer

Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer

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

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

Posted in Mid-summer 2014 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment