From the Director




by Rex Parker, PhD 

Peyton Hall and Beyond. Our journey through the universe and university continues in December as we meet for the last time (for a while, anyway) in Peyton Hall, which will undergo renovation in 2015. This will lead us to different campus venues beginning in January (Green Hall) as we adapt to the changes. Stay tuned to Sidereal Times for updates on upcoming meetings as we enter a new phase of club activities.

Solstice – Solar and Clock time. Soon the sun will reach its most southerly apparent position as the temperatures drop and the days shorten. Solstice comes on December 21, formally beginning winter season in the northern hemisphere. The solstice brings the shortest day and longest night of the year, but surprisingly it is not the earliest sunset for us in New Jersey, which will occur December 7. This seeming paradox may need some explaining. The answer has more to do with clocks than celestial mechanics, because our time system is based only approximately on solar days. Clocks are based on exactly 24.0 hour days, while a solar day (the period between solar transits) varies and is seldom 24.0 hours. In December, one solar noon to the next is about 24 hours plus half a minute. So the sun reaches its noontime (southernmost) position about seven minutes earlier on December 7th than the 21st. The exact relationship between apparent solar (sundial) time and clock time is more complex, as shown in the graph below, which shows the equation of time — above the axis the sundial is faster than the clock, and below the axis it is slower.  


The Equation of Time Credit: U.S. Naval Observatory


Starstruck. One of the first-ever major exhibitions revealing astrophotography in all its glory as a genre of the fine arts is now running at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA. This exhibition features over 100 printed images from 35 astronomer-artists from around the world. The celestial show includes several images from AAAP’s speaker from last month, Dr Steven Mazlin, as well as many other nationally-known experts in the field. The photographs in this exhibition were selected by a distinguished group including Dennis di Cicco of Sky and Telescope and J.T. Bonnell of NASA’s APOD. Your opportunity to see this amazing show in Doylestown, PA will extend through Feb 8, 2015. I was personally starstruck after viewing the exhibit, the most impressive and inspiring astrophotography I’ve ever seen.

Winter and the heavens. Contemplate the splendor and wonder of the night sky as you button up and pull on your gloves. Wishing all members well as we wrap up a year of fine astronomy in AAAP.


Sharp are these cold nights
Moon and frost earth’s shadow share
Stars beckoning beyond globe’s rim
Waypoints and patterns for closing eyes.
We dream in these wintry climes
Wishing heaven to be our home
Misting clouds wrapped in our embrace
Chilled yet warmed by lunar light.        
- RAP -




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Dr. Vera Gluscevic from Institute for Advanced Studies on December 9, 2014

IAS Post-Doc Vera

IAS Post-Doc Vera Gluscevic

AAAP’s next meeting and lecture will be on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. in Peyton Hall.  Our guest speaker will be Institute for Advanced Studies’ Post-Doc Vera Gluscevic. Dr. Gluscevic’s research focuses on using the cosmic microwave background to test physical theories, including those invoked to explain dark energy and inflation. She is also investigating a range of other topics, such as the direct detection of dark matter, probes of reionization, and the origins of magnetic fields in the universe.

She was born and grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, where she majored in astrophysics at the Faculty for Mathematics. She moved to Pasadena, California in 2007, for a PhD program at Caltech. After graduating, she moved to Princeton for a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study, starting in the fall of 2013. 

Beginning in January, Peyton Hall will be under renovations, so we will be meeting in other lecture halls on campus.  In January, we will meet in Green Hall.  Please watch future meeting announcements for new meeting locations.  

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Minutes of the November 11, 2014 AAAP Meeting

by James Poinsett, Secretary

  • Rex brought the meeting to order at 7:30 and suggested we have the membership vote on the technology proposal for the WC Observatory while most of the members were in attendance.
  • Larry Kane was introduced and outlined the specifics of the proposal for the membership. He asked Michael Mitrano to inform the club on the treasury balance. Michael stated the balance is currently a little under $26,000 dollars and the technology proposal would use less than 25% of that. There was some additional discussion, if it would be possible to set up an internet feed if we ever add internet service to the observatory. The membership was reminded that this is not the same as astrophotography. A motion was made and seconded to bring the issue to a vote. The proposal was approved unanimously.
  • Kate then introduced the speaker for the evening, Dr. Steven Mazlin and his talk “Fourth Dimension Astro-imaging”.
  • After the talk Bob Vanderbei shared his images of Barnard’s star and of Jupiter during the daytime.
  • There was some discussion on the club’s “Flicker” account for member photos.
  • There was discussion on the Rosetta spacecraft and the upcoming landing on the comet of the probe Philae.
  • Discussion on the video proposal, a timetable to get things done. It was decided that Larry and Michael will get together to purchase the camera. The possibility of buying some of the hardware used to save money will also be looked into.
  • There were 20 responses to the free dome advertised in Astro-mart. All the pieces need to be gathered in one place for whoever will pick it up. We also need to make sure they know what size truck is needed to transport it. Rex and Michael will coordinate the responses.
  • Program Chair Kate Otto thanked everyone who has sent in suggestions for speakers. We are set for the next 3 months.
  • Next was a discussion on the fate of the HB refractor. It has been determined that the pier can be raised about 8” to make it easier to use. John showed us some old pictures of the scope and the crew that used it during the eclipse in the 1800’s. Discussion will continue as to replace or not.
  • Gene informed us the park is repairing the gate at Bear Tavern Road. Winterizing the observatory will take place after the weekend of 11/22. The contractor doing the repair work was delayed by injury, the work will be done soon. The locks will be moved once the gate is repaired. We were also reminded that the dirt road is not plowed and is sometimes blocked by the plowing the park does do.
  • The issue of updating the computer and software at the observatory was brought up for discussion. It was decided that nothing needs to be done right away, and it is something that should be considered for next spring.
  • Green Hall is set for January’s meeting as Peyton Hall will be closed for HVAC work.
  • The donated camera is in the observatory ready for use by members.
  • Larry brought us up to date on the activities of the Washington Crossing Park Association. It has been suggested that if we support their activities they in turn would probably support us. The possibility of donating stone to shore up the road by the campsites while we get stone for our driveway was brought up.
  • A motion to adjourn the meeting was made and seconded. Meeting adjourned.
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End-of Season Keyholder Star Party

by Michael Wright

To close out another successful season of public nights, keyholders held a star party at the Simpson Observatory observatory on Friday, November 21, 2014.  About 15 keyholders and guests attended, hung out talking astronomy and enjoyed hot drinks and snacks. Gene Ramsey ran the C14 and pointed out many popular objects including Uranus and Neptune, M76 and M15.  I pushed the Hastings-Byrne refractor around to some interesting doubles and triples such as ι Cass and η Cass.  Bill Murray surprised us with an interesting triple star, οmicron-2 Eridani (aka 40 Eridani), that consists of a K dwarf, a white dwarf and a red dwarf. Despite the cold, we enjoyed the clear skies at the observatory. Perhaps we can make this an annual tradition.

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Treasurer’s Report

by Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

The membership renewal count is up to 39, which is 25 % fewer than had renewed at the same time a year ago.

Observatory and speaker expenses have thus far been minimal, but our annual insurance bill has come in. With this, we are at about break-even for the fiscal year to date.

On a cumulative basis, the AAAP’s surplus is about $25 thousand.

Dues Reminder: If you have not paid your 2014-14 dues, please hand your $40 check to one of the officers at the next meeting or send a check to:

Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton
P.O. Box 2017, Princeton, NJ 08543

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Landing on a Comet

by Prasad Ganti

Rosetta Mission Timeline Credit: ESA

Rosetta Mission Timeline.
Credit: ESA. Click to enlarge.

For the first time a manmade probe landed on a comet. Riding on a spaceship called Rosetta, the probe Philae was launched by ESA (European Space Agency) about a decade ago. Rosetta and Philae traveled four billion miles to chase down the comet. The last two years were spent in hibernation by powering down all the systems to conserve power. Rosetta woke up as it neared the comet, went into on an orbit around the comet and finally released Philae to land on the comet 67P. Earlier probes landed on planets and asteroids, but this was the first landing on a comet.

On Oct. 7, 2014, Comet 67P/C-G is framed by one of Rosetta’s solar wings, which is 46 feet long. A stream of gas and dust extends from an active area of the comet’s neck, about 10 miles away. Credit: ESA

On Oct. 7, 2014, Comet 67P/C-G is framed by one of Rosetta’s solar wings, which is 46 feet long. A stream of gas and dust extends from an active area of the comet’s neck, about 10 miles away.
Credit: ESA. Click to enlarge.

ESA named Rosetta for the Rosetta stone that the French found while conquering Egypt. It had three versions of a decree in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. French scholar Jean Champollion studied and deciphered hieroglyphics from the Rosetta stone. He also got help from an obelisk found on an island called Philae. Philae was later submerged when a dam was built. Now experts can read all the writings on the walls of Egyptian temples and monuments, like we read English. The naming of the spacecraft and the probe after these ancient Egyptian artifacts was in the hope of studying the comet like we now understand the hieroglyphics.

Comets are the remnants from the creation of our solar system. Consisting of ice, rock and dust, these objects are very interesting to study. Periodic comets originate in the outer fringes of the solar system marked by the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud and have a highly elongated orbit around the sun. The time to orbit around the Sun can take anywhere from a decade to a few hundred years. In fact, scientists speculate that a comet brought water and organic material to earth before life took shape here.

In addition to comets having elongated orbits, space travel is not so straightforward. It is not as simple as taking I-80 to drive from New York to San Francisco. Both the home and destination are moving platforms in the vacuüm of the space. Fuel being a very scarce commodity, it requires extra orbits around planets and Sun to get a slingshot-like gravity assist to reach the destination.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko   Credit: ESA

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Credit: ESA

Comet 67P has more complexities. It is just a few miles in size with a highly irregular shape. Its gravity is very weak almost to the point of nonexistence. Landing a probe on Mars is like throwing a basketball from Los Angeles to a basket in New York. Landing Philae is like throwing a basketball from Los Angeles to a basket located halfway around the world in Shanghai. And this million pointer long shot did work!

Philae was supposed to use a harpoon to land and get firmly entrenched into the surface. Because of the weak gravity, it was expected to bounce on the surface. To arrest the bounce, designers built a thruster on the top. The thruster was not functioning, but controllers released Philae anyway. It dropped on the surface of the comet, and landed at a place that was partly in shade. As a result the solar panels did not get adequate light to recharge the battery. Low power and an unstable perch did not prevent Philae from making observations and sending back the data.

In this risky space game, we should view the glass as half full, not as half empty. Congratulations to ESA on the wonderful achievement benefiting humanity!

Space missions usually have a fly-by as a first step; then orbiting, then landing and then returning with some samples. Will a returning spacecraft from a comet be the next step?

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Mystery Over Monster Cosmic Cloud (contributed by David Kaplan)

Observations of a cosmic confrontation between a huge gas cloud and the black hole at the centre of our galaxy spark a debate.  BBC

The ‘Most Complicated’ Watch in the World (contributed by David Kaplan)

supercomplication_cutWhat made the Henry Graves Supercomplication, well, so complicated? BBC


The Starry Night and Fluid Dynamics (contributed by Michael Wright)

vangogh_starrynight M51

In 1889, inspired by a famous astronomical drawing that had been circulating in Europe for four decades,Vincent van Gogh painted his iconic masterpiece “The Starry Night,” one of the most recognized and reproduced images in the history of art. Brainpickings & Cosmigraphics

More Van Gogh (contributed by Michael Wright)

Bringing together sustainable energy concerns, modern art, and an impressionist classic, the Van Gogh Bicycle Path in Eindhoven, Netherlands comes to life each night when the stones in the trail light up in an homage to Van Gogh’s famous work, The Starry Night. Atlas Obscura

Ripples of the Big Bang Are Seen Through ‘The Times’ (contributed by David Kaplan)

In 1927, Georges Lemaître, an astronomer from Belgium, first proposed the theory that the universe was born in a giant primeval explosion. Four years later, The New York Times mentioned his new idea.  NY Times

A Graphic Guide to Space Animals (contributed by Michael Wright)

Humans have employed a whole menagerie of animals in experiments in survival. None of them chose to go on space voyages, and while there is something somber in that lack of consent, these brave creatures are also representative of the expansion of possibility in space exploration. Check out this graphic guide to some of these incredible astro-beasts. Atlas Obscura

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AAAP Flickr Gallery

Check out the new AAAP Flickr gallery created by member John Miller.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 8.00.36 AM

The only thing it needs is more pictures and video so please submit your favorites to John. The higher the resolution the better. No copyrighted images, please.

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From the Director





by Rex Parker, PhD, Director

Mt Lemmon Adventures.  I’ve been reflecting on my recent trip to Tucson for the astronomy imaging workshop “Making Every Pixel Count”, run by Adam Block at the Univ. of Arizona’s Steward Observatory atop 9200-ft Mt. Lemmon.  Events have nearly persuaded me to believe that things happen to us mortal beings for a reason.  Some of you may recall my attempts to organize a field trip event for AAAP members to Tucson and Mt. Lemmon this November.

Some of the domes of Mt Lemmon (the 32-inch RCOS is in the dome on the left).

Some of the domes of Mt Lemmon (the 32-inch RCOS is in the dome on the left). Credit: Rex Parker

That effort ran into a scheduling snag, disappointing seven club members who were up for the adventure. This was going to be an opportunity for us to use the amazing 24-inch and 32 inch-RCOS telescopes on Mt. Lemmon visually with eyepieces — all night long under pristine desert mountain skies.  Well, the skies were indeed very good during the four nights of the workshop, with incredible sub-1-arc-sec seeing recorded by the CCD camera on the 32-inch!

The 24-inch RCOS used for visual observing and CCD imaging on Mt Lemmon.

The 24-inch RCOS used for visual observing and CCD imaging on Mt Lemmon. Credit: Rex Parker

However, after the workshop ended on Sunday, October 19, a big rainstorm blew through the desert. The 19th was the night we had nearly decided to book the AAAP observing trip, which would have been a total washout!  The moral of the story is that for future AAAP field trips to faraway places, let’s plan for more than one night of observing to improve our odds.

Biosphere-2.  So on my last afternoon, since the Saguaro’s were getting their much-needed rain, I decided to visit the once famous Biosphere-2 located north of Tucson.  The science and technology of the human two-year isolation project in the early 1990’s provided insights into some of the serious issues for manned spaceflight to Mars, the moon-base, and beyond that we discussed last month at Ken Kremer’s talk.  The human experiments at Biosphere-2 are over now, but the Landscape Evolution Laboratory and several other biogeochemical research projects are continuing, and the public science outreach at the complex is big time.

Rain over Mt Lemmon and the Catalina Mountains on Oct 19.

Rain over Mt Lemmon and the Catalina Mountains on Oct 19.

Amazing Presentation on Nov. 11 at AAAP.  Our tradition of great speaker presentations continues this month (7:30 p.m., Nov. 11 at Peyton Hall) with a talk about the ultimate approach to astronomy imaging — remote CCD astronomy with equipment thousands of miles away at an observatory on another continent!  From his home roll-off roof observatory to an isolated dome in Chile, South America, Dr Steve Mazlin has produced some of the most amazing deep sky images ever published, and is a frequent contributor to APOD.  Check out the meeting announcement in this issue and find further info on the AAAP website. (

Form and function make Biosphere-2 beautiful and fascinating.

Form and function make Biosphere-2 beautiful and fascinating.  Credit: Rex Parker

Important Vote Nov. 11.  At the meeting, a members vote is planned for approval of a capital expenditure proposal for the video equipment to upgrade the WC observatory (as discussed at recent meetings).  Members are urged to attend the meeting to support this proposal for a significant expenditure.  Further details are in the article by Larry Kane in this issue.

Hope to see you at the meeting and the pre-meeting dinner.

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Fourth Dimension Astroimaging…My Personal Journey Through the Cosmos

Steve Mazlin, MD
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 7:30 p.m in Peyton Hall

Astrophotography was revolutionized by digital techniques over the past 20 years. Steve Mazlin will explain some of the basics of data acquisition and processing while giving a glimpse into the world of remote imaging and showing some of his favorite images.

Steve Mazlin

Steve Mazlin

His colorful images have appeared in numerous magazines and on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) website. In 2009, he had a one man show at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ. Some of his images are part of the traveling exhibit, “Starstruck: The Fine Art of Astrophotography”, coming to the Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA this November.

Steve Mazlin lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife, Violet, and his 2 sons. When not actually acquiring or processing astronomical images, he’s usually thinking about acquiring or processing images. Somehow he finds time for his other familial responsibilities (though Violet may argue this point), and time to be a neurologist in a busy private practice. His personal website is His alter ego, Mazlini The Great, can be found at

Upcoming speakers:

December 9 – Dr. Vera Gluscevic on the cosmic microwave background, dark energy and inflation.

January 13 - Dr. Alan Hirshfeld, From Backyard to Mountaintop: The Adventure of History’s Best Worst Telescope

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From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane, Assistant Director

After a report was made by the committee that investigated the purchase and installation of a video system for the observatory, a motion was made to the Board of Directors to approve the expenditure of up to $6,000 for the system. This motion was approved unanimously by the Board. The system will include a video camera, a monitor, a telescope and the appropriate hardware needed to install and operate the video system.

Because of the size of the expense of the video system, the approval of the AAAP membership is required  for this purchase. This motion will be made at the November, 11, 2014 membership meeting. I am recommending that if you are able, please attend the meeting on November 11 so you may be part of the discussion of this important improvement to our observatory.

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