Minutes of the September 10, 2013 AAAP Meeting

by Michael Wright, Secretary

Director Jeff Bernardis opened the meeting by welcoming and recognizing new members.

Jeff announced that PPL will be holding a series of colloquia. Interested members can email him for details. Also, he announced that 2013-14 dues are now due. Checks can be given to Mike Wright or Michael Mitrano.

Program Chair Kate Otto thanked the 50th anniversary volunteers for organizing the event. She mentioned that those who attended enjoyed StarQuest held the past weekend. Kate then introduced the speaker for the evening, Clayton Meyers of PPPL, who gave an informative presentation entitled, “The Quest to Understand the Sun and the Space Weather It Produces” in which he discussed the composition of the sun, the constellation of solar-observing satellites, and the importance of space weather research.

After a brief break, Jeff reconvened the business portion of the meeting.

Treasurer’s Report – Michael Mitrano said that he is receiving dues and waiting for receipts from StarQuest so he had no report this month.

Jenny Jump Observatory – Delegate Bill Murray reported that a scout troop will make repairs to the observatories at Jenny Jump, including AAAP’s observatory, at no cost to the clubs. Bill will remove small objects from the observatory and protect the equipment with a tarp. Bill would like to rehabilitate the scope. Jeff asked him to prepare an estimate of the scope rehabilitation costs for the Board’s consideration.

Simpson Observatory – Observatory Chair Gene Ramsey said that he is training two new keyholders, but five new keyholders are needed to fill the current vacancies. Jeff suggested contacting new members to see if they are interested in volunteering.

Gene reported that Officer Jackson of the Park Police told him that there was a break-in at Jenny Jump and suggested that a motion activated camera be installed. Officer Jackson said that video is sometimes helpful in recovering the stolen equipment. John Giles will investigate.

Gene gave an update on the traffic on Friday nights as follows:

  • If there are only a few campers, he invites them to the observatory and allows vehicle access from the soccer fields. Jeff said that he had been doing the same on his duty nights.
  • On Nov. 1, the park will move AAAP’s lock to the 1st soccer field gate so access will be from the soccer fields after that date until next spring.
  • Brick Yard Road access is not viable because the road is too narrow for two-way traffic particularly at the bridge. AAAP had no problems with campers until last year so the park administration should considered our record when considering future access plans. Jennifer Skitt started a visitor log, which would be useful for showing the park administration level of public participation at the observatory.

Gene thanked Jen and David Skitt for their help at the observatory this season. He thanked Ludy D’Angelo and Michael Wright for organizing StarQuest.

Outreach Report – Coordinator David Letcher reported that no schools have contacted him yet because the school year is just starting. David will be running his four part Backyard Astronomy seminar at the Nature Center on September 20 & 27 and October 4 & 11. Gene Ramsey and Larry Kane will assist. Each class will be followed by observing at the observatory, weather permitting.

Gene Ramsey reported that he is working with a teacher from South Hunterdon Regional High School who is starting an astronomy club for students. The high school has a 10-inch LX-200 SCT. Gene will be training the teacher and 10 students on their scope at the observatory on Saturday, Sept. 14, weather permitting. Bill Murray volunteered to help.

Secretary’s Report – Michael Wright said that the Wikipedia article about the club that he submitted was rejected and asked for help finding published independent references to the club that could be added to the article to verify information and demonstrate notability. Also, he did not set up a Mail Chimp account because the Wikipedia article was taking more effort than expected. The submission deadline for the next issue of Sidereal Times is Sept. 26, 2013.

New Observatory at W-C – Jeff announced that at the July 9, 2013 Board meeting, the Board approved a recommendation to appropriate funds for the construction of a second observatory structure at Washington-Crossing State Park. Michael Wright said that the club has 103 paid members. An affirmative vote of 30% of the membership (31 votes) is required to pass the proposal. A count revealed only 27 members present.

Michael Mitrano, New Observatory Committee Chair, began a summary of the status of the observatory plan. After receiving conflicting information from the NJDEP and the Hopewell Twp. Code Enforcement Officials, the committee determined that building permit approval is required from the Department of Community Affairs. According to a DCA official, this is a minor project. If the proposal is approved, the next step is to apply for the permits.

Ludy D’Angelo and John Miller objected that not enough information was provided for the membership to vote on the proposal. Michael Wright said the proposal was published in Sidereal Times and information was provided in the Board Business meeting minutes. Jeff stated that the usual channels were used to disseminate information to the membership.

Michael Mitrano explained that the project has been under consideration and was discussed at several business meetings since the donor approached the club over a year ago. Michael summarized the history of the project. The donor once owned the Bridgewater Hill Observatory in Vermont, which he tried to operate remotely. He would like to donate the dome, a C14, a Paramount, a camera and other electronics from the observatory to a non-profit. It is currently in storage in Medford. The donor is running out of funds to pay for storage and is anxious to dispose of the equipment. Jeff and Ludy visited the storage facility to see the equipment last year but were unable to do a thorough inspection because the equipment was crated. The feasibility of installing the donated equipment at Jenny Jump was initially considered, but rejected because it was too far away.

The Board formed a committee of five volunteers to investigate constructing an automated observatory at Washington-Crossing for astrophotography. A round wood-framed structure on a concrete pad was seen as less desirable because of the maintenance required. Plans for a nine-foot diameter, five-foot high, octagonal block structure on which the dome could be mounted, as well as for the frame alternative, were developed. Three quotes were obtained for the masonry portion of the work, and NJDEP’s approval was sought. The working group determined that the observatory was feasible and affordable so they recommend funding construction to the Board. At the July 9, 2013 Board meeting, the Board voted to recommend that the membership approve $12,000 to fund construction, which would also cover permit fees and the cost of extending the electrical service from the existing observatory.

The members present held a lengthy discussion about the project. Objections and endorsements are summarized as follows:

Objections:

  • The proposed location is too close to the existing tree line that blocks views of the western horizon. Several years ago, the east side of the observatory was cleared in anticipation of constructing an observatory there. Members set up their scopes on the west side on public nights because the eastside get too much light from visitors’ headlights.
  • A camera on the existing C14 or fee-based online remote imaging should be tried before committing to another observatory.
  • The condition of the donated equipment is unknown so it may need repairs. Before committing to taking it, the equipment should be inspected. If repairs are needed, the cost should be included in the proposal.
  • A full implementation plan has not been prepared that considers all potential costs such as equipment repairs and equipment storage until the structure is ready (estimated at $100 per month).
  • Astrophotography, particularly at an auto-mated facility is difficult and time consuming. Do the interested members have the dedication to construct the observatory and negotiate the steep learning curve required to make the equipment operational?
  • If one can buy a shed for $1000, why is the cost so high?
  • Not enough members are interested in astrophotography.

Endorsements:

  • Members who are familiar with the site because they participated in the original observatory construction recommended the proposed location. The existing water line, existing observatory sight lines and proximity to the trees were considered. The proposed location conceals the observatory from the road. The building orientation puts the door conveniently near the existing observatory. The structure could easily be put on the other (east) side of the Simpson observatory
  • Members working on the project are committed to completing it.
  • The club needs to look to the future, not rest on its laurels. This project will inspire younger people to join.
  • The donor will not wait forever. The club has had the offer for over one year; we owe him a decision.

Jeff acknowledged that the club was divided on the proposal and could not reach a decision anyway because there was no quorum. He suggested that the Board hold another meeting to give the membership another opportunity to review and discuss the details of the plan. The proposal could be amended if necessary, and brought before the membership for approval at the October 8, 2013 meeting. The consensus was that this was a good suggestion. Jeff will try to obtain a conference room in Peyton Hall next week, and notices will be emailed to the membership.

Gemini Mount for Refractor: John Church, John Giles, Rex Parker & Gene Ramsey volunteered to install the mount on October 26, 2013, weather permitting.

Jeff adjourned the meeting.

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