by Rex Parker, Director
AAAP ends observatory operation at UACNJ. For the past year and longer, we have been considering the fate of our club’s observatory at the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey observatory site at Jenny Jump State Forest. Our involvement there goes back to the beginnings of UACNJ as a consortium of NJ astronomy clubs when we became one of the founding member organizations. Our observatory, one of six on the Jenny Jump site, was built from scratch in the mid-90’s by a group of club members, including Bill Murray, Saul Moroz, and myself, along with former members Vic Belanger, Ron Mittlestaedt, Ralph Marantino, Larry Smith, and others.
Over the past year our assessment of member interest and the ability of AAAP to continue to support an observatory there reached a dismal conclusion. Largely due to travel distance, we lack a critical mass of member-observers able to participate on a regular basis. Further, recent rule changes executed by the UACNJ Board require a higher level of engagement and regular attendance in order to maintain our sub-lease for the site.
On Jan 18 the AAAP Board of Trustees considered these facts and reached a unanimous decision to formally disengage from observatory operations at UACNJ Jenny Jump. We therefore are allowing the observatory facility to be placed back into regular use by another club (several are interested), ending our claim to an observatory at Jenny Jump. Importantly, we agreed to maintain AAAP’s member-club status in UACNJ, so that AAAP members can bring their own equipment onto the site and observe anytime a UACNJ Observer is present.
Upcoming Club Activities:
• Solar eclipse plans (Aug 21, 2017). A solar total eclipse is rare at any single location on earth, happening about once per 360 years on average. Several AAAP members are making plans to view the upcoming eclipse in Oregon. If you’re interested in participating contact assistant director Larry Kane. The chosen locale is near the town of Monmouth OR, where one of our members has a family connection. This site is in the path of totality running W to E across the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. In Oregon the duration of totality will be about 2 min. Of course, a clear sky is key to eclipse observing, and August weather considerations are favorable at this site. NJ and surrounding states will see only a partial eclipse, far less impressive than totality.
• Night-sky refresher at Planetarium (May 13, 2017). We’re reprising the “night sky refresher” session so that members can improve understanding of deep sky objects and how to observe them at our observatory or at home. We’ll utilize the Planetarium equipment along with the expert knowledge of AAAP member Bill Murray who is also on the Planetarium staff. Meet on May 13 at 10AM, at the Planetarium located at the NJ State Museum at 205 W State St in Trenton.
• Member nights – star parties at Washington Crossing Observatory (May 27 & June 24). Plans are being made to hold two special celestial observing events for members (friends and family welcome too) at our observatory on May 27 and June 24. This is a good chance to check out the new hardware and software and bring your own telescope for a great night of observing and camaraderie.
Seeking AAAP outreach co-chair. We’re aiming to identify members interested in assisting current co-chair David Letcher to drive club outreach, helping enable this important AAAP mission. The role involves communicating with scout troop leaders, teachers, and other community leaders to help set up local astronomy events. This includes coordinating with members to bring telescopes to schools and other public facilities, and sometimes at the observatory. Please contact me if you’re interested (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Comet 45P/Honda Mrkos-Pajdusakova observing challenge. We now have a rare opportunity to see a comet with binoculars. As mentioned at the Jan meeting, I’m tossing out a friendly challenge for members to get out and observe comet 45P. The “P” is for periodic, this is a short-period comet with orbital period of ~5 years, an Oort cloud object that was deflected into the inner solar system when it was first discovered by humans in 1948. As February progresses the comet will move away from the sun climbing higher in the early morning eastern sky before sunrise. By Feb 5 it should high enough before twilight to see with binoculars due east about 15° above horizon around 5AM (chart below), but it will get dimmer as it goes higher, so don’t wait too long to attempt the observation!