From the Director





by Rex Parker, Director

Members Night at Observatory Saturday, June 16. Hoping third time is a charm after clouds and rain washed us out on May 12 and May 19. Mark your calendar for a Members Night (and family and friends too) at AAAP’s Observatory in Washington Crossing Park on June 16. See the website for info on how to get there (phone 737-2575). Sunset on June 16 is ~8:30 pm, so come around then if you want to see the thin crescent moon, or anytime after till at least midnight.

If you’re a newer member or haven’t been out there for a while, you may be amazed to see the latest equipment in action. The Mallincam video camera has been retired to make way for new technology, including a Starlight Xpress Ultrastar-C color CCD camera on a 5” Explore Scientific apochromatic refractor, and a ZWO ASI-294 color CMOS camera on a 10” Mewlon Cassegrain reflector scope. These are in addition to the Celestron-14 and the legendary 1879 Hastings 6-1/4” refractor set up for visual observing with eyepieces. All telecopes slew around the sky robotically on Software Bisque Paramount equatorial mounts. For more on planetary viewing opportunities next month see below.

Martian Insight. While Jupiter still dominates the southern night sky this month, Mars will brighten rapidly in June and outshine the Jovian planet by the end of July as it reaches perihelic opposition. That means it lies opposite to the sun in our sky, and while this happens every other earth year, the closeness varies from eccentricity in the orbit over the 687 earth day orbital period of Mars (Martian year). This summer Mars will be within 36 million miles of earth, the closest it’s been since summer of 2003. I went back to the archives on my home PC and found these images (below) I took at the 2003 opposition, using a 5” refractor with barlow to give a focal ration of f/40.

Jun 16 (EDT) Rise time & azimuth Transit time & altitudeK/th>

Magnitude Diameter, arcsec
Mars 23:23 119 04:10 28S -1.7 18
Jupiter 16:57 109 22:07 35S -2.4 43
Saturn 21:06 119 01:51 27S 0.1 18

These color images were made from separate subframes using an SBIG ST10 CCD camera with red, green, and blue filters, a much more difficult technique than using the new “one-shot color” cameras at the Observatory. The key to planetary imaging is to take many brief frames in order to capture the best ones at those occasional instants of atmospheric clarity. The new cameras have high sensitivity and very fast download rates allowing them to be used (with the right software) as streaming color video or to capture individual frames. The control software (“Starlight Live” and “SharpCap”; read about these online) is reasonably intuitive. It’s hoped that AAAP members will enjoy using these cameras to photograph planets, moon, and deep sky objects. Feel free to contact me or the Observatory or Outreach Chairs if you have questions about use (see the Contact Us tab on the website).

Seeking deeper impressions of Mars, the NASA Mars Insight mission launched successfully a few weeks ago (). The Insight craft is now in interplanetary space bound for Mars. Science instruments on board are designed to measure the interior geophysics of the red planet, including a seismometer and a thermal conductivity probe. The anticipated data will help develop better understanding of how Mars apparently lost its magnetic field in its distant past. If successful the measurements will also provide insight into previous plate tectonic activity and help drive hypotheses on how and when Mars may have lost it’s original atmosphere and water. Deep questions in need of answers!

This entry was posted in June 2018, Sidereal Times and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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