From the Director





by Rex Parker, Director

Eyes and Instruments on Solar System Astronomy in 2019. A wonderful way to receive the new year’s promise of discovery is to get outside and engage in astronomy during these cold winter nights. Observing with whatever scope you have is best, and of course AAAP members have top notch instruments available at Washington Crossing Observatory. Historically our club has thrived on a steady diet of cosmology, but recent trends in solar system and exoplanetary astronomy are en vogue now for us as well as the professional community at Princeton and beyond.

This might reflect the remarkable and numerous exoplanet discoveries by NASA’s Kepler mission. The heliophysical boundary has recently been traversed by Voyager 1 & 2. Astrobiology and the origin of life is a hot, emerging interdisciplinary field in the scientific community. Both the Voyager and Cassini missions have revealed that Saturn’s moon Enceladus has conditions that are likely suitable to the origin extraterrestrial life. Ground-based telescopes have enticed the imagination with sightings of the enigmatic interstellar visitor, Oumuamua. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx arrived at the asteroid Bennu on Dec 3 after a 1.2 billion mile journey. The “Asteroid Redirect” project is advancing at NASA as a component of a future Mars mission. New data suggest hundreds of thousands of 100km class icy objects orbit within the Kuiper belt (outside Neptune) – and perhaps billions of comets! And the first human approach to a Kuiper belt object will happen around New Year’s Day, when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encounters the Kuiper Belt object “Ultima Thule”. The stage is set for the new year 2019 to fulfill a great potential for further advances in astronomy and allied sciences.

My First Asteroid. The idea that there are more, far more, solar system objects than commonly believed hit home for me this December. I had collected telescope imaging data overnight, photographing the seldom seen nebula LBN 741 located near the variable star Algol in the constellation Perseus. The LBN catalogue (Lynd’s Bright Nebulae) can be loaded with the database manager subroutine in TheSkyX software at AAAP Observatory. LBN 741 is a colorful though faint nebula unusual in having both emission and reflection components making it glow red and blue. When processing the data, a moving object that didn’t fit the main star chart jumped out. Might it be an asteroid? To check this I loaded The SkyX’s Large Asteroid Database (currently 789983 objects, available online from the Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory) and set the Date/Time fields to match the image files. From this it was clear that I’d taken a photograph of Asteroid 584 Semiramis while it was crossing through Perseus that night, Dec 9. Semiramis of antiquity was the legendary queen regent of Babylon in the Assyrian empire in the 800’s BC. Semiramis of astronomy is a minor planet orbiting the sun in the main asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. It was discovered in 1906 and has since been found to have a radius of ~26 km, orbital period 3.7 years, rotation period of 5 days, and magnitude ~11 at the time of these images. Below is a video assembled from frames from the imaging, showing Semiramis moving across the field of the nebula over a couple of hours (taken with 12.5” telescope at f6.7 with SBIG-ST10 CCD camera). The finished astrophoto below the video link is LBN-741 showing its colors after about 18 hours of total data collection.

Asteroid Semiramis moving across the field ofLBN-741 in Perseus. Taken by Rex Parker with 12.5” f6.7 Cassegrain telescope and SBIG-ST10 CCD camera.

LBN-741 emission/reflection nebula in the constellation Perseus. The moving asteroid seen in the video has been “averaged out” in processing the final image. Astrophoto by Rex Parker from central NJ; taken with 12.5” f6.7 Cassegrain telescope and SBIG-ST10 CCD camera.

Posted in January 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Program Chair

By Ira Polans

Frank Reed

Frank Reed

This month’s featured talk is by Frank Reed on “Celestial Navigation: History and Future”. Before GPS and radio-based navigation aids, mariners crossed the oceans by observing the Sun, the Moon, and the stars and planets. Celestial navigation or “nautical astronomy” was a science practiced by ordinary men and women. Anyone could learn to find latitude and longitude using the Sun and stars, and anyone can learn how today, by applying just a little math to observations made with an optical instrument known as a sextant. In this presentation, In this talk Frank Reed will describe some of the science underlying celestial navigation, as well as some of the history. We’ll also consider how this ancient science remains relevant in modern contexts, even on the surfaces of other planets, like Mars.

After opening remarks and before the featured talk, member Jeff Pinyan will give a 10 minute talk on the 342nd anniversary of the determination of the speed of light by Danish astronomer Ole Rømer. In 1676, a Danish astronomer named Ole Rømer predicted an eclipse of Jupiter’s moon Io would occur 10 minutes later than expected. In so doing, he presented the first demonstrable proof that light has a finite velocity.

Prior to the meeting a meet-the-speaker dinner will be held at Winberie’s in Palmer Square. If you’re interested in attending the dinner please let me know at by noon on January 8th.

If you’re interested in giving a 10 minute talk please speak to me after the presentations are completed during the meeting or by email at

Looking forward to you joining us at the January AAAP meeting!

Posted in January 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

November 2018 meeting minutes

by Jim Poinsett

Rex called the meeting to order following the lecture on “Measuring the Historic Sky – DASCH – Digitizing a Sky Century at Harvard”

  • Rich Sherman proposed a field trip to Mt. Lemmon Sky Center near Tucson Arizona for an Astrophotography seminar using DLSR cameras. Weekend of March 9, 2019. There is room for 3-6 members, cost is $600 -$700 plus flights. Contact Rich at if interested.
  • Rex expressed the board’s thanks to all the keyholders for a successful 2018 observing season. The observatory was only open 11 out of 30 possible nights due to weather. A tweet was sent out on 28 of the 30 nights.
  • All 5 pins marking the observatory property have been located, there are no wetlands on the property.
  • The dew-shield on the C-14 was repaired.
  • The water supply was protected, it will be shut off by the time you read this.
  • The alignment of the Mewlon and H/B refractor will be worked on over the winter.
  • Rex showed examples of his color photography from his central NJ location. His point was to emphasize that there is color out there for the amateur to catch.
  • Next was a discussion on the report about asteroid Oumuamua being an alien light sail. It’s trajectory was definitely from outside our solar system. It slowed down as it approached the sun and sped up as it moved away, the opposite of gravitational attraction. It’s mass to surface area was less than 1 gram / cm2.
  • There will be an eclipse of the moon in January 2019.
  • The meeting was adjourned.
Posted in January 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Page From the Past – March 1996

by Dave and Jennifer Skitt

The attached page from the AAAP Simpson Observatory Log Book dates back to March of 1996. The AAAP astronomers mentioned are Darryl F., Ralph Marantino, Saul Moroz, Chris Moser, Jim McFee, Bill Murray, Ron Mittelstaedt and G. Maro. The object of interest was “The Great Comet” Hyakutaki.

Comet Hyakutaki had been discovered barely two months earlier by Japanese amateur comet hunter Yuji Hyakutake. It was predicted by NASA to make its closest approach to earth on March 25, 1996. It is no wonder why there was so much activity at the Observatory during the week shown in the log!

According to the log, our amateur astronomers were successful in viewing and sketching the comet with binoculars (which is how the comet was discovered) and the 12.5 inch diameter Newtonian telescope present at the time. Some of the astronomers even managed to image the comet with 35mm film cameras piggybacked to the telescope. What an accomplishment!

Below, is a NASA press release from the period.

Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC March 21, 1996
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

David Morse
Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA
(Phone: 415/604-4724)

James Wilson
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
(Phone: 818/354-5011)

RELEASE: 96-57


NASA is conducting a variety of activities designed to study the approaching Comet C/1996 B2 Hyakutake and will share this information, and on-going amateur and student observations of the comet, with the general public.

Discovered on January 30 by Japanese amateur comet hunter Yuji Hyakutake using powerful binoculars, the comet is expected to be as bright or brighter than the stars of the Big Dipper. The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on March 25 at a distance of about 9.3 million miles.

It should be visible (weather and light pollution permitting) as a dimly glowing cloud in the northern night sky to the left of the handle of the Big Dipper, as seen from North America.

Several NASA spacecraft, including the Hubble Space Telescope, will attempt to take images of Comet Hyakutake.

Hubble has an especially rare and challenging task. Astronomers say it is unlikely such a comet will ever come this close to Earth again during Hubble’s planned operational lifetime. Since Hubble is not actively controlled from the ground and the comet’s position is not precisely known, viewing the speeding visitor will be especially tricky. The telescope will be preprogrammed to point at a selected spot in the sky where the comet will be at a specific time.

Planned Hubble science observations of Comet Hyakutake include high-resolution imagery and ultraviolet spectroscopy. Near the time of the comet’s closest approach, Hubble should be able to see details as small as four miles across. Astronomers also hope to see jets of dust emerging from the comet’s nucleus.

NASA’s recently launched Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft is scheduled to take images of the comet as a calibration exercise. Although NEAR offers a different vantage point from Hubble, its camera was not designed to image objects at such large distances.

Several NASA-supported ground-based observatories also will be studying the comet during late March and in April as the comet approaches perihelion (its closest distance from the Sun.)

NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea, HI, will dedicate several days of observing time to study the release of dust and ice grains from the nucleus of the comet. These ices are composed primarily of water. Spectral observations of the molecules vaporized from the nucleus should provide samples of molecular abundances that were present at the time of the formation of the Solar System. The Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer spacecraft will make observations of neon and helium for comparison with the water production rates to be measured by the IRTF.

Images from IRTF and many other sources will be posted to a “virtual star party” on the Internet called the “Night of the Comet,” sponsored by NASA’s Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program, and its K-12 Internet Initiative. This home page allows anyone with access to a computer and a modem to post and observe Hyakutake images, track the progress of the comet, converse with NASA experts, learn about astronomy and participate in experiments.

“Although the project is just getting started, the initial response has been tremendous,” said SOFIA project educator Bob Hillenbrand. “Virtually every state is covered, plus Puerto Rico, and observers are participating from every part of the globe, including Taiwan, Australia, Africa, Russia, South America and Europe.”

“Night of the Comet” can be accessed via the Internet at URL:

Students in California, Virginia, New York, Delaware and Japan have begun a regular campaign of observing Comet Hyakutake using an automated 24-inch telescope at Mount Wilson, CA, through the NASA-supported Telescopes In Education (TIE) project.

“We are scheduling one school or group to observe each day of the week,” said Gilbert Clark, TIE project manager and organizer of the comet campaign. He expects the observations to continue, weather permitting, through at least part of April, as the comet moves from an early- morning object in the southwest sky to an early-evening object in the northwest sky.

Students will control the telescope and receive their images via telephone lines at their schools, using desktop computers and commercial software. The software package allows them to perform digital image processing to enhance contrast and other features, as is done with spacecraft images. They will send their observation notes and images to the TIE project’s World Wide Web page.

A comet is a small, icy body that orbits the Sun in an elongated orbit that can be disturbed by the on-going orbits of the planets. Resembling a “dirty snowball,” a comet typically has a relatively tiny nucleus, often less than six miles across. When radiation from the sun warms a comet, ice particles from its nucleus tend to “steam” outwards, creating a large coma or surrounding atmosphere and a tail of material that streams away from the Sun. In some cases, the coma and tail can be thousands or even millions of miles across, offering dramatic viewing opportunities. Comet Hyakutake has the potential to provide just such a spectacle.

According to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA, Comet Hyakutake will make the nearest passage to Earth of any comet since 1983, and the fifth closest this century.

We hope you enjoyed this Page from the Past. Looking forward to more pages from the past, present and future!

Path of comet Hyakutaki, courtesy: How Stuff Works

Posted in January 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged | 1 Comment

Journey to SPACE

by Gene Allen

On our way to Antarctica, we flew from Santiago up to northern Chile to spend a few days in the Atacama Desert. One of the many highlights of our visit there was an evening at SPACE, the acronym for San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations ( It is a lodge and observatory in a suburb community a few miles south of the oasis town. The owner and founder is Alain Maury, a professional astronomer currently engaged in private research into near Earth asteroids and comets. Wikipedia credits him with the discovery of seven asteroids and two comets, and asteroid 3780 Maury was named in his honor. They accommodate quite a number of people, dividing folks up into groups by language and loading us into small buses from a street corner in town. We never felt crowded or herded, and had decent access to telescope views.

It is thrilling to just look up and see the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds floating overhead, and rather disorienting to see Orion upside down, balancing awkwardly on his right shoulder. The Pleiades were easy to pick out nearby, and Sirius was rising, mistaken by several for Venus. In their summer, the Milky Way is disappointing, laying flat and low along the northern horizon, mostly lost in the minimal sky glow from San Pedro. Saturn was riding our galaxy’s western end down and was a poor target, but Mars shone clearly much higher.

Valeria Heindl, the young lady doing the sky tour for us in English, did an absolutely wonderful job. She kept the group of twenty some entertained and engaged, guiding us through the visible constellations, inviting impressions, and asking questions. Although I am a neophyte compared to so many of the AAAP members, I surprised her by having many of the admittedly rudimentary answers. They had more than a half dozen manual telescopes aimed at various available targets. She described and re-centered each for the next few to grab a quick peek. The scopes grew in aperture, and shrank in field of view, up to the 72 cm (28.3”) Dobsonian, aimed at the Tarantula Nebula in the LMC. The eyepiece view lacked the colors we have come to expect from the spectacular astrophotography with which we are blessed today, but it was still visually impressive. As she became swamped with questions, I was awarded the job of re-centering it, which had to be accomplished after just two or three observers. There was no time to learn how well the finder was centered, and delicate positioning movements were easier from the eyepiece end, so I was repeatedly scrambling up the rather substantial ladder in the dark.

It was a chilly but rewarding evening. Valeria invited all of us to return in winter for a more dramatic Milky Way display, and Alain responded to my email with news that a new 45 inch telescope is expected to see first light this month. By next month, I will have been able to gather a few photos of my most fortuitous visit to ALMA.

Alain Maury with his new 45 inch telescope.

Alain Maury with his new 45 inch telescope.

Posted in January 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Happy New Year

by Theodore R. Frimet

I was going thru my notes, from last year, of what would not pass for muster in our Sidereal Times. I decided that if this doesn’t end up with old Aesop being tossed off the mountainside, then the anthropomorphic and political forces that are compromising the very existence of all remaining vertebral Earth based life may not truly be all that difficult to overcome.

Does it Matter?
It has always been about rotational force. As the false vacuum expanded outwards, forming our universe – rotational forces were constrained – yielding to create the incredible expansion forces needed to inflate our universe.

The resulting universes’ (ours in particular) are in rotation. Observe deep field star shift, factor in known horizon and calculate our universe’s rotation velocity (or angular momentum). If that sounds too deep, consider postulating the recurring pulsating effect that results in multiple time dilations? Where does all that excess energy that didn’t make it into rotation go to? Someone call my accountant, please!

some notes from Guth read:

“false vacuum driving the inflation has a mass density of 10 to the 80 power grams per cubic centimeter.

Time for child universe to disconnect is 10 to the power of minus 37 seconds.

Black hole left behind evaporates in 10 to the power of minus 23 seconds with energy equivalent release of 500 kiloton nuclear explosion.”

back to me, now…

The everyday matter that you see (baryons – which are in essence neutrons and protons) were first created by the twisting and warping of the early universe. That is – when you twist and distort space-time you get matter.

You see, the trees, and the birds that you see, in everyday life, are not mere projections of matter into the fabric of space-time. They are, quite matter of fact, made up of space-time. It is the universe inventing itself.

The interaction of baryonic matter with space-time is very interesting. And a leap of faith is made in comparing it to the instant creation of matter – and its destruction upon meeting with anti-matter. That is, to me, that baryonic matter interaction with space-time is a very natural occurrence and not anything that is truly awe inspiring. Well, at least not after the first few seconds of realizing the true nature of matter, is anyway.

matter = space*time

What will really “bake your noodle”, is when you realize what is produced when you distort matter, and end up with new regions of space time. You birth new universes.

Or does it not Matter?
In my nutshell: “To establish virtual particle equilibrium, during interactions with Bose-Einstein Condensates, formed from Hydrogen, momentum is shifted into dark matter.

Hence, dark matter cools Hydrogen.

Sorry about flapping my gums on condensates. Yes, I thought that up. Thanks for calling me out on it. Now I have to share some brain pan space with my Sunday afternoon cup of coffee. My parietal lobes aren’t going to like this. They were expecting a natural brain chemical pump day, listening to Pink Floyd. Maybe the first tune I listed to, was sufficient pump. Who knows?

A while back a co-worker introduced me to a couple of terms, like Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC), and Cooper pairs. And like all good things in science, for me, some terminology tends to take hold. It took awhile to learn the basics. I am a little past the basics, now.

The BEC is in the lowest energy state. And it behaves quantum mechanically. When a non BEC particle interacts, there is no absorption and re-radiation. There is either a reflection, or quantum tunneling thru the BEC, or so I thought. ==> It was due to my misconception that there is a tunneling effect thru a BEC, as opposed to the “true” measurement of the condensate doing the tunneling, itself. That is, some small part of a BEC tunneling thru a barrier.<==

So, lets work with my misconception (aka “yes I thought that up”) : Non BEC particles can tunnel thru a BEC. And then, here I stumbled across a comment about Dark Matter not interacting with regular matter. And I got to thinking, Hydrogen has an even number of fermions, and of course can be a BEC.

I am trying my best. So hang on, for a little while longer..should have listened to all of the Floyd playlist. sigh. Here it is: Virtual particle interactions with the BEC – one part of the virtual pair is reflected, while the other quantum tunnels.

Probably easier to test than looking at what happens at the event horizon of a black hole, and virtual particle pairs, per Dr. Hawking. My apologies, Dr. Hawking. I probably ripped him off, by extrapolating his hypothesis of what happens to virtual particle pairs that are too close to a black hole. ( Wow. Floyd just kicked in. Two black holes, and two virtual pairs. One for each micro-black hole at the time of the big bang. Now that would make some physicist turn his string theory loopy instead of straight ! )

In reflection (in the part of the virtual pair that got reflected), time is lost, and space is expanded. I guess it is more way cooler than to say it lost momentum. To establish an equilibrium, the momentum is shifted into dark matter. Hence, dark matter cools Hydrogen. And momentum wasn’t really lost – it was conserved.

Anyway, I am fond of at least finding an abstract to deal with the subject. I wouldn’t have looked it up, however, I need another cup of coffee, and have to stare down some photonic lunch.

Below is a link to a PDF. This is the closest I can get, to getting me to understand the vectors of momentum-energy and space-time. It does little, however, to "prove" momentum conservation by a shift into dark matter. That too, I must admit. The author, also, is speculative: –

Want some Richard Feynman and cat photon referenced with your lunch? Read here: "Ice cream has no bones"

No Soap Radio:
Space-time contractions and expansions are not limited to the speed of light. So two entangled particles, separated by space-time – can communicate instantaneously, because the space-time between them instantly collapses into mutual proximity; and then instantly dilates to a distance between the two entangled particles. In no time, what-so-ever.

Further… an electron pair will be contained in its space-time cone. There are multiple dimensions at play. The distance between the two are dictated by a higher dimension. It is that one, single, solitary dimension that collapses, bringing the electrons into mutual proximity. They exchange information by virtue of a “new” Pauli exclusion principle, and then the dimension is restored – resolving the dilated space between them.

Change the Channel, please:
Did Kepler ever describe why elliptical orbits exist instead of circular? Or did he, like Newton on gravity, leave it to someone else to tell us the why?

Orbits are elliptical because our bodies (sun, earth, etc.) are in motion in a straight velocity line. The expected circular orbits are compressed into an ellipse.

Other objects, not bound to our solar system that may “visit” have orbits that are tangential, or hyperbolic, and not elliptical. They are not stretched from an expected circular orbit into an elliptical one. Oumuamua, there she goes!

O Woe is to Me:
I had a problem writing the next essay for our astronomy club. It must be astronomy related or at least astrophysical.

As I completed reading the first two chapters of Einsteins Mirror (Tony Hey & Patrick Walters) I realized that the Bohr model of quantum mechanics, Fermi and Pauli are being read right to left. That is, electron’s don’t move to contract or expand from shell to shell. It is space-time that moves, and yields either the position or the momentum of the electron.

No, Einstein didn’t say that. Neither did the other players, as far as I read of Lorentz, Lamar, and Fitzgerald. Although, if there were something of a sort, buried in history, it would have been Fitzgerald that would have married himself to the idea. Having been quoted himself as saying, “I am not in the least sensitive to having made mistakes, I rush out with all sorts of crude notions in the hope that they may set others thinking and lead to some advance”. p39 ibid Hey et al.

Space-time expands or contracts, yielding new position and momentum to the electron. That is space-time dilation is represented on a very small level.

Stars are in motion, and have velocity relative to each other. All (galaxies) are moving away, relative to us, due to the expansion of the Universe. You see, the galaxies move? Not quite so. The space-time of the Universe expands, taking with it, the galaxies on their inevitable journey. Perhaps that is the tie-in for the essay?

In the few paragraphs above – we have linked the very large scale (The Universe) with the very small scale (quantum mechanical world of the electron) by restating that it is space-time that dilates or contracts and not small or large scale matter movement.

Or am I blowing wind up my skirt ?

Because if I am not, then time vacillates both forwards and backwards, on very minute levels and also on larger grander scales. Which makes it possible to move both forward and backwards in time. Ok, that was a stretch. You didn’t read it here. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” – Obi-wan, Star Wars.

Cosmic Comprehension:
Human brains have evolved, we are told, to accommodate current facts and to predict an immediate future. Be not skeptical, because this is a flat fact. Some call this clairvoyance.

I think it more likely that we owe our precognition to a quantum mechanical aspect of our very existence in the universe. Again, be not skeptical about the quantum mechanical relationship of biology to physics. As it is also a flat fact that quantum plays out in the retina of something as complex as a birds eye. We have many solemn years ahead of us, until we complete that final map of a quantum relationship of our biology to our being present in the moment.

Take a split second – dilate it to the largest extent that you imagine – and fill it with matter that has activity both in position and momentum. The void you fill is space-time. And what you fill it with is energy (matter).

The fact of law is that energy can neither be created or destroyed. Same goes for matter. However my hypotheses leads me to the dogged sense that space-time can be created and destroyed.

It can grow to an eternity, or be contracted to a non-existence. A zero. A nothing. Less than a void, and devoid of any quantum foam. Time has no singularity. Isn’t that inconvenient, now? Tic the toc. Where did all the space go to, then? It inverted when time ran backwards, into the convenient construct of an imaginary number system. A place where negative values rule the void.

We are there, and then again we are in the present. Our current state of evolution not only permits us to perceive the comings and goings of space-time vibrations – we are permitted the sanctity of retaining our sanity, while positing the impossible truth of it.

That reality, once again, is only what we perceive at the moment. And then the moment is gone. The new
twist to this old saga, is to ask the question. Where did the moment really go to? Did it expand (forward) or contract (backwards)?

Please proceed to the front of the line:
Could you require less than one quarter of a second to form up cognition based upon your senses? By the time you dilate space time to make perception out of what you sense, you have already proved the quantum mechanical aspect of your very existence in this Universe.

O woe is to me. The musings of an artifice, as we patiently wait for evolution to provide us with what we so desperately need to survive this Anthropomorphic demise of our species: an astro-morphological change.

Perhaps all we need is cosmic bombardment on our way to Mars? Think of it as a self-induced injury to recombine the macromolecular moieties that we already possess, and elucidate during our process of self repair. Let’s not be naive about this.

“Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare” – David Bowie, Space Oddity

Batteries not included:
The pulsing action of virtual particles are responsible for the momentum of electrons.

When metals disassociate in solution in ionic form, their electrons give off photons. These photons of course have wavelengths specific to the metal. Fe would be different, say from Cu.

If you pump light back into the solution, matching the wavelength, you would recharge the “battery”.

Time does not have to meet the conservation of energy principle. By my musings, when you create excess time, you will produce new space.

Due to the actions of virtual particles, and that the reverse time effect does not match the forward time effect in conservation of energy, there would appear to now be a boundless form of energy available to the battery equally I dare say in excess of 100 percent.

Ok. I left the capsule. The above is heresy, and despite you thinking that Nicolaus C. handed out his leaflet on his deathbed, you are entirely out of order. And by the way, the grass is greener on the other side of the mountain. Just ask Aesop. Maybe the grass there has more virtual exposure, and Earth’s natural biological batteries are fully charged?

Or as I once told a classroom of Astronomers, green is Earths’ waste color. It is reflected, while it appears that most all other wavelengths, not being reflected, are very useful to the cause of biology. Consider this a new light on an explosion of rarefied nonsense.

By the by, I disagree with Virgils’ quote, “Fugit inreparabile tempus”. I say that “time flies with return”. It is just that the batteries were never included.

Posted in January 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Deep Thought vs. Deep Thinking

by Theodore R. Frimet

Gary Kasparov to the Rescue!

I have not been a Chess enthusiast, oh, for so many years. I remember my finest moments in a chess club, vintage 1980’s downtown Manhattan. Surrounded by Grand Masters, I found myself teased into challenging the best that New York could offer. Well enough said that this sampling was ever limited to the programming and staff of E.F. Hutton and Company. Imagine my brilliance, or at least my narcissism kicking in, when I defeated my first champion. I was no master. I was barely a novice. Never, ever to be repeated again. The same can be said of my Algol study.

Last year I embarked on a resolve to gather light data on Algol. I did not find for want, as her 2.86739 days (Burnham’s Celestial Handbook V3, p1414), of eclipsing binary variability were made accessible to me. I am forever grateful for our clubs access to University of North Carolina, Chapel Hills’ Skynet, and the remote 14 and 17 inch telescopes’ managed by the Dark Sky Observatory (DSO). And yet, due to a twist of fate, my interim data were lost to me. Sadly, my decision to disconnect from a personal server, lost my Excel spreadsheets. Yes, woe unto me. It must be the wrath of the demon star!

I eventually teased out a plan. I am ever so grateful for the oversight of our clubs membership, and separately to Astronomer, Dr. Mary Lou West of Montclair. Please be it known, that despite my temporal association with both clubs, under the joined affiliation of The United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey (UACNJ), that I must admit, my adoration for the kindness that has been shown to me, by all parties. Let’s rock on, shall we!

Gary Kasparov writes, in an editorial, published 7 December 2018 Science (AAAS) p1087, “…machine dominance has not ended the historical role of chess as a laboratory of cognition”. He inspires me, to be persistent that despite the many billions of dollars invested in technology, and the great span of education that melds the mind, we continue to have at our disposal our eyes, and some wonderful automated resources to probe, and validate the depths of our experiential Astronomical knowledge. Perhaps AlphaZero will show us the way, on how to probe the superb starry night, against the black ink of the night sky?

You see, machines can be the experts, as Mr. Kasparov writes, and tells us that they are not merely the tools. However, I must put in the eyepiece, and reconnoiter the night sky, myself. Astronomy is my tool. And I must ask you all to merit the process, and decide if we have been successful as amateurs? My study, and as of late – the reported results are messy – yet may be passable to the curious onlooker. May your observations, my dear Amateur Astronomers, rage against the storm. Be kind. Be discrete, and be happy for me. Rejoice with me, that although we had lost our data, to the cloud, we did not lose our determinism for the stars!

I decided to image Algol, for a few hours before and after her minimum, with 600 seconds worth of pause, between imaging. And again, acquired images during on UT November 10, 2018 from 05:58:58 thru 06:27:14 for 60 seconds between each exposure. 0.1 seconds exposure were planned. However, ‘the plans of mice and men, oft’ go astray’. I say this, as the actual minimum reported in the Observers Handbook, 2018, is Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 05:13 AM UT.

I decided on tasking more than one telescope, in the event the primary 14 inch were not available. And so, in our ‘before’ eclipse, many substitutions were performed by the 17 inch DSO, at 0.17 seconds exposure. Not to worry, as the batch photometer application, hosted by UNC’s Skynet’s Afterglow software, made short work of it. Of course, my learning curve kicked in, and over the course of a few hours, I managed to wrangle out some data. [Placing a side note, here – the magnitude data has not been adjusted to a main star. The plot data, y and x axis, are all relative measurements, to each other and are valid. Having said, I have my doubts that the software correctly placed the coordinates of the main star, in both the 14 inch telescope view and the 17 inch telescope view – which probably accounts for the very steep decline in magnitude in the “before” and “after” images.]

At first, the data appeared misleading, as the 29 minute main segment of eclipse dropped off in magnitude several times. Akin to a a previously learned lesson on tumbling asteroids, that give many variations due to albedo, I watched my light curve fall off, abruptly. A probable earth bound intervention took place, as the sky above DSO is not all laminar flow in the Northern Hemisphere, as is found in Cerro Tololo, Chile. DSO, by contrast, is located at 0 meters elevation, here at Latitude 36.253 degrees, Longitude -81.415 degrees.

And due to atmospheric change, my light became askew. I feigned to myself, this is going to go somewhere or nowhere. In my desperation, I remembered the letter I wrote to Gary Kasparov, just this morning. Here are a few words, of the many that were sent. Please recall that Mr. Kasparov sparred against IBM’s DeepBlue in 1997. We have moved so far in artificial intelligence, that the historical dominance in machine learning has long since changed names:

After two cups of coffee, you have inspired me to move forward, with my amateur analysis of a common, run of the mill, eclipsing binary star, Algol.

And despite poor stellar photography results, will plunge myself into a few hours of diagnostic and culminate with an essay for my Astronomy clubs’ next months publishing.

It is after all, what AlphaZero would do. And perhaps, if I may be so brave to express an opinion of sorts, my morning pursuit, would also be the choice of yours, to seek what is not presently known, and to explore a road, not frequently traveled.

Ah yes. The data. As I mentioned previously, I programmed for three astrophotography sessions (UT):

ID 3235779 November 10, 2018 04:19:18 thru November 11, 2018 00:22:10
ID 3235780 November 10, 2018 05:58:40 thru November 11, 2018 00:33:42
ID 3235781 November 10, 2018 05:58:40 thru November 10, 2018 06:27:14

I made the above choices based upon data in the Observers Handbook 2018, USA Edition. Here was the plan: 11/10 – Algol minimum at 5:13 UT (1:13 EST), new Moon 11/7.

Just jotting down a few notes for myself, so I don’t become complacent, here:

Given that the minima of Algol is stated as a mid-eclipse, time the photography as starting 5 hours and 10 minutes prior to the mid-eclipse. Take images every 10 minutes, for five hours, then an image every minute for 20 minutes, then an image every 10 minutes for five hours.

Image capture prior to minima: 6 x 5 = 30 (prior to mid-eclipse) plus 6 x 5 = 30 (after mid-eclipse) plus 20 images during mid-eclipse for a total of 80 exposures.

The images I captured, left me scratching my head. They were not the images I had hoped to capture to make a video. Last month, I turned to Vice President Larry Kane, and said, “Larry, I’ve got to make lemonade out these lemons!” I will do a light study, and publish the results. Yes, my Amateurs, it took two doctors, and a club member friend, to help self-motivate and get the below images to you. I hope they do not drive you insane, as you ponder, “why, oh why, has it taken him so long to espouse a simple opener for a very basic graphic”?

Yet, I could of opined:

“all I ask for is a star
a telescope to guide me
instill within me the strength
to tarry the longest,
whilst navigating the ocean
of the nights sky”.

Look below. And when done, go to your telescopes, and look above. Peace be unto you, this Holiday Season. Blessed are the keepers of the 5%.

I finally got the bandwidth to visually look over the 17 inch telescope images, this fine Sunday morning (December 23, 2018)!

Algol is clearly moving out of frame, and the resulting photometric is observing a dark field, and not Algol on the 17” DSO telescope. This applied to the study ID 3235779, which is the “BEFORE”

This project will have to go onto the back burner, for another year, or until the next moonless night with Algol approaching a minimum.

However, since the “AFTER”, which is study ID 3235780 made 29 image captures with the 14 inch telescope, and only two (#25, and #26) were imaged with the 17 inch DSO, there may be some science of consequence to compare the “DURING” to the “AFTER” images.

In the words of Ursa Comicus, aka Winnie the Pooh, “oh bother”.

There are scientists, who will not submit data for publication, when the outcome doesn’t match their expectations. At the “minimal”, if the experiment is a flop, don’t expect to read about it. There are real time developments to the contrary, however.

The particular ethic of publishing, or not, is measurable. A repository for scientific peer reviewed papers was developed. That is, papers are prepositioned in a database, pre-experiment and then the commitment must be made, to publish, post-experiment.

It is in this spirit, that I offer my “mistakes”, so that you can watch out for the pitfalls that I have experienced, both those that are visible, and the few glaring mistakes that, as an amateur, that I may have missed altogether. You know, “I can’t see the forest for the trees”?

Allow me to close the essay, “Deep Thought, Deep Thinking”, with a directed prose to AlphaZero. Whom I would like to bestow the informal nickname, “AZ” (Alt-Az):

“sweep away the mistakes
not under the carpet
nigh, sweep away under the stars.
for all that can peer with scope in hand
to view once more the inner sanctum of truth.”

As you approach the last few milestones, dear AZ, be cautious. You will attain what others lack in awareness. And end up making the fools of us, alt-ogether.
P.S. – I ran another look at Algol, and my latest BEFORE wasn’t executed until the approximate minimal time. Probably so, because I started the first run, just after sun-down. So I pondered. I thought to myself, “this has happened before – don’t cancel the observation – you will need it”. I gave it a few seconds, which to AZ would have been a short lifetime. And decided to cancel the remaining observations.
Of course, came the morning. I had a good nights sleep. Then awareness overtook me. I became, once more, a rational, thinking human being. Slowly, I came to regret cancelling all observations. Yes, I should have stopped the “BEFORE”. The remaining two legs of data could have been managed and used to confirm a 30 minute minimal, and a new “AFTER”.

Final Jeopardy: “I’d say thistles, but nobody listens to me, anyway.” Answer: Who is Eeyore?

Algol Eclipse

Algol Eclipse




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Heart and soul of Orion

Heart and Soul of Orion, derivative work by Theodore R. Frimet, © 2019 All Rights Reserved

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Hypervelocity Missiles and the Depth of Space

by Theodore R. Frimet

It is common knowledge that we acknowledge the vast oceans as a limited resource. Beyond our national boundaries, even so, globally, there appears to be a tragedy of compromise. Whereas the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea tempers access to the international seabed, so it goes that minor players have the occasion to overfish and stress the very biomass that we presume are protected.

It is within this oceanic genre that we begin to foment the comparison of our inner space to outer space.

With the development of hypervelocity missiles, pronounced by the Chinese government a few months back, and more recently by the Russian military, our nascent administration finds itself in the precarious position to survey the initial launch phase of a determined intruder, and presents itself the re-introduction of Reagan era Star Wars.

As Amateur Astronomers, we comprehend fully the initiators of defense, leading us in first strike capability, from Lagrange points L1 and L2, or the two more stable points of L4 and L5. However, for the sake of multi stakeholders, we must pursue a policy of peace in space.

When the alarmist rings out that space is already militarized and that an orbiting anti-missile strategy is preferable, I am resilient in my opine that our economy and allegiance are best spent on the continued preservation of space for peaceful exploration.

We are three nations strong. All with hypervelocity missiles. These three kings would do well to couple our needs as human beings with the requirements of our growing cultures to solve global problems and not to create them.

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See no evil

by Theodore R. Frimet

Four great tunes to listen to. However only one speaker, and of course, only one channel. Unless of course you are a mutant like me! NASA isn’t going to listen. Post Hubble and James Webb, they are of course looking!

Do we glare at the first supermassive black holes with LYNX or go gaga at awesome first galaxies with LUVOIR? Perhaps better to be pedestrian and watch for Earth-like exoplanets with HABEX or stare down the cold gas and dust of planet forming disks with ORIGINS?

A great read is author Daniel Clery’s article “Starry Eyes” in Science, December 14, 2018, Vol 362, Issue 6420, pps 1230-1235.

Herein we discover the LYNX X-ray observatory goes the distance to find sources that are deeper and fainter. Nested millimeter thick mirrors allow x-rays to be captured as glancing reflections. We know the successes of Chandra and her European mission equivalents. So I crave for the hidden information of supermassive black holes that LYNX promises to unfold.

I am a sucker for a spiral galaxy. Who isn’t? LUVOIR, with its movable mirrors, will be packed into the payload of NASA’s heavy lift rocket, known as Space Launch System two. I expect great discoveries as she unfolds her huge 15 meter mirror (Hubble is 2 meters) and fires all mirror segments poised at its secondary and onwards to its optics system. A sunshield to accompany the unfolding origami will keep old Sol at bay, cheaply providing a cool roost for on-board sensors.

Where to find life exquisite than none other than HabEx? It is appealing to both the public and Congressional purse to find life on Earth like planets. And HabEx fits the bill. Equipped with a forward scarf and sun shade, it can focus most clearly on objects that are one ten billionth as bright.

Simple molecules, gas and dust are easy targets for ORIGINS to manage. It is sensitive and capable of detecting aromatic hydrocarbons. Equipped with star shield and cryo-coolers, ORIGINS will stare down feebly glowing objects in the far infrared. Her sweet spot is water. By tracking H2O we could land ourselves onto habitable worlds.

Which mission will win the favor of NASA? Well, I for one, have already shown you my hand. I have no poker face. Show me a First Galaxy and I’ll show you a happy Amateur Astronomer!

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Radio telescopes and the black hole

by Prasad Ganti

Astronomy traditionally have been confined to seeing the light emitted by heavenly bodies. Nineteenth century discoveries proved that light is only a small part of the spectrum of what is known as electromagnetic radiation. It was found later that infrared (heat), x-rays, ultra violet rays, gamma rays, microwaves, radio waves are all part of this same spectrum. In the twentieth century, Karl Jansky of AT&T Bell Labs found that radio waves are also emitted from outside of our solar system. Gradually, radio astronomy emerged where telescopes were built to receive radio waves coming from all over our Universe.

I watched a very interesting collection of video lectures on radio astronomy. It was part of a course conducted by Dr. Felix Lockman and produced by the company “The Great Courses”. What is surprising is that the pictures of the distant stars and galaxies can be different than what is observed using optical telescopes. In multi messenger astronomy, such pictures from radio and optical telescopes are combined to produce a composite picture. The invisible pictures captured by the radio telescopes, which are a bunch of radio antennas connected to a radio receiver, reveals a different aspect of astronomy.

Light gets blocked by the interstellar dust, whereas radio waves just pass through. Due to this reason, clouds of hydrogen, ammonia, water vapor, organic chemicals like formaldehyde and acetic acid have been detected in interstellar space using radio telescopes, which would not have been possible using the optical telescopes. The presence of organic chemicals in space, although no DNA or proteins have been found yet, means that life could be present in other parts of our Universe.

Examples of radio telescopes are ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), a collection of 66 radio dish antennas in Chile. A 300 foot dish radio telescope is in Green Bank, West Virginia. A 500 foot dish radio telescope was recently built in China (called FAST). A single dish radio telescope is in the South Pole. When multiple antennas exist, they combine together (called interference pattern) and form effectively a larger telescope. Huge telescopes like the 300 foot dish cannot be made as a single piece. Multiple panels driven by motor actuators to correct for factors like gravity, wind, heat etc. Special white paint keeps the dish cool. Heat produces noise. That is why the radio receivers are cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero to eliminate most of the noise.

Picture below is of ALMA. By looking at the vehicle going on the ground, you can estimate the size of the telescope. Cables from all the antennas are connected to very sensitive radio receivers in a control room.


ALMA in Chile

Now let us turn to Black holes. These are very interesting cosmic objects in our Universe. Massive amounts of matter gravitationally compressed very densely so that not even light can escape from them. With high level of confidence, astronomers state that supermassive black holes exist at the center of every galaxy, including our milky way. The problem is we cannot see a black hole. Even if we try to detect some form of radiation around it, there is too much dust as we get closer to the center of our galaxy. By the way, our Sun is about two thirds distance away from the center of our galaxy. Radio astronomy to come to our aid to view the center of our galaxy.

I recently read a book called “Einstein’s Shadow” by Seth Fletcher. The radio telescopes we have currently are not good enough to peep into the center of our galaxy. The book talks about a great idea of building something called EHT (Event Horizon Telescope) to view the black hole at the center of our galaxy. It is an extension of the idea of combining multiple antennas. It combines radio telescopes in different parts of the world to make one huge telescope called the EHT. EHT is a combination of ALMA, LMT (Large Millimeter Telescope), JCMT (James Clerk Maxwell Telescope), SPT (South Pole Telescope) from different parts of the world, to name a few. The eventual goal is to photograph the black hole at the center of the galaxy. That is what the author calls as “Einstein’s Shadow”.

A note that the pictures of galaxies and distant stars we see are not really the colors they have. Based on the data collected by the telescopes, computer algorithms are used to assign colors based on factors like the temperature. Please don’t expect to see a black hole in red !

The first set of experiments have been conducted using such combinations of widely scattered telescopes. The data will be analyzed for the next few years. And hoping to get a glimpse of the black hole in coming years. The revolution which Jansky sparked has taken over the universe in bringing light to otherwise dark areas.

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