From the Director





by Rex Parker, PhD

New Season Begins at AAAP’s Washington Crossing Observatory. The late winter surge that Punxsutawney Phil warned about made our preparations for the new season at Washington Crossing a little harder. But we’re ready now — the hardware and software upgrades have come a long way, thanks to Observatory Chairs Dave & Jennifer Skitt and other members. The new Windows-10 PC’s are in place and ready to control the two Paramounts — the sophisticated computer-controlled equatorial mounts now running under “TheSkyX” (Software Bisque’s latest, major upgrade over the previous Sky 6 version). With the recent installation of a Verizon high speed fiber optic internet connection at the observatory, TheSkyX can also be accessed using Teamviewer12 remote software from home PCs.

The Observatory is for all club members. It is our main hub for observing, member gatherings, and public outreach. You don’t need to be an expert, just come out on Friday public nights (Apr-Oct). If you want to become a hands-on observer (or access remotely) and learn more about the celestial sphere, telescope hardware, software, and technical aspects, I urge you to contact me or other Board members, or contact Dave and Jennifer (Observatory committee). We offer specific training for members to become new “Keyolders” who can access the Observatory and its equipment 24/7/365. Also note the members nights coming up (see below).

Telescope equipment at AAAP’s Washington Crossing Observatory now includes:
Paramount-ME #1
• Celestron-14 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (14 inch), D = 355 mm, f/11, FL = 3900 mm
• New Stellarview 80 mm right-angle finder scope on the C14.
• Explore Scientific ED127 refractor telescope (5 inch), f/7.5, FL = 950 mm, triplet air spaced apochromatic refractor.
• Mallincam Xterminator, color video camera attached to the ED127 refractor for live video astronomy on the monitors in the observatory
Paramount-ME #2
• Hastings-Byrne 6-1/4 inch refractor, f/14.6, FL = 2310 mm. Historic instrument dates to 1871, air-spaced doublet lens. Glass and tube original from 1871.
• Takahashi Mewlon-250, 10 inch Dall-Kirkham reflector telescope, with 2 inch TMB Optical dielectric-diagonal and Feathertouch 2 inch Crayford focuser
• New Televue eyepieces, Panoptic 27 mm and 41 mm, for the Mewlon-250

Seeking AAAP outreach co-chair. AAAP is noted for public outreach – we help people of all stages of learning and interest enhance their study of the universe we live in from an astronomy perspective. We need a member or two to step up and help current Outreach Co-Chair David Letcher in the outreach endeavor. This involves communicating with teachers and other educators, community groups, and scout troop leaders to coordinate astronomy events with club members’ participation. These typically involve observing with telescopes at night at our Observatory or on location at schools, parks, and public facilities. Please contact me or David ( if you can help.

AAAP Activities Coming Up
Night-sky refresher at Planetarium (May 13, 2017). We’re reprising the “night sky refresher” session so that members can improve deep sky skills. The Planetarium’s amazing capabilities will be on display as AAAP member and Planetarium staffer Bill Murray runs the system. Meet on May 13 at 10AM. The Planetarium is located at the NJ State Museum, 205 W State St in Trenton.

Members night star parties at the Observatory Sat. May 27 & June 24. These nights are reserved for AAAP members (friends and family welcome) at our Observatory on May 27 and June 24. A great opportunity to learn more about observing and telescope equipment, and get to know others in the club.

Solar eclipse plans (Aug 21, 2017). Several AAAP members are making plans to view the upcoming total solar 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, which is in the path of totality running W to E across the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. Of course, a clear sky is key, and August weather considerations are favorable at this site. NJ and surrounding states will see only a partial eclipse, far less impressive than totality.

Posted in April 2017, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane, Assistant Director

There are a couple of issues that needed to be brought to your attention:
I wanted to provide the AAAP membership an update on the planned trip to view the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Through determined negotiation, without the benefit of having read The Art of the Deal, I was able to reserve eight motel rooms within an hour drive of where we will view the eclipse. At this point in time, five of these rooms have been requested by AAAP members. So, there are three left. As I have put all of the room reservations on my credit card, I will soon have to relinquish any of them that are not soon, spoken for. So, come one and come all, at least three more of you.

Sunday, April 30 will be the annual extravaganza known as Communiversity Day in Princeton. We have, again, been invited by the organizers from the university to participate in this event which can draw 30,000 people in one day to downtown Princeton. Past events were very successful as we were able to hand out several hundred pieces of literature, talk to hundreds of people, and show them what their closest star looks like in a telescope. We hope to repeat these successes this year. So, I am requesting each of you to become a part of this event by attending, with or without a telescope, and helping to share our knowledge and awe of the cosmos. Please think about it and either contact me to say you will help with the event and/or see me at the next AAAP meeting and give me your contact information so we can help make this the best Communiversity Day ever. If you will not be able to attend the meeting, please send me an email at: . By the way, if anyone has a good lead for affordable flights to Portland, OR, please let me know.

I hope to see everyone to discuss both of these monumental events at the next meeting.

Posted in April 2017, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

‘The Glass Universe’- April 11, 2017 Lecture

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

The April AAAP meeting is on the 11th at 7:30PM in Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk is by author Dava Sobel, author of “Longitude”, on her latest book “The Glass Universe”. After the talk there will be a break for a book signing. Labyrinth books will be on hand with books for purchase. You can save some time by buying your book(s) prior to the signing. They accept payment in cash, checks, or credit card.

In the mid-19th century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers”, to interpret the observations made via telescope by their male counterparts each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but by the 1880s the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith.

Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel

As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed in this period—thanks in part to the early financial support of another woman, Mrs. Anna Draper, whose late husband pioneered the technique of stellar photography —enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight

Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify 10 novae and more than 300 variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair.

Prior to the meeting there will be a meet-the-speaker dinner at 6PM at Winberie’s in Palmer Square in Princeton. The dinner is members-only and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis with a limit of 18 club members. NOTE: Guests will be accommodated only if less than 18 club members wish to attend.

If you’re interested in attending the dinner please contact me at In your request please indicate who’s the paid member and who is the guest (Limit 1 guest per member).

As mentioned last month, we’re planning to schedule a short meeting (of about 30-45 minutes) in April to seek club member’s suggestions for speakers for next year. The proposed meeting dates are April 19, or 26 at about 7PM in Peyton Hall. If you’re interested in participating please email me indicating which days is good for you (in order of preference). We’re particularly interested in suggestions about amateur astronomer related topics. Based on the responses I will schedule the meeting based on member preference and room availability. If you can’t make any of these dates please email me with your suggestions. Please include the speaker’s name, subject matter, and affiliation.

See you on Tuesday, April 11.

Posted in April 2017, Sidereal Times | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Outreach Report

by David Letcher, Outreach Chair

The weather has been a “thorn in our sides” during this winter and early spring season of 2017. A star party at one of our regular schools, the Stuart Country Day School was scheduled in January but after 3 postponements they decided to wait until next fall to reschedule. A star party at Hopewell Elementary School was scheduled for March 24th but the NWS forecast was for cloudy weather. It was their annual science night so their side of the night was indoors. But Dave and Jennifer Skitt went there anyway and were able to show the children some sky objects as the students and parents left the building on their way to the parking lot. (The NWS forecast was a false alarm!)

Another star party was scheduled for an “astronomy night” in East Brunswick but was postponed until the fall.

I have been getting a slight increase in the number of requests from scout troops, both cub, boys, and girls. The problems for us is that, on the one hand, some are interested in having a volunteer come to one of their meetings, or on the other, a request to visit the observatory on a Saturday night. I have suggested they attend our weekly open houses as one alternative arrangement.

The latest request is for a volunteer to attend a private birthday party and entertain the guests with possible sky views and astronomy knowledge. This is a new type of request. Director Rex has asked us to express our opinions on whether we should engage in such activities.

I have noticed that, over the recent years, it has become a little more difficult to get members to volunteer for star parties; an issue that should be addressed.

Now that sunset is later in the evening, we won’t get any more school requests. They will start up again in the Fall.

Posted in April 2017, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Treasurer’s Report

by Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

At this point in our fiscal year, which will end on June 30, we have just hit the 100-member mark. Dues revenue at this point is up about 14% from a year ago.

Total revenue for the fiscal year to date is about $6,000, with $1,300 of that from donations received in memory of Gene Ramsey. His extended family was particularly generous in their support.

We have spent about $5,600 during the year for the 4th telescope and related improvements at the observatory. As a result of this planned expense, we show a deficit for the year to date of about $4,300. I expect normal operating costs between now and the end of June to be modest, and likely to be offset by dues income from new or renewing members.

On a cumulative basis, the AAAP’s surplus is about $18 thousand.

Posted in April 2017, November 2014, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Member Resolutions for Astronomy 2017

by Rex Parker, Director

Here’s a synopsis of resolutions offered by members during the January meeting at Peyton Hall, shortly after the start of the new year. Encouraging and provocative!

• Do not let every clear sky night go unobserved
• Embark on a program to observe all the Messier Objects
• While I resolve to not make resolutions, nonetheless observe more this year (e.g. comets)
• Learn to use my telescope, get to know telescopes better (multiple)
• Purchase a new telescope
• Refrain from trying to acquire every new astro gadget that comes onto the market
• Acquire suitable binoculars for astronomy (multiple)
• Acquire or build a binocular mount to make binox more capable
• Figure out how to use my iOptron CEM60 mount & solar tracker, assistance welcome
• Make a guide star laser
• Learn about astrophotography; participate in workshop with club’s CCD camera (multiple)
• Become proficient using my video imaging system
• Spend more time using Mallincam video at WC Observatory
• Help ensure that video astronomy experience at WC is as good as it can be — frame grabber, other alternatives?
• Having gotten a handle on polar and go-to alignment, I seek to develop real-time observation capability with a camera.
• Use AAAP observatory more often, per talk with Gene Ramsey before he passed away
• As new Keyholder, get more practice with telescopes at the Observatory
• Introduce one or more persons to astronomy – friend family, neighbor
• Attend a star party at Cherry Springs PA
• View the solar eclipse with other AAAP members in Oregon (multiple)
• Field trip to a radio astronomy site
• Read Sky & Telescope magazine often to be more aware of upcoming events
• Continue to attend AAAP lectures
• Understand basics & advanced astronomy, complement mission of AAAP (multiple)
• Learn about string theory

Posted in April 2017, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment