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Club Meeting Summary - Dec. 1, 2022

· Club Meeting Summary

Southern Maine Astronomers

Club Meeting

1 December, 2022 7:00PP

Attending were members Robert Burgess, Greg Thorup, Carson Hanrahan, Al Disabitano, Russ Pinizzotto, Kevin Kane, John O'Donnel, David Gay, David Manchester, Carole Long, Ron Thompson, Craig Snapp, Robert Dodge, Ted Hebert, Brad, Owen, John Saucier, Mark Lasher, Chris Parent, Mike Mack, Tom Wright, Maame Andoh, Dale Dermott, Kerry Kertes, Forrest Sumner, Howie Marshall, Jack K2BMI, Jack Hummer, Roy Patrice, Alexandra Rudenko, and the speaker, Gregory Shanos.

Reports from Club Members:

Russ Pinizzotto recently acquired a book called Searching for the Oldest Stars. The book is written by a woman astronomer who researches Gen-3 stars; stars created just after the big bang that still exist today. Russ loves the book and highly recommends it. Additionally, he has been working on the Open Cluster Observing program. He’s observed 95 open clusters but has around 30 more to go, and he’ll have to wait till he’s returned to Maine to observe the rest.

Craig Snapp has observed 56 of the 110 Messier objects, and passed the halfway point for the observing challenge. Everyone was proud of Craig’s progress and were excited for him to observe the rest of the 54.

Finally, Rob informed members that a large meteorite recently fell in Africa that surprisingly contained two minerals that don't exist on Earth.

Club Updates

Robert Burgess expressed that the club had gained new members: Dale Demott, Susan, and Kevin Harwick. Moreover, Rob thanked the speakers at the club’s November star party.

The Harpswell Historical Society has an upcoming solstice event, and would like to invite someone who knows something about astronomy. Any club members who would like to fulfill this role should reach out to and inform the organization.

The next club meeting will occur on January 5th, and will feature a presentation by Ralph Lorenz. A planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, Lorenz will review past missions to Venus and the current DAVINCI probe to Venus.

The next director’s meeting is Wednesday, January 18th, at 7PM. All members are welcome to attend.

Speaker Portion

Our speaker was Greg Shanos, an SMA member from Florida. Greg is a pharmacist but a passionate observer, astrophotographer, and meteorite collector. He has a strong interest in the chemical composition of meteorites and he even gave a presentation to SMA on comets in the night sky. Tonight he presented on Mars at Opposition; how to observe and photograph it.

Greg began the presentation by providing basic facts on Mars. It is the fourth planet from the sun and is named after the Roman god of war. Its chemical composition is 95% carbon dioxide, with 3% nitrogen, 1.9% argon and trace levels of water vapor, oxygen, and carbon monoxide among other elements. The temperature of Mars is around -195 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The names of Mars’ moons are Phobos and Deimos, the accompaniments to the god of war.

During the 19th century, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli mapped and named areas on Mars. He named the light areas 'seas' and the dark areas, 'continents' with names from historic and mythological sources. Schiaparelli also saw channels on Mars and named them 'canali’. The importance of canals for worldwide commerce led to the still present interest in canals and natural structures on Mars. The common features of Mars are lacus (lake), mare (sea), regio (region), and sinus (bay).

Additionally, Mars also has albedo features. Albedo refers to the reflectivity of an object and desert regions have higher reflective albedo. Six Mars portraits that Greg took over the course of a few weeks displayed the planet’s diverse albedo markings.

For those interested in observing Mars from Earth, there are important changes to note. As Mars approaches Earth, it swells from a small apparent disk of 6 arc seconds on May 11, 2022, to a maximum diameter of 17.2 arc seconds at its closest approach on Dec 1, 2022, and then shrinks as it moves away. The opposition will be on Dec 8th, 2022 and it will be a steady night with excellent seeing and transparency. Transparency refers to how clear the sky is (usually measured by the lowest magnitude star visible) while seeing refers to the motion and turbulence in the atmosphere. Seeing and transparency have an inverse relationship; with high transparency, you have low seeing and vice versa. Finally, during opposition Mars experiences blue clearing; a phenomenon in which Mars appears featureless except for a few clouds. This occurs because Mars is closest to the Earth and highest in the sky, thus increasing the contrast of the surface albedo features.

Moving on, telescopes should have a longer focal length to produce larger images, and larger apertures, to improve the resolution of your images. Additionally, observers should take time to obtain a good focus on the planet. The disk of Mars is small even when the planet is closest to Earth, so high magnification is required to view its changes. A micro focuser is an excellent tool for producing clearer planetary features. Finally, the best color filters to use are red and violet. Red shows general surface features such as dust storms, while violet reveals high-altitude clouds, polar hazes, and helps differentiate between dust and clouds. Greg also advised viewers to add an ultraviolet filter to their toolbox. These provide high-contrast images of the upper atmospheric cloud features, which might appear dark and be overlooked.

Continuing with important instruments, during the early 2000s, amateur astronomers used cameras like the ToUCam Pro II, which revolutionized planetary astronomy by removing the need for dark frames and flat fields. However, the tool only worked for bright objects like the moon, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. Today, most planetary video cameras are monochrome cameras, which require red, green, and blue filters to produce a color image. For astrophotography, Greg uses the MEADE LX200GPS 10-inch 2500 mm Catadioptric telescope with the micro focuser, altazimuth mounted, and Barlow lens 1.25x, 1.5x, 2x. However, he recommends that the audience use a Baader 1.25-inch CMOS-optimized UV/IR blocking filter.

When preparing for an observing session, viewers can use and to stay informed on atmospheric and nighttime conditions. Furthermore, jet streams are fast-flowing narrow currents that lie six miles above the surface of the Earth. When a jet stream is above one's area, the seeing will be more turbulent, but the transparency might be better since winds are keeping the clouds away. Viewers can check for jetstreams at Additionally, Greg recommended several video editing software to improve the clarity of one's images. These included WinJupos, a tool to derotate images and video streams for increased sharpness and resolution, and Autostakkert, a software that aligns and stacks videos thus eliminating the effects of atmospheric movement.

Greg ended the presentation by showing examples of planetary, solar, and lunar images he's taken using the instruments and techniques he provided.

Constellation Tour

Russ Pinizzotto led us on a tour of the constellation, Cetus. One can see Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus, in the constellation on December 15th 2022. Cetus refers to the sea monster that was killed by Percius when he was saving Andromeda. Additionally, there is a musician named Tom Bryer who has an album about constellations and a song about Cetus.

If you enjoy observing galaxies, Cetus is the perfect constellation to look for in the wintertime. To begin, there is Messier 77, a spiral galaxy and a seyfert galaxy (somethimes called Cetus A). Additional galaxies include NGC 246/Caldwell 56, NGC 247/Caldwell 62, IC 1613/Caldwell 51, NGC 157, NGC 584, NGC 596, NGC 615, NGC 720, NGC 779, NGC 908, NGC 1022, NGC 1052, NGC 1044, NGC 1055, NGC, 936, and JKCS 041.

There are a few stars that can be found in the constellation. Firstly, the variable star, Mira. It runs from Mag 3 (really bright) to Mag 10 (less bright), and has a 332 day period. There is also Menkar, the alpha star in Ceti. It is a wide double star with colors red and blue-white. Additionally, T-Ceti is the closest soliatry g-class star. Franz Drake (from the Drake equation) found that T-Ceti has around 48 super earths orbiting it. Finally, there is the Question Mark Asterism.

January’s meeting tour: Cancer and Canis Minor

Reported by:

Maame Andoh