Club Meeting Summary - May 4, 2023

· Club Meeting Summary

Attending were members Paul Howell, Russ Pinizzotto, Carson Hanrahan, Kevin Kane, Kerry Kertes, Greg Thorup, Chris Parent, Anne Dobrisko, Howie Marshall, Craig Snapp, Jon Wallace, Jeremy Wright, Tom Catterall, Greg Shanos, Jim Hummer, Bob Dodge, Maame Andoh, Joanne Sharp, Roy Reigel, Dave Manchester, Jeff Van Fleet, Paul Sasso, Joe Long, Henry Duquette, Forrest Sumner, Ron Thompson, Scott Lovejoy, Rob Burgess and guest speaker, Dr. Libby Bischof.

Member Updates

  1. Rob Burgess called the meeting to order and welcomed new members Gwen Tedder and family and Margaret Thumm and family.
  2. Thomas Catteral recommended that the members use the Astro Pixel Processor to pre-process their astrophotography. Paul Howell agreed and stated that in addition to processing and allowing you to photoshop your images, the software also helps create wonderful high resolution messages.
  3. Greg Thorup advised the club to employ local libraries for the showing of Defending the Dark film. In fact, Greg spoke with Cumberland Library and the organization is now willing to work with SMA to get Tara Roberts Zabriskie, the filmmaker, to depict a second showing of their show to libraries.
  4. Paul Howell brought wondeful news about Morgan MacLeod, an SMA member’s, contributions to the field. Dr. MacLeod is currently at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He and his colleagues delivered first evidence of a star absorbing an exoplanet, and Dr. MacLeod even sent Paul a non-paywall version of their paper. Additionally, Paul was thinking of doing a summer workshop on building a barn door star tracker, as a way to increase SMA’s activities. Members interested in this workshop should reach out to Paul on Google Groups so he can get started on planning the event.
  5. Rob reported on current efforts to enact statewide light pollution legislation – LD 1845. SMA was brought into the process late in the game and has been very active in preparing re-writes of the legislation with the sponsor, Dr. Laurie Osher of Orono. On May 3 Rob and Nancy Hathaway of Dark Sky Maine showed “Defending the Dark” at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick to about 35 people and then led a discussion on light pollution and actions people can take individually.
  6. ZWO recently released the Seestar S50, which combines a tripod, mount, telescope, focuser, and astronomical camera into one device. Additionally, the product can be controlled with a mobile app, thereby allowing for an easy capturing of the stars.
  7. The next Star Party is on May 20th, 2023 at 8PM. There will be no star parties in June or July because of late sunsets but the club will host solar viewing events on June 17 in Cape Elizabeth as part of Family Fun Day, and in July at a Brew Pub, TBD. Star parties will resume in August, starting at 8 p.m.
  8. Speakers at upcoming meetings: June TBD [now determined to be Dr. Morgan MacLeod]; July – Greg Shanos on eclipse observing; August – Heidi DeBlock, MD, on the physiological effects of extended space flight.
  9. Treasurer Bob Dodge recounted SMA’s finances: The club has over $16,000 in its account. Rent is paid and there are no upcoming expenses. Additionally, the club is gaining new members each day so there’s a steady stream of income. All in all, the club is in good shape.

Annual Meeting

Rob Burgess, substituting for Club Secretary Ara Jerahian who could not attend, noted that the bylaws required at least 25% of the membership to be present for the Annual Meeting of Members to take place. Notice of the meeting was given on April 11, 2023, more than 14 days in advance as required. With 28 members in attendance, representing more than 25% of the club membership of 88, a quorum was present. Howie Marshall and Kevin Kane, serving as the Nominating Committee, noted that invitations to become a candidate for the board were given to all members. Incumbents Bob Dodge, Russ Pinizzotto, Kerry Kertes, Carson Hanrahan and Rob Burgess indicated a willingness to serve again as directors for terms ending in 2025, and Jeremy Wright offered to fill the vacant 11th position on the Board. The slate of directors was unanimously approved. Immediately following the club Directors held the Annual Meeting of Directors to elect officers. A quorum of more than 50% of the Directors being present, the Directors re-elected Rob Burgess, Russ Pinizzotto, Bob Dodge and Ara Jerahian as President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary, respectively.

Speaker Portion

The speaker for this month’s meeting was Dr. Libby Bischoff, the executive director of the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education of the University of Southern Maine. Dr. Bischoff got her Masters and Doctorate in History at Boston College and has been teaching at USM for 11 years.

The library has over 500,000 items dating from 1745, and Bischoff and her team collect items specifically for education outreach. The library holds the largest publicly open display of maps after the Smithsonian. In fact, Bischoff has taught over 200 university classes and engaged with 6,000 K-12 students. She is greatly interested in education, gathering the work of women, and investigating how people percieve the past. Libby’s presentation was focused on showing some astronomical items in the USM’s archive, and exploring what they reveal about historical astronomy education.

Bischoff began her presentation with the Solar System Quilt created by Ella Harding Baker in 1876. The item was not made as a decorative quilt, but as an educational visualization that aided Ella’s teachings as she delivered astronomy lectures across Iowa. Over 7ft wide, the quilt is currently on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Education. Following this, Bischoff introduced Sphaera Stellifera, the first celestial globe. The globe was made by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, a cartographer who studied with Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, and used a star catalog to make the globe. Unlike later celestial globes, the constellations on this object are turned with their backs towards the viewer. This was because of the historical belief that humans were supposed to be looking up into the sky at the constellations, and would thereby be seeing the characters from behind. Following the theme of globes, Bischoff showed photos of one created by John and William Cary. Interestingly, the item is less visually interesting than the sphere before it. Bischoff explained that as time went on, globes got more scientific and less creative. Craftsmen were more focused on scientific accuracy and ensuring that when one looked in a particular section of the sky at a particular time of the year, they would be seeing the celestial bodies that the globe depicted in that location. Bischoff then introduced the Tabula Selenographic, the first comparative chart of the moon and its topography. Finally, the speaker featured the Celestial Atlas by Christoph Goldblack. The atlas featured the night sky as seen from Earth, with reference systems from astronomers.

Following the initial introduction to astronomy charts and globes, Bischoff then shifted on materials created by students themselves. Firstly was a Geography Composition book by high schooler Robert Hennell, which featured a drawing of the constellation Perseus. In the same vein, we were introduced to another notebook drawing of Perseus, by student Johannes Bayer in 1603. The notebooks provided an illustration of what children would have been taught about astronomy and proved how important astronomy was in their education.

Moving on, the speaker turned her attention to how creative mediums and new technology enhanced astronomy education. Firstly, were the Tableux Transparents. This star map was covered by a transparent sheet, and when the object was held up to light, the stars shone brightly. In addition, there was Thomas Whittaker’s Planisphere, created in the late 1880s. The popular contraption was used at star parties and was also just a good way to observe the sky. By the 1850s, the advent of photography had led to the creation of daguerreotype photographs of the moon. This medium allowed for different, more interesting ways of looking at celestial bodies.

Despite the modern approach to astronomy, many still supported human made astronomical tools. One of these men was Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, a French astronomer, artist and amateur entomologist. Trouvelot discovered veiled solar spots in 1875, and was elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1877. Additionally, he made over 7000 Astronomical Illustrations (many of them pastel, but some of them in normal black and white), and published over 50 scientific papers. In 1881, Charles Scribner's Sons published his portfolio of astronomical drawings, and impressed by the quality of his illustrations, Trouvelot was invited onto the staff of the Harvard Observatory in 1846.

Trouvelot’s drawings were incredibly skilled and detailed. He argued for the human eye against the mechanical eye of the camera, and believed humans added an important artistic flair that machines could not reproduce. The portfolio consisted of 15 plates, and was marketed to libraries, observatories, collectors, and the scientific community. Trouvelot included a manual with the drawings and the descriptions of the images are so detailed and technical that only actual experts and scientists were able to decipher it, thus expressing that his collection was targeted to the layperson. Despite the technical language, Trouvelot’s writings still emphasized the beauty of the heavens and the value in observing them. In fact, he described a star cluster in the constellation Hercules as “one of the grandest sights that can be imagined...gleaming with light”. Bischoff showed images of Trouvelot’s works including Total Eclipse of the Sun, Aurora Borealis, the crater Mare Humorum, Jupiter, Saturn, the Milky Way, and many more.

To prove the impact of Trouvelot’s work, Bischoff introduced Levi Walter Yaggy’s 1887 map, Geographical Study. The collections’ pastel drawings and science based illustrations were borrowed from Truvelot. Yaggy’s depiction of Earth and its cosmos included cutaways, intricate layers, and disks you could turn, and were large enough to be seen and used by a classroom. The collection provided an interactive and hands-on mode of astronomical education; taking what students learned in astronomy textbooks, and turning it into a model they could play with in their classrooms.

Bischoff ended the presentation with a mid-century Visual Relief Lunar Globe. The globe includes NASA data from succesful moon landings. Its existence is a testament to humankind's interaction with celestial objects; not just as distant observers but as beings interacting and engaging with the heavens.

Astronomical League Challenge

Russ Pinizzotto introduced the Astronomical League’s Galaxy Challenge. The challenge encourages participants to observe and image at least 10 of the 20 objects on the target list. Additionally participants must do an outreach activity related to galaxies beyond the Milky Way. To qualify, observations must be done between April 1st and June 15th and submissions MUST arrive to the Coordinator by July 15th, 2023.

The objects on the target list are: NGC 147, NGC 185, Caldwell 7, NGC 2683, NGC 2841, NGC 2903, NGC 3344, M95, M96, M105, IC 3927, NGC 3992, NGC 4192, NGC 4214, NGC 4216, M99, M49, M60, Caldwell 83, and NGC 6946.

Next month’s constellation will be Corona Borealis.


Summary By:

Maame Andoh