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SMA Club Meeting March 7th 2024


Southern Maine Astronomers

 

Club Meeting

March 7, 2024 7:00 p.m.

 


Attending were members Mark Lasher, Howie Marshall, DaveCrocker, Kevin Kane, Russell Pinizzotto, Greg Thorup, George Bokinsky, Ron
Thompson, Paul Schumann, Greg Shanos, Ara Jerahian, Jack Gelfand, Al
DiSabatino, Tom O’Conner, Dennis Leiner, Abby Gardner, Roy Reigel, Craig Snapp,
Scott Lovejoy, Dean Ostergaard, Mike Simmons, Jeremy Wright, Anne Dobriko, Bob
Dodge, Jim Hummer, Dwight Burkard, Chris Parent, Mike Mack, Brad Irish, Jack
Flynn, Mark Sprinkle and Rob Burgess and guests Alexander MacDonald, Dave
Leiner, Stuart Cotts, Mary Ann Roscoe and two other unidentified persons.

 


Rob Burgess opened the formal portion of the meeting and welcomed new member Sean Lena and family.

 


Recent activities by members:

·      DennisLeiner was excited to report his first Ha photo.

·      BobDodge reported on a new book he just read called Our Moon by RebeccaBoyle, a respected science writer. Thebook is full of interesting detail about the moon and the Apollo missions.

·      Robreported on a new book by Garrett M. Graff called UFO- The Inside Story ofthe US Government’s Search for Alien Life Here – and Out There. The book provides an exhaustively detailedaccount of the personalities involved inside and outside of government and
academia addressing the UFO question, the utility and futility of searching,
from respected astronomers to wingnuts, the establishment of SETI, the Drake
equation, the tension between failing to look for signals and the question of
how one would do that. (Note: in news on 3/8/24 the government reported to
Congress all sightings were likely explainable with no hard evidence of alien
visits.)

·       Ron Thompson reported on his eclipsetalk to the Falmouth Public Library on 3/5/24. Ron will give at least two more talks at other libraries. Rob spoke to about 60 people on lightpollution on 2/14/24 as part of the Midcoast Senior College’s Winter Wisdom
program. Chris Parent will be providinga talk to the Harrison, ME library about the eclipse and stars. Jon Wallace will be speaking to severalschool groups in the next month.

 


Announcements:

·      Thenext meeting on April 4 will feature Dr. Philippe Reekie from the Harvard
College Observatory on “Evidence of Life in Extraterrestrial Salts”

·      Theclub will participate with a display table at a Showcase/Mixer of “Women+” in
Outside pursuits at the Patagonia Store in Freeport on Friday evening, 3/15/24
at 6-8 pm. Food and refreshments andproduct giveaways provided. Last year400 people attended. All are welcome.

·      Theclub sought a gubernatorial proclamation with Dark Sky Maine about
International Dark Sky Week, April 2-8. The club hopes to schedule an event or events during the week.

 

GuestSpeaker: Ara Jerahian, director and officer of SMA

Robintroduced Ara and reminded everyone that Ara gave a talk to the club in May,
2020, about the hardware of astrohotography. The talk today was on the use and integration of various pieces ofsoftware and how that then permits the aesthetic choices and interpretation by
the photographer.

 


Ara’sfavorite targets are dark nebulae. Heenjoys teasing out the subtleties of dark on dark targets. He explained he processed his images inPixInsight versus other software such as PhotoShop, but believed most image
processing software contained similar features. It becomes purely a matter of personal choice. He explained the need to eliminate as manysources of things that could detract from a clean image of the target
object. By taking darks, flats and biasframes, and by “dithering,” electronic noise and artifacts such as dust motes
could be identified, and through software, subtracted, in later processing. Such erasing software could also be used toeliminate satellite trails and cosmic rays. Additional software can be used to eliminate vignetting, heat signaturesfrom electronics within the camera, and shading differentials within the
partially processed image (gradient differentials). Ara stated that astro
images are linear versus stretched (conventional photography) and it up to the
user, in manipulating histograms of the image signature, to make the
adjustments to tease out detail and achieve the artistic interpretation
sought. Tools from developers such asRussell Croman’s “Noise, Blur and Star Exterminator” all work to modify
subtleties in the image and even the reduction in the number and intensity of
nearby stars. Finally, various tools of“Spectrometric Photocolor Calibration” allow for use of Gaia color calibration
or the Hubbell palatte template to affect the final appearance of the image. Ara uses a monochrome camera with red, green,blue and luminance broadband filters to build up the data capture of image
acquisition. Ara may use as many as 600two-minute exposures to achieve his desired data capture. Ara has also imaged targets throughnarrowband filters of hydrogen alpha, oxygen III and sulphur. The choice of broadband or narrowband filtersdepends on the target and its characteristics.

 

It was anamazing trip “behind the curtain” to understand how these images are
created. It’s a level of amateurastronomy that is not for the faint of heart or for those not technically
inclined!

 


MessierMarathon by Russ Pinizzotto

Russnoted that he has undertaken seven Messier Marathons between Texas and Maine
over several decades. He explained theenormous scope of the undertaking in capturing all 110 objects in a single
night. One must be prepared with a gameplan for catching objects low in the west just after sunset and those rising in
the east just prior to sunrise. UsingStellarium Russ demonstrated the difference in observability of the objects
that happens with a small difference in starting date, while always keeping the
moon’s phase in mind. Russ offered somevery practical advice on dressing for a marathon, and especially on the order
of how one finds targets which can be very challenging in the case of the 14
galaxies in Leo that are all withing about 1 degree of each other.

 


Russ saidthat at our latitude in Maine it is virtually impossible to see all 110
objects, with the most problematic being M30, which is low in the west at
sunset. Russ developed his own Excel spreadsheetproviding the order to observe and record pertinent information about each
object that he is happy to share with anyone wanting a copy (
zzotto@icloud.com). As if this were not challenging enough Russ stated that someobservers undertake the Marathon with no binoculars and no electronic
assistance while others undertake the entire operating from memory with no
aides at all! He recommended thefollowing sources:
www.messier.seds.org/xtra/marathon/marathon.html;

DonMacholz’s classic “Messier Marathon;” Stephen O’Meara’s “The Messier Objects;”
and Harvard Pennington’s “The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide.” King Louis XV called Messier “the ferret ofcomets.” It’s ironic he is most wellknown for all the objects that are
not comets!


Themeeting concluded about 8:30 p.m.

 


Rob Burgess

President, SMA