The Celestial Observer – November, 2012

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From the President

Our monthly business meeting last week featured a wonderful presentation by our own Ted Blank about how to give presentations at star parties.  We had a quorum and we were able to get in some telescopic observing afterward, and although seeing conditions were not ideal, it was good to get back out there now that mosquito season is over.

Now that the sun is setting earlier, we should have more opportunities for stargazing.  Those with refractors should be able to get great images right away, but keep in mind that reflectors and especially Cassegrains take a little while to “cool down” to ambient temperature before producing the best views.  One solution is to put the scope outside (in a safe area) a couple of hours before you plan to observe, or use a fan.  Also, use low magnifications during the cool-down period.

Best wishes to our Secretary and Star Party Coordinator John Hobbs for a speedy recovery from his recent illness.

If you have questions or comments email me: president at

Clear skies,
Bryan Stone,


NSAAC Welcomes Our New Members:

  • Eric Reines from Marblehead
  • David Demmbro from Woburn

Kevin Hocker,
Membership Director


Star Parties – Past – Present – Future?

At the Louise Davy Trahan School presentation and star party on Monday, Oct. 22, from left to right: students Benny Svendsen, Conner DiPietro and Riley DiPietro, and NSAAC member/presenter Brewster LaMacchia. Photo provided by Karla Branchaud

We’re the second largest amateur astronomy club in New England with just over one hundred members. We’re a 501C(3) non-profit organization and have been around for twenty-three years. We’ve been mentioned in both Sky and Telescope and Astronomy magazines and were a strong runner up in Astronomy magazine’s contest for public outreach. We operate two observatories at two different colleges, opening them regularly for the public. Between these two observatories we show the night sky to an average of fifty to a hundred people per month. We have a Young Astronomer Program that awards telescopes and binoculars to youngsters interested enough in astronomy to write an essay and seek an endorsement from their teacher. Over a hundred schools in the Merrimack Valley participate in this yearly program. In addition, we do star parties for schools, libraries, and various groups at their venues. In between all that, we try to have fun with our telescopes.

That’s a lot of stuff! How, you may wonder, did all this get started? Who organized all this stuff, and why? Well, quite frankly, our club was started by a small group of amateurs who were in the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston (ATMoB) club (the largest in New England) who didn’t feel they fit into a club that was so organized and geared towards building telescopes and public outreach. Our founders didn’t want to deal with all the organizational requirements of the ATMoB club, which is also a 501C(3) non-profit organization, so they broke off and started a new club whose goal was to have fun with their telescopes. Over time, this fun loving group developed into the organization it is today due to a few members who were geared in that direction towards public outreach.

About ten years ago our club fractured in the same manner it had come to be. That is, a group of members broke off and formed a new club. Ironically, they didn’t want to deal with the organizational requirements and obligations of a 501C(3) non-profit organization. Let’s face facts; we’re all amateur astronomers, but we have varying agendas for wanting to be in an astronomy club. Some of us just want to observe, and hang out with other members while observing. Some are into astrophotography, others observational astronomy only. Some members are really into the gear aspect of the hobby, while others are just into the photons. I was talking to a guy last night that said his ONLY interest in the club was supporting the star parties, and without that aspect he wouldn’t bother being a member. People differ in what attracts them to participate in the club; observing with others; supporting star parties; staffing an observatory for the public; or serving as a board member. There are some who rarely participate in any activity and just enjoy supporting a worthy cause in a monetary way. Whatever the level of one’s participation, the activists in the club appreciate all our members and their support. Programs like the observatories and the Young Astronomers can function smoothly because they are run by specific members dedicated to keeping them going.

Our star party program, however, is much different in that it depends upon spontaneous volunteers. I’ve been filling in for John Hobbs as Star Party Coordinator during his absence due to illness and have learned what it takes to organize and make these events happen. There is a fair amount of communication required between the coordinator, the group requesting the star party, the presenters of the program (we currently have three presenters), and the volunteers who commit to showing up with a telescope. The size of the group attending, the type of audience, the amenities at the venue have to be considered, then the coordinator has to arrange one of the presenters to commit to a date. Once all that is done and the date is set volunteers are called for to commit to coming with a telescope. This is when things start to get out of focus… everything is set in motion and in place, except for the number of telescopes that will show up to support. That is never really known until the time is upon us.

On October 22 we did a star party for the PTO and fourth graders at the Trahan school in Tewksbury. We’ve been doing star parties for this school for many years and they typically have just over a hundred participants that requires at least five or six telescopes to keep the lines reasonable. We had two. At the last minute the presenter sent a desperate email to the GAAC club and made a phone call to the New Hampshire club asking for help. Just as the crowd of over a hundred people exited from the building and approached, a fellow named Gordon from the NH club showed up with a third telescope. The three of us made it through ninety minutes of long lines. I had to limit the time at the eyepiece for each kid to about thirty seconds to keep the lines moving. It’s not fun, it’s stressful, and it is embarrassing to the coordinator, the presenter, and to the club. We felt especially embarrassed when the PTO presented the club with a very generous check following the event…

A viable solution to this problem is needed. The presenters, the coordinator, and the regular supporters do not want to continue to have star parties as club curriculum as it is now structured, that is, not knowing how many telescopes will be present after a lot of effort has gone into putting together an event. We talked following the Trahan party and one solution we discussed was asking for a dedicated list of members who’ve agreed to be called upon and commit to supporting a star party in advance. Sorry, but waiting until the eleventh hour to commit just doesn’t cut it and the folks who make these events happen do not want to continue operating under that model.

At the November and future meetings until spring I will make a motion and open for discussion that star parties be dropped from our curriculum prior to the spring season, unless we can come up with a satisfactory solution to the problem. Members who feel strongly that the star party program be continued are encouraged to come to the meetings and voice their thoughts and opinions. The observatories, and the YAP program certainly fulfill our 501C(3) obligations (see excerpt from the NSAAC Constitution below) and star parties could be and should be dropped from the curriculum if we can’t do them properly.

 Kevin Ackert



This organization shall be known as The North Shore Amateur Astronomy Club.



The purpose of The North Shore Amateur Astronomy Club,  (hence- forth “Club”), is to:

1.   Educate members and the general public in the study and practice of observational astronomy; to provide a venue through which members and other interested parties may observe, hear lectures or participate in other related activities; to assist and share knowledge with members and others interested in astronomy, whenever possible, in a structured but  friendly atmosphere.


A Decade of Service: Newsletter Editor Resigns Post

After nearly a decade of devoted service to the club as the editor in chief of the Celestial Observer, member Leor Zolman will be resigning following the publication of this issue. The club has progressively moved towards web based content and digital publication of the newsletter and with the introduction of the new NSAAC website, the role of the paper publication has become redundant.

When Leor volunteered for the editor position ten years ago, the newsletter was a 100% paper publication. When I became president in 2003 we had a big push to move members to receive the electronic edition. Advantages of the electronic edition include; color photos; faster reception, savings for the club in both labor and money and more environmentally friendly. Currently there are only eighteen members still receiving the paper edition.

I was a newsletter editor for several years for my ski club. I can really appreciate the discipline required to get the job done, on time, and without errors. By far the hardest part of being an editor is beating the drum to receive content from those responsible for providing it every month. Leor performed this duty with exemplary skill and success, and the club will be hard pressed to find someone willing and capable of filling his shoes. In short, you can expect the quality of the printed newsletter to go downhill; at least for the next few issues as we adjust. The new paper newsletter will basically be a data dump from the newsletter on the website. The layout and format will suffer, at least until we work out the bugs and issues. We encourage any of the paper recipients to consider trying the electronic edition from the website. Comments and suggestions are welcomed.

So, with sincere gratitude, we give Leor a club-wide “Thank You!” for his dedicated and excellent decade long service to the club. More recently, Leor has been showing up at club star parties and helping the club by supporting this great endeavor. A better example of volunteerism would be challenging to find.

Kevin Ackert


Star Party News

Friday, November 9 – Cashman School in Amesbury. There is NO PRESENTATION at this one. They will have the portable planetarium from the MOS for the indoor entertainment. We are expecting between 60 to 80 people so at least 4 to 5 telescopes will be needed. Setup time will be 6:30 with observing beginning about 7:00.

Tuesday, November 13 – Tewksbury Public Library

Ted Blank is doing the presentation. We expect about 60 people so about 3 telescopes would be the minimum. Setup time is 6:30 with observing beginning around 7:00.

Thursday, November 15 – Sanborn School in Andover

There is a cloud date set for Monday, November 19. This is one of the largest star parties we do each year and a minimum of 6 telescopes will be needed. We do not yet have a presenter lined out for this one. There will be about 100 people with three 20-minute presentations that begin at 6:30. Telescope setup time will be 6:30 with observing beginning at 7:00.

Monday, November 19 – Cloud Date for Sanborn in Andover

Please post to starparty at if you are able to provide support with a telescope.

John Hobbs,
Star Party Coordinator


Minutes of the NSAAC Business Meeting,
October 5, 2012

Called to order at 8:20

Recognized honored guests Ted & Tom from NH club.

Minutes: Last months meeting and previous meeting, were not voted on.  A motion to accept the minutes – carried by a landslide in record time.

Offer came in on the list server to donate some equipment. Propose thanking for the donation but we don’t really have the space.

No news regarding the landlord at Veasey.

No telescope clinic at the meeting this evening.  A nutritional conference was held at the China Blossom and the food was excellent.

Salem State Observatory:
Reopened on Sept 10th – First Monday had 6 guests, on 17th and 9 guests and on the 24th and 44 guests. Had a nigh influx of students. Weren’t astronomy students, just general students?  Seeing was good.

Aside, Dennis shared a  pretty cool picture of a plane and Venus transiting the sun. 

Merrimack Observatory:
We are in dire need of an additional staff person to runt the telescope there. We alternate on 4 times a month. 

Treasurer’s Report:
Finances haven’t changed since last meeting. Rolled the two CDs together into a 13 month CD.

Star Parties:
Limited due to the cancelling of activities for reasons associated with the West Nile and EEE virus. We need to review the Star Parties that were cancelled and put them back on the list.

New Business:
Treasurer is usually first point of contact with new members and then the Membership Director takes over. Dues are due in March.

ATmob site – could find in member area had a record of every dues payment he made and when he made it.  When don’t pay dues you don’t get booted past the club. Someone could come in and update their dues. Need to create a friendly automatic process through the website. Record of what you paid – can we integrate into the site.

We will discuss website enhancements in the November board meeting.

Guest Speaker
Tonight’s guest speaker is Ted Blank.

Introduction: Remember How Kramer (on Seinfeld) made a coffee table book on coffee tables which itself then turned into a coffee table.  Tonight’s astronomy presentation is on how to give astronomy presentations. Ted Blank has been delivering world-class astronomy presentations since before Al Gore invented the Internet and we are delighted that he could join us this evening.

Respectfully submitted,

Ed Burke, filling in for Secretary John Hobbs

Getting to Veasey Memorial Park
From Interstate 95 north, take the Route 133 west (54B) exit, and follow it into Georgetown Center.  Go straight through the light, now on Route 97N.  Go about 1.5 miles and take a left onto Salem Street (Tea Garden Restaurant at this intersection).  Stay on Salem Street and turn left onto Washington Street. VMP is down a bit on the right.

Directions to all of the NSAAC observing sites are available on our web site’s “About” page at:

E-Mail Listserve
If you have email access and are an NSAAC member in good standing, you may want to subscribe to the email notification system that Lew Gramer established for the Club in 1996. This is a “members only” system that places you in contact with other members for late breaking news concerning spontaneous observing activities, outings, tech talk, etc. You can subscribe by emailing your request to the address below.  Your message should look like this:

To: majordomo at
Subject: Email list (you can put anything here)
Body: subscribe NSAAC Full-Name <email-address>

To remove yourself from the email list, or to temporarily suspend delivery from the list or access your other options, please use our “Subscriber Settings” Web page:

Contact Information
For more information about the club and its activities, contact Kevin Hocker,  Membership Director, email: membership at or Bryan Stone, President, e-mail president at

Our club web site is:

The Celestial Observer has been edited by Leor Zolman. Feedback, and member contributions are welcome. Contact: newsletter at

Suggestions regarding the content of the NSAAC web site are always welcome; Please email webmaster at with your ideas.

Where Is The Calendar!!!
Sorry folks, no calendar this month for the printed edition of the Celestial Observer. Please reference the calendar on our website at

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A non-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code.