NEAF Report 2016

NEAF Report, April 9-10, 2016

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Photo:  Kevin Hocker

Several amateur astronomers from our area made the four-hour trek to Suffern, New York, site of the annual Northeastern Astronomy Forum.  Among them were Kevin Hocker, Dennis Gudzevich, Ron Sampson, Barry Yamtov, Mario Motta, and Jim Koerth.

Kevin was drawn to a standing room only presentation by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, which recently sent back stunning images of the former ninth planet.  “This was the highlight of the forum for me,” he said.  “Stern’s presentation covered the Pluto flyby, its uniquely American ingenuity, and how that relates to space exploration and possible future Kuiper belt targets for New Horizons in 2017 and 2020.”

 

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Photos:  Kevin Hocker

NSAAC member Barry Yomtov also attended Alan Stern’s session in company with his 18-year old nephew Jake Effron, a budding astronomer and astrophotographer. And like Kevin, Barry rated it the highlight of his NEAF experience.  “I found Alan’s talk very inspirational,” he said, “delivered with the same passion and enthusiasm that characterized the Apollo missions.  And the newest images were spectacular. Even with the controversy over the classification of planetary bodies, Alan wanted to make sure that the public recognized the importance of Clyde Tombaugh’s 1930 discovery of Pluto, which set the stage for today’s exploration of the outer solar system.” Barry continued:

New Horizons is really a mission to understand the architecture of our solar system. Once the Kuiper belt was discovered in 1992, our perception of the solar system changed. The giant gaseous planets are now considered the middle solar system.

Editor’s note:  Alan Sterns is an articulate, entertaining and inspirational speaker.  Check out his NEAF 2014 presentation of the New Horizons mission and his critique of the International Astronomical Union’s controversial definition of “planethood,” which downgraded Pluto. You won’t be disappointed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvkauNOfKL4

A presentation by Christopher Go, Astro Imager for the JUNO spacecraft, was also on Kevin Hocker’s NEAF to-do list.  “Unlike previous space missions,” he reports, “professional scientists will not be the only ones producing the processed images, or even choosing which images to capture.  Instead, the public, including amateur astronomers, will act as a virtual imaging team, participating in keys steps of the process, from identifying features of interest to sharing finished images online.”

Ted Blank, a recent emigrant from New England to Arizona, led another presentation: “Getting Started in Asteroid Occultation Timing.” He highlighted the work of the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), a volunteer science and research organization launched in 1983.  Kevin encountered Ted later at the IOTA exhibit area booth, where Ted was demonstrating the occultation timing software and gear that amateur astronomers can use as citizen scientists.

Meanwhile, NSAAC members Dennis Gudzevich and Ron Sampson ventured into the financially perilous area of the Forum:  The Exhibitors Hall. “We didn’t attend any talks,” Dennis told us later, “as our trip is all about the products.”

I was interested in checking out the 50mm Lunt Solar Telescopes, and was pleased to see that they had a double-stacked version of one at the solar star party. It performed amazing well. In my opinion, it clearly outperformed the double-stacked PST that was set up there, with the image noticeably brighter and more surface detail easily visible. The PST was no slouch though. Yes, it had a darker image, making detail harder to see, but a light hood would make it appear much better, as it does with mine.

I also wanted to check out the Lunt 8X32 SUNoculars. Unfortunately, the only way to try them was to buy them. So I bought a pair from Woodland Hills and waited until the Sun was out on Sunday for my first view. I was not disappointed! The contrast is very high in them, and though they have low power, I could easily see the large sunspot that was visible, and distinguish between its dark umbra and the lighter penumbra.

Ron was interested in the new turret eyepiece holder from a new company called astronSCIENTIFIC. They call it ROTARION, and it is the first automatic quick eyepiece changer for telescopes. It is definitely made for a better setup than I have, but seemed a good fit for Ron’s.

Another area of the Exhibitors Hall that captured Ron and Dennis’s attention was the Classic Telescope exhibit.  Two old Unitron refractors were among the scopes on display; both had gravity drives. “I had never seen a gravity drive,” Dennis noted, “and was amazed that they could provide good accuracy with basically a weight on a long screw, pulled down by gravity, and moving the telescope.”

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Photo:  Barry Yomtov

Giving over to his own case of gear fever, Kevin Hocker reported stops at the booths of Teeter Telescopes and Celestron, among others.  At the first he examined the construction, features and operation of Teeter’s new “Journey” compact travel scopes (which come in 10” and 11” apertures) and their travel cases (all that stands between Kevin and one of these scopes is a winning lottery ticket!).  At the Celestron booth he was intrigued by three design features of that company’s new “Inspire” line of small refractors: a lens cap that doubles as a smart phone photo adaptor; an integrated red light tray lamp, which can be removed and used as a red flashlight; and the mount’s built-in folding accessory tray—one less thing to screw on during set-up.

Most of the other usual vendors were there, including Tony Costanza (Astronomy Shoppe).

FYI:  NEAF is held on the campus of SUNY Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY, 28 miles north of NYC.  Attendance fees this year were $25 (1-day) and $45 (2-day).  The next NEAF gathering is scheduled for April 8-9, 2017. See

http://www.rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html for details.

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