Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh

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Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) was founded on June 9, 1929 by Chester B. Roe and Leo J. Scanlon. Since then, it has grown to over 500 members and operates two observatories in the Pittsburgh region: the Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory and the Mingo Creek Park Observatory. The club also sponsors many star parties that are open to members of the public throughout the year.[1]

The club's motto is "We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night," from the Sarah Williams poem "The Old Astronomer to his Pupil".[2]

The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh, Inc. (AAAP) has promoted popular astronomy in western Pennsylvania for over seventy five years. With over 500 members, it is one of the larger astronomy clubs in the nation. At monthly meetings (open to the public) upcoming celestial events such as meteor showers, comets, occultations, and rare planetary alignments are announced. Observations and techniques are shared so that all members may benefit from the experiences. Each meeting also features a special speaker, sometimes an AAAP member, but also outside experts from various fields. Past speakers have presented topics including meteorite hunting in Antarctica, cosmological modeling using supercomputers, and astrophotography with exotic equipment such as dry-ice cameras.

Club members have been involved in many projects in both the astronomical and general communities. Recent accomplishments include the installation of an official Pennsylvania Historic Marker honoring the location of the first ever astronomical dome constructed from aluminum, the naming of an asteroid after the co-founder of the AAAP, making area zoning boards and other officials aware of the need for careful design and installation of nighttime lighting for schools, malls, and housing to avoid adversely affecting the visibility of the night time sky (Light Pollution).

Education of the general public in the science and hobby of astronomy has always been a prime focus of the AAAP. Through public Star Parties at the Wagman Observatory and at Mingo Creek Park Observatory, lectures at area bookstores and nature centers, and scheduled classes; AAAP members spread the word about the fascinating and inspiring wonders in the nighttime sky.

The membership of the AAAP includes many experienced observers and telescope makers. AAAP'ers contribute articles to magazines and several have written astronomy books. Members are interviewed by the local news media during unusual celestial events, and teach adult education courses in astronomy. Many staff members of Allegheny Observatory, Carnegie Science Center and the science departments of district universities are members of the club. Several AAAP members have notable discoveries to their credit, and the club is proud to have one of the largest number of Messier Certificates in the country (awarded for observing a large and diverse number of distant celestial objects), a clear sign of our members' skill at the telescope. And the influence of the AAAP extends into the solar system: seven members have asteroids named for them.

Facilities[edit]

Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory[edit]

The Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory houses two permanent telescopes including the Brashear 11in refractor.

The Wagman Observatory hill, located in the northeast corner of Deer Lakes Park at 40°37′34″N 79°48′44″W / 40.62611°N 79.81222°W / 40.62611; -79.81222,[3] is ideally suited for an astronomical facility. At 1340 feet elevation it is one of the highest points in Allegheny County, and one of the few such sites not already occupied by a radio mast, microwave relay tower, or water tank. It is believed that local Indian tribes in the area, such as the Seneca, once used the hill as a lookout for watching game and the activities of neighboring tribes. The hill affords an almost 100% view of the sky. Because of its location in a relatively rural country park, the observatory is protected from the majority of commercial or residential development that could cause excessive stray and misdirected lighting (Light Pollution). Yet the site can be reached from downtown Pittsburgh in 45 minutes, and even from the southern reaches of the county in less than an hour, thanks to the proximity of the route 28 expressway, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The Observatory is owned and operated by the AAAP. Originally built in 1987 and expanded in 1995, it is the first and only amateur astronomical observatory in western Pennsylvania dedicated to public education and enjoyment of the science of astronomy. The facility is the focal point for scheduled public viewing evenings (Star Parties), as well as the recreational and scientific observations of the membership. During Star Parties visitors may view celestial objects through the observatory's two large permanent telescopes: the Brashear 11-inch Refractor and the Manka Memorial Telescope, a 21-inch Newtonian Reflector, or any of a wide variety of portable telescopes set up on the spacious grounds by members. The observatory is a popular outing for scout groups, science classes from local schools, and civic groups.

Mingo Creek Park Observatory[edit]

The Mingo Creek Park Observatory was dedicated on August 27, 2005. The observatory is located at 40°12′41″N 80°1′13″W / 40.21139°N 80.02028°W / 40.21139; -80.02028,[3] elevation 1150 feet in Mingo Creek County Park south of Pittsburgh in Nottingham Township east of Washington, PA.

The Mingo Creek Park Observatory is owned and operated by the AAAP. The Observatory was built in the spring/summer of 2004, and officially dedicated in August 2005. It has become the largest amateur astronomical observatory in SouthWestern Pennsylvania dedicated to public education and enjoyment of the science of astronomy. The mission of the Mingo Creek Park Observatory is to educate and make freely available to a diverse public of all ages programs on astronomy and the preservation of dark skies. The facility is a focal point for scheduled public viewing evenings (Star Parties), as well as the recreational and scientific observations of the membership. During Star Parties visitors are able to view celestial objects through the observatory's two large permanent telescopes, a 24-inch RC Reflector and the D&G 10-inch Refractor, or any of a wide variety of portable telescopes set up on the spacious grounds by members. The observatory has become a popular destination and center of astronomical activities for scout groups, science classes from local schools, and civic groups.

The AAAP has acquired a planetarium projector and dome that has become a popular educational tool for the new Observatory. People attending a starparty can see a short basic planetarium program on the night sky, and then step directly outside and look up (or through a telescope) and see what was just shown to them inside! This is especially useful on cloudy nights, along with the classroom astronomy displays, AV presentations, and computer projected lectures.

Greene County Site[edit]

Despite Wagman observatory being in just about the remotest part of Allegheny County, the sky glow from encroaching civilization is plainly visible. For those AAAP members who want to experience the night sky in all of its pre-industrial age glory, there is the Greene County Site. This "observatory" is actually a cow pasture, whose owner has given the AAAP explicit permission to use as a site for setting up portable telescopes and equipment. AAAP members routinely caravan to the site, meeting at someplace easily located along the way, and then finding their way together. There are no "comfort facilities" at this site (the site is actually the comfort station for the cows, so watch your step), nor is there electricity. So come prepared to be self-sufficient for the evening's observing. There are no public events held at this location.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Leslie Park Pool To Host Free Astronomy Event". ThePittsburghChannel. Archived from the original on 26 July 2010. Retrieved 22 July 2010. 
  2. ^ Felleman, Hazel (1936). Best Loved Poems of the American People. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Co. pp. 613–614. 
  3. ^ a b "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 

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