VAAS 2018

VAAS 2018 

Sept. 29, 2018, 9:00 AM

Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies

Door Prizes
Contact us

The VAAS convention for 2018 is being held in Ashland, VA–also known as “The Center of the Universe.” Don’t believe it? Just watch this video:

Randolph-Macon College (VAAS sponsor)

114 College Ave

Ashland, VA 23005

Copley Science Center (Events will be held here)

304 Caroline Street

Ashland, VA 23005


 On street should be available since there are no classes. Copley faculty/staff lot usually not enforced on weekends, but there are only a few spaces. There are some designated visitor spaces on Caroline, across from Fox Hall (just west of Copley), same story on faculty/staff spaces. There is a lot behind Blackwell Auditorium, entrance from Henry Street, driveway next to Duncan Memorial UMC.


The Richmond Astronomical Society (RAS) is hosting this years’s VAAS convention.

We’re based in Richmond, VA, about 10 miles south of Ashland.

We meet on the 2nd Tuesday of every month at the Science Museum of Virginia (SMV).

The Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies (VAAS) meets each year as a forum for cooperation and collaboration between the clubs of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Through annual meetings, attendees come away with new friendships, fresh ideas, and knowledge of what other societies are doing around the state and beyond.

The convention started in 1975, and has met continuously (almost) every year since then. There are six ‘core’ clubs that rotate hosting the event. Here’s the list going forward:

2018Richmond (RAS)

2019Northern Virginia (NOVA)

2020Norfolk (NAS)

2021Charlottesville (CAS)

2022Roanoke (RVAS)

2023Tidewater (BBAA)

You can see the entire history of VAAS (courtesy of Glendon Howell) here.

VAAS Location

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Poor Farm Park

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Dr. George F. Spagna

Associate Professor of Physics, Randolph-Macon College

Director, Keeble Observatory

Coordinator, Cooperative Engineering Programs

Director, Bassett Internship Program

Chair, Department of Physics (January-Spring 2017)

Dr. Spagna joined the Randolph-Macon faculty as Assistant Professor of Physics in 1986. He was previously Lecturer in Astronomy at Rensselaer for the 1985-86 academic year, and Lecture Demonstrator in the Physics Department at Rensselear from 1979 through 1985. He has supervised the activities of the Keeble Observatory since 1986, including extensive upgrades to the facility and its instrumentation, and was named its Director in 1989. From 2015 through 2017 he supervised the design and construction of a new Keeble Observatory, which achieved first light in August 2017 and was formally dedicated in 2017 November 3.

He became chair of the Physics Department in 1991, a role he filled through the 2006-2007 academic year, and was promoted to Associate Professor of Physics in 1992. He is author or co-author of papers in the Physics Teacher, the American Journal of Physics, Computer Physics Communications, Icarus, the Astrophysical Journal, and the Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transport. He has also made presentations at national and regional meetings and conferences of the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Astronomical Society.

Dr. Spagna has served as an elected member of the Faculty committees on Resources and Plans, College Life, Curriculum, the Committee on the Faculty, and as faculty representative to the President’s Cabinet. He has also served on the Minority Affairs Committee, the Computer Advisory Committee, and search committees in Physics, Accounting, and Sociology. He currently is Director of the Bassett Internship Program.

In 2001, he was elected to the Commission on Ministry (now known as the Committee on Priesthood) of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which advises those seeking ordination to the priesthood, and advised the Bishop of Virginia on matters relating to the ordination process. He has was subsequently been reappointed by the Bishop for a series of one-year terms on the Committee. His stepped down in 2015.

Dr. Spagna was elected in May of 2004 to a four-year term on the Ashland Town Council, and reelected in May 2008 and again in May 2012. His term runs through June 2012 2020. He was elected by Council to serve as Vice Mayor from July 2010 through June 2012 2014, and served as Mayor from July 2014 through June 2016.

Dr. Michael Skrutskie

Professor and Chair, Department of Astronomy, University of Virginia

I direct a laboratory for the construction of cryogenic near-infrared detection systems. Instruments developed in recent years include the 256 × 256 element NICMOS3 HgCdTe camera (NICMASS), the 2MASS cameras, the CorMASS near-infrared spectrograph, the R=3000 TripleSpecspectrograph which is a facility instrument at Apache Point Observatory and the APOGEE . One of the 2MASS cameras remains active at the PAIRITEL automated infrared telescope facility at Mt. Hopkins, Arizona providing observers in the department quick access to automated observations of the near-infrared sky. The other 2MASS camera operates at the Kuiper 61″ Telescope at Mt. Bigelow, Az, also available to department members through our allocation of time at Steward Observatory facilities. Beyond facilitating my research interests, this laboratory is intended to provide graduate students and undergraduates with hands-on experience with astronomical instrumentation. Current lab efforts include the operation and scientific use of Fan Mountain Infrared Camera operating at UVa’s 31-inch telescope at Fan Mountain Observatory. This camera was designed, constructed and commissioned by students in the department. The laboratory has recently completed a mid-infrared (3-5um) imaging channel, LMIRcam, to support the University of Arizona’s imaging interferometer at the Large Binocular Telescope. This instrument hold the exciting prospect of delivering 30 millarcsecond spatial resolution in the thermal infrared enabling direct imaging and spectroscopy of warm Jupiter analogs orbiting several AU from nearby stars. In parallel the laboratory has designed, fabricated and commissioned its most ambitious instrument to date – a 300-fiber high-resolution (R=22,000) 1.5-1.7um cryogenic spectrograph that is now conducting the APOGEE survey for the third-generation Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III). The spectrograph will measure the elemental abundances in 100,000 Milky Way giant stars providing a window on the assembly history of the Milky Way.

The laboratory also maintains facilities to test and characterize infrared arrays. For the last few years we have pursued an NSF-funded program with Goodrich Corporation – Sensors Unlimited to develop and evaluate extended wavelength (2.3um cutoff) InGaAs arrays capable of matching the performance of HgCdTe arrays in ground-based applications. This work has lead to the production of an extended InGaAs array bonded to a cryogenic “astronomical” multiplexer and has been tested in the CorMASS spectrograph.


Greg Redfern

Creator of astronomy blog, What’s Up?: The Space Place NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador

Greg Redfern, Twitter “@SkyGuyinVA”, has been an adjunct professor/instructor of astronomy for five different colleges since 1984. As a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador since 2003, he has shared NASA’s missions to the solar system with many audiences in person as well as on air with Voice Of America (VOA) International, Fox 5 WTTG TV, NBC4 Washington, CBS News and WJLA7 in the Washington D.C. media market. He has been the space reporter for WTOP Radio and since 2006.

Greg’s daily astronomy blog, What’s Up?: The Space Place has had over 3 million views from around the world.

As a writer Greg has authored numerous articles for “Sky and Telescope Magazine”, “Meteorite Magazine”, “Skywatch Magazine” and a number of newspapers, including Gannet and USA Today.

Greg has been observing and photographing the sky for over four decades and collecting meteorites for years.  He’s used telescopes of all kinds and visited observatories, NASA facilities, and geological sites all over the world.

His astrophotographs have appeared online in:



Earth and

Popular Science

Earth Picture of the Day (EPOD)

The Planetary Society

Sky and

Universe Today

Shenandoah National Park websites




For years cruise ship guests and visitors to Shenandoah National Park have truly enjoyed Greg’s presentations as well as viewing the night sky where he mingles the folklore and science of the stars.

As a result, Greg has brought the wonder, beauty and excitement of our universe to audiences for decades in a one-on-one style that resonates with his passion and knowledge.

Dr. Robin Garrod

Professor of Astronomy
and Chemistry, University of Virginia

Astrochemistry concerns the behavior of atoms and molecules in astrophysical environments, which can include star-forming clouds and cores, and circumstellar and interstellar regions. The varied gas-phase chemical compositions of these environments are revealed by radio-telescope observations of molecular spectral-line emission and absorption, primarily in the mm and sub-mm bands. Infrared observations also indicate significant solid-phase abundances of simple hydrides, in the form of ices, which coat the sub-micron sized dust grains that permeate interstellar space. The process of star formation – which involves the heating and UV radiative processing of gas and solid-phase material alike – further encourages the production of complex organic molecules that may contribute to the store of pre-biotic material ultimately available on the surfaces of new planetary bodies.

The Garrod group develops and applies new computational techniques to the study of chemical kinetics in interstellar and star-forming environments. A particular focus of the group is the formation and processing of simple and complex organic molecules on dust-grain surfaces and within astrophysical molecular ices.

New techniques recently developed by the group include a unique, fully three-dimensional, off-lattice kinetic Monte Carlo code that can simulate surface chemistry on dust grains of arbitrary size and shape, over interstellar timescales.

Another major focus of the group is the production of complex organic molecules during the star-formation process. We have developed coupled gas-grain kinetics models and spectral simulation tools to explain our recent new detections of organic molecules, including iso-propyl cyanide (i-C3H7CN), the first branched carbon-chain molecule to be detected in interstellar space.

Randy Tatum

RAS member

At an early age Randy developed an interest in science, particularly astronomy and space. He received a small refracting telescope for Christmas in 1965 at age 9. He began to observe regularly and record detailed observations in 1971. Although, he was interested in all celestial objects, the planet Jupiter and the Sun were his favorites.

Randy was one of the first observers to see the triple SEB disturbance on Jupiter in 1975. The great upheavals of the SEB, NTrZ as well as the fading of the Great Red Spot were fascinating to see. At that time there were few spacecraft, and no global network of imagers to capture events on the Sun and planets. During the 1976 Jupiter apparition, more than 1100 transit timings of features were made. After reading the landmark paper on the Maunder Minimum by John Eddy in 1976, Randy began to observe the Sun on a regular basis.

Desiring a high resolution planetary telescope; Randy made a 10”f/12 Newtonian refl. in 1981 with the assistance of RAS member, Jean Prideaux. In 1978, he built a spectrohelioscope and coronagraph to study prominences. In 1980 a sub-Angstrom Hydrogen alpha filter was purchased to be used with the 7”f/15 refractor at Ragland Observatory. The fine telescope, with an objective achromat by W.D Mogey & Sons, is well suited for solar imaging.

After several years of drawing celestial objects, Randy began to experiment with astrophotography. Over the years, he progressed to film, videotape and digital webcams. One of his interests was solar active region morphology and solar flare prediction. He has traveled to observe four total solar eclipses and both Venus transits.

Randy has been a member of the Richmond Astronomical society since 1974. For many years he was Observatory Director. He began contributing observations to the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers in 1974 and was an assistant coordinator in the Jupiter and Solar Sections. Randy received the Walter Haas Award in 2016. His images are shared with other astroimagers and researchers from around the world in the Japan ALPO galleries. Now, after observing the Sun for five sunspot cycles during the “modern maximum of sunspots” it is time to reflect on what has been learned. We may be entering a period of much lower sunspot cycles.

Randy’s interests also include meteoritics, impact crater geology, and archeoastronomy.

He works as a Medical Laboratory Technician.


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9:15-9:30WelcomeJim Browder, RAS President

9:30-10:30Astronomy at RMCDr. George Spagna

10:45-11:45Mapping the Solar System’s most powerful volcano (Loki Patera on Io) with the world’s largest telescope (the Large Binocular Telescope)Dr. Michael Skrutskie, Chair, Dept. of Astronomy, UVA

11:45-1:30Lunch (on your own)

1:30-2:30The Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater – the Inside Story of America’s Largest Impact CraterGreg Redfern, Website “What’s Up? The Space Place”

2:45-3:45Interstellar Molecules: The Search for Molecular ComplexityDr. Robin T. Garrod, Assistant Professor of Astronomy & Chemistry, UVA

4:00-4:30Door prizes

4:45-5:00VAAS Club MeetingClub officers

5:00-6:00Keeble Observatory Tour


All dayHighlights of 45 Years of Solar ImagingRandy Tatum, RAS member

Door Prizes

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Willmann-Bell, IncAnnals of the Deep Sky (5 volume set)

Jonathan Ward, authorSigned copy of “Bringing Columbia Home”

KnightwareDeep-Sky Planner 7 software

Oberwerk9 x 60 LW Binocular

Bob’s KnobsSet of knobs

Kalmbach PublishingSubscription to Astronomy Magazine

Dhruti Rathi Studio8×10 Metal Print of M33 Galaxy in Triangulum

RASRevolution Imager System: R2

RASAstronomical Companion, by Guy Ottewell

RASGosky Smartphone Adapter

RASRed LED Lights (3)

RASDeep Sky “Road Map”

Contact us




Attendance cost is $20 for adults, $15 for students. 12 and under is free.

You can register with Paypal here.

The fee includes:

  • Admission to the convention
  • Tour of Keeble Observatory
  • Picnic dinner
  • One ticket for door prizes
  • Does NOT include lunch