President’s Message – April 2004
Posted On April 1, 2004
By the time you read this, spring should be in full swing, with temperatures climbing and more people thinking about spending nights out under the stars. Daylight Savings has started, the nights are getting shorter – there’s always that tradeoff, more comfortable viewing but less time to do it in. Unless, of course, you’re into solar viewing…
Well, more than the season of the year is changing – here are some items of current concern around the club:
A Reminder - the April General Meeting is April 16th, not April 9th!
In hopes this reaches you before April 9th, which would be the usual date for the general meeting – we won’t be a Chapman University that evening due to lack of power. Please plan to come the 3rd Friday of the month, not the 2nd Friday.
And if that leaves you at loose ends for the 2nd Friday – come to the Astrophysics meeting! We’re switching the usual meeting date with that of the general meeting, so it will meet on April 9th at 7:30 p.m. in the classroom behind the Centennial Heritage Museum, at 3101 W. Harvard S., Santa Ana. Harvard is between Edinger and Warner, and the museum is about a block west of Fairview. The driveway is at the western edge of the property.
A Few Words About the Centennial Heritage Museum…
Until recently, the Centennial Heritage Museum was known as the Discovery Museum, and there are still signs and other reminders of the earlier name. Our club has had a long-standing and very valued relationship with the museum, which has a strong focus on community education and environmental sciences. Our own community education goals and concerns about protecting the quality of the night sky and learning more about what’s out there fit well with that part of the museum’s goals.
This is very fortunate for us, as the museum allows us to use its classroom for the Beginners Class and the Astrophysics meeting each month, and also to use the classroom and the parking areas around it for our periodic “How to Use Your Telescope” classes (which are now given as part of the Beginners Class) – it’s hard to know how we could have such a successful Beginners Class, in particular, without the use of this facility. In the past, we had the use of another building on the museum premises for meetings and storage that has since had to be demolished, but I’ve seen minutes of Board meetings reflecting that, among the many activities that were centered there, it provided a meeting place for the Board.
For those who are not familiar with it, when you look at the museum from the street, you see a wrought iron fence with a Victorian house visible through the trees of an orchard. It takes closer inspection to see how much else is there. There are actually two Victorian houses with strong historical associations that have been moved to that property. Kellogg House is regularly open for tours, and Maag House is undergoing restoration; the museum also has a strong program devoted to local history. The administrative offices are in what used to be the Carriage Barn for Maag House, and the gift shop is in what used to be the water tower and there’s a blacksmith’s forge as well as the classroom in the back. There are formal gardens laid out around the houses, including a very picturesque arbor area with a gazebo that is a popular site for weddings. The museum is generally closed on Saturdays for weddings and other events, which are a significant and welcome source of revenue.
The museum property extends a surprisingly long way behind the buildings toward Centennial Park, and a lot of that area is a Nature Garden, designed and planted to show the local natural habitat. The main use of the museum’s classroom is programs for visiting students from local schools. Besides teaching about local ecology, these try to increase awareness of the need to recycle with fun projects to encourage children to think in those terms. Ralph Whitford, the person in charge of the classroom programs, says they always have a need for castoff jewelry, lace and other things that can be used to decorate “ecology hats” and for other projects – if you have anything you’d like to donate for this, please feel free to give it to me at the general meetings and I’ll be happy to deliver it to Ralph’s classroom.
The museum is going through a difficult period right now, as a new high school is under construction behind it, and part of their property is tied up in the construction. In spite of the inevitable irritations and inconveniences, the people there are a pleasure to deal with, and I’m hoping we will be able to develop more joint activities with them in the future.
If you have never had a chance to see this little-known treasure of Orange County, please plan to visit this museum, which has a lot to interest both adults and children; for more information, please see their website, http://www.centennialmuseum.org/. And, on behalf of the club – thank you, Centennial Heritage Museum, for all the help you’ve given us over the years!
Anza House is a wonderful facility at our Anza site – but it’s something of a work in progress, and still shows many signs of the hard life it had before Gary Schones got it for the club. I’m happy to report that a couple of improvements that I’ve wanted to see for a long time will soon be done, and may be finished by the time you see this.
Our new Anza House Coordinator, Larry Carr, is putting vinyl flooring in the three bathrooms in place of the carpet that’s there now, which should make it much easier to keep them clean. As part of that project, he’ll put in the new toilets that Gary got for us a couple years ago that were never installed because we wanted to do it when the new flooring went in. The new toilets shouldn’t get clogged as often as the existing ones – so, when this work is finished, we should have a lot fewer problems with the bathrooms, and they’ll look a lot better, too!
The other project is painting the outside of the house, which Gary plans to do when the weather warms up enough and his schedule allows. It will certainly be different to have both of the double-wide trailers that were combined to make Anza House painted the same color – one trailer is currently white and the other brown – but I think we’ll get used to it pretty fast. Besides protecting the buildings, the paint will make the entire building look a lot better.
Larry is planning other projects for Anza House, and can also use help with the more mundane tasks of cleaning and other regular maintenance. If you would like to help out, please contact him at LarryCarr@sbcglobal.net.
A big “thank you” is due to Larry Carr and Gary Schones for all their hard work, and for their willingness to give us the benefit of their expertise and equipment with these and their other projects at Anza. And thanks is also due to Stephen Eubanks for all of his efforts to improve Anza House while he was coordinator, which you can see in such things as the improved lighting (with red lights) throughout the house.
Most people don’t realize that the club has a second observatory, the small “clamshell” located just west of Anza House, which is the MOCAT observatory. We have the building thanks to Tony Obra, who saved it from being junked at Mt. Wilson and who transported it to Anza. It was assembled and made functional by members of the EOA, who also installed all of the necessary wiring for computer control from the back room at Anza House along with a work bench. If you wonder why you’ve never seen the control room, it’s kept locked, as it also houses our weather station and other equipment – by necessity, it’s a limited access area.
At its most basic, the MOCAT project will allow people to use a telescope in the MOCAT observatory from the comfort and warmth of the control room at Anza House, “viewing” through a CCD camera on the telescope connected to a computer in the control room – many people find this comfort factor particularly attractive! This system is obviously meant for imaging, and we hope people will use it for serious research as well as for general imaging. If all goes as planned, in its final form the MOCAT will use a custom mount that was donated to the club and that still needs a lot of work, but that is built around a large Byers gear that is in excellent condition and should give it tremendous tracking accuracy.
Why “MOCAT”? According to the Board minutes when the project was approved, this stands for “Multiple Use Orange County Astronomers Telescope,” but I’m told the name went through some variations, and nobody has ever referred to it by that name in my hearing – it’s just “the MOCAT,” the project that has been central to the EOA’s activities over the last four years. The “EOA” is the Electronically Oriented Astronomers, one of the club’s long-standing special interest groups. Wayne Johnson, past president of the club among other things, was one of the project’s early enthusiasts, but he then moved to Arizona, and other people who had committed to various parts of the work also left for various reasons – MOCAT has been plagued by all of the problems that occur when a complicated project relies on volunteers to do all of the work.
We therefore owe a special thanks to the group who has hung in there, done the actual work, and gotten the project to its current state – Craig Otis, Jim Windlinger, James Thorp, Delmar Christiansen, JV Howell and Ken MacLeod. Of these, Ken deserves special recognition for all of his efforts to keep the project moving over the last three years as the EOA Coordinator, especially as he originally only agreed to be a temporary coordinator for about three months. In spite of having his term in office extend well beyond that, Ken has handled the position with tremendous tact, perseverance and energy, and the MOCAT would not be as far along as it is without his involvement. Much to our sorrow, he has now had to leave that position and to drop out of regular participation in the EOA because of his other responsibilities – he is very much missed, and we all hope things will change for him and he’ll be able to rejoin us soon.
Why tell you all this about the MOCAT now? Because I’m really excited about new developments with the project, which we expect will give us a working telescope in the MOCAT observatory controlled from Anza House by the time the summer observing season gets into full swing. It turns out we have a pier in storage that is just the right height to put an LX200 in the optimal viewing position in the MOCAT observatory, John Hoot has donated an LX200 we can use for this purpose, Bob Buchheim got us a donated computer that can be used as the controller, James Thorp convinced Software Bisque to donate a copy of TheSky that we can use to control the telescope, and the EOA has a CCD camera that was donated for the MOCAT that we can use (an ST6), so all of the major pieces we need to get this to work are falling into place, and the only significant additional cost to the club for this interim installation is for a remote focuser.
The plan is to get all of this together and working as a basic system – and then see what we want to add to increase its flexibility and otherwise improve it as we gain experience working with it. When the MOCAT mount is finished and fully tested, assuming that it works as well as we think it will, we will then replace the LX200 with the MOCAT mount, telescope and controller per the original plan; a lot of what we’re using for the LX200 setup will be directly transferable to the final MOCAT installation. In the meantime, the facility will be in use, and we will all gain experience with it that should help a lot when we do the final installation.
It’s an exciting time for MOCAT and the EOA, and I’m glad to say that we’ve recently had more club members express interest in this project. If you would like to become part of it, the easiest way is by coming to the EOA meetings, which is where we plan the work, or you can talk to me or the other members of the EOA about it. Meetings are usually at 7:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month, at Coco’s at the junction of Holt and Newport Ave. in Tustin (it’s a good idea to check the website before coming in case of changes). Del Christiansen, the EOA Liaison, has posted a number of pictures as well as minutes of recent meetings on the website, if you want more information about the group and the project. I plan to post notices on the website calendar and the homepage when we set up work parties, especially when we could use more help – so keep an eye out for the notices, and please feel free to offer your assistance!
The only downside to all this for me personally is that it looks like I’ll be losing my carefully-guarded status as a non-imager…
Only two people have pointed out to me that I said “Challenger” when I meant “Columbia” in the February President’s Message. I don’t know if that means that only two people read it, only two people noticed, or only two people felt compelled to mention it (which they both did very diplomatically!). My apologies for not having proofed it better, but at least I know the reason for the mind glitch – a conversations with our June speaker, Keith McInnis, which touched on Columbia, and then shifted to the Challenger disaster and investigation as seen by someone with close ties to those who designed and built the shuttles and kept them flying. It was very interesting – but here’s hoping that I didn’t overlook something equally obvious this month!