President’s Message – April 2007

Posted On April 1, 2007

By Barbara Toy

Moving into April, there are reminders all around us that we’ve had minimal rain this year. On the bright side, we have a lot less damage to the dirt roads on and around our Anza site than usual by this time of year, and the lack of water should result in less weed growth, making it easier to keep them under control. However, it also means that the fire season has started very early, and, by all the signs so far, we’ll be seeing a lot more wildfires than usual this summer. We still have a lot of charred reminders of the fire that swept over part of our Anza site on June 5, 2004 (in another year when the fire season started early) – that was an experience we really don’t want to repeat!

To reduce the chance of another fire on our site – and to minimize the damage if we do have one – please help with clearing any weeds or shrubs around any structures, particularly Anza house and the club observatory. This makes it harder for sparks and flames to reach the buildings and also helps firefighters protect them. If you are a pad or observatory holder, please be sure the area around your pad or observatory is cleared of weeds and any rubbish sooner rather than later; you may recall that the club has the end of May as a deadline for clearing these areas, but please don't wait that long. Wildfires have already started, and, as I write this, a large brush fire just burned for several days in Anaheim Hills and a small brush fire near Griffith Observatory caused the March meeting of the LA Astronomical Society to be canceled. Fires can strike anywhere, so please be careful wherever you are!

At least we have a reasonable prospect that these dry conditions will give us clearer skies this spring and summer than we’ve had in the last few years – conditions were certainly good for the March Anza star party and Messier Marathon! We always have some amount of June Gloom each year, but here’s hoping that we only see it in June this year!

Get Your Telescope Raffle Tickets!

Elsewhere in this issue you should see an ad for our telescope raffle, with a picture of the Patriot Edition ZenithStar SD 66 refractor telescope that was donated to the club by William Optics – optically, this is a really nice telescope, and it actually looks even better than the picture in the ad, done in a flag-inspired motif. Its body has red and white stripes along the length of the tube, with a nicely-drawn head of an eagle superimposed on the stripes on one side, and the dew shield has a blue background with white stars. We’ll be selling tickets for the raffle again at the April general meeting and also at the banquet on April 28, and the drawing for the telescope will be at the banquet. Tickets are five dollars each, you can buy as many as you want, and you don’t have to be present at the drawing to win (though, of course, it would be a lot more fun if you were – banquet tickets are also on sale, and it promises to be a really memorable event!). Be sure that you put your name and telephone number on the back of your raffle tickets, so we have a way of contacting you if you are the lucky winner!

The telescope comes with its own hard case, with room for eyepieces, etc. We’re doing our best to protect both the telescope and the case from scuffs, scratches and other damage, which is why, when the scope and case are displayed at the meetings, the scope is covered with plastic wrap and people are asked not to touch them. While the protection means that you can’t see the scope as well as if it was out in the open, we do have pictures nearby showing it in detail, and the lucky winner will undoubtedly be grateful that the unique paint job is undamaged.

William Optics produced the Patriot Edition of this refractor specifically as a fundraiser for the Red Cross. There are only a hundred of these telescopes total, 50 with the words “The United States of America” engraved on the focuser, and the other 50 with the name of one of the fifty states engraved on the focuser. Our telescope is one of the “United States” telescopes. William Optics didn’t put any limitations on how we use this donation, but the Board felt that it would be in keeping with the purpose of this special set of telescopes to have this raffle and donate 50% of the proceeds to the Red Cross, as an addition to William Optics’ fundraising effort. The Red Cross is always there to help in times of major trouble, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and fires, and also helps our military personnel and their families, refugees and other victims of war. Its services are constantly needed in our own country and around the world, and we are proud to help to help William Optics support its activities with this raffle.

So, to help with a noble cause and to have the chance of winning a rare and beautiful telescope that will give many years of great viewing or imaging, be sure to buy your raffle tickets at the next meeting!

Volunteers Needed For Astronomy Day Events!

I’m happy to report that we have a couple of great events coming up on Astronomy Day (April 21), and we need some volunteers to help make them a success.

Steve Short has been working with a local mall in Orange to arrange for an area to display some of the pictures from the club’s collection of astroimage prints and to answer questions and provide information about astronomy. He needs some help with this – please contact him at or (714) 771-2624. If all goes well, his write-up on this event should appear elsewhere in this issue as well as on our website.

Mike Simmons is organizing an Astronomy Day event with Irvine Valley College (IVC) and Meade Instruments as one of the first formal activities sponsored by Astronomers Without Borders. It will feature a series of talks, solar viewing, night-sky viewing, and tours of the Meade facility, among other activities. There’ll be room for a club table, where we can give out information about the club, have displays, answer astronomical and viewing questions, etc. We need people to help organize that and to handle the booth itself, and Mike needs volunteers to give presentations, help with solar scopes and the telescopes at night, and other activities.

If you can help with the club booth, please let me know as soon as possible. If you can help with any of these other activities, please contact Mike: or (818) 486-7633. Ironically enough, long before this event was set up, I was already committed to running the club observatory for the IVC astronomy class field trip to Anza that day, so I won’t be able to be at IVC myself – even though I won’t be able to be there, I hope we have a great turnout of volunteers from the club to help out with the event and also that a lot of members will bring their family and friends to enjoy it!

Sidewalk Astronomy Night:

Donna Smith of Sidewalk Astronomers has sent us information on the first International Sidewalk Astronomy Night, set up in honor of John Dobson, father of the Dobsonian telescope design and avid proponent of sidewalk astronomy. This is an informal and fun type of outreach, where volunteers take telescopes to outside places with a lot of walk-by traffic, such as near theaters, restaurants and shopping areas, and let the passersby look at whatever objects can be seen – there isn’t a lot of planning, no notices going out or anything, just some astronomers getting together to share some views of the night sky with folks who might never have thought about what they can actually see up there (this can be done as a solo activity, but it’s more fun as a group, plus two or three telescopes attract a lot more curiosity than just one). This lets us reach people we might never see otherwise, and may spark an interest in astronomy in some of them, or remind them of an interest they had in the past that’s been buried by day-to-day life.

This event is set on May 19th, which is the night of our Anza Star Party and of a scheduled outreach event at Riley Park. If you’d like to participate before heading out to Anza or Riley Park, a sidewalk astronomy session of solar viewing would certainly be in the spirit of the event. If you’re not going to one of these other events, please consider taking your telescope to some location near you where there’s a lot of foot traffic, ideally with a couple of other people and telescopes, and spending a couple of hours showing passers by some of the wonderful objects in the night sky. If you’d like more information about sidewalk astronomy or this event, please email me, and I’ll send you a copy of the information sheet that Ms. Smith sent us, or you can visit their website at If you do participate, please let me know so I can pass that information on to Ms. Smith – they’re hoping there’ll be 1000 telescopes out doing sidewalk astronomy that day.

Centennial Heritage Museum:

Both our Beginner's Class and our astrophysics meetings have been held in the classroom behind the Centennial heritage Museum for many years. This is a mobile classroom, the type used by many school districts when they are short of space. It was the center of the museum's ecology program, where they had activities to teach children about the natural world and the benefits of recycling, and had a lot of other uses, in addition to our meetings.

This building was moved from one side of the museum property to the other a couple of years ago when construction started on the high school that is now behind the museum. Unfortunately, it didn’t do well in the move, and attempts to make it weather-tight since then haven’t been very successful. The storm we had near the end of February proved to be too much for it, and part of the roof collapsed, making the building unusable. Colleen Mensel, who recently became the Executive Director of the museum, and her colleagues did a wonderful job of coming up with an alternative location for our meetings – these are now in the large room on the bottom floor of the Carriage House building, which has some advantages we didn’t have in the original classroom, such as an adjoining restroom, and heat and air conditioning. Needless to say, we’re very grateful that they were willing to make this area available to us.

It’s unclear whether the original classroom can be salvaged – the museum needs the facility, and could certainly use help in either repairing it and making it more habitable that it’s been since the move or in finding a replacement. If you can help out with this at all, both the club and the museum would be very grateful.

Another area where we need help is in developing additional astronomy programs through the museum. This could include such things as a scale model of the solar system, similar to the one that Don Lynn and Matt Ota have been installing at our Anza site, special displays on astronomical phenomena, astronomy classes that are geared more toward children than our current Beginners Class – there are a wide range of possibilities. If you are interested in working on anything like this, please let me know.

Do we want AstroImage 2008?

Our club has a long tradition of producing conferences on various aspects of astronomical imaging, going back at least to the 80’s and 90’s. Since 2000, we presented three expanded AstroImage conferences, in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Our objective with these larger conferences was to bring in recognized experts in a range of topics related to imaging for a series of presentations that would bring new information and fresh perspectives to conference participants. Our earlier conferences relied primarily on club members and other local imagers as speakers, but we wanted more expertise and increased depth in the presentations, and to make the entire conference more professional. One major reason the club organized these events in the past is that there weren’t many places people could go to get concentrated exposure to what different people were doing in the field and to expand their own knowledge and understanding.

Well, times do change. Not only has film photography taken a backseat to CCD cameras and other forms of digital imaging over the last ten years or so, but a lot of entities are now presenting conferences and training events centered on astronomical imaging. The Advanced Imaging Conference in San Jose in October has now become an annual event, and local companies such as Meade and Oceanside Photo and Telescope (OPT) are providing seminars and classes on using different types of equipment, image processing, and other areas important to imagers; these include talks and demonstrations during the conferences OPT has been presenting over two weekends every summer starting a couple years ago. Some examples of other conferences that are likely to become regular events: the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry had an Astrophotography Conference on March 10; the first Midwest Astroimaging Conference, running concurrently with the EPOC 2007 Star Party, is scheduled for July 13 and 14; the two-day NorthEast Astro-Imaging Conference will be held just before the NorthEast Astronomy Forum (NEAF 2007) in April; and the 2007 East Coast Conference on Astronomical Imaging, another two-day conference, will be held in September.

With the increasing number of regular imaging conferences available throughout the country and the other imaging events in the Southern California area, we have a real question about whether we can add enough under current conditions to justify the club resources needed to organize an AstroImage 2008 conference. Although we have gained prestige as a club through our past successful conferences, and the club members who attended them found them valuable, among our other concerns is the fact that all of these other events give us increasing competition for speakers, sponsors and attendees, which will make it harder to organize an event that will pay for itself.

I chaired the organizing committee for AstroImage 2006, and I’m willing to be actively involved in organizing another conference – if we really want to do one. My question to all of you is whether this is something you want to see your club involved in and whether it is something that you would find valuable yourself as a club member. Please let me know your thoughts on this – you can email me at, send me your comments by snailmail to the club’s P.O. Box (1762, Costa Mesa, CA 92628), or talk to me about it whenever you happen to see me or by calling me at (714) 606-1825. We need to make the decision soon, as it takes us more than a year to organize each of these conferences, so please get me your comments as soon as possible!

© Barbara Toy, March 2007