President’s Message – April 2008
Posted On April 1, 2008
By Barbara Toy
As I write this in mid-March, wildflowers have burst out all over the hills around Elsinore and along the route to Anza, and the rains have apparently not quite ended for the season – Dave Radosevich sent a picture of Anza taken on March 16, covered with snow (he said it was cold). It’s nice to see the hills turn green, even if that means potential fuel for wildfires when everything dries out in the heat of summer, and even if it means more weed clearance at Anza…
Our Messier Marathon in March featured a period of clouds that stopped most observing activities for an hour or so, but then they cleared and a few hardy souls made it through the night and were still working on the last objects when the sun rose. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t among them – but we had a busy night in the club observatory until around 2:00, and our visitors included several people who were seeing the Kuhn in operation for the first time. It was a fun night, and a few participants have already given me their Messier Marathon sheets. If you haven’t turned yours in yet, please do, so we can get you your official OCA Messier Marathon Certificate.
Anza Site Update
We are finally at the point in what has turned out to be an extremely lengthy process to develop the northwest portion of our Anza site where we are submitting a grading plan for the first phase of the development to Riverside County for approval. This phase is located above Mars Hill and to the left of the Lower Pad area as you look up the site from Anza House. We haven’t determined the final mix of observatories and pads in this area yet, as this will partly depend on who’s prepared to build at this point.
Once the County approves the grading plan, with any amendments that the officials feel are necessary, the next step is to get an estimate for the cost of grading this first section. The area is small enough that we don’t need to get a full soils report (which would be very expensive), but we will need compaction tests.
Once we have the estimate, we plan to contact the people on the Pad Interest List and Observatory Interest List to see who is prepared to move ahead with plans to build in this new area. This grading is to allow construction of member observatories and pads rather than for the benefit of the general membership, and it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the membership to use general club funds for this, especially now when our funds have been depleted by the recent work on Anza House and the club observatory. If the club “fronted” the costs for grading this section, it would drop our reserves to unacceptably low levels – we can’t afford that, even if the payment is made in the expectation that the club would be reimbursed later as licensees built pads and observatories in that area.
Grading is a real part of the cost of constructing pads and observatories at Anza, and the Board decided a while back that the fairest approach to all concerned is to have it borne proportionately by the pad and observatory holders on the level that is being graded. For the grading of this new section to go forward, the costs will have to be paid up front by those members who are prepared to build their observatories or pads at this point. If we don’t get enough initial participants to fill the area to be graded, and the initial participants end by paying more than their proportionate share to get the grading done, they would be reimbursed by those who obtain licenses to build later – those who wait won’t get out of paying their fair shares of the grading costs. The club, by the way, has already paid a substantial amount for drafting the master plan for the site, getting it approved, getting the aerial survey that was needed for an accurate grading plan, and then for the grading plan itself and getting that plan approved.
If you are interested in building a pad or observatory in the new area and are not yet on the Pad or Observatory Interest List, please contact me to be put on the either or both of the lists. Being on the lists doesn’t mean that you are making a commitment to build at this point, but it does indicate that you are interested and establishes your priority if we have too many people seeking licenses for the number of sites available. Of course, the final plans for the pad areas and for each individual observatory will have to be approved by the Board before construction on them can begin once the grading is completed.
This has been a much longer process than anyone on the planning committee expected and it’s exciting to finally be reaching the point that we can move some dirt and see the beginning of actual construction!
Explore The Stars
With spring comes the start of the 2008 season of the “Explore the Stars” (ETS) program at Observatory Campground on Palomar Mountain. This is a monthly event that has been held from April or May through October for at least the last 10 years, and is a joint outreach project of several local astronomy clubs and the Forest Service, with support from Scott Kardel at Palomar Observatory. These sessions are for anyone on Palomar Mountain, and they start off with a presentation on an astronomical topic at the campground amphitheater, followed by a viewing session through telescopes brought by volunteers. The people who come are a diverse lot – some come as visitors to the Observatory and learn about the ETS session there, many are people who happen to be camping on the mountain, often there are Scouts and other groups, and some people drive up specifically for the program and drive back home afterward.
Camping in Observatory Campground in the area where the astronomers set up is free for ETS volunteers, which makes this a really excellent bargain. The Saturday night program usually starts with a potluck for the volunteers at six o'clock – ideally, people arrive early enough that they can set up before the potluck, but sometimes set-up continues as the potluck is going on, interspersed with eating. The volunteers usually go to the presentation in the amphitheater (some stay behind as security for the equipment). This is around 7:00 or 7:30, and then everyone heads back to the telescopes for the public viewing session. Most of the visitors leave after a couple of hours, and then the volunteers have their own star party, which can last all night if they choose.
One of the reasons this such a good event is that the Rangers turn off all the lights in the campground for ETS nights, so the sky is very dark and steady. Observatory Campground is not far from Palomar Observatory, and shares the same skies that caused the observatory to be built there in the first place, so it’s a great place for viewing. There isn't any power available at the campground for telescopes, so you need to bring batteries if you need power for your equipment, but that’s a small inconvenience.
For the volunteers who can make it out there Friday night, there is a smaller public viewing session, followed by whatever viewing (or imaging) you want to do for yourself. I've never been fortunate enough to be there on a Friday, but I understand that it’s a lot of fun for those who make it – more laid-back than on Saturday, and with more private viewing time as there aren’t as many members of the public to attend the viewing session. Camping is free for ETS volunteers on Friday night as well as Saturday.
Bob Nanz is the current coordinator for the program, and can be reached at email@example.com or 760-751-3992. He has also set up an email group for ETS volunteers, to help coordinate the different sessions and get updated information to everyone: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Saturday dates for the 2008 season are: April 5, May 3, June 7, July 5, August 2, August 30, September 27 and October 25. Bob is looking for speakers for the amphitheater presentations as well as volunteers to bring their telescopes – if you’re interested in making a presentation, he would be delighted to hear from you. Please also let him know in advance if you are planning to come as a volunteer for any of these sessions, to help him plan to be sure he has enough volunteers each night, and so he can send you word if there is any change in plans.
If you haven’t the ETS program yet, you really should – it’s a lot of fun and a great way to show the sky to people who otherwise might never have a chance to see how much can be seen under dark skies. It also gives you a chance to meet people in other clubs, and do some viewing under excellent skies. If you get up there early enough, you can also tour Palomar Observatory, possibly under the guidance of a club member who happens to be a docent for the observatory.
It's not too early to start thinking about this year’s RTMC Astronomy Expo, which is held Memorial Day weekend at Camp Oaks near Big Bear. In particular, it’s not too early to think about volunteering to help with the OCA booth at RTMC.
Usually, our booth is managed by the club librarian, and acts as a fundraiser for the club's library as well as providing information about our club and a place where club members can congregate and meet up with other members. This year, Karen Schnabel won't be able to attend RTMC herself, but she’s doing her best to get things organized in advance so the booth will be up and running. Based on her experience in the last few years, she has decided that it would not be cost-effective to take a lot of books to RTMC and attempt to sell them this year. We think that we will be selling something at the booth, we're just not sure what yet. Even if we don’t have anything for sale, we want a club presence at RTMC, with information available about the club and its activities.
If you can spend an hour or two helping with the booth on Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning, please contact Karen at Karen@Schnabel.net or me at email@example.com. We also need people to take things out there on Friday and/or to haul tables and other things from the booth back to Orange County, probably on Sunday – please let us know if you can help us out that way, as well. Any help you can give will be very much appreciated!
There will be more about RTMC and what happens there next month. It’s a great event, and, if you go, please be sure to stop by the OCA booth to say “hi” even if you don’t have time to help out with it – and remember to show up there at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon for the annual club photo!
Astronomy Bringing People Together
Unfortunately, hate and fear are easy “sells,” especially with the turmoil and destruction around the world these days. I’ve been particularly distressed by the increase I’ve seen in hate-driven emails over the last year, which usually give an account of something that supposedly shows why the targeted group can’t be trusted and should be hated (it’s always a good idea to check stories that are passed around by email on the Snopes Urban Legends Reference site, http://www.snopes.com/, particularly those that are outraged about something or telling about something that’s too good to be true – even those that seem reasonable are often bogus, mistaken, or outdated). Not too surprisingly, a lot of the emails circulating right now target Muslims, and characterize all Muslims as extremists or in sympathy with them.
Well, in the dark under the stars, bundled up against the cold and sharing in the wonders of the night sky and the challenges of seeing them or capturing their images, what comes through is our similarities more than our differences. Interest in astronomy crosses all boundaries – we all share the same sky – and our membership includes people from all religious and cultural backgrounds. Those differences are irrelevant to what brings us together in our club, and this is one of the unexpected benefits of membership – the chance to know people of other backgrounds as people without religion, culture or politics acting as social barriers. Among our members are a number of interesting and wonderful people who happen to be followers of Islam, and they provide living proof that the extremists in the news don’t speak for all Muslims any more than, to pick but one example, Neo-Nazis speak for all Caucasians.
In the broader context, you may recall Mike Simmons telling us about his experiences visiting the amateur astronomy communities in Iran and neighboring countries – another demonstration that interest in the night sky transcends religious, cultural and political boundaries. The organization he started to increase ties between astronomers around the world, Astronomers Without Borders, is going strong, and one of its goals is to channel donated astronomical equipment from wealthier countries to parts of the world where it’s almost impossible to get equipment and where it can and will be put to good use. This lets less fortunate astronomers pursue interests we have in common, and also shows the best side of our country in areas where local events and propaganda make it hard for people to see us in a positive light. If you are interested in Mike's program, please check his website at http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/, and also get on the mailing list for his newsletter.
May June Gloom be slow to arrive and quick to leave this year, and may the bridges you build through astronomy be strong ones!
© Barbara Toy, March 2008