President’s Message – August 2004

Posted On August 1, 2004

In case you haven’t picked up yet on the delicate hints that have been dropped here and there over the last few weeks, this month (August, the 27th and 28th, to be precise) is the month of our truly excellent AstroImage 2004 Conference. What a chance to learn from some of the true masters of the art – and it’s happening in our own back yard! What a chance to meet and mix with other people interested in imaging – both from our club and from outside the club! What a chance to fill your mind with new ideas and your heart with enthusiasm – the creative energy that’s generated when you get well over a hundred people who are interested in different aspects of the same subject together in one place is incredible, as we saw with AstroImage 2002.

In short, you really don’t want to miss this one, especially if you missed the 2002 conference. There’s something for everyone here, from the Beginners session (and social gathering) on Friday night to talks on advanced techniques and topics of more general interest during the day on Saturday, to the different (and entertaining) look at imaging from the perspective of “amateur” imaging in space on Saturday evening – so don’t let your experience level, whatever it might be, get in the way of having a really good time!

You’ll find more information about the conference elsewhere in this issue, and all the details are on the website – just follow the link on the homepage, or go directly to /astroimage/2004/. To top it off, if you sign up and get your money to Charlie Oostdyk at least a week before the conference, you’ll save $16, which is a deal you can’t pass up – so sign up now, and we’ll see you at the conference!

Now that I’ve got that out of my system…those of you who’ve read the July President’s Message posted on the website will recognize a lot of what follows as coming from that Message. Unfortunately, there was a problem in transmitting the original version to Steve Condrey, our esteemed editor, so he wasn’t able to include it in the July issue of this newsletter. Where appropriate, I’ve updated these sections, so the first two in particular are a lot different from the original July Message. Even if the rest may be a repeat for some of you, it’s appropriate to have them in print, as that’s the permanent record for the club and we also have some members who don’t have access to our website.

Fire at Anza – Our Thanks to the Firefighters…

The more you look around the burned areas at Anza, the more you realize how much hard work the firefighters did to protect the buildings on our site and stop the fire. The most visible signs are cut branches and piles of cut shrubbery from where they cleared the bushes away from vulnerable areas and the sections of bare earth circling the burned zone that they cleared to bare earth to contain the fire and create firebreaks. Our local Anza fire department is through the California Department of Forestry (CDF), and we are very grateful to all of the individual firefighters who did so much to help us and to the entire CDF for providing support – particularly the other members of our local department.

Besides sending a letter on behalf of the club thanking the firefighters of CDF Fire Station #29 (our local fire station in Anza), we invited all of the local firefighters and their families to our annual Starbeque potluck party on July 17 as a token of our appreciation. I’m finalizing this on the morning after the Starbeque, which was a great party with a lot of good food and good company – but no firefighters. A fast-spreading wildfire started around 3:00 p.m.; according to the Sunday edition of the Press Enterprise that I picked up in Temecula on the way out, this was the Melton Fire in rural Sage, about 5 miles south of Hemet, and it was started by someone shooting at targets. It had burned over 2000 acres by press time, and was only 10% contained by nightfall. Our firefighters were undoubtedly very much occupied with that or the other big fires that have been burning in Riverside, San Diego and Los Angeles Counties. We are very sorry none of them made it to the party, and concerned for their safety and well-being through this already difficult fire season. [And, to add insult to injury, the smoke and ash from the fire interfered with the viewing and posed a danger to optics as well as sinuses.]

It’s going to be a very long, hot summer for all of us, and particularly for those who have the job of fighting the fires and limiting their damage, and we wish them all the very best of luck and health in the difficult months ahead. Ironically, because our fire burned a lot of the dry vegetation on our site, we should now be in less danger of fire for the rest of the season, but that’s a hard way to gain protection!

Repairs, and Plans for the Future

We were very lucky that the firefighters were able to keep the fire from reaching any of the buildings on our site, and that the bulk of the area that burned was the undeveloped territory northwest portion of our property. The damage it caused around Mars Hill and the Lower Pads drives home the fact that we need to be a lot more aggressive in the future about clearing the weeds around the pads and buildings early in the season. Dave Radosevich, our Vice President, was one of the first club members to view the damage on our site, and has pointed out that, if the weeds had been cleared around all of the pads on Mars Hill as called for in the Pad Rules, there would have been no damage to any of the electrical boxes, in particular, as they were scorched by the heat of the weeds burning around them.

Thanks to the efforts of Bruce Waddington, who made a special trip out to Anza on June 13 to test the electrical connections on all of the pad areas (not just in the areas directly affected by the fire), we had a good summary of all of the problems before the star party on June 19. Gary Schones was able to make the electrical repairs to the Mars Hill area in time for the star party (including repairing some problems that weren’t due to the fire). One positive side to all this is that Bruce found some problems we didn’t know we had, and he has generously spent additional time repairing a number of them when he was out there a few days before the July star party: we expect that the remainder will be fixed soon. Bruce and Gary – thanks again for your help!

As to the fire damage in particular, it turned out that the electrical damage overall was pretty minor, and most of the visible damage was cosmetic and didn’t affect the wires themselves. And – another positive touch – the table that was destroyed turns out to have been dumped by some unknown person who no longer wanted it (which is not the way to dispose of something you no longer need, by the way), so it’s not really a loss either.

We can’t expect this kind of luck to continue, and in future years, pad and observatory licensees will be expected to clear the areas around their pads pursuant to the OCA Observing Pad Policy no later than May 31 of that year. If you are one of those members who regularly use particular pads when the license holders aren’t there, you can show your appreciation by helping to clear the area around the pads you use. The rules provide that, if a particular pad isn’t maintained, the club can do maintenance and charge the licensee for the cost. Since the danger caused by uncleared weed growth affects neighboring pads and the entire property, we will have to use that rule more aggressively than we have in the past to ensure that the weed clearance (which is part of the required pad maintenance) is done and done timely.

Of course, we’ll also need volunteers every year to help with clearing the areas around the observatory, Anza House, the pads in the Football Field, and the other “general use” areas of the site – there’s plenty of work for everyone! With many willing hands, we should be able to get it done without it being too much of a burden for any one person. You don’t need to wait until next year to help out - if you see any weedy growth around the buildings or the pads out at Anza, please feel free to eliminate it!

Thanks to Member Neighbors at Anza – the Caldwells, and “HKR” (Jim Hannum, John Kerns and Dave Radosevich)

We are very fortunate to have several club members who have property near our Anza site and who help keep an eye on it. Tom and Linda Caldwell have a house on the other side of the valley from the club property, and Linda was one of the first people to see the fire and report it – undoubtedly a factor in the prompt response of the firefighters. The Caldwells watched the progress of the fire and the firefighting efforts, took pictures (they gave us a set for the club archives), and let me know what was happening. They also checked our site the next day, when people were allowed in after the fire was out. We really appreciate their vigilance and help.

We have another set of neighbors who I should have thanked publicly long ago for all they do continually to help keep our property safe and secure, and even to help improve it. Jim Hannum, John Kerns and Dave Radosevich own the property “next door” (the “HKR property,” to borrow Russ Sipe’s term, which is actually across the street from the club property), and one or another of them is frequently there when our site is empty. Over the years that they’ve had their property, they’ve had the practice of regularly patrolling the club site when they’re out there, checking on who may be there and for any problems. Jim is often out at Anza during the week, as he’s retired, and he has been very generous in making himself available to deal with problems when nobody else could be out there.

You will undoubtedly recall that Dave was instrumental in renovating the Kuhn. Because he was involved in that project, Jim and John were also part of it, helping out when needed. Dave decided that, while we were renovating the Kuhn itself, the observatory also should be made more usable, and Jim and John got involved in such projects as the removal of the device that was used to hold the Kuhn’s primary mirror when it was removed or replaced and the box that went over it (this used to be beside the door inside the observing area and was used as a type of stand-up desk, because of its height). I wasn’t there when this was done, but understand that it required hoisting the box and the device (which has a heavy metal frame) over the outer wall of the observatory, as it wouldn’t fit through the door, and that this was no small feat.

I was there when John decided that we needed to sort through the stuff that had built up over the last 20 years or so in the bookcase, on the old desk, on the cabinet in the corner and inside it. It was a long job, even with several of us helping, but he kept at it (and kept us at it, too) for several hours until it was done – and there was a big pile of eliminated papers and other rubbish, the bookcase was cleaned and filled only with useful items, as was the cabinet, and the desk top and even the cabinet top were cleaned off. There’s no doubt that his efforts have helped tremendously in making the observatory observing area so much more functional and attractive than it was before.

The HKR property was also burned over in the fire that burned part of our site, and they lost all of their natural vegetation. Fortunately, their buildings were also entirely undamaged, though they did get covered with fire retardant. Dave, Jim and John were out there the day after the fire, cleaning up, but still took time to check the club property for damage and to take pictures for those of us who couldn’t get out there that day.

This account only scratches the surface of what these fine members have done and are doing for the club. I’m grateful to them personally for their friendship and all the help they’ve given me on club matters over the last couple years. One of the pleasures of my position is that I can also express thanks on behalf of the club – Jim, John and Dave, on behalf of Orange County Astronomers, thank you very much for all that you do for us!

I should also mention that, in addition to all the other things he’s been doing, Dave has repaired the club’s 12-inch LX200, and cleaned it up in the process. It’s now got clean mirrors and corrector plate, the broken focuser is fixed, and the gears have been cleaned and re-lubricated. By the time you see this, it should be mounted in the Mocat observatory, and we may even have had “first light” on the remote control system. Thanks again, Dave, for your help with this!

RTMC Retrospective

What a difference one week makes! The weekend before our fire was Memorial Day Weekend, which was the annual RTMC Astronomy Expo, and we had a lot of members who attended. We even got a lot of them rounded up for the annual group picture(s) – the “official” ones this year are courtesy of Paul Brewer, whose pictures came out much better than mine.

I want to thank those members who helped us out with the booth, most notably Carl Fan, who spent almost his entire day there on Saturday, and also a good part of Sunday morning. Other volunteers included Stephen Bobchin, Craig Bobchin and Bob Gill (and I apologize to anyone I missed). Karen Schnabel spent so much time working the booth she hardly had time to do anything else – true dedication, with all the great events going on all weekend!

This year, in addition to the usual books and magazines on sale to benefit the club library, we were also selling a lot of things that I’d pulled from our storage area, cleaned up and sorted. These included lenses of various types, prisms, bits and pieces of binoculars (some with adaptations of different types), mirrors of various sizes, and a fascinating box of what had obviously been a very high precision piece of equipment at some point but had largely been reduced to gears and other interesting bits and pieces. We sold quite a bit, which should help the general fund…but we do have a lot left, and you may see some of it for sale at our general meetings, if I get energetic enough to bring it in.

All in all, it was a good weekend – I hope that all of you who went out there had as good a time as I did!

On the Social Front…

In the June issue, Steve Condrey noted that one reason the Sirius Astonomer got to the printer late in June was that he was moving during the time he needed to put it together. He didn’t mention that he also got married and that he and his new wife went on a brief honeymoon – it’s amazing he had any time (or desire) to think of the newsletter at all!

Congratulations, and best wishes to you and your wife, Steve!