President’s Message – July 2007

Posted On July 1, 2007

By Barbara Toy

In case you get this before our July star party at Anza, this is a reminder – the July star party is our annual Star-B-Que potluck party, so bring something to share and come on out and enjoy the company of your fellow club members as well as a good night of viewing!

So far, we’re seeing more clear nights out at Anza in spring and early summer than we have for several years, so it looks like it should be a good summer for viewing. If you haven’t tried viewing yet from Anza or Black Star Canyon, you really should – for real enjoyment of our hobby, there’s nothing like a nice clear summer night under the stars, especially with the good company a star party provides!

Kuhn Update

Mechanical problems are inevitable in the life of any mechanical object, and the problem is compounded when you add electronic components. The club’s Kuhn telescope experienced problems with both in the last month, but thanks to the prompt assistance of Pat Knoll and Dave Radosevich, and the donation of a new computer by Joe Busch, it is up and running and in better condition than before.

The first problem we had was that the set screw in the coupler between the declination drive and the worm gear came completely loose, so the drive could no longer move the gear. A Star Member was using it at the time, and (Murphy's Law was obviously in operation) it failed with telescope pointing straight up. Fortunately, Murphy's Law did not completely control the situation, as this happened only a couple of days before the second May star party, when both Dave and Pat were planning to be at Anza. There were plenty of people on site those two days and the weather was good, so we didn’t have to worry about security or safety of the telescope even though the observatory roof couldn’t be closed and nobody had to make an emergency trip to Anza to deal with the situation.

Between them, Dave and Pat repaired the dec drive, and thanks to the fact that Dave had access to the appropriate tools, the drive now has a larger set screw, which should give us fewer problems in the future. The Kuhn ran like a charm that night, with less backlash and more accuracy than before this unfortunate incident.

Sadly, the next Star Member to use the Kuhn called me about two weeks later to let me know that the computer that we use to control the telescope wouldn’t turn on. He did what he could to resuscitate it, but it was totally dead. The conditions at the Anza site are pretty extreme, and that computer has been in place for several years now, so it really isn’t too surprising that eventually there would be a problem, but I’m really sorry it deprived one of our members of a good night with the Kuhn. Fortunately, Joe Busch had donated a new computer that we hadn’t yet had a chance to install, and Pat Knoll ultimately was able to get it to connect to the interface computer and to get everything back up and running the following Saturday. He also had me help him give the collimation a final tweaking, so the images in the eyepiece are really sharp. After all this, the Kuhn is now running better than ever, and just in time for the busy summer season….

Pat’s now working on appropriate interfaces for guiding so we can take longer images with the Kuhn. Our current goal is to set things up so people can use their own equipment to do the actual imaging, controlled by and with images saved to their own laptops. This is the way everyone who has been trying to image with the Kuhn in the last few years has wanted to use it, and it should give us the greatest overall flexibility in using it. If you are interested in imaging with the Kuhn yourself or using it visually in the future and are not yet a Star Member, do feel free to join our ranks! All it takes is a one-time fee of $150.00, which helps to support the telescope and observatory, plus going through the training program. Independent use of the Kuhn is limited to Star Members, and this is really one of the best bargains out there.

If you are a new star member or an existing star member who wants to go to the training, please let me know; I am willing to set up training sessions at almost any star party and on other occasions when I know in advance I’ll be out at Anza and running the Kuhn, unless there is work going on in the observatory that would get in the way of a training session. Please do make arrangements in advance, though, rather than just showing up at the observatory at a star party expecting to be trained. If you’ve been trained in the past but want a refresher course, I'll be happy to oblige – my goal as Observatory Custodian is to have the Kuhn used regularly by as many members as possible as it is a wonderful instrument that deserves to be shared.

RTMC 2007

The RTMC Astronomy Expo for 2007 is now behind us – there was a lot of moon Memorial Day weekend, which interfered with serious observing, and there were a few clouds, but the days weren’t too hot, the nights weren’t too cold, and it was generally a fun and informative weekend. If you missed it – well, there’s always next year!

Karen Schnabel ran the OCA booth, as she has now for several years (except one time when someone inconsiderately scheduled a wedding on that weekend). Besides establishing a presence for our club at RTMC and acting as a home base for club members there, this is a significant fundraiser for our library. Karen advises me that we took in $230 from the booth this year, which actually is a net gain to the library fund of around $125 after expenses. Many thanks to all of you who donated books and other sales items, and to those who helped run the booth during RTMC!

For the second year we took the club’s annual group photo by the OCA booth, so we could include Karen and the booth. We had a pretty good turnout this year, even though several club members who were at RTMC at the time didn’t make it. I believe the final version of the photo is included in this issue of the Sirius Astronomer, so you can see it for yourself and maybe make some guesses as to which club members who were on site at the time weren’t there for the photo (Alan Smallbone was behind the lens, which was his excuse, as he didn’t have a tripod with him. I don’t know about the others…)

For next year – do plan to show up for the club photo if you’re at RTMC on Saturday around 1:00. It doesn’t take long, and, as anyone who’s looked at the old club photos that John Sanford has provided can see, these are important is helping to show the changing faces of the club over time. And we also have a lot of fun joking and visiting with each other as we attempt to get organized for the shot(s) – there’s a lot of entertainment value in getting together with a bunch of fellow club members for a group photo!

Our General Meetings

Thinking back, it doesn’t seem that I’ve said much about our general meetings in the time I've written for the Sirius Astronomer, even though they are one of the central functions of the club. There are a lot of club members who come to as many meetings as they can, and there are others who’ve never been to a meeting at all. This is to let those of you who’ve never been to a meeting know a bit about what you’re missing, and, for those who do come, to make sure you know about the different things going on, in case you’re missing something.

The meetings are usually held on the second Friday of the month, at Chapman University, specifically in the Irvine Auditorium in the Hashinger science building. We have the use of this facility through the generosity of Chapman University, and every now and then, the university needs the auditorium for its own activities and we have to move the meeting date. One of these occasions is coming up next September, so – this is an early warning – the September meeting will be the first Friday of the month, September 7, instead of the second Friday.

These meetings are the club’s official meetings, provided for in the Articles of Incorporation, so we do a certain amount of club business at the meetings. The most regular type is done at Charlie Oostdyk’s table, where he accepts memberships and payments for other club obligations, answers questions, and maintains a stock of materials for sale. Besides calendars and other more general- interest astronomical items, he has a stock of the CDs from the last two AstroImage conferences, and other club-related merchandise, as well. The meetings are important for the club elections, too, as that is where we take formal nominations for the Board of Trustees (though we do take nominations outside the designated meetings), and the club’s officially designated annual meeting is the January general meeting, which marks the end of the election process each year. As noted last month, our schedule for the elections is changing effective this year, so nominations will be taken in October and November, the ballots mailed with the December Sirius Astronomer, and the election will end with the end of the January meeting.

For most of the participants, though, the real reason for coming to the meetings is all of the other activities that go on there each month. Festivities generally get started around 7:00, with people checking out the library, the refreshments, the materials Charlie puts out down at the front table, the latest space pictures from various NASA and other sources brought by Don Lynn, taking care of business with Charlie and others, getting questions answered (whether about club matters or astronomical topics), catching up with friends, and so on – socializing is a major part of what makes these meetings special. We have two major socializing periods built into the meetings – one before the formal part of the program starts and one at the “break” (which often marks the end of the formal part of the meeting, unless people have questions for “Ask an Astronomer” or we have a raffle where the drawing is after the break).

A lot of people come mainly because they want to hear the featured speaker – we’ve really had a lot of good speakers over the years. Topics have covered different aspects of astronomical research and the space program, history of and research at the Mt.Wilson, Palomar and Lowell observatories, mirror making, spectroscopy and other research by amateur astronomers, sundials, developments at Meade, an account of the famous astronomers in the Hershell family from one of their descendents – all kinds of subjects, the only relationship between them is that they all relate somehow to astronomy. For about the last three years, we’ve had an annual “Members Night,” featuring around four shorter talks by different club members on some aspect of astronomy of interest to them, results of their own research and special projects they may have been involved in. For the last two years, we’ve had “Astronomy Jeopardy” at the January meeting, which has proved to be entertaining and surprisingly educational.

The club announcements, which have been presented by Bob Buchheim for the last three or four years, have become a significant and frequently entertaining part of each meeting; Bob also puts together the slide shows that run before the meetings and sometimes during the break. The “What's Up" part of the program has allowed a number of members to provide a their own take on a part of the program that Chris Butler raised to a fine art over the many years he was the primary “What’s Up” presenter. We always enjoy Chris's presentations on those months when he remains the presenter, but it’s also interesting to see the different approaches taken by other people – and Chris certainly deserves some time off after doing these presentations for so many years by himself!

All of these activities are important to the meetings, but what people who attend seem to enjoy most are the periods before the meetings formally start and the breaks, when they can socialize, browse the library, get refreshments, catch up on gossip, make plans for upcoming events, and generally enjoy the company of a fellow members, and the socializing continues at the informal “Meeting After the Meeting," currently held at Hof’s Hut on Chapman Ave. near the Crystal Cathedral.

If you haven't attended any of the general meetings, you are missing some of the best events the club provides. You can get information about upcoming speakers from the website calendar as well as the homepage, from Star Line, the club's informational phone message, and from the Sirius Astronomer. Do check to see if there are featured talks of particular interest to you coming up, and make a special effort to come, so you can see for yourself how fun and valuable they are.

© Barbara Toy, June 2007