President’s Message – July 2008

Posted On July 1, 2008

By Barbara Toy

Now that we're past the summer solstice, the nights are starting to get longer again, which is good for those of us who enjoy the summer sky – it's unnerving not to have full darkness until sometime after 9:30 at night (even if that would only be 8:30 if it weren’t for Daylight Savings Time). Of course, the further north you go the longer the twilight lasts and the shorter the period of full darkness during the summer, which I guess is a reminder that we should appreciate what we have. Though I have to admit, when I notice the details of a delightful dim fuzzy fading out because the dawn twilight comes so early at this time of year, gratitude that the night isn’t even shorter isn’t usually my predominant emotion…

Another “Unusual” RTMC…

Since I didn’t make it out to RTMC on Friday this year, I can’t claim any direct experience with the weather that was the main topic of conversation for the weekend. When I arrived late Saturday morning, I found that it was cloudy with the sun breaking through periodically, reasonably calm wind-wise and cold. There was snow on the ground in areas that were still in shadow as evidence of what I had missed, and everyone who had been there had a story of how they had weathered the snow, etc., that moved through the area on Friday.

Craig Bobchin, who was one of the volunteers who helped out with our booth, told me that he hit fog, rain, sleet, hail and snow on the way up on Friday and others reported similar experiences; this was particularly notable because just three or four days earlier we were all sweltering in record-breaking high temperatures, and those who went to the SAS conference in Big Bear City just before RTMC commented on how nice and warm it was earlier in the week up there. I’m told that temperatures got below 20° in at least some parts of Camp Oakes over Friday night, and that, though it had been very cloudy before dark, it cleared up a couple hours after dark and proved to be a beautiful night. Unfortunately, everyone had covered up their scopes or didn’t set them up at all, so there were only a couple set up for viewing at widely separated points in the campground (one was Don Lynn’s Dobsonian) – disappointing to those who ventured out after the clouds cleared. I noticed that all of the vendor booths had side walls up or other protection, more than I’ve seen in other years, and learned that, in spite of their precautions, the Ventura club lost a lot of their distinctive calendars to water damage, which was very unfortunate.

Not too surprisingly, the weather discouraged a lot of people from coming, so the crowds were much smaller than usual. Even so, we mustered a good turnout of club members for the club's annual group picture at RTMC, which should appear elsewhere in this issue. We didn't take our usual supply of books and magazines for the club’s booth, as Karen Schnabel was away that weekend and she felt that it would be too much trouble for the likely return to take her supply of donated books out there and to bring back any that didn’t sell. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as it would have been impossible to protect them from the general dampness. Instead, we took several long-unused items from the club’s storage units (or rather, Bob Buchheim took them, along with the tables we used for the booth and the canopy) and our helpful volunteers were able to sell quite a few of them.

I covered the booth on Saturday afternoon, and had the pleasure of talking to quite a few members, past members and prospective members, as well as others who dropped by to say “hello” – in spite of the weather and low attendance, things were far from boring! One unexpected pleasure was the chance to visit with Rob Carr (our Website Technician) and his wife and young daughter, who we hope is an incipient astronomer. She was a toddler at the stage where she’d mastered the fundamentals of walking, but definitely found the uneven walking surfaces in the vendor area a challenge. This was probably more entertaining for the adults in her vicinity than for her, but she was a pretty good sport about it.

My time in the booth was pretty minimal compared to the other volunteers, who set it up and kept it going from Friday through Sunday. Besides Craig, Vince Laman , Cheryl Benedict and Nick Grewal all spent many hours running the booth, and Kyle Coker kindly brought everything back on Sunday. We owe them and Bob Buchheim tremendous thanks for their help!

Chris Butler was the keynote speaker this year at RTMC, and everyone who knows him was looking forward to his talk. Unfortunately, I missed it, but I'm told by those who were there that he was really "on" that night and that his talk was definitely the highlight of the evening, if not the weekend. It would be nice if someone made a video of it, but so far I haven’t heard of any – if any of you know of one, please let me know!

Although it seems that there were a few more telescopes in operation Saturday night than on Friday, viewing opportunities were still pretty sparse compared to other years. What was more surprising was that Meade and Celestron packed up and left early – when I went to check out their booths shortly after 5:00, I found them completely empty, and I'm told that they didn’t even have representatives around for the raffle to introduce the major door prizes that they donated. Scott Roberts, who worked for Meade for years but has now retired from the company and seems to be happily exploring other alternatives, graciously did the honors for both of them, which is another aspect of the evening that I’m sorry I missed.

Since RTMC is largely outdoors, weather is always a big concern. Most years, we complain about the heat and the dust during the day and have to plan for jackets at night – this year, it was coat weather even at high noon. One benefit of the damp conditions was that dust was not a problem – though those who had water damage probably didn’t appreciate that as much as the rest of us! This is all part of the fun of RTMC, which you can see when several people who have been going to RTMC for years get together and exchange stories about years with extraordinary storms or other unusual conditions. It remains to be seen whether this year will enter the annals as a historic RTMC weather year. At any rate, we're all looking forward to next year!

Starbecue Reminder – And a New Regional Star Party

As I said in last month's message, the Starbecue this year will be at the August star party, which is August 2nd. Unfortunately, it turns out that this is the same weekend as the first Julian Starfest, which its organizers hope will become a major regional star party. Since one of the selling points is the dark skies in the area where the star party will be held, it’s not surprising that they would schedule it for a new moon weekend – which means, of course, that it would inevitably conflict with our own Anza star party. I know some people are planning to attend the Julian party specifically to take advantage of the dark skies, and I hope that the conditions are everything they hope for. But for many of us who regularly attend our own club star parties, the comforts and other benefits of Anza – such as power and the chance to catch up with friends – outweigh checking out this newest party in the regional star party lineup. For me, there's also the problem that I would hate to give up a night on the Kuhn, or to miss the Starbecue.

For those who are coming to the Starbecue, please see last month's President's Message for details, or e-mail me at for information. For those who are going to the new star party, please plan to give us all an account of how it went. For those who may not have been on any of the distribution lists for information about the Julian Starfest, here's a synopsis of what was circulated by one of the organizers:

The first Julian Starfest is set on Friday, August 1, through Sunday, August 3, 2008. The location is in the historic Gold Rush mountain community of Julian, high in the San Diego mountains and about 35 miles east of the San Diego Wild Animal Park via Hwy 78. The specific location is Menghini Winery, 1150 Julian Orchards Drive, Julian, CA 92036. For a Google map, please see,+Julian,+CA+920

The Julian Starfest website is at, and you can get a special discount coupon at

They expect excellent dark sky observing on Friday and Saturday nights. Other attractions are vendors (who are expected to offer a lot of bargains to the attendees), an Astronomy Swap Meet and presentations from special guest speakers, along with a special tour of Palomar Observatory.

There are camp sites available for tents, vans and motor homes, but you should register as soon as possible as there is limited capacity. Other websites that may be of interest are:

For information about the historic town of Julian:

Luxury lodgings in Julian:
Telescope equipped B&B:
Telescope equipped Inn:

For more information, please contact Kurt Barnhart, Club Coordinator, at

I know that the organizers of the Julian Starfest have put a lot of time and energy into pulling everything together for this star party, and it is certainly in a beautiful location that offers a lot to do during daylight hours as well as at night. I hope it is a tremendous success, and I look forward to hearing about the experiences of those who go!

Southern California Astronomy Expo – July 12th and 19th

Oceanside Photo & Telescope launched the Southern California Astronomy Expo four years ago, and it has been a great success. The fourth SCAE is set on two Saturdays in July, the 12th and the 19th. The events on the first day are lectures by an array of interesting speakers starting at 11:00 in the downstairs gallery at OPT, an evening talk on when we can expect to contact extraterrestrials by the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute (which is devoted to searching for possible signals from intelligent life outside of earth), and a star party – the evening talk and star party are at Palomar College. As an added attraction, actress Arlene Martel will be at OPT during the day, where people can meet her, and will also introduce the evening speaker. Old timers among us remember her as T’Pring, who did not marry Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek, but she has played many other roles, and I have been told by someone who has met her at other functions that she is a charming and very interesting person.

The second day of SCAE is Vendor Day – they expect almost 40 vendors to be there to show their latest gear, answer questions, give demonstrations, etc. There will be free mini-seminars during the day, a free pizza lunch, and some great door prizes for the drawing at 6:00 (including three grand prizes donated by FLI, Vixen and Meade). As though that wasn’t enough, attending the SCAE events is free – it’s really hard to beat that bargain!

Anza Weeds Revisited

Unfortunately, the weeds out at Anza don't keep to a fixed schedule, and we tend to get more growth whenever we get moisture. The late rainstorms we had this year caused a burst of growth after a lot of people had cleared the areas around their pads and observatories, and then the mustard started popping up, as well – it's generally a latecomer on the weed scene. Even though our deadline for clearing weeds and brush is the end of May each year, the reality is that we can get a lot of growth after that, so this is a continuing chore. If you are out at Anza and see weeds or brush around the areas you use on the site that should be cut back, particularly in the general-use areas, please give us a hand and trim them while you're there. We have a club-owned Weed Wacker and a larger weed trimmer that looks a bit like a power lawnmower in the storage container by the observatory, as well as a chipper, which all members are welcome to use to help with the clearance.

We can’t get trash service at Anza, which is why we have the general rule that people need to remove any brush they cut or other waste they produce on site. However, if you use the chipper to reduce cuttings to small pieces, they can be safely spread in areas where we need to control runoff, and that can save you some hauling as well as helping to control erosion. Leaving whole branches or other large pieces of material around the site without chipping them gives hiding places for snakes and other critters, and also can pose a tripping or fire hazard, which is why did they either need to be removed or chipped.

If everyone helps out a bit, we should be able to keep the weeds and brush under control without it being too much of a burden for anyone. Our thanks to all of you who help out with this important work for the safety of all of us!

On a Personal Note…

Although it won’t change anything as to the club, including names, I thought I’d mention that Alan Smallbone and I were married on June 20. I guess our “honeymoon” will be our next trip out to Anza – it’s great to have a partner who loves the place as much as I do!

© Barbara Toy, June 2008