President’s Message – June 2004

Posted On June 1, 2004

We’ve had a lot going on this spring! In case you’ve missed any of it, here are some of the highlights:

Helping Fellow Amateurs in Iran

Those who were at the April meeting will undoubtedly remember the little town that Mike Simmons described, where one teacher has inspired the whole town to become interested in astronomy, to the point that they are now building an observatory, among other astronomical activities. That town is Saadat-shahr, and the teacher is Asghar Kabiri. Mike was acting as Mr. Kabiri’s agent to get the town a good set of astronomical binoculars, which he was to deliver during his trip to Iran this May and June for the Venus transit. He and his contact in Tehran, Hassan Mahvelati (who was a longtime OCA member before he moved back to Iran) had decided on Celestron 20x100’s as the best of the available alternatives for their purposes, which he could get through contacts for around $300.

Because several people at our meeting had asked about ways we could help them, Mike emailed me in late April that Mr. Kabiri had not been able to raise the money to pay for the binoculars. I posted the information to our e-mail groups, and Jim Benet turned that into a concrete proposal by suggesting that, if each person gave $30, we would only need 10 people as donors to raise the $300.

I'm happy to report that, by the end of that week, we had commitments for more than the $300 requested. In fact, Mike was able to get a pair of 25x100 Celestron binoculars instead of the 20x100s, which he says will be even better for their needs; besides looking for the new moon, they will be perfect for the public viewing events that are so important to amateur astronomy as currently practiced in Iran. The donors were Jim Benet, Liam Kennedy, Tom Kucharski, John Mifsud, Bob Buchheim, John Sanford and myself. In addition, Arnie Rosner made a very generous donation of a set of Fujinon 10x70 binoculars that presented Mike with a dilemma, as he would have been delighted to keep them for himself.

In addition to the binoculars, we are sending a full set of the DVDs that Liam Kennedy and the OCA-TV group have produced so far from their video work at our meetings. The most recent development in this story is that Liam is now going along on the trip as official videographer for the tour, and he is hoping to produce a documentary with the video footage he gets throughout the trip, which will include the Venus transit as well as a unique look at amateur astronomy in Iran.

It's exciting to think that, even though they are in such different culture from ours, there is this enthusiastic population of amateur astronomers in Iran, and whatever our differences in other areas, we share the same love for and interest in what can be seen in the heavens. And it's also exciting to know that, with comparatively little effort on our part, we can really help our Iranian colleagues pursue our mutual hobby.

Spring Comets

In Chris Butler's April “What's Up," he mentioned that we had the prospect of seeing two comets in the sky together in the coming weeks. Comet Bradfield and Comet Linear were both visible in the predawn sky in last week of April, and Wally Pacholka showed us in the images he shot from Joshua tree that Comet Bradfield developed a long and graceful tail. Linear turned out to be much dimmer, but it was unusual to see two comets close enough together that they could be captured in a single image.

By the end of the following week, Comet NEAT was showing up well in binoculars in the evening sky, and could be seen naked-eye under dark skies – or so I'm told. Some people claimed to see it naked-eye at the star party on May 15, but I wasn’t among them. A lot of people got good images of NEAT, as you can see by visiting the photo album on our web site. Some that were of particular interest were one posted by John Sanford, that shows a jet coming out from one side, and one from Mark Huber that captured a nice image of its dual tail on May 9. And Wally showed that he had not used up all of his Comet enthusiasm on Bradfield by taking some equally beautiful shots of NEAT as seen from Joshua tree. Naturally, this comet attracted a lot of attention during the May star parties, and, as I am writing this immediately after the Anza party, I know of two people who put together animations (Russ Sipe and Dave Radosevich), and a lot of other people mentioned that they were shooting it – so I expect we’ll have a lot more great images posted by the time you see this.

AstroImagers SIG

And that gives a nice transition to one group I haven’t talked about yet in my informal tour of the club’s formal Special Interest Groups, the AstroImagers SIG. This is one of our most active and most visible groups, which is one reason I haven’t talked about them so far – compared to some of our other interest groups, it’s fairly easy to find out about the AstroImagers, what they do and how to join them. Another reason, which I’d hoped to remedy by this time, is that (I’m somewhat ashamed to admit) I haven’t made it to any of their monthly meetings yet… I do talk to people who do go to the meetings regularly, though, and I follow the discussions on the AstroImagers email group, I’ve been involved with the AstroImage conferences, and I have the monthly incentive of putting together the pre-meeting slide shows for keeping current on what different imagers are posting, so I can claim some personal knowledge of what goes on in the group in spite of this obvious lack on my part… Another lack I should point out is that I’m not an imager myself (due to lack of time, equipment and technical knowledge, not interest), so mine is most definitely a layperson’s view of the subject.

Having got the disclaimers out of the way, what are astroimagers? I’ve been told that the name was coined because “astrophotographer” is a term most people relate to use of film, and our group encompasses all types of imaging. Essentially, this is the group to join if you have any interest in getting a permanent image of any type of astronomical object. The “traditional” split has been between film and CCD, but now a lot of folks are using video and experimenting with standard electronic cameras as well, and a lot of people work with more than one medium. The equipment used runs the gamut from the eminently affordable to the very high precision (aka expensive). Whatever type of imaging work you’re interested in doing, it’s almost certain there are people in the group who have at least experimented with it, and usually you’ll find that there are a number of people who have a lot of expertise in whatever you’re interested in and can give you a lot of helpful pointers as well as encouragement.

Certainly, if you want to learn more about improving on how you capture an image, this group is a great resource. Besides their expertise with the camera end of things, these are the people who worry about perfecting the alignment of their telescopes and the accuracy of their tracking – as that directly affects the quality of the images they can get. So, if you need help in fine-tuning your mount or your alignment techniques, this is a great place to get it. This is also where you can get help with processing your images to make the most of what your equipment captures, an area that (from my perspective from outside the process) seems to take at least as much time, energy and expertise as the initial capture of the photons. These are the people who know about the different programs that can help with the process, and this is also where you’ll find the expertise on how to use the different programs to best advantage.

So, let’s say you’re sold on the idea that this group is a great resource that you want to use – how do you do that? The easiest way is to show up for any of the meetings, which are regularly held from 7:00 to 10:00 on the third Tuesday of the month at Source Refrigeration at 800 E. Orangethorpe (just west of S. Raymond/East Street in Anaheim), courtesy of one of the co-chairs of the group, Bill Patterson. As a sample of some of the activities at the meetings, sometimes there are guest speakers, sometimes individual members give presentations or demonstrations on areas of general interest, and sometimes there are activities to help members improve specific skills, such as trying different processing techniques with sample images. The co-chairs are Leon Aslan and Bill Patterson, and I’m sure they would both be happy to tell you what they are planning for upcoming meetings (their contact information is on the back page).

If you have any interest in imaging at all, and if you have an email account, you should join the AstroImagers email group, This is a great resource in its own right, and is where most of the active imagers give links to anything they’ve recently posted, and where the people on the list discuss any issue and help answer questions related to astroimaging (this is intended to be a limited issue forum, and “off topic” posts are kept to a minimum. Any that are made usually include an apology for being off topic; the email group is for the wider range of astronomy and club-related discussions). If you don’t know anyone in the AstroImagers group, it’s a good way to get a feel for some of the people you are likely to see at the meetings.

I’ve been asked if we have any formal beginners’ classes in imaging – right now, the only one we have scheduled is the first session of the AstroImage 2004 Conference, which is on August 27. If you want an overview of the basics, this is a great place to get it. You don’t have to wait for the class to get started, though – you’ll find, especially as you get to know people in the group, that many of them will be happy to talk to you about approaches that will work best for you to get started with the equipment you have available, or, if you are thinking of buying equipment, discussing various options you should consider. You’ll also find that there are people in the group at all experience levels, from novices to very experienced – one of the goals of the group is to help everyone improve their images, whether they are new to this aspect of the hobby, very experienced, or anywhere in between. Regardless of where you fit on that spectrum, you’ll be very welcome – the imagers in general are a very warm-hearted, generous bunch, so give yourself a chance to get to know them!

And, of course, please remember to post your own images to the Image Album on our website!

Update on the OCA Archive…

Last month, I mentioned that we were getting a formal OCA Archive started. We have had a great development on that project – we now have a genuine OCA Archivist. Jon Bearscove is the real thing, a trained archivist whose day job is working with the federal archives. He has generously agreed to use his training and skills our behalf, to help us set up the archive and keep it going. We are working out the details as I write this, and I'm really looking forward to seeing this resource become a reality.

As I said last month, before you throw out anything that's club related, please contact us about whether it would be an appropriate addition to our archives. Even if you think it’s not really interesting, please let us know about it – we’d rather err on the side of conservation, even if it means that we might have to weed through a lot more items to determine what should be saved.

In Closing…

It’s hard to believe, but next month (June) is the Summer Solstice – which means the warmer nights for observing, and also that the nights will start getting longer again… Happy observing to all of you!