President’s Message – June 2007

Posted On June 1, 2007

By Barbara Toy

June is the month of the summer solstice, the time of year when the nights are the shortest, and also when the Marine Layer tends to give us overcast skies and fog. Sometimes, when this “June Gloom” stays west of Anza, it shields us from the lights of Temecula and Elsinore, giving us darker skies than usual. Sometimes it will even blot out the lights of coastal Orange County without covering our Black Star Canyon viewing area, leaving it with darker skies. Unfortunately, the more usual result is overcast skies over the entire area, including Anza, and then even short nights of viewing are out. This is supposed to be a problem limited to late spring/early summer, but in a bad year (like last year), “June Gloom” can last all summer – every year is different, though, and we’re hoping that the increased fire danger due to the lack of rain this year will be offset by clearer, dryer viewing conditions than we’ve seen in the last few years.

We had two star parties in May, and the first one was very unusual – the weather forecast was pretty good, especially compared to the last few star parties, the temperatures weren’t too cold, there were a lot of great things to look at, but hardly anyone was there. Our operating theory is that this was because Sunday was Mothers’ Day, but it was strange to see the Football Field totally empty on a reasonably good star party night. There were more people for the second star party, but still a lot fewer than I expected on a clear, dark, fairly warm night with generally very steady skies.

The weather was more of a gamble for the first star party – during the afternoon, there were a lot of high clouds, and several contrails lingered for hours, so we had some worries about how the night would go. The sky cleared up shortly after it got dark, though, and stayed clear until after midnight. Even though there was a lot of high thin cloud cover after that, and the long-lasting contrails were back, the sky was remarkably steady. Those of us in the club observatory were able to see a lot of detail in Jupiter, though the colors were washed out by the high clouds. Also, thanks to Don Lynn, we were able to confirm that the dot identified by The Sky (the control program for the Kuhn) as Vesta truly was that minor planet (or dwarf planet). He also went to painstaking trouble to help us locate it in the real sky, so we all spent a long time staring up at its general location, trying to determine if we were truly seeing Vesta or if that faint dot was just a figment of our imaginations. At best, it was a very dim object that popped in and out of peripheral vision. With less high-level haze, it ought to be easier to see, and we were all looking forward to trying again. If you haven’t tried to see Vesta naked-eye yourself yet, it’s in the neighborhood of Jupiter, so you should look for it whenever the planet’s in good viewing position – have your finder chart in hand (or find Don Lynn) and give it a try!

If You Come to a Star Party…

…this is a good time of year to remember that both of our observing sites are in rural environments. Rattlesnakes, Black Widow spiders, scorpions, bees, wasps and other creatures that can bite, sting or otherwise take punitive action if disturbed are natural parts of that environment. They’ve all come out of hibernation (or hatched) and many have set up household in various nooks, crannies and holes – it’s a good idea not to put your hands, feet, etc., in any location one of these creatures might call home without checking to be sure there isn’t anything there that could bite or sting you.

Besides not reaching or stepping into a hole or crevice that might be inhabited, it’s a good idea to stick to the established roads and paths around the sites, especially after dark, and to make enough noise in your movements that any snake or other creature you might not want to meet has warning and can get out of your way. Don’t leave bedding or clothing, including shoes, out in the open where a scorpion or the red ants that seem to be all over the place out at Anza could crawl into them. Particularly at Anza, keep food protected from invasion by any of the local residents, including mice and rats – and please take your garbage away with you so it won’t be there to attract them!

As far as I know, we've never had a snake bite or other serious injury from the local wildlife at any of our dark sites, and we would all like to keep it that way. And, aside from any other concern, having a serious run-in with one of these creatures would really put a damper on your star party plans!

Groups at Anza

As a reminder if you want to host a group at Anza – any member in good standing is welcome to host or sponsor a group visiting the site, but we do have rules that need to be followed so that groups using the site don’t interfere too much with other members who want to use the site when a group is planning to be there. If you want to bring a group of six or more people to Anza, you need to reserve a date in advance with Charlie Oostdyk; if you email him about that, please copy me with the email so I can put the date on the website calendar. If you have any question about whether you need to make a reservation, err on the side of caution and call Charlie (714-751-5381). The reason we need you to do this is so we don’t wind up with multiple groups attempting to use the site at the same time, which puts too much of a burden on our facilities and interferes with other members who may be there, and also so we can be sure that people don’t bring groups out on inappropriate dates – such as star parties.

Our star parties are meant for members and their guests, not for groups of students, scouts, or other groups who might want to take advantage of our dark site, regardless of how well-intentioned they might be. During even a moderately busy star party, the Football Field is generally full, all beds are taken at Anza House, and many of the other pads on our site are in use. Someone who brings a group out to Anza on one of these nights creates serious inconvenience for other members – we had such a group show up at the second May star party, without permission and in spite of being told that the group could not use the facility on a star party weekend. Fortunately, we had a surprisingly small turnout for the star party, as I mentioned above – if it had been a busy star party, that would have caused a major problem, and I would have had to insist that the group leave. Repeated violation of the rules governing groups (or any of the Anza site rules) can result in suspension or revocation of a member’s ability to use the Anza site, and I expect the member who was responsible for this situation will be getting a written warning to that effect.

The rules for groups are on our website at, or I would be happy to email you a copy. If you have any questions about groups using the Anza site, please feel free to contact me, Charlie or Bob Buchheim about them.

Changes In The Club Election Schedule

So that you will not be taken entirely by surprise when we start to solicit nominations for the Board of Trustees for 2008, the board has adopted a change in the bylaws that sets a new schedule for the elections. In the past, we took nominations in November and December, and the elections were held at the January meeting (mail-in ballots had to be mailed in before the January meeting). The ballots were finalized after the December meeting, and were mailed out to the membership in the January issue of the Sirius Astronomer. This often presented a problem because the holidays in December and the beginning of January inevitably caused delays in getting the Sirius Astronomer compiled, printed, into the mail and then delivered, so many members did not received their copy until after the January meeting. Although ballots have always been available at the January meeting itself, and have also been available through the club website for the last few years, there still are members who have not been able to vote because they couldn’t make it to the January meeting and they couldn’t vote by mail because they didn’t get their ballot in the Sirius Astronomer in time.

Under our new schedule, the timing of the election itself is unchanged – it is at the general meeting in January (which is the club’s annual meeting, per our Articles of Incorporation), and mail-in ballots need to be received by that date, just as before. The big change is in when we will be taking nominations and closing the ballot. In the future, formal nominations will be made at the October and November general meetings, instead of November and December. You can still make nominations outside of these general meetings by contacting the secretary or president (Bob Buchheim or me this year) with your nominations at any point up to the end of the November meeting, but the ballot will be finalized at the end of the November meeting instead of the end of the December meeting. The finalize ballot will then be sent out with the December issue of the Sirius Astronomer instead of the January issue, so everyone should receive it well before the meeting in January. This will make life a lot easier for members who rely on getting their ballot in the Sirius Astronomer, and will also make December and early January a lot less stressful for Steve Condrey and Charlie Oostdyk, who are responsible between them for getting the Sirius Astronomer together and ultimately mailed out to the membership.

So, you need to be thinking about your nominations for Board positions a month earlier than in years past, and this is also a good time for you to be thinking about running for office yourself. If you've been a member of the club for at least a year, you would be qualified to run for a Trustee position, as long as you remain a member in good standing. You could also run for the positions of Secretary or Treasurer. You need to have served on the Board for at least a year (any year) to qualify to run for President or Vice President. We've had excellent Boards in the years I've been a member of the club, partly because we’ve had a regular influx of new people as well as a number of people who have served on the Board for several years – the mix gives us the benefits of continuity as well as new energy and different perspectives, but we do need new people to get involved each year to keep this up. Try it – you’ll find that the people serving on the Board are a wonderful bunch, interesting, dedicated and fun to work with, and that you can get a real sense of satisfaction by helping the club out this way. So – do throw your hat in the ring for a Board position come November!

As a side note, you may have seen notices in April and early May about a recent survey of women in amateur astronomy. One of the questions on the survey was whether our club presented any barriers to women who were interested in taking a more active part in the leadership of the club. I had to laugh when I read this – I can assure all of you women out there from my own experience over the last seven years that there are no such barriers in our club, and you will be made very welcome if you want to volunteer to take on club-related responsibilities, whether as a Board member or in any other capacity. Of course (and I hope this is merely stating the obvious), this is true for men in our club, as well. If any of you see that the club has a need that you can help us with, don’t be shy about stepping forward to help fill that gap – that will help us grow as a club and improve what we do and how we do it, and will also give you an amazing amount of pleasure and satisfaction.

In Conclusion – Our Starbecue…

Summer is almost here, which means that our annual Starbecue is coming up. That’s planned for the July star party at Anza, July 14, 2007. We’ll start setting up around 5:00 behind the observatory (to take advantage of the shade), fire up the barbecue around 5:30, with serious eating and socializing starting around 6:00. Bring a dish or something to grill for 8 to 10 people for the potluck, along with your appetite and a chair, and come on out for the party! And please feel free to pitch in to help set things up – and to help clean things up after the party’s over and people head off to do their other star party activities!

© Barbara Toy, May 2007