President’s Message – June 2008

Posted On June 1, 2008

By Barbara Toy

We've already had "unseasonable" heat spells in April and May, along with some periods of June gloom to remind us of the weather we usually have at this time of year. Whatever else we might say about the weather prospects this summer, it looks like we're going to have a lot of heat. If / when you go out to Anza, remember that the sun can be particularly fierce out there during the day, and bring sunscreen along with a wide-brimmed hat, and plenty of fluids. And, even though the nights have warmed up a lot, it's good idea to bring at least a jacket because they still can be chilly, especially to people who aren’t moving much around their astronomical equipment.

Along with the other effects of summer heat, we frequently get thunderstorms moving through our area, particularly in July and August. These often cause more damage to the local dirt roads than winter rainstorms as they tend to drop their water quickly and in a concentrated area – something else to look out for on your way in and out of our Anza site. Fortunately, even when the storms bring rain during the day, they generally (though, alas, not always!) clear up enough after dark for viewing.

With the warmer weather, all of the critters are now out now, and you should keep a weather eye out for them anytime you are at Anza, Black Star Canyon or any other rural or wilderness area. The most common creatures with poisonous bites in both of our viewing sites are rattlesnakes and black widow spiders. We also have scorpions at Anza, though these were apparently more common in the past than now, and bees, wasps, and red ants that sting. Both sites also have rats, mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, deer, coyotes, bats and other wildlife – please don’t try to feed them or touch or pet them, as they can all bite, claw, scratch, kick or otherwise cause injury, and they also may carry disease. If you bring small children with you, please be sure they are closely supervised – there are plenty of ways a child could get hurt on our star party sites. And, although we’ve never had any problems with coyotes or other predators at either of our sites, they are around in both areas and could possibly see a wandering child as easy prey.

The other warnings to keep in mind at this time of year are not to put your hands, feet or other portions of your anatomy in or on any hole or crevice that you haven’t checked first to be sure it isn’t inhabited, stick to the paths and don’t go off into the bushes when you move around the sites, especially after dark, don’t be shy about advertising your presence so local wildlife can get out of your way, check ahead and to the sides of where you’re walking for snakes and stay out of striking distance of any you see, and don’t leave food around at Anza House or the observatory as that attracts rodents and we’d really prefer to keep them outside of our buildings as much as possible.

And, now that you’re wondering whether you really want to subject yourself and your loved ones to all this – please also remember that, while you should keep these things in mind in any outdoor area (and black widows often show up even in well-populated areas), most people never see any of the wildlife that might cause problems at either of our viewing sites, and this season is just great for viewing, with the Summer Milky Way overhead and comfortable temperatures all night long. So, by all means, bring your family and come on out and enjoy the summer sky!

Starbecue – First August Star Party!

Along with other pleasures of summer viewing, we have a long-standing tradition of having a club potluck party at Anza at one of the summer star parties, which in recent years has usually been in July. This year, the July Star party is on the Fourth of July weekend, and we decided it would be easier for all concerned to have the annual potluck Starbecue at the first August star party, instead. So, mark your calendars – the 2008 Starbecue will be on August 2nd (there’s also a star party on August 30).

Although Anza House has better kitchen facilities than the observatory, it isn’t big enough inside for a full-scale Starbecue, and doesn’t offer much in the way of outside shade in any area where we could hold the party. We therefore hold it in the parking area on the east side of the club observatory, which should have even more shade this year than in the past, as the observatory now has a higher roof. We set up the club’s tables and any other tables people bring, and use them mainly for the food (most years we have a full table devoted to deserts, and a long table of all kinds of other food, all of it good). Unfortunately, there usually there isn’t enough table space for people to eat at a table, but the up-side of that is that it makes people more mobile so they can move around and visit more. Anyone who wants to be assured of a seat brings a chair, as the club doesn’t have many, but a lot of people seem to like to be on their feet during most of the party – it does make visits to the food tables and the barbecue easier!

The club provides sodas, plates, napkins and tableware. Everyone who comes brings a dish of their choice for 6 to 8 people, which can be something for the grill but doesn’t have to be. Besides the barbecue, we have a microwave unit in the observatory warming room, and an outside electrical outlet if you need to plug in a crock pot or anything else to keep food warm. If you have any particular dietary restrictions, please feel free to bring your own food so you can be sure of having food within your restrictions, but do come join the party! And, if you’ve never been to Anza before, coming for the Starbecue is a great way to be introduced to our wonderful full-time viewing site!

We plan to start setting up the tables, etc., around 5:00, and will probably fire up the barbecue around 5:30 or 5:45. People generally start congregating around then, and we aim to start eating around 6:00, so we finish before dark, when the star party starts in earnest. We’ll have separate trash bags set up for recycleables, so please be sure when you finish a drink or you’re ready to dispose of your plate that you separate trash from cans and bottles and get each into the right bag. We can always use help in setting things up and cleaning up afterward – if you can help us out, it would be very much appreciated. And, if any of whatever you bring for the potluck is left at the end of the Starbecue, please take it home with you, as we don’t have any good way to make sure leftovers get used at Anza, and it would be a real pity to have good food go to waste! Not to mention the trash problem it creates…

The Starbecues are always a lot of fun – I look forward to seeing you all there!

How to Use Your Telescope Class

Twice a year we have our “How to Use Your Telescope” class as part of our Beginners Astronomy Class (it’s the 5th of six sessions in each cycle of the Beginners Class). Under our normal schedule, this would be the first Friday of July – but that just happens to fall on the Fourth of July, so we had to move it to the last Friday in June, which is June 27th, at 7:30 p.m.

If you have a telescope that you don’t know how to use or are having problems with, this class gives you the chance to get some hands-on help from our volunteers – bring your telescope and anyone in the family who might be interested in using it, and come on down to the Centennial Heritage Museum, 3101 West Harvard Street, Santa Ana. Harvard is about mid-way between Edinger and Warner, and the museum is a collection of Victorian buildings that’s located about a half-block west of Fairview on the right as you go west on Harvard, not far from Centennial Park. You don’t have to have attended any of the other sessions of the Beginners Class to come to this one. The class will meet at the back of the museum property, in the parking area. If you’re bringing a telescope, you should park at the outside edge of the parking area, and set up nearby but toward the center of the parking area so you don’t have to carry equipment as far.

If you have any knowledge about any type of telescope and can come out as a volunteer to help out, please do! If you have any questions about the class or what’s involved, please contact me at

And, if you’re thinking of getting a telescope, this is a good class to attend to see a number of different models and see what’s involved in setting them up, learn what kinds of problems people have been having with them, and (if the weather cooperates) see what it’s like to view through different models – very helpful for deciding what kind of telescope you want for yourself.

This is a great session for both the people who come to learn and for the volunteers who come to help out. Whichever group you’re in – I look forward to seeing you on June 27th!

Some Cool Websites…

A local Orange County writer, Chris Bahnsen, visited the Black Star Canyon star party at the end of April as he was working on an article for the Orange Coast Magazine about the club, particularly its star parties. He said he had a great time, and, as a follow-up, asked if we could recommend any websites he could include in the article that club members use for such things as Iridium Flares as well as other astronomical information. I think all of us have at least one or two astronomical sites that we visit regularly, but there are frequent additions and changes, and I thought this would be a good chance to update my information in that area. So, I put an inquiry out to the email group – and they did come up with a nice collection. After I sent the suggestions to Mr. Bahnsen, I thought it would be nice to share them with all of you, as well.

Craig Bobchin sent the following sites that he uses on a regular basis:

Astronomy Magazine:
Sky and Telescope Magazine:
Heavens Above (for satellite and Iridium Flare info):

John Sanford also suggested Heavens Above, and added:

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD):

Another person whose name I did not get suggested the Cal Sky site,, and also recommended going to the “Astronomer level (near globe on right) to get all the information,” which includes satellite information, Iridiam Flares, tumbling Iridiums, International Space Station passes, and a lot more.

Lorna Pecoraro sent the “Stars” site, and said:

It was created by James Kaler, Prof. Emeritus at the U. of Illinois and, literally, has everything you ever wanted to know about stars!

Just click on the picture of the observatory and you will get to the main page. The "Places To Go" section is the starting point for information on many topics. Continue to scroll down and you will see the section on the individual stars. Each one contains history, name(s), and some interesting info about the brightest stars.

The site is continually updated. My instructor listed it as one of the 'textbooks' for an astronomy class I took recently. He claimed it was the best source of information about stars and it was!

Jim Benet suggested the website of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for educational information: the main website is, and the page dealing specifically with education is

At the last GoTo SIG meeting, Craig told me about an interesting free planetarium program he had recently found, Stellarium (for information and download:; as the website says, this is not related to, which produces star map displays for museums). A unique feature of this program is that you can set it to show constellations as seen by several other cultures. Craig was also the first person who told me about Cartes Du Ciel (, which is another free planetarium program that allows you to produce star charts, among other features.

My thanks to everyone who sent suggestions, and I hope you find these links useful!

And those who get the Orange Coast Magazine – please look for the article on the OCA and the Black Star Canyon star party!

© Barbara Toy, May 2008