President’s Message – June 2009

Posted On June 1, 2009

By Barbara Toy

Well, we're rapidly approaching the summer solstice, after which the days will start getting shorter even though the heat of summer has not fully set in – in spite of the heat waves in April and May. It remains to be seen whether we will have a lot of "June Gloom," and how intense the summer monsoon season will be. Some of us are hoping that the current drought will at least give us more clear, dry nights than in some recent summers, particularly around the new moon; it won’t make up for the water rationing some of us are facing but would be a kind of silver lining to the cloud of drought.

If you like to observe in reasonable comfort, this is the perfect season for you! I hope you take advantage of the warmer nights to enjoy yourself under the stars at Black Star Canyon or Anza. The bright winter constellations are gone, for the most part, but we have the summer Milky Way to enjoy with a bit more of the southern sky that we’re used to seeing. In particular, Alpha Centauri, a spectacular globular, is visible for a period in spring and early summer from our Anza site, as it rolls across the foothills to the south of us. It's easily visible in binoculars, but to really appreciate how big it is and how many stars it has, it pays to observe it through a larger telescope. Because it's so low, it doesn't photograph as well from Anza as it would from further south, but it's a great sight to enjoy.

Starbecue in July

Our annual Starbecue potluck will be at the July Anza star party. If you haven't been out to Anza yet, that would be a great time to come, as the Starbecue gives you a chance to meet and socialize with fellow members and get comfortable with the site in daylight. We hold the party in front of the club observatory (i.e. on the eastern side), where we have shade in the late afternoon and evening, and we’ll fire up the club's barbecue for grilling anything people want to bring for grilling.

We usually start to set up around 5:00, aiming to start eating by around 6:00 (though often the eating starts earlier – who can resist all that great food?). We have a new picnic table in addition to the club’s three folding tables – we’ll need two for food, but this year we should have two available for sitting and eating. Most people bring their own chairs, though, and either eat sitting in their chairs or wandering around talking to people. What with people congregating around the barbecue, the food tables, and in various continually shifting groups (sometimes in chairs, sometimes not), this is an event that is filled with camaraderie as well as good food.

As a guideline, we suggest you bring a dish or something to grill for six to eight people. The club provides drinks and plates, eating implements and other necessities for holding and eating the food. We have a microwave in the observatory warming room, if needed, and there are electrical outlets if you bring your contribution to the feast in a crock pot or something else that needs some power. We’ve never tried to organize this to the point that we’ve had people sign up for specific categories of food (such as main dish, appetizers, salads, desert), but we’ve always wound up with a reasonable balance anyway – and a lot of variety!

We do ask that you take any leftovers of what you brought with you when the party’s over, as we have no good way to save or use leftovers at Anza, and spoiled food only encourages the rodents and other vermin. We’ll have trash bags out during the party, and could use some volunteers to take them away when the party’s over, as well.

The Starbecue is a great way to get the evening off to a good start – an excellent meal and good company followed by a night of observing (or imaging) – who could ask for more?

OPT’s Southern California Astronomy Expo Returns – Better Than Ever!

Oceanside Photo and Telescope started the Southern California Astronomy Expo (SCAE) a few years ago, and it’s been growing every year. This year they’re adding a swap meet on the first Saturday of the event, July 11. Vendors, OPT itself, and local clubs will be bringing various items they’d like to sell off, with a chance of some good bargains for savvy shoppers. We’re planning on having a booth there for OCA – we haven’t decided yet what we’ll be selling at the booth (maybe we’ll clean out more of the club’s storage area…), but if you have something astronomical you’ve been thinking of donating to the club, this would be a good time to do it – if we can’t use it in one of our programs, we may be able to raise some cash with it at the swap meet. We’re an educational non-profit, so anything you donate would be tax-deductible.

The second Saturday of SCAE (July 18) is their annual astronomy fair, with club booths, vendor booths and demonstrations of different equipment in the parking area, talks and images in the display area/gallery that’s in the downstairs part of OPT’s building, a raffle and various other events all day. Unfortunately, that’s also the day of our Starbecue, so Alan and I have to be out at Anza by late afternoon with the drinks, plates, etc., that the club supplies for the event – which means that we won’t be able to handle the OCA booth that day (though we may be able to be there for a couple hours in the morning). So, if you’re not planning to be at Anza for the Starbecue, we could really use your help with the OCA booth on July 18 – please send me an email to if you can help out with this.

How To Use Your Telescope Class

Our next "How To Use Your Telescope" class is on July 3, 2009. Unfortunately, this is the day before the Fourth of July holiday itself, and a day that many people have off as part of the Fourth of July weekend, so many of our usual volunteers won’t be available – if you’re going to be around, we could really use your help!

The purpose of the class is to help people who are having problems with their telescopes get through those initial problems and become more comfortable in using their telescopes. There are a lot of people who get really excited about astronomy and doing some observing, go out and buy a telescope, and then discover that it’s a lot more complicated to use than they thought. That's when a lot of them lose interest, their telescopes sit unused, and they miss out on a lot of opportunities to enjoy the heavens. We want to help them get through that stage, so that they don't lose enthusiasm for the hobby – after all, every astronomer out there is a potential ally on issues of importance to us, such as preservation of the night sky, as well as a potential new club member (not that we want to be mercenary about this…).

This particular class is part of the club's ongoing Beginners Astronomy Class. The people who come include people who’ve attended other sessions of the Beginners Class, members of the general public and club members – they all bring their equipment and their questions, and our volunteers help them learn to set up their telescopes and use them to find some objects. At least, that happens if the weather cooperates, but we hold the class whether it does or not, even if it rains (in that case, we hold it inside the classroom rather than parking lot). It's usually something of a cross between a series of individual tutoring sessions and an informal public star party, and everyone has a lot of fun as well as learning a lot.

The location is the Heritage Museum of Orange County, formerly known as the Centennial Heritage Museum. The formal start time is 7:30 p.m., the gate should be open by seven o'clock, and a lot of people show up well before 7:30. The museum is at 3101 W. Harvard Street, about a half block west of Fairview; Harvard is located about midway between Edinger and Warner. This is in south Santa Ana, not far from Costa Mesa, and the museum is actually on the south side of Centennial Park.

You don't have to be what you might consider an expert in the use of any type of telescope. Any knowledge you have from working with whatever telescopes you’ve used would be helpful. The problem most people have is they don't even know where to start, and, if you've been doing observing at all, you can certainly help them get started in the right direction. And, if you're one of those people who could use a bit of help learning to use your telescope, or dealing with some problem you've been finding with it, do come and bring your telescope with you! The class is free and open to the public and, if you know anyone you think might benefit from it, please encourage them to come, as well.

September and October General Meetings

As a “heads up” so you can get the changes on your calendars well in advance, the general meeting dates for September and October have had to be changed. Our usual meeting dates are the second Friday of the month, but for those two months Chapman University needs the Irvine Auditorium for their own activities, so our meetings for those two months will be moved to the third Friday of the month. So, you should plan to be at the Irvine Auditorium for the general meeting on September 18 instead of September 11, and on October 16 instead of October 9.

Because our Astrophysics group usually meets on the third Friday of the month, and many of the regular attendees at those meetings also attend the general meetings, the Astrophysics meetings will also be moved in September and October. Those new dates are September 11 (the second Friday of the month) instead of September 18, and October 23 (the fourth Friday of the month) instead of October 16.

Observatory Procedures and Standards

You may have noticed that a draft of the Procedures and Standards for member observatories has been posted on the “Members” section of the club website (the caption on the home page calls the “Observatory Approval Process,” but the formal title at this point is “Procedures And Standards For Member Observatory Approval And Maintenance Of Observatory Licenses”) and have asked for comments.

This is an attempt to bring together all of the policies, procedures and standards that apply to member observatories at the Anza site, so they can be found in one place without having to comb through multiple documents and minutes of board meetings, or by talking to board members about policies that have always been applied as a matter of practice but not necessarily written down in comprehensive form. We have already had some helpful suggestions for areas where clarification is needed and where some items should be added, and will post the modified version, which will also include correction of some typos. When this is finalized and formally adopted by the board, we will post a copy of the final version in the “Members” section of the website, and also will ask that Observatory holders acknowledge that they have received and reviewed the document as part of the licensing process. Once this is finalized as to the observatories, we expect to compile a similar comprehensive set of rules and procedures related to member pads, which will also be made available for comment before the board formally adopts the final version.

Long-time members will note that these policies incorporate a different approach toward financing development of new areas of the site than was used in the earlier development. In the past the club has paid for grading, but as the Board considered the expenses we expected to have with development of the northwest section of the property and our annual budget, we concluded after a lot of discussion that we couldn’t justify spending general club funds for something that would primarily benefit only a few members, those who would be building pads or observatories in the newly-developed areas. Under the policy we adopted as a result of these discussions, the members who would be the main beneficiaries of the development would bear that cost instead of the general membership, as a partial return to the club for the privilege of having their own facility on the club’s property. This policy will apply to all future construction at Anza, except for construction meant for general member use.

The Procedures and Standards also make the nature of the relationship between the observatory holders and the club clear – the member observatories (and pads) are all held by license from the club, not by any rental or leasehold type of arrangement. I don’t know when this was first established, but it was definitely part of the policies adopted by the Board on March 3, 1996. Another aspect of the relationship with the club that has been in place from the time the first member pads were built is that all permanent structures are the property of the club. In the past, observatories and other member structures were necessarily permanent because of the construction techniques, but with the development of different types of modular observatories that can be disassembled and reassembled elsewhere (two of the dome observatories on the current observatory level and the extruded aluminum roll-off observatories on Mars Hill and Jupiter Ridge are examples), that part of the Procedures and Standards needs some further clarification.

We have included provisions to make sure that construction is started reasonably soon after a project is approved and that there aren’t long periods of inactivity once construction gets started – we want people who have Board approval to build at Anza to keep in contact with the Board if they run into problems and to recognize that they do have an obligation to the club to finish what they’ve started and to do it timely. The club has had some problems over the years with projects that never got started or never got finished, which created issues that had to be dealt with later – we want to avoid that in the future. We also are concerned about liability as well as inconvenience to our other members if something is just partly built and left that way for significant periods of time.

I hope you’ll take a look at the Procedures and Standards and send me your comments, particularly about anything that you find confusing or incomplete. We want to make these as complete and understandable as possible, and having fresh eyes consider them would be very helpful.

© Barbara Toy, May 2009