President’s Message – March 2009

Posted On March 1, 2009

By Barbara Toy

In spite of the economic woes at the national, state and local levels, which unfortunately are affecting many of our members all too directly, the year continues to move along with surprising speed. Here we are in March already – the first quarter of 2009 is almost gone, and spring is coming on. This should be a time of hope and renewal, and I hope that is the case for all of you this year, in spite of all the grim news that’s been buffeting us over far too many months.

As I write this, we’ve been getting rain, with more on the way – which should give us some nice wildflowers out at Anza and along the roads going out there. We’ll need to clear a lot of the growth that comes with the flowers to avoid problems in the fire season (weed clearance needs to be done by the end of May), but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying them!

Messier Marathon

March is the month of the spring equinox, which is notable in the amateur astronomy world because it happens to be the best time of year to see all 110 Messier objects in one night. In theory, you can do this around the autumnal equinox as well, but the positioning of the objects is better in spring, so that’s when we do the annual Messier Marathon. The objective of this event is to find as many of the Messier objects as you can in one night. Some of the objects can be very hard to see because they set right after the sun or rise just before it – those tend to be the ones that people have the hardest time collecting. Another factor that gets in the way of completing the Marathon is the desire to take a nap in the early morning hours when you’ve collected all of the Messier objects that are up and are waiting for the next batch to rise – many folks who try this wake up from their nap in full sunlight and miss the second part of the Marathon. So, if you do decide to take a nap, be sure to set an alarm to wake you up in time to finish the list!

Our Messier Marathon this year will be at the March Anza star party – please come out and join in the fun! We’ll have forms for tracking your objects available at Anza House and the club observatory, as well as on the website for downloading. The Kuhn will be collecting as many of the objects as it can (the fact that it’s a computer-controlled GoTo system is generally offset by the fact we usually have more than one person looking at each object as we find it, so we take more time per object than many of the contestants – but that’s all part of the fun!). One of the benefits of the Marathon is that you wind up looking at a lot of Messier objects that you may not look at otherwise, and some may inspire you to add them to your list of objects to check on more frequently. Of course, particularly as you get tired, it can be hard to see many meaningful differences in all those open clusters or all those small, dim Virgo galaxies – with them, the challenge is to be able to say you’ve looked at them all that night.

The Black Star Canyon star party, which is the week before the Anza star party, is actually closer to the equinox and would also be a great night to do the Marathon. Unfortunately, we only have access to that site until midnight, so anyone who wants to try it there that night would only be able to capture the objects visible from sunset to midnight, which would be about the first half of the Marathon. That can still be fun and a good challenge, especially if you are trying to find the objects by star hopping or other non-computerized means. It could also be good practice for doing the full Marathon the following week at Anza…so why not download the form from the website before you go out to Black Star Canyon and give it a try? Or you could go out to Anza that night and do the full Marathon, even though the club’s formal Marathon isn’t until the following week.

Remember to turn in your form showing the objects you found – you can turn them in to me at Anza after the Marathon or at the next club meeting, or mail it in to the club post office box. What should happen after you turn it in is that you’ll get a genuine OCA Messier Marathon certificate, commemorating the number of objects you found during the 2009 Messier Marathon and with what equipment. If you don’t get your certificate, please let me know – sometimes things get lost along the way. And you don’t need to do your Marathon during the formal event at Anza – just send in your list of the all the objects you found in one night, whether that was at Anza or not, to get your 2009 certificate.

We Need Help For IYA 2009 / 100 Hours of Astronomy

Things are really heating up on the 100 Hours of Astronomy event, which is Thursday, April 2nd through Sunday, April 5th. First on our calendar is a public outreach/viewing event scheduled on April 2nd at O’Neill Regional Park in Trabuco Canyon. This is our kick off event locally for the 100 Hours of Astronomy, and we expect it will be well attended – volunteers with telescopes will be very welcome!

The UCI Observatory is planning public observing events for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, using the telescope in the observatory near the UCI campus. They are hoping that we will be able to provide some volunteers with telescopes each of those nights to help them out – they generally get a good turn-out for their viewing events, and hope to introduce a lot of new people to the pleasures of what can be seen in the night sky even in very urban Orange County.

Making our astronomical lives even more interesting, we have both the Beginners Astronomy Class and one of our regular school outreach events at Jordan Intermediate School in Garden Grove on Friday, April 3rd. Dave Pearson, Steve Short and I plan to handle the Beginners Class as usual, but we definitely need volunteers for the school event – with the UCI event that night, as well, our usual pool of outreach volunteers is likely to be stretched very thin without help from other members who don’t regularly come out for outreach events.

I talked about the observing event planned by Irvine Valley College last month. That will be on Saturday, April 3rd, and will be at the Irvine Spectrum shopping center. They need volunteers with H-alpha or sodium filters for solar observing from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m., and then they would welcome additional scopes for evening observing from around 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. – the times may change as plans are finalized, so please check the calendar for the latest times as we get closer to the event. Since we also have another viewing night with the UCI Observatory that night, our regular volunteers will be spread thin again – so we will really need more help from beyond our usual pool of outreach volunteers to make these events fully successful.

Further complicating matters, one of our members, Richard Stember, has been organizing a series of activities at the Mission Viejo library for that Friday and Saturday as part of the 100 Hours celebration, and is also hoping that we can muster some volunteers to help him out. If you are interested in participating, his email address is: You can see the full listing of the planned events on his website at; it looks like quite an exciting program!

Please contact Craig Bobchin or Jim Benet if you can help out with any of the events other than the one at the Mission Viejo Library. If you have a portable telescope or astronomical binoculars and can come to just one of the sessions that we have scheduled, that would be a tremendous help – and a lot of fun!

If you have some other outreach event of your own planned for that period, please let us know and ask to have it put on the website calendar, at least. We’d like to know about all of the events our members are involved in for the 100 Hours event, including any impromptu sidewalk astronomy any of you may do – it all helps the overall success of this event.

The 100 Hours of Astronomy promises to be a very busy, exciting time – please be sure to encourage your family and friends to take advantage of the observing activities going on during these four days to see something of the pleasures of the night sky and the beauties of our closest star for themselves!

Anza Update

On the somewhat mundane side, the control knobs for the showers in the two main bathrooms at Anza House have been replaced, and hopefully will last us a long time. If you notice any problems with them or with any other faucets in Anza House, please let Steve Condrey or me know about them.

As we have had more people using the site through more of the year, our power usage has understandably increased. Our power bills for the site have gone up considerably because of this and because of overall increases in the cost of electricity – please be at least as careful about using electricity out at Anza as you would be in your own home. In particular, please be sure all lights are off in Anza House (including the outside lights on the front and back of the building) as well as the heat or air conditioner (actually, swamp cooler) if you are the last to leave Anza House, be sure the pump and water heater are turned off at the club observatory if you are the last to leave that area, and be sure that nothing unnecessary is left on at any of the pads or observatories you may be using while you are there and also when you prepare to leave.

Regarding the new development on the site, Gary Schones did a rough layout on the ground of areas where observatories could be placed in the Last Members area and the area to the northeast of that; if you notice flags in that area, that is why they are there, and we ask that you leave them in place. It appears that we have room for around seven observatories in this expanded area, once it’s cleared, and we plan to clear a new “Last Members” area as part of this project to the northwest of the current area, so the members who use it will have a comparable area where they can set up in spite of this development.

We do not know if or when we will be able to work things out with the County so we can go ahead with the more extensive work we planned for the northwest portion of the site, but this modification to the overall plan will allow the people on the Observatory Waiting List who are ready to finalize their plans and begin construction to get started in the next few months. Right now there is more interest in new observatory sites than new pad areas, so we are not planning any new pad areas in the near future.

A Bit of Club History and a Generous Invitation…

Jim Leonard, who was very active in the club in its early days, retired several years ago and now lives in the Mojave Desert. He recently reminded me of his standing invitation to OCA members to visit him and take advantage of the very dark skies around his home. He says there is ample area for camping and setting up equipment, and conditions out there are often dark and cloudless when Anza is clouded in. If you’re interested in taking advantage of his kind offer, please send me an email at and I’ll put you in contact with him. He tells me, by the way, that he plans to come to RTMC this year, and I hope that all his old OCA friends will be able to visit with him there.

He also sent me the following account of the very beginning of the Orange County Amateur Astronomers (OCAA), which was the club’s original name:

I had a telescope company called Stellar Scientific Instruments there in Santa Ana. We made our own mounts and tubes and [had] a hell of a polishing machine. Your historians have the photos and the S&T magazines with our ads.

That was when Ralph Fergerson, Mel Elsie and I were building scopes along with Tom Cave. Tom was using our mounts and tubes and we were using his finder scopes. Ralph and I started the Orange County Amateur Astronomers and I was the first President. Ralph was the VP. We switched it back and forth for a bunch of years and no one [else] would take an office. The first time we had a meeting that the Register ran an ad, 74 people showed up at my home. A two bedroom apartment over a garage on South Cedar Street. The land lady had a fit. We plugged the street with cars and it was a mess.

Well , Furgi and I got fed up doing all the work and dropped out of the club. It stayed active for a number of years and disbanded into the present OCA.…

That's the apartment where it all started. Believe it or not! [The picture he sent with that comment should be in this issue.]

Fortunately for us, Jim came back to the club later, as he had a pad in the Lower Pad area at Anza and (among other things) built the entrance gate to the site. Those like me who came to the club much later owe a real debt of gratitude to Jim and all the other earlier club members who did so much to make the club what it is today!

© Barbara Toy, February 2009