President’s Message – May 2006
Posted On May 1, 2006
By Barbara Toy
Well, it’s hard to believe that our formal Messier Marathon was totally done in by the weather this year, considering that we had two star parties a week apart when all 110 objects could have been observed, but clouds, fog, even rain, got in the way both weekends. As I write this, we’re hoping that a least a few hardy souls will try to gather as many objects as they can at the second April star party (April 29), even though not all 110 will be viewable, but the real event just didn’t happen this year. I was one of a handful of people that made the trek out to Anza both Saturdays, hoping against hope that the forecasts were mistaken, only to find that they were all too accurate – there were just too many storms coming through, once our rainy season seriously started in March. Weather is certainly part of the challenge of doing the Messier Marathon – here’s hoping we’ll have clear enough skies next year that we’ll have a fair shot at doing the entire Messier catalog in one night!
Reminder on the Weeds at Anza…
We had a pretty dry winter, up to March, but the Anza area got a lot of rain in March and April. That means that, while we didn’t get much weed growth over most of what should have been our wet season, that definitely changed when the rains finally did come. So, as I said last month, we need weed clearance at Anza – anytime you are out there, please clear whatever areas you can. If you are a pad or observatory licensee, please remember to clear any additional growth around your pad or observatory, even if you have done an initial clearance. We are particularly concerned with keeping the areas around structures and around the pads clear, as that is where any fire would be most destructive – so, if you have to choose between areas to clear, please keep those priorities in mind.
My thanks to Ray Stann for volunteering to repair the two gas-powered weed eaters out at Anza. If you have been able to use them to help you clear the weeds this season, it’s due to his efforts, so, if you see him, please let him know you appreciate what he did.
As you may have noticed, we have a lot of club members who are interested in various ways of taking pictures of what’s up there in the night sky. I’ve been told by people who have been in other clubs that this is somewhat unusual – a lot of clubs have a few people who do imaging, but not many have such a large and varied population of imagers as we do. We are particularly fortunate that we have quite a few very experienced imagers in different areas (film, CCD, general digital and video seem to be the general categories), as well as a full range of experience levels down to absolute beginners.
The last few years have seen tremendous changes in the equipment available for astroimaging, particularly on the digital side. We’ve become used to seeing detailed pictures of the planets and the moon built up from images taken with modified webcams, and excellent pictures of nebulas, galaxies and other deep-sky objects taken with digital cameras, especially modified digital SLR cameras. There is also an increasing array of low-priced dedicated CCD cameras, such as Meade’s DSI series, Orion’s new StarShoot, and others, that can capture images that used to be possible only with CCD cameras that cost thousands of dollars. One result of all of this new equipment is that even more of our members have become interested in this challenging and rewarding aspect of our hobby. You can see some of the results in the images different members post on the OCA website Image Gallery.
Our AstroImage Special Interest Group was organized several years ago as a place where imagers could share information, ideas and images, get help, learn about new equipment, techniques, software, etc., and otherwise have the pleasures and benefits of spending some time with fellow club members who shared an interest in imaging. Bill Patterson is the current Chair of the group, and works hard to keep it responsive to the needs and interests of all of the members, regardless of experience level. One of his most recent projects has been a highly successful effort to provide an in-depth training program for less experienced imagers; besides Bill, active contributors to this “AstroImaging Bootcamp” include Alan Smallbone, Dick Greenwald, Bruce Waddington and Craig Bobchin – who provided a much-appreciated meeting place for most of the sessions – and a number of experienced imagers who have helped out with advice and practical assistance at all of the “hands on” sessions as well as through the dedicated email group for the class, AstroImagingBootcamp@yahoogroups.com. We have been very pleased that a number of new people who are in the Bootcamp have started coming to the AstroImage SIG meetings, which should help them solidify the progress they are making through the Bootcamp.
So why am I bringing all this to your attention? If you are just beginning in astrophotography of any type, or thinking about it, coming to the SIG meetings can help you get through the various difficulties inherent in getting everything to work together in such a way that you can capture the photons you want, and then process what you get to optimize your results. We have a lot of people in the group who are very willing to help out by answering questions and even demonstrating what you need to do, and just being around for the discussions of various topics can help give you a better background on imaging in general. The same is true for people who are more experienced but don’t consider themselves expert (and nobody is an expert in all of the possible techniques) – spending time with other imagers, seeing and discussing what they’re doing, sharing experiences, discussing problems and possible solutions – all of this helps improve the skills of imagers of all levels. Even very experienced imagers benefit from information shared at the meetings and can improve their skills through comments and helpful critiques of their own images and images taken by others. Regardless of your experience level, the camaraderie and support the group provides add a lot to the pleasures of what is often a solitary pursuit.
There’s an additional reason for talking about this SIG right now. Thanks to Bill Patterson, the group met at Source Refrigeration in Anaheim for a long time, but, when Bill retired, he no longer had easy access to those facilities. We are very fortunate that Joe Busch was able to make the conference room at the Irvine office of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher available for the meetings, and we are grateful to both Joe and his firm for doing this. The room is big, so overcrowding isn't an issue, the chairs are comfortable, the viewing screen is well placed for looking at images during "Show and Tell" and at whatever various presenters want to show us, the restrooms are close by, there's good parking, it's close to the I-405 freeway (the building is in an office complex near the intersection of Jamboree and Main) – it's really a great place for a meeting. As you might guess, a significant change like this also invites us to look at the group as a whole and evaluate what it's doing and how it's doing it – that's going on now, so this is a particularly good time to get involved with the group (or, for those who are already members, to get more involved with the group) so you can influence the kinds of activities we'll be doing in the next few months and for the long term.
So come on out for the AstroImagers meetings, and (even though I'm not really an imager – there's plenty to interest even non-imagers at the meetings), I'll look forward to seeing you there!
What started as the Riverside Telescope Makers’ Conference has become the RTMC Astronomy Expo, and it is one of the biggest astronomy events in Southern California. It takes place at Camp Oaks near Big Bear on Memorial Day weekend (which is May 26-29 this year). New Moon is on that Saturday, so the skies should be nice and dark for the star parties Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. That Saturday also happens to be set as our May Anza Star Party – I’m afraid that star party will be rather lightly attended, even if the weather looks good out there, as a lot of the regulars at Anza are also regulars at RTMC.
So, for those who have yet to experience it, what is RTMC? I mentioned the star parties that are a major component of the festivities – besides giving people a chance to do their own viewing/imaging and to check out equipment used by other people, there are some interesting scopes set up for general viewing, such as the “Yard Scope” (a 36-inch Dobsonian), a custom scope that is permanently mounted on a trailer for easy transport, an exceedingly long refractor, and a restored Clark telescope on the original mount – there were a lot more than these on display in the last couple years, but these are the ones I remember most clearly. Vendors also use the observing conditions to demonstrate their equipment, particularly on Saturday night; Meade and Celestron always have big display areas and people present who can answer questions and put the displayed equipment through its paces, and a lot of smaller companies have equipment out for demonstrations, as well, so you can check out different kinds of mounts, eyepieces, etc., as well as telescopes. Most vendor demonstrations close down by midnight, but the hours before that are a great time to wander around and check out all those telescopes and other gear you may have read about or seen in display rooms but never had the chance to see in action.
Things are even more active during daylight hours – there are more vendors open selling a greater variety of things (especially Saturday), and a swap meet area for people to sell off things of their own that’s most active in the early morning on Saturday and, somewhat, on Sunday morning; I’m told that there’s a lot of sales action on Friday, as well, but so far I’ve missed that myself. A lot of commercial vendors use RTMC as a place to sell off floor models and miscellaneous items that they have hanging around and want to get rid of, and there are vendors who specialize in various bits and pieces that people who are into astronomy might find helpful – you’ll see a lot of used equipment, a lot of “seconds,” and other items that may be perfectly serviceable but are not in pristine condition. Clubs get in the act, too, and you’ll see a number of club booths among the vendors, including the OCA booth, where we sell donated books and magazines to help support our library. RTMC is known as a place for bargain hunters, and, as you wander around, you’ll undoubtedly hear a lot of wheeling and dealing, which is all part of the fun.
While all this activity is going on among the booths, there are talks on a variety of astronomy-related topics going on all day on Saturday and Sunday. Last year, there were two full tracks of interesting talks going on simultaneously, one in the main hall and one in the annex. There’s a speaker schedule, and it is often a challenge to make it to the talks that interest you and also do everything else you want to do. Saturday night features a keynote talk, which this year will be given by Dr. Mike Brown from Cal Tech on the solar system objects found beyond Pluto that are the same size as Pluto or larger. And there are generally tours of the Big Bear Solar Observatory available, and various hikes and other activities for people who might want to do something besides astronomy-related activities. And Saturday and Sunday evenings feature the famous RTMC raffle – everyone present gets a ticket, you have to be present to win, and there are always some really great prizes and a lot of fun had by all throughout the drawing.
For more information on RTMC, including registering and getting meal tickets (if you’re going to be there all weekend, that’s the best way to go), accommodations (in my humble opinion, it's usually best to plan to camp or, if you need more comfort, bring an appropriate vehicle. But a lot of people enjoy staying in the bunkhouses, though it’s first come, first serve and there’s no real guarantee you’ll get a bed), directions, etc., check the RTMC site: http://www.rtmcastronomyexpo.org.
If you come to RTMC – and I hope you will – we have long-standing tradition of taking a club group picture on Saturday after lunch. In the past we’ve taken the group pictures down by the meeting hall, but this year we’re going to try it by the OCA booth. So please plan to be at the OCA booth at 1:00 for the OCA group picture, and bring any club members you happen to run into along with you!
I had the unfortunate experience recently of losing everything in my email inbox, including a number of emails that I hadn’t had a chance to respond to yet, and all attempts to restore the contents have so far failed. My apologies to anyone who might have sent me an email in March or April that should have had a response but didn’t get one. If you were one of those and still need some kind of response from me, please email me again. And I want to thank everyone who has been re-sending information that was lost and that I still need – your help has made dealing with the results of the loss much easier!
© Barbara Toy, April 2006