January 2009 President’s Message
By Barbara Toy
Happy New Year! By all the signs, we’re in for an interesting time in 2009!
The start of the new year is traditionally a time of hope as well as good resolutions – which are probably themselves evidence of hope! – and my hope for this new year is that we will all be able to put aside our philosophical, religious and political differences enough to work together to solve the major problems facing us. That’s a hope on the societal level – we in the club seem to be doing a pretty good job of that overall, I’m happy to say, which shows that it is possible when people are willing to focus on the interests they share instead of their differences. High-mindedness goes only so far – I’m also hoping for clear skies around new moon weekends, and that January and February won’t be as cold out at Anza as December….
This also is a time of year when everyone pulls out their crystal balls (or the current equivalent) and forecasts what the year will bring. I feel reasonably safe in forecasting that the earth will continue to spin on its axis and to move on its established orbit around the sun, that we will see the same progression of constellations across the sky over the course of that orbit as we did last year and all the years before that, and that, around next December, we’ll all be wondering again where the year went and how it went by so fast…and I profoundly hope we’ll all be breathing a collective sigh of relief because the worst of our current economic problems are clearly behind us by then!
If you get this before the January general meeting, please be sure to vote! If you get this after the January meeting, I hope you did vote – thank you if you did – but I can't tell you the results yet because as I write this it is still the middle of December. After all, there could be a massive write-in campaign or some other surprise…so, stay tuned! We’ll post the results on the website when they’re official.
Members Night 2008
If you missed the general meeting in December, you really missed an excellent set of presentations! Our members are involved in a lot of interesting projects and have unique experiences – and it’s really great to hear about them. If you’ve got something you’re involved in, or a topic of club-related or astronomical interest you could present, please get your name in to Craig Bobchin early to be one of the Members Night presenters next December.
The presentations this year started with Lorna Pecararo, talking about her experiences with “Project Bright Sky,” a program started by Frank Busutil and the Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers to bring visual astronomy to the blind. Frank was originally one of the presenters, too, but wasn’t able to make it because he had to work that night – he introduced us to Project Bright Sky over a year ago, and several OCA members, particularly Lorna, Chris Buchen, Peg Peterson and Judy Schoeffler, became actively involved. Lorna is a retired teacher, and talked about teaching astronomy to blind students at the Braille Institute in Orange County, and, in particular, about the study aids she’s created using various materials she had at home or found at a local craft store, to help the students understand the concepts she presents in her classes through using things they can explore by touch.
She brought a number of examples, and they showed a lot of ingenuity – how, for instance, do you demonstrate the structure of an atom and how electrons move from level to level in a simple model that uses touch instead of sight? Her model was on a firm piece of card stock and used a plastic “jewel” for the nucleus and different types of string and ribbon to give different textures to different parts of what was shown, so what we normally see distinguished by color or different types of lines could be distinguished by touch. A set of circles of different sizes and textures bound together in a large loop of ribbon were properly scaled to allow students to compare sizes of different planets; the large planets were too large to include in that set, but she found additional items, such as a globe that was already in the classroom and a hula hoop, to show their relative size in a way that could be felt. One model of the sun she created used some circles of bridal veil material to depict the sun’s corona in properly diaphanous form. As someone in the audience said at the end of her presentation, these types of tactile aids could help sighted people as well as those who can’t see.
The second presentation was by Larry Adkins, and started with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the development of the telescope in the Netherlands by the Antique Telescope Society – a nice precursor to the International Year of Astronomy, with its reminder that Galileo didn’t actually invent the telescope, but he did improve it and was the first to use it to observe celestial objects. Larry’s pictures of what they saw in the Netherlands when members of the ATS were there for that celebration were very interesting, and then he took matters to another level by telling us about a past club member, Bill Schaefer, known for his Schaefer mounts, which were built in his shop in Fullerton. I’d heard of the mounts many times since joining the club, but never knew much about them or the man behind them, so that was a real treat. If you want to read the information Larry has collected about him so far, please see his webpage on the subject, at http://www.cerritos.edu/ladkins/Web%20Page/Articles/Bill_Schaefer/BillBio.htm.
The next presenter was , who is our new website editor and also a candidate for the board, on how he met with Orange County Astronomers. It turns out that his story is the flip side of what Liam Kennedy told us about after he went on an astronomy trip to Iran several years ago with a group led by Mike Simmonds, taking telescopes and other equipment to amateur groups there, meeting with local astronomers, participating in viewing events and lecture presentations, and so on. This was one of the trips that caused Mike to start Astronomers Without Borders. He was a student in Tehran at the time of that tour, heard about these visiting astronomers and managed to go to one of their presentations, where he met Liam. At the time he didn’t know he would be approved for immigration to the United States, or that he would land in Orange County when he came here. And now, he’s an active member in Liam’s club and managing the website that Liam designed for us…and we feel very lucky to have him here!
As you can see, these talks were all very different from each other, and the last talk, by John Hoot, was different yet again. The title he gave us was “Measuring the Parallax of a Satellite,” but what it was really about was solar sails as a way of propelling spacecraft. They need to test the concept before actually using one to propel a long-distance spacecraft, and, as part of the test, they need to be able to get accurate measurements of the test devices’ speed and orbits. Both the Planetary Society and NASA have projects planned and, to make the most of the research dollars available, they’ve sought the help of amateur astronomers to gather the data to make the necessary measurements, with processing to be done with excess time on a lot of volunteers’ computers similar to the process developed for the SETI project. John’s one of the astronomers who responded to the call for help – and measuring the parallax of satellites is a way to practice for the real thing, when a solar sail device makes it into space (so far, terrestrial glitches have kept that from happening). For more information on the Planetary Society’s Cosmos 2 project, see http://www.planetary.org/programs/projects/solar_sailing/, and for NASA's NanoSail-D project and past projects, see http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/31jul_solarsails.htm. If you’re interested in getting involved in this yourself, please contact John Hoot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to all our presenters – it was a great evening, and they all gave us food for thought well beyond the meeting itself!
Members Helping Members
People sometimes ask me why they should join the club, usually when I don’t have a nice, well-thought-out response ready. I recently saw a good example of one of the best reasons for becoming active in the club. At a recent star party, one of our members was having problems getting her system to focus. While she and I were talking about the problem, a couple of other members in the vicinity joined in what quickly became an impromptu diagnosis session. Before long, they had figured out the probable cause and what she needed to add to her equipment to correct it. She didn’t have those parts with her, but, between them, these other two members were able to supply what she was missing, so she could find out in the field whether this solution worked, and actually do most of what she had planned on doing that night.
This kind of thing happens a lot at star parties and outreach events. Someone has a problem, and other club members chip in to figure out possible solutions or at least a way of jerry-rigging something in the field to salvage the session. Often, these are learning sessions for all concerned, and I think everyone involved gets a lot of satisfaction from the experience. Certainly, if I'm able to help someone solve a problem, it makes my evening more enjoyable.
If you're at a star party and have a problem with your equipment, don't let embarrassment get in the way of asking for or accepting help. Many times if you’re working on something and having obvious problems, someone passing by or set up nearby will ask what’s wrong – don’t turn down that implied offer of help, as often just telling someone about a problem will make you realize where you may have made a mistake or suggest a new approach, or the brief assistance of another pair of hands will get you past your impasse. If you need to seek help, it’s a good idea not to ask anyone who’s preoccupied at the time with setting up their own equipment or dealing with a problem of their own. If the first person you ask can't assist you, maybe he or she could direct you to someone else who can. If not, you should move on to someone else until you find someone who can help you, or it’s clear that your particular problem is beyond our local ability to solve. If you don’t feel comfortable asking people you don’t know (yet) for help, you can look for any club official on site (that would include any officer, trustee, and people like Don Lynn, the Anza Site Coordinator, or Steve or Sandy Condrey, the Anza House Coordinators, or Steve Short, the Black Star Canyon coordinator), and they should be able to connect you with people who are likely to be able to help you if they can’t help you themselves.
Winter at Anza
As I write this, we’ve just had a couple of arctic storms come through, bringing snow levels incredibly low (the mountains – San Gabriels, Santa Anas and San Bernardinos – were all particularly gorgeous around December 17 and 18, when I happened to be driving around where I could admire them!), and bringing temperatures at Anza down to the 20s. We also had snow at our Anza site, as shown in the picturesque view captured by the webcam in his observatory that Leon Aslan posted on the club website (see http://www.ocastronomers.org/astroimages/album.asp?ID=7429; a copy hopefully will be near this article). Beautiful, but definitely chilly!
I do enjoy a good observing session, but have to admit that, when temperatures get down to the 30s and below, my enthusiasm for even the best viewing conditions tends to wane pretty quickly (especially if there’s a wind-chill factor to consider). Having good cold weather gear helps postpone the moment when my body decides it’s had enough of the cold and it’s time to move into a warmer environment, especially if I put it on before I get really chilled. I mention this in case you’re among the folks who give up on viewing or imaging activities in the winter because you think it’s just too cold – having a good set of body coverings with good thermal properties, including hat and gloves, can make the cold of winter a manageable problem for a significant chunk of all but the coldest nights. And there are additional aids to give a bit of warmth where needed – those little chemical heat packs you can tuck in your boots, gloves, or elsewhere, for instance, can really boost the comfort level.
The point of this is that you shouldn’t give up on viewing for the winter just because it’s cold – if you do, you’ll miss out on all those wonderful winter objects (is a year of viewing really complete without admiring Orion high up in a cold, clear winter sky?). There are a lot of options for what you can get, clothing-wise, to help ward off the cold (some suggestions I’ve heard – freezer suits, duck-hunting gear from the Cabela’s or other similar sporting goods places, etc., or just good thermals, thinsulite pants and coat, and fleece layers in between, which is what I normally go with) and, if you’re at Anza, there’s the very civilized option of going to Anza House for a while to warm up if you get cold in spite of your precautions.
Here’s hoping we have clear, dark skies so you can use that great cold weather gear to good advantage – and I hope to see all of you out at Anza this winter!
© Barbara Toy, December 2008