July 2009 President’s Message
By Barbara Toy
It always amazes me just how far north the sun seems to get each year as the days get shorter. Now that we're past the solstice, it’s slowly starting its southward movement, though the period of full darkness is still far too short, and full darkness comes much too late for those of us who like to get in a decent amount of good observing and still have some time for sleep. Alas, that's the price we pay for more comfortable viewing conditions – and I do hope you’re taking advantage of our temperate summer nights out at Anza or Black Star Canyon!
Southern California Astronomy Expo -- Help Needed
As mentioned last month, the Southern California Astronomy Expo is returning to OPT. The first Saturday, July 11, includes a swap meet where clubs and vendors can sell things. I expected to help with the OCA booth that day, but will have to be in class all day in Los Angeles and so won’t be able to make it. We need help manning the booth, so if you can donate a few hours to the cause, we would really appreciate it. We also need help the following weekend, when those in the booth will be there to give information about the club and publicize its existence and activities rather than selling things. If you can help out, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the swap meet session, if you have astronomical equipment or other items you would like to donate to the club to sell there, please contact me so we can arrange to pick it up or to otherwise take delivery; anything you donate would be tax deductible. We could also sell equipment or other items for members on a commission basis, as individuals won’t be able to sell things themselves at the swap meet. If you have something that you would like to sell this way, please let me know in advance, bring it to SCAE on July 11 and deliver it to the OCA booth. We will need your contact information and also your price range for selling the item, then we will do our best to sell it for you. The club would take a 20% commission on any sale and you would get 80%.
RTMC Astronomy Expo Revisited
Weather-wise, we never know quite what to expect at the annual RTMC Astronomy Expo. Most years, the days are hot and dusty and it cools down fast after sunset, becoming quite cold if you don't move around. Every few years, it's stormy over Memorial Day weekend, and that was our experience last year, when temperatures stayed in the 30s and 40s during the day, there was snow on the ground, and people experienced rain, sleet and hail as well as snow. Bad weather makes for good stories, but it does cut down on attendance. This year, we were back to the more usual pattern of warm days (fortunately, not as hot as some years), and chilly nights, but with very clear skies. Sadly, the infamous RTMC dust was very much in evidence this year – one of the advantages of the bad weather last year was that dust was not a problem.
Our May star party fell on Memorial Day weekend this year, and there was an obvious conflict between the two events. Some of us went to RTMC instead of the star party, some went to RTMC for part of Saturday and then headed over to Anza for the star party, and others skipped RTMC entirely (some took advantage of the holiday weekend to spend several nights at Anza). I'm told that conditions there were excellent on Friday and Saturday nights; I was there Sunday and though, as usual when I've missed the previous nights, I was told that night was not as good as the night before, viewing seemed excellent to me.
For me, the highlight of RTMC this year was the Club Officers Forum, with a panel of officers from the Riverside, San Diego, Pomona Valley, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Antelope Valley clubs as well as ours (I may have missed or misidentified any – if I have, I apologize to anyone affected). It was a very diverse group, and there was a lot talk about the different approaches clubs have taken in many areas. We all have a lot of the same concerns, such as finding good speakers for our meetings, getting material for our newsletters and deciding how best to distribute them, dealing with insurance and potential liability problems, and dark site issues. There were a lot of people in the audience who would have been excellent additions to the panel, who asked some challenging questions and provided interesting comments afterwards. I think everyone on the panel found the experience enlightening – I know I did.
Another major highlight of the weekend was running into the first serious amateur astronomer I ever knew, Bill Hornaday, who was my family’s neighbor in Fullerton for many years. Not only was he on the JPL team that built the Hubble Space Telescope, he was first person I knew who had his own observatory, built his own telescope and planned his vacation around a full solar eclipse. I have a much greater appreciation for that now than I did back then; we lost contact with him when he moved out of the area and he had no idea that I'd become a serious amateur astronomer myself. He's back in Southern California, still has his observatory, and I'm hoping to see it myself one of these days.
OCA at RTMC
In the past, the OCA booth at RTMC has also served as a fundraiser for our library. This has meant a lot of work for the last several years for Karen Schnabel, our current librarian, and also for our prior librarian, Cathy Weinberger and her husband Roy. Due to changing tastes and costs, it has become less effective as a fundraiser over the years, and Karen finally decided this year that it was not a cost-effective use of her time, particularly as she had other commitments over the holiday. We really appreciate all the time and energy she’s put into the booth in the past, as well as her ongoing efforts to keep the library solvent and stocked with current materials.
We still want the club to have a presence at RTMC, since we are a major player in amateur astronomy in Southern California, and we want to show support for the event as well as publicize our club, so we are continuing to have a booth there. As he has for several years now, Bob Buchheim brought the canopy and a table for the booth this year, along with some donated items so the booth would have something to sell. Alan Smallbone kindly edited the AstroImage calendar to give us an RTMC special edition, running from June 1 through July 31, 2010, as another sale item in the booth. Ron Zukowski did an excellent job of running the booth on Friday and a good part of Saturday; fortunately, Craig Bobchin and I were able to cover the booth for part of Saturday, so he had an opportunity to enjoy other aspects of RTMC and didn’t have to spend all of his time in the booth. Besides participating in the Club Officers’ Forum and helping with the booth, Craig took the annual club picture at the booth, and Ron took several auxiliary pictures, as additional people showed up after the group photos were taken. We owe them all a hearty vote of gratitude for helping to make our presence at RTMC a success this year.
Every year, there are certain vignettes that stand out in my memory of that year’s RTMC. This year, they include James Thorpe celebrating his return to health after some life-threatening medical experiences and then winning the new Lightswitch ETX from Meade in the RTMC raffle Saturday night, which they said was the first one they had actually delivered to a consumer. I certainly hope that we will see him using his new telescope at Anza one of these days now that the weather is warmer and he's feeling better.
Changes at RTMC
Times are challenging for all kinds of events, including RTMC. It started out as the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference, with its primary emphasis on telescope making. Since then, the range of good telescopes at decent prices has continually expanded, and people that might have made their own in the past to save money now often find it cheaper as well as easier to buy one instead. The interests of people involved in amateur astronomy have also changed over time – I haven’t done any definitive study, but in just the 10 years that I’ve been active in the community, it seems that the availability of more consumer friendly equipment has brought more “ordinary” people into the hobby, making it much more of a populist hobby than the exclusive realm of dedicated star hoppers and the technologically savvy. Those who can star hop their way around the heavens to find what they want to observe without computer assistance may consider those who rely exclusively on various types of “go to” systems as less serious than amateurs of the past, but it’s certainly made the hobby much more accessible to more people. All of these changes mean that time honored events such as RTMC have to change as well to remain meaningful to the amateur community and to attract enough attendance to stay in business.
Well, RTMC has announced some changes of its own that they hope will bring in more people next year. The most significant aspect is that it won’t be on Memorial Day weekend, but will be scheduled on the closest new moon weekend in May. They have also convinced SAS to move its meeting so that it will still be in the week before RTMC. In addition, although there will be no formal events planned then, the RTMC folks have access to the YMCA Camp Oakes site for several days before the formal proceedings start, and people will be allowed to camp and star gaze there for a couple days before the main event, and possibly afterwards, too.
Unfortunately, this means that RTMC would conflict with the various club star parties every year instead of every few years, which means that those who have strong ties to their home observing sites will have to have very strong reasons to choose to attend RTMC instead of their local star parties. Since I enjoy both and certainly want to see RTMC remain viable, this is a definite concern.
If you have any opinions regarding this change, whether pro or con, or if you have any suggestions for how the RTMC experience might be improved, I suggest you share them with the Powers That Be at RTMC. Unfortunately, they don’t have a central contact address, but some email addresses that appear on their website are: email@example.com (for registration) and firstname.lastname@example.org (for sponsors); if you ask for your comments to be forwarded to the appropriate people, they should be willing to do that.
Whether this change remains permanent or not, and regardless of what other changes they might decide to make, I certainly hope that RTMC will be around for many, many years to come, bringing people together in the interest of astronomy.
Observatories at Anza
One of the sad consequences of the current economic downturn has been that a number of people who were hoping to build observatories at Anza if and when sites became available have had to postpone those plans indefinitely. However, in spite of this, as of this writing five people on the Observatory Interest List have committed to building in the immediate future and have selected sites out of the six building sites that Gary Schones was able to clear in the three areas below the Member Observatory level, and the sixth site may be taken soon, as well, which means that you should be seeing some significant building activity out there before too long.
Another area where you will be seeing some significant building activity is the unfinished concrete block observatory near Mars Hill. John Castillo and Tom Kucharski are the new licensees for the observatory, their plans for renovating and completing it have been approved by the Board, and they plan to finish the project by Thanksgiving. John managed to come up with plans for a low roll-off roof that will have minimal impact on the sightlines for the surrounding areas but meets Code requirements and will have enough clearance that they can open it without problems. They plan to use or remove the old building materials that have been stacked around the observatory for years, clean the calcium deposits off the walls and refinish them, and otherwise improve the looks and safety of that part of the Anza site immensely.
If you are not currently on either the Pad or Observatory Interest List but are interested in building a pad or observatory at Anza in the future, or would like your name available in case one of the current licensees for a pad or observatory wants to find a buyer for their interest, please e-mail me and ask to be put on the appropriate list. I maintain separate lists for pads and observatories, and add names in the order in which I receive notice of interest. Priority on the list doesn’t necessarily mean priority in obtaining a site or in selection of a site, as are other factors that come into play, such as who is actually ready to move forward with plans when sites become available, whether there are special needs associated with a particular proposed observatory and whether a particular observatory proposal would be appropriate for the proposed building site, but it is a factor that could be significant in the event there was a dispute between two members who both wanted to build on a particular site at the same time – the ultimate decision in case of a dispute of that type, though, would be made by the Board.
Regarding the Policies and Procedures for member observatories, I have made some additions and revisions based on feedback I received from the version that was originally posted on the website and circulated. The revised version should be posted on the website by the time you see this for review, with the revisions in bold italics, to make it easier to identify them. The Board hopes to adopt a finalized version of the Policies and Procedures at the next Board meeting, which is on July 26th. If you have any comments you would like the Board to consider, or believe there should be further changes or additions made, please e-mail them to me at email@example.com as soon as possible.
© Barbara Toy, June 2009