By Barbara Toy
Well, the nights cooled off pretty quickly this year – by mid-September, everyone I saw out at Anza was breaking out their heavy jackets and other cold-weather gear, and I understand it was even getting chilly at Black Star Canyon for that September star party. As I’m writing this, the temperatures at Anza have been down in the low 40’s overnight. On the brighter side, the skies have been a lot clearer than over most of the summer – which makes dealing with a bit of cold well worth while! No doubt it’ll be colder yet when true winter sets in, but I hope you won’t let that stop you from coming out for the star parties, either at Anza or Black Star Canyon.
If you come prepared (with hats, gloves, boots or other warm foot gear, and heavy jackets and warm pants, maybe thermal underwear, maybe some of those chemical warmers to help keep your hands and feet warm) and put on your additional warm layers when you just start to cool off and before you really get cold, you can stay surprisingly comfortable when the outside temperatures go into the 40’s and even down into the 30’s. After the first few cold nights, you’ll find that you become more acclimatized, so it’s easier to stay comfortable, often with fewer additional layers than those first nights of true cold. If you’re out at Anza, you have the option of warming up in Anza House if you get too cold, and, at the star parties at least, you can come up to the club observatory where the observing area is usually a bit more protected than the open pads and you can warm up in the warming room between sessions of looking at cool objects through the Kuhn. So don’t write the winter off as too cold and uncomfortable for viewing or imaging – that’s not the case at all!
Need Assistant(s) for Don Lynn…
Speaking of Anza, our long-time Anza site custodian, Don Lynn, needs some assistance. Although different people have helped out with different aspects of taking care of the Anza site at different times, the vast bulk of the day-to-day work needed to keep the Anza site going for the last twenty plus years has been done by Don. Besides dealing with such things as the plumbing, electrical lines and receptacles, concrete work, filling animal holes, painting, clearing brush, repairing fencing and other items far too numerous to mention, he’s been actively involved with development of new areas and (more recently) has undertaken to install the fence posts for the perimeter fence himself. Actually, all that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as every time something new crops up (such as when the well pump went out before the August star party), I find out about a bunch of additional things he’s been doing all along.
He’s now advised the Board that he needs some help, and maybe even someone who will ultimately take over the position of Anza Site Custodian. If you’ve got some good handyman-type skills and would be interested in helping out with the ongoing maintenance of the Anza site, please contact me or contact Don directly about it. His email address is email@example.com (actually, you can find the contact information for both of us on the back of the Sirius Astronomer, or on the “Contacts” page on the website).
Don is so capable and has such a wealth of information about all aspects of the Anza site that I hope he will be willing and able to stay involved with it for a long time to come. However, what’s involved in maintaining the site has certainly increased over the years, as more of the site has become developed, and, now that the issue has been put before us, it’s amazing that Don’s been able to carry on for the most part on his own with only sporadic assistance for so long. We do need to give him whatever help he can use, maybe even an “Anza Maintenance Team.” If you can see yourself as part of such a team, please speak up!
And many thanks to Don for all he’s done out at Anza over the years, and all he does in other areas of the club!
Black Star Canyon
I feel I’ve been slighting Black Star Canyon a bit this last year. We do mention the star parties at Black Star Canyon at the club meetings, and they’re listed on the first page of the Sirius Astronomer as well as on the website calendar, but it seems that what’s going on at Black Star is generally overshadowed by what’s going on at Anza. This isn’t fair to the BSC regulars, or to Steve Short, the BSC Coordinator, who goes out of his way to make these “in county” star parties fun for new people as well as the regulars.
“BSC” is our handy shorthand for Black Star Canyon, and this is the most recent of the sites in the Santa Ana Mountains that we’ve been allowed to use through the generosity of the Irvine Co. Our earlier site was in the hills west of Silverado Canyon, a mile or so from the BSC site. When the Irvine Co. turned the management of that whole area over to the Nature Conservancy, the Silverado site was identified as an area that needed a lot of restoration, and they didn’t want anyone using it as that would get in the way of the restoration work. We were offered the BSC site in its place, and found that it actually gave us darker skies for viewing because it was in a canyon area and the surrounding hills blocked a lot of the sky glow from the rest of Orange County.
Although we can’t put in pads to make BSC more astronomer-friendly, there have been a number of improvements the Nature Conservancy has made to the area we use during the time we’ve been using the site. There’s now a picnic area with tables, and the dirt access road is kept in much better condition than the road to the old Silverado site (and it’s a much shorter drive from the paved road to the area used for viewing). A more mixed blessing is the picturesque planter area of native brush surrounded by rocks that is a nice addition to the area by daylight, but can be a driving hazard at night, as it’s in the middle of the roadway and apparently was meant as the center point for a turnaround. Steve regularly sets up red warning lights around it so people driving in or out using their parking lights only (as everyone coming to the star parties needs to do after dark) can see where it is and not hit any of the rocks. He’s also been setting out other red lights to act as guides, so people can find their way to the viewing area more easily.
Black Star Canyon is a 20 to 40 minute drive from most of Orange County, so it’s much closer to most of our members than Anza. The star parties there are generally smaller and more cohesive than at Anza, as everybody is set up in the same area and it’s easy to see who’s there and to visit among the various scopes. It’s also easier for people to decide to “just drop by to see what’s going on” when the site is open for the monthly star party than it is at Anza – I’ve done that myself, and found it a lot of fun just to see who’s there and to wander around talking to people and looking through all the different telescopes when I wasn’t able to bring my own. You’ll find people there doing serious viewing (and even some imaging) as well as socializing, and a lot of camaraderie not just among the regulars at the site but extending to less frequent visitors and newcomers as well. People who haven’t been to many star parties or who may not know many people in the club yet often find the BSC star parties less intimidating than the Anza parties, as it is often easier to meet people and fit into whatever is going on (that’s a big advantage of smaller, more intimate star parties).
If you’re interested at all in going out to any of the Black Star Canyon star parties, you should get on Steve Short’s email list. He sends out notice of when he expects to open the gate, so you can plan when to get there, and he’s also followed the practice started by his predecessor in his position, Bob Buchheim, of including a list of good objects to view around the time of the star party. To get on his email list, just email him at SteveS@inductor.com. Steve also regularly gives a “sky tour” to guests and others who come out to BSC and who may be new or fairly new to astronomy, and he helps people out who are having problems with their equipment – he really keeps himself busy on star party nights, and says he enjoys it, even though it means that he doesn’t get time to do much viewing for himself.
The BSC parties are generally the week before the Anza star parties, though not always; we set the Anza parties on the Saturday closest to new moon and BSC on the next closest Saturday, so you could attend both parties each month. The dates of all the club’s star parties are shown on the website calendar and the star parties for each month are listed in the message on Starline as well as shown on the front of the Sirius Astronomer and the home page on the website, and they are also announced at the club’s general meetings, so there are a number of ways you can find out when the upcoming parties are set. If you haven’t been to any of the Black Star Canyon parties yet, I hope you’ll make a point of going at least once – if the weather cooperates at all, I think you’ll have such a good time that you’ll make that the first of many visits!
What Kinds of Activities Would You Like To Do Through the Club?
I had an interesting email exchange with John Sanford recently about what the club could or should be doing in the future that might be different from or in addition to its current activities. For those of you who joined the club after John retired and moved to Springville up in the Sierras, he was a long-time very active member who, among his many club roles, served as president for several terms, as secretary, as editor of the Sirius Astronomer, and innumerable other positions and activities. Even though he’s now got an observatory of his own under darker skies than we have at Anza, and even though he’s got a local astronomy group in his new home community, I’m happy to say that he maintains an active interest in OCA. I’m one of the members who joined too late to know him when he still lived in Orange County, but I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know him through seeing him at RTMC and various club events he’s attended as well as by email.
One point John made was that, while we have a lot of members who have a strong interest in the various projects going on at our Anza site, we also have a lot of members whose astronomical interests lie in completely different directions. We do have a wide range of club activities that are completely independent of Anza – such as the activities of our various special interest groups, our BSC star parties, our outreach programs and the speakers and presentations at our general meetings – but it’s been quite a while since we’ve checked with our general membership to see if there are needs or interests out there that we could be addressing but are not.
So, I have a few questions for all of you that I hope you’ll answer for me; you can email me your responses or send them to me care of the club’s Post Office Box (see the back of the Sirius Astronomer for the full address), or give them to me wherever you happen to see me. As you can tell by the way these are phrased, I’m looking for some narrative responses here, which I hope will give me more information to work with than getting responses to some kind of multiple choice questionnaire.
1. Are there any astronomy-related activities that you would like to be involved in that are not currently available through OCA? Please describe these activities and, if you know of any club that currently does them, tell me which ones.
2. Are there any activities that you know OCA did in the past, such as working with the Tessmann Planetarium, that you would like the club to get involved with again? If so, what activities, and what kind of involvement would you like the club to have? What involvement would you like to have with these activities yourself?
3. Are there any local institutions or organizations that you would like OCA to build stronger ties to? (Some possible examples would be local Community College districts or individual colleges, Chapman University, UCI, Cal State Fullerton, the Centennial Heritage Museum, the Discovery Center, other local museums, Boy Scouts or similar groups, other local astronomy clubs, other clubs that might have related interests such as the Orange County Space Society, computer or photography clubs) What kind of relationship would you like to see our club have with these? What involvement would you like to have in this yourself?
4. Keeping in mind that the club has no employees and everything that it does is done totally by volunteers, do you have any suggestions for what the club might do to improve its services to its members? What kind of help could you give to achieve this improvement?
Thanks for your help, and I look forward to getting your responses!
© Barbara Toy, September 2006