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May 2007 President's Message
By: Barbara Toy
May 2, 2007 8:47PM PDT
Views: 6714

RTMC, our Telescope Loaner Program, Explore the Stars, the Sally Ride Festival revisited, and more...

President’s Message

By Barbara Toy


There was a lot going on in April – the banquet, the drawing of the winning ticket in the telescope raffle, Astronomy Day – as I write this, none of these have actually happened yet.  However, we did just have a fantastic presentation from Chris Butler at the April general meeting, featuring views from three star systems in our galactic neighborhood that we are very unlikely to have in person in our lifetimes – but now we really have seen these places and what they signify in the broader perspective of the births and deaths of stars and planets, thanks to Chris’s knowledge and imagination, and to his artistic skills that allowed him to make it all real for us.  He got a well-deserved standing ovation, a rare event at our meetings, but a fitting tribute to one of the best presentations we’ve had in the years that I’ve been a member of the club.  My condolences to those of you who missed it – you missed a really great evening!




The highlight of May for most of us is Memorial Day weekend.  The highlight of that weekend for the local astronomical community is the RTMC Astronomy Expo (formerly the Riverside Telescope Makers’ Conference).  For official information about the event, including such things as directions for getting there (it’s held at Camp Oaks, near Big Bear City), prices, schedules, speakers, etc., please see the RTMC website: http://www.rtmcastronomyexpo.org/.  One item of particular interest this year, at least to those of us in the Astrophysics SIG – the keynote speaker is Dr. Alex Filippenko of UC Berkeley, whose astronomy lectures are a regular feature of our Astrophysics meetings.


To avoid any potential confusion, my take on RTMC is entirely unofficial, and only based on going a few years (some people have been going for decades).  RTMC is the largest regular gathering of people with an interest in astronomy in our area.  It’s fun, informative, and draws folks from all over Southern California and beyond.  One major reason to spend the weekend up there at Camp Oaks is the chance it gives to catch up with friends and other people in the hobby, meet new people, and see people in person you may know only by email or reputation.  There’s a lot going on all weekend, including talks on all kinds of astronomical subjects all day Saturday and Sunday, the swapmeet where attendees sell off unwanted gear (and which is reputedly hottest Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning), vendor booths where great deals can often be found, the famous RTMC raffles on Saturday and Sunday evenings, the Keynote Talk Saturday evening, star parties Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, a contest for those who made their own telescopes (telescope making is still important to the conference), beginners’ activities, and so on – an incredible wealth of things to do. 


Though I enjoy the various planned aspects of the weekend and learn a lot from them, what I enjoy most are the informal encounters I’ve had with so many interesting people in all of the years I’ve gone to RTMC.  These can happen anywhere – in the meeting hall, out on the Telescope Field while cruising the vendor booths during the day or the various telescopes and displays during the star parties, at meals, while covering our booth – there are so many interesting people around that if you make an effort to chat with the people around you wherever you are, it’s hard not to get involved in memorable conversations.  By the time I leave each year, I’ve got a lot of good memories and a lot of new information to mull over, so the pleasures and benefits of RTMC live on long after it’s over.  As you might guess, I highly recommend going for at least a day if you can’t go for the full event (and, if you go for just a day, the day with the most going on is Saturday).


Some points to remember if you come to RTMC – Camp Oaks is at 7250 feet, so sunburn can be a problem during the day and cold a problem at night.  Sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and warm layers of clothing you can add as the temperature drops will help you enjoy your time there fully.  A folding chair is also useful, especially if you join the folks outside the meeting hall during the raffles Saturday and Sunday nights (it can be hard to get a seat inside.  And the location preferred by most OCA-ers is in front of the meeting hall – but well-wrapped up, as it can get quite cold by the end of the raffle and related events).  There isn’t any power available for telescopes or related equipment, so if you bring your own equipment and need power to run it, be sure to bring enough battery power – or you can plan on doing your viewing the old fashioned way, adjusting your scope manually and finding things by star-hopping.


If you come – and I really hope you do – we take the traditional “OCA at RTMC” picture as soon after 1:00 on Saturday as we can.  It’ll be taken in front of the OCA booth, so please remember to stop by there at 1:00 and to bring any other club members you happen to run across with you!


Telescope Loaner Program


With summer coming up fast, you may be thinking of getting out and doing some observing – but maybe you don’t have a telescope, or would like to try a different kind of telescope than what you currently have available.  OCA’s Telescope Loaner Program may be the answer you’re looking for.  Telescopes in the program are loaned to members in good standing free of charge, generally for 30 days at a time (which can be extended if there’s no other request for that particular telescope or if the star party weekends were clouded out).  Most of the telescopes in the program are Dobsonians, which have been the hardiest of the telescopes donated to the program over the years so they survive longest.  There are a number of other types as well – to find out exactly what’s available, please contact our Loaner Program Coodinator, Mike Myers, at loanerscopes@twow.com or 714-240-8458.


For those of you who might have some telescope-related equipment you no longer use, especially eyepieces, diagonals, Barlows, Telrads and other finders, and laser collimators or other tools to help with collimation,  Mike could really use them to help make the telescopes in the program more functional.  If you have a mount you’d like to get rid of, a heavy-duty tripod, or binoculars, please check with Mike before you dispose of them, as he might be able to use them in the Loaner Program.  And, of course, if you have a telescope you’d like to donate, Mike would be very interested in hearing from you!


Explore the Stars


The schedule for the Explore the Stars program at Palomar Mountain has been finalized, and the first session will be on May 19, 2007.  This program is held at Observatory Campground, and is a really great combination of outreach and informal star party under the same sky conditions that caused the 200-inch telescope to be built at Palomar.  The program usually starts with a potluck for the volunteers, then there’s a talk by an outside speaker or one of the volunteers in the amphitheater on some astronomical topic likely to be of general interest, followed by a viewing session back in the area where the volunteers set up camp.  One particularly nice aspect of Observatory Campground is that it has a large open area suitable for viewing, and even has some concrete pads (though not enough for all of the volunteers, and without power).  They also cut the lights on ETS nights, so the campground is nice and dark – great for showing people some of the lovely fuzzies that we astronomers find so exciting!


People are invited to attend from all of the campgrounds on the mountain, and often there are scout groups or other groups among the viewers.  I’ve also talked to people who come up the mountain specifically to attend the ETS session, because they’ve enjoyed past sessions so much, and who then drive back home after they finish viewing instead of camping there all night.  It’s a great family event, and often the volunteers bring their children to enjoy a night of camping along with the viewing.


Generally, the public viewing part of the event is over by around 10:00, and then the volunteers settle down for some serious viewing in their own informal star party.  As with any star party, that part of the proceedings is ended either by exhaustion or sunrise.  It’s all a lot of fun, and you should give it a try – go early, and see the observatory, as well!


For more information and to volunteer, please contact the current coordinator of the ETS program, Bob Nanz, at bobnanz@direcway.com or 760-751-3992, or contact our local contact for the program, Richard Cranston, at rcransto@ix.netcom.com or 714-893-8659.


Sidewalk Astronomy Night:


Just a reminder – I wrote about the Sidewalk Astronomy Night program last month.  That is still scheduled to take place on May 19th, as well.  For more information about doing sidewalk astronomy in general and about this event, please check their website, www.sidewalkastronomers.us.  If you do participate, please let me know and I’ll send that information on to the coordinator, Donna Smith, to help in their count of participating telescopes.  They hope to have a turnout of 1000 telescopes doing sidewalk astronomy that day, in honor of John Dobson.


The Sally Ride Festival


For the third year in a row, OCA participated as an exhibitor at the Sally Ride Festival at UC Irvine, which was held on February 4 – it was an incredible event, and I’m sorry I didn’t have room to talk about it in the past two President’s Messages.  Better late than never – and I’m hoping that we will continue to be a regular exhibitor at future festivals, in which case you might want to consider coming as a volunteer yourself.  It’s well worth it!


These were started by Sally Ride and are now held at a lot of different universities and colleges around the country each year.  Their primary goal is to keep girls interested in science and math at an age when they historically have dropped out of those areas in large numbers.  The target group is 5th grade girls, but there are a lot of people in older and younger categories who also come, and we also saw a number of boys, a lot of parents, and a lot of teachers, some escorting groups of students. 


The festival starts off with the street fair, where all of the exhibitors have their booths and displays, then there is a keynote address by either Dr. Ride or another astronaut, and then smaller sessions on various topics.  Our “booth” is part of the street fair, and we generally have a table with information and whatever display items different volunteers bring, and behind and around the table we have telescopes set up for solar viewing through different filters.  Don Lynn brings some of the pictures he’s downloaded from various NASA and other sites, and other volunteers bring pictures, posters and other things they think might be of interest.  This time, Kyle Coker brought some pictures from the AstroImagers’ image gallery, featuring a lot of beautiful prints that were donated to the club through AstroImage 2006, and those attracted a lot of attention as well as the telescopes. 


We had a lot of people come through our area, asking questions about the pictures, about what they could see in the telescopes, and general questions about astronomy, as well.  One of the most interesting groups I talked to was a group of deaf students – it was a bit unnerving to have my explanations of the pictures they were looking at signed to them by someone standing next to me (so she could see what I was pointing to and so the girls could see both her and me without constantly turning from one to the other), but it seemed to work and we were able to discuss the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula, which were the pictures in the display that had caught their attention.


For some reason, we did not get news of the festival as far in advance as usual this time, and so we didn't have much time to prepare for it.  In spite of that, thanks to a very helpful group of volunteers, we were able to get enough telescopes to handle the crowds and we were able to present a lot of different information that appealed to a wide range of interests.  The festival sold out, and we understand that there were over 2000 people in attendance, so we were all kept quite busy during the two hours that the street fair was running.  My thanks to the volunteers who came to help out on such short notice: Don Lynn, Val Akins, Dan and Irene Iler, Kyle Coker, and Rick Rios and his wife and daughter.


The festival has been such a success at UCI that they expect to do it again next year – I’ll try to get the word out about it earlier, so maybe more of you will be able to participate and help make our display area even more interesting to the girls and other people attending.  All of the festivals have been a lot of fun for the volunteers – as I said before, it’s well worth it to come!


                                                                                                                        © Barbara Toy, April 2007


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