By Barbara Toy
Summer is now off and running – the summer Milky Way dominates the sky most of the night, we can do our observing in T-shirts and shorts, if we want, and, barring a few thunderstorms and the possibility of fire, life for those of us who spend time outside under the stars is pretty comfortable. This is a good time to try to inspire friends and family with the joys of astronomy – if they don’t get hooked in the summer, they aren’t likely to become hooked when the weather turns colder, unfortunately. And there are so many “wow-factor” summer objects to show them – globulars, open clusters and nebulae around Sagittarius and Cygnus, for a start, the Veil, the Ring nebula, M13 in Hercules – and many, many more. And, of course, there’s Jupiter most of the night, and even Pluto (for those who enjoy a good hunt in a dim star field)…
I guess the point is, it’s summer, the viewing is easy, and let’s all enjoy it to the full!
Our Starbecue in July was a great success, even though the clouds refused to go away as promised by the Clear Sky Clock, so there wasn’t much viewing or imaging done that night. The potluck itself was a true community effort. The club’s barbecue was a central feature of the event, and it was able to fulfill that role due to the efforts of Gary Schones, who brought it up to the observatory in his truck from where it was stored in the shed down at Anza House after the Starbecue last year with the help of Alan Smallbone, and Ray Stan, who improvised with whatever was available to bring the grill to an acceptable state of cleanliness. A crew of volunteers pulled the tables out of the storage container, set them up and moved them around as we figured out where they should go (my apologies, I’ve forgotten who exactly was doing what for a lot of what was going on, but it was all very much appreciated!). Jim Benet brought tablecloths, which made the tables festive instead of institutional-looking, and a folding table that came in very handy.
But the real highlights were the company and the food. There was a lot of socializing throughout the evening, fueled in part by all the great food. Jim Benet brought his famous smoked brisket, the Cokers brought corn on the cob and whole onions they roasted on the barbecue, Rick Guy brought a bag of rib steaks to share, others brought hotdogs, hamburgers, and other things to grill, and there was a variety of salads, chips with dip, fruit, and, of course, desserts. We had pies and cupcakes and cookies, and Tim Hogle and I ended by carrying the leftovers down to Anza house after the party so people could enjoy them further over the course of the evening and I wouldn’t be tempted to snack on them myself. I'm glad to say that, by the next morning, all of the desserts appeared to have found happy homes, and Ray had even cleaned off the table so there were no crumbs for the mice.
Tom Munnecke was going to host a college class at the Anza Observatory on the Monday before the Starbecue, and had reserved the Observatory for a special children's program that Friday night. Both of those events were called off because of overcast skies, and Tom came to the Starbecue instead. We had quite a few children at the site that night, and Tom ended by hosting a lively session for the children who visited the observatory and their parents. Even though there wasn't much to see because of the clouds, he was able to show them Venus, Saturn and Jupiter, and any other bright objects he could find in the sucker holes, and, between times, he found other ways to keep them amused and thinking about astronomy. He’s been developing a science club for kids that has been a great success with his granddaughter, her friends, and others who have attended, and it was great to see him putting that experience to good use that night.
There was a very unfortunate incident during the Starbecue that was a reminder that Anza is still quite rural and we need to be very careful about the local wildlife. Bill Patterson had brought his young golden retriever, a friendly and well-behaved dog who he kept on a leash throughout the evening. While they were walking down to the member observatory level, she encountered a baby rattlesnake, and was bitten on the nose. Bill rushed her to a vet in Temecula who gave her anti-venom and kept her overnight, and, fortunately, she has made a good recovery.
Although baby rattlers are small and look a lot less impressive than adults, they are actually more dangerous because they can’t control how much venom they use in a bite and all the venom they have available generally goes into the victim. I’ve been told that dogs are more resistant to rattlesnake venom than humans are, so, if one of the humans on site was bitten instead of the dog, the damage would have been a lot worse. Ray Stann and Gary Schones eliminated that particular snake, but both our Anza site and our Black Star Canyon site are in rattlesnake country and whoever uses them needs to keep that in mind and exercise reasonable caution.
What should you do if you are bitten? There are a lot of places you can go for direction, and one of the easiest is the Internet. Several reputable medical sites have advice and information, including the Merck site (see http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec24/ch298/ch298d.html for the full article on snakebites, which covers bites from several different types of poisonous snakes). Apparently not all bites from poisonous snakes result in venom being injected. Where rattlesnake venom is injected, it damages the tissue in a spreading area around the bite, and also affects clotting of the blood, so you can expect increasing swelling, pain and bruising in the area of the bite as time passes and, in extreme cases, there can be bleeding problems in other parts of the body, including internal bleeding. Merck recommends keeping the victim quiet and as calm as possible, keeping the area of the bite immobilized and below the level of the heart (with people, bites are usually in feet or hands), removing or loosening anything that would constrict the area of the bite because of the expected swelling, and getting the person to a medical facility where anti-venom can be administered as quickly as possible, as the faster the person gets the anti-venom the more effective it will be. As the article says, “tourniquets, ice packs, and cutting the bite open are not recommended and are dangerous,” so don’t try those. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided. The good news is that the chances of a full recovery are good if the person gets anti-venom treatment promptly.
We have working telephones at Anza House and the club observatory, which you can use to call 911, and there are fire stations in the town of Anza and in Weeping Springs that can provide paramedic assistance. Cellphone coverage tends to be spotty at the Anza site, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the location of the two on-site telephones in case of need. As to hospital/Emergency Room facilities, it appears that the ones closest to our site currently are:
Inland Valley Medical CenterInland Valley Drive
Wildomar, CA 92595
Rancho Springs Medical Center
25500 Medical Center Drive
Murrieta, CA 92562
Prevention, of course, is much better than having to deal with the effects of a bite. Snakes hunt at night, but they also generally will try to get away from you if they have enough warning that you are there. Be aware of the ground around you while you are moving around any dark site, stick to established paths and roadways, which tend to have fewer hiding places for snakes and other critters than adjoining brushy areas, and consider wearing clothing that would provide more protection from a bite, such as closed shoes and long pants.
I don’t know of any person who’s been bitten at any of our dark sites over the years, so don’t let concern about wildlife stop you from enjoying our dark sites. However – please do be careful and attentive to the dangers posed by wildlife in these areas – the danger is real, as Bill’s poor dog knows all too well!
Parking at Chapman University
In case you haven’t yet gotten the word, Chapman University has changed its rules on parking during our general meetings. While they may be a bit more relaxed about enforcing the new rules during summer break, we fully expect that they will actively enforce them once the new school year starts.
To park on campus, you now need to display a permit on your dashboard. These are free, and the current permit is good for the rest of the year. You can download a copy from our website or pick one up at the next general meeting – thanks to Charlie Oostdyk, we have copies available at the table down at the front of the auditorium with maps showing where we can park on the back, because we are also now restricted as to where we can park on campus.
There are two parking structures we can use, the closer of which is located under the athletic field near the corner of Center Street and Walnut, very close to the surface lot where many members have parked in the past. You enter that lot from Walnut – the entrance is well-marked and easy to find. If you park near the south end of the lot by the stairs, you will find that the walk to the auditorium is about the same as from the surface lot next to the athletic field.
If you park on the street on the side next to the campus, you don’t need a permit, but that parking is very limited. If you have a “handicapped” sticker, you can park in the handicapped spots next to the auditorium, but you still need to put the permit on your dashboard so the parking people know you have permission to be there.
Several people have expressed distress over this change, but the main difference for most of us is that we will be parking in a well-lighted underground area instead of a well-lighted aboveground area for the meetings. The people who will find it least convenient are those like Karen Schnabel and Charlie Oostdyk who generally bring a lot of bulky or heavy items to the meetings. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with parking temporarily in the lot next to the auditorium to load and unload, which will help.
We are truly grateful to Chapman University for allowing us to use the Irvine Auditorium and their equipment for our meetings. One way we can show our gratitude is by graciously complying with the few requests that the university makes of us, even if we don’t understand the reasoning behind them and even if we notice that the lots where we parked in the past are empty during many of our meetings.
Plea for Return of a Beige Towel
Visitors to the club Observatory at Anza may have noticed that we have actual cloth towels in the restroom, which is our partial answer to the problem of reducing trash in an area with no trash service. As the Observatory Custodian, I maintain the sets of towels used for this – there are four sets, one in light blue, one in dark blue, and two that are beige/light brown. Each set has two bath towels and a hand towel, and the combination has been working well to meet the needs of those using the observatory restroom, even on busy weekends. I also have some miscellaneous towels that don't match any of the sets and are pretty well worn, which I use for emergency backups. My general practice is to change out whatever set is in the restroom with fresh towels on the morning after the star parties as well as at the end of any other weekend when I am out at Anza, and I change them during busy nights if I see that they are getting dirty – so I do need all four sets.
Well, I'm sorry to report that someone “borrowed” one of my beige bath-sized towels sometime during the June star party, which I discovered when I went to change the towels the following morning. I hoped that this was a temporary oversight, and that the person responsible would return the towel, ideally in a clean condition, but so far that has not happened. So I'm issuing a plea for return of the missing towel, which is fairly nondescript on its own, but which matches the other towels in that set and whose absence is very much felt. Whoever has it can return it anonymously, and it doesn’t even have to be clean – I just need the towel back for the observatory.
And, if anyone knows anything about what happened to the towel, please do let me know. If I have to hunt it down, that just might be the topic of a future column…
Happy August, and clear skies to all of you!
© Barbara Toy, July 2007