By Barbara Toy
Where did the summer go? Here it is, September already, with school starting, most vacations over... for people in our hobby, autumn is usually a great time, as the temperatures are still reasonably warm at night, and the nights themselves are longer than during summer, giving more time for viewing and imaging between the twilight after sunset and the twilight before dawn. If you stay up long enough, it's the time of year when you can see the winter constellations in comparative comfort. It's a good idea to take along warm clothes when you go out for a night of observing, though, just in case – it can get surprisingly chilly if you're not moving around, even though the days may be hot.
Those of you who decided not to come to the August star party at Anza because of the weather forecast missed a great night of observing. Even though the Clear Sky Clock predicted clouds and poor to mediocre seeing, what clouds there were during the day vanished by sunset and the night was clear, dark and steady. I'm told that other weather forecasts besides the Clear Sky Clock were pretty pessimistic about conditions that night, as well. It’s all part of the mystique of our hobby – we never know if the weather will be much worse than forecast (we’ve all been skunked more than once!), if it will be better (which can never happen often enough), or if it will be exactly as forecast, which tends to catch everybody by surprise.
At any rate, though there were not quite as many people out at Anza for the star party as we might have expected, the Football Field was full, a lot of people made their way up to the Observatory, and everyone seemed to be having a good time and keeping an eye out for Perseids. Joe Busch and Dave Radosevich were out there the night before and reported that there were a lot of meteors, which seemed to be an early surge in the annual Perseid shower, so we all hoped for an even better show that Saturday. There were more meteors than usual, but most of the brighter ones I saw seemed to be sporatics, not radiating from Perseus, and those that clearly were Perseids were pretty dim – the show on Friday apparently was much better. Jim Windlinger stayed out at Anza for the main shower on Sunday night/early Monday morning, and captured a nice shot of a Perseid passing the California nebula on its way to the Pleiades (you can see it in the club’s Image Album at http://www.ocastronomers.org/astroimages/album.asp?ID=5453, and also check out the Perseid caught by another member, Wally Pacholka, streaking past Taurus over Half Dome in Yosemite http://www.ocastronomers.org/astroimages/album.asp?ID=5462).
Need Help in October With the Observatory Roof
If you’ve seen the club observatory during daylight hours, you may have noticed all the work that Dave Radosevich, Jim Hannum, John Kerns and the various people who have been helping them have done in preparation for the actual replacement of the existing roll-off roof with a metal roof; this includes replacement of the support wall to the north of the observatory with a steel frame, replacement of the rails the roof rolls on and the supports below them, and replacement of the roofing material on the permanent roof over the warming room and bathroom. They’ve been building the components for the new roof in the shed on their property, so there’s a lot of work that’s been done beyond what you can see around the observatory itself.
Well, the time for the actual change-out is approaching fast. Dave and company are planning this for October, but the precise period for the work has not been set as of this writing. When the work gets underway, we will need help, as we really need to have two crews working, one on the new roof and the other removing the old one. Dave has told us that, once the work gets started, they can’t safely stop until at least the new roof is completed, which is expected to take several days. Ideally we’ll have enough workers to deal with both parts of the project at the same time, so the observatory can be put back in operation with a minimum of down time. If that doesn’t work out, the new roof can be assembled over the observing area so it remains covered, but we wouldn’t be able to open it until the old roof is removed.
While we welcome anyone with construction skills, that isn’t really necessary for the work that we need done here – per Dave, what we need is a lot of unskilled labor. So, whether you have specific skills you think would help or not, we can use your help!
You don’t need to commit to being at Anza for the full period the work is going on – if you can only work on this one or two days, that would be very helpful. I’m trying to get an idea of who can commit what time to this part of the project, so if you can help out, please email me what days of the week you might be available and how many days you think you could work on this (firstname.lastname@example.org). We expect that it will take several weekdays as well as weekends to get it finished, so any weekdays you could help out with would be particularly helpful.
It’s exciting to finally be at the point where the new roof is going up on one of the club’s biggest assets – do come and be a part of this great project!
Casinos and Other Dark Sky Matters
One of our concerns as astronomers is protecting our ability to see the night sky – which, of course, also protects that ability for others. When Chris Butler jokes about how few things he can see things from Buena Park because of the light polluted skies, he makes it funny but it’s also sad, as most people in Orange County (and the other urban areas of Southern California) live under skies that are equally blotted out because of waste light. One of the most valuable services our club provides is access to dark sky sites where people can view in reasonable safety and (at least at Anza) in reasonable comfort.
With all of the development going on in Riverside and north San Diego Counties, the condition of the skies near our Anza site is definitely deteriorating. One major consideration when the location of our Anza site was chosen was that it was within the Palomar Protected Zone, which is protected by ordinances adopted by both Riverside and San Diego Counties to help protect dark skies for Palomar Observatory. Unfortunately, enforcement of the ordinances is spotty, at best, partly because of lack of personnel and partly because the people responsible for enforcement need to be educated about the importance of maintaining these standards. One of our members who lives not far from our Anza site told me recently that an inspector in Riverside County told him that the ordinance was no longer needed because Palomar was no longer in operation – he did a bit of educating on the spot, but we suspect this person was not alone in this mistaken belief.
Why bring this up now? First to let you know that there are established standards for outside lighting in the area of our Anza site, and (unfortunately) a number of people who have chosen to move to that area are not in compliance. We want to remain on reasonably good terms with our neighbors, so we don’t want to be too heavy-handed about pushing enforcement, but we also need to do what we can to educate the people around us about the benefits of preserving the darkness of the night sky and, where necessary, push the authorities to enforce the lighting ordinances.
Another reason for bringing this up is that one of the local tribes, the Pauma tribe, is planning a major expansion of their casino and resort. There are already two very large casino/resort developments to the south/ south-west of our Anza site, Pachanga in Temecula and Pala on Highway 76, which is the main route to Palomar from the I-15. Pauma is further along the 76, in Pauma Valley. The Cahuilla casino is much closer, between our site and the town of Anza, but fortunately it’s small and its location doesn’t attract nearly as much traffic as these other casinos.
Scott Kardel of Palomar Observatory notified us that the Pauma tribe has now completed its draft Environmental Impact Report, which is now available for public comment. Among other things, the new casino will use a lot more lights for their enlarged parking area and throughout the complex, and Scott noted that their draft EIR did not mention use of low pressure sodium lights, which would be easier for astronomers to work with. These plans are a major concern for Palomar Observatory, which is only six miles away from the planned development. Palomar is already contending with increasing light pollution from the growth of nearby cities as well as major developments such as this one. Although the Pauma tribe claims that it will try to keep lights to a minimum and to focus lights on the ground or buildings rather than the sky, they have just installed searchlights at the existing casino that were raking the sky all night (Scott talked to them about this and convinced them to limit the searchlights to three hours a night, which is some improvement); this indicates that protecting the night sky isn’t one of their priorities. We wouldn’t be affected as much as Palomar, as Pauma is on the other side of the mountain from our Anza site, but this project as currently planned would add to the lightdome we see to the south of our Anza site.
You can find more information about this at http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/casinos/pauma.html. Now is the time the public can have the greatest effect on this project, so please make your concerns known. The public meeting on the project will already have passed by the time you receive this issue of the Sirius Astronomer, but written comments on this proposed development can be submitted until Sept. 21 to Michael Baksh, Tierra Environmental Services, 9915 Businesspark Avenue, Suite C, San Diego, CA 92131. Scott has also been keeping our Dark Sky group informed about this; if you would like to join the email group, it is OCADarkSky@yahoogroups.com.
It’s important protect the dark skies that help Palomar remain an important research center and that we need at Anza, and any help you can give will be very much appreciated.
A Couple of Great Upcoming Festivals
Every year, the town of Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree National Park shuts off the street lights and a lot of other lights in town, making it amazingly dark for an urban area, for its Starry Nights Festival. This features speakers during the day and public viewing at night, with demonstrations, vendors and other events. A great time is generally had by all, particularly fans of David Levy, who is a regular speaker there. This year, the Starry Nights Festival will be held September 28 and 29 – it’s a good event for the whole family, and you should really consider going if you've never given it a try before.
The folks that organize the RTMC Astronomy Expo are apparently gluttons for punishment, as they also organize the Nightfall festival at the Palm Canyon Resort at the edge of Borrego Springs in the early autumn each year. This is one of the most civilized regional star parties around, held on the grounds of the resort and close to comfortable rooms, a restaurant, general store and other resort amenities. Most folks who attend book a room at the resort (there are special rates for this event) or bring an RV and camp in the RV area. There are talks and other activities during the day, including activities for non-astronomers, and viewing and imaging at night under dark desert skies. This is a smaller and more intimate event than RTMC, with a lot less dust, and is a lot of fun for those who attend. The dates for Nightfall this year are October 11-14; for details see http://www.rtmcastronomyexpo.org/nightfall.htm.
Additional Info on Snakebites:
Carroll Slemaker contributed the following information that he learned from a TV program called Venom ER that used to be broadcast on Animal Planet. The resident expert on the show was Dr. Sean Bush, professor at Loma Linda University & Medical Center, who specialized in treating rattlesnake bites (among others) and was also an expert on the snakes themselves, and he advised that different species of rattlesnakes produce different types of venom and there is no single antivenin that counteracts the venom of all species of rattlesnakes. If you or someone with you is bitten, it’s very important to get as much information as possible about the snake that did the biting – it would be best to take the snake itself, if that can be done safely, but, if that isn’t possible, pictures or at least a good description of the snake that includes its colors and patterns would help.
Carroll also mentioned that the antivenin treatment itself can have dangerous side-effects, and can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock in susceptible patients. Trial-and-error treatment to identify the right antivenin is therefore not a good option, and providing any information that would help identify the species of snake can improve the chance that the right antivenin will be used and that potential side-effects will be minimized. Another interesting fact gleaned from the show – some species of rattlesnakes are a lot more poisonous than others, and the most toxic species (reportedly 16 times more toxic than a Diamondback) is the Mojave Rattlesnake, Crotalus scutulatus, one of the species of rattlesnakes found in the area of the Mojave Desert.
All of this just highlights the fact that prevention is a lot easier than dealing with the effects of a bite, so please keep the snake danger in mind while you are out at Anza, Black Star Canyon, or in any rural or wilderness area and take precautions. Many of us visit these types of areas frequently for years on end without ever seeing a live snake, so this isn’t something you need to be totally paranoid about, just exercise reasonable caution, such as giving any snakes in your area time to get away from you, staying on open ground where you are more likely to see any snake that might pose a problem for you, and not putting your hands or feet into any crack or crevice that you haven’t checked first to be sure it’s free of residents.
© Barbara Toy, August 2007