December 2008 President’s Message
By Barbara Toy
It's hard to believe another year is winding to a close. This time last year, we were all concerned about gas prices, and there were some segments of the economy that were not doing too well, but I recall the overall mood as reasonably optimistic. I don't think even those who wondered how long the overheated housing market could continue or who had concerns about the extent of subprime lending foresaw the collapse we’ve witnessed in the last few months, or had any idea how far-reaching the effects might be. Right now, it’s looking like 2009 will be a difficult year for many of us. In addition to our economic woes, I'm sure many of you have been touched directly by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Please let anyone you know who is serving in the military, has served in the military in the past, or has family serving in the military that we truly appreciate their many sacrifices – and that this is not just rhetoric by politicians.
Fortunately, even when things are crazy on a human scale here on earth, the stars continue in their regular courses, assuring us of continued pleasure in the various celestial treasures they mark and giving us a sense of dependability that may be lacking in other parts of our lives right now. I hope that catching some of the beauty that's out there, whether through your eyes, camera or imagination, can give some relief to your spirit when times are rough. To that end, though we certainly need rain, I profoundly hope that we will have a lot of excellent nights for viewing this coming year!
OCA Elections – It’s Time to Vote!
You should receive a copy of the ballot for the OCA Board election with this issue of the Sirius Astronomer, or you can download it from the website. Please vote for your candidates and send your ballot to Bob Evans right away, so you don’t forget – you have until the January general meeting, but why wait that long?
You might notice that, while we do have a candidate for every position, we don’t have any extra candidates this year. I like to think that is in recognition of the high caliber of the people we have on the current board – I reserve comment when it comes to the presidency on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me, but as to the other officers and the past board members who are running again this year, I can state emphatically and without reservation that they are a wonderful group of people to work with, talented, with diverse interests and skills, and all of them have a very strong interest in working for the best interests of the club as a whole. I really look forward to working with them again next year.
Unfortunately, we have one member of the 2008 Board who will not be returning in 2009. Steve Condrey, is the current editor of the Sirius Astronomer and he and his wife, Sandy, have also has taken on the job of Anza House Coordinator. Besides working full time and becoming the father of a charming and highly energetic young son, Steve has decided to go back to school to work on his Masters degree – it’s not at all surprising that he felt that he just wouldn’t have the time to continue with his board position in addition to all of his other responsibilities! We’ll certainly miss him on the Board next year, but look forward to seeing him at Anza and at any meetings he’s able to attend, as well as admiring his work in putting the Sirius Astronomer together each month!
As a last note, though you may not think it’s important to vote this year because there’s only one candidate for each spot on the Board, please vote anyway – if nobody votes, nobody will win the election. There may also be issues if someone is written in as a candidate – if you really want certain candidates to win, but don’t vote, there’s a possibility they could lose to a write-in candidate. And knowing that ballots were cast by the membership helps us feel that you do care who is running the club and ensures that those who get your votes know that they have your support.
2009 -- The International Year of Astronomy
As you may have heard, 2009 has been designated as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009 – ours is the age of abbreviations), celebrating astronomy at all levels, including both professional and amateur astronomy. As stated on the IYA2009 website, this “is a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery.” Activities are planned on the international, national and local levels, and (at least, per the website) center around eleven “Cornerstone Projects.”
You can find out all the details on these projects and other information on IYA2009 by checking its website, http://www.astronomy2009.org/. They expect to update the website regularly with more information about activities planned all over the world as part of IYA2009, so it’s a good idea to check back regularly for activities and information that particularly interest you.
The Cornerstone Projects are listed on the website as: 100 Hours of Astronomy (see below), The Galileoscope (plans to distribute thousands of easily-assembled telescopes similar in size to Galileo’s original scope to help introduce people to the pleasures of the night sky), Cosmic Diary (a blog of professional astronomers around the world discussing their lives and work as astronomers, which is expected to provide a basis for future documentaries, among other uses), The Portal to the Universe (envisioned as a “one stop” portal that would include a semi-automatically updating index and aggregator of all types of information related to or useful in astronomy as well as a social networking site for the astronomically-inclined), She is an Astronomer (to help reduce gender biases in astronomy and other sciences, and to encourage more women to go into astronomy and other sciences as a career), Dark Skies Awareness (an area of particular interest to us), Astro & World Heritage (“the main objective [of this program] is to establish a link between science and culture…”; apparently with particular interest in identifying and preserving properties related to astronomy around the world), Galileo Teacher Training Programme (to help teachers, among other things, find and use resources available through the Internet and elsewhere so they can teach astronomy more effectively), Universe Awareness (“using the sky and children's natural fascination with it as common ground, UNAWE creates an international awareness of our place in the Universe and our place on Earth,” with an emphasis on teaching tolerance and exposing “very young children in under-privileged environments to the scale and beauty of the Universe”), From Earth to the Universe (which “endeavours to bring wonderful astronomical images [and the science behind them] to a wider audience in non-traditional venues,” such as public parks, metro stations, art centres, etc., hoping to “engage individuals who might normally ignore or even dislike astronomy, or science in general”), and Developing Astronomy Globally (to help develop an astronomical infrastructure in areas of the world where this is missing, including the professional and amateur levels as well as public education). If you happen to be reading this on-line, you should be able to get to the pages for each of these projects by clicking or control-left-clicking on the title of each project.
The formal project descriptions for many of these Cornerstone Projects are in grandiose or obscure terms that make it hard to come to grips with what that specific project is really about. It’s worth delving deeper, though – all of these projects have a real-world side that should produce some very interesting results if they are implemented. If any of these concepts resonates with you, the Year of Astronomy is a great time to get directly involved with it! These activities all have long-term components, so that whatever gains are made during this celebration will be a foundation for further endeavors and won’t be lost when the year ends; your involvement now could lead to other interesting activities in the future.
The “100 Hours of Astronomy” project has attracted the interest of some of our members already, particularly our vice president, Craig Bobchin. The goal is to have “sidewalk astronomy” and other outreach events going on continually somewhere in the world for 100 hours, along with such things as webcasts from ongoing public events and research observatories around the world, and other related activities. As night falls in a sweeping circuit of the globe from April 2 through 5, 2009, these activities aimed at introducing thousands of people to the pleasures of the night sky will be taken up around the globe, demonstrating the interest we share in the sky above us, regardless of where in the world we live.
Mike Simmons, who you may remember from his talks at our general meetings and in connection with his organization, Astronomers Without Borders, is one of the co-chairs of this project, which certainly is in keeping with the philosophy of his organization. Scott Roberts, who many of you know from his years of work for Meade Instruments, is also a member of the task force organizing the 100 Hours of Astronomy project, so there are a lot of local connections with this project already. It has its own website at http://www.100hoursofastronomy.org/, and is scheduled to take place “when the Moon goes from first quarter to gibbous, good phases for early evening observing” (to quote the website. As an FYI for people who haven’t done public outreaches, we generally consider the moon a friend, not an obstacle, particularly around first quarter when it’s up in the evening sky and the terminator helps give definition to the surface, as people love to look at it [“Ooooooh – it’s so bright! Look, there are mountains…”], and it’s bright enough to cut through a lot of clouds or haze that block other objects).
I agree with Craig that this an IYA2009 project that our club should be actively involved in – in addition to having the experience of being part of this worldwide effort, it should be a lot of fun! If you’re interested in helping to organize specific outreach activities for our club for that event, please contact Craig at ETX_Astro_Boy@sbcglobal.net.
Doug Millar, who is coordinating events for another club he is involved in for IYA2009, has generously volunteered to help coordinate activities for our club, as well, which, among other things, may involve letting us know about events his other club is working on that people in our club might be interested in as well. If you would like to check out possibilities for working with him on any of these projects, please let me know and I’ll be happy to put you in contact with him.
This year of appreciation for all aspects of astronomy is an excellent time to think about what this means to you, both astronomy itself and what you do with it as a hobby, what it means to you, how it has made a difference in your life, your memories of being an amateur astronomer, and where you would like to see our hobby go in the future. Please write your thoughts and recollections down and share them with the rest of us, whether formally in an article in the Sirius Astronomer or the webpage, or as a less formal statement or set of statements to the e-mail groups. Perhaps one of our contributions to IYA2009 can be a collection of thoughts, memories and comments from different people who've been active in the hobby about these topics – I'll be happy to put a collection together if you forward your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“How To Use Your Telescope” Class
For the last few years, we have had our “How To Use Your Telescope” class (for convenience, “Telescope Class”) as the fifth session of our regular Beginners Astronomy Class. Usually, that session falls in January and July, with the January session conveniently placed shortly after Christmas, to help those who may have acquired a telescope as a gift but are unsure what to do with it. This year, the Telescope Class will be the first Friday in February instead of the first Friday in January, mainly because we had to reschedule the sessions for this cycle of the Beginners Class due to facilities issues in September, when the first session was originally scheduled. Because we were unable to have a session in September, we moved the regular sessions ahead by a month, so this cycle will have only five sessions instead of the usual six, and, if you want to attend the Beginners Astroimaging session, you'll have to do that next August, at the end of the next cycle.
If you or anyone you know has a telescope or acquires one over the holidays and would like some help in learning how to use it or learning to use it better, please plan to bring it to the Telescope class in February. If you need help urgently, you can bring it to the Beginners Class in January, and we will do our best to help you, but we'll have a lot more volunteers available and can get more hands-on assistance at the February session. Before you attend one of these sessions, you should try setting up your equipment yourself in the daylight, when you can see better what you are doing, and you should get it to work as well as you can, so you have a better idea of where your problems lie and can get specific help where you need it most. Also, this will help you find out before the class whether there are parts missing while you can take steps to get them before the class, so you’ll be ready to go when the class meets.
As always, we need volunteers to help out with the class – if you haven’t tried it before, do come, as this is one of our best outreach activities and is a lot of fun as well as informative for all concerned.
Have a great end-of-the-year, see 2008 off in style, and Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all of you!
© Barbara Toy, November 2008