November 2008 President’s Message
By Barbara Toy
So far, as I write this, we have been suffering through an economic meltdown, brushfires with the sad losses of homes and lives, and the final weeks of the presidential election season, which has also included races for a lot of other positions and the latest set of California propositions for voters' consideration. As you read this, the election should be behind us, but our economic woes will most likely be with us for a while, as will the fire season. Whoever wins a position at any level of government will have a tough job ahead, and I hope they all have the wisdom and courage to make the decisions needed to get us through these difficult times quickly and with a minimum of long-term damage.
Fortunately, we as a club are doing pretty well, and the challenges we face are not the type that threaten our existence and continued activities. Of course, I base that statement on the known challenges we face for the reasonably foreseeable future – we have some reserves to meet our ongoing expenses even if we have a drop in income and we have insurance in case of major disaster. Insurance, though, would cover only physical disasters, not circumstances like a major depression, which we all hope is not coming our way in spite of the economic events of the last few weeks; a major depression would undoubtedly cause us all to reexamine our priorities and needs, including the club.
To those of you who have suffered losses from the recent events on the stock market and the other financial issues that have dominated the news in recent weeks, or who may be facing foreclosure issues, loss of jobs or other losses because of the shrinking economy – my condolences and I hope better times come soon for all of us! Hopefully, club activities will help take your minds off your troubles, and enjoying nights under the stars will give you pleasure and perspective to help get through our current difficult times. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost anything to look up and enjoy a good view of the heavens – and, as a rare piece of good news among all the problems, the cost of driving to a dark location where you can enjoy that view even more has been going down, as gas prices drop from the highs we had last summer. It would be really nice if that trend, at least, continued for a while…
Even though the national elections may be over, we still have the OCA election coming up. As I mentioned last month, the nominations for the OCA board close at the end of the general meeting in November, and the voting begins when the ballot is final and posted on the website; a copy will also be sent with the December Sirius Astronomer. The directions for voting are on the ballot, and please be sure to follow the instructions regarding putting the ballot in a sealed envelope with the name of the member who is voting printed legibly on the outside, so your votes can be properly counted – this is needed so the ballot can be checked against the current membership list to ensure that it’s from a member who in good standing while maintaining the confidentiality of the ballot itself (so please don’t sign your ballot!). If you have more than one member in your household, each member can vote, but each ballot needs to be in a separate envelope marked with that member's name. For the voting itself, please vote for only one candidate for each of the officer positions, and vote for no more than seven candidates for the general trustee positions.
As you might note, there are slots for write-in candidates for each position, and you are welcome to write in candidates. It would be far better, though, if you formally nominated anyone you might want to write in instead, as this would give him or her a much better chance of winning a position. Any write-in candidate has to have the same basic qualifications as a formally nominated candidate – he or she has to have been a member in good standing for at least a year, and, if written in for president of vice president, has to have been a board member for at least a year at some point in the past.
If you read this before in the general meeting in November, you still have time to get your nomination in so that you or your nominee can have the chance to experience the pleasures of being on the OCA Board! I talked about the Board at length last month and won’t go over that ground again here – but, really, serving on the Board can be a lot of fun! Do give it a try!
Thanksgiving and the November Star Party at Anza…
You may have noticed on the club calendar that the Anza star party in November is on Thanksgiving weekend. This is due to the fact that Thanksgiving weekend this year happens to fall closer to the new moon than the weekend before (New Moon is actually on Thanksgiving itself, and the weekend before is the Black Star Canyon star party). I guess this gives us astronomers something extra to be thankful for this year, in that we will have nice, dark skies over a long holiday weekend. While there are probably people who won’t be able to come to the November star party because of family or other obligations that weekend, there are others who will undoubtedly take advantage of the holiday to enjoy two or three nights under dark skies at Anza – here’s hoping the weather cooperates!
And, if you do make it for the star party – microwaved Thanksgiving leftovers make great star party food!
Groups at Anza
As you may know, our Anza site is available for any club member in good standing to use at any time, and members can bring guests to the site, within reason – which is generally defined as less than six guests at a time. If you plan to have six or more guests, that’s a "group" and is subject to the group rules, which you can find on the club website (www.ocastronomers.org) in “Files” in the Members section. You also need to clear your group visit with our treasurer and keeper of the official club calendar for such things, Charlie Oostdyk (firstname.lastname@example.org, 714/751-5381), so he can make sure that this won’t conflict with any other group that’s planning to be there or with anything else that might cause a problem (you probably wouldn’t want to have your group there when we’re having the septic tanks pumped, for instance – though some people might find that interesting…).
We frequently host scouts, astronomy classes and other groups at Anza, and our goal is to do this in a way that still allows our members to use the site for viewing and imaging while the groups are there, and in a way that doesn’t overload our facilities. Because of this, we generally don’t allow groups to visit on star party nights, as that’s when we have the greatest number of members on site and when Anza House and our other facilities are in full use.
We've been noting group reservation dates for the Anza site on the club’s website calendar, so please be sure to check there before contacting Charlie, to help see what dates might be available. There can be delays between the time a particular group makes a reservation with Charlie and when it gets noted on the calendar, though, so it’s important to get the final clearance through Charlie. To maximize the chance that your reservation will be put on the website calendar promptly, please e-mail both Charlie and me to confirm your date once you've cleared it with Charlie.
If you’re going to bring a group out with one or more telescopes and you don’t have your own pad or observatory, the best place to set up would probably be the Football Field, which is conveniently close to Anza House and also has a lot of room to spread out. If your group is going to leave early (classes often leave around 10:00, particularly in winter), please have them park near the exit from the Football Field pointing out, so they can leave without backing up – this minimizes excess light for anyone else on site, especially if the group comes in more than one vehicle.
If you want your group to have access to the Kuhn telescope and club observatory, you need to have a Star Member host at the observatory and run the Kuhn. We also ask for a donation of $5.00 per person in the group when groups use the Kuhn to help support the observatory and cover the cost of using the facilities. If you are a Star Member yourself, you are welcome to host your group at the observatory after making the appropriate reservations; if not, you would need to contact me (as the Observatory Custodian) to make arrangements for a Star Member to host the group. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to find someone who can do this for you, as we don’t currently have many Star Members available to run the Kuhn for groups, but I’ll do my best.
All of that may make it seem like more trouble than it’s worth to bring a group out to Anza, but generally I don’t think that anyone who’s tried to schedule a group has had much of a problem doing it. Anza is a great facility for scouts and similar groups working on their astronomy badges, astronomy classes at all levels that need some time in the field to see some astronomical objects for themselves, and groups of family and friends that want to see what you find so interesting when you are in a dark site with a telescope, among others. If you’ve got a group you’d like to bring, please don’t be shy about making a reservation and bringing them – and I hope you all have a great time!
In October I updated the website calendar for 2009 to show the moon phases, regular club meetings and star parties, major astronomy-related events such as RTMC, and the holidays I could find without too much research. As of the time I’m writing this, I haven’t had time to put in information on the 2009 meteor showers – hopefully that’ll be included by the time you read this.
If you notice any holidays, astronomical events or other items you think should be included, or if you spot any mistakes, please email me the information at email@example.com. If you try to put the information on the calendar yourself, it won’t show up, even if it appears that the information has been accepted – to get information on the calendar, you need to get it to someone who is authorized to enter it (webmaster or Charlie Oostdyk, Jim Benet (who inputs all of the outreach information) and me, though I’m sure there are others as well). We are subjected to regular attempts to put ads or other spam on the calendar, so we’re careful to maintain the blocks on unauthorized content there as well as other parts of the website.
Some Joys of the Early Morning
With the days getting shorter, I frequently find that my alarm clock goes off during the week well before dawn, which gives me the chance to enjoy the changing light as the sun climbs closer to the horizon after I resentfully pry my eyes open and roll out of bed (getting up at that hour is not generally a voluntary matter). While walking out to pick up the day’s newspaper so I don’t roll over it on my way out the driveway, I can enjoy views of stars, planets and other celestial objects from a different perspective than what I’ve been seeing at Anza – alas, I’m finding it harder these days to stay awake for viewing beyond 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning at the latest, even when viewing conditions are wonderful, and constellations move a lot between then and dawn.
Unfortunately for this early-morning viewing, where I live is often cloudy and foggy for weeks on end. One small benefit of the Santa Ana conditions that caused the recent fire problems was that they also cleared out the clouds and let me enjoy such sights as Orion shining brightly overhead with Canis Major rising behind it, and other naked-eye objects – sadly, even when the sky is clear and incredibly steady, I’ve no time to bring out a telescope or even binoculars (or I might never make it to work).
On the morning just before the moon was full in October, it was poised above the ocean shortly before dawn, producing an interestingly symmetrical but not exactly linear light trail below it. I couldn't resist getting out the camera, and attempting to capture it, using what I recalled of what I learned from Dennis Mammana in that class he gave in August; if all goes as hoped, this early-morning picture should be somewhere in the vicinity of this column, though the light trail had lost some of the original symmetry by the time I was able to take the picture and the moon itself wound up overexposed.
Although I enjoy a good night’s sleep too much to recommend early rising as a matter of course for those that don't need to do it, if you do have to be up that early, I hope you too find that enjoying the beauty of pre-dawn celestial objects hours gets your day going in a good direction – or, if you are ending your day with the dawn, that it gives you a great ending!
Best wishes to all of you, may you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I hope the prospect for all of us is a whole lot better by December than the way things look now, in mid-October!
© Barbara Toy, October 2008