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September 2009 President's Message
By: Barbara Toy
September 14, 2009 9:05PM PDT
Views: 3484

Changes on the OCA Board, and a tour of the club's major Special Interest Groups: the AstroImagers Group, the Astrophysics SIG, the GoTo Group, and the Remote Telescope Group (formerly the EOA).

September 2009 President’s Message

By Barbara Toy


Well, the year continues on its way, with the Autumnal Equinox coming up in September.  This is usually a great time to observe – nights are longer but still warm, and, if you stay up long enough, you can see some of the wonderful winter sights in reasonable comfort instead of the bundled-up state we usually view them in when they’re in the evening sky.  I find it particularly satisfying to look at Orion without the need of anything more than a light jacket…


We generally think of warm observing nights as a good thing, associated with comfort and easy living (in an astronomer’s terms), but it can be carried to an extreme.  The July star party/Starbecue was an example of this – the thermometer in the club observatory dropped briefly to 87° but most of the night it was above that, and readings in some other locations around Anza were even higher.  It was definitely shirtsleeve weather, not a night when sleeping bags were needed.  It’s not often that you can work up a sweat doing standard observing activities at night, but you could that night – and it turns out that’s not the ideal way to enjoy the stars.  Though, given the choice between that and clouds, most of us would prefer to deal with a bit of heat!


Changes On The Board


Last month, Sheryl Benedict moved across country to start her new job and new life in Tennessee.  You may have seen the picture she posted on our website from her new home, showing a dramatic lightning strike – a great welcome, as long as it’s not too close!  We hope everything goes as well for her in her new job as it did for her in getting that shot!


At the July meeting, the board decided to fill Sheryl's position instead of letting it stay vacant for the rest of the year, and appointed Kyle Coker as our newest board member.  Kyle has been an active member of the club for a number of years now, and many of you probably know him through his imaging or from seeing him at Anza. Those of you who went through our Beginners Class may recall him as the gentleman who presented the session on beginning astrophotography – he developed that part of the program and has been presenting it as part of the Beginners Class for the last three or four years, with great success.  He has also been active in our outreach program, and he’s a regular volunteer to help us with the “How to Use Your Telescope" class.  We’re really pleased that he agreed to serve on the Board and are looking forward to working with him.


Just What Are The OCA SIGs?


For those of you who haven’t gotten involved with any of our club’s special interest groups, or who may not be aware that we have a group that’s involved in areas of interest to you, here is a quick overview of our formal SIGs, in alphabetical order.  These groups are open to all club members, and all of them welcome newcomers (as well as those who are returning, of course), so feel free to come to any of their meetings or events and check them out for yourself!


AstroImage SIG (also known as the AI Group): This is generally the largest of the special interest groups.  As you might guess from the name, the AI group is interested in all things having to do with all types of astronomical imaging. This includes video as well as individual images, and there are even some members who still use film, matters related to mounts, telescopes and other necessary equipment beyond cameras, and processing image data as well as capturing it.  People of all levels of expertise are welcome, including those who are absolute beginners.  It is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn how to get images of the beauties of the night sky for themselves – as well as daytime images of the sun and other astronomical phenomena.  


The regular meeting times are at 7:00 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month, and they are held in a conference room at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Irvine, near Jamboree and the 405, courtesy of Joe Busch, one of the partners in that firm.  You can find directions to the meetings on the club website.


Beginners may feel that a lot of the discussions at the meetings are too advanced for them to start out with, but it’s well worth attending meetings regularly anyway.  It’s amazing how much you can pick up by listening to people who are doing different things with different equipment and software, looking at their pictures during Show & Tell and hearing what they did to get those results – and also seeing how the images taken by different members of the group improve over time as their techniques improve.  Coming to the meetings also helps you build relationships with more experienced imagers who can help you out with particular problems, and gives you other opportunities for help to get you over the inevitable hurdles to doing this kind of imaging.  Even non-imagers like me can pick up a lot of interesting information from the meetings, which usually feature presentations on various topics related to imaging, sometimes with guest speakers, in addition to Show & Tell (where members show their images and discuss them) and other general discussions.


The AI Group has its own website, at http://www.oc-aisig.org/, thanks to Bruce Waddington (who acts as its webmaster and hosts it) and Kevin Nelson (who helped develop it), which you can access through the OCA club website using the link above the images on the right side of the home page.  It also has an e-mail group, AstroImagers@yahoogroups.com, which is open to any club member.  If you have any questions about the AI Group, please contact the chair, Alan Smallbone, at asmallbone@earthlink.net, or Bruce Waddington, who is also the group's secretary, at bw_msg01 at earthlink dot net.


Astrophysics SIG:  If you have any interest in causes and effects of what we see in the night sky, how the cosmos works, the beginning and end of the universe, black holes, dark matter, dark energy and other related areas, you should definitely check out the Astrophysics SIG.  We usually meet at 7:30 p.m. on the third Friday of the month at the Heritage Museum of Orange County in southern Santa Ana, though the meeting dates had to be changed for September and October because the club’s general meetings were moved to the third Friday of those months due to scheduling difficulties with Chapman University.  These meetings of the Astrophysics SIG will be on September 11 (the 2nd Friday of the month) and October 23 (the 4th Friday of the month) instead of the usual dates.


The Astrophysics meetings are kind of like friendly seminar sessions with guest speakers via videotape; we've been going through several different lecture series from different sources, mainly through the Teaching Company.  Right now, we usually have a lecture from the cosmology section of Dr. Alex Filippenko’s most recent Astronomy lecture series, along with lectures from Dr. Mark Whittle from his series on Cosmology: The History and Nature of Our Universe and Dr. James Gates from his series on String Theory.  We generally have group discussions between the different lectures, as well as before and after the lectures, and people bring in various articles and other items of interest to share with the group.  Don Lynn regularly brings in his most recent downloads from NASA and other sources showing what different probes, satellites, research telescopes, etc., are collecting and discusses their significance with the group – and gives us the advantage of his expertise in a lot of the different areas we discuss.


Beyond our interest in astrophysics, this is quite a social group, and, thanks to Steve Short, who started the practice of bringing cookies to the meetings, several different group members have been bringing cookies and other refreshments, which we all enjoy with our discussions.


For more information about the group and to get on his email group for updates on what is planned for the next meeting, please contact Chris Buchen, the group Coordinator, at buchen@cox.net.


GoTo Group:  This group started as the ETX Group, shortly after the GoTo version of Meade’s popular ETX telescopes became available.  These were the first fairly low-cost scopes available with GoTo capability, and the group started with Mike Bertin pulling together a bunch of us that had ETXs of various sizes with the goal of helping everyone learn to use their scopes better and improve how the scopes functioned.  With time, it became apparent that a lot of the concerns of the original ETX group were shared by people using any telescope with GoTo capabilities, and the group expanded to include all types of scopes and GoTo mounts as well as people who might be thinking about getting one. 


The meetings for the group are not on a fixed schedule, but usually are set on a Monday early in the month about every other month.  The next meeting, however, is set on the night that LCROSS is scheduled to crash into the moon, October 8-9, and, for those who don’t have to be at work early the next morning, is scheduled to run through the time of impact (which could be 4:00 to 5:00 a.m., local time) and beyond – long enough to see if anyone can pick up signs of the cloud of debris kicked up by the impact.  The group had a similar all-nighter for a full lunar eclipse, which was a lot of fun for those who could attend.


To find out the main topic of the next meeting and when it will be set, you should get on Mike Bertin’s email list, which you can do by emailing him at mcb1@aol.com; you can also find this information on the club calendar on the OCA website (www.ocastronomers.org), and you can contact Mike with any questions you have about the group.  The meetings are usually held at Craig Bobchin’s house (you can get the directions from Mike or from Craig, who is currently our Vice President), and start with a general discussion session (usually held inside) followed by an observing session outside in Craig’s large back yard.  The viewing portions of the meetings are usually accompanied by fresh brownies, courtesy of Craig or his wife, who generously allows us to take over major portions of her home on meeting nights even though astronomy is not her particular interest.


The GoTo Group also helps out with our “How to Use Your Telescope” class sessions of the Beginners Class, as a lot of the people who come to those sessions have ETXs, NexStars and other GoTo telescopes that members of the group are familiar with.   Speaking as the person who generally organizes those sessions, I don’t think they would be nearly as successful as they’ve been without the help and support of the GoTo Group – and it’s another really fun activity the group is involved with.


Remote Telescope Group (formerly the EOA):  This group is currently dedicated to working on the club’s Remote Telescope (RT) project.  The objective is to be able to control the group’s telescope from outside of the Anza site and take images remotely for outreach events for schools or at other locations and also for the use of individual members.  The real challenge for the group is to do this on a shoestring budget. 


The RT observatory is the small building with a clam-shell roof to the west of Anza House, which was salvaged by Tony Obra when it was discarded by Mt. Wilson.  It houses a 12-inch Meade LX200, generously donated by John Hoot.  The CCD cameras that we’ve used in the past were also donations from various sources, and most, unfortunately, have developed problems or ceased functioning altogether.  The project computers have also all been donations.  At this point, JV Howell and Gene Kent are the members of the group who are most directly involved with pulling all of the equipment together and getting it to work together smoothly and accurately.


Besides the work that JV, Gene and others in the group do out at Anza to move the project along, the RT group meets regularly at Coco’s Restaurant in Tustin at 7:30 p.m. on the 4th Wednesday of the month to share information, get updates on the Anza end of the project, discuss any problems that have developed, and to have a good evening with a friendly group of people.  The project has proven to be a great way to learn a lot about telescope functioning and all the issues one has to be aware of and plan for with a telescope that is operated remotely – and we’re all eager to see the final configuration of the telescope and its supporting equipment and software in action and to use it.  Newcomers to the project are very welcome.  If you have questions about the group, the meetings or the project, please contact the group coordinator, Del Christiansen at delmarchris@earthlink.net or me.


Some General Comments…


As you might have gathered, I’m involved in one way or another with all of the SIGs and really enjoy all of their meetings.  If you have questions about any of them, I’ll be happy to do what I can to answer them.  From my own experience, the SIGs are a great way to get to know more people in the club as well as to learn more about things that interest you, and also a great way to get involved in interesting projects that you’d be unlikely to tackle on your own.  So, if you haven’t gone to any of the SIG meetings yet – do try a few, and give yourself some time to get familiar with what goes on at the meetings and the people who attend.  If the group’s focus is something you’re interested in, I think you’ll quickly find that you’re having a lot more fun with it and learning more and much more easily than you could on your own.


© Barbara Toy, August 2009

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