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October 2009 President's Message
By: Barbara Toy
October 10, 2009 9:10PM PDT
Views: 3843

The OCA election for the 2009 Board, our wonderful Outreach Group, past OCA fieldtrips, and dire consequences of the Station Fire on Mt. Wilson's finances, even though they survived the fire itself.

October 2009 President’s Message

By Barbara Toy



Well, we're past the autumnal equinox and the start of the new school year and heading fast toward the holiday season and the winter solstice – the year does seem to have gone by fast in spite of all the problems we’ve seen in the news and in the lives of too many of our members all year.  We keep hearing about signs that the economy is turning around, but there are still too many of us who are finding that times are getting tougher with any hope of improvement still far in the future.  If you can give any encouragement to anyone you know in that situation, please do.  And if you happen to be in that situation yourself – I hope things improve much faster for you than you fear, and that your interest in astronomy gives you some mental relief from whatever troubles you may be facing.


Turning to matters within the club…


OCA Election for the 2010 Board:


We start taking nominations for the 2010 Board at the October general meeting, so do get ready to throw your hat in the ring for a position on the Board!  We know that one of our current Trustees won’t be running next year, so there will be an empty position – why not fill that yourself?  As I’ve said before, serving on the Board is a lot of fun as well as important to keeping the club healthy and running well.


As of the time I write this, the list of candidates for positions on the Board is:


President:  Craig Bobchin

Vice President:  speaker

Secretary:  Bob Buchheim

Treasurer:  Charlie Oostdyke

Trustees:  Gary Schones, Alan Smallbone, Shelia Cassidy, Steve Short, Kyle Coker, Barbara Toy


Craig Bobchin has been doing a great job as Vice President for the last five years, which may be a club record for consecutive terms in that position.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do as President, and it will be very nice to have a fresh but experienced face in that position! 


When he announced his willingness to run for Vice President, speaker showed tremendous and welcome enthusiasm for that position – after seeing what he has been doing for our website as our current Webmaster and hearing his proposals for improvements and additions we could make to it since he took over that responsibility, I am really looking forward to seeing him in action as Vice President!


Almost every year it seems we face the sad loss of one or more valued members of the Board, and this time, after losing Sheryl Benedict to her new life in Tennessee, we are losing Tom Kucharski.  He has served on the Board for eight years or so, as I recall, and has brought us a lot of experience from his work with his original club in New Jersey, which has been a valuable addition to our discussions and has provided us with some good ideas for our own club over the years.  He has also enthusiastically involved himself in a variety of other club activities, including heading up the AstroImage SIG for a while, until the demands of his job created too many time conflicts for him.  The Board will really miss him next year, but fortunately we know that he’ll still be around and active in the club, as he has a stake in one of the observatories out at Anza and he’s active with the AstroImager group, among other things.  So this is – very fortunately – just a farewell as a Board member, not as a club member!


The OCA Outreach Group:  


We mention “outreach” and the “outreach group” a lot around the club – they’re featured in the club announcements every month, noted on the club calendar, announced on the email groups, and so on.  To those of us who’ve been involved with this aspect of the club’s activities, it’s clear what is meant, but that may not be the case for all of you.  So, this is my view of the our outreach program, offered in hopes that it will clear up any questions you might have about it (if I missed one, please email me and I’ll be happy to give you more information), and that it will encourage you to join in this fundamental club activity.


When we talk about the outreach group, we’re generally referring to Jim Benet’s group of volunteers who do outreach events at various schools, parks and other venues.  Jim schedules the events and actually makes it to most of them himself – as he has since becoming the Outreach Coordinator sometime before I joined the club in 1999 (though he’s having to scale back now because of other obligations).  The group’s “meetings” are the outreach events themselves – one of the great pleasures of doing these events is the chance to visit with the other volunteers, help each other out, and check out the equipment other volunteers bring to each event (particularly anything that’s new or is being used in a new way). 


The greatest pleasure of these events, though, and the heart of what we mean by “outreach,” is sharing views of the night sky (and sometimes the sun, during daylight outreaches) with all kinds of people, most of whom have never had a chance to see these things for themselves before and are very grateful for the chance to look through your telescope and for any information you can give them about what they’re looking at.  We all delight in seeing children’s faces light up when they connect with what they’re seeing, but it’s just as rewarding to see the pleasure and sense of discovery in faces of all ages and hear the excitement in their voices as they talk about what they’re seeing.


Our winter outreaches are usually at different schools around Orange County, and are limited to students from the hosting school and their families (these are listed on our website calendar as “private” events, as the schools can’t have them open to the general public because of liability issues).  Even so, there can be 200 to 300 people at these events, enough to keep five or six telescopes very busy indeed – the more volunteers we can muster for the larger events the better.  Outreaches at parks, libraries, the Mary Muth Nature Center, and similar locations are open to the general public, and usually also attract pretty big crowds. 


The main part of these events is volunteers bringing their telescopes or other viewing equipment for people to look through.  Sometimes there’ll be a presentation of some kind to kick things off – evenings at the Mary Muth Center start with a presentation inside the center, followed by viewing outside, for instance, and some of the other events start with Jim, Steve Short or someone else pointing out some of the naked-eye objects that are visible in the sky, talking about particular items of interest that we might be viewing, or getting people primed to spot an Iridium Flare or something like the space station passing overhead –  but often the volunteers just set up and start dealing with the people who are showing up to view without any initial presentation.


The best way to get involved with this group is to email Jim Benet (jimbenet@pacbell.net) and ask to be put on his mailing list, though he puts all of the information about scheduled outreaches on the OCA website calendar, as well, including directions on how to get to the different events.  He sends out regular reminders about upcoming outreaches, and which ones he needs more volunteers for – choose one or more that are convenient for you and let Jim know you plan to be there, take your scope or other viewing equipment out there, set up (this is when there’s usually a lot of visiting between the volunteers) and prepare to have a busy, fun and satisfying evening. 


If you have any questions about particular events or the outreach program in general, Jim is the best person to contact.  If you want to check out what happens at these events before bringing out any of your equipment, it’s best to show up before the event is scheduled to start so you have a chance to talk to the volunteers as they are setting up and see how they organize things – and they often can use a bit of help, if you can provide it.


There should be an article in this edition of the Sirius Astronomer from Jim Benet, giving some statistics and other information on the program.  Most of the schools where we have done these programs become repeat customers, so to speak – they want us back every year because their students and the students’ families all learn a lot at these events and enjoy them so much.  Most of my own outreach activities now are working with the Kuhn or with the Beginners Astronomy Class, but when I was a regular with Jim’s program, I would often talk to students who were in one of the classes that hosted us at their school one year and made it a point to come back in later years so they could look through the telescopes again even though they were no longer in a related class, because they were so thrilled with their first experience.  There aren’t many ways you can have that kind of positive impact on a kid in an interaction of just a few minutes, but doing outreach gives you that chance – I hope you’ll try some volunteering for the program and see for yourself what a fun and inspiring experience it can be!


OCA Field Trips


You may recall that I mentioned in a past President’s Message that I’d heard that there had been several  club field trips in the past, but I didn’t know many details.  Don Lynn has since kindly filled me in on the past club field trips he recalled.  I didn’t take notes, unfortunately, but among the trips he told me about I recall trips to Table Mountain and Stony Ridge, as well as Palomar and Mt. Wilson, all in the Southern California area, and also Kitt Peak. 


Kitt Peak is near Tucson, Arizona, and planning a field trip there would be a difficult proposition, but club field trips to Palomar or Mt. Wilson could be done again fairly easily.  We happen to have several members who are docents at Palomar (Tom Kucharski and Mike Bertin come to mind, and I’m sure there are others), which would certainly make it easier to arrange a tour for an OCA group.  As we found with the Palomar tour we had in conjunction with AI 2006, the exact details of what the tour would cover would most likely be subject to change depending on conditions and what was going on with the various facilities at the time of the tour, but there certainly is a reasonable possibility of getting in to see some “behind the scenes” parts of the Mountain.  The same is probably true for Mt. Wilson, at least when things get back closer to normal there after the Station Fire.


Table Mountain is a JPL research facility near Wrightwood, and looks like a fascinating place to visit, but, per their website, they don’t have a visitor center or any mechanism for giving tours.  Any tour would have to be through one of the scientists doing work there, and would probably be limited to the area where that scientist is working.  If anyone has any connections there, though, I expect that a lot of club members would be interested in seeing it.


Stony Ridge Observatory (SRO) is a large private observatory located near Mt. Wilson, with a 30-inch reflector telescope that was built as a professional-quality amateur facility – the project started in 1957, and saw first light in 1963.  A tour could probably be arranged, though they don’t mention that on their website.  However, it is currently having the same access problems as Mt. Wilson, as both were seriously threatened by the Station Fire (still not entirely contained as I write this on September 20), though both have, very fortunately and due to a lot of hard work by firefighters, survived. 


If anyone is interested in arranging a club tour of any of these or other local astronomical facilities, we welcome your efforts and assistance in setting it up.


Mt. Wilson and the Station Fire


Fortunately, both Mt. Wilson and Stony Ridge Observatory seem to have escaped serious damage from the Station Fire themselves, but it looks like it’ll be a long time before the roads up there will be open to the public due to fire damage to the roads (particularly to guardrails and anything else that contained wood or melted in the high heat) and the instability of the slopes above the roads from the loss of vegetation and other effects of the fire.  For more information about the effects of the fire and pictures of the devastation left behind it, see the Mt. Wilson website: http://www.mtwilson.edu/.


In spite of its historical importance and the fact that it remains a significant research facility, Mt. Wilson doesn’t have a solid source of ongoing funding.  A major part of the money that keeps it going comes from renting out nights on the 60-inch, as we have done in the past for club groups and hope to do in the future, as well.  One of the effects of the Station Fire is that they not only lost the nights that had been rented out during the fire itself, but the condition of the road up there now is so bad that it is unlikely to be reopened to the public for a long time, possibly several months, which means that they have lost the revenues from those nights, as well.  Compounding their problems, they now have a number of new expenses because of issues left by the fire or that they now know need to be addressed to make Mt. Wilson more defensible against fires in the future.  For more details about all of this, please see their website.


They have posted an urgent appeal for donations to help them make up for the shortfall in their budget caused by the fire and to help pay for these additional expenses.  I know times are hard for all of us, but Mt. Wilson is an important local astronomical asset and, if you can help them out at all, please do.  Donations can be sent to:  The Mount Wilson Institute, Fire Recovery Program, P.O. Box 1909, Atlanta, GA 30301-1909, or you can donate on line from their website.

© Barbara Toy, September 2009

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