December 2009 President’s Message
By Barbara Toy
With the year drawing to a close, this is typically a time when we look back on the past year and revisit the good, bad and ugly parts of the year. This year, I’m afraid, the bad and the ugly generally outweigh the good for too many of us. I don’t think I’ve had contact with anyone this year who is completely untouched by the recession and everything that’s gone with it, both in the club and outside it. Economic indicators may be saying that the recession has bottomed out and things are improving, but it looks like it’ll be a long time before the recovery reaches individual people. In the meantime, people continue to lose income, and often their jobs and their homes. And, as if that wasn’t enough doom and gloom, we’re in a serious drought…
Well, we’ve nothing to lose by hoping that next year will be better for everybody, and I certainly hope it is for all of you. In the meantime, looking out into the universe around us can give some much needed mental relaxation and perspective – here’s hoping that 2010 features many clear weekend nights around new moon!
Anza Weather and Roads
As we continue our plunge into the holiday season, we should start seeing more consistent wintry weather, though our coldest nights usually are in January and February. There are rumors that this winter will feature a mild to moderate El Niño condition, with more rain than usual (or at least more rain than last year), though, as of the time I’m writing this shortly before Thanksgiving, we’ve had a lot of clouds and fog, but minimal rain except for one fire-damaged area above La Crescenta that got a cloudburst that caused a mudflow – not quite the type of rain we were hoping for!
If or when the rains do come, they will undoubtedly make a mess of the roads around Anza, so it's a good idea to check on road conditions before you head out there. Fortunately, the soil around our site is mostly decomposed granite, which tends to drain pretty fast. If we get a lot of rain over several days, though, there are parts of the road that turn to deep mud, which is very difficult to get through – that situation can improve a lot in just a few hours if the rain stops, however. Of course, a lot of rain also means ruts and runoff damage, which create challenges of their own.
We've been very fortunate in recent years that several of our neighbors have been doing a great job in repairing damage to the roads on the way to our Anza site fairly quickly. Only the first stretch of dirt road is a county road, the others are all maintained by the adjoining landowners, our neighbors out there. If you see someone working on the dirt road, please be courteous, give them plenty of room, and let them know that you appreciate their efforts.
The OCA Election
You should find a copy of the ballot for the OCA election in the December issue of the Sirius Astronomer. It is also posted on the website, and you can get a copy at the December or January general meetings, as well. If you have a ballot and know other club members who need one, please feel free to photocopy the one you have for them – before you note your votes on it, that is.
Even if you don't think it will make a difference, we need you to help us out by casting your vote, so Bob Evans has something to count. More seriously, it's important for the long-term health of the club for its members to pay attention to the activities of its elected leaders, and voting is the easiest way to demonstrate that you as members are paying attention.
Instructions for voting are on the ballots – please be sure to print your name legibly on the outside of the envelope you put the ballot in (not on the ballot itself), so Bob Evans can check it against the membership rolls to make sure it is valid before putting your ballot in the group to be counted. This is how we maintain the privacy of the voting process while also making sure that only the votes of members in good standing as of the date of the election are counted.
You can mail your ballot to Bob Evans at any time after the final ballot is posted on the website, or put it in the ballot box at the January meeting. All members who are 18 or older in a household can vote, but the ballots need to be put in separate envelopes, not all of them together in one envelope.
So – get your ballots in, and maybe we can make this a record-breaking election year!
OCA Desk Calendars:
A lot of members of our AstroImage group offered their best images for the 2010 AstroImage Calendar, and the members of the group voted on the best of the images for the calendar (though there was a limit of only one image per imager for the calendar); the result is a great new desk calendar for the new year, plus calendar pages for November and December of this year, because people had a hard time selecting just twelve. If you were at the general meeting in November, you may have seen them on Charlie’s table – they’re great to have on your desk to enjoy all year and also to give as gifts.
The price is only $10.00, and we’re keeping the costs down by producing them on demand, so we won’t have a large stock on hand. If you want to get one (or more), the best way is send an email to Alan Smallbone (who actually provided and customized the calendar template and put the calendar together once the pictures were selected, and who has been getting them printed and then assembling them as orders have come in), at asmallbone_at_earthlink_dot_net. Delivery can be made at the December general meeting or December AstroImage meeting, if you want them before Christmas.
We have a lot of excellent imagers in the club, and this calendar is a great way to feature their work as well as to support the club – it’s certainly unique, not the kind of calendar you could get anywhere else. So, get one for home, for where you do astronomy, and for work, and for anyone you know who appreciates astronomical images!
While on the topic of calendars, I have been the person who has done the annual update of most of the information on the website calendar for the last several years. I recently uploaded the moon phases, regular club meetings and star party information for 2010, and should have the holidays uploaded by the time you see this.
If you notice any mistakes on any of the entries, or if there is a holiday that is missing, please e-mail the information to me at btoy_at_cox_dot_net and I will be happy to make the correction.
Fire Prevention at Anza
At the November board meeting, we considered the fire prevention information that I was given by the Dave Jurasevich and others from Mount Wilson during the PATS conference, based on what they learned from the firefighters during the Station Fire. One of the concerns we discussed was the feasibility of somehow screening the gap between observatory roll-off roofs or domes and the fixed walls of the observatories.
As many of you may know, Gary Schones, who has been one of our trustees for a number of years now, is a contractor and has built a number of the observatories on our Anza site, including his own, and has also built observatories in other locations, with different variations in the designs. He is a wonderful resource on issues related to observatory design and construction, and after a good discussion of the difficulties involved in engineering an effective screen for these areas of the observatories that wouldn’t interfere with their function, the board reached a consensus that we would do better to look to other means of making our site more resistant to fire.
We agreed that the more effective approach for protecting the Anza site, particularly the buildings, from potential wildfires is to be more aggressive about clearance around all of the structures on the site. This, of course, includes the area around Anza house; when I was at Anza House in November, I noticed that a lot of brush has grown in the area between the house and the slope separating it from the RV area. This does need to be cleared – if you regularly use Anza House, next time you go out there, please bring some clippers or other weed-clearing implements and spend some time clearing brush around the house. The more we can clear out now, the easier it will be to keep the area clear once the spring growth begins.
Dark Sky Issue
Scott Kardel of Palomar recently sent an alert to the people on the Dark Sky e-mail group, letting us know of a new threat to the night sky. This is a new streetlight technology, using LEDs, which is very attractive to municipal governments because LED lights use a lot less electricity than other types of lighting. Unfortunately, the type that is being sold to the municipalities produces a blue-white light that is very glaring, causing problems particularly for aging eyes (as anyone who’s had to see past the glare of bluish headlights has probably noticed). The wavelength of this type of lighting is in the part of the spectrum that is disruptive to circadian rhythms (which govern sleep and wake cycles, among other things), and will also put more light pollution into the night sky. For more details, please see the release from the International Dark Sky Society at http://docs.darksky.org/PR/PR_Blue_White_Light.pdf.
If you learn that one of your local governments is planning to use this type of lighting, please take time to register a protest, and advise any and all of the agencies involved of the safety and environmental issues associated with using lighting in this part of the spectrum. Of course, we have a particular interest in seeing that this type of lighting isn’t used, as it definitely would affect our viewing conditions, as well as the continued effectiveness of facilities such as Palomar Mt. and Mt. Wilson as research observatories.
Venus as UFO
You may have heard that the object that is most commonly identified as a UFO turns out to be the planet Venus, and that people who identify it as a UFO describe it as making loops, turns, sometimes moving with tremendous speed and sometimes pacing them. Because it’s very bright, particularly when it’s closest to us, and fairly low, Venus is often perceived as something that's within a mile rather than something at a distance of millions of miles, and that discrepancy makes for some interesting perceptions about its motion. I haven’t recently watched Venus put through its paces, so to speak, but did find that Jupiter can put on a similar show.
When Alan and I were coming back from the Advanced Imaging Conference in San Jose at the beginning of November, I discovered that Jupiter was in an excellent position for observing its apparent movements through the passenger window as we were traveling south. It was getting westerly in the evening sky, but was still higher than Venus generally would be, which meant in that particular context that it didn’t vanish behind mountaintops as we headed up the Grapevine (which would have destroyed the illusion). Because I was looking through the car window, the window frame was my frame of reference; Venus is often glimpsed through nearby trees or other nearby features, which can make it seem to be moving even faster, zipping along behind the trees, if you perceive it as something nearby (if you see it go behind a distant mountain or building, however, that should correct the misperception about distance – though I guess some people might see that as a sign of tremendous acceleration away from them).
I admit that I was observing Jupiter fairly casually through the window, and my attention was attracted by the fact that, because of the turns in the road, Jupiter appeared to drop behind us, execute a loop, then to shoot forward to a position slightly ahead of us, where it slowed and seemed to pace us. Because I was just observing casually at that point, I’m not certain of the exact turns the car was making as I observed these apparent motions, but after that I noticed that curves to the right made it appear that Jupiter was moving forward, curves to the left made it appear to drop behind, and a straight run with no curves made it seem to be racing along on a parallel course with us. Alas, I didn’t see it do any more loops….
Since as astronomers we’re often asked about UFOs, and people seem to expect us to pop up with the “real” explanation for various phenomena they describe to us if we insist that whatever it is isn’t a sign of intelligent extraterrestrial visitors, observing apparent motions like this can be a good way to help prepare for those kinds of questions – and it’s also fun to watch for itself, to see how nature and the wiring of our brains can conspire to fool us.
© Barbara Toy, November 2009