By Barbara Toy
As I write this, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast only three weeks ago, and the devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi is still fresh in our minds. I’m sure I’m not the only member of the club with friends or family in that area – I hope all of your loved ones are safe, at least. If they are among the many people displaced by the Katrina and its aftermath, I hope they find their losses are not too great and that they are (or were) able to return home quickly. Sadly, there are many people who no longer have homes to return to, and many more who may wait weeks or even months before they know if their homes are habitable. Although our club isn’t well-suited to collecting donations for the relief efforts, there are many organizations that are, and I hope you will use those channels for donations to help the unfortunate people whose lives were so disrupted by Katrina.
One of my best friends is on the faculty of the Tulane Medical School and has lived in New Orleans for almost twenty years – having friends there has been a great way for me to see the city beyond the usual tourist haunts. She happened to fly into Orange County the night of the Astrophysics meeting in August, and I brought her to the meeting after picking her up at the airport, in time for most of the second video and some discussion. While she was out here for a conference back in 2002, I convinced her to go to a star party at Anza and to go out there again for the big Leonid meteor shower, and she enjoyed these experiences enough that she’s more enthusiastic about my hobby than most of my other non-astronomy friends and relations. At any rate, Cass was a good sport about going with me to the Astrophysics meeting and said she found it interesting, even though, after seeing him on the video, it seemed her main interest was in examining Professor Wolfson’s brain to see how he could process his ideas and talk so fast at such length (her research area is the primate brain).
Cass’s husband and daughter have now joined her here, while they wait to find out when (or if) they can return home. While they’re trying to sort out their lives and establish some level of normalcy, I keep offering various club activities as diversions. They’re hoping to make it out to Anza for at least one star party before they head south again (which may be to Texas, where Tulane seems to be setting up temporary quarters) – if you were out at Anza for the October star party, maybe you saw them there. Assuming that star party isn’t clouded out (given our record this last summer, that’s not a foregone conclusion, unfortunately), if they’re able to attend that party, I know they’ll be made welcome.
In fact, this seems like a good time to thank all of you great club members who go out of your way to make newcomers and guests feel welcome and at home at Anza and at other club events – as the club’s Member Liaison, thank you all very much!
In Case of Emergency…
If nothing else, what happened with Katrina drove home the fact that everyone should have some kind of plan in case of disaster, including those of us who spend time out at the club’s Anza site. Cellphone coverage at Anza is spotty for most phones, and, in case you need to be contacted about an emergency while out there, you should make sure that your family or close friends have the phone numbers to the club observatory (951/763-5152) and Anza House (951/763-9693), and that they know that they can find these and the numbers for club officers and other contact people in the “Contacts” section of the website or on the back of each issue of the Sirius Astronomer.
If you have an emergency while on the Anza site and need to summon help, the phone at Anza House is usually on one of the tables in the western living room (it has a long cord and tends to migrate), and the club observatory has phones on the counter at the back of the warming room and on the Kuhn Control Center computer desk in the observing area.
We haven’t yet been faced with conditions where people needed to get away from our Anza site and the main road out was closed, but it could happen. Particularly for people who are out at Anza a lot, it would be a good idea to look at a map showing the roads around the site to get an idea of some other routes out, and to take some time to explore the surrounding areas and become familiar with them before there’s an emergency. Even though I know that’s a good idea, I have to admit that I haven’t done nearly as much exploration out there as I’ve intended to, as it always seems there’s so much to do on our site and not enough time to go wandering around the local by-ways…
On the more general side, the California Office of Emergency Services has a lot of helpful information and suggestions for what to do to be prepared for disaster conditions: See www.oes.ca.gov, specifically the link titled “Be Smart. Be Responsible. Be Prepared. Be Ready.” This includes links to information from the Red Cross and other helpful sites. They repeatedly recommend that you have enough food, water and other supplies to take care of yourself and your family for at least three days. As we saw with New Orleans, in a major disaster it may take even more than three days for outside help to arrive.
Now, on somewhat less weighty topics:
Labor Day Weekend – OCA Style…
Running somewhat against conventional wisdom, the club had some significant scheduled events over Labor Day weekend. The first of these was our Beginners Class, which meets regularly on the first Friday of the month – this, of course, put it right at the beginning of that holiday weekend. We would like to thank the Orange County Register for its regular notices about the class, which has certainly caused a lot of people to come to the Beginners Class over the last couple years. However, the notice for the September class had a small mistake, identifying this as a session when people were to bring their telescopes to get help in setting up and learning how to use them. I found out about this when I started getting calls – there were obviously a lot of people out there who wanted some hands-on help in using their telescopes, which was great but not what we were intending to do in that session. I hated to tell them to wait until January, which is the next regular Telescope session, so I ended up telling the people who called me to bring their scopes and we’d do what we could to help them – and then I put out calls for help through various channels in the club.
I’m deeply grateful to the volunteers who turned out on short notice and in spite of it being a holiday weekend – the Stanns, Matt Ota, Steve Short, Liam Kennedy, Craig Bobchin and Mike Bertin (and I have this haunting sense I’m forgetting someone – my apologies if I did!). We did have a number of people who brought telescopes, and some others who didn’t bring their scopes but wanted some one-on-one advice about them anyway. Most wound up attending the regular class session as well, conducted by Dave Pearson – we had more than thirty people in the classroom following his presentation very intently, including several children. It proved to be a very productive and enjoyable evening for all concerned, with the auxiliary benefit of giving us club members a chance to catch up with what different people are doing and to socialize a bit (outreaches and SIG meetings are great for this!).
The next night was our Anza Star Party, which featured better viewing conditions than most of our star parties over the summer, and was one of the best attended parties of the summer. I don’t know the total number of people on site, but the Football Field was full, and it seemed that most of the pads on the other levels were also in use. Tom Munnecke helped me run the observatory, and made the 10-inch LX200 his main project for the evening, which meant that we had objects in both telescopes to show people who came to the observatory. We had quite a few visitors, which is always nice, but we also had some periods when we could use the telescopes for our own pleasure – and I’d be telling a distinct untruth if I said we didn’t enjoy those times as well!
The Club Observatory:
The September star party was also notable for the achievements of the work crew that showed up to start making the repairs needed so the current observatory roof can make it safely through the next rainy season. When I arrived in mid-afternoon with paint, screws and other supplies, Bob Buchheim, Tom Munnecke and Ray Stann were hard at work, and had already replaced the splintered braces on the structure that supports the roof when it’s open and scraped or wire brushed a lot of the flaking paint off of the support structure. By the end of the afternoon, they’d put reinforcing screws into the east and west sides of the roof, caulked it, and, with the additional help of John Castillo and Don Lynn, gotten a coat of primer on most of the support structure. Don also re-tensioned the cross-wires on the inside of the roof. Don’s contribution to this effort was after he’d already put in several hours of work elsewhere on the site, and Bob made a special trip to Anza just to work on the observatory.
Whether because of the retensioning of the cross-wires or the reinforcements with the screws, or both, the roof now opens and closes with a lot less creaking and squealing than before, so there is already noticeable improvement from that day’s work. As I write this, we still need to do the repairs and prep work on the north and south sides of the roof structure itself as well as the south roof flap, finish the priming, paint all of the woodwork, and repair and seal the stucco wall. Hopefully, by the time you read this, all or most of this work will be done – but, if you want to help with what’s left, we’d be delighted!
My heartfelt thanks to Bob, Tom, Ray, John, and Don for all their help!
Update on the Kuhn:
Since we’re talking about the observatory, here’s what’s been happening with our much-loved Kuhn telescope: Dave Radosevich, who did the major reconditioning of the Kuhn about three years ago, was going to clean, lubricate and adjust the gears on the day after the September star party, showing me how to do this in the process. However, when he looked more closely at the gears, he realized that at least one of the bearings was out of position and that he needed to do more disassembly than he’d expected. This was going to take more time than he could spare that day, as he was leaving on an out-of-state trip, and he therefore postponed the job to the October star party. We’re hoping that, when this work is done and the gears are all properly adjusted, we’ll have a lot less backlash and the Kuhn will be more responsive to its controls.
While we were looking at the gears, we noticed that the outside of the Kuhn was getting pretty grimy again – due, I expect, to the combination of dust and the high humidity that’s been the hallmark of our summer out there. I therefore spent a good part of Sunday cleaning the outside dirt off of the Kuhn (it’s now a couple shades lighter than before), and trying to figure out the best way of cleaning the primary mirror without taking it out of the telescope. If anyone has any experience in that area and is willing to lend a hand with this, please let me know.
We have a lot of talented and energetic people in this club, and there are a lot of different things people can do to help keep the club going – as you can see from the varied activities of the volunteers mentioned above. As a few examples of our ongoing needs: Anza House needs cleaning on a regular basis and could use a lot of repairs, and our Anza House Coordinator, Tim Hunt, can’t do it all himself; there are always weeds to be cut down, bushes to trim and other site cleanup to be done out at Anza, especially around Anza House, the club observatory, and other general use area; Karen Schnabel can always use more people for her list of substitute librarians for when she can’t make it to a meeting as well as people to help her handle the library during the general meetings; Leonard Stein often can use some help with refreshments at the meetings – there are a lot of continuing needs as well as special projects such as the observatory roof repairs/replacement, pulling the fiber optic cable for the Anza site network, and repairs to the Weathercam assembly. Besides responding to specific calls for assistance, please keep an eye out for anything that needs to be done and lend a hand wherever you see a need, even if nobody is specifically recruiting for help – we’ll all benefit, and you’ll find that the warm feeling you get from helping out really does improve your club experience!