By Barbara Toy
The year winds on, we should be in the dry Santa Ana season as I write this, but somehow high humidity is still interfering with our viewing. The Saturday after the October Anza Star Party (that is, the first October star party) was notable for the extremely dark conditions on site – due to the fact that we were completely fogged in. It was an interesting experience, feeling my way down the road from the observatory to Anza House – amazing how disorienting it is when the usual landmarks along the way are hidden in dense swirls of mist! That was one of the rare times I’ve regretted not having a white flashlight with me while moving around on site – my red light seemed to be absorbed by the fog and barely put any light on the ground at all. Of course, those who did have white lights got a lot of the light reflected back to them by the fog, so maybe a white light wouldn’t have been all that much more helpful.
By the way, that weekend was typical in that those who were there that Friday night reported to those of us who couldn’t make it until Saturday that the conditions had been really great, too bad we missed it. As a matter of basic Amateur Astronomy self-defense (if not etiquette), it is important under these conditions not to vent one’s disappointment or frustration on the bearer of these tidings, especially as that may be exactly what the bearer is hoping for. It’s a lot more effective to respond graciously, with as hearty congratulations on the other party’s good luck as one can muster – and bide one’s time…
AstroImage 2006 –
Just in case you haven’t yet noted it on your calendar, the AstroImage 2006 conference is set on August 11 and 12, 2006 – these dates are posted on the OCA website calendar, in case you need to check on them. We’ve reserved them with the Curtis Theatre and paid the deposit, so they’re pretty firm. The organizing committee (Dave Kodama, Jim Windlinger, Tom Kucharski, Garth Buckles and me) is currently meeting every two weeks, working on all of the big and little details that go into putting one of these conferences on. In the process, I’ve developed an even healthier respect than I had before for the planning committees for AstroImage 2002 and 2004 as I’ve seen first hand all of the different issues that have to be dealt with. We have some of the same personnel (Dave and Garth in particular), and we have a lot of the work that those committees did to build on, which makes our job easier in many respects, but there’s still a lot of new work required.
Of course, one of the reasons for that is that we don’t want to give exactly the same conference as before, with only some changes in speakers and their topics. Every one of these conferences gives people ideas for improving on them, and so we’re spending a lot of time on such things as improving and expanding the Image Gallery (both the print displays and the electronic components of the gallery), improving the site conditions for our vendors and sponsors, adding program features, and so on. The formal program for Friday night will be still be geared toward people with less experience, but will be quite different in approach and content than at the past two conferences (details to follow!), and we’re talking about having an actual reception as part of the evening’s festivities. The Saturday program, of course, will center on the talks – not all of the speakers have been confirmed as I write this, but, from those who have, it’s shaping up to be a very interesting array of subjects. Dave Kodama has been doing the lion’s share of the work on getting the speakers, for which we are very grateful indeed.
To increase the depth of the program and include topics of interest beyond what can be covered in the formal talks, we’re adding a poster area for the Saturday program, similar to what’s done at a lot of science conferences. These will be presentations by various attendees of information they want to share with fellow imagers, and can be done as flat, wall-mounted posters or as free-standing posters similar to what is often used at science fairs, and can also incorporate pieces of equipment or other items separate from the actual poster as part of the display or demonstration. Topics could include such things as processing tips, interesting sequences of images with relevant information so people appreciate why the sequence is interesting, comparisons of different types of equipment, demonstrations of ways to improve results using different types of equipment or software, uses of various imaging techniques for research, research results, marketing of images – the major requirement is that the topic involves something related to imaging. The presenters will have to agree to be in the vicinity of their poster during one set time to discuss the subject matter with the people who come by and to answer questions; we expect these times would be at one of the breaks or at the beginning or end of the lunch hour, and the plan is to include the poster titles and presenters with these times as part of the conference program so attendees can easily review the poster topics and plan on coming by with their questions. We also want to include electronic versions of the posters on the CD of the conference proceedings.
To be one of our poster presenters, you’ll need to send in a request to present a poster, giving your contact information, the title of your poster and a brief summary of the kind of subject matter you expect to cover. I’m coordinating the poster session portion of the conference, so these requests should be sent to me, either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail care of the club’s address, P.O. Box 1762, Costa Mesa, CA 92628. We’re working out the details for the allowed dimensions of the posters and any other constraints, so there’ll be additional details to follow – but please don’t wait for them before sending me your request and topic!
Some Other Updates –
Work on the observatory roof continued at the first October star party, thanks to the efforts of Tom Kucharski, John Castillo and Matt Ota. After spending a lot of time painting the support structure, which gave him good reason to look at it closely, Tom gave me his considered opinion that this work can only be expected to see us through this rainy season in reasonable safety, and it’s clear that the roof replacement is a real necessity and can’t be postponed too much longer. While it’s nice to have confirmation of my own assessment of the situation, it would be nice to feel we have a larger safety margin. Whatever safety margin we have will be improved by finishing the sealing and painting of all of the exposed wood on the observatory, both on the moving roof and all of the supporting structure – my thanks to all of you who help us out with this at the next star party!
In case you were wondering about why Anza weather station data didn’t make it to the website for a few weeks (which is still the case as I write this), we had a major failure of the server for the Anza on-site network. We owe great thanks to Tim Arden for getting us a much faster computer to use as the server, and to Jerry Mulchin for his attempts to repair the original server and to get the replacement up and running; once the new server is up and running, you should start seeing Anza weather information appearing again on the website. Working on another aspect of the on-site network, Vance Tyree has scheduled the pulling of the fiber optic cable for November 5, so we hope that will be done by the time you see this in the November Sirius Astronomer. This cable will replace the original backbone of the network with one that should be a lot more stable because it will be a lot less vulnerable to damage from lightning, and completing the cable run will put the wireless access point on the club observatory back in service. Once the new server is up and running and the new cable is in and connected, our full on-site wireless network should be back in service.
It will take a bit more work to get the Weathercam back on line – as I write this, the support structure is in pieces in my garage, and Charlie Oostdyk is working on getting us a replacement for the all-sky mirror and for the power cable. We need to repair the support structure and reassemble and weatherproof everything, then reinstall the whole assembly on Anza House before we’ll be getting any Weathercam images on our website again. If the Weathercam isn’t up and running by the time you see this and you’d like to help out with getting it refurbished and back in service, please do contact me about it!
Orange County Dark Sky Issues
Recently, several events have highlighted the need for action to preserve dark skies where they still exist in Orange County and have shown the need for serious action to improve matters in other areas of the county. Jack Sales, who has been very active in the International Dark Sky Association (usually referred to as IDA) and who was the IDA webmaster until fairly recently, called me about someone from Orange County who had contacted him for assistance – my conversation with him drove home the fact that our club could and should be a major player on lighting issues in Southern California. This was an area I was really hoping to spend more time on myself in the last year, and I’m sorry the time I’d hoped to spend on dark sky activities has had to go to other projects.
One issue in particular that has caused several people to contact the club for help is the Irvine Co. proposal to build around 4000 homes, a stadium and other facilities in Santiago Canyon. There were a couple days of hearings on the project before the Orange City Council in October, and two people did speak on the importance of preserving the night skies in that area, Carl Karenen and Anthony Mack. As currently proposed, this development would have a major impact on our Black Star Canyon observing site and on observing throughout the Santiago Canyon area, among other concerns.
OCA is fortunate to have a long-standing relationship with the Irvine Co., which allowed us access to our Silverado viewing site for many years, and which now, with the Nature Conservancy, allows us access to Black Star Canyon for our in-county star parties. Given the land values and the realities of conditions in Orange County, some development in Santiago Canyon is pretty much inevitable, but I’m hoping we may be able to work with the Irvine Co. to minimize the impact of whatever development is ultimately allowed on the night skies of the Santa Ana Mountains. Carl Karenen (one of the people who addressed the Orange City Council) is a past OCA member who has recently rejoined the club, and he’s very knowledgeable on lighting issues. He’s interested in becoming active in our Dark Sky group, and he’s told me about contacts he’s been making on his own with people within the Irvine Co., exploring ideas such as controlling the allowed types of outside lighting and when outside lights can be used through the CC&R’s and other controlling documents for the development, use of night-friendly fixtures, and other measures that could potentially make this a model for night-friendly development. Although he’s already done a lot in this area, Carl needs the help of other club members to improve the chances of success in this project.
The Irvine Co. is not the only developer whose projects could have a serious effect on the night sky in the Santa Ana Mountains. The Mission Viejo Co. has an even larger development planned north of the Ortega Highway near Caspers Park, and we need people to work with them, as well, to help make this development as night-friendly as possible. The easiest time to achieve this is in the early planning stages; once contracts go out to bid for fixtures, it becomes more costly for the developer to make changes. If you have any time you can devote to this issue, we need help developing contacts with the people in Mission Viejo Co. involved in decisions on lighting in their developments, and also help in educating them about lighting options and what they could and should do to help their projects use lighting more efficiently and in a more night-friendly way. The Sierra Club and other organizations have been working to minimize the impact of the planned development on other aspects of the environment, but lighting is not one of their major concerns even though excessive night lighting does have a significant effect on local wildlife, so there is a definite need for action from us to address these issues.
Even if you don’t feel that you have the time or expertise to work with developers to improve the lighting in their proposed projects from the beginning, there are a lot of ways we can work as a club to improve lighting conditions in Orange County. As a first step, if you haven’t joined our Dark Sky email group, please do – OCADarkSky@yahoogroups.com. If you aren’t yet familiar with the IDA website, which is a tremendous resource for information about all aspects of dark sky issues, please check it out: http://www.darksky.org/. If there are dark sky issues that you are particularly interested in working on, I’d be very interested in hearing about them – and, if you’re available to help out on various projects we undertake, I’ll be delighted to add you to the list of potential volunteers. Next month I plan to write about some actions people can take as individuals as well as working with the group, and such things as where you can get good (and attractive) night-friendly fixtures – so please stay tuned!
© Barbara Toy, October, 2005