From the President...

President's Perspective August 2012

Ah! The warm days of summer!

It is finally warm enough at night to do 'shirtsleeve star parties'. It has been a while coming this year, and even as recently as three weeks ago, one needed a jacket out at Trapshoot. The cool night are a blessing though, on most nights, as it makes sleeping much more comfortable.

Speaking of Trapshoot, we had a wonderful members-only star party out there on the evening of July 14th. I don't know what it is about that spot, but some of the most memorable astronomy I have ever done has been at this location. July 14th was no exception. Nice dark skies, some better-than-average deep sky conditions and the club's 20 inch 'scope made for a night to remember for a long time. I don't think I have seen the veil nebula-- my favorite deep space object-- any better at any time! I also tried some astrophotos with my new full-frame DSLR. Even shooting with a ridiculously high ISO of 52,000 (and an F 8 aperture), I got some stunning Milky Way photos. This is my first tentative foray into deep space astrophotography, and undoubtedly, not my last.

The big news in the club, though, continues to be working out where the permanent home of the ASN will be. As many of you know, the Planetarium has tightened the rules on use of the meeting spaces in the Planetarium and some other UNR facilities. In addition, we have been asked to volunteer a moderately significant amount of our time in service to the Planetarium and the MacClean Observatory in return for use of these meeting spaces. The commitment that Planetarium Director Dan Ruby is specifically looking for, is to come up with enough volunteers to allow the Planetarium's 'scope at the MacClean Observatory to be manned every Friday evening.

Personally, I feel this is a really great opportunity for the ASN, and it will help us significantly in achieving our mission of education and public outreach. it also helps the ASN preserve its roots, which is in the University Physics Department. But it will mean we will need enough members to volunteer for this program, which will be more highly structured than anything we have done in a long time. Both Dan Ruby and the ASN Board feel that the minimum level of commitment we will need to make this work is 8 primary people, with 3 alternates. The 8 primary people would be scheduled such that they do not need to work a 'shift' at the observatory more often than once every two months. More than one person can participate as a University volunteer, and make use of the Celestron 11 inch 'scopes also available in the observatory. Although operating the big 'scope in the dome is a treat, operating a 'scope under the stars (even with the light pollution there) is much more 'natural'. (ASN folks who are not registered as University volunteers can still bring their own 'scopes and set them up for these events.) The hours are currently scheduled to be 8 to 10 PM. But if this program becomes successful, we will be allowed to adjust the hours to follow the summer sunset.

There is a cost in terms of commitment for the University volunteers. They will need to fill out a number of forms, that are almost like an employment application. They will have to be trained, both in the use of the equipment, and University event start-up and shut-down procedures. At least at first, the observing schedule will have to be adhered to, and any observing beyond the window time will have to be scheduled in advance. Last, but not least, there will be some evaluation paperwork to fill out after your night is over. This paperwork is similar to the reports we do for the Night Sky Network.

The ASN will also be able to get access to this 'scope for special observing events that are internal to the club, like for instance, a Messier Marathon. We will also get some significant publicity for the ASN, as the Planetarium plans to heavily promote this observing time.

Is this all good? Not everyone in the club agrees it is. Some members feel that we will not be able to maintain this commitment. Others feel it will dilute our other outreach (there is no plan, for instance, to stop doing events like the 3rd Friday Sparks Marina star party. That event reaches a different group of people than the group viewing at the observatory will.) Still others feel that we are not getting much 'return' for our 'commitment investment'. Some people simply like the Planetarium.

We have some alternative venues we are considering. One frontrunner is using space at the Redfield campus for our meetings. Today, I had a long discussion with former ASN President Tony Berendsen. Although when I first talked to Tony about this, we discussed space in the campus Physics building, Tony now feels that they would like to accommodate us in Redfield. That facility, he reports, is underused (and it has tons of free parking!). Although this site represents a travel problem for some people, and some significant scheduling problems to overcome, they have excellent facilities there for a meeting (but no star dome, which we don't use much, anyway). We also have immediate access to the MacClean Observatory there, for after- meeting stargazing. There is also a route that we can pursue through the Physics department, that might give us a much stronger presence in that facility. I have told Tony that we will pursue this direction, and we can do this regardless of whether or not we work with the Planetarium on their observing program. I will keep everyone up-to-date as this process unfolds, as the board will undoubtedly form a committee to work on this arrangement.

Other venues include schools, theaters, and the McKinley Arts Center, near Idlewild Park. ASN member Jim Fahey is looking into what would be involved in our use of these facilities, and I very much hope he will have something to report at our upcoming monthly meeting.

And no matter what happens to our future meeting location, everyone agrees that it is important to keep our relationship with the Planetarium (and UNR in general) alive. I hope there will be many joint projects we will be able to work on in the future.

So, what should the ASN do? YOU will decide on Tuesday evening, August 14th. That evening, we will be holding our monthly meeting at a new venue-- KNPB TV. KNPB has a superb 'community room' already equipped with tables and chairs as needed, video/computer projection (that works!) and a sound system. (This space is also being considered as a possible alternative venue for our meetings.) KNPB TV is located at 1670 North Virginia St., about 400 feet from the Planetarium. The parking lot is at the corner of North Virginia and Seventeenth Streets, and you do not need a UNR pass to park there at the meeting time. Just go in the lobby and hang a right, and you are in the community room. The meeting starts at 7 PM, with a business meeting to follow the general meeting.

The program for the evening is on Mars exploration (hopefully, the Curiosity rover will have successfully touched down by then), and will be presented by Gigi Giles. This should be very interesting! After the presentation, a business meeting will convene, with the primary business being, making a decision whether to go with the Planetarium's volunteer program, or to look elsewhere for a place to meet. We MIGHT determine what this place to meet is, if we go that direction. But I think that decision will likely be made at a later meeting. Personally, I feel this will be one of the most important business meetings the ASN has done in the 7 or 8 years I have been attending meetings. In many ways, we will determine the future direction of the ASN during this meeting! So, if you care about the future of the club, or have an opinion about these matters, please plan on attending.

This column is getting a bit long, so I will quickly conclude with a preview of upcoming events.

This Friday night, August 3rd, there will be two ASN events. The first will be an astronomy program at Galena Park. These are popular and fun events that take good advantage of our relationship with the Night Sky Network. I am not sure of the program topic for this event. Afterwards, attendees are encouraged to travel the relatively short distance to the MacClean observatory for the regular 8 to 10 PM star party there (This star party will continue, even if we choose not to pursue the Planetarium volunteer program).

There will be a star party this coming weekend, August 4th, up at Martis creek Park. This is a very nice venue for observing, and we have been there many times. There may be some opportunity for camping there as well. For more info, contact ASN member Andy Dierenga.

The members' meeting, as detailed above, will be on Tuesday evening, August 14th, at 7 PM. The program and business meeting were discussed earlier in this 'missive'.

We have our usual third Friday Sparks Marina Park public star party at dusk on Friday, August 17th. Jim Fahey, coordinator for this event, reports this star party is better-attended every month!

On Saturday evening, August 18th, we will have a members-only star party out at the Wilson Commons Park site in Washoe Valley. Remember that you can bring interested family members and friends to these star parties to (hopefully) get them interested in astronomy. But make sure they understand 'star party etiquette', as some serious astronomy is often done at these members' events.

The Western Nevada Astronomy Society has their monthly meeting in Carson City on Wednesday, August 21st.

Finally, looking ahead to September, the board decided that we would not try to host an overnight star party this year. Instead, we will hold a picnic and star party at Wilson Commons Park on Saturday evening, September 15th. Watch the website for more details about this event.

But in the middle of all this busyness and change, remember that the stars are still free and always there. Take some time to do some astronomy, even if it is just yourself in your backyard. And when you do, remember to keep looking down (into your eyepiece)!

Tim Stoffel
President, ASN

Category: President