From the President...

President's Perspective June 2013

It's been a busy past few months! I wish I could say it was all about astronomy, but it wasn't. Much of it had to do with a bill before the Nevada legislature (SB245) that would have banned the ownership of animals like big cats and primates, even for most zoos, wildlife facilities, magicians, etc. in Nevada. If passed, our zoo would have to close within a few years, due to lack of animals. It was a lot of work, but a group of very dedicated and determined animal owners and their supporters (which I am involved with, as a big cat keeper) fought to have this bill killed! Add to this two trips for work, and a work-related project that has taken almost every free weekend I have had since March, and you can see why I have been quiet. But enough of that!

Now, in the 'best-laid plans' department: Most of you know that ASN owns a 20 inch and a 24 inch Dobsonian telescope. The 20 inch, in the care of ASN member Jeff Wolff, is frequently seen at club events. But not the 24 inch. Why? It's big. it's tall. It's heavy! A big ladder is needed to reach the eyepiece at zenith, which makes it less than safe for most public star parties. With a focal length of 3048 mm, you are pushing your luck with any eyepiece smaller than about 20 mm, and it has a rather narrow field of view for a f5 telescope. Thus no one wants to go to the considerable trouble of hauling it to a star party. But I like the 'scope and since it is stored at my place, I have been learning how to use it. And like Jeff, I have been working on improving it, by adding things like digital setting circles. My goal was to have this 'scope ready for the Golden State Star Party, where it can be seriously used and evaluated for a few days to see what it is really capable of.

Anyway, the club has bits and pieces of a digital setting circle kit for this 'scope, including a 'push-to' controller. But it was missing a lot of hard-to-make mechanical parts. So, I ordered a new encoder kit from JMI, with state-of-the-art encoders, and the correct hardware for mounting them on an 'Obsession clone', which this 'scope is. (For the few of you who don't know, Obsession is a company that makes large Dobsonian telescopes. Their design is frequently copied by homebuilders, and they sell parts for those who choose to 'roll their own'.) I also ordered an upgrade PROM for the club's controller that goes with this 'scope, and a wireless device that lets you use an Android phone/tablet as the control device via bluetooth.

The kit showed up last week with its shiny new encoders. But wait! They were the old style 4000 count encoders (which are mechanically identical to the new style 10,000 count encoders). Why? The technician at JMI assumed that these encoders would be used with the club's controller, which has older 'hardware' than the current production of this controller. This older hardware apparently cannot 'keep up' with modern 10,000 count encoders, but the identical-appearing newer version can. And so can the bluetooth device.

So because I had a 3 day weekend last weekend to work on installing the encoders, I decided to go ahead with the hardware installation, as the encoders themselves can easily be switched out later. Dennis Jamison and Phil Oberlander came over to help me heft the heavy mirror box of this 'scope so the azimuth encoder could be installed. Even though the people who had built this 'scope (it was apparently made from parts of another telescope that was destroyed in a car accident) had installed an encoder-friendly azimuth bolt, the newer bolt was a better design. So, we replaced it, but had trouble with dirt in the bolt threads. The encoder installation went just fine, and my measurements indicated that there was 2 inches of clearance to protect the half inch high encoder from the swinging mirror box.

We reinstalled the mirror box. I started to tilt it, and crunch! What was that? To make a long story short, I never accounted for a collimation knob, which stuck below the bottom of the mirror box. It caught on the brand new encoder bracket and destroyed it! Luckily, the bracket sacrificed itself protecting the expensive encoder.

So, Phil Oberlander is now modifying the bottom of the rocker box so the encoder can sit low enough to clear the collimation knobs. Meanwhile, the correct encoders have come in. So maybe, if I am very lucky, and not every Saturday is 'busied out' between now and GSSP, we might see our 24 inch telescope there! lesson: measure twice, cut once-- and look for the measurement you didn't anticipate!

And speaking of Newtonian telescopes, at the suggestion of ASN member Mike Hopper, we are working on having a 'mirror cleaning party'. I am not sure of the location, but it may be my house, as one of the mirrors that will be cleaned is that of the 24 inch 'scope. All ASN folks with Newtonian 'scopes are invited to participate. Mike Hopper will be there to show folks how to safely and properly clean the primary mirror in their telescope, without damaging the fragile first-surface coating. This event might be on Monday evening, June 10th, but we are not sure yet.. Watch the website and your email for news of the date, time and place of this event.

In other news: Those of you involved with the Redfield Friday night observing activity with the Planetarium are invited to an appreciation party on Friday, June 7th. Starting time is 7 PM, to be followed by the normal observing session at around 9 PM. Some people in the club are concerned that this activity is not doing anything for the ASN in terms of getting use of facilties at the Planetarium, or a different meeting place (although I think most people like the KNPB community room now). The future of our participation in this activity will be one of the main topics of the June business meetings. So if you feel one way or the other about our participation in the Redfield Campus observing activity, please plan to attend that meeting.

While on the subject of Redfield, I want to do a little editorializing. As most of you know, I have championed this particular observing activity, as it 'fits' a very important part of ASN's mission statement-- to do public outreach astronomy. Redfield is not the nicest place there is to do astronomy, but it is easily accessible by the public, and it is in town (if just barely). Although there is room for much improvement in the way this program works (among others, access to bathrooms is a big issue!), I think Dan Ruby is willing to work on this with us. He has already indicated there is a little 'wiggle room' in terms of allowing longer meetings at the Planetarium (or special events) that wasn't present before. Overall though, do remember we are dealing with a University, and they tend to have some very inflexible policies simply because thay are a University. In the end, I think that it will be up to the individual members that do these Friday night star parties to decide if they want to continue doing them or not. For my part, I go out ther whenever I can, and I am seeing more and more public show up. It takes a while to get things like this going, and we are starting to see the results of the labor being put into the project. In any case, if you have feelings either way about the Redfield Friday night observing program, please attend the June meeting (More on that in a bit).

Then there is ASN's other public outreach program-- Sparks Marina on the third Friday of each month. ASN member Jim Fahey is to be commended for doing an excellent job with this program. I feel that the Sparks Marina program reaches out to a different group than Redfield, and is an equally valid and valuable activity for ASN to be about.

And speaking of activity at Sparks Marina, wasn't the National Astronomy Day program on May 11th a big success? Several hundred people showed up at what was probably the biggest public outreach we have done since last years' annular eclipse event. One thing we learned is there is power available in the gazebo when the lights are out, so we can do multimedia presentations there before any observing. Although Sparks Marina is severely compromised by light pollution, there are few other places where astronomy can be so effectively presented to a casual public! (That same day, I did solar viewing for some 1,800 people who showed up at Ranch San Rafael Park for KNPB's 'Curious George Day'. May 11th was quite the day of Astronomy!)

There some fun observing events coming up in June for you to participate in. On Saturday June 8th, ASN will be doing a lecture and star party at Galena Park. This is another, roughly monthly public event being done by ASN.

On Friday June 14th, there is a public star party at Dangberg Ranch. Every time we have done a star party there, it has been a big success! I believe that at this location, we can stay as late as we want after the public is gone, and take advantage of the ranch's dark skies. (A couple of us will still do Redfield that evening, and I am one of those.)

On Friday, June 28th, Chris Johnson and his group will be doing a public star party in the Minden area. We are always invited to drive down to Minden and participate. I know Chris appreaciates the extra help, as well.

But the big event I think we are all looking forward to, is the Golden State Star party, starting on Saturday, July 6th, near Adin CA. I know many members of ASN are going. To help us prepare (and because it is part of a holiday weekend), Dan has even cancelled Redfield for the night before! I am hoping that as many of us as possible can travel up as a group, so we can all be together as a group. We will probably all be together in our usual spot on the 'Uranus' or 'Neptune' row. But to better help us prepare, Jim Fahey will be doing a program entitled 'getting ready for GSSP' at the monthly ASN member's meeting on June 11th. This should be a very interesting presentation, and I hope it gets folks even more fired up for GSSP!

Whew! This became a long article! So for now, keep looking down-- into your eyepiece!

Tim Stoffel

Category: President