From the President...

President's Perspective August 2013

Summer has come, and is quickly going by! We have warm, but short evenings to observe the heavens, and all the summer treats they have to offer. Oh, the riches of Scorpius, Sagittarius and Ophiuchus! Globular clusters, planetary nebulae and emission nebulae oh my! Further north, we have such wonders as the Ring Nebula, the North America Nebula, and my all-time favorite, the Veil Nebula!

The premiere event of the summer, the Golden State Star Party (GSSP), has come and gone already. This was my second time at this event, and it was just as good as the first time. Well, almost. My time at the star party was cut short by a gout attack in my left hand, which left me with a painful and useless hand. I ended up going home a day early because of this. However, even with a hurting hand, I could still push around the club's 20 inch 'scope, and learn how to effectively use it. As luck would have it, the digital setting circles on it had acted up, so all use of this 'scope was by viewfinder and knowing where the interesting objects were. Although I could not go looking for the 'faint fuzzies' I wanted to try to see, I can now use it to locate a number of good objects without a computer, enough to conduct a public star party with it, as need be. ASN member Jeff Wolff is giving up this 'scope as he now as a really cool 14 inch dob with a great mirror and motor drives. I will likely take over taking this 'scope out to club and some public star parties, as I have a means of storing and transporting it. (And work continues on trying to make the 24 inch 'scope a more useful instrument, although this is not proceeding as fast as I had envisioned.)

I saw lots of cool stuff through a variety of 'scopes at this years' GSSP. One of these was glimpsing the central star in the Ring Nebula, M57, through a 28 inch 'scope. I saw the sun like I have never seen it before through a good solar 'scope. The best of all, though, was seeing the 'Pillars of Creation' structure in the Eagle Nebula, M16. I saw this through both Jeff's new 14 inch 'scope and the clubs 20 inch 'scope. Seeing this structure was a combination of good 'scopes and exceptional conditions. The Eagle Nebula will never be quite the same for me, now!

One really interesting side trip we took during GSSP was a visit to the Hat Creek Radio Observatory. Located in an out-of-the way place in an exceptionally radio-quiet area, this observatory contains nearly 30 steerable antennas, with broadband feeds. This enables the observatory to survey multiple objects at any given time, and resources can be allocated to the observations as they are needed. This facility is used for a variety of radio astronomy research, the best known being the SETI project. This visit was especially interesting for me, as I use much of the same technology for both work (broadcast and satellite transmission engineer) and play (amateur radio, especially weak signal VHF and microwave).

There is still lots of good astronomy left this summer. There is a series of star parties/camping events up at Martis Creek (see the website for exact details). This is a nice place to observe, and I would be up there more if there weren't a lot of things going on in my life right now. Another really fun event is something new for ASN-- The Lassen Volcanic National Park Astronomy Festival this coming weekend, August 9-11. The observing location will be in the 'Bumpass Hell Parking Lot' at the 8200 foot level of Lassen. This should be a really great location for astronomy, and I think there will be some time to 'go deep', as well as conduct public astronomy. There are plenty of other astronomy events going on during the daytime there, as well. It is hoped this will become an annual event for our club! Again, check our website for more up-to-date details. ASN member Jim Fahey is heading this up, so if you have questions about this event, direct them to him.

I had originally planned to go to this event. But as my unpredictable luck would have it, some good friends of mine have an important family need to attend to that involves out-of-area travel. They need someone to take care of their animals when they travel, and they have lions and tigers rather than the usual horses and dogs. Since there aren't too many people around who are qualified to be 'lion sitters', I get the call when they have to travel, and this tends to preempt other things. In return, I have use of a reasonably dark sky observing site on their ranch, and a safe place to set up my 'scope and leave it set up. The trip is also timed so I can stay up as late as I want on the morning of August 13th and watch the Persieds!

And speaking of Perseids, I see that the shower is right on the heels of the Lassen event. I hope folks can adjust their schedules enough to catch a few 'rocks' (Amateur radio term for meteors -  hams bounce radio signals off meteor ionization trails for communication. Its called 'meteor scatter' and its a lot of fun!)

Coming up in early September is another National Park event, the Great Basin Astronomy Festival, taking place on September 5-7, 2013. This is a bit odd timing-- Thursday-Saturday, so it might be a bit more challenging for some folks to plan for. But I know a number of ASN folks are interested in going, myself included. Provided no more of my bizarre 'Timmy luck' intervenes, I hope to be there, as well. I have participated in three of the four astronomy festivals they have held there, and want to make it four of five. And if you have never been to Great Basin National Park, it is a quiet, out-of-the-way park, with a drop-dead stunning mountain, Wheeler Peak. The night skies there are about as good as night skies ever get in the US. (Although conditions at GSSP this year, especially the last night I was there, came close.) There is plenty of time for personal observing after the public leaves, and there are a lot of folks in attendance I have come to know from previous years. It is rough camping on about the same order as GSSP, but there is plenty of shade there, and no cow pies! Great Basin National Park is also home to Leahman Caves, one of the most beautiful limestone caverns in all of the US. Even if you have been to other great caverns (I was just at Lauray Caverns, outside of Shenandoah National Park, last week), this will make those pale in comparison. Better yet, they are much less disturbed than many other caverns, and they usually have a free tour of the caves for participating astronomers. Last, but not least, is the bristlecone pine forest. This forest, accessible after a modestly strenuous hike at the 9,000 foot level (I've done it) contains the oldest living things on earth! This stand of Bristlecone pines has a stark beauty that is very hard to describe without being there. If my injured hip is up to it, I hope to hike up there again this year. (I also hiked from there up to the base of the glacier last year.) The entire hike was a beautiful-- and spiritual-- experience for me, and I highly recommend it!

There will be some fall activities for ASN coming up as well. We have traditionally had a picnic and star party in September, although nothing official has been planned yet. In October, we will have our fall overnighter/Messier Marathon.

I will conclude this month's article with a brief description of a recent trip to the Washington DC area that I took in late July. Although not really an astronomy trip, there was a number of astronomy/space related activities. First and Foremost was a visit to the National Air and Space museum, part of the Smithsonian system. This museum exists in two parts. One is the part on the National mall, with artifacts like the Apollo 11 command module, parts of the Hubble Space Telescope that have flown in space, and the Spirit of St. Louis aircraft. The other half is the Udvar-Hazy Center, just outside of Dulles Airport. I had visited the National Mall part of this museum back in 2002, before the Udvar-Hazy Center was open (it opened in 2003). Originally home to the space shuttle Enterprise, it is now home to the space shuttle Discovery. They have a lot of other interesting space-related artifacts there as well, although the shuttle dwarfs anything else in the building. Also there is an SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, the only full SR-71 I have seen (that is my favorite aircraft). They also have a Concorde, a Boeing 707, and the Enola Gay B-29 bomber in the museum. I spent nearly day in the museum, and did not really see everything in it! Another astronomy event was a brief visit to the US Naval Observatory. I visited this while walking from Washington National Cathedral down to the National Zoo (no visit to any city is complete for me without visiting its zoo!). It was two blocks out of the way, so I hiked over there. This was the back side of the observatory, so I don't know if it open to the public on the front side (off of Wisconsin Avenue). The back side had a full military security checkpoint because it is a military facility, and the Vice President's home. But outside the gate was a large digital clock that was labeled 'US Naval Observatory Official Time'. This is the same time information that drives the GPS system, so I was sure it was accurate!

The rest of the astronomy was of the science fiction type, as I was there for the annual 'AvatarMeet' gathering of serious fans of the movie 'Avatar'. We were joined, as usual, by Paul Frommer, creator of the Na'vi language for the film, and he was giving Na'vi lessons there on two of the four days of the meetup. We also had a cave tour (Lauray Caverns), some hikes (with some folk painted up as Na'vi or avatars), and a screening of the movie 'Avatar'. We had one night with pretty decent skies. Me and another person in our group were pointing out bright stars and where a few deep sky treasures were located. Paul Frommer also has some training as an astrophysicist. As a result, we have some Na'vi words for some astronomical objects-- Tsawke - 'sun'. Tanhì -'star' (plural sanhì - stars)(Also the glowing freckles on a Na'vi face)(ì is pronounced like the i in 'chip'.). Snatanhì - 'constellation'. Snatanhìtsyìp -'star cluster'. And one of my favorite Na'vi words - Piwopxtsyìp - 'nebula' (The 'px' is an 'ejective p', a p pronunced forcefully so it comes off like a p-pop).

Anyway, its getting late again, and I need to get some sleep! But in a few days, I will be outside looking down, as you should be-- into your eyepiece!

Category: President