Important Wildfire Preparedness Tips for the Coming Observing Season

Important Wildfire Preparedness Tips for the Coming Observing Season

President’s Paragraph, February 2019

Wildfires have been increasingly figuring into our planning for our summer observing. If you plan to get outdoors to observe under our great Pacific Northwest skies this season, please read these preparedness suggestions:

  1. We need to stop thinking of wildfires as abnormal and start planning our summer observing as if we could very well encounter wildfires, or have skies filled with smoke, or have to cancel events for fires.

  2. We have to watch the fire forecast as carefully as we watch the weather forecast.  I’ve asked Matt Vartanian, our new VP of Observing, to include fire watch in his forecasts for star parties, even early in the season, just to get in the habit of it.

  3. We have to create safety practices at star parties in preparation for the event of a fire. At Camp Hancock, we park our vehicles facing the exit so we can get out quickly in case of fire. RCA should make this a requirement also. It has the added benefit of turning each car’s headlights away from the observing field.

  4. At Oregon Star Party, we are required to carry five gallons of water dedicated to fire-fighting, and a shovel. We’ve been asked by Eugene Walters, who owns the property at our Maupin site, to require every attendee to have a five-gallon empty plastic buck filled with old blue jeans and enough water to keep them damp, with a lid so they don’t spill in the backs of our cars. In the event of fire, we would put the damp clothes on the grass around our observing site to dampen down the spread of fire, and leave. Eugene said the old-fashioned technique was to use wet gunny sacks. But no one knows what gunny sacks are anymore. I have already assured Eugene we can do this. It’s a small ask to protect his property and to protect ourselves.

  5. We probably will have to develop ways to keep an eye on the wildfire situation on any weekend we’re observing in Oregon Outback. This means that those who have internet connections on site may have to have a fire watch program running in the background.

  6. We must practice fire safety in the drylands where we camp. This means no smoking and no campfires where fire danger is high. This is not one of those “oh well, everyone’s getting too fussy” requirements. If we’re asked not to smoke outdoors, we don’t.

There may come a day when we really do need to leave a place quickly to get to safety. It may even mean having to leave all our beautiful, dearly beloved and expensive equipment behind. But the fires have become more numerous, bigger and faster than they have ever been in the past, and until we as a society invest the time and effort to restore our forest and grassland environments, fires will probably continue on this growth curve.

I sincerely hope that if we are careful and proactive, we can continue to have many more years of wonderful observing. But given that wildfire season has stretched into early spring and late fall, we may have to start expanding our thinking to include our hobby as a winter-time sport. So those clear cold nights in February up at Stub Stewart State Park are looking better all the time. So are nights in our backyards, or online telescope services. We will find a way.

Looking forward Margaret

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Change Continues at the Telescope Library

With the arrival of Winter and the New Year, our prime season for maintenance and cleanup is upon us. After examining our patterns and preferences for borrowing over the past year, I am making some decisions about reorganizing the collection a bit. In order to free up space at both of our storage locations, telescopes that have not loaned out over this past year will be removed to another location. They will still be available for reservation, but on a somewhat different basis.

Telescopes that are in this category will be removed from the main list you see on the website today, and moved to a new section, below the main collection. You will still be able to reserve them, but what happens between the time you reserve and the time you pick up and return the telescope will be a little different. In essence, we will decide, together, where the telescope will be loaned, and where it will be returned, and how long each loan will be.

Read more ➡

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Registration Open for April Youth Astronomy Class

Registration Open for April Youth Astronomy Class

Observational Astronomy Class for Middle School Students Offered by RCA in Partnership With Saturday Academy.

ASTRONOMY 101
April 13 – May 4, 2019
Four Saturdays, 10AM – 1PM
Grades 6 – 8
Location: University of Portland

Ever looked up into the night sky and wondered what’s up? Experts from Rose City Astronomers will prepare you to explore the universe. Learn the fundamentals of observational astronomy, how to use binoculars and telescopes to explore the night sky, to observe planets, star clusters, nebula, galaxies. Learn about objects astronomers study, how and why our view of the night sky changes through the night, and with the seasons, how telescopes work and how to use them, and how to find your way in the night sky. We will finish with practical advice on how to prepare for a night exploring the universe. In addition to the classroom sessions, telescope-observing opportunities under the night sky will be offered. Students and their families will be invited to attend optional star parties with Rose City Astronomers after this class.

The curriculum is created and delivered by members of Rose City Astronomers. Registration, administration, classroom, computers, and promotional support are provided by Saturday Academy. To register your young astronomer, visit the Saturday Academy website. Don’t delay; registration is limited to 12 students

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Are You the Next Telescope Library Volunteer "Eyepiece Curator" or "Review Observer"?

Are You the Next Telescope Library Volunteer "Eyepiece Curator" or "Review Observer"?

Are you interested in volunteering for the Telescope Library? We have several important new positions available.


Eyepiece Curator

The Library needs at least one experienced observer for a newly created “Eyepiece Curator” position. We have over 350 eyepieces in our collection and a number of “spares” that can be used for a variety of applications. Some of the eyepieces included with telescope are not well-matched, but more urgent matters have precluded dealing with this problem until now.

Our collection needs a fresh look at eyepieces allocated to telescope packages; our goal is improving this across the collection. This will include modification of our pool of spares, and proposals for the
acquisition of new eyepiece sets, as well as liquidation of others.

We will start by gathering any information we are lacking about the telescopes and eyepieces we have, examine it, and recommend equipment moves. (We are open to having multiple curators
working together on this effort.)


Designated Review Observers

We are looking for experienced observers to come forward for our “Designated Review Observer” program to test and review telescopes new to the collection (and eventually move on to every telescope we have). This position can be held by multiple individuals who will take telescopes from the library, use them for observation, and (at least) takes notes on how the telescopes perform. We can work these notes into a review, for these pages, and any special notes about the telescope can be included with the package, so future borrowers can be more informed about the telescope they have borrowed. Flaws will be dealt with, raising overall quality of telescope being borrowed.

The Telescope Library is powered by volunteers, who have done excellent work (certainly worthy of a future article, maybe more) and provide the skills and talent it takes to operate the library keeping our collection in working order. If you think any of these positions is a good fit for you, please contact me: Bob Brown, Telescope Librarian.

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More Star Parties and So Much More in the Coming Year

More Star Parties and So Much More in the Coming Year

We have more star parties scheduled in 2019 than we’ve ever had before in one year. Two of them are in a semi-new location: White River Sno-Park, which we haven’t visited for years. View our complete downloadable, printable star party schedule.


What Else in 2019?

We’ve got a new contract with Haggart Observatory which will be reopening this spring. We’ve got a more solid relationship with International Dark Sky Association. We’ve got several star parties for new members lined up. We expect to hand out at least one more Master Observer Award from Astronomical League. We have an ever-greater reach with Facebook and social media, as well as increasing visits to our website. We’re doing more with local clubs like Friends of Galileo, and everything we normally do is bigger and better: Telescope Library, Telescope Workshop, Astro-Imaging SIG and class, Outreach Events, and Youth Scholarships.

So to keep it short and sweet, we’re looking forward to another great year in RCA and we expect to continue to grow in both membership and impact. Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s hope for a full calendar of clear skies and bright stars.

Looking forward — Margaret

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Telescope Library Acquires new Binoculars, Tripods for our Members

Telescope Library Acquires new Binoculars, Tripods for our Members

We are pleased to announce that 2 additional pairs of binoculars have been obtained, in response to borrower demand. The new binoculars are 20x80's, made by Orion. We had one pair of these, and they have been very popular. Now, we have 3 of them. The binoculars are paired with Orion "extra heavy-duty" tripods. These are heavier than the Orion tripods we have now, and should provide solid support for these large binoculars, better than the Orion field tripods we have for our other binoculars.

Read more ➡

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RCA's IDA Conference Representatives Return with Fresh Ideas

RCA's IDA Conference Representatives Return with Fresh Ideas

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) hosted its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Utah this year and Dawn Nilson, RCA’s Dark Sky Preservation Director, and Mike McKeag, RCA’s Youth Director, were in attendance. Dark-Sky researchers and advocates came from all over the world — China, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States — to network and share preservation success stories, improved lighting technologies, scientific impact analyses, and outreach ideas. RCA’s list of 2019 “to do’s” in support of dark-sky preservation has grown thanks to the inspiration gained from our attendance at the AGM. You can lend your support to the cause in many ways.

Read more: What Can I Do to Promote Dark Skies? ➡

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Giving a Telescope for the Holidays

Giving a Telescope for the Holidays

Recently I’ve been asked more than once what telescope to buy for someone who wants one as a holiday gift, and the giver doesn’t know what to get. If you’re a recently-joined member or a parent or partner in the same situation, this article is for you.

Ask yourself a series of questions before you spend money on a scope. 

  1. What kind of vehicle do you have for hauling it around?

  2. Do you want to take it apart each time you put it in the car and take it out, or do you want it in one piece?

  3. How much weight can you pick up at one time?

  4. How tall is the person who is going to use it?

  5. What kind of budget do you have?

  6. How serious is the potential user about taking it out into the cold and dark to use it?

  7. How many accessories, like eyepieces and tripods, can you afford? Can you pack them into the same vehicle and remember to bring with you?

  8. Do you have a lot of warm clothes that also fit into the same vehicle?

  9. Do you have a table and a chair? A clock, a sky atlas, some notepaper and pens for taking notes? A planesphere? A thermos? A red LED flashlight? Extra batteries?

Read More: The Best Advice ➡

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New in Our Telescope Library: Meade "Light Switch" Technology

New in Our Telescope Library: Meade "Light Switch" Technology

One of our most recent acquisitions is a Meade 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope (or SCT), with a new technology twist. Not only is it a GOTO telescope, but it is capable of aligning itself. We have numerous GOTO telescopes, and some that are "push-to", but the track the object, once it has been acquired. My experience with GOTO telescopes has been mixed; they work, mostly, but sometimes they don't, and the alignment process has to be repeated, eating into observing time.

The Meade ACF (for Advanced Coma Free) telescope, with "Light Switch" technology, ships with the claim that you can set it up, turn it on, and it will align itself correctly, every time. I am an old "Carefully align your equatorial mount" kind of observer, so naturally, I was skeptical. Before I put this in the collection, I wanted to make sure this technology actually worked. Lightswitch is an onboard CCD camera, which can be used for imaging. But the alignment system uses to to achieve a high level of accuracy in alignment, by matching the star field observed to what is expected, as the telescope visits alignment stars. I initially tried to align in mid-twilight, and the telescope informed me that it was not dark enough to complete alignment.

Read more ➡

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Looking Forward: President’s Message

Looking Forward: President’s Message

2019 Star Party Schedule Now Available

In preparation for next year, we have posted our downloadable, printable star party schedule on our website.   There are several things that are new for 2019. 

  • Ten-day Messier Marathon at Maupin begins Friday, March 8 and goes through Sunday the 17th.  This event is not an OSP-style event.  It just means the field will be open, the sanitary facilities will be there, and we will have permission for those entire ten days to be on the owner’s field.

  • White River Sno-Park on Mt. Hood is an area that RCA used in the past. It’s close to Portland, has bathrooms, is very large and flat, and has an easy entrance. It doesn’t have the best horizons and there is a chance that drivers with headlights could pull in after dark, but it’s better than Stub Stewart on that score, and there are no light domes.

  • The general plan of our star parties is that on new moon weekends we have a weekend event, and the Friday and Saturday a week earlier, during last quarter moon, we have alternating star parties at Stub Stewart and Rooster Rock.  

  • Where we have indicated both Sky View Acres (SVA) and Maupin, we will determine where the star party will be as we learn more about the weather and the condition of the fields. Please watch the calendar, the Gazette, the Forum, our website, and the ppts from the general meetings for information on where these events will be.

  • We have scheduled alternative events for the Camp Hancock weekends for people who can’t take a full weekend off or drive so far.

  • The first joint Friends of Galileo/RCA Star Party on Mt. St. Helens is scheduled for Aug. 23.

  • We scheduled the Trout Lake Star Party to blend into OSP for those who want to do both. It could happen.

  • The OMSI public star parties are more spread out next year. They start in January with a total lunar eclipse and end November 11 with an exciting Mercury transit. And OMSI has plans for a major celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.

  • Finally, because we live on hope, we’ve schedule two Bon Hiver (happy new year, good winter, season’s greetings) star parties because you never know: Sunday, Dec. 30 of this year and Thursday Dec. 26, 2019 at Stub Stewart and Rooster Rock. If the weather is with us, I’ll bring hot chocolate.

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Telescope Inventory Hits 40: Including Spectacular New Binoculars

Telescope Inventory Hits 40: Including Spectacular New Binoculars

Our Latest Acquisitions: Our Telescope Library has had a great deal of traffic this year, and it is not over yet. Our peak season is summer, naturally, and activity is up over last year. Please note that we already have telescope reservations that go on into the winter, and we serve the membership year round. Recently, we reached something of a milestone: 40 telescope or binocular packages are now available for reservation via the website. The library may continue to grew slightly, but 40 is a good target. As new telescopes are introduced, we will be examining our collection much more critically, and retiring older instruments. Changes now will be toward newer gear, and more diversity.

Read more ➡

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Looking for Students to Apply for Young Astronomy Awards

Looking for Students to Apply for Young Astronomy Awards

If it’s October, then it’s time for another round of Young Astronomers Awards. In June RCA gave its first set of awards - - including cash - - to several budding scientists for everything from writing a software program to designing and building a telescope to running an eclipse summer camp for kids for an entire week to doing serious astronomical research at Pine Mountain Observatory. The summer has fled and it’s time to find another batch of applicants to encourage on their path to the sciences.

If any of our members knows a middle-school or high-school student in any public or private high school or a home school in Multnomah, Clackamas or Washington Counties, or in Clark County in Washington, who may be interested in applying for a certificate of recognition for a project of excellence and merit, plus a cash grant, please encourage them to submit an inquiry to Mike McKeag, our Youth Director as soon as possible, and to submit the project to RCA by October 31. We will announce the winners at the November meeting and hand out the awards at the December potluck.

The kinds of projects we are looking for can include science journalism, such as writing an article about a recent astronomical development, or an art project, such as making a video or creating a graphic story on an astronomical theme, or doing a major outreach project such as starting an astronomy club at their school, or once again, taking on a research project of their own.

If you do not know of any students in this age range, but know a science instructor in one of these locations, please ask them to contact us right away about these awards. We are sincere in our desire to reach a broad spectrum of students and encourage them to take on the challenge of STEM education, and even more, we are interested and excited to see what kind of creative projects students of today come up with.

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Send Us Your Best Images for Our 2019 Calendar

It's the time of year again when we need your help for the 2019 calendar! We are looking for your great astrophotos, so please send us any images you would like considered for inclusion to calendar@rosecityastronomers.org. Images for inclusion should be approximately 3300x2550 pixels (8.5x11 @ 300dpi) in a high-res jpg or a tiff. If the image is too big to send, please send a lower resolution, but high quality image and we will respond with a link to where you can upload the full resolution image. The deadline for submission of images is September 25th, so please send in any images you would like considered soon.

Thanks for helping to make the calendar great!

David Novotny
RCA Calendar Manager

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Geological Society to Bring Prominent Paleontologists to Camp Hancock Star Party

Geological Society to Bring Prominent Paleontologists to Camp Hancock Star Party

The Camp and Our Clubs' Intertwined Origins Go Back to 1951

When I first joined the club twenty years ago, RCA Camp Hancock weekends often had upwards of seventy people, with telescopes. We set up and spread out in a large field we called Dob Valley.  But we lost the use of this field a few years ago because it is not part of Camp Hancock; it is National Monument land belonging to the John Day Fossil Beds run by the National Parks Service. So we are limited to three observing locations within Camp Hancock itself. If everyone who signs up for Camp Hancock brings a telescope, we would have fifteen telescopes set up at each of our three smallish observing locations, and that’s enough. For that reason, for the last few years we’ve limited RCA registration at Camp Hancock to 45. It filled up really fast this time, the fastest it’s ever filled up. But there are no fewer “slots” for RCA members than there has been in recent years. We always create a waiting list. Already this time around we’ve had cancellations and some people have moved off the waitlist and are registered. At the moment, there are about ten people on the waitlist. That’s about normal.

At this Hancock event, we’ll have extra guests from the Geological Society of the Oregon Country (GSOC). They were half-invited and half-volunteered because there is such an overlap of interest between astronomy and the earth sciences, which are in fact planetary sciences. Camp Hancock was started in 1951 by OMSI and GSOC founding member/amateur geologist Lon Hancock and became the home to one of our two progenitor organizations, the OMSI Astronomers. Several members of RCA are also members of GSOC; that’s been true for a long time. I’ve gone on GSOC field trips myself, and taken Paul Edison-Lahm’s downtown geology walk, and have found them truly interesting.

The GSOC members are offering us three additions to the weekend that we don’t normally get: (1) they will take us on a hike through millions of years of geologic history, explaining all the cool things we’ve been looking at on our normal hikes but not knowing what they were; (2) they have invited Dr. Nick Famoso, Chief Paleontologist of the John Day Fossil Beds, to be a speaker/resource person; and (3) they have invited Dr. Bill Orr, the Grand Old Man of Oregon Geology, the Man Who Wrote the Book, to give us a presentation about John Day geology on Saturday night after dinner.  I am personally delighted that Dr. Orr said yes to our humble event. We are privileged to have him.
           
The GSOC people will rideshare to Hancock, so will limit the number of cars they add to our parking situation; they will not bring telescopes, so will  not be crowding us on the field; we have arranged for some Telescope Helpers to introduce the use of a telescope to them and introduce the sky; they will have assigned cabins because they will be going to bed fairly early and we do not want to be waking them up at 3 a.m.; they will have dimmable red Celestron LED flashlights.

I am happy that they are coming and think that they will enrich our experience at Hancock a great deal. Rest assured, no RCA member has lost a chance to register for Hancock because GSOC members will be there, and attendance will be no more than we’ve had at Hancock in the past. GSOC is what I call a “natural ally,” since we are all amateurs interested in the sciences and willing to go out and do field work.  I expect we will find that they are as interesting to get to know as anyone else we meet on the observing field. Please make them feel welcome!

Looking forward . . .  Margaret

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Electronically Assisted Observing (EAA) Presentations Are Now Available

Electronically Assisted Observing (EAA) Presentations Are Now Available

Did you miss Mark Lowenthal and Jeff Lee's talk on how to image or do EAA with a DSLR? Their full presentation is now available containing links to the programs you can use to use your DSLR and telescope for either imaging and "near live" viewing (EAA).

The presentation also explains which basic programs are needed (free or commercial) and contains links to explanations about laptop installation and usage. EAA and imaging are exactly alike except that EAA normally depends on very short exposures and you can watch the view be developed in near real time on your laptop screen. Whereas imaging (astrophotography) normally uses 30 to 60 second images, which are then stacked to become an astro-photograph. Bring any questions you have to our EAA online forum. Mark and Jeff's presentation slides are also available on our website.

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Last Chance to Order 30th Anniversary Jackets! *** Order by Oct 1st! ***

Last Chance to Order 30th Anniversary Jackets! *** Order by Oct 1st! ***

We once again offering the popular RCA Anniversary Jacket with our RCA 30th Anniversary Logo embroidered on the upper left of the front of the jacket.

Available in Men’s or Women’s sizes, X-Small through 4X-Large (they run a bit large)

  • Black, Royal Blue and Red

  • Made by Port Authority: All-Season-II jackets

  • Nylon exterior, jacket body lined with microfleece, sleeves and hood lined with polyester

  • Removeable zippered hood

  • Front zipper zips both ways; wind flap covers the zipper

  • Three exterior zippered pockets; two interior pockets

  • Draw cords and toggles on hood and waist

  • Velcro adjustable cuffs

  • $60 each

  • Pre-order and payment needed by October 1st so that we can have the jackets available at the October 15th General Meeting.

  • $5 extra for shipping for those not picking up their pre-ordered jackets at the meeting.

  • Submit your pre-paid orders now.

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LIGO Registration Open

LIGO Registration Open

For several months now, members have been asking when we are going to take another trip to LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, at Hanford, Washington) especially since we found such a great campground nearby when we went last year. Good news! We’ve set the date for Saturday, October 13. It’s going to be a great trip, but we are going simple this time. Trip details ➡

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RCA Virtual Star Party for August

RCA Virtual Star Party for August

Weather permitting, Mark Lowenthal will be broadcasting another live streamed EAA powered RCA virtual star party on YouTube this Friday, August 3rd starting at 10:30pm. The first broadcast back in May was a bit on the experimental side, with live-chat and audio problems, but the 2nd broadcast in June went more or less as planned with most of the kinks ironed out. Ten deep sky objects were observed, including some requested via live text-chat over the course of the two hour broadcast.

How to Watch Mark’s Virtual Star Party ➡

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New Committee Seeks Potential Observing Site Partners

Board Takes “Fee Title” Purchase Option Off the Table

Do you or anyone you know own property in a dark sky area within 45 minutes to 4 hours from Portland that might be willing to “partner” with RCA as a suitable observing site? Do you have any affiliations with public landowners, such as rural schools, city, county, or state parks? If so, we want to hear from you. A standing Observing Site Committee, chaired by Margaret McCrea, has been formed to review sites that come before the Board for acquisition consideration. We’ll be posting a site form on the website to give you an idea of the basic information needs beyond observing suitability.

What Kinds of Observing Sites Are We Considering? ➡

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Call for Volunteers

Hi Everyone! We have a few upcoming outreach events that could use a few more RCA volunteers with their telescopes. If you are interested, please email me, Yara Green.

Fort Stevens (Oregon Coast)

August 17th & 18th (Fri. & Sat. ) 8:00 pm - til.

The observing location will be the Peter Iredale shipwreck parking lot (upper area). We need a couple of volunteers for each night with their telescopes. If you are in the area or will be camping at Fort Stevens, this would be an excellent event to volunteer. This is a Park Ranger-approved event. The sky on the Oregon coast, when clear, can be fun to observe!
 
Thank you for volunteering!
Yara Green, VP of Outreach

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