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.
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.
Interested in Volunteering for Youth Program Vice-President?
It’s election season everywhere, even at RCA. Consider this a plug for a volunteer for the Youth Program VP. Oddly, for this position, you don’t need to work with youth. What we need is someone to develop three or four modest programs, and give out money. If you have experience writing up goals and programs and setting them on their way, we need you. Mike McKeag, current Youth Director, will be on your team. He’s done an excellent job of developing our astronomy class for kids in partnership with Saturday Academy, but he’s willing to move to Youth Team member rather than to take on the task of developing more programs. Please volunteer by contacting Duncan Kitchin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next year is going to be our best ever! There’s so much to look forward to. In the meantime, enjoy the winter as it comes.
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.
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.
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.
Good weather means star parties and with star parties comes the issue of good light management, so it never hurts to review basic field manners. Stargazers do try valiantly to manage their red lights, but LED manufacturers are making their lights brighter and brighter. Given that with modern technology more is always better, we can assume that these lights are going to continue to get even brighter. I did a check for “dimmable red LED flashlight” on Google and came up with these items: Mini Strong Brightness, Energizer Industrial LED, Military Tactical LED, Bulbrite, Brite LED Headlamp... you get the picture. However, a much better choice would be one of the many dimmable astronomical flashlights that are available. We recommend the Rigel Systems Starlight.
On Saturday, June 23rd, RCA celebrated the 30th anniversary of its merger with the Portland Astronomical Society with a picnic at Gabriel Park, where RCA and OMSI used to have their public star parties many years ago. The picnic was a rousing success. People who hadn’t seen each other for decades came together with their memories and their memorabilia. We created a timeline, an In-Memoriam page and an “I remember when” page on large sheets of paper for members to write their contributions. There were few marks on the pages, but an amazing amount of conversation and stories bubbled through our conversations.
As you may remember, we recently collected a variety of telescopes for a kids' observing program to provide telescope access to kids of all ages. We are now looking for eyepieces to round out the telescope kits. If you have an eyepiece that you no longer use or has been sitting in the back of a case for longer than you can remember, please consider donating it to the Outreach and Education Committee. Right now, we welcome any and all eyepieces. Please email Yara Green to arrange the donation. Thank you!
The Telescope Library has two locations where it normally operates: OMSI, before and after our monthly general meeting, and the Telescope Workshop, which currently convenes monthly at TMS on Swan Island. We work fairly hard to make sure that we honor reservations; the locations for each item you see on the website are accurate and timely, and making sure that any telescopes reserved to go out are at that location when they are to be checked out. The collections are different, and that difference is intentional.
In general, the telescopes at OMSI are somewhat smaller and less complex. But there are exceptions and there is some overlap — and that's intentional.