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Amending Bylaws: Memberships

image of contractAt the board of directors meeting, July 2017, the board voted to amend the bylaws. This kind of move is not done very often, and great consideration is made before such an idea is even brought to a vote by the board. However, given the history of the types of memberships with the SJAA, and also some recent moves made by the City of San Jose, the board deemed it prudent to amend the bylaws to remove the option of offering youth or student memberships, and to stipulate that only people age 18 and above are able to apply for membership.

Specifically, the board voted to remove Article 12, Section 1, Part C in its entirety. Further, Article 12, Section 2 was amended to indicate only people 18 and over can be members.

Over the past seven or eight years during which I have been on the board of the SJAA, I have served as membership chair at least twice. Also, at every board meeting each month, the membership report lists all those individuals who have applied for new or renewing membership. Plainly, there is a good amount of visibility of the member rolls. During those years, I have seen not more than a small handful of members who applied via the student/youth membership. The number has been, at most, in the single digits.

Recently, we have seen the City of San Jose put forth some requirements which could be quite burdensome to SJAA volunteers. In the recent requalification process that the City required of its reuse partners (of which, SJAA is one), it called for all volunteers or employees that has direct contact with minors to have background checks run, TB tests completed, fingerprints taken, and all the other things that typically come with interacting with children. On the face of it, everyone in the club that shows up to In Town Star Parties or Solar Sundays, or any of the myriad events that the SJAA hosts at Houge Park, could be considered a volunteer that has potential interaction with children. It would be too much to ask of SJAA volunteers to agree to such a requirement, and it could potentially put the events at Houge Park at risk.

Upon further research and investigation, the board concluded that although the contract with the City does not provide a definition of direct contact, generally, volunteers of SJAA do not have direct contact. Rather, SJAA volunteers have incidental contact with minors. Kids may show up to SJAA events with their parents or guardians, but SJAA volunteers never take custody of or supervise them, such as in an afterschool or day care environment. The conclusion was made that since no one that is associated with SJAA ever has direct contact with minors, the organization is exempt from such requirements.

To further solidify the fact that SJAA does not provide care, supervision, guidance or control of minors in any way, the board thought it prudent that minors be prohibited from becoming members in the first place.

The board does not believe that these changes to the bylaws will have any impact whatsoever to its members, now or in the future. SJAA will recognize the benefit, however, of not being potentially held to onerous requirements of its volunteers, nor will there be any question about the club’s relationship to minors. The club certainly encourages kids of all ages to learn more about astronomy and the sciences and to come to club events, and SJAA will continue to support kids’s desires to learn more, or to just look at Saturn through a telescope. But please, do bring a parent or guardian!

Image by of Flickr user Ryan Leong (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Posted in Anouncements, Articles, General Meeting


Gregory Award 2016

On behalf of the San Jose Astronomical Association, I am pleased to announce the recipient of the 2016 A. B. Gregory Award.  The award is a plaque which reads “In Recognition of Outstanding Contributions of Time and Effort to Others in Amateur Astronomy”, and I can think of no one in the SJAA who deserves it more than Paul Mancuso.

Paul is in the top three longest members of the SJAA, joining up in the early 1970s.  He was a member of the Board of the Directors from 1983 to 1993, then again from 1996 to 1998 and did one more stint from 2001 to 2003.  He was Vice President from July 1988 to March 1993, and then again from 1997 to 1998.  In addition to these formal administrative roles, Paul has been a stalwart with the School Star Party program, rarely missing a night at a local school to use his scopes to bring the night sky closer to area students, faculty and their families. Paul has also been a reliable regular participant at In Town Star Parties and Solar Days at Houge Park and other local venues.

Paul usually finds his way to the general meeting, or to Auctions and Swap Meets and other SJAA events. When he does, I make a point to come over and say Hi, and see what he’s been up to.  It’s great to have him around, and for so long, too, not to mention all his participation and effort he puts into the SJAA.

Paul, thank you for all you do, and congratulations on being the 2016 A. B. Gregory Award recipient!

You can find more information about the award, a list of past recipients, and information about Dr Gregory and the past recipients on the website.
Posted in Anouncements


Member Recognition 2017

Each February, the SJAA hosts its annual membership meeting, where about half of the members of the nine seat board of directors are elected by the members, recognition awards are presented, and everyone brings something to share for the annual potluck.

Lee Hoglan was one of the three deserving recipients of recognition. Before Lee stepped down from the board late last year, he had served for over ten years; he was the longest serving board member in recent memory and stood as vice president for many years. He also managed the Telescope Loaner Program for many years, and was the face of SJAA on the website, in the ‘Ask Lee’ role. For many years, he was also a reliable opener and closer for the In Town Star Parties at San José’s Houge Park. Though he wasn’t there that night to receive the award, he was certainly there in spirit, as everyone, recent members and long timers alike, became just a little bit more aware of his significant contributions.

Ed Wong also received recognition for his work with the club. A board member for several years, Ed also spearheaded several new initiatives that continue today. The idea of Fix It sessions came from Ed, who ran the program for several years before handing it off to others. He also was instrumental in working with the Santa Clara County Parks Department for a permit which allowed nighttime use of Mendoza Ranch, one of the darker sky sites in the south bay. He also established and maintains the relationship with Pinnacles National Park, organizing amateur astronomers from the south bay to participate in public star parties at the National Park, with the idea of being able to use the park on other nights for ‘private’ viewing. He was a docent with the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority and also continues to run the SJAA Binocular Observing program.

Dave Ittner was the final recipient of recognition by the club at the February meeting. Dave has an unending reservoir of energy, which he applied for almost too many roles and leadership positions in the club to even name. Most recently, he was president for the past two years before bing termed out. He was a lead docent with the OSA, managing the Starry Nights program at Rancho Cañada del Oro, south of San José. He ran the loaner program and continues to manage the stream of incoming donations of astronomy gear. Most significantly, the QuickSTARt program was his brainchild. QuickSTARt probably does more to help facilitate new people into the hobby of amateur astronomy than any other, and goes a long way to fulfill the club’s mission of brining astronomy to the public. Dave continues to singlehandedly run this program.

Congratulations, and perhaps more appropriately, Thank You, to Lee, Ed and Dave for the well-deserved recognition they received and for their commitment of energy and time to the local amateur astronomy community.

(For more on the happenings of the 2017 membership meeting, including pictures, please see the cover story in the March 2017 edition of the Ephemeris.)

Posted in General Meeting


Williams Hill Site Report

williams hillThis is a site report, not so much an observing report. My main goal was to go to check out the surroundings. On July 30-31 2016, I went to Williams Hill Recreation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to investigate the suitability of the site for purposes of astronomical observing, with the possibility of spending the night.  The area is located about 27 road miles, or 17 miles as the crow flies, south of King City.

My plan was to get there earlier in the day on Saturday with my dirt bike, and then tool around to explore and get to know the area, and settling on a location where I could set up my scope. I would then have dinner, and head to that site to set up, and wait for night to fall. Things went very much according to plan.

on the freeway

One hundred miles of this kind of view.

The ride down 101 was uneventful, though slow going getting out of Santa Clara County due to Gilroy’s annual Garlic Festival. Getting through Prunedale and Salinas was also slow in spots, and much of the afternoon sky was obscured by smoke from the fire near Carmel (prevailing winds were taking the smoke northeast, thankfully away from my destination). It was over a hundred miles on southbound 101, through all the towns we know when we are traveling to dark sky sites: Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield, King City.

dirt road leading to williams hill

About eight miles of white dusty dirt road.

The exit to take is called San Ardo, then a right onto Paris Valley Road. After a little less than two miles of paved farm road, you have to make a sharp left turn onto Lockwood San Ardo Road, at which point, it turns to a fairly well maintained dirt road. Once on the dirt, going was slow. I had a trailer so I took it easy, no more than 25, and in some places, 10 or less toward the top. Nearing the camp, the road is cut into the side of the hill, exposing the Monterey shale formations. It’s a very dry, dusty white ride.

campground_sign_wh-201607

Once you see this sign, you know you’ve made it!

antenna hill

The actual Williams Hill, where all the antenna towers are. It’s four and a half miles past the campground.

I arrived at the campground closer to 4pm, about ninety minutes later than I originally planned. The first order of business was to unhitch the trailer and pull the bike down, getting ready for the first phase, local exploration. The campground is four and a half miles before the end of the road that leads up to the actual Williams Hill, which can also rightly be called Antenna Hill. I made my way to antenna hill via the fairly well maintained dirt road comprised mainly of switchbacks that lead from one hill to the next. At the top of the hill, the antennae live behind a chain link fence, some of the towers more securely enclosed than others, possibly giving away their importance to their owners. At the end of the road, there is a fairly wide area that may be suitable to set up maybe a dozen scopes, but it’s a long way to go past the campground, there are large circles etched into the ground by spinning wheels (ie, donuts), and if anyone were to come up that road at night, you’d be blasted with headlights with little to no cover. Further, the flat area, though wide open at the top of the hill with nice horizons (except for the towers), is not entirely level. Being the top of a hill, it has a mild crown, I thought to myself that this area would do in a pinch, but there very well could be better sites.

litter_wh_201607

Lots and lots and lots of spent shotgun shells littered every turnout.

I kept exploring and found miles of more trails on this BLM land. North of the campground area, ie, north of Lockwood San Ardo Road, there are plenty of possible observing sites with decent horizons and plenty of space for plenty of astronomers’ vehicles and their gear. Many, most or all of them were littered with spent shotgun shells. It was shameful, how the shooters left such a mess. There weren’t too many targets, and thankfully not much broken glass, though a gallon size fire extinguisher appeared to be on the receiving end of a muzzle. After a good hour and a half of exploring, I concluded that the best overall site for observing is only about half mile from the campground, at 35.984279, -121.011742. It’s an open hill good with horizons nearly all the way around, especially to the east. So much so that you can look down and see headlights on highway 101. After dark, there was just a small light dome to the east, Paso Robles, perhaps. (EDIT: I was informed this light dome is not Paso Robles, which is way more to the south, and there is nothing east; this is most likely skyglow.)

The campground is wooded with pines, though sparsely, and each of the six sites are far enough apart which provides for privacy. The location is on top of a ridge, so the wind was sailing briskly over the ridge top, making tent assembly a bit difficulty. However, it died down rather abruptly after about 7pm.

The campsite showing fire ring, canopy, picnic table.

The campsite showing fire ring, canopy, picnic table.

There is no water at the campground whatsoever, so any campers or other visitors are well advised to bring plenty of their own. There is a single vault toilet that was fairly (relatively) clean and even stocked with adequate amounts of TP. The sites each had a metal picnic table and a canopy as shelter from the sun, or perhaps the rain, and the sites and much of the rest of the campground were roped off to keep offroaders off the vegetation.

There were other campers, including a fairly large group of young men, in about 6 cars. They were not any problem, we didn’t socialize at all, and the smell of clove cigarettes adorned the air on the road leading away from camp. There was also a later arrival, a guy with his girlfriend, out for a romantic camp getaway in the local hills.

As far as observing, I don’t have much to write about. The hilltop location were I set up was mildly rutted by vehicles turning around when the ground was last wet. The ruts made it slightly challenging to find an adequately flat, level spot for the dob base. It wasn’t dusty there, but rather a bit rocky with small scrub growing low. After it got dark, I sampled Saturn, whose tilt is now so great that seeing the Cassini division is easy, and enjoyed the planets wandering through Scorpius. viewed some objects around Ophiucus but mainly I was happy just taking in the dark sky, with the milky way hanging above like fluffy clouds. A few streaks of light appeared during the night, perhaps a pre-game show for the coming Perseid meteor shower. It was very much plenty dark.

road_looking_down_wh_201607

The view of the road leading up to Williams Hill Recreation Area, from the top, looking east.

I didn’t stay out long since I had to be out of there early. The next morning, I loaded up and took it easy down the hill again, and it was a nicer ride since it wasn’t as hot. Got back to San Jose around 11am.

Would I recommend this place for SJAA members to go observing? Definitely yes. The recommendation would also include that you should plan on staying the night. Though there is no water and no trash service, and it’s a fairly remote location where shooting is allowed, it does have fairly decent cell service, a nice campground, and good horizons at 2200 feet (671 meters).

distant forest fire smoke

Smoke from the fire near Carmel, California.

camp site

Rob’s camp in the sunset.

bug in tent

An overnight visitor, clinging to the ceiling of the tent.

dust_wh-201607

Afternoon wind whipped up a section of thick white dust at the one tight hairpin turn.

Posted in Trip Reports


Swap Meet – Sunday, March 20 2016

Hello SJAA Members and Friends,
Just a reminder that the SJAA Swap Meet is happening this Sunday, March 20, 2016 at the Hall at San Jose’s Houge Park. Here is the announcement that went to the Announce list (which is still being used, we encourage people to join), and here is the Meetup for the event (we encourage RSVPs!).

It’s important to note that the official start time is noon. That’s when the doors will open for business. For those of us who will be selling items, the hall will be available as early as 11am for people to come and set up their wares, for instance, if you have full scopes to bring in and set up for display. We are discouraging any buying and selling to happen during that “setup” hour, just so we stay true to the official opening time of 12 noon.

If you plan to sell items, please be aware that you will be asked to read and sign a form, which have a few guidelines. I’ve included them below so you can review them ahead of time, and it’s not new to you when you arrive.

We’re expecting a fun and sociable event. See you Sunday!

The Suggestions, Guidelines and Rules:

  1. Please read and sign this form before setting up.
  2. You will receive a name tag, please write your name on it and wear it where people can see it.
  3. You should have prices in mind ahead of time for all your items and ideally have the pieces labeled with the price.
  4. It’s a good idea to have a towel or sheet to place over your items in case you need to step away.
  5. Though we don’t expect any nefarious types, SJAA cannot be held responsible for any missing or damaged items
  6. Keep it fair: please refrain from conducting business before the official noon start time, which is when the doors open.
  7. Keep all the business inside the Hall rather than out on the grounds of the park.
  8. Event photos may be taken, in which case your likeness may be captured and posted to the SJAA website or newsletter.
  9. If there are any questions or need assistance, please see any of the volunteers.
  10. This event is run 100% by volunteers. The suggested donation to SJAA is 10% of sales.
  11. Have fun!
Posted in Anouncements, Articles
Tags: ,

2016 Election Results Are In

Last Saturday night was the annual membership meeting of the SJAA. There was a potluck, awards, and the annual election for about half the seats of the board of directors. Bill O’Neil, Glenn Newell, Rob Jaworski and Dave Ittner were all up for reelection, and we are happy to report all nominees, all of which are incumbents, were reelected to another two year term by the membership. Each candidate received 24 votes in favor and zero against.

Congratulations to all the candidates! The SJAA membership and the broader amateur astronomy community appreciate your service to this important educational institution serving the south bay and beyond!

Posted in Anouncements, Articles, General Meeting


Recap – Swap Meet 2015

crowded hall

image credit Glenn Newell

The SJAA Swap Meet for 2015 was a resounding success! There were lots of people who came out to browse, buy and sell, with old friends meeting up for the first time in a long while.

Though the event was scheduled to start at 11AM, there were people showing up even before then, setting up their wares, and others who came early to snag the good deals on pieces and parts of astronomy gear they needed. It was quite evident that this event was long anticipated. And just as it started early, it also ended early. Advertised to shut down at 4pm, the swap meet really began winding down at about 2pm, with people having socialized enough, sorting through the gear plenty enough times, and feeling satisfied that everything, and everyone, who was going to show up had already done so. The hall was cleaned out and cleaned up by 2:30.

Throughout the year, the SJAA receives donations of astronomy gear, usually sets of full telescope rigs with all the accessories. These donations are evaluated to determine if there is a place for it in a club program, such as the loaner telescope program. If there is no suitable place for it, then it’s value on the secondary market is determined, and finally gets listed for sale at either the annual swap meeting or auction. At this year’s swap meet, the club was able to find new homes for quite a number of gently and otherwise used scopes and accessories. Including direct sales and donations of sales proceeds from participants, the SJAA netted about $2300 at the end of the day.

The club very much appreciates all donations, and the board of directors also very much appreciates the time and effort of the volunteers that make these events happen, including the prep work of receiving donations, evaluating them, and finally finding them new homes. The community of amateur astronomy enthusiasts makes it all work.

We look forward to the next swap meet and seeing faces that sometimes become less and less frequent in the hall at Houge or on the hills in the dark of a new moon. We hope we can continue to encourage people to get out, to observe, and to keep this wonderful community and hobby going.

If you attended the swap meet and have any feedback for the organizers, please use the Feedback link on the sjaa website. Even if you didn’t attend but want to share an idea or any thoughts, please send it via the same means.

Posted in Recap


16 Degrees South

Australia - A Year of Edits

I just got back from a holiday in northern Australia.  Though it wasn’t an astronomical vacation at all (brought no scopes or astronomical meaningful binocs), I did get a chance to look up at a far more southern sky than I’m used to seeing.

The trip was a family vacation to tropical northern Queensland, specifically, Port Douglas and Cairns, so we were mostly between 16.5 and 17 degrees south latitude, definitely in the tropics, but not all that far south.

The first thing that I noticed was how high Scorpius is at that latitude.  It’s practically overhead, along with the teapot, with the Milky Way running pretty much between the two.  While shielding my view from the bright and numerous resort lights, the sky was still noticeably dark, which allowed the Milky Way to be so visible. What also stood out was a splotch of fuzz between the scorpion tail and the teapot spout, which is known as the open star cluster M7.  It was very bright, very noticeable with the naked eye.

After I got over my fascination of how high these summer, er, winter constellations were, I turned my focus to the unknown area just below Scorpius (would that be south or Scorpius, or maybe south west?).  It was entirely unfamiliar, and I knew that was a completely new area of the sky that I’ve never seen before.  That was a really cool feeling, knowing that I was looking at something I’ve never seen before, something I can’t see from home because it’s over and beyond my familiar horizon.

Checking the southern hemisphere sky map (thanks for sending it, Ed!), I realized that it was mostly Centaurus that occupied that space.  This constellation, according to Wikipedia, is visible only up to about 25 degrees north. Its two brightest stars, alpha (yes, *that* Alpha Centauri), and beta, which, btw, are unmistakably bright, point directly to Crux, the southern cross.  Crux is recognizable as a cross, and the “fifth” star of the cross that’s depicted in Australia’s national flag, though readily apparent in the sky, isn’t all that noteworthy. I would opine that it could easily have been left out of their flag and ensigns. I have to go with New Zealand (and a few others) on this one.

Southern Cross

The other constellations I identified were the southern crown (Corona Australis) and Triangulum Australe.

After doing a couple of brief (ten or fifteen minute) naked eye observation sessions over a few days, I wanted to see if there was anyone local that I could meet up with to get a better tour, possibly a telescopic one, of the views from sixteen degrees south.  Turns out that there is an astronomy group in Cairns, but unfortunately, emails to their listed address went unanswered while I was there.

Of course I wish that I had brought some gear and prepared better for this visit to the south, but I have to remind myself that I went in knowing that this was not going to be an astronomy focused trip.  The scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, visiting the rainforest as far north as Cape Tribulation, and avoiding the pademelons, wallabies and kangaroos on the road at dusk kept me busy.  It’s a really interesting area of Australia to visit, where the rainforest meets the reef, as they say, and the lack of astronomy during this visit only gives me an excuse to go there again, perhaps further south, so that the Magellanic Clouds can also be bagged!

Posted in Articles, Blog, Trip Reports


SJAA Coders

CodeIgniter Code III

The SJAA is in the process of automating various aspects of club operations. Examples include subscribing (and unsubscribing) to email lists, renewing memberships, maintaining event calendars, creating and adapting an auction system, and lots more. We are forming a team whose mission will be to identify these needs, prioritize them, projectize them, and tackle them. These are essentially software development, implementation and integration projects.

A kickoff meeting has been scheduled to get this started.

Event: SJAA Coders Inaugural Meeting
Place: Houge Park, Bldg 1, San Jose, Calif
Date: Sunday May 17 2015
Time: 2-4pm

We’re looking for people with various skills including:

  • WordPress (to help with the sjaa.net website)
  • Python
  • Django
  • PyQt/PySide, Kivy
  • SQL
  • Apache
  • testing
  • technical writing

Our annual spring auction is our biggest single fundraiser of the year, and hence it’s very important to the club. It can get intense, so we’re looking to automate the bookkeeping and item/bidder/seller tracking. During this kickoff meeting, we’ll demo a prototype of a python-based auction manager that’s in the works. We’ll throw in a wrinkle into the demo to make things interesting, so bring your laptops/tablets!

Those who want to acquire new skills are also welcome. If you’re interested please join us at our inaugural meeting and/or join the new SJAA Coders Google group.

Hope to see you there!

Posted in Anouncements, Articles, Blog


23rd October 2014 Partial Solar Eclipse

RASC_handbookThe Royal Astronomical Society of Canada publishes each year its Observer’s Handbook, which is a wonderful reference of astronomical data and phenomena of the year. Its target time period is mainly relevant for the year of publication, but much of its content is a wealth of information applicable to any time period of the epoch.  The 2014 RASC Handbook noted four eclipses of the year, a total lunar eclipse in mid-April followed by an annular solar eclipse two weeks later (which was visible only in the far southern and eastern hemispheres), then another total lunar eclipse in early October and finally a partial solar eclipse on 23 October. This last solar eclipse was well situated for us observers in the western edge of North America.

direct view
The San Jose Astronomical Association hosted an event at its base camp, San Jose’s Houge Park for this partial solar eclipse. The objective is to allow people to safely view the eclipse, share views with each other and the public, and to simply socialize.  The club’s solar workhorse of a telescope, a 100mm hydrogen alpha scope made by Lunt, was doing its thing. A host of other telescopes were set up by club members and other people, many of which had filters attached for safe viewing, or projection systems installed so that the image could be viewed by many people at once, not unlike viewing the event on a small smartphone screen. Some people even brought out colanders, ie, spaghetti strainers, the holes of which act as numerous pin hole cameras, projecting numerous crescent sun images onto the ground, a white piece of paper, or even a hand.
long focal length imageSpecial solar viewing glasses, which make it safe for people to look directly at the sun, were made available to all attendees.  Kids and adults alike were able to wrap these glasses across their eyes and have a safe, direct view at anytime.  And when we did, we were treated not just to a portion of the moon covering the sun, but there was also an additional treat: An unusually enormous sunspot was clearly visible to the naked eye.  Everyone who knew what they were looking at could easily spot the aberration on the face of the sun.  What made this special is that sunspots are typically much smaller, and not visible without some amount of magnification.  The eclipse today was accentuated by this sunspot, which did not at any time become obscured by the moon’s limb, and whose size is fairly rare.
During the roughly three and a half hours of the event, an estimated seventy five people attended. Some were seasoned amateur astronomers who were ready with their own equipment, while others were families that stumbled across the event and were invited over by friendly volunteers of the SJAA.  Kids and retirees alike viewed the eclipse (and sunspot) in amazement, while everyone enjoyed the mild autumn weather of northern California.
This will be the last solar eclipse that will be visible in California for the next few years. In August of 2017, however, a large swath of North America, in particular the United States, will host a total eclipse come through.  This will be a highly anticipated event, so now is the time to plan for seeing this total eclipse, which should be on everyone’s list of thousand-things-to-do-before-you-die!
Posted in Articles, Blog


Grandview Campground – Trip Report – July 2014

The following is an observing and site report submitted by SJAA members Jose Marte and Gary Chock

sign_grandview

(From Gary)
Here’s a report on our visit to Grandview Campground on Tue & Wed July 22-23, 2014.

Grandview Campground is in Inyo National Forest on the way up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It is about 8 to 9 hours from the Bay Area depending on your driving pace. It is at 8560′ elevation. There are 26 campsites nicely spaced with trees between offering privacy and shielding from other camper’s lights and campfires. No water, pack your trash. At least 3 vault toilets. At this altitude, the only wildlife problems seem to be squirrels (no bears).
http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recreation/recarea/?recid=20268

Weather-wise, we were lucky. A monsoonal weather pattern was in place over the Sierras for ~2 weeks and dissipated just before we left the Bay Area. It reformed Sat July 26 after we left.

While Bishop was baking in 105 degrees in the daytime, Grandview was in the 80’s in the daytime and in the 50’s overnight.

IMG_Grandview_Site4_000_NorthTo the left is a photo of the north horizon at campsite 4.

Seeing and transparency was excellent for the nights we observed. Great horizon-to-horizon views of the Milky Way. We easily viewed dark nebula. Barnard’s E near Altair. Also the cloudiness around the Sagittarius Star Cloud was well defined. M31 Andromeda Galaxy was wide and ethereal with M32 and M110 in view.

We met up with some astronomers from Southern California – visual and imagers. They visit regularly, traveling from Orange County and Tehachapi. While we experienced great weather, seeing, and transparency, they mentioned times it got down to 16 degrees. Other times windy.

I will keep in mind Grandview for a revisit, planning on keeping things flexible and check the weather a lot. Hopefully synchronizing excellent weather, seeing, and transparency. Here are convenient links for checking.
http://cleardarksky.com/c/GrandVCAkey.html?1
http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?textField1=37.3333&textField2=-118.1889#.U9qQ42Nhu6I
http://mammothweather.com/
http://bishopweather.com/

There are two observations I enjoyed that exemplified to me the excellent dark skies we had at Grandview Campground.

Viewing M7 Ptolemy’s Cluster with my 20×80 binoculars, the stars of this splendid open cluster were brilliant points in a dark field that seemed to be suspended in three dimensions. The binocular-mind integration effect seemed to connect the star-vertices with faint blue filaments. Stunning.

Viewing M13 The Great Hercules Cluster with my 10″ Dob, the stars of this spectacular globular cluster were fine pinpoints in a velvety dark field. My mind connected these points, arranging them in three dimensions as facets of a diamond. Wondrous.

(From Jose)
I joined Gary Chock for a visit to The Grandview Campground (GV) in the Inyo-White Mountains, nearby Big Pines in California. Gary’s comments regarding the seeing/transparency darkness accurately describes just how terrific conditions were for observing. I’ve only been involved in the hobby for just over a year, but the couple of nights we camped were easily the best sessions I have experienced.

I’m an observational astronomer using a 14″ Orion Dobsonain telescope. I don’t use computer guided tools just a Telrad, 9×50 finder, and usually paper finder charts. Basically, I was able to find everything that I intended to see. The only limiting factor was the fact that I needed to sleep and plus my inexperience at being in a premium dark site. It is hard deciding what to look for when everything seems possible to find. My enthusiasm probably caused me to waste some time and energy because I found myself swooping from one side of the sky to the other, feasting on eye-candy, rather than honing in on a particular location.

To describe the conditions I will elaborate on one object. Just about every astronomy book points out the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, as being “bright” and “spectacular”. To me this has been a source of frustration, and even a minor disappointment, since it is invisible from my driveway in San Jose. At our local, semi-dark sites (Mendoza Ranch or RCDO) M51 is readily available and appears to be a low-contrast, lop-sided figure-eight. It is brighter and larger but still a “faint fuzzy” without detail. At the Grandview, however, (~165x) I could see its spiraling arms and I didn’t really need to use averted vision! Very cool and yes, spectacular. In fact, and this could be from the delirium of lack of sleep, I thought I saw M51, naked-eye, as a fuzzy, dim star.

This trip was actually my second time to the White Mountains. Last August, during the Perseids, I spent a night at the Patriach Grove, one of the areas where the amazing Bristle Cone Pines grow. (FYI camping is not allowed at the Patriarch Grove.) It is just a few miles away from the Grandview Campground but at 11,000 feet. Again, observing conditions were fantastic, but I didn’t bring enough warm clothing and spent most of the night, uncomfortably cold in my car.

If you intend to go the Inyo-White Mountains be prepared for extreme cold and heat. But also be prepared for extreme natural beauty. Even if you encounter the misfortune of a cloudy night, you will still be in one of the most spectacular landscapes on earth. The view of the Eastern Sierra peaks, rising upwards of 10,000 feet from Owens Valley is absolutely magnificent. Aside from the great astronomy, there is fantastic hiking, birding, fishing, geology, and even archeology to experience in the Eastern Sierras. It is only about eight hours away from San Jose and plus you’ll have the pleasure of driving through the backcounty of Yosemite National Park and seeing Mono Lake. Furthermore, this area is vast. Finding a campsite or lodging is very easy compared to Yosemite.

Editor’s Note: Documenting your visits to dark sky sites or any other astronomy related place is a good way to help you remember your visit, as well as help you develop your observing skills.  Just as writing and rewriting your class notes in college in itself helped you study and master the material, writing and keeping notes of trips helps you become a better visual observer.  Please consider submitting any site notes or observing reports to the SJAA for posting on the blog or for publishing in the newsletter, The Ephemeris. You’ll be glad you did!

Posted in Articles, Observing Reports, Trip Reports


Reset the Net

Posted in Articles


Announcing: SJAA Auction XXXIV

Announcing the thirty fourth annual SJAA Auction!  This year, it will be held on Sunday, 16 March 2014.  The bidding starts at noon; specific times are below.

If you are interested in picking up some used astronomy gear, this is the event for you. Likewise, if you have astronomy gear that you no longer use or want, this is a good way to find it a new home.

Volunteers have developed an online pre-registration form that sellers can use to expedite their registration on the day of the event. Get to it by clicking here: the Auction page.

Timeline:
10:00AM – Registration starts for sellers
11:00AM – People not selling but interested in bidding can arrive to register, get a bidder number
11:30AM – Registration ends
11:30 to noon  – Official viewing time
12:00PM – Bidding begins
4:00PM – approximate time that bidding ends and accounting starts

Note there will be at least one break in the bidding.

As in the past, this is a full on auction.  So the following rules and guidelines will apply.
– Buyers and sellers must stay to end of auction, no cashing out until then.
– This is a cash or check -only event; no credit/debit cards.
– Auction management reserves the right to limit the number of items anyone can put up for selling
– For sellers, you can have a reserve price, but consider an opening bid amount, otherwise, opening bid will most likely be $1.
– There will be a separate form for a detailed item description to be used by the auctioneer.

Updated information will be made available on the auction page at the sjaa.net website.

Regards,
Auction Committee Volunteers
San Jose Astronomical Association

Posted in Anouncements, Articles


First In-Town Star Party of the Year Was a Blast

On Friday night, 03 January, I was scheduled to both open and close for the first in-town star party of the year. Being early January, the weather had been hazy all day, and though it was cold, it wasn’t arctic, so not bad enough to cancel.

I arrived at Houge Park about 15 minutes before the official start time of 7PM. It was already dark, and as expected, there were scopes already set up. As I parked and got our of my vehicle, a man and his son asked where the star party was going to be held. I pointed him to the row of scopes lined up near the tennis courts, then led the two of them over there and began introducing them to everyone. We had Paul, Richard, Gary and others already set up, pointing at Jupiter or the Pleiades.

Throughout the night, members of the public came and went. Some came with just the family and a healthy curiosity, others came with family and complete with a scope to set up. All told, we saw about seven scopes set up and perhaps 35 individuals stream through. That’s not a bad count, given the conditions and time of year.

One celestial phenomenon that repeatedly caught people’s attention was the fact that Jupiter’s four Galilean moons appeared to be moving quickly. Indeed, there were two that were approaching the gas giant from opposite sides, appearing to be ready to hit the disk at nearly the same time. A quick look at an app on my smartphone, an app called Where is Io, showed that indeed, Io and Ganymede were approaching and both would duck behind the planet’s disk.

Io winked out as expected, and since Ganymede has a longer orbital period, it took a few minutes longer for it to near the limb of the disk. As it neared the disk’s edge we were fascinated with a visual sensation that the moon was pushing into the planet, flattening it out. But as the seconds, then minutes, ticked by, we began to realize that instead of retreating behind Jupiter, the moon was moving in front of it. Either my app was incorrect, or it was simply difficult to tell in the app, with its small image on a small cell phone screen. As the Ganymede’s image pushed further into the disk of Jupiter, several of us observers detected a faint 3-D effect, where the moon stood out from the disk; apparent depth perception. We determined this must have been an artifact of the moon’s shadow being so close to the image of the moon.

Wait a minute, I thought. Didn’t the opposition of Jupiter just recently pass, perhaps in December? I turned to Sky Safari Pro, also installed on my phone, called up Jupiter for the current time, and read through the details. Opposition, it said, was scheduled for February 2015. Hmm, it must be referring to the *next* opposition. I rewound time in the app to August 2013 then looked at Jupiter’s stats once again. Aha! Opposition is predicted to be 5 January 2014, less than 36 hours of our current time! No wonder Ganymede’s shadow was so close to the moon! What we astronomers more typically see is the moon well away from its shadow, so this was certainly an unexpected treat.

Our night at Houge Park in early January again demonstrated that amateur astronomy is not some placid, dare I say, boring pastime.  Rather, it’s unyieldingly dynamic, things are always happenning, and being on the front lines at any given moment allows you to see the universe in action, even from our own little corner of the solar system, galaxy, or universe.  From happy surprises provided by local planets to unexpected releases of massive amounts of energy, local or millions of years ago, getting out under the stars, day or night, is a constantly fulfilling endeavor that never fails to amaze.  This is astronomy.

Image credit: ched cheddles on Flickr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Posted in Articles, Observing Reports


Comet ISON brightens up

by Akkana Peck

The big shallow-sky story in November is Comet C/2012 S1 ISON, brightening to naked-eye levels as it approaches its peak next month.

So far, ISON isn’t quite living up to some of the hype we heard earlier in the year. It may be as much as two magnitudes fainter than the early predictions had indicated. But don’t give up hope — ISON could still turn out to be a very nice comet.

It will likely be only around sixth magnitude as November opens — just barely naked-eye visible, if you go to a dark sky site like Coe or Fremont Peak — but will brighten to around second magnitude by later in the month, comparable to the stars in the Big Dipper.

Here’s the bad news (at least, it’s bad for a lot of us) — ISON is still a morning object, and will remain so for nearly its whole pass. At the beginning of November it rises at about 3:30 am, then moves to about 3 am by the second weekend. But by the 16th, it’s later again, not rising until 4 am (sunrise is around 6:50) and by a week after that, it’s so close to the sun that it’ll be tough to spot at all.

As November opens,, the comet will hang between Mars and a slim crescent moon in the dawn sky. It remains there, with the tail (whatever tail it might have by then) sweeping toward Mars, for the rest of the week, though of course the moon will move on. A nice opportunity for early rising photographers!

As the month continues, ISON should brighten steadily, but it will also rise later as it moves sunward. That means it’ll be harder to spot. But it’s worth trying — particularly on November 23 and 24, when ISON will be close not only to Saturn and Mercury, but to another comet, 2P Encke, all four of them fitting in a roughly 6-degree field along with the magnitude 2.8 star Alpha Librae (Zubenelgenubi).

Six degrees isn’t small enough to get them all in a telescope together, but wide-field binoculars should be able to fit them in. ISON should be around second magnitude by that time. (Some sites have predicted that it will be brighter than Venus by this time in November, but don’t count on it.) Encke is a much fainter magnitude 4.8 — it’s reported to have a green glow this year, though whether that will be apparent to a visual observer when it’s this close to the sun is doubtful — and Saturn and Mercury are magnitudes 0.5 and -0.5 respectively.

ISON makes its closest approach to the sun, at about 700,000 miles, on November 28. You won’t be able to see the comet’s head then — but
if it’s grown a long tail, you might be able to see the tail rising before sunrise. I vividly remember a night in 1997 at the SJAA Messier Marathon at Coe — “What’s that glow over there? Is it headlights from a car driving on a road up in the hills?” “No, there’s way too much of it!” and the amazement as we gradually realized we were watching Hale-Bopp rising, forked tail first, over the Diablo range.

But the real ISON show is expected to happen in early December. By the middle of the month the comet should be visible in both morning and evening skies, and it’s anyone’s guess how bright it will be. I’ll cover more details of its December schedule next month, but for now, cross your fingers!

Okay, so you’re sick of hearing about the comet and you don’t want to get up that early anyway. What else is there to look at?

Try Jupiter! The gas giant rises at around 8:30 and is visible for the rest of the evening.

On November 5 there’s a nice multiple shadow transit. It starts during daylight, around 3:30, with Io’s shadow. By sunset (about 5:05), Io’s shadow, just about to exit the disk, has been joined by Europa’s shadow plus Io itself. Europa’s shadow exits the disk around 6:60, just about the time that Europa enters. Then there’s a very similar Io/Europa shadow event on the 12th, starting just before 5pm with Io’s shadow, with Europa’s shadow exiting around 9:20. And there are lots of single shadow transits, as well as single shadow plus single moon events — it’s a busy month for the Galilean moons!

Venus, too, is accessible in the evening sky all month., setting a little before 8 pm, going from roughly half phase at the beginning of the month to slightly crescent by November’s end. Uranus and Neptune transit near nightfall, so you’re best off catching them early in the evening. Pluto sets around 7 pm, so it’s really too low for observing this month.

Mercury, Mars and Saturn are all in the morning sky. On November 25, a couple of days after that nice ISON/Saturn/Mercury/Encke conjunction, Saturn and Mercury have a close conjunction, only about 20 arcminutes apart. That separation is only a little bigger than Saturn’s own disk.

Posted in Articles


One Huge Beginner Class

Last Friday night, 27 Sept 2013, was another session in the regular series of the SJAA Beginner Astronomy Class.  There is usually a free, public star party happening at the same time, right outside during these classes.

During this session, we were given advance notice that two third grade classes, and their families, would be coming to both the class as well as the star party. These classes came from one of the schools that is part of Rocketship Education, a charter school system operating in less affluent areas of San Jose.

rocketship beginner classWe’re not entirely sure if we did the math beforehand or not, but if we were to take the 30 to 40 third graders, then multiply that by, say, a family of four, we would get… well, one HUGE beginner class!  And that’s exactly what showed up: Attendance estimates were up to 160 people of students, younger siblings, older siblings, moms, dads and even a grandma or two. They showed up not in individual automobiles, but a charter bus.  Yes, that’s right not a yellow school bus, but a full size, dual axle charter bus.  These families were here on a mission, a mission to get some exposure to astronomy science. And that’s exactly what we gave them.

Our regular beginner class instructor, Mark Wagner, became unavailable for personal reasons at the last minute.  That left myself and Greg Claytor, another SJAA board member, to cover for him.  Neither Greg nor I have ever led a beginner class before, but there was no way we could let these families down.  We worked together earlier in the day to develop a game plan. What we came up with was a two-fold plan to first cover the basics of looking through a telescope, and second, what was up in the fall night sky.  rocketship beginner classGreg did a great job of explaining how to approach a telescope, which end to look through and how to make sure that people were able to see something through the eyepiece.  I proceeded to hand out a printout of the September Sky, that I downloaded from the Skymaps site.

After the class was finished, the teacher instructed the families on how to proceed to the telescopes, set up outside.  He split them into two groups, the first would go straight over to the scopes, while the other group would hang out at the playground until about 30 or 45 minutes had passed. He was good enough to recognize that over 150 people lining up at only a dozen (or less! We didn’t know what the turnout would be) telescopes would not make for a pleasant experience.

The call for scopes I had put out the night before was a success. I counted at least thirteen scopes and binoculars lined up at ‘telescope row’. Though there were lines during some points that night, they were manageable and everyone seemed to have a great time.  As I had noted in the call out for scopes, there were plenty of oohs and ahhs from people who had never looked through a telescope before.  And that’s what many of these amateur astronomers like to do: We love to share the beautiful views of the night sky and the wondrous objects they contain. That makes it all worth it.

Big thanks go out to those SJAA Members and Friends who heeded the call. Without them, we would not have been able to make this evening a success.

Posted in Articles, Observing Reports, Programs


Expedition – Laguna Mountain

laguna tall tree and view

The following is my report about our visit to Laguna Mountain, in California’s Hernandez Valley, nestled between the coastal and Diablo mountain ranges. Chris Kelly, my friend Tim Berry, a TAC imager named Enrico, and I comprised the entire group that day and night on 07 September 2013.  I knew we would be going to a really remote place. My goal was to experience what it would be like to try it from a one night perspective.

Laguna Mountain, managed by United States’ Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is a long way to go, but you really get a sense of the central part of California from the drive down there, traveling through Hollister, passing by the east entrance to Pinnacles National Park on highway 25 . The location is just about exactly one hundred miles from base camp Houge Park in San Jose. It takes about two hours with no stops (as measured driving back to SJ in the very early morning).

Highway 25 is a leisurely drive, but does get a bit twisty and a little slow in certain areas. It’s well maintained and can be fast in certain stretches.  On your way to Laguna, on Highway 25, well past the Pinnacles, you come down off a hill where the road turns sharply to the right. You see a sign pointing to the left toward Laguna Mountain Access, Coalinga Road.  This road is not as well maintained, so the going is slower. The pavement is rougher, the road crosses several single lane cattle crossing grates, and low areas, dips, where bridges should be (but are not).

laguna mountain entranceAfter about 25 minutes on Coalinga Road, you start to approach BLM land, with the Short Fence Trailhead parking area.  A little while later, while noticeably gaining elevation, you pass by the Sweetwater Trailhead and campground.  A short while after that, you reach your destination, the Laguna Mountain Campground, so you make a right onto the gravel road.  It leads up to the campground and terminates at a small clearing where there is a vault toilet building, an information kiosk, and the gate.

At the camping area of Laguna Mountain, there are five sites, on seemingly fresh crushed gravel; it’s a little dusty.  There are shade structures, about 10 by 12 feet in dimension, on a concrete pad with a metal picnic table bolted, chained to the slab.  Sites are decent sized and space away from each other, providing plenty of privacy.  There is no water, so be sure to bring plenty your own. laguna campsiteThere are no trash cans, so  you have to pack your trash out.  There are fire rings but it’s hot and dry out there, I would hesitate having a campfire.  Site 5 is the best, at the top of the  hill, but it’s technically behind the gate. To use it, you would have to park in the clearing, near the gate/kiosk and haul all your stuff up the hill, about 30-50 meters around the gate, then back up again to the site.  It has good views and is relatively flat, so you could even set up your gear there and observe right at your camp. UPDATE: I’m told that this site is fully available for the asking; contact the local BLM office (links are above in this post) or the SJAA’s Rob Jaworski.

The observing area where we set up that night was up the hill beyond the locked gate.  To get there, we had to drive about a quarter mile past the gate, for which Chris had the combination as he was also in possession of a permit. Driving up that dirt road, the biggest issue is one fairly steep section of road, maybe fifty feet in length, we had to climb with our vehicles. The 4WD vehicles had no problem but the one non-4WD sedan in our group did have problems climbing. locked gate at lagunaA second run at the hill with more momentum and using a different track, with less loose dirt and rock, proved successful.  If the surroundings are wet and muddy, this may be a significant problem as the  grade would be impassable, possibly even to 4×4’s.

At the top of a ridge, we set up right in the middle of the well graded dirt road, at N36 21.678′ W120 49.608′ (link to google map satellite view).    Being in the middle of road, if another vehicle had happened to encounter and want to pass us, it would have been impossible  unless we all broke down our equipment to let them through. Luckily and expectedly, there was no one trying to get to nowhere beyond to the mountain (or returning from it).

South wasn’t perfect, horizon was slightly obscured by the mountaintop, but IIRC, all of Scorpius’ major stars were visible.  To the north was the Hernandez Valley, and you could see the reservoir; the horizon is pretty low, the Big Dipper swung all the way down and you can easily see all the stars in Ursa Major’s famous asterism. To the northwest, there is a distinct light dome coming from either Hollister or Soledad. Most of us argued for the former while Chris suggested it was the latter. Later, looking at maps, it was apparent that Soledad was the most likely candidate, being much closer and more to the west. Another, much smaller light dome was visible closer to due north, which matches pretty well to where Hollister would be.  The hills to the east had a very faint glow coming from behind them, to which I guessed those were probably all the far off towns in the central valley blending together. To the south, there was nothing.  In the valley below us, to the west, there were only two, very faint and very far off lights coming from a ranch house or barn.  You have to stand up tall and look over the brush to see them.  You won’t even be able to point at them with most scopes, especially dobs.  Other than that, locally, there was nothing else, nothing but occasional coyotes yapping in the distance.

This is more of a site report than an observing report, but I’ll make small mentions of what we did up there in the dark.  Chris was all over the place with his C14, as usual. Enrico was imaging and showed us versions of the eagle nebula, which looked best in red, though green looked red, and so did blue. Confused? So was I; I don’t image.  I did manual searching around through the awesome Milky Way, pretending I was an eighteenth century Herschel or Messier, trying to find random things in my XT8.  For some reason, I fixated around Delphinus, and found NCG 6834 pretty easily.  A lot of my time was also just taking in the dark sky naked eye, what a fabulous place we live, our galaxy.  We weren’t disappointed with space pebbles crashing into our perfect-for-us atmosphere, many of which seemed to travel from west to east across the southern sky.  It just so happened we all saw one come straight down to the south, fiery green, smoke trail and all.  We were all using some flavor of Sky Safari all night, a bunch of silhouettes walking around in the dark with dim, red flat panels in our hands. Tim DeBenedictis does a great job of trying to obsolete paper charts, yes he does.

I had obligations the next day, so my buddy Tim and I packed it up and were on the road back to the bay area a little past midnight.  We expected to see lots of wildlife on Coalinga Road, then highway 25, but we were all alone. All we saw, the whole way back, was the fuzzy tail of a scampering mammal, as it was disappearing into the roadside brush.  I won’t mention the small number of nocturns hanging outside the just-closed social establishments of Tres Pinos; they don’t count.

Summary:  This location is good for people looking for dark skies, and imagers, who don’t mind the drive and would be willing to spend the night, driving back the next day.  It’s not well suited in its current form for any sort of organized event.  The location could handle perhaps a dozen observers, perhaps a bit more, scattered throughout the ridge and the campgrounds.  I would certainly list it as a place to go and check out with your gear. The land managers are asking for suggestions for improvements and are trying to draw more visitors to come and use their sites in this area.  If you like remote, this is the place.

sundown at laguna

Posted in Articles, Trip Reports


Celebrate Cambrian with SJAA

Celebrate-Cambrian-2013

Heads up to all volunteers, sun worshipers and outreach/communication specialists!  The San Jose Astronomical Association will again, for the fourth year in a row, bring astronomy and science directly to the people.

On Sunday, 25 August 2013, I and a few volunteers will be at the Camden Community Center in San Jose, not far from SJAA basecamp, Houge Park from 11AM to 4PM.  We will have the SJAA’s 100mm h-alpha scope set up, as well as a few others, including an SCT with a white light filter, and we’ll use those to provide views of the sun to passers by while chatting them up about the SJAA and all things astronomy.

If you would like to participate, please contact Rob Jaworski at rob.jaworski at sjaa.net. There are no requirements, no prerequisites, no restrictions.  Just let us know so we can expecct you!

Posted in Anouncements, Blog
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