Looking Back, Looking Forward

Now that the year has come to a close and another has already begun its limited engagement, on behalf of the SJAA, I would like to take a look back at the year now done and recap the accomplishments of the club.

In January, our loaner program took a much needed revamp as we took receipt of seven new Orion Dobs, all of the XT Classic variety, ranging from a six inch to a ten inch model.  Once those scopes were assembled and made available for loan, they were all quickly snatched up by members eager to give them a try. They all have been out on continuous loan since.  I’d like to give a big Thank You to Dr. Lee Hoglan for continuing to run our valuable loaner program and ensuring that these new units are available to our members.

In the fall, the board took up the discussion again about the club acquiring a solar scope, with an intention of creating a Solar Observing program.  A solar scope committee was formed, and after thoughtful deliberation, the decision was made to put in an order for a 100mm Lunt Visual Package.  This telescope will be the keystone of the new Solar Observing Program, which is being spearheaded by SJAA member Michael Packer.  More information will soon be on the Announce mail list, but let me give a preview by saying that the solar scope will be set up for public viewing on a roughly monthly basis at a regular location, most likely at our base of operations, Houge Park.  We will also bring it to outreach events such as art and wine festivals and other community events to further our educational mission.

Speaking of Michael Packer, he is not only a member of the club, but he is now the newest member of the SJAA Board of Directors.  At the December board meeting, Michael joined the board in a special vote to fill a vacancy left by departing board member Gordon Reade.

Also speaking of outreach activities, we have been trying to raise the visibility of the SJAA in the local San Jose and south bay community.  In 2010, we manned a booth at the Celebrate Cambrian festival, an event put on by the City of San Jose to bring residents closer to local business and community organizations.  In 2011, we did it again at the same event, with an estimated 700 people stopping by to take a peek at the sun through a properly fitted solar filtered telescope.  We had so much interest that this past September, for the first time and on very short notice, we were provided with a chance to have a booth at the Almaden Art and Wine Festival in San Jose. A call was put out to the SJAA members, and a very generous handful of individuals stepped up to work a couple of hours at the booth, again, providing information about the SJAA and nice late summer views of the sun.

This year, the SJAA has developed a Mentoring Program to help members who are new to astronomy get into the hobby.  Dave Ittner is driving the effort and making himself available as the charter mentor, and is looking for people who are interested in being mentored as well as more experienced people who can play the mentor role.  More information will be forthcoming to both the Announce mail list as well as the website about the Mentor Program, but if you can’t wait, please contact Dave directly.

On another outreach front, the SJAA is working with the Santa Clara County Open Space District to support their Starry Nights program.  The program is the brainchild of SJAA member Chris Kelly, a docent at the Open Space District, and involves providing the public a chance to view the night sky from a relatively dark site in the south bay area, the District’s Rancho Cañada del Oro preserve.  Beyond Chris, the SJAA has been represented there at least three times throughout the course of the year, and we are working on making this site available, under certain conditions, to the SJAA.  If you are not familiar with the Open Space District, please visit their website and plan a trip to their preserves, and be sure to keep a watch for the next Starry Nights event at Rancho Cañada del Oro.

What also needs mentioning is the school star party program.  Almost every weeknight of the school year, dedicated volunteers with the SJAA, led by long time member and two time Gregory Award winner Jim Van Nuland, are out at a local south bay area schools, showing the night sky with a variety of telescopes.  What keeps them going are the Oohs and Aahhs coming from the students, teachers and parents as they see, for the first time, Saturn’s rings or the craters of Earth’s moon or the Galilean satellites of Jupiter.

The Dr. A. B. Gregory Award is the formal SJAA recognition of a member of the local amateur astronomy community who has demonstrated “Outstanding Contributions of Time and Effort to Others in Amateur Astronomy”.  In 2011, the award was presented to Rick Morales, a long time ranger at Fremont Peak State Park who was instrumental in helping to establish the Fremont Peak Observatory. A very well deserved congratulations to Rick!

Finally, the club has continued to support its mission to provide educational opportunities to the public by organizing and hosting beginner astronomy classes and monthly speakers.  We have had a fantastic line up of speakers come throughout the year; the list of past speakers and their topics can be found at this link. We have a good pipeline of speakers for 2012 already, and leading the pack at January’s General Meeting, which is coming this Saturday, 7 January, is the very engaging and entertaining Dr. Alex Filippenko.  This is a lecture not to be missed, and I expect we will have a full house!

Of course, the SJAA will continue its tradition of hosting Friday night public star parties at Houge Park.  The 2012 calendar (not available) has been developed and is available for review, which includes not just our Friday night events but the General Meetings, our annual auction and swap meet, and all of our regular events.

Be sure that you are signed up for the SJAA Announce mail list, or at least check the website regularly for upcoming events.  Looking back at 2011 makes it obvious that the SJAA is a vibrant and engaged organization that meets its educational mission in a variety of ways.  And there are more ways and other ideas too!  If you have an inkling to get involved and be an active part of the SJAA, we would love to help you get started! Don’t hesitate to contact me, Rob Jaworski, or any member of the board.  Or, drop by any of the SJAA Board meetings, which are held at the same location and about 90 minutes before the start of the monthly General Meetings.

Have a great 2012, and we look forward to seeing you in the dark!

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