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March 2011 Meeting Notes

March 2011 Meeting Notes

Discussion of business items this month included presentation of our new club banner, discussion of our spring schedule and plans for public events, discussion of plans for school events, and a brief reminder that the Globe at Night project needs sky brightness measurements from local amateurs.

Business Meeting

Club Banner
During our last meeting we agreed that it would be worthwhile to have a flexible, nylon reinforced vinyl banner made for the club.  Steve Plank took charge of the effort and determined that a local sign maker would be our best option.  Thanks to several donations, including a very generous anonymous donation in memory of Ken Willcox, we were able to have the sign made with no impact to our current bank balance.  With that issue resolved, Steve worked out the final details with the sign maker, and the banner was completed in time for unveiling at this month's meeting.  The 8'x3' white vinyl banner has the club name in large black lettering, as well as a brief statement of our purpose, an email address for contact, and how to find our website on the internet.  This sign includes grommets to make it easy to hang or secure, and will provide obvious identification for the club at public events.  Several pictures of the banner can be seen in the photos section of our BvilleAstro Yahoo Group at <> .

Spring Schedule
Arden Strycker summarized our tentative Spring Schedule, identifying the best opportunities during the next few months for public events as well as "dark of the moon", club observing.  While weather can be particularly uncooperative and unpredictable during this time of year, we need to start making plans for both public and private events in the near future.  We would like to have one or two club (member only) star parties during this time, perhaps at the Girl Scout Camp or Skull Creek, where skies are especially dark.  In addition, we should try to schedule at least one star party, open to the general public, at a city park.  This might work best when the Moon is in the sky for at least part of the evening, since visitors are always impressed with a look at the Moon through a telescope.  In addition, we might gain visibility in the community by planning a daytime static display at a public location, like the Mall.  National Astronomy Day is May 7 this year, and seems like an ideal opportunity for such a display.  Arden Strycker and Steve Plank, our observing coordinators, will be planning these activities, but additional ideas and volunteer help to make these events a success would be much appreciated.  More details about our tentative Spring Schedule can be found in the Events section of our website at <> .

School Events
Last year we had two very successful star parties at Wayside Elementary School.  This year we have been requested to provide similar events for St. John and Oak Park schools.  Joyce Gray-Ritchie is our school contact, and has been discussing schedules with both schools. Plans are still developing, but since these events work best around first quarter Moon, we'll probably be scheduling for early to mid April.  We will need club member volunteers to provide telescopes, as well as others to offer general sky orientation help to visitors.  Rather than allow bad weather to force us into rescheduling, we need to prepare enough inside astronomical activities to provide an interesting and educational experience if sky conditions prevent us from setting up scopes outside.  We will notify club members by email or phone when dates for these events are finalized.

Globe at Night
Globe at Night is an annual citizen science project that encourages people all over the world to measure sky brightness (and thereby light pollution) by comparing the appearance of the constellation Orion, as seen from their location, with a set of basic star charts.  Observations are then submitted to Globe at Night with a simple on-line form.  At the meeting, Daryl Doughty, Steve Plank, Duane Perkins and John Grismore reported that they had made observations from their locations in Bartlesville during the February 21 through March 6 observing period.  Daryl noted that these four measurements join about 9,000 from around the world, already contributed to Globe at Night.  The second observing period will be from March 22 through April 4, and there is still a need for more data.  Members and others interested in the project are encouraged to make observations from their own locations in or near Bartlesville during the second observation period.  
To participate please visit the Globe at Night home page at <

Introduction to Spring Constellations - Daryl Doughty

Prior to this month's program, Daryl Doughty presented a short talk on Spring Constellations.  He pointed out that, compared to the bright stars and distinctive constellations of the winter sky, the spring constellations are generally dimmer and somewhat anticlimactic.  Using a star map, Daryl highlighted several Spring constellations, including Leo, Bootes and Virgo.  Since the latter constellation contains the Autumnal Equinox, the Sun's location at the start of Autumn, this was a good jumping off point for a discussion of the Earth's motion and its effects on celestial coordinates.

Daryl explained that the angle of the Earth's rotational axis with respect to the plane of the solar system causes the celestial equator (the projection of the Earth's equator onto the celestial sphere) to be inclined at 23.5° to the ecliptic (the path that the Sun and planets follow across the sky).  This results in two nodes, or intersection points, between the celestial equator and the ecliptic, on opposite sides of the sky.  These are the equinoxes.  The Sun, moving along the ecliptic passes through the Autumnal Equinox, in the constellation Virgo, in September, and the Spring Equinox, in the constellation Pisces, in March.  Expanding further, Daryl touched on the "precession of the equinoxes", which is the roughly 26,000 year cycle of the "wobble" of the Earth's polar axis, much like that of a spinning top.  This long term motion results in the gradual movement of the equinoxes along the celestial equator, from one constellation to the next, and is the underlying phenomenon that has led to such ideas as "The Age of Aquarius".

The Cheapskate Astronomer’s Introduction to Astrophotography
Speaker - Rick Bryant

Presenting the second in his multipart astrophotography series, Rick Bryant discussed in detail the sixteen most insidious astrophotography gremlins that bedevil amateur astrophotographers.  Among these are such things as weather, vermin, equipment failure, alignment and tracking issues, and even image loss.  For each of these gremlins Rick analyzed the contributing factors and provided practical advice and recommendations for minimizing or eliminating the problems.  In some cases a few simple steps could overcome the problem, while in other cases, such as equipment failure, adaptation is often the answer.  In a few cases, such as bad weather, rescheduling may be the only option. 

But in all cases Rick stressed the importance of planning ahead.  Most of the gremlins can be significantly reduced, if not entirely eliminated, by careful preplanning.  In addition to establishing a list of desirable targets, he emphasized the need to spend up front time preparing for every aspect of an imaging session.  This includes location and timing considerations, lighting and sky conditions, image scaling and exposure, equipment preparation and redundancy, and secondary target alternatives.  Among the most important preparations is a complete mock set up indoors to verify that all equipment is present and in good working order.  This setup is then followed by a careful and organized packing process, with many small items, such as cables, going into sealed and labeled plastic bags.  Organization is key to efficient assembly and operation of the entire system in twilight or night time conditions.

Clearly Rick's impressive successes in astrophotography are the result of a lot of time, effort, thought and preparation.  Those of us aspiring to similar successes have learned a great deal from Part I and Part II that will increase our own chances of astrophotography success.  But there's more to learn.  We have Part III to look forward to next fall.

Next Meeting
Monday, April 4, Daryl Doughty will present "DSLR Astrophotography" in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room.  For more information, see the meeting announcement on our website home page at <> .

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