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November 2009

November BAS Meeting Notes

We had a good turn out for this month's meeting in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room, including a couple of new visitors.  The room is comfortable and convenient, with the additional benefits of wireless internet access and a video projector.  The projector turned out to be indispensable for this month's program, displaying the PDA screen used for demonstrating astronomical software.

Planetarium in Your Palm - Arden Strycker
Arden presented a very interesting demonstration of Planetarium, a powerful astronomical program for the Palm Computing Platform.  Planetarium offers a wide range of capabilities in a small PDA package, and is a perfect scope-side tool for observers.  It excels at displaying real-time star charts to aid in star hopping, locating specific targets and even recording observations.  The software's flexibility in adjusting the field of view and orientation, as well as magnitude limits, is especially helpful when searching for challenging objects under less than ideal conditions.  Despite the limited memory available in PDA's, Planetarium can make use of external storage modules containing extensive databases of astronomical objects, greatly expanding its capabilities.

There was considerable interest in this topic that generated a side conversation about the availability of cheap but capable PDA's on eBay.  Before the presentation was over, Mike Woods had located the Planetarium web site with his own PDA and was planning to download the software.  It will be interesting to see how many PDA's show up at our next star party.

Club Dues
A brief discussion about club dues confirmed that dues apparently have not been paid for several years.  Most members, including myself, have simply lost track of the last time dues were paid.  It was agreed that we should restart dues payment, with each individual establishing his or her own schedule.  Several current members and two new members paid dues at the meeting.  The issue of how to handle family memberships was raised, prompting a question about the club bylaws.  There was an extensive effort to update and rewrite the club bylaws many years ago, but a recent search failed to locate a copy.  If anyone knows where the bylaws can be found, please contact one of the club officers.

Sky and Telescope Subscriptions
As stated in the November newsletter, Sky Publishing still offers a discount on annual subscriptions to Sky and Telescope magazine for astronomy club members.  Several members paid for new subscriptions at the meeting, and other members can still take advantage of the discount.  New subscriptions must be submitted through the club to receive the discount, but future renewals can be handled by each individual without any club intervention.

Night Sky Program for Local Elementary Schools
Joyce Ritchie, who has been preparing a letter to be sent to the schools, offering a Night Sky Program presented as a community service by BAS, summarized the current status of these efforts.  We currently have three or four members committed to provide scopes and instruction at such events, but there is concern that without a bit more manpower, the club might be overwhelmed and students might end up standing in long lines in the dark.  More members for the Night Sky instruction, as well as teachers and parents for crowd control, would be very helpful in making the experience a positive one for the students.  If you can volunteer, please contact Joyce or one of the club officers.

Since we have decided to establish fixed dates for these Night Sky events, it will be important for us to have backup plans for indoor astronomy activities in the case of bad weather.  During a discussion of the portable Star Planetarium, owned by the school system, Joyce pointed out that it is so large that it takes a team of several adults, in a large open space like a gymnasium, and many hours to unpack and assemble it.  The school system had an individual allocated to managing and operating the planetarium when it was first acquired, but the unit has been in storage, unused for quite a long time.  Although it would be a great resource to use for indoor astronomy activities, this is probably more than we can manage in the short term, with our existing commitments.  It would be valuable though, if we could work with the schools system in a longer term effort to reestablish use of the planetarium in the elementary schools.

One idea for a relatively simple indoor astronomy activity would be to set up a computer running a desktop planetarium program as a small group planetarium.  Hooked to a video projector, possibly pointed up to shine on a white ceiling, this could be used to demonstrate a wide variety of astronomical concepts.  Even a computer slide show of constellations might be useful.  We need to gather as many ideas as we can for indoor astronomy activities.  Direct your ideas to Joyce.

At the end of the discussion we agreed that our primary goal at this time should be to try to establish a single Night Sky Program for a relatively small group of students (maybe one or two grades) at one of the elementary schools, and use the results of this experience to improve and refine our plans.

Dark Site Ideas
Steve Plank has been investigating possible dark observing sites for the club, and gave a short summary of what he has learned so far.  His investigation has centered on using government land associated with Copan or Hulah Lake.  This is worth exploring since the Copan Model Airplane Club has a private club field on Corps of Engineers land at Copan Lake.  The field is, at least in part, maintained by Washington County.  The possibility of assistance with establishing and maintaining a dark observing site is a very attractive one.

It appears that there is not much interesting government land around Copan Lake, but there may be a number of good possibilities near Hulah Lake.  This could be a very good location since the darkest skies anywhere in our vicinity are from Hulah Lake west into Tall Grass Prairie.  In order to pursue this we would need to submit a request for land usage to the Army Corps of Engineers.  So, if further investigation leads to a specific site that meets the club's requirements, we would need to determine at that time, if there is sufficient interest and commitment among club members to submit a request.  All of this in no way eliminates other sites of interest.  Club members are encouraged to propose other possible dark observing sites for consideration.

Our programs during the past couple of months have generated quite a bit of interest.  Hopefully, we can continue to provide useful and engaging programs, but to do that we need program ideas and volunteers.  We want to keep these programs brief and informal so that they don't become a burden to prepare.  There must be lots of good program ideas, so please send your suggestions to Jim Vogh (program chairman) or John Grismore.  And of course, we need people to present programs.  This will work best if members volunteer without anyone having to "twist arms".

Next Meeting
Monday, December 7, in the Bartlesville Public Library Meeting Room A.  Program to be determined - volunteers needed!