The Quick STARt program (the former Mentoring Program) helps to ease folks into amateur astronomy. You have to admit, astronomy can look exciting from the outside, but once you scratch the surface, it can get seemingly complex in a hurry. But it doesn't have to be that way if there's someone to guide you and answer all your seemingly basic questions. The Quick STARt program really took off in 2012 with the leadership and energy of Dave Ittner. He has already helped dozens and dozens of people get their feet wet in getting out under dark skies to discover what's out there, firsthand. Over the year, Dave has also refined the program, adding not only easy to use Dobsonian telescopes but all the accessories any good observer needs, such as observing chairs, appropriate eyepieces, sky atlases, accessory cases, etc. The Quick STARt program is available to SJAA members, and you can find more information, including how to contact Dave to sign up, here.
Another program that was conceived just before 2012 but has really taken off is the Solar Observing program. Early in 2012 the club took receipt of a Lunt h-alpha 100mm solar telescope. Since then, it's been the star (!) of the party at every daytime event. The core of the Solar Observing program is the monthly observing sessions at San Jose's Houge Park. On the first Sunday of every month, from 2 to 4PM PT, SJAA members set up the club's Lunt for the public to come view our nearest star. Additionally, members bring their own solar telescopes, such as Coronado PSTs to projection systems, with which to compare views. Of course, sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate and the session is canceled, but in those oftentimes when we do set up, the sun provides an amazing show. In fact, the sun is approaching the solar maximum, which means lots to see on and near the sun. Michael Packer runs the Solar Observing program and has proven a dedicated sun watcher! (Remember: NEVER observe the sun without proper eye protection! You can go blind!)
A program that is entirely new for 2012 was the Fix It session, sometimes called the Tune Up or the Telescope Fix It program. This is a real simple service the SJAA offers to members of the community, though it's priceless. The Fix It session provides a place for people to come with their telescope or other astronomy gear problems. Every first Sunday of the month, from 2 to 4PM (coinciding with the Solar Observing sessions), several SJAA members make themselves available at Houge Park for people to come with their scopes to get help with their gear. It can be any type of issue, such as broken scopes whose owners need advice, help with collimation, or even a quick session on how to use it. Weather doesn't slow this program down, so even if it's windy, cold and rainy outside, Fix It day goes on. Big thanks to go Ed Wong and Phil Chambers for being the gear experts who faithfully make themselves available at Fix It day!
Another new program that debuted in 2012 is the Astro Imaging Special Interest Group (SIG). This was spearheaded by Harsh Kaushikkar and has a mission of bringing together people who have an interest in astronomy imaging, or put more simply, taking pictures of the night sky. The Imaging SIG meets roughly every other month at Houge Park to discuss topics about imaging, as well as in the field, usually at Rancho Cañada del Oro (more on that site later). The SIG is open to people with absolutely no experience but want to learn what it's all about, but experienced imagers are also more than welcome, indeed, encouraged to participate. The best way to get involved is to review the postings on the SJAA AstroImaging mail list in Google Groups. Here's the link.
The SJAA has been working with the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (sometimes called simply the OSA) to make one of their sites available to astronomers. The OSA's Rancho Cañada del Oro (sometimes called RCDO, or Rancho) site is made available more and more with the dedicated work of SJAA members Chris Kelly and Dave Ittner. Both are also docents with the OSA, which really makes the partnership between the two organizations that much more cohesive. If you are interested in experiencing a fairly dark site that's not too far from home, consider coming out to Rancho when it's announced it will be open. Located just south of Calero County Park, between San Jose and Morgan Hill, Rancho gets surprisingly dark for being so close to an urban area. Keep an eye out on the SJAA Announce mail list for notifications of when it will be available.
There were many more accomplishments during the year for the SJAA, and this post could go on and on about them. But before we get too long winded, let me make a few, more brief acknowledgments.
- Teruo Itsumi developed and hosted the first Messier Half Marathon at Henry Coe State Park in October
- SJAA members gathered to view the Venus Transit, the annular eclipse, and the last shuttle flyby.
- The SJAA again participated in two community events, the Cambrian Festival and the Almaden Art and Wine Festival.
- The City of San Jose provided a grant of $500 to the SJAA to help offset the cost of insurance for the school star party program.
- Jim Van Nuland continues to be the heart and soul of the school star party program.
- The telescope loaner program was revamped, with its inventory cleaned up. And the auction was a success, in which the club divested itself of many older scopes from the loaner program bringing in some much needed funds to help with the revamp of the loaner program.
- The general meetings now have a social time beforehand, allowing members to mingle.
- The SJAA produced a video of one of the monthly talks, which was broadcast on cable TV.
- The website was overhauled, and looking great.
- The club newsletter continues to be consistently produced every month, in large part due to Paul Kohlmiller's effort, and the montly column my Akkana Peck.
- And membership has increased by 10%!
There is more, indeed, but these many items are the highlights. The board and the active volunteers have plans to make 2013 just as active, lively and fun. I hope that if you haven't been getting involved, you will consider doing it soon! Come to Houge Park, or contact any of the board members to participate!
Happy New Orbit!