BPAA 2020 Annual Letter

December 28, 2020

Dear BPAA Members,

What a year! Will it be over soon? It must be, because it’s time for BPAA’s annual letter! This is the President’s report on BPAA’s accomplishments in 2020, and a bit of a look-ahead to 2021.

A few weeks ago you received your invitation to our Annual Business Meeting, to be held on Wednesday January 27, 2020 at 7:30 pm. This is a business meeting for BPAA members. During the meeting members elect officers to the BPAA Board of Directors, directors present annual reports, and we consider club business.

Because of the pandemic, we will meet virtually via Zoom. To attend, please RSVP to President@BPAstro.org.

The Board strongly encourages all BPAA members to attend the meeting. We will discuss the impacts of COVID on Club activities and what this means for 2021, and we will also discuss the long term future of BPAA. If BPAA is to survive and thrive, we need to reinvigorate our programs as well as make improvements to the Ritchie Observatory. The Board needs to hear your ideas on how best to do this.

Here are some of the highlights of BPAA’s accomplishments this year.

COVID-19 Pandemic Shutdown and Response

The big story continues to be the COVID pandemic and its ongoing effect on BPAA’s activities. Our last public event at the Ritchie Observatory was our monthly planetarium show on February 8, when Astronomer Dave Fong provided an update to his annual “Twisted Tales of Love and Loss” Valentine’s Day program. A few weeks later Battle Point Park was closed and we were effectively out of business.

An ongoing source of pride for the BPAA board has been our consistent series of monthly educational lectures followed by (weather permitting) star gazing (barring an occasional snowstorm or Super Bowl). The COVID pandemic threw a monkey wrench into all this. After the February show, March’s program had to be canceled per the Governor’s guidelines. Specifically for astronomy, one possible vector of transmission we are concerned about is sharing eyepieces at a star party, similar to how pink-eye is transmitted.

After several months of “wait and see” if the pandemic would quickly run its course, in July we initiated Zoom-based lectures on typical astronomical topics followed by on-line star parties from Chief Scientist Steve Ruhl’s Two Towers Observatory. The virtual program series continued through December, with Steve and guest speakers Casey Blacker, Erin Howard and yours truly Frank Petrie delivering some great topics:

  • July – “Galaxy Collisions and the Milky Way” (Steve)
  • August – “Modeling the Solar System” (member and mathematician Casey Blacker)
  • September – “Supernova: Past, Present & Future” (Steve)
  • October – “Things That Go Dip In The Night” (member and aspiring astrophysicist Erin Howard)
  • November – “Current Discoveries in Astronomy, Women’s Edition” (Frank Petrie)
  • December – “The 2020 Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction” (Steve)

Additionally, we held several remote classes in conjunction with the BARN: Peter Moseley’s “Introduction to Astronomy,” Frank Petrie’s “Introduction to Telescopes,” and Steve Ruhl’s “Introduction to Astrophotography” were well attended and enthusiastically received.

As I write Jupiter and Saturn are meeting in grand conjunction low in the southwest. Hopefully you had a chance to spot them in our often-cloudy sky, and to join Chief Astronomer Nels Johansen and me on one of our live-streamed telescope viewings of the paired planets.

There are COVID vaccines on the horizon, however we do not anticipate widespread vaccination allowing us to restart in-person meetings and star parties for at least six months to a year. As long as the Governor’s pandemic guidelines remain in place, we will continue the Zoom lecture and star party format. If you have an astronomical topic that interests you and would like to present it at one of our monthly on-line events, or teach it as a multi-session class, let me know and we’ll be happy to help facilitate.

In anticipation of restrictions eventually being lifted, we are considering a new, more user- friendly venue for in-person monthly lectures but details on this are still being discussed.

Programming over Zoom has been moderately successful, and our audience has been more geographically diverse. One downside of the online format is that participants don’t drop a few dollars in the donation box by the door. To help make ends meet, we encourage all our members, supporters, and program participants to donate a few dollars through the One Call For All community nonprofit fundraising campaign. The campaign runs year-round, and OCFA provides a unique online portal for each participating organization. To make a tax-deductible donation to BPAA, simply go to this page: https://donations.onecallforall.org/donate/244.

Under the Phase 2 pandemic guidelines in effect for most of the year, we are allowed to gather in small groups of three or less, with masks. This has permitted some limited activities at the Observatory, including telescope training and work parties. More on this below.

BPAstroKIDS

The COVID pandemic has led to the complete shutdown of our BPAstroKids programming, so ably and enthusiastically led by Dr. Erica Saint Clair. Not only have in-person activities been impossible, but any hope of online programming dimmed when local schools closed and learning went online. With kids spending hours online trying to keep up with their studies, it was simply not reasonable to ask them to spend additional time online. At this point we do not know when, or even if, BPAstroKids will return. We owe a huge thank you to Dr. Erica for creating this very successful program and keeping it going for over five years.

Ritchie Telescope News

With the conclusion of the 2018-19 Cultural Funding Grant awarded by the City of Bainbridge Island, we spent the early part of 2020 completing the installation and commissioning of the Ritchie Telescope’s improved declination drive system, in collaboration with the BARN Metal Arts Studio. The telescope now points and tracks accurately. Many thanks to David BrowningPeter Moseley, and Nels Johansen for their persistence and attention to detail in getting everything working just right.

With the scope working reliably, we hope the Ritchie will receive more usage by our members. Chief Astronomer Nels Johansen has been offering training sessions, two at a time per COVID guidelines. So far eight people have learned the basics of operating the Ritchie. We encourage everyone with an interest to take advantage of Nels’s capable tutelage. Like learning to drive a car, once you have the basics you can reinforce your new skills by scheduling time at the scope with one of us to assist you. Soon you’ll feel comfortable enough to explore the universe on your own!

We’ve also been learning how to use the Mallincam DS16c astronomical video camera for imaging through the Ritchie. With COVID restrictions prohibiting in-person star parties, we’re experimenting with streaming live images over the internet. The online sessions have been well attended, but our imaging is not yet meeting our expectations. With practice we are improving and hopefully reaching a wider audience. And once you learn to operate the scope, you too can learn imaging with the Mallincam!

But there’s a minor hurdle to overcome: our DSL internet connection is not up to the demands of streaming video. We have arranged with the Parks Department to connect to their broadband service. This requires them to install some equipment in the building, work that has been delayed by COVID. We hope this will happen soon in the new year.

Please join me in saying a big virtual THANK YOU! to BPAA member Ellen Miyasato, who created the new black fabric light shroud for the Ritchie’s truss tube. The shroud keeps out stray light that interferes with deep sky imaging. Normally, for visual observing we keep the dome interior as dark as possible, including darkening the scope control computer screen. But with electronic imaging, we now have a second computer running the camera, and that can’t be darkened enough while taking images. The shroud solves that problem. Thanks Ellen!

Dome Repair and Improvements

Dome maintenance continues. The leaks were repaired and the dome received two coats of elastomeric (water proof rubberized) paint and 2 coats of a gloss topcoat, many thanks to those who helped with this project, especially Nels who organized the work parties and performed much of the work himself.

Beyond roof leaks, the dome has many issues more complicated and difficult or impossible to address:

  • There is dry rot in the main support arches
  • The aperture shutter is sagging and rubs on its rails
  • The aperture is too narrow
  • The dome itself is too small
  • The drop-down access steps are wobbly, have no handrail and are difficult to negotiatein the dark
  • The wireless control relays for dome rotation are failing
  • The doghouse over the spiral stairway roof access leaks and has dry rot

We have looked into the cost of a larger replacement dome; depending on features and including tax, shipping and installation it could be anywhere from $125,000 to $250,000. An investment of this size is beyond our immediate capacity, so we are contemplating a capital campaign to raise the funds. Embarking on this path is a significant decision that requires meaningful input from the membership. There are external sources of funding available, however they require the club to demonstrate its own commitment to the project by self- funding a significant portion of the total cost. Successfully securing grant funding also requires the club to have clearly articulated goals and measurable outcomes to justify the grant request and demonstrate its successful implementation.

The Board needs to hear from members on this matter. Are you in favor, and will you support it with a financial commitment? Before we can proceed with planning a capital campaign and detailed design, we need to know that the membership supports the dome replacement and other necessary improvements. This is why we urge you to participate in the upcoming annual meeting.

John Rudolph Planetarium

The 15-year-old Digitalis planetarium projector died a couple of years ago. Replacing it is expensive, $25,000 to $35,000 depending on features. As a low-cost temporary alternative, we’ve purchased a high-resolution digital projector that can be connected to a computer to project images, video, and planetarium demonstrations onto a screen or wall. We’ve taken down the planetarium dome and Nels painted a large white rectangle on one wall of the room to serve as a screen. With this setup, when COVID restrictions end we may offer movie nights, webinar viewings, science videos, children’s programming, live views from the telescope, and many other possibilities, including projecting Stellarium on the wall to show you what’shappening in the sky. It’s not nearly the same experience as the planetarium dome, but it will serve the purpose of helping audiences understand what’s happening in the sky.

Loaner Telescopes

BPAA has quite a collection of telescopes of various sizes available to be checked out by members for use at home. Special thanks to Denise and Lance Hidano, long-time members who volunteered to create an inventory of all the various scopes and accessories. They also put a lot of effort into cleaning up and organizing the Planetarium Room and the Telescope Storage Room. As soon as it’s completed the telescope inventory will be listed on our website, with photos of some of the scopes, so members can see what’s available and make arrangements to check one out.

If you are interested in a loaner telescope, please contact Chief Astronomer Nels, Chief Scientist Steve, or me. We can provide instruction on basic telescope use to help you get started and get the most enjoyment out of the scope. If you’re thinking about buying a telescope, our loaner program is a great way to figure out what sort of telescope is best suited for you. This can help you avoid an expensive mistake!

Astronomy Library

One of the improvements made with the COBI Funding was the addition of new floor-to-ceiling shelving in the upstairs meeting room. These shelves now hold our extensive collection of astronomy books. A big thank you to new member Casey Blacker who inventoried all the books. Next steps are to create a book check-out procedure so members can take advantage of all this knowledge!

Virtual Reality

In 2019, with encouragement from board member Ken Warman, we purchased Oculus virtual reality equipment, allowing us to experiment with providing a unique space-oriented experience for members and visitors, young and old alike. The VR experience was received enthusiastically by everyone who tried it, until the pandemic shut us down.

We believe there’s a strong future in VR, a future of opportunities for exploration and discovery that we can offer to our members and the public. We are looking for a few member volunteers to grow our virtual reality capability into a viable program. This involves maintaining the equipment, purchasing new equipment as needed, curating a library of VR programming, and creating and managing a calendar of VR events.

Communications

Our monthly newsletter, The Observer, got off to a fine start in February under the creative guidance of Rex Olsen and ran through August, when Rex unfortunately had to step down for personal reasons. Then, in December new member Joe Mulligan assumed the editor’s role and restarted publication. Thank you, Rex and Joe, for reestablishing this important element of member communications. If you want to submit a short article to the newsletter, please contact Joe at newsletter@bpastro.org or me at president@bpastro.org.

After several years of “pardon our dust” and “website under construction” status, we will soon unveil our new website. Graphic designer Matt Carrig has been working with us to create a new look that will be easier for members and visitors to navigate and administrators to keep up-to-date. We hope to go live in just a few days, so check it out!

Bainbridge Amateur Radio Club

As I mentioned last year, the Bainbridge Island Amateur Radio Club is interested in installing a fixed ham radio station at the observatory. While this effort has been on hold due to the pandemic, we continue to entertain that possibility. We have a draft shared-use agreement which, when finalized by the boards of both BARC and BPAA, will go to the Parks Board for approval.

Looking Ahead to 2021

I encourage you to attend the Annual Meeting. We want to hear your ideas and how you can help BPAA improve its programming and facilities in 2021 and beyond. Because of the pandemic most of our goals for 2020 are carried forward into 2021. Some of the things the Board would like to see accomplished are:

  • Continue regular online programming for as long as necessary.
  • Create a detailed, achievable improvement plan with specific goals, and initiate acapital campaign to finance the plan.
  • Fine tune the Ritchie Telescope to improve its performance. This includes collimating the mirrors, adjusting the polar alignment, and re-silvering the secondary mirror.
  • Partner with the Parks Department to replace the Porta-Potty with a restroom facility, and to upgrade internet access.
  • Increase program offerings to include movies, webinars and on-line science talks, hands-on telescope classes, and more VR sessions.
  • Create special interest groups that meet regularly to explore specific topics and work together on interesting science projects.Regardless of your level of skill or astronomy knowledge, we encourage you to become involved in these activities and help make 2021 a great year for BPAA.

Election of Officers

At the upcoming Annual Meeting we will be electing officers for new one-year terms. Five current Board members have agreed to continue, listed below, while Erica Saint Clair and Ken Warman are stepping down. Please join me in extending heartfelt thanks to Erica and Ken for their generous service to BPAA!

The slate of officers, nominated by the Board, is as follows:

  • Frank Petrie for President (continuing)
  • Nels Johansen for Chief Astronomer (continuing)
  • Steve Ruhl for Chief Scientist (continuing)
  • Frank Schroer for Treasurer (continuing)
  • Peter Moseley for Secretary (continuing)
  • Your name here for Vice President
  • Your name here for Facilities Officer
  • Your name here for Education Officer

As you can see, we have vacant positions that would benefit from new energy and ideas. If you’d like a deeper experience bringing astronomy to the community, consider joining the BPAA Board! Nominations from BPAA’s membership may be made at the Annual Meeting. If you think you might like to serve on the board, please contact me at the email address or phone number below. I’ve included an agenda for your review. If you have questions about the annual meeting please feel free to contact me.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Annual Meeting on Wednesday January 27, 7:30 pm.

Frank Petrie
BPAA President
(206) 409-7578
president@BPAstro.org

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