Fall 2009 UPDATE
FOTO fans chase the Eclipse of the Century
Eighty FOTO members were among the thousands of astronomy enthusiasts from across the globe who traveled to China last July for the longest total solar eclipse of the twenty-first century. Most chose the “Cruise to Totality” aboard the Costa Classica in order to maximize their chances of overcoming every eclipse chasers bête noir, bad weather. A ship’s ability to travel to the optimum viewing sight offers voyagers the best chance to see eclipses from start to finish. In this case, it was a felicitous choice. Clouds and rain obscured the eclipse for those on land in China. But the FOTO contingent on the Costa Classica were treated to a jaw-dropping 6 minutes and 42 seconds (several seconds longer than usual due to the forward motion of the ship) of stunning totality, not to mention the thrill of dusk at mid-day, a precipitous drop in temperature and a preternatural 360 degree sunset.
Letter From the President
by David Primes
If you're reading this now, you're probably already convinced of the value of science and scientific literacy to our society and embrace its practical applications to our lives every day. So I'll try not to belabor the obvious: that in a time of increasing globalization, it's imperative we maintain our curiosity, our passion and our quest for knowledge. As we look around today, however, in an era marked by budget cuts and gloomy economic projections, it's difficult not to worry that tough times will challenge priorities unassailable in sunnier days.
But don't lose heart. I think the Observatory's original benefactor has already shown us the way, and is enduring results. How many future generations will reap the benefits of Colonel Griffith's gift of the Observatory's site and initial resources, and further stipulation that the institution be forever free and open to the public? Of course we know that maintaining and updating the Observatory is not itself free. We know it is thanks to friends like you that we continue to be a place where people can gather, explore and take inspiration, whether from the views that stretch past our perch atop Mt. Hollywood or the galleries and exhibits under the dome.
For our part, we are committed to changing with the times, and in this issue of UPDATE you'll find information on our growing presence on the Internet, as well as the many ways in which the Observatory works to keep our population engaged in and committed to science education. Colonel Griffith could not have foretold the innovations we reach for today, but without his vision, it's safe to say we would lack the capacity to weather the storms of circumstance. We can do that, and still prosper. Stay with us for the journey.
Numbers You Need to Know
FOR 30 YEARS, Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) has been working to ensure excellence at Griffith Observatory…and the numbers prove our success.
$33,000,000 in cash, equipment and exhibits donated to Griffith Observatory through the efforts of Friends Of The Observatory during the renovation and expansion project.
90% of adults visiting Griffith Observatory post-renovation rated their visit as "excellent" or "very good."
75% of young adults 12-17 years rated their post-renovation visit "extremely" or "very" interesting.
100,000 contacts made annually with FOTO members and constituents about events, special programming, and items of astronomical significance have been switched to electronic communications instead of paper mailings, saving thousands of trees and tens of thousands of dollars.
10 world-class scientific speakers presented to sold-out audiences in Friends Of The Observatory's new Cosmic Musings lecture series.
$128,000 in ongoing, FOTO-funded professional media coordination resulting in nearly 2,000 media contacts, yielding segments on Ellen (advertising value $110,000), articles in the New York Times, London Financial Times, Daily News, Los Angeles Times, monthly Calendar section reminders of ongoing programs, and press coverage of astronomical events, and more.
Hello, Young Learners, Wherever You Are:
Observatory fills a critical need in California
If the nation's future competitiveness depends on science, mathematical and technological proficiency, current trends are cause for alarm: a state budget anticipating deep cuts in education spending; a nationally aging scientific work force; a world in which science and mathematical knowledge is growing rapidly—outside the US.
There is a place, however, that for generations has played a major role in educating and engaging millions of children and adults.
"As the challenges mount in meeting science and technological proficiency, the public will need Griffith Observatory now more than ever," says Friends Of The Observatory Executive Director Camille Lombardo.
"We are as passionate about maintaining and enhancing the educational value of the Observatory as we were in undertaking and completing its renovation," she says. "We want our visitors to take away an appreciation of the advances scientists before us have brought into our lives and inspire new generations to explore something that many people view as either not relevant to everyday life or beyond their understanding."
With its $93 million renovation complete and attendance as high as ever, the Observatory is poised to do just that. What's more, a 2009 report from the National Research Council underscores the impact institutions such as Griffith Observatory can make on its young visitors, not only in terms of science literacy but career choice as well.
The report says that exhibits and programs should provide "multiple ways for learners to engage with concepts within a single setting," all concepts integrated into the Observatory's renovation, says Lombardo.
In fact, learning may begin quite inauspiciously. A young visitor to the Observatory may enjoy mugging for photos with the lifesized statue of Einstein found in the Gunther Depths of Space gallery; talk her mother into buying an Einstein action figure from the Stellar Emporium gift shop; go home and Google Einstein on the Internet and end up choosing the revered physicist as a subject for a graded school report.
Improving the quality and extent of science education is a national priority, but in California, the outlook is particularly gloomy. Currently the state's elementary school students rank 46th among the states in math, 48th in reading and 49th in science.
"People might be shocked to know that students in elementary school in this state receive less than 15 minutes of science a day on average," Lombardo says.
She notes that the Observatory's decades-old school field trip program is probably one of the best-known educational traditions in Southern California. Generations of Southland students hold fond memories of their ride up Mt. Hollywood for a program packed with exhibit, building, and planetarium experiences. Each component is designed to complement the others and to support the fifth-grade education standards. More than 60,000 fifth-grade students and nearly two thousand teachers from hundreds of schools around the region participated in the School Visit Programs in spring 2007 and the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years. But untold millions have passed through the museum's bronze doors since school visits began in 1935 — the very year the Observatory opened.
That outreach must, and will continue, says Lombardo.
"Those of us who support the Observatory are already addressing the crisis in science education, and we have plans to expand our educational and planetarium programming to make even more of an impact."
Given the looming generation gap in scientific fields, it's a literal fight against time. For instance NASA, once a magnet for the newly minted college graduate, now employs an aging, Boomercentric work force; only 18.9 percent of the 18,000 full-time civil servants working at NASA are under the age of 40, with the average age of a new hire now 41.
If there is a formula that will create science buffs, the Observatory has been perfecting its version for decades.
"With no admission charge, we are one of the most-visited informal educational facilities in the U.S. and the most visited public observatory in the world," Lombardo says.
"These forums can yield impressive results in terms of knowledge transfer."
And with 60 new exhibits to explore, 69 percent of young adults aged 13-17 reported being more interested in space, science and computers following their visit, and 51 percent say they would like to pursue a career in one of those fields.
"That is huge," says Lombardo, "and exactly what our young student visitors need at a time of unprecedented budget cuts. I can't think of a better by-product to supporting the Observatory."
FOTO’s Littlest Ambassador
Long Beach couple finds that around the world, their toddler is the only introduction they need
Dad works in high tech. Mom was a teacher. And baby Montserrat Alessandria, born in May 2008, learned to walk in China during the family’s eclipse excursion last July. They are the kind of parents able to complete each other’s sentences, and to hear them explain it, Dulce and Abel Germán Olivieri never seriously considered leaving their little one behind. In fact Abel, a long-term member of FOTO and die-hard Observatory fan, says next year’s eclipse in his home country of Argentina is already on the family calendar.
Dulce: I think traveling with a baby opens doors for you. We were kind of afraid at first, and all the advice given to us was not to go. But it was amazing. For example, on the cruise, people would bend over backwards because of the baby. Everybody helped us. They didn’t know our names, but knew Montserrat Alessandria’s parents. Every night was the red carpet Oscar treatment: Here comes Montserrat! During the actual eclipse, which was my first one, I was apprehensive and kept an eye on the baby so my husband had a chance to focus the camera.
Abel: In the last few minutes [of the eclipse] you could see everything was getting dark. The temperature dropped, there was a blue-ish light. You can’t describe it with words, it is surreal. They told us before the trip, you’re going to be hooked, it’s addictive, people travel all over the world to see an eclipse. They spend a lot of money but it’s really something money can’t buy. I tell people there were two times in my life when I got goosebumps. One was seeing my daughter born and the second was the eclipse.
Dulce: The excitement of sharing this with our little daughter—
Abel: And to be able to point her to the sky—
Tribute to Julius Shulman, celebrated photographer of modernist architecture and Griffith Observatory
by Ann Hassett
In February of 2007, Julius Shulman and his associate Juergen Nogai began photographing the newly restored Griffith Observatory. Julius was a young 96 year-old photographer when he began this magnificent series of pictures of Griffith Observatory.
Shulman, a world famous architectural photographer, had never photographed Griffith Observatory although in 1935 the brand new Observatory appeared in the background of a photograph he made overlooking the City. The Observatory appeared in the background of several of his famous photographs taken in the 1960’s.
Always challenged by a new assignment, Julius was wildly enthusiastic about photographing the Observatory. Working with him was an honor for all of us. His knowledge and love of astronomy was a delightful surprise. Julius was a lifelong observer—not just of structures but also of nature. His favorite pastime was hiking and camping, starting as a Boy Scout when he traveled with his troop to camp in the Hollywood Hills. “The sky was magnificent then,” he told us, “not too many bright lights in the City to obscure the sky, that’s when I fell in love with
The Eclipse: Astronomical Phenomenon or a Black Squirrel Devouring the Sun?
Eclipse chaser Janet Hoult shares legends of the ancients
Janet Hoult: I developed more than a dozen poems about astronomical mythology, and it turned out they were perfect for a puppet show because there are dragons, wolves, vampires and snakes, creatures who gobble up the sun. The story is told in legends from Siberia, Mesopotamia, Africa, Russia, North and South America, including Alaska, the Southwest United States, Peru and the Amazon; and Asia, including China, Japan, Vietnam, India and the South Pacific.
There are myths other than the ‘eating’ of the Sun—like the one in Alaska where the belief is that the Sun and Moon come down to check things out on earth and make sure everything is OK. Or the one from the Amazon that says the Sun and Moon were lovers, but so intense that he, the Sun, scorched the Earth and she, the Moon, cried buckets of tears so she flooded the Earth and it was decided they could only come together once in a while—during an eclipse.
Our show was called “Where did the Sun Go?” We had four days to make the puppets, one dress rehearsal and then
I want to encourage people in our age bracket—I’m in my seventies—to do these things and not just sit around. There are lots of things we can do with our skills.
More Than a Building, More Than a Tour
After tragedy struck, the Koken family took comfort in the cosmos
Stalwart friends of the Observatory, Terrell and Debbie Koken of Costa Mesa, figured they got a bargain last April when they won a Friends Of The Observatory auction for travel accommodations for two aboard the Costa Classica eclipse cruise. Terrell Koken says that he was especially pleased to be going on this unique trip, a sentiment that may owe more than a little to the unique place Griffith Observatory holds in his family’s personal history. He shared some of his memories, some bright and some bleak, in a letter to FOTO prior to the cruise and after his experience with totality.
Griffith was one of the joy-places of my childhood…we picnicked there; saw the journey from the Earth to the Moon (1953, as I recollect); and spent hours in the museum.
When my daughter died in a motorcycle accident, I went there to sit on the lawn with my father and sisters and weep. It seemed the most valuable antidote to almost crushing bitter grief, over 20 years ago. When the Observatory re-opened, I was there with [my] wife and a business partner…I will be with you, on and off, until I am summoned by the Most High to pay back everything he has lent me.
From Kara Knack’s Journal Eclipse Day: Eclipse Day 22 July 2009
For several days the meteorologists have been the focus of intense interest, everyone wondering if we are going to be able to escape the grey, gloomy, damp cloudiness we’ve been sailing through. Yesterday, we held a practice for the eclipse using the precise time so everyone could figure out where and how to point telescopes, large lenses, and binoculars when we encounter the moonshadow. Everyone is so excited that many of us stay outside too long and get sunburned.
Early morning of eclipse day, we pass the island of Iwo Jima as a solemn ceremony is held aboard for those men traveling with us who were here during the historic battle in February 1945. The island is a tiny foursquare- mile swath of volcanic land and small steam vents that spout on the beaches. There is no visible indication of the fierce and bloody battle that keeps the name, Iwo Jima, in our collective memory. The clearing sky beckons us away as we steam eastward towards our eclipse meeting spot: 25 20’ 06” North 142 04’14” East.
The decks are crawling with people ready to accept the shadow now racing toward us from India. The clouds, while concerning, are in the distance on the horizon as the countdown begins. At the moment our guide Roy Mayhugh announces that first contact (when the Moon first kisses into the disc of the Sun) is only a minute away, the excitement grows and people place protection in front of their eyes and look toward the Sun to catch the first moment.
“There!” several people shout, arms and fingers outstretched and pointing. But it’s another hour and 23 minutes before totality and another half hour before the effects begin to be noticeable. Shadows become sharp-edged, the air is slightly cooler and [then] we see the eclipsing crescent shape of sunlight. As minutes crawl by, most people are now on their feet. The advancing shadow casts the sky to the east a deep and dark, dark blue. On the distant horizon, an apricot-colored “sunset” begins to dominate the horizon. “Thirty seconds to second contact!” comes the word and the ooohs and ahhs crescendo when suddenly a brilliant diamond ring appears as the Sun disappears behind the black Moon. I rip off my eye patch and am astonished to see four brilliant planets all in a row and all around the sky a world of STARS! It is a moment or two before I realize I can see all of Orion! The horizon is ablaze with the colors of sunset, the air is dark, the corona smeared out from the edge of the moon in two flat-looking swaths to the east and west.
Above and below the sharp, spiky coronal lights, the magnetic polar regions of the sun show. In my binoculars the view is unreal, unlike any other “night” sky. Everyone is pointing at this and that, exclaiming “look, look, look” as they identify planets and stars. High above us a commercial jet flies across the shadow and we wonder if the captain has alerted people to lift their window shades and look. Pictures are being taken but mostly it seems people are trying to fix this stupendous image into their memories. The minutes pass as if they are nothing and then in a breath of wonder another Diamond Ring appears as the Moon slides away carrying the deep dark shadow east and away as it skips across the Pacific Ocean.
Hugs and kisses are exchanged, champagne corks pop and gratitude is expressed for the skillful work of the crew. Euphoria is now in full bloom. Later, at a debriefing that has some in tears of wonder, we hear of a man who proposed during totality. “We don’t know her answer yet,” Roy Mayhugh tells us. A female voice shouts “The answer is YES!” The crowd goes wild. Science journalist Kelly Beattie tells of a meticulous rehearsal of complicated photography that completely failed, adding he will evermore only observe eclipses rather than photograph them. Many people noticed shadow bands and one observer reported a full 38-degree drop in temperature.
Another eclipse is over and conversations all around the room are about what we’ve seen and a predictable question: Where will you be for the next one?
UPDATE Looks Back at Recent Programs...
Knowing that we have strong member interest in astronomical happenings and experiences, we were proud to continue to enhance the amateur astronomy skills of FOTO members with our latest Indoor Star Party. The summer night sky is gorgeous and never more so in Los Angeles than when viewed through the projected vision of the Zeiss Mark IX Universarium. We were even able to take a peek at what is going on in the Southern Hemisphere. Please join us in our next Indoor Star Party, “Stars Down Under.”
Buzz Aldrin Day at Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory was very honored to have Dr. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin at a recent book signing and public presentation as part of “Buzz Aldrin Day in Los Angeles” on August 27, 2009. Aldrin was presented with a proclamation from the City by Councilmember Tom LaBonge. Aldrin signed several copies of his most recent book, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon. Several telescopes were set up that night for free public viewing of the Moon. Aldrin was recently appointed by the LA County Board of Supervisors as “Honorary Consul General to the Moon from Los Angeles County.”
Robert Medina meets the Space Hero, Buzz Aldrin, at Griffith Observatory.
User-written virtual travel guides shine a light on Griffith Observatory
What do Griffith Observatory and Florida’s Mallory Square in Key West have in common? Coast to coast, they are among the five Top Free Attractions Unheralded in the U.S., according to TripAdvisor.com, a free travel guide and research website that allows customers to post opinions of travel-related issues.
Reviews from travel advice websites…
Don’t miss the bizarre sculpture of James Dean (commemorating the knife-fight scene from “Rebel Without a Cause” filmed at Griffith). If you’re looking for a romantic, cultured, cheap date in the city, look no further than the Griffith Observatory.
This year we are all working hard to make sure that Friends Of The Observatory is able to continue to support EXCELLENCE at Griffith Observatory. Your contribution truly makes all the difference in making sure that our local, underserved school children have the opportunity to come to Griffith Observatory and
“Off-Earth Travel Guides”
by Z. Nagin Cox
When most people get ready for a vacation one of the first things they do in preparation is to buy a guidebook from their local bookstore. We are now fortunate enough to be living in a time when the travel guides are getting more and more exotic. For example, we now have guidebooks for Antarctica and other far-flung places such as Iceland and Mali that were far less common destinations just a few years ago.
While they may be partially tongue in cheek, what is fascinating is that we now have the information for these guidebooks. Most of this information comes from the robotic probes that NASA has sent to other planets over the last 40-50 years. From orbiters to landers and rovers, these missions have given us both up-close coverage of the planets as well as detailed maps from orbit. Many of these missions have re-written textbooks with the discoveries they have made. As someone who has worked as an engineer on these planetary missions, it is gratifying to see that the results of our exploration can not only make it into the scientific realm, but also into popular literature in a way that is accessible to armchair travelers and those who supported and helped pay for the discoveries.
From Star-Watcher to Star:
Observatory curator Dr. Laura Danly Makes “History”
When the subject turns to supernova explosions, objects that fall from space or what life on earth would be like without the Moon, who are you going to call? Producers at History (formerly known as the History Channel) recently got the 411 from Observatory curator Laura Danly, Ph.D. Danly appears in three History presentations: “The Day the Moon Was Gone,” “It Fell From Space,” and “Biggest Blasts.” And while she hasn’t viewed the finished products yet, she’s pretty sure she can be seen blowing up watermelons in at least one of them. All in the name of science, of course.
Go to www.history.com for local listings on these recurring programs.