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Spring 2009 Update
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Spring 2009 UPDATE
Winter Solstice

A SOLSTICE — derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) — is an astronomical event that happens twice a year when the Sun’s daily path across the sky reaches its northern-most or southern-most position. This apparent  motion is caused not by the Sun changing position, but by the Earth’s tilt relative to our orbit around the Sun as first one  hemisphere then the other tip toward the Sun, increasing the amount of daylight received and causing the seasons to change. While the distance between the Earth and Sun does change, it is only enough to intensify the seasons (closer during summer for the southern hemisphere). Beginning with the winter solstice on or about December 21st (the “shortest” day of the year) the Sun will appear to climb higher in the sky each day, becoming visible longer each day until it reaches its most northern position on or about June 21st (the “longest” day of the year). These days often mark the first day of summer or winter (these are switched for the southern hemisphere). Many cultures celebrate holidays  associated with rebirth around the winter solstice as the subsequent Sunlight brings forth new growth.

Letter from the President
by David Primes

As FOTO’s newly elected president, it’s a pleasure to take this opportunity—my first—to greet all new and returning members, and to celebrate the beginning of another exciting year for fans of Griffith Observatory.

Like so many people drawn to Griffith, I grew up with the Observatory. I was a local kid, a “nerd” with a telescope, an enthusiastic math and science student in junior high and high school who went on to study engineering in college. Even though I settled on a career in accounting, I never lost a fascination for science  and scientific learning. Today, I am passionate about the need to inspire new generations to discover that same enthusiasm.

Just a few years ago, while planning the Observatory’s renovation and expansion, there were lively philosophical discussions going on behind the scenes  debating how best to incorporate science learning into the re-imagined exhibits. We came to the conclusion that kids would rather learn how to make a comet  out of common household items than memorize the periodic table—but that given the chance, their innate curiosity would fuel learning those elements in the  course of time. Happily, today in the new Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater, students do learn how to make a comet and I’ll bet some of them even go home and teach their parents, brothers and sisters the underlying scientific principles.

Of course, science must ultimately help you understand your world as you interact within it daily and not just at those moments you find yourself staring down at a test paper or textbook. The Observatory, with its immersive exhibits, engaging demonstrations, and ever-present Museum Guides, offers that  experience—and not just for kids, I might add. Anyone with a thirst for knowledge, a simple question or just the desire to stare up into the night sky, is welcome here.

I hope this spring will find you and your friends and family back for another look at the new and improved Griffith Observatory. 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and we have quite a few special events planned. Be on the lookout for e-blasts and other notifications coming your way in the upcoming months.

Message from the Executive Director

For thirty years, Friends Of The Observatory has been responsible for ensuring that Griffith Observatory succeeds in fulfilling its mission to bring public astronomy to everyone, especially underserved populations, and children,  youth, and their families. But we can only do that with the support of people like you who care about the  Observatory, children, and the future of science education in our community.

You may recall FOTO stepped in when the Observatory’s School Field Trip Program was slated to be suspended due  to City budget cuts. Thanks to FOTO members Linda Duttenhaver and Margaret Blume, this year is secure. But we  need an additional $500,000 for the program to continue through 2010.

Unlike other school field trips, Griffith Observatory’s two-and-a-half-hour School Field Trip Program supports  fifth-grade science curriculum standards and is one of the most rigorous and carefully choreographed field trip programs in California. Perhaps you joined us last year and experienced the wonder of educational inspiration at the special event, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader.”

This program is now in jeopardy.

Please contribute today so that the 30,000 fifth-graders (50% from underserved populations) who count on inspiring educational opportunities will have a future at Griffith Observatory.

Confirmation of the importance of this kind of informal science literacy was published in January 2009 by the  National Research Council. “Learning is broader than schooling, and informal science environments and experiences play a crucial role.” Unsolicited comments from visiting teachers capture the enthusiasm for the program: “Thank you for adding real educational value.…The information presented mirrored our California state standards and supported what we have done in the classroom.”

Supporting Griffith Observatory’s educational programming is why FOTO exists, but we can only do that with your support. Even $20 helps when everyone gives. Thank you for your generosity in these uncertain times.

Tesla Coil Restoration

The Tesla Coil is Back in Business!

“The instrument is once again ready to shock and delight visitors!” says Deputy Director of Griffith Observatory, Mark Pine.

If you visited Griffith Observatory between October 14th and November
21st, you may have noticed that the Tesla Coil was out of service. After
an extensive and innovative repair by the Observatory’s Technical staff,
the Tesla Coil is operating again.


We are fortunate to have long-time FOTO members Jerry (on the left
in the photo) and Lorraine Factor and their Family as sponsors of the
Tesla Coil in remembrance of his father, Louis Factor, who brought
him to Griffith Observatory in the 1930’s and 40’s. Jerry was at the
Observatory as repairs were being completed. Here is a note he sent to
family and friends retelling his experience.


19 November 2008


Hi, All --


What an exciting experience for me!!


The white section of wire at the top of the coil has been rewound.The technician,Bill McColl (that’s him with me), has to add more insulation,and then paint it with the same coating that was used originally. He’s confident that it will work when he powers it up,
next week.


Bill gave me a small piece of the old wire. My own piece of the Tesla Coil! It’s pretty brittle, and the insulation is scorched.  Apparently,only the section near the top was affected by the heat generated by the sparks during all the years of service.


Tesla Coil

With its giant arcing sparks and unnerving noise, the Tesla Coil is one of the most memorable and iconic exhibits at Griffith Observatory. Millions have seen it in operation, throwing its lightning-like discharges to the walls of its alcove.


A Tesla Coil converts low-voltage alternating current electricity to very high voltage and increases the frequency.  It is named after its inventor, eccentric genius Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), who displayed his first model in 1891. The main aim of the Tesla Coil was transmission of electricity through the air, part of a great dream to provide  electricity without using wires.


Electricity became widely available around 1900, when the first networks began to send power to homes and  businesses over transmission lines. Because these networks were expensive to build, Tesla and others worked on wireless electrical transmission networks. The technology was difficult to implement, however, and it never got out of the laboratory. Despite this setback, the Westinghouse Company did use Tesla’s designs for generators and distribution systems to build a power station at Niagara Falls. Though not wireless, the power grid that we use
to bring electricity to our homes today is based on Tesla’s work.

DID YOU KNOW? Tesla Coils have a long and colorful history in science and technology sideshows. Before Griffith Observatory’s Tesla Coil went on display in 1937, it belonged to Dr. Frederick Finch Strong. He was a physician and instructor at Tufts University in Massachusetts. Dr. Strong used electricity in his practice as part of the healing process and relied heavily on Tesla Coils as part of his work. Eventually, he donated the major components of this instrument to the City of Los Angeles.


David Gold Retires From FOTO Board
by Elisabeth Duran

“Sometimes it’s good, once you achieve what you want to achieve, to go off and find a new  direction.”


So says physicist DAVID GOLD, who retired last January after a decade of service on FOTO’s board. Gold refers to the Observatory’s 2002-2005 remodel as a rollicking period during which he
occupied the president’s chair.

Known for his keen interest in science education, his original perspective and quirky good humor, colleagues say he will be hard to replace. But Gold is philosophical.


“I found myself listening to others and beginning to hear a voice inside me that sounded very negative. It would  say, we already tried that, or, that won’t work.


“I didn’t like that spirit when I heard it 10 years ago and when I found it coming out of my mouth, I thought, I can’t get stuck in that role.”


It’s certainly not what he’ll be remembered for.


“David brought two qualities to FOTO that are essential to the sound functioning of any board,” says Joy Picus,  FOTO’s current chair. “A wonderful sense of humor and the ability to envision possibilities that were beyond the imagination of most of us.”


Gold came to FOTO with the conviction that a world dependent on science yet largely indifferent to how it is taught, researched and supported cannot sustain its lifestyle in the long term.


“When I was growing up, we had a surplus of scientists and engineers,” he says. “Not anymore. I think science education is the most important thing you can do, because today the currency of the realm is understanding science.”


Griffith Observatory had fascinated Gold as a child and he gladly returned as a board member. In those days, he says, FOTO was “a tiny organization with big goals,” and he can recall at least three years when he wondered if they would survive to see another one.

“We would have a meeting each December and we would say, we don’t know if we have enough money to go on, and yet every year the board voted to [renovate]. Or die trying!” They not only voted to renovate; with Gold’s prodding, they voted for excellence, Executive Director Camille Lombardo says.


“He is absolutely responsible for excellence being the watchword of [the renovation]. He initiated that; he put it in the cultural vernacular. At times we thought it would be ‘death by excellence.’ His ideas challenged us to take things to the next level.”


“David put a lot of heart and soul into this effort and it’s hard to let go of him because he’s made such a  contribution,” says board member Kara Knack, who holds the distinction of recruiting Gold to FOTO. “His  enthusiasm and drive will always be reflected in the excellence that shows at the Observatory.”


The remodel entailed working through issues of funding, planning and programming, resembling nothing so much as a spacewalk performed without benefit of Mission Control. Gold, however, enjoyed the process.


“First, when I look up on the hill and see what we did, I am overwhelmingly impressed with the result; and two, when I consider the people who came together, I am amazed you could get that many people in the service of one goal.”


Fellow board member Eve Haberfield calls him visionary.


“Whether sampling water from rivers of the world, bicycling across the highest peaks, lending his expertise to the selection of equipment for the Observatory or leading a board during the renovation, David takes on new challenges with enthusiasm and zest. He is straightforward and true to his ideals.”


But now Gold feels that with the renovation behind them and the Observatory enjoying renewed public interest, challenges await him elsewhere.


“Boards need to grow and change and move on [and this one] has gotten some great new people,” he says. “I have no idea where I might go next; certainly it will include some aspect of science education. If there’s a place I could add something, that’s an area that would interest me.”


As he contemplates the future, Gold remains philosophical.


“In 1982 I went to Egypt on a trip sponsored by the Observatory, and [the director Ed Krupp] was there,” Gold remembers.


“Ed and I got up at 4:30 a.m. to climb what is called Mt. Sinai. We wanted to be there when the sun appeared.


“The moment came and there were clouds so we couldn’t see the sun rise. But you know, in some sense, the purpose is not to see the sun rise, but be ready to see the sun rise.


“The same thing applies to Griffith Observatory. If it hadn’t worked out this way, it still would have been great.”

Don’t Give Up Giving
Between 69 and 72 percent of people give routinely, according to the Center on Philanthropy.

Whether you can offer a financial gift, are ready to join FOTO’s volunteer corps, or envision yourself leaving a piece of your estate to the Observatory, don’t let a down economy make you give up on giving this year.

In fact, according to a December 2008 report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, charitable giving is surprisingly recession-proof: Contributions to American charities increased during 39 of the past 40 years in today’s dollars, and a change in the
tax laws—not the stock market crash—is usually cited for the drop in 1987.

As a fan of the Observatory, we know you are charitable. Here are just a few ways you can help support the  important resource we have in Griffith Observatory and preserve it for future generations. Your gifts make an immediate difference in the lives of others.

Online Giving
We welcome your one-time gift or monthly pledge.

You can make an online gift now—the fastest, easiest way to partner with us. Go to, click on Support Us (located near the upper right of the page), select Make A Gift. Follow the screens through the four easy steps to make your gift.

You will receive an immediate email acknowledgement of your gift which you may use for income tax purposes.

DON’T FORGET: Many employers match your charitable donations. Check with your employer’s human resources department for more information. Gifts to Friends Of The Observatory are taxdeductible to the full extent of the law.

If you are interested in making a gift in honor or memory of a loved one, please note that on your on-line form in STEP TWO with “This gift is.” We are pleased to acknowledge your gift to your loved one and send you a letter for tax purposes.

Charitable Bequests
A bequest is a gift of assets in a will or trust and may include cash, marketable securities, closely held stock, real estate, or tangible personal property. As such, there are no contribution limits (or minimums) with this type of charitable gift and there are many tax benefits to you and for your estate.

For example, it is possible to set up a Living Trust to give whatever portion of your estate you desire to your loved ones with the remainder divided among the charities of your choice. Such planning can reduce the size of your estate and lower the estate tax liability.

An “estate” may not necessarily be a great deal of wealth, but are assets you wish to designate in a certain manner when you die and after loved ones have been provided for. Assets could include financial investments such as stocks and bonds and life insurance policies. In all cases, you should consult an attorney as part of your overall estate planning. For more information on how to include Griffith Observatory and Friends Of The Observatory in your estate planning, please contact Melissa Devor, 213.473.0879.

Grab a Seat Campaign
Were you one of the visitors to the Observatory, either days or decades prior to the remodel, who watched the long-running Laserium show? Did you take in Pink Floyd from the metal-backed seats with the wooden head rests? Those un-lamented chairs have been replaced with sleek and comfortable recliners which you can now sponsor.

Sponsor a seat as a gift, display your personal commitment, or use it to honor someone special.

Each sponsored seat is $1000 and fully tax-deductible. Your seat will have a 1 inch x 3 inch brass plaque engraved according to your preference.

Griffith Observatory offers a variety of exhibit sponsorships, providing supporters the chance to see their names (or the name of a loved one) closely associated with the Observatory’s mission of public astronomy and science education. Opportunities are available at many levels of giving. Be part of Griffith’s visionary and effective outreach to the greater community. All sponsorship opportunities are for a period of 25 years and recognized with a bronze plaque.

Please contact Melissa Devor, Director of Development at Friends Of The Observatory, for more information regarding sponsoring an exhibit. Dial 213.473.0879 or email her at

Corporate Partners
We have a very special program designed just for corporate supporters. Please take a look at our website and click on the Membership Benefits banner at the bottom of the page to gain greater insight as to how your company can connect with a broader population, engage their clients AND  support a wonderful resource to our children and community.

Volunteering at the Observatory
We couldn’t do it without you. FOTO volunteers enable us to connect to the community. As a member of the FOTO volunteer corps, you’ll collaborate with staff and other volunteers to support and promote Griffith Observatory. To get involved please complete the volunteer application form available online at by clicking on Volunteer at the upper right of the page and return
it to us:

By mail:
Friends Of The Observatory
2800 East Observatory Road
Los Angeles, CA 90027
By fax:
Or email to:

For more information, call Lisa Anderson at 213.473.0879.

FOTO’s Recent Programs

December 1, 2008:
FOTO’s 30th Anniversary Holiday Party - Winter Sky, Christmas Star

I T HAS BEEN 3 0 YEARS since Dr. E.C. Krupp, Director of Griffith Observatory, saw the need for a support group for Griffith Observatory and Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) was born. Hard to believe it has been 30 great years.


Our celebratory evening began with dessert and cider served by our fantastic volunteer corps and then we had multiple ways to enjoy the evening—including an amazing night sky.


Dr. Krupp presented a special lecture drawing upon his knowledge of ancient astronomy. He placed the story of the Christmas Star and the holiday’s traditions in seasonal, historical, symbolic, and astronomical perspective. The tale of the Christmas Star is part of a rich,cross-cultural engagement with the meaning of the sky, the seasons, and with our enduring desire to understand our relationship to the cosmos.


Members also saw Centered in the Universe, looked through telescopes, got in some holiday shopping at the Stellar Emporium, and supported FOTO by purchasing many of the signed copies of books from previous lectures. Many books are still available on our Web site

As one of our long-time FOTO members said: “The lecture was excellent and great fun, too, as only Dr. Krupp can pull off. After the lecture I enjoyed the planetarium show, then I got to see two globular clusters through the roof telescope and the blue nebula of Orion thru a lawn telescope. I want to say thank you to you and FOTO for the wonderful evening celebrating the 30th anniversary of FOTO.”

February 2, 2009

First Light: The Telescope Changed Everything - 400th Anniversary of Galileo’s Celestial Discoveries - 1609-2009

FOTO members launched/premiered the first of five NEW live star shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium  spotlighting each of Galileo’s remarkable observations. Four hundred years ago, Galileo looked at the heavens through a telescope, saw things no one had ever seen before, and the world changed. It was the beginning of modern science. 2009 marks the worldwide International Year of Astronomy celebration. Prior to the
show FOTO members were able to observe the highlight object of the first show, Venus. Astronomical artist for Griffith Observatory and lecture favorite, Chris Butler, followed with Venus: Mysterious Neighbor.


Griffith Observatory and FOTO have planned a variety of outstanding events to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope.


“Bravo!!! Last night’s premiere of “First Light” was definitely a winner….pointing out the importance of the scientific method, and that if one’s belief is not supported by the evidence it is time to question that belief….Powerful stuff, and not mentioned nearly as often as it should be. Very appropriate for the
IYA….So, I thank you very much.”


“You should be so proud of yourselves! Tonight was a fabulously splendid evening and a deeply compelling event. People were proud of what is going on at Griffith Observatory and felt the privilege of seeing the show and then being with Chris Butler, it was magnificent. Thank you so much for your hard work with such wonderful results.”


February 23, 2009

In A Passion for Mars, bestselling author Andrew Chaikin, who covered Mars exploration as a science journalist and took part in the first Mars landing, chronicled this epic quest and the enduring dream of going to Mars. He shared with us the story of the Earthbound explorers and their robotic surrogates caught
in the irresistible pull of the Red Planet.

Chaikin’s talk was accompanied by spectacular photographs—many rarely seen and presented in unprecedented quality—sent back by four decades of robotic explorers, and visionary artwork that renders our Martian future.


Mr. Chaikin was on hand to sign copies of his new book, on sale at the Stellar Emporium, after the lecture.


Apollo 11 astronaut and author Michael Collins called A Passion for Mars a “masterpiece of a book” and Rocket Boys author Homer Hickam said “I am completely and utterly in love with this book, which comes just as we need
it the most.”


April 6, 2009

Saturn Star Show - First Light:  The Telescope Changed Everything

Members of FOTO were, once again, the first to see the 2nd installment of the Griffith Observatory Star Show First Light: The Telescope Changed Everything emphasizing the sixth planet from the Sun: Saturn. Astronomical artist Chris Butler provided an educational and entertaining lecture, Saturn: A Voyage Through Time. Several Observatory staff brought out telescopes for members to observe Saturn, the Moon and other celestial objects.


"The views from the telescope were fabulous! It was a wonderful evening. I’m so glad the sky cooperated and it was clear. “— Joy Picus

Binocular Night: A Taste of Amateur Astronomy
by Lisa Anderson

In addition to taking your telephone calls and answering your emails, I am also an amateur astronomer and have spent many-a-night observing “faint fuzzies” in the night  sky. These objects are known as deep sky objects and are very difficult to see from urban  areas, due to the great amount of light pollution. When I learned from fellow FOTO  employee, Troy Powers, that the Zeiss Universarium Mark IX planetarium projector in  the Samuel Oschin Planetarium contained some deep sky objects in the star field and that  they could be viewed with binoculars, I was thrilled. Now I could finally share some of the wonders of star-gazing without dragging people to the desert or mountains. There are more than just stars and planets up there.

With the encouragement of the FOTO staff as well as the Observatory, Griffith Observatory Program Supervisor: Patrick So, Observatory Telescope Operator: Jim Mahon, and I created Binocular Night for you. We wanted to show you a different way of seeing the night sky and I am pretty sure that we succeeded.

We started the evening with pre-ordered dinners from Wolfgang Puck’s Café At The End Of The Universe and the  beautiful view of the city skyline. Our first use of binoculars was orchestrated by Troy who demonstrated a different way of looking at the murals in the W. M. Keck Foundation central rotunda on the historic level of the building, while sharing some of the mythology and stories found there.

Next, the feature presentation began with a quick lesson on the proper way to focus binoculars. The lights were  dimmed and the stars came out, all while our guests were seated in comfy seats. Jim talked about Polaris our North Star, star clusters and galaxies and even a star nursery. Our guests got a fascinating tour of the sky that was peppered with facts, various stories and we even traveled to the southern hemisphere where some of you got to see the Southern Cross for the first time!

During the program Jim showed us tricks to find these objects in the real sky. So, at the end of our program, we

passed out maps of the constellations and the deep sky objects visible on that evening, then we took everyone and their binoculars outside to try to find many of the objects we had just seen inside. We attempted to look through the lights and haze at what had been very easy to see in the planetarium dome, with some marginal success. I know
many of you took the information home and used it—judging from your emails.

We had a fantastic time and people learned a lot. We are planning on a Second Binocular Night featuring the summer constellations. Stay tuned.

CIU Music Available on iTunes
How can I buy the music from Centered In The Universe?

This is the most consistently asked question after every showing in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. And FOTO now has the answer. The entire score is on iTunes and with one click, you can download the score instantly. Listening to the score will surprise you, without the pictures it becomes a new experience. The music is spectacular, perfect for your home, car and portable devices.

How can I get it NOW? Just go to the FOTO site and click on the Centered In The Universe album cover—you’ll be linked to the iTunes store. Or you can go directly to iTunes on your computer.

Buying music from iTunes is a simple process—follow these steps and you will be listening in minutes. Once you are on the iTunes page:*

In the “Source” pane, click on the iTunes Store.

Enter Centered In The Universe into the search box.

Once you see the album cover (see illustration) click the
“Buy” button.

Your song is now downloaded.

Support Us.

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 enhance their understanding of the Universe.

Be as generous as you can be, but remember, even $20 will make a significant difference in continuing our programs. If each of us gave $20 this program would be fully funded.

Thank you in advance for your support and investment in Friends Of The Observatory.

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