Donate Now!
Winter 2011 Update
Signup for FOTO's Update Newsletter
Update Winter 2011Banner
Winter 2011 UPDATE
Iceland Nights, Northern Lights
by Camille Lambardo, FOTO Executive Director

FRIENDS OF THE OBSERVATORY has a long and fruitful history of traveling the globe in search of eclipses and other fascinating astronomical experiences. As many of you already know, FOTO has sponsored trips in the last few years to Russia, China and Iceland in search of the most intriguing travel adventures. Each of our FOTO-sponsored trips have offered incredible views of eclipses or the aurora borealis, but we don’t just stop there. Our travelers learn about the countries they are visiting, hear more about the astronomical aspects of their journey from learned scientists, and often are allowed behind-the-scenes to enjoy special attributes of the country. We continue with that tradition with our plans for 2011 and 2012. We are already researching and creating new trips that will take you to awesome places. Keep an eye on the next UPDATE magazine and on our website, for more information.

Eyjafjallajokull. Vatnajokull. Gullfoss. Landmannalaugar. Reykjavik. If you think this is an incantation to call forth the elusive aurora borealis, you are almost right. These were all stops on our Iceland itinerary this past November when a hearty band of twenty-six FOTO friends hunted the northern lights in their native habitat.


Why Iceland? Because it is so far north, Iceland promised some of the best viewing with its remote dark skies near the magnetic north pole. Because it sits directly on the intersection of two tectonic plates, there is a remarkable variety of unusual things to see and do during the day while we waited for the magical lights. Because the Gulf Stream skirts its east coast, the climate is relatively, I emphasize relatively, mild in winter. Even though the temperature was generally in the 30s during the day, Shannon Telles said shedidn’t know there could be so many different kinds of cold.

Thankfully, FOTO friends are adventurers. So, flying in a chartered nine- or twentyfour-seat prop plane to Hofn in a snow storm; or cruising Jokulasrlon, a stunning glacial lagoon, between rain squalls; or walking on a glacier with crampons and an ice ax in the dark; all these were exploits no one wanted to miss. And all this happened on our first full day in Iceland! The next day we raced Super Jeeps along black sand beaches before careening across frozen glacial runoff to within 3km of the famous, flightstopping volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. I brought home some of the black volcanic grit that grounded global air travel when tons of it was ejected into the atmosphere. Though it looks like a fine sand, its crystalline structure quickly wore a hole in a thick baggie.


But volcanoes, geysers, and even ice fields can be seen as close as our own eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. So for me, besides the northern lights, one of the exotic things was to watch the Sun. It rose after 9:00 a.m., never got very high in the sky, and set not so far from where it rose. The current planetarium show, Light of the Valkyries,
captures this natural phenomenon beautifully. My attempt to capture the otherworldly quality of the light was to photograph my shadow at 12:00 noon. A distinct, long shadow at Noon? We definitely were not in familiar territory.


I mention the northern lights last because words really can’t describe the wonder of a sky filled with diamonds and curtains of lights shimmering low on the horizon under the Big Dipper — first dancing to the left, then vanishing,  only to appear like playful fairies on the right. One night at the Hotel Ranga, we watched them until the cold drove us indoors for hot chocolate after about an hour. Warm again, it was back outside to see as much as we could because, like a total solar eclipse, there are no guarantees. Good viewing depends on clear, dark skies, and the  weather near the Arctic Circle varies dramatically day to day. It’s why you need to spend at least a week hunting northern lights — they’re elusive. We were lucky to see them on three separate occasions, but that magical
night at the Hotel Ranga was the best.

Finally, I have to say that spending a few hours at the worldfamous Blue Lagoon natural hot springs luxury spa  before being dropped at the airport for a late afternoon flight home is the way to end any trip. Plan to join us in  about five years when we return for another hunt. If this light show was a stunner — just imagine what the sky will be like when we are again at solar maximum! Hope to see you then.



Camille Lombardo

FOTO Executive Director


P.S. Can’t wait five years? No need! We’re planning a long weekend in Tucson exploring the creation of the mirror for the Giant Magellan Telescope, seeing the desert night skies at a private observatory, and much more is coming up this April 14-17, 2011.

Celestial Safari

Join Friends Of The Observatory for another astronomical adventure, this time to Namibia, in southwest Africa.


This back-country tour spotlights the stars of the southern sky with first-class accommodations and includes a night sleeping under the Milky Way at a bush camp, an evening at an observatory, a chance to see our satellite  galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, passage over the Tropic of Capricorn, and our own Dr. Ed Krupp.


Namibia is famous for its clear, dark skies, its stunning and exotic landscapes, its wildlife game parks and marine  life, its prehistoric rock paintings and rock carvings, and the world’s largest meteorite.


Please join us on October 17-27,  2011

Cost, land only $5,735 per person

double occupancy


More information:

Letter from the President: David Primes

Welcome to 2011! A new year often means fresh beginnings, but at Friends Of The Observatory we have much to  celebrate from 2010 and the excitement, education and enchantment will continue in 2011.

Because of each of you, we are proud to be able to say that we continue to enhance our number of members and the  financial support you offer FOTO and Griffith Observatory. In a time of such economic uncertainty we are  incredibly fortunate to have such staunch and generous supporters.

Our 2010 lecture programs, such as FOTO’s Cosmic Musings Lecture Series and Griffith Observatory’s All Space Considered, were very well attended, and elicited questions and ideas from our audience that reminds us again of  the caliber of our members. Our speakers for these programs have national reputations and if you take a look at  FOTO’s website ( you will see we have even more great programs planned for 2011.

Speaking of our website — it is an award winning website! Read the article on this page about Interactive Media   Awards and you will learn a bit more about our team at A Far Site Better who have helped us create our successful website. FOTO’s website (www. is your best source for news about Friends Of The  Observatory, programs, trips, and astronomical happenings. Make sure to check it often.

Travel is another area we enhanced in 2010 and we anticipate even more intriguing trips for 2011. We went to  Palomar Observatory and to Iceland in 2010. We anticipate trips to Mt. Wilson Observatory, Namibia and Arizona in 2011; and we are already planning a trip to Australia for the 2012 eclipse.

But at the heart of all we do at FOTO is our commitment to the educational needs of our community. The School  Field Trip program that provides an extraordinary science experience for 30,000 5th-grade students at Griffith  Observatory, the Cosmic Conjunction Education Program that brings more than 3,000 middle-school students for  a special program highlighting the Sun, and the Bus Scholarship Program which ensures that our schoolchildren can get transport to and from Griffith Observatory, are programs we work hard to maintain and enhance every  year. The price tag for these programs is steep and we are very grateful that you and others continue to recognize their value and support them.

So, here we go right into a busy, productive 2011!

Interactive Media Award - We Won!

Friends Of The Observatory has worked with Steven Laff, president of A Far Site Better website developers, since 2005 to develop the most effective and user-friendly website possible. We have recently made a significant upgrade to our website which FOTO and A Far Site Better are quite proud of. Proud enough to submit it to the Interactive Media Awards competition.

And, we won the Best in Class Award for an Association website! This is the jackpot — akin to winning an Oscar. As the IMA themselves say: “The Best in Class award is the highest honor bestowed by the Interactive Media Awards. It represents the very best in planning, execution and overall professionalism. In order to win this award level, your site had to successfully pass through our comprehensive judging process, achieving very high marks in each of our judging criteria — an achievement only a fractionof sites in the IMA competition earn each year.”


All of us at Friends Of The Observatory are very pleased to offer our own hearty congratulations to Steven Laff and his team at A Far Site Better. They are incredibly talented, artistically clever, understand the opportunities on the web that we can utilize, and willing to work within constraints and timelines. Their professionalism and care for the client and the product is impressive. If you would like to see more of their work, please go to

FOTO Member Cynthia Fox
Star in her own right

HER SMOKY, SULTRY VOICE familiar to radio listeners across the Southland, Cynthia Fox of KLOS is as passionate about Griffith Observatory as she is about her station's rock format.

"Since I grew up in Los of my fondest memories is a school field trip to the Griffith Observatory! It  really makes a profound impact on a child's, when I became a mom, I made sure I took my daughters to the Observatory. I wanted them to be excited about science and curious about the universe, but I also wanted them to know the treasures of their city — and the Observatory is such a treasure."


Those memories recently motivated her to support FOTO's school bus program, which provides funding for field trip transportation otherwise unaffordable to many schools. "I was so glad to hear that FOTO has made it their  mission to enable schools dealing with budget cutbacks to continue their field trips to the Griffith Observatory! That's why I made a contribution. We've got to do everything we can to keep our students excited about learning...and also excited about science, since I have learned that American students are falling behind in science.
Griffith Observatory is the kind of place that does indeed continue to ignite a passion for science and exploration!"


In a career that allows her to rub elbows with the likes of Rock heavyweights Danny Elfman, Sting, Tom Petty and Don Henley, Fox's passion for Griffith still carries over into her work. While she hosts a music shift mid-days Monday through Friday, Sunday mornings from 6 to 7 a.m. find her and cohost Nelkane Benton highlighting non-profit organizations in "Spotlight on the Community." She has featured the Observatory in interviews with its director Dr. Ed Krupp and superbenefactor Leonard Nimoy.


"I think that's the kind of thing, when people are invited into the experience by other people who are enthusiastic, that can [reveal] a new world. The Observatory is a true gift, an incredible resource in the city, one I hope more people will take advantage of and whatever gets them excited about going up there is a great connection."


Fox herself still makes time to visit.

"I like just being there, in such a beautiful setting, with its beautiful building, with the resources inside to open up the whole universe. When kids grow up knowing what's available in the city, you know they're going to have a life-long bonding experience with the Observatory. They grow up, remember that, come back with their kids and you've started a relationship."

Linkin Park's Visit To The Observatory Voted Best Surprise At The 2010 VMAs
by Kyle Anderson in VMAs

Everybody knew the 2010 MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS were going to be pretty massive...But which surprise was the biggest and best?


According to your votes, it was Linkin Park's appearance at Griffith Observatory for their performance of "The Catalyst."... When the band appeared at the Observatory (watched by thousands of excited fans on hand) and kicked into "The Catalyst," it was a truly epic moment in VMA history.


Posted 9/14/10 4:45 pm ET by Kyle Anderson in VMAs Excerpt from


 To read the full article and view Linkin Park's "The Catalyst" video performance at the Griffith Observatory, please scan this code with your smartphone.


Written in the Stars

IT TOOK 13.7 BILLION YEARS in the lifetime of the universe, but the astrophysicist-rock star finally met the science-minded student musician.

Confirming that Griffith Observatory is the place in Los Angeles to meet the stars, Brian May of the rock band Queen, a recently minted PhD in astrophysics, appeared July 29 for a lecture and signing heralding his latest book, A Village Lost and Found.

And Shiloh Schatzkamer, 15, a straight-A honors student and sophomore at an LA-area high school, was on hand to meet him.

“I was really, really nervous,” Shiloh says. “I said I absolutely love your music, and I’m very interested in becoming an astrophysicist.”

Turns out they had even more in common. Shiloh had done her homework and knew May is also an animal rights activist working to prevent fox hunting and the culling of badgers.

“When I found out he was an astrophysicist, it was too good to be true. Then I found out about his wildlife saving organization. I told him I love that you save wildlife. He said we’ll do it together then.”


“It was just so nice to see that he was such a good person!”


Shiloh’s parents are Mark “Shark” Schatzkamer, a professional guitar player, teacher, composer and author. Her mother is writer Robin Sedaka, who is herself an Observatory fan. “I think it’s a touchstone for curious minds of all ages,” she says. “Their interactive exhibits and enthusiastic staff make learning and questioning exciting, compelling and fun.”


May’s appearance, with co-author Elena Vidal, brought to light a little-remembered photographic technique, stereoscopic photography, which creates a 3-D illusion from a pair of 2-D images. A Village Lost and Found is an annotated collection of images taken by the Victorian-era photographer T. R. Williams. It is sold with a focusing stereoscope designed by May. The authors concluded the lecture with a 3-D slideshow of Williams’ work followed by a book signing.

Shiloh and the Observatory go way back. She and her brother visited with mom as youngsters, and with a neighbor interested in science. Her favorite attractions include the Foucault pendulum and nighttime rooftop star-gazing.


Shiloh believes the Observatory has an important role to play for the public.

“It really allows regular people to be part of the science community,” she says. “There are so many interactive
activities for normal people like me who are maybe just curious and thinking about pursuing science, and it allows us to do that in an interesting way. It’s just fun.

“And of course I wouldn’t have met Brian May without it!”



Cosmic Connection Cleanup Corps

There are times when elbow grease is the only option and cleaning the jewelry in the Cosmic Connection requires timely, hands-on cleaning. Over the four years since the Observatory’s reopening, the responsibility of maintaining the exhibit stayed with Kara Knack, who collected the pieces over a period of 23 years. The 13.7 billion years of timeline holds more than 2,200 objects and the cleaning, while not particularly difficult, must be done piece by piece and entirely by hand. In October of 2010 for the first time, volunteers from FOTO came to the rescue and in one day over a period of three and a half hours, nine men and nine women returned the jewelry’s sparkle with a flurry of delicate cleaning.

The Timeline of the Universe is a beloved exhibit, unlike any in the world and members of Friends Of The  Observatory are friends like none others; they give the gift of public astronomy and they sure know how to wield a rouge cloth when polishing celestial objects.

Thanks to all of you who participated and to all of those who support Griffith Observatory.

WHO GOLD AWARD goes to Friends Of The Observatory
by Kara Knack

The United Teachers of Los Angeles and the National Education Society (UTLA/NEA) Annual Awards dinner was held Monday, May 17, 2010 and FOTO was there!

The decades-old WHO (We Honor our Own) Awards are given to educators active in service and to honor  community support of our public schools. FOTO President, David Primes, and past President, Kara Knack, were on hand to witness a room full of hundreds of years of collective service to education. It was an impressive  gathering of hopeful, upbeat and dedicated teachers there to honor their own and to recognize community efforts on their behalf.

Friends Of The Observatory received the Gold Award, given only six times previously, for service to local teachers and schools.

In the introduction of the Gold Award recipient, Jenny Chomori UTLA/NEA Affiliate Vice President, spoke of the  tremendous value students receive visiting Griffith Observatory and to the very special support FOTO provides with bus scholarships and most particularly the support given by the Cosmic Conjunction events that provide the pairing of Astronomy and Arts for children who would otherwise not be able to participate.

The 2009 Cosmic Conjunction event sponsored nearly 4,000 students to a repeat concert that FOTO members had seen as a fund-raising event several nights earlier. This year’s 2010 fund-raising event held on May 15th raised enough to send nearly that many students to see the new planetarium presentation, Light of the Valkyries. These students might otherwise miss the opportunity to be inspired to look up at all the cosmos has to offer.

The award is yet another recognition of FOTO’s commitment to the children and educators of Southern California and the challenges they face asCbudget cuts remove their opportunities for educational field trips.

David and I were humbled and honored to represent all of our Friends who faithfully believe in public astronomy by supporting FOTO’s efforts to take up the slack created by the current economic distress.

The 2010 Gold Award has never been given to a membership organizationbefore and every FOTO member should feel proud of their continued contribution to students and teachers of Southern California and beyond.

Byrne Telescope
Now on Display in the Wilder Hall of the Eye!

The historic Byrne Telescope, the first equatoriallymounted telescope in Los Angeles, was installed at Griffith Observatory in late 2010 as part of the Extending the Eye exhibit in the Wilder Hall of the Eye.


The Byrne Telescope was built in 1888 by noted telescope-maker John Byrne. John Byrne started as an apprentice of telescope maker Henry Fitz in 1847 and worked with him until Fitz's death in 1863. He then began making Byrne signed telescopes. Byrne included many innovations in his telescopes, one of which was used by the well-known astronomer Edward Barnard to discover several comets.

The telescope was originally held in private hands and then donated to the Southern California Academy of Science (SCAS). The telescope was used by SCAS at its astronomy gatherings, some of which were attended by Observatory benefactor Griffith J. Griffith.

In 1925, the Southern California Academy of Science gave the telescope to the Los Angeles County Museum of Science, which kept it in storage for seven decades. In the 1990’s, the Museum of Science donated it to Griffith Observatory. During the renovation project, Friends Of The Observatory provided the funds to restore the telescope and to construct a new tripod.

Rapa Nui Eclipse Diary Easter Island
by FOTO Member and Eclipse Chaser Matt Ventimiglia

July 7, 2010

I arrived at Rapa Nui's Matavari International Airport in the darkness of late evening and a slight drizzle. The welcoming staff greets us in Rapanui (the indigenous island language: "Iorana" means both "hello" and "farewell"…) and Polynesian style with a colorful lei of tropical flowers for each of us. The single airport baggage conveyor belt is overwhelmed by all our luggage, tripods and telescopes. Eclipse chasers never travel light…!

The room at Hotel Taha Tai is quaint — unfortunately — NO HOT WATER! (Oh well, I knew this would be a combat assignment... nothing but Marine Corps showers for me on this trip…!)


July 8, 2010
Today's bus tour under partly cloudy skies takes us first to Rano Kau, a volcanic crater lake covered in a patchwork  of dense vegetative matte on the island's south side. On the inner southwest wall of the crater a swath of  non-endemic bright magenta Bougainvillea thrives. Next stop: Ceremonial center of Orongo, the seat of the Birdman Cult. Here our Rapa Nui guide gives us a brief history lesson about the old ritual race to gather the first Sooty Tern egg in September and return it unbroken to Orongo. A partial rainbow is seen near Motu Kau Kau, Motu Iti and Motu Nui (where the terns roost), islets off the island's south shore. In the outcrops atop the southwest side crater rim we see petroglyphs of Makemake (creation god) and Tangata Manu (the Birdman).

Ana Kai Tungata ("Cannibal Cave") where painted images of the Sooty Tern adorn the ceiling. Here controversial  island legends of cannibalism were centered.

Vinapu: The moai (famous stone-carved heads and upper bodies of venerated ancestors) are all toppled at this site  and the craftsmanship in the "ahu" (funeral platform) famously suggested to Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl a possible Peruvian connection for some faction among the ancient Rapanui (this not accepted by modern  anthropologists—genetics and linguistic prove that the Rapanui are Polynesians who settled from the west…) Here also is the only moai fragment thought to represent a female member of Rapanui royalty — in this case, carved from red scoria rather than the more traditional volcanic tuff.


We depart back to our hotel for a "box lunch" which turns out to be a steak dinner with all the trimmings — the  Rapanui sure know how to eat…!

Ahu Akivi, one of the first archeological sites to have its toppled moai restored upright on their ahu (work directed  by Wyoming archeologist William Mulloy in 1960). Here the moai are about 2 miles inland—the only ones facing the sea. Also, they have no "pukao" (red scoria "topknots" thought to represent an embellishment of royalty).


The pukao quarry at Puna Pau: (Final stop of the day.) Many topknots were carved and removed from a huge red  scoria outcrop. Several were abandoned after being readied for transport to ahu all over the island. Gathering  storm clouds obscure the western sunset as we head back to the hotel.

Dinner in Hanga Roa ("Long Bay "): A few of us venture into town this evening. The sky threatens rain so we bring umbrellas, raincoats, and waterproof flashlights to find our way back to the hotel through dark alleyways. As we enjoy dinner it begins to rain heavily. A drenched horse with no saddle lopes by along the sidewalk. None of these animals seem to be corralled on this 20 km long island and are free to roam anywhere!

July 9, 2010
Today we visit Ahu Vaihu and Ahu Akahanga, two prominent sites with toppled moai. By the time Cook visited the  island in 1774 (the third European expedition following the Dutch and Spanish) only a few standing moai remained, the rest apparently knocked down by warring clans. At the rocky eastern shore heavy surf relentlessly pounds  away. Not much life is found in the carved basalt tide pools.

Next stop: Volcano Rano Raraku and the moai quarry. This is a well protected park that now has defined trails and  hand rails to protect its archeological sites. Some of the moai were never removed from the outcrop of volcanic tuff including "El Gigante", at 65 feet and 270 tons, the largest ever made. Others were transported down the outer  slope, though are now partially buried in talus and tall grass. We walk the trails around many classic statues familiar from books dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries when photography was new. (In the silence I try to imagine what it would have sounded like a millennium earlier as Rapanui stoneworkers chipped away with basalt hand  adzes.) Later we venture through the northwest portal to see the reed-lined crater lake in the volcano's interior.  Moai are visible on the far side wall, but no access is permitted to see them up close.

Ahu Tongariki: Here the largest array of moai has been restored to its ahu — 15 total. The site was toppled by early internecine warfare, later scattered by the 1960 tsunami and finally restored by Chilean archeologist Claudio  Cristino and a Japanese crane company in 1992. Rain delays exploration of the site, but I choose to brave the  elements and march off the bus first into the downpour. Eventually the showers subside and spectacular shafts of sunlight stream through the clouds. A single moai stands off to one side, making an impressive foreground subject  with Rano Raraku in the distance. In ground-level outcrops we see carvings of Honu (sea turtle), sacred to the  Rapanui.


Ahu Te Pito Kura: Here the toppled moai include "Paro", the tallest (nearly 33 feet high) ever transported and  successfully erected from the quarry site at Rano Raraku. It lies broken and face down with its pukao tossed several yards away.

Anakena Beach: our final stop of the day where island legend claims the landing site of Hotu Matu'a, the first  colonizing Polynesian king of Rapa Nui. A stand of coconut palms (not endemic) surrounds the beach on the  southwest side. Here a few photographers from TWAN (The World At Night) and National Geographic have already set up in front of Ahu Nau Nau where the azimuth of the eclipse overhead will appear almost exactly perpendicular to the line of 6 moai in just two days time. Off to the east and up the hillside we visit Ahu Ature Huki where a single moai stands following a 1956 experiment by Thor Heyerdahl to demonstrate a possible technique for erection of the statues.

That night on our hotel grounds I gather with astronomical enthusiasts in a frustratingly stiff breeze to catch  glimpses of clear southern skies between racing clouds. An arsenal of telescopes is set up to draw in views of the Jewel Box, Omega Centauri and other grand celestial objects not visible from the northern latitudes of my home in Southern California. Here I meet Mark Bender, director of a National Geographic TV film, who hopes to incorporate a satellite high-def live feed into a broadcast covering the Easter Island eclipse event. He laments the fact that his crew has never before seen a total solar eclipse and must make a last minute eclipse viewing location decision  impacted by possible variable weather conditions around the island. I convince him that Tahai has the best weather prospects (based on orographic cloud formation — influenced by raised topography) so he decides to join me there on eclipse day.

July 10, 2010
Today we visit the Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum in Hanga Roa where a modest collection of relics  have been preserved for public display. The outside of the building is draped with banners depicting eclipses (some erroneously annular rather than total) over iconic landscapes of Rapa Nui. A temporary astronomical exhibit with photo enlargements taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, various space probes and Earth-based instruments is displayed in a separate building. The islanders are anticipating a grand celestial show — if only the weather would  clear! It rains continually under dark overcast skies as we make our way to local craft shops.

The Tahai Archeological Complex: Our final stop on this shortened tour day. Walking through a light drizzle of rain  and fog we explore the site comprised of three ahu: Ahu Vai Uri (with 5 moai), Ahu Tahai (single moai) and Ahu Ko  Te Riku (a single moai with refashioned pukao and coral/obsidian eyes). The site also features a reconstructed boat  ramp and living accommodations, both for royalty and common families.


After carefully assessing this location, I make a decision to observe the eclipse from here, asking our Rapanui guide  (Ana) about perimeter limits for visitors in order to insure that I do not position myself at any "tapu" (forbidden) location. With her approval, I choose a spot in front of the south east end of Ahu Tahai where its single moai will  appear large below the eclipse in my plannedwide-angle photo.



That night winds reach gale force and threaten to blow the roof off our hotel. The sliding glass door in my hotel  room sounds like it might explode. I can hardly sleep, but all of my photo and telescope gear is ready to go — and the alarm clock is set for 4:00am…

July 11, 2010
Before dawn in a stiff breeze and occasional rain, I schlep my gear towards the Tahai Complex in total darkness. I  am the first to arrive; only a few barking dogs chasing a small herd of horses around are present. After setting up  tripods and telescope in my pre-planned spot, the dogs startle the herd which nearly tramples me. I take matters  into my own hands, chasing off the dogs with a bright flashlight and stern admonitions. (Anyone who heard this must have thought a lunatic was loose on the island...!)

Eventually dawn appears and a pleasing pallet of color spreads across the partly cloudy sky. People begin to fill  choice spots for observing the eclipse over the moai. But, unexpectedly, park rangers with hand-held sirens  appear, flanked with armed Chilean military, pushing everyone away from the moai; first 10, then 30, then 60 feet from the front of the ahu, making it impossible to capture wide angle shots with large image scale moai in the  foreground. After many bitter protests, no explanation is given for this absurdity. My hoped-for "National Geographic" photo of the eclipse over the moai will not happen so I fall back to a distant position which will allow two moai to be visible only as minuscule silhouettes in the lower frame.


After our frustration subsides everyone begins to recognize their general good fortune. The landscape becomes  adorned with rainbows and spectacular light, a photographer's dream...! We watch partial phases of the eclipse only  rarely obstructed by clouds. It soon becomes apparent that we will beat the odds and see much of totality in a clear swath of sky. Earlier disappointments are now completely forgotten as we watch in awe as the supersonic shadow of the moon approaches from the ocean-side northwest.  Just before second contact, in the light of the  diamond ring, the murmuring crowd is stirred to triumphant cheers. Finally, totality on Rapa Nui…! (The
first since AD 591 and the last till 2324…) Totality ends as a wisp of cloud blows over, placing the third contact  diamond ring and the solar corona inside a colorful iridescent atmospheric corona. (I did not discover until later  that my photos had captured parallel streaks in the clouds, shadow bands projected from the thin edge of exposed  photosphere at the shadow boundary onto the clouds above us. This would be the first TSE in history during which  this phenomenon would be well recognized and documented in overhead clouds…!)

That evening I rejoin my larger travel group sequestered at Hotel Altiplanico for a traditional Chilean "Curanto" culinary event with various meats, poi and sweet potato cooked in an underground oven. The variety of entries, sides and desserts is dizzying — a feast fit for any "Ariki" (chief or king) of "Te Pito Ote Henua" (translated: "The navel, center or end of the world" - the original name for Easter Island.)

After dinner I hurry to pack my things for an early morning flight off the island — so I can spend the late evening  enjoying a few Pisco Sours with frequent eclipse-traveler friends lounging at the hotel bar. As we sit and savor our citrus spirits, we try to stave off "post eclipse depression" which enviably sets in following the exhilaration of  witnessing the sublime spectacle of a total solar eclipse. This was my 9th so far, and without being "skunked" once by bad weather; a pretty fortunate record when you think about it. And certainly none of us could have imagined how it would feel to stand in the shadow of the moon at quite such an unforgettable, enchanting and mysterious  place as Rapa Nui —the Island at the Center of the World.

Lorana! Lorana!

FOTO Sponsored Trip to Palomar
Saturday October 16, 2010 was the date that FOTO members went on our long-awaited Trip to Palomar.










Saturday October 16, 2010 was the date that FOTO members went on our long-awaited Trip to Palomar.

It was a great trip and the more than 50 members who joined us on this adventurevhad warm things to say. A small sampling here...

"The trip to Palomar was so very satisfying, everyone on my bus hadva terrific trip. There were so many people that I had never seen beforevand who were quite enthralled with our privileged vision of the 200-inch telescope and  the star party we had after dinner. People were asking when we were going to do it again or where were we going next!"

“The detailed coordination was impressive and deeply appreciated. From our sign-in and distribution of our name tags and assignment of buses, to the snacks, water and marvelous videos on the way down, to the manner in which even the most handicapped amongst us was catered to.”

"The fact that the buses were used to transport the less ambulatory to our destinations, both at the observatory, to  the dinner later and elevators were made available for those unable to take the stairs showed such a thorough procedural planning concept that allowed everyone to have a wonderful time."

"Our views of Jupiter and its moons, especially on the 20-inch telescope provided by the Palomar PR person, who was wonderful in his presentation following the dinner, were amazing. We saw several views of Jupiter and its moons, Uranus, the Moon, star pairs (blue and white) and many more wonderful views."

"The trip to Palomar was terrific. It was a well-balanced day, with great commentary from Kara on the bus, some  time in the museum and gift store, a super tour and we were lucky to get clearing weather so all those kind Palomar docents could show us the sky. I know how much effort goes into these events. Thanks to everyone for making it a memorable occasion."

Total Lunar Eclipse
by Arnold Seidel, FOTO Board Member
December 21, 2010 : On the Ship Off the Coast of Baja

Our friends in the real estate business always talk about “Location, location, location.” Nothing was truer than that  on the evening of December 20th and the morning of December 21st, 2010. We were standing on the helipad of a  ship called the Mariner of the Seas, which is over one thousand feet long and basketball court size width. We were about twenty-five degrees north and one hundred fourteen degrees west of Greenwich. That is off the coast of Baja California and moving southward. I assume that we were on “Mountain Standard Time,” but we have no proof, so please do not be too hard on us while we describe the eclipse.

While the Sun was setting in the west a big round (almost full) Moon was rising in the east with some haze in the sky  in front of the Moon, but that would be no problem. Happily the seas were calm. Before midnight (remember we do  not know what the exact time was), the first bite was taken out of the Moon by the Earth’s shadow. By now the  weather was absolutely clear. The path of the Earth and Moon was as close to directly east and west as we have ever seen during an eclipse of any kind.

At approximately midnight, or a little after that, you could almost measure the diameter of the Earth just by looking at the arc cast upon the Moon. At second contact, when the eclipse became total, we almost had a diamond  ring effect, but not quite. By now we were all lying on the helipad looking straight up to the sky. Now that beautiful  amber color came into view as the Sun’s light was bent around the Earth; almost more importantly though, stars appeared which had been washed out by the Moon not unlike a solar eclipse. You could see that the Moon really is  a sphere. Someone said that it looks like there are a million stars there. Orion was helping the whole thing take  place, nebula and all. The big dipper and North Star were low in the north. Not to be outdone, a couple of meteors,  just call them shooting stars, came right overhead with the proper comments from everybody. The third contact  brought back the light and a few oohs and ahs and regrets. We did cheat, because we gave it all up and went to bed at some wee hour of the morning. It was a perfect night for all. Wish you could have been there!

We have no idea how far the ship had traveled or what the final location was, but that was not at all important. If I  might add a personal note, I have seen three eclipses in that general area. The first was an annular eclipse many  many years ago, which was interesting but not a thrill. The second was the 1991 total eclipse on the east side of Baja California, which was six minutes and forty-eight seconds, and the third, of course, was this one. One really cannot ask for more.

Total Lunar Eclipse at the Observatory
by Penny Kunitani

We cannot say enough about FOTO's amazing volunteers. They assist us with member events, provide visitor  services on busy days, and effectively double our staffing through their generosity. FOTO volunteers Penny  Kunitani and Dennis Koba stayed up all night for this total lunar eclipse to help with this always overwhelming  astronomical event at Griffith Observatory.



As disappointing as the weather was, the crowd and great spirit more than made up for it. Dennis and I had a great time, from the minute the Observatory opened, till the closing bell. Dennis had the great idea of locating our table next to that exhibit that sparks, near the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon entrance. We were under a light and as it  turned out, had a great view of the screen of the live feeds from — YES! Chile! and also, I think Florida or some other state. More importantly, we were also near the crowds entering and leaving the LNEH theater, and the crowds for  the Dr. Krupp [Director of Griffith Observatory] events in the Gunther Depths of Space. Dr. Danly‘s [Griffith  Observatory Curator] presentations are always so interesting and entertaining. In twenty minutes, she gave the  basics on the physics of the lunar eclipse, along with some lore and the uniqueness of this eclipse. Though she repeated her presentation three times, the last presentation was so full they had to turn people away. For Dr.  Krupp's presentations in the GDS, the whole floor was absolutely filled; and the rail next to us was at least five deep  with people craning their necks to see! Dr. Krupp and Dr. Danly kept on coming up with funny proclamations, one went something like 'This is the greatest lunar eclipse viewing that has ever happened in the history of time — from inside a building, thanks to the Internet!'

We all cheered at first contact, even though it was a minute or two late, with the (live!) feeds. Although early on, Dr.  Krupp told me he was leery of getting enough people to do it (the big crowds arrived later, at 9:30 p.m. or 10:00  p.m.), he did end up donning his wizard outfit, complete with hat and cape, and paraded around making noises with  a trail of tambourine bangers, snaking his way through the crowd. What a hoot! That was at midtotality. Then, at the  end of totality, he proclaimed that our noise-making had indeed scared away the dragon that was eating the Moon — since the Moon did come back.

I have never seen such interest in FOTO! We ran out of two of our handouts, and must have given away fifty of the membership forms. SO many people were interested in membership!

Events and Registration

At this moment there are no scheduled FOTO Events or Programs.


Please check back soon or click here to receive more information about our programs via email.

Your Contributions at Work
...and more! click here
FOTO Newsletter and Blog
...and more! click here
Visiting Griffith Observatory
...and more! click here
Looking up! Astronomy at Home
...and more! click here