Every club has a story to tell. We present here the continuing saga of DFAC. This should be required reading for all members, may be of interest to prospective members, and serves as an archive documenting the genesis and evolution of our club.
The most recent entry is at the top, redshift increases toward the bottom …
Even More Scaling Back:
At the end of our 2018-2019 season the club became an informal association of amateur astronomers. Falling membership, and the lack of interest in officer positions, were the cause. Membership dues were dropped, our treasury was cashed out, and our Wells Fargo checking account closed. Existing members were continued in the Astronomical League for the 2019-2020 season and will continue receiving the League’s Reflector newsletter for that period. Web hosting and domain name registration is paid ahead to GoDaddy and our online presence will remain in place till March 2021. We also renewed our IDA membership through 2021 to continue displaying their logo on our website. What will happen after that is unknown.
All officers have now retired but for the webmaster position, which will be maintained by Dan Heim through March 2021. Publication of our electronic newsletter Quid Novi ceased with the May issue. Communications between members will continue via email, and through the posting of activities on our DFAC Events page.
More Scaling Back:
Our 2017-18 season saw a further reduction in club activities. With the office of VP remaining unfilled for several years, and the responsibility for booking speakers resting with that office, DFAC dropped its public Lecture Series at the Anthem Civic Building. With no need for further honoraria, dues were reduced from $25 to $10 for 2018-19 memberships. Future activities will focus solely on observing sessions, field trips, and social events.
Our 2016-17 season incorporated several changes voted-in by members. Membership dropped below 15 for the first time, and that created constraints. We dropped our liability insurance with R.V. Nuccio, saving $315 a year that can go towards honoraria for guest speakers. Future public events will need to be insured by the venue. We maintained our affiliation with the Astronomical League and IDA.
Our Social Media Manager moved away, so our Facebook page went static. We maintain a strong online presence with a responsive WordPress theme for our website, an extensive collection of resources, and Quid Novi, our electronic newsletter (and 2-way communication channel). We received an generous offer from the Anthem Civic Building (ACB) for free room rentals given the educational content of our Lecture Series. And the ACB insurance had us covered.
DFAC transitioned into an era of primarily members-only observing sessions at members’ homes. We continued to host social events. Our public outreach at this point was limited to our website and the occasional ACB event.
Major Website Revision:
You’re looking at it. In August of 2015 we moved from our old static HTML website to a WordPress-based site. The old website had been cobbled together over the years using FrontPage Express and was badly in need of an upgrade. Further, our new website is fully HTML5 compliant, friendlier to mobile devices, and provides better SEO. It also makes the job of club webmaster easier, in terms of updates and addition of new content.
Also, instead of sending mass emails for our club newsletter and other communications, we’ll be replacing that with a WordPress blog. Titled Quid Novi (which translates roughly to “what’s happening”), it resurrects the name we used for our earlier electronic newsletter. When new content is posted, club members will receive an automatically generated email alerting them and providing a direct link to that new content.
Support for LightSail:
In July of 2015, DFAC became a supporter of the Planetary Society’s LightSail project. This was a crowd-sourced effort, pioneered by Bill Nye (current CEO of the Society). LightSail was a cutting-edge proof-of-concept mission to demonstrate the feasibility of “solar sailing” for spacecraft propulsion. Originally proposed by Carl Sagan (co-founder of the Planetary Society) in the 1970s, LightSail became a reality this year. DFAC proudly displays the LightSail logo on our home page.
New Meeting Venue:
In early 2014 the new Anthem Civic Building at 3701 W. Anthem Way in Anthem, AZ became available for club meetings. This is an excellent facility, with state-of-the-art audiovisual support as needed. Rental fees are quite reasonable. Classroom #4, our usual choice, will seat up to 50 on comfortable chairs. Additional seating is available via the removal of adjacent classroom partitions. During our first season after transition (2014-2015) we expect our monthly Lecture Series to be less than monthly, but hope to move steadily back to our regular schedule.
Support for Lowell Observatory:
In late 2013 DFAC contributed $100 to the Clark 24″ restoration project. This telescope, built in 1896 at a cost of $20,000, was in need of a refurb including mechanical components (some had to be re-machined from scratch), aesthetic work on the brass components, and cleaning and aligning the optics. That project was completed in early 2015, and DFAC members had the opportunity for a private preview of the new scope. The 24″ is primarily used for public education and outreach, and remains a historic astronomical treasure. We proudly display the Lowell Observatory logo on our home page.
Year of Transition:
In May 2012 we lost our meeting room at North Valley Regional Library. It was needed as a classroom by Boulder Creek High School (which owns the building). Our last meeting there was our annual Business Meeting. After a search of area facilities over the Summer, none was found that worked within our budget. Our formal Lecture Series was indefinitely suspended pending resolution, perhaps in 2014 when the new Anthem Community Center makes meeting rooms available. Until that time, DFAC will be continuing social events and observing sessions at members’ homes, as well as field trips to astronomical points of interest. Quid Novi, our club newsletter, went to an as-needed publication schedule, with most club communications done via email. DFAC also lost Vice President, Jim Renn, due to increased responsibilities on his day job, and our Treasurer (and co-founder) Roger Serrato who moved to Flagstaff. Member Jay Chatzkel, previously our Media Liaison, vacated that position and took over as Treasurer. He was formally elected to that position at our annual Business Meeting, held at Heimhenge on May 25, 2013. Taking over as Media Liaison was Diann Smith, also formally elected. Both votes were unanimous.
DFAC Moves in Time and Space:
In July 2008, with our 2008-2009 lecture season rapidly approaching, we learned that the BCHS faculty moderator for their Astronomy Club had resigned. District policy requires the presence of a faculty moderator and/or students at our meetings to secure use of the Career Center at no charge. Although willing to wait awhile for a new faculty moderator to step up, we were left scrambling for an alternative meeting place as backup. President Dan Heim and VP Jim Renn looked at several options, including the Anthem Community Center, New River Elementary School, and the Anthem VFW and New River Kiwanis meeting halls. We waited for BCHS until September 12th, to no avail, and finally had to act. We chose the Maricopa County North Valley Regional Library (NVRL), located just across the entry from the BCHS Career Center. It costs us a nominal $10 rent for each meeting, but has the facility we need, is centrally located, and maintains a dignified academic atmosphere. Although we regretted losing our direct connection to the BCHS Astronomy Club, we extended an invitation to their members and may still see them at our meetings. Following this change in venue, booking of speakers (normally done in August) and the late publication of September’s Quid Novi (normally out in the first week of the month) began in earnest. We also changed our meeting day to “last Thursday of the month” to accommodate the schedule of potential BCHS student and faculty attendees, and also the schedule of President Dan Heim who retains part-time teaching duties on Wednesdays. The vote for this change was near-unanimous. Accordingly, our first meeting of the 2008-2009 lecture season was held in the NVRL.
At the May 28, 2008 Business Meeting, DFAC took another important step forward. Member Jim Renn was elected VP, and after a slight modification of our Constitution, member Jay Chatzkel was elected to the newly-created position of Media Liaison. This was an important step in our evolution for several reasons, not the least of which was to take some of the work load off President Dan Heim, who continues as Editor of Quid Novi and Webmaster. Also, it’s nice to see a few more names on our website’s Contact page, since that demonstrates the increased member participation one would expect from a mature and established organization. At some point, with further increases in membership, DFAC will have enough talent to draw from to fill the Editor and Webmaster positions as well. When that happens, it will warrant yet another entry in this historical log.
First Official Recognition of DFAC:
In November of our second year (2007-2008) DFAC was invited to attend several events. Our membership in the Astronomical League gets us on several mailing lists, not to mention additional exposure from our volunteer Astronomy Nights, public lectures, and other activities. The event we attended was “Night Under the Stars” at Alamo Lake State Park, northwest of Wickenburg and about 100 miles (as the buzzard flies) from Phoenix. In attendance were Dan & Sandi Heim, their German Shepherds Astro & Beta, and Roger Serrato, members all. Members from a dozen other AZ clubs also attended, with a total turnout of some 20 scopes and a couple hundred public viewers. Skies were very clear and dark, and we had an excellent view of Comet Holmes shortly after its great brightening. Filamentary structures in the coma were easily seen at 200X. In recognition of our participation, we received a nice official certificate. You can see it here.
Membership in IDA:
In October of our second year (2007-2008) DFAC became a member society of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Our first year’s membership (at $50/year) was paid for by an anonymous donor. Many thanks … you know who you are. It is fitting that we be a member of IDA, as the fight against light pollution is one of our primary missions. We hope to continue our partnership with IDA. DFAC benefits from full access to their resources and expertise, and IDA benefits from our dues in their larger efforts on a global scale. Their official logo is now on our home page, and links directly to the IDA website.
It was decided at our May 30th, 2007 business meeting that a DFAC Summer Social would be a great tradition and enjoyable for members. Our first was held at the Cave Creek residence of member Ron Walker, who also happens to have an amazing home theater system. In addition to a classic sci-fi double feature, DFAC members enjoyed food and drink on the house, and a delicious cheese cake desert provided by Dan Heim. There was no stargazing, save for naked eye. But it was an opportunity for members to socialize and enjoy some great flicks. We look forward to continuing this tradition as a mid-summer event every year.
The Constitution of the Desert Foothills Astronomy Club was ratified unanimously by the 12 members in attendance at our May 30th, 2007 business meeting. The document was patterned after that of the Phoenix Astronomical Society, and drafted by Dan Heim. Ratification followed after a short discussion of some wording. This is a simple and flexible document that defines the membership requirements, Officer positions, and protocols. The most current version is available here.
The Galactic Gavel:
At our March 28th, 2007 meeting, Bob Holmes, Meteorite Man, our guest lecturer for the evening, presented DFAC with a meteorite from his collection. The 166.3 gram specimen is from the Campo de Cielo fall in Argentina, dated around 3000 BC. After some discussion regarding its disposition, we decided to incorporate it into our “Galactic Gavel.” The concept was to create an official DFAC symbol that would represent the authority of the President, be passed on to succeeding Presidents, and be used to start and end our meetings. Dan Heim did the mechanical work required to produce the gavel. You can read the fascinating story of its construction here. It was first used at our May 30th, 2007 business meeting after the formal election of Heim as President of DFAC, and Roger Serrato as Treasurer.
First Observing Session:
After two unsuccessful attempts that were canceled by weather, DFAC held its first members-only observing session on March 10th, 2007. The event coincided, almost to the day, with the one year anniversary of our founding. There was no cake, but there were seven scopes, four members, and three guests. We met at Heimhenge in New River. This location is still great for lunar and planetary observing, though the deep sky view is starting to be compromised by the northward expansion of Phoenix and its outlying communities. We had great views of (gibbous) Venus and Saturn, as well as a few of the brighter Messiers. As always, the conversation and exchange of ideas added another enjoyable dimension. Clear skies and shirt-sleeve temperatures prevailed until about 10 pm, when the wind shifted to north and some high clouds moved in. We had all packed it in by 10:30 pm, but not before discussing the potential for an outing to a truly dark site, perhaps 30-40 miles north of here up on the Rim. Whenever that does happen, it will warrant entry into this log.
First Public Astronomy Night:
On Monday, October 30th, 2006, DFAC held its first public outreach event. Members Dan Heim, Roger Serrato, Ken Reeves, Jo McCall, and George Kantarges set up an array of fine telescopes for the benefit of the Ladies Guild in Cave Creek, AZ. Instruments deployed ranged from a 5″ Takahashi to a 20″ open-truss Dob. Objects viewed included the Moon, M13, M31, M57, Double Cluster, Milky Way, and Albireo. The audience was impressed, and DFAC received a $150 donation for our efforts.
We decided early on that we wanted a top-notch lecture series for the benefit of our members. Within the Phoenix metropolitan area there’s a vast reservoir of talent, both professional and amateur. It’s the job of the President and Vice President to make the necessary contacts and handle the scheduling. Our first season kicked off on September 27th with Dan Heim, co-founder and then President, speaking on the topic of Light Pollution. It was a fitting topic, considering the genesis of DFAC was catalyzed by recognition of the impact of light pollution in the North Valley. A video recording of that first meeting has been archived on DVD and is available to members. We hope to make that video available as a download in the future.
Our second lecture, October 25th, 2006, featured Dr. Jeff Hester of ASU. His topic was “From the Big Bang to Big Brains: the Evolution of Structure in the Universe.” As our inaugural speaker, Dr. Hester received a special certificate of recognition. You can view a copy of that certificate here.
Further records of our lecture series can be accessed via the Quid Novi archives, accessible here.
Our official club newsletter, Quid Novi, had been evolving since Day 1. On November 1st of 2006, it was posted online in what was then considered its nominal format. The November issue was actually #7, counting previous missives, but it marked the start of our regular monthly series (September through June of each year). You can view the real issue #1 here. We decided to go with an electronic newsletter to avoid the need for postage and printing costs. For those few members without internet access, a hardcopy was printed and mailed. The newsletter was formatted to make this process quick and easy.
Feedback from our first meeting allowed several decisions to be made regarding club activities and structure. We set our official Lecture Meetings for the last Wednesday of the month, September through May, with the May meeting reserved for club business, elections, and end-of-year details. On May 24th, we established a DFAC checking account at the Anthem branch of Wells Fargo, which graciously granted us a zero-fee account based on our community service commitment. You’ll see recognition for Wells Fargo (and other gracious entities) on our DONORS page. In order to provide a legal “point of contact” for DFAC, Dan Heim and Roger Serrato assumed the provisional positions of President and Treasurer, respectively. This was also needed to establish DFAC’s membership in the Astronomical League, and for obtaining club liability insurance (a requirement for our use of the BCHS facilities).
Our organizational meeting was held on Friday, May 12th, at Heimhenge, the residence of Dan & Sandi Heim in New River. In addition to Dan Heim and Roger Serrato (co-founders), and Kim Wallis-Lindvig (our BCHS Liaison), 10 of the 20 prospective charter members were in attendance. Here’s a list of the attendees:
Bob & Peggy Biegler
And here’s a list of the prospective charter members not in attendance:
Ray & Ivana Pacion
Jo Ellen McCall
People arrived between 6-7 pm as planned. After getting their name tags, and providing contact info, there was plenty of time for socializing. We began the actual meeting at 7:15 with a round of introductions, stories about how we all got started in astronomy, and talk about our current astronomical interests and activities.
Next on the agenda was discussion regarding our new club: structure, organization, private and public activities, and meeting location, dates, and times. The “minutes” of that first meeting, are archived here.
On the evening of March 3rd, 2006, “dfacaz.org” was registered as a domain name, and work on a preliminary website for the purposes of our membership drive was begun. The website was posted in preliminary form a few days later. Bulletins noting the membership drive were posted in local establishments, and sent out via the BCHS newsletter. Dan Heim also used his March 8th Sky Lights column (with the gracious permission of Karen Seemeyer, Desert Advocate Publisher) to solicit members. You can view a copy of that column here. We prepared an official “press release” that ran in all the local area newspapers. You can view a copy of that press release here. Following two months of advertising in the media, we reached the predetermined “critical mass” of 20 prospective members and set May 12 as the date of our first meeting.
In 2005, rapid growth in the north valley area was changing the landscape. From Carefree to New River, planned developments were spreading in all directions. The dark night sky that many of us moved here to enjoy was being altered by light pollution. The Phoenix area already had several major amateur astronomy organizations: EVAC (East Valley Astronomy Club), PAS (Phoenix Astronomical Society), SAC (Saguaro Astronomy Club), and WVAC (West Valley Astronomy Club). They were doing what they could to address the issue of light pollution and educate the public on matters astronomical, but there was no similar effort in the north valley. Two people, Dan Heim (then PAS Editor and New River resident) and Roger Serrato (then an unaffiliated astronomy enthusiast and Black Canyon City resident) began discussions about the possibility of a new astronomy club for the north valley. They decided on the name “Desert Foothills Astronomy Club” (DFAC) and committed themselves to making it happen.
Heim, who at the time wrote the astronomy column Sky Lights exclusively for the Desert Advocate newspaper, had received many emails from area residents regarding the creation of a local amateur astronomy organization. On March 3rd of 2006, he met with Kevin Imes, Principal of Boulder Creek High School (BCHS) in Anthem, to negotiate a hosting arrangement with DFAC. Imes was suitably impressed and excited at the prospect, and expressed his interest in a collaboration. They agreed to move forward with the project and meet again to discuss details.
THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF HISTORY. PLEASE EXCUSE THE EXTREME REDSHIFT.