Abstract:Over the last couple of years, there have been many headlines about the possibility of an undiscovered giant planet in the outer reaches of our Solar System. But is it real? Dr. Sam Lawler will lead you through the wilds of the distant Kuiper Belt with a surprisingly digestible (we promise!) discussion of orbital dynamics, observation biases, and dwarf planet discoveries. She will show you the latest discoveries from a large international collaboration, including astronomers right here in Canada, and you can decide for yourself whether or not you believe in Planet 9.
Sam Lawler received her B.S. in astrophysics from Caltech, followed by 2 years of research work at Caltech’s IPAC facility on early Spitzer data of debris disks. She then received her M.A. from Wesleyan University before coming to Canada for her PhD work at UBC. She has been in Victoria ever since her PhD, initially as a UVic postdoc/lecturer, and since 2015 as a Plaskett Fellow at NRC-Herzberg. Her work utilizes dynamical simulations of the effects of planets on debris disks and on the structure of the Kuiper Belt. Several of her recent projects involve dynamically testing the existence of reported planets. She has shown tau Ceti’s reported planet system is allowed by its wide debris disk, Fomalhaut b is likely a catastrophically disrupted icy body, and the structure of the Kuiper Belt does not require an additional distant planet in the Solar System. While her dynamical simulations are running on the computer cluster, she likes to play with her kids and grow food.
For much of the astronomical community 2019 came barreling in at 50000 km/h. It was like they were riding in the back seat of New Horizons urging it to capture great shots of Ultima Thule as it whizzed by on New Years Day. The data slowly trickled in as the feeble signal completed its 6 hour journey home. To the amazement of all a strange snowman like feature emerged. During January this image became crisper as more data was accumulated. This technological triumph was a great way to begin the year.
One of the team members that selected this Kuiper belt object, officially named 2014 MU69, was Victoria astronomer Dr. JJ Kavelaars. He is the scheduled speaker at our March monthly meeting and JJ will have the latest information to share. At our February monthly meeting Dr. Samantha Lawler will deliver a presentation on even more remote Kuiper belt objects and she will examine the evidence for a mysterious Planet Nine or maybe that should it be Planet Nein?
January is not renowned for great observing conditions. During the late afternoon of Sunday January 20th, however, skies magically cleared in the Victoria area and set the stage for a beautiful lunar eclipse. A fireball and a fleeting impact on the lunar surface were also witnessed by a lucky few. Due to its brightness I generally avoid observing the full moon but at this phase the ejecta rays of craters like Tycho and Copernicus were prominent. I adjusted my camera to highlight these striking features during the event. My optimum settings with a 127 mm refractor varied from 1/1250 second at ISO 100 at the beginning to 4 seconds at ISO 800 during totality. This remarkable reduction in intensity enabled one to enjoy a rich star field during totality. I observed the eclipse at Cattle Point Urban Dark Sky Park. The parking lot was full. The atmosphere was joyous with occasional outbreaks of wolf howls to honour the Super Wolf Blood Moon. It was wonderful to share this event in community.
This eclipse has inspired a number of RASCals to attempt the RASC lunar observing programs. These in include an introductory program entitled Explore the Moon and a more comprehensive program called the Isabel Williamson Lunar Observing Program. So far only 18 RASCals nation wide have completed the Isabel Williamson challenge. Perhaps you will want to join Victoria’s own Nelson Walker in this elite group. Check it out!
Some changes have been made at the Victoria Centre Observatory. The Victoria Centre recently received a generous donation of a 20 Inch Obsession Dobsonian telescope. In order the accommodate this scope at the VCO the existing 20 inch Dobsonian has been relocated to the Center of the Universe. This scope was beautifully crafted by Guy Walton in 2003 using a mirror from Jack Newton. In addition to serving as a museum piece this scope will be rolled out on the patio and used for public outreach events.
RASCals are reminded that during our February 13th Monthly Meeting there will be a very short administrative “Mini AGM”. This meeting is required as a result of the recent change of our fiscal year end from September 30th to December 31st. This could take less than 5 minutes so bring your stop watches!
On Sunday, January 20th, 2019, we will be able to view a total eclipse of the Moon (weather permitting). The Moon will be in partial phase after rising from the eastern horizon, and move into full eclipse in evening hours as it climbs in altitude and moves to the southeast. The Total Lunar Eclipse will develop over the course of about 3 hours, will be in Totality for about an hour, and will end just before midnight.
This is a perfect opportunity to visually observe this beautiful celestial event, and possibly capture some photographs from a location with an unobstructed view to the east and south.
Moon’s eastern limb enters the penumbra
6:36 pm PST
Partial eclipse begins – 1st Contact
Moon’s eastern limb enters the umbra
7:33 pm PST
Total eclipse starts – 2nd Contact
Moon entirely in the umbra; deep orange red
8:41 pm PST
9:12 pm PST
Total eclipse ends – 3rd Contact
9:43 pm PST
Partial eclipse ends – 4th Contact
Moon’s western limb leaves the umbra
Moon leaves the penumbra
11:48 pm PST
Above Eclipse times are for Pacific Standard Time (PST) for the west coast of North America, and are calculated from UT as presented in the Observers Handbook 2019, pages 127-29.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon. During a lunar eclipse the Moon’s position traverses the Earth’s shadow. The Moon’s first contact with the Earth’s shadow is at the outer band of the shadow called the penumbra. The light falling on the Moon is progressively blocked until at the moment of total eclipse the Moon is completely in the darkest central area of the Earth’s shadow called the umbra. At the point of total eclipse the process starts to reverse itself until the Moon is totally out of the Earth’s shadow.
umbra – the darker central area of the Earth’s shadow
partial eclipse – the Moon is positioned within the penumbra
total eclipse – the Moon is positioned totally within the umbra
What do you need?
Everything from your eyes, binoculars and telescope are suitable. Bear in mind this is a long process and at this time of year dress warmly and bring a chair if you want to be comfortable.
Find yourself a location that has a clear horizon view to the east and south especially if you wish to view during the late stages.
Keep a log of what you see and note the time. Pay attention to how much of the light on the moon is obscured and if there are any colouration changes. During the total eclipse the Moon will take on a deep orange-red colour. The colour of the Moon is a function of contaminants in the atmosphere and varies from year to year.
A good observing project for this long-lasting eclipse will be to observe the craters on the Moon as the eclipse progresses. Craters will be immersed and emerge from the Earth’s shadow on the Moon at times specified in the Observers Handbook 2019, page 129.
Any camera with the capability of setting shutter speeds and aperture settings manually will do fine. The ability to use interchangeable lenses will be an advantage for more detailed images of the Moon. For the darker parts of the eclipse, eg. totality you should use a tripod support for best results. If you have access to a telescope you can try capturing the event using prime focus techniques through the telescope optics.
Today’s digital cameras are very sensitive to light reflected by the Moon. Use ISO 400 to ISO 800 and a long telephoto lens or zoom setting. Smartphones and point-and-shoot digital cameras will not produce rewarding photos of the eclipsed Moon, but can be useful for taking panoramic shots of your surroundings which include the eclipsed Moon.
Technique for smartphone cameras
Smartphone cameras typically do not support manual settings, so using them to capture a lunar eclipse will be less rewarding than using more capable cameras. That said, smartphone cameras can be held up to a telescope eyepiece to capture an image of the Moon. Aligning the tiny lens to the eyepiece can be tricky, however there are platforms made to clamp onto an eyepiece barrel which will hold smartphones steady enough to take acceptable photos of the Moon, including the eclipsed Moon.
Technique for interchangeable lens cameras
The simplest eclipse pictures can be taken with manual settings on your camera and a normal lens, preferably supported by a tripod. For best results use a cable release to minimize vibration. Images taken in this fashion result in a small lunar image. This is why it is preferable to use a telephoto lens to photograph the Moon.
For a full frame camera try a 200mm lens or something close to this, even better a 500mm lens or higher. You may also use teleconverters to increase magnification, these typically come in 1.4x and 2x strengths. Their downside is they reduce the effective aperture of your optical system. A 1.4x teleconverter will decrease your effective exposure by 1 stop, a 2x teleconverter will decrease your effective exposure by 2 stops. Work out your effective aperture of your optical system ahead of time so you don’t have to think about it on the night of the eclipse.
Note for the smaller sub-full frame sensors of some digital cameras you gain an extra advantage as the focal length of the lens is effectively magnified by a factor. For example a Nikon DX body your 200mm lens would be effectively 300mm.
APS-C Nikon DX, Pentax : 1.5x
APS-C Canon EF-S : 1.6x
Four Thirds : 2x
Effective Focal Length with 2x teleconvertor
Effective Aperture with 2x teleconvertor
To achieve any higher magnification than what is stated above you will have to use a telescope at prime focus. For this your manual camera does need to have the capability of using interchangeable lenses. For prime focus you will use the telescope optics as your interchangeable lens. To attach your camera to your telescope you will need two things a T-adapter that fits your camera and a telescope camera adapter that fits your telescope.
The telescope camera adapter is designed to fit in the focusing tube of your telescope and is threaded to accept the T-adapter of your camera. With the magnification involved with telescopic optics it is likely that you will need to use a tracking mount. Preferably the mount should be able to track at lunar speed as opposed to sidereal but if the shutter speeds chosen are shorter than 1 or 2 minutes this is not critical.
Exposure times are the next consideration. The following exposure times are based on a medium ISO setting and an effective aperture that would be common with a long telephoto and teleconverter combination. Exposures may vary with your equipment based on ISO speed and effective aperture. The Danjon Lunar Eclipse Luminosity Scale has been included to provide better guesstimates for totality.
Exposure Times: based on ISO 400
1/500 second at f/16
1/250 second at f/16 see note 1.
1 second at f/16 see note 2.
Totality *see table below
L = 4 :
4 seconds at f16
L = 3:
15 seconds at f16
L = 2:
1 minute at f16
L = 1:
4 minutes at f16
1 second at f/16 see note 2.
1/250 second at f/16 see note 1.
* Danjon Lunar Eclipse Luminosity Scale
L = 1
dark eclipse; lunar surface details distinguishable only with difficultly
L = 2
deep red or rust coloured eclipse; central part of the umbra dark but outer rim relatively bright
L = 3
brick-red eclipse; usually with a brighter (frequently yellow) rim to the umbra
L = 4
very bright copper-red or orange eclipse, with a bluish, very bright umbral rim
Note 1. 1st and 4th contact times given for the partial phases are biased for the light part of the Moon. Remember you are dealing with vastly different exposures between the light and dark parts of the Moon during eclipse. The bias of about 1 stop minus avoids overexposure of the dominant bright area of the Moon.
Note 2. 2nd and 3rd contact times given for the partial phases are biased for the dark part of the Moon. The bias of about 1 stop plus is a good strategy for negative film not quite so good for slides and digital capture given they don’t tolerate overexposure well.
The exposure times are only recommendations. Remember the cardinal rule about photography … bracket. Always try exposures plus and minus your chosen exposure. This gives you a better chance at getting usable results. Let’s all hope for clear weather. If you have any questions please send email to David Lee at email@example.com.
David Lee – original text Joe Carr – updated for 2019 Brenda Stuart – illustrations
Dark Nebulae are elusive and one of the most difficult deep sky objects to observe. With the aid of larger telescopes in the 1990s more amateurs started to seek out these objects. Inspired by a mentor of the RASC Halifax Centre Paul pursued a project to observe as many of E. E. Barnard’s Dark Nebulae objects as possible and composed a list for the Observer’s Handbook. In the process much was learned about how best to observe these dark nebulae and Paul made a discovery along the way. Recently with the construction of a backyard observatory Paul’s obsession with dark nebulae has been rejuvenated with a new project. The second part of this talk will discuss that observatory itself and a current project to reimage Barnard’s catalogue.
Paul Gray: It was the visit of Halley’s Comet in 1985 that hooked Paul on astronomy. He has been active member of RASC since 1988 and has served as president in both the Moncton and Halifax Centres. He chaired the 2010 General Assembly. Paul has served on numerous positions at the national level including the Chair of the National Observing Committee and the Editor of the RASC Observer’s Calendar. In 2016 Paul was awarded the RASC Service Award for his contributions at both the local and national level. He is also a 3 time recipient of the Ken Chilton award. In 1998 Paul found himself moving to Maryland, USA for 5 years. While there he became a member of the Delmarva Stargazers and still remains as their Honorary Northern member.
Observing first with a 60mm Tasco and then a 100mm F4, made from a Taylor Hobson TV Lens, he completed the Messier list. Later, in his final year of high school he built a 330mm F4.5 reflector. After his move to the USA he observed with a 12.5” F5 reflector to complete his Finest NGC List as well as his Dark Nebulae project. He has a passion for meteor observing and deep sky observing. He has ventured into photography many times over the years in film, DSLR and CCD. He “went off the deep end” so to speak while in college when he teamed up with David Lane to conduct a supernova search and at age 22 found his first. He would later discover 5 supernovae and share one with his daughter Kathryn Aurora Gray. To keep things in the family his son Nathan Gray also would find a supernova as part of the program he and David Lane developed. Recently he made a dream come true by finally building his backyard observatory at his home in Nova Scotia.
In 2018 it seems like members of the Victoria Centre spent nearly as much time looking backward as they did looking up. Their focus was directed to the past as they celebrated the Plaskett Telescope as it completed 100 years of service. The Centre was involved in every aspect of the Plaskett Centennial including the unveiling of a national historic site plaque, the “first light” re-enactment on May 5th and the participation with the FDAO in the Victoria Day Parade. They were also invited to attend CASCA 2018, the astronomical conference which had several sessions devoted to the history of the DAO.
The attention was not just confined to the telescope. John Stanley Plaskett the driving force behind the scope was also celebrated in fine style. His achievements were captured in the new biography “Northern Star J.S. Plaskett” by Peter Broughton. What I found impressive was that Plaskett did not rest on his laurels with the design and acquisition of the scope. Five years after the 72 inch went into service Edwin Hubble proved that Andromeda was a galaxy rather than a nearby nebula. After learning of this discovery, Plaskett embarked on an ambitious observation program. During a 10 year period radial velocities of strategic stars were acquired with the 72 inch telescope. These measurements were employed to accurately determine our distance from the centre of the Milky Way as well as to calculate the rotation period about our galaxy. With his vision and long term commitment Plaskett and the DAO made a major astronomical contribution.
In 2018 we also celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. As we enter 2019 do not expect this historical focus to wane. The International Astronomical Union are all set to kick off their centennial. That party, however, may be drowned out by the 50th anniversary of Apollo which will resonate much more strongly with the boomers who lived through that era.
Speaking of boomers I recall a vivid memory from Christmas Eve, 50 years ago. I was just exiting the Odeon Theatre, my mind abuzz after watching Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001 A Space Odyssey”. When I looked up I glimpsed the Moon over Yates Street. I was stunned! Just think … at that very moment Apollo 8 was in orbit around the Moon. It was mind blowing and made “Space Odyssey” much more credible. When the astronauts recited from “In The Beginning” that Christmas Eve it reverberated around the globe.
Excellent documentaries on Apollo 8 recently appeared on NOVA and the BBC5Live while “The First Man” a new movie about Neil Armstrong has been playing on the big screen at the IMAX. Expect the Apollo drumbeat to continue to get louder as we approach July 20th, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing.
In stark contrast to the massive “Big Science” “Moon Shot” team efforts of NASA, the almost solitary contributions of Plaskett and Hubble seem quaint these days. Is there still a role for the individual in this brave new world? I definitely think so. As proof let me remind you of my favourite story of the past year. It involved the Argentine amateur Victor Buso who managed to capture the shock breakout phase of a star the instant that it went supernovae (See the March 2018 edition of SkyNews). It does not get better than that!
Tired of looking back? Maybe it is time to peek outside and if weather permits try to look up.
Wishing you all the best and many cloudless nights in 2019.
When I returned to Victoria 6 years ago I had no idea that I would become so deeply involved in the local astronomical community. My bulging shelves of Astronomy books reflect my long term interest in the topic. I was briefly a member of the Vancouver Centre of RASC but due to the time, energy and expense to attend their widespread gatherings I remained on the periphery of that group.
In contrast the ideal scale of Victoria makes it much easier to get out and participate. When I attended my first Victoria Centre meeting at UVic I was struck by the high level of energy and enthusiasm in the room. I was also amazed by the many Astronomical activities that the Centre was supporting. Shortly after when I attended my first Astro Cafe I was made to feel so welcome that I kept coming back and that deepened my engagement. I have learned and enjoyed so much in the process. And now that I find myself President of this great Centre I am humbled, excited and a bit overwhelmed. I will give it my best shot but may not reach the high bar established by my predecessors like Chris Purse. The Centre made great strides while Chris was at the helm..
Recently, I delivered a presentation on Astronomy to a local organization. I attempted to explain the activities and appeal of Astronomy for the amateur community. I grouped our activities is three main categories:
At the core we are, as David Lee so aptly describes, tourists of the night sky. The act of stepping outdoors on a crisp, clear evening instantly rewards us as we escape the clatter of civilization. Most amateurs usually chose to extend their vision with binoculars and telescopes. Some have turned observing into a sport, star hopping and honing their vision to locate a host of faint celestial objects. On page 8 of the November SkyNews Bill Weir has described several observing lists that encourage us to expand our hunt for more targets and greatly increase our knowledge of the night sky. The process of sketching celestial objects can further engage the visual observer.
For some, glimpsing faint fuzzies serves as an appetizer and they embrace the technical challenge of mastering astrophotography. The collection of Victoria Centre astro-photos on zenfolio is amazing and inspiring. But why bother photographing a celestial object when a beautiful Hubble image is only a click away? To me the difference between looking at an image and capturing and processing an image is similar to music. One can enjoy music just by listening but a much deeper involvement occurs when one masters an instrument and plays the music. Some observers are also devoted to taking measurements and analyzing the data. For example Michel Michaud (p6) has spent years discovering double stars in the Pleiades and his observations are published in the professional double star scientific database.
We are on a quest to improve our understanding of the Universe. Amateurs find ourselves in a golden age as Astronomy makes headline news weekly. Knowledge is accumulating faster that we can digest it. The miracle of the internet makes it much more feasible for amateurs to keep abreast of developments as we attempt to answer the following:
-What do we know?
-How do can we say that? (Scientific Method and History of Discovery)
-Why does it behave that way? (Laws of Physics and Allied Sciences)
-What don’t we know? (The Ongoing Mystery)
Amateurs are very active in sharing our knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm:
-Within our amateur community: In-Reach
-With the Public and the Next Generation: Out-Reach
I am both proud and a little concerned about the energy we devote to sharing. I think it is important to aim for a better balance between In-Reach and Out-Reach activities. If we fail to nourish ourselves with in-reach activities we will deplete our capacity to deliver out-reach. It could resemble a stellar “core collapse.” So as we go forward let’s give ourselves permission to ease off a bit. We don’t want the Victoria Centre to go Supernova!
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched 28 years ago in 1990. After overcoming problems caused by a defective main mirror, Hubble has made discoveries that have revolutionized our view of the universe we live in. This talk will cover the history of HST based on a history book the speaker is writing for NASA.
Dr. Chris Gainor is an historian specializing in the history of space flight and aeronautics. He has five published books. He is also President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and editor of Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly.
at Cedar Hill Golf Course, 1400 Derby Road Victoria
Over the last few decades we have uncovered a great deal about the formation of stars. We have also undertaken an extensive census of planets and planetary systems around other stars. We are confident that the typical young star begins life surrounded by a gaseous yet dusty orbiting disk of material and that this circumstellar disk is the birth site of planetary systems. Nevertheless, it is still almost impossible to witness the formation of planets and instead we must settle for indirect circumstantial evidence of the planet formation process when comparing observations against theoretical ideals and numerical simulations. For this reason, astronomers have been developing ever more powerful telescopes and instruments to peer deeply into the cloudy environs of star formation and uncover planets in formation. I will discuss some recent observations that suggest planets may form during the earliest stages of star formation. I will also describe planned and anticipated (space) telescopes that will provide new ways of searching for planets in formation.
Dr. Doug Johnstone is an astronomer at the National Research Council’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria, BC. From 2012-2014 Doug was the Associate Director of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, a 15-m telescope on Mauna Kea devoted to observations of the sky at sub-millimeter wavelengths. Doug’s main research interests follow the formation of stars and planetary systems. He began his professional life as a theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, working on the evolution of circumstellar disks around young stars, back before extra-solar planet detections were common. He has spent time at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, the University of Toronto, and the National Research Council of Canada. Today, Dr. Johnstone’s research focuses on the formation and evolution of structure in molecular clouds, attempting to disentangle the physical processes through which a molecular cloud sheds into individual stars and planetary systems.
As my term as centre president draws to a close, I thought I would look back at some of the noteworthy events from the past 2 years.
Centre member Brenda Stuart provided the illustrations for the new edition of the RASC publication Explore the Universe Guide.
We had longer seasons of the Summer Star Parties at the DAO in both 2017 and 2018. These started with Astronomy Day at the Royal BC Museum. The stat parties continued to be well attended.
Centre member Terry Ryals volunteered his carpentry skills to build a security cabinet so we could install our new monitor in the portable where we hold Astro Café.
Victoria High School proposed and launched an Astronomy 11 course.
In partnership with Parks Canada, observing evenings were held at Fort Rodd Hill and Gulf Islands National Park.
Members who had remained in Victoria hosted public eclipse viewing for the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Many members travelled to the US to see the total eclipse.
The centre purchased a new telescope for the VCO and sold the surplus equipment.
In 2018, RASC celebrated its sesquicentennial with a number of special events, a commemorative Royal Canadian Mint coin, and a pair of commemorative stamps issued by Canada Post.
Centre members Lauri Roche and Jim Hesser organized and coordinated a national contest in honour of the sesquicentennial called Imagining the Skies.
The centenary of the Plaskett Telescope was celebrated on May 3, 2018 with the National Historic Site plaque unveiled.
RASC members were invited to attend sessions at the Canadian Astronomical Society annual meeting held in Victoria during May 2018.
Centre member Chris Gainor was elected National President at the 2018 General Assembly.
Centre members David Lee, John McDonald, and Jim Hesser assisted with a second concert of the music of William Hershell. The event in November 2018 was supported by a grant from the RASC special projects fund.
David Lee and Dan Posey offered a workshop on PixInsight to a group of astrophotography enthusiasts.
Astro Café continues to be well attended and our monitor is well used.
Centre members continue to volunteer countless hours for the schools program, Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair, and other outreach events.
I have enjoyed my term as president. It has been my honour to serve the centre and I thank all our members for their contributions. It has been a great experience to work with such an enthusiastic group of people and I look forward to my next role as past president.
A reminder that this month’s meeting is our Annual General Meeting that will take place on Saturday, November 17 at the Cedar Hill Golf Club with doors opening at 6 p.m. The evening starts with a dinner so if you have not booked a seat please do so by Sunday, November 11. The meal costs $40 and is a buffet with a pre-selected entrée. The entrée choices are chicken, salmon, steak, or vegetarian ravioli. If you wish to attend, send me your entrée selection at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see below for more information. If you cannot attend the dinner, the speaker and meeting portion are open to everyone at no charge.
A final note and a concern. Our centre is not alone in having issues finding members willing to put their names forward for the leadership positions. We rely on a group of members to coordinate activities, make decisions, and keep the centre running in accordance with the relevant regulations. Despite a membership over 270, nominations have not been forthcoming for the incoming centre executive and this is a major problem. The centre cannot run without the council members. If we do not have leaders the centre is not viable and we really must question if we can continue to exist. That would be a sad occurrence after a history of 104 years. So, this is a final appeal before the AGM. We do need some more nominees for people to lead the centre.