Notice of Election at 2020 AGM

Posted by as Meetings

Barbara Lane, Secretary, RASC Victoria Centre

There will be an election for the Victoria Centre council at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Victoria Centre, being held on February 22, 2020 at 7:30PM. Location: The Ambrosia Centre, 638 Fisgard Street, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Here is the list of nominees.

President: Reg Dunkley
First Vice President: VACANT
Second Vice President: Marjie Welchframe
Secretary: Barbara Lane
Treasurer: Deb Crawford

Librarian: Diane Bell
Membership Coordinator: Chris Purse
National Rep: Nelson Walker
Observing: Jim Stilburn
Outreach Coordinator: Mandy Lee
Past President: Chris Purse
Progressive Lighting Policies: Dave Robinson
Schools Program & Telescopes: Sid Sidhu
SkyNews Editor: Bruce Lane
Technical Committee Chair: Matt Watson
Webmaster: Joe Carr

Directors:

    James Di Francesco (DAO Liaison)
    Chris Gainor
    Jim Hesser
    David Lee
    John McDonald
    Jim Nemec (Camosun College LIaison)
    Dan Posey
    Lauri Roche (Friends of the DAO Liaison)
    Alex Schmid (University of Victoria Liaison)

RASC Victoria AGM 2020

Posted by as Events, Meetings

You may have heard that the venue we had booked for our AGM, the Cedar Hill Golf Club was flooded and will be closed for the next 6 months. We are very fortunate to have found an alternative and excellent venue: The Ambrosia Centre at 638 Fisgard Street. The building is currently dressed up in tarps (it is being re-wrapped to make it more energy efficient) but the interior is just fine. There is lots of parking on the street, as well as in the City Parkade directly across the street, and Douglas Street offers a major bus route with stops in the same block. When entering the building, use the left door and walk straight ahead into our lovely room.

For all those of you who have already placed orders, you need do nothing more than show up at the new venue on February 22, 2020. If you have yet to sign up, please contact our Treasurer Deb Crawford by email no later than 7 days before the event (Feb 15th). Please specifiy how many in your party, and their choice of entree. Cost for dinner is $40 per person (including tip and tax).

Members who wish to skip the dinner but attend the AGM and presentation, please arrive at 7:30PM. There is no cost to attend, in this case.

Pre-dinner drinks and chat - 2018 AGM and dinner
Pre-dinner drinks and chat – 2018 AGM and dinner

The menu will be much the same as publicized before, however the chicken option is no longer offered, and a new vegetarian dish is added.

Entrees:

  1. Steak – state rare, medium or well-done when ordering
  2. Baked Wild Salmon – choice of sauce
  3. Vegetarian Lasagna – grilled vegetables layered with tomato sauce & noodles topped with cheese

Salads:

  • Caesar salad
  • Mixed greens with vinaigrette dressing
  • Marinated vegetable pesto
  • Traditional coleslaw

Side: Roasted Rosemary Baby Potatoes

Desserts:

  • Assorted mini pastries with fruit garnish
  • Homemade cheesecake
Mary Beth Laychak, CFHT
Mary Beth Laychak, CFHT

Schedule – Feb 22, 2020

  • 6:00 p.m. Doors Open – No Host Bar
  • 6:30 p.m. Buffet Style Banquet
  • 7:30 p.m. Presentation: The Canada France Hawaii Telescope: The First 40 Years by Mary Beth Laychak
  • 8:30 p.m. Annual General Meeting and Awards – Notice of Election

President’s Message January 2020

Posted by as News, President's Message

Happy New Year RASCals! As we slide into a brand new decade it is a good time to reflect on astronomical accomplishments and events that have taken place over the last 10 years. It has been an amazing period for the field of Astronomy and I will list some of the significant stories that enjoyed widespread attention:

Within the Solar System: In 2011 the Messenger spacecraft went into orbit around Mercury while in July 2016 Juno went into orbit around Jupiter. In September 2017 Cassini crashed into Saturn ending an amazing 13 year exploration around the ringed planet. A number of other spacecraft went into orbit around Mars, comets and and asteroids during the decade. The New Horizons spacecraft captured fascinating imagery as it whizzed by Pluto in 2015 and managed a followup flyby of Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 (Arrokoth) on Jan. 1 2019. In August 2012 the Curiosity Rover made a spectacular landing on Mars and detected evidence of ancient stream beds and the potential conditions for life. It continues a fascinating survey on the slopes of Mount Sharp.

On February 15th 2013 a large meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk Russia and caused significant damage.

Beyond the Solar System: The Kepler mission discovered over 2600 exoplanets and the TESS satellite is currently conducting a wider search for more nearby exoplanets. ALMA, the Atacama Large Microwave Array became operational and detected protoplanetary debris disks around nearby stars. ALMA also combined forces with other instruments as the Event Horizon Telescope and in 2019 captured the shadow of the supermassive black hole in M87.

In 2016 the LIGO interferometer measured gravitational waves for the first time and in August 2017 it detected the collision of neutron stars that was also confirmed by optical instruments.

In 2014 the GAIA Space telescope began a remarkable survey which has already mapped the position and brightness of 1.7 billion stars with precedented accuracy and measured the parallax and proper motion of 1.3 billion stars. The survey may continue until 2022 and has already had a major impact in many astronomical fields.

Within the Victoria Centre: The membership grew from 166 in 2010 to over 280 in 2018 and is currently around 265. Why the significant increase? Well the membership began to skyrocket in 2014. Two major things occurred that year. In June 2014 the Victoria Centre hosted the RASC General Assembly which celebrated the centenary of the Victoria Centre. President Nelson Walker rallied the RASCals and Mark Bohlman and Paul Schumacher organized a wonderful event which re-energized the membership. The Victoria Centre also hosted 7 Summer Star Parties at the DAO that year. This was in response to the closure of the Centre of the Universe in August 2013. The strong public interest in these star parties fostered the formation of the Friends of the DAO in 2015 and the number of star parties increased to 12 in 2015, 13 in 2016 and 20 events in 2017, 2018 and 2019. These Saturday night gatherings provided a rich outreach experience and also presented a great opportunity to recruit new members. During the past 3 years, star parties were also held at Fort Rodd Hill to coincide with the August Perseid meteor shower. The public were welcome to pitch tents in the field and this contributed to a joyous atmosphere for astronomical outreach.

Attendance at our informal weekly Astro Cafe increased from about 10 to 25 or 30 over the decade. The acquisition of a large monitor facilitated the display of astrophotos and presentations and may have helped boost attendance.
A review of past issues of SkyNews suggests that the Transit of Venus on June 5th 2012 and the Solar Eclipse of August 21st 2017 were the premiere observing events of the decade. At the Victoria Centre Observatory the 14 inch SCT and 127 mm refractor were sold in 2018 and replaced by a 16 inch RC reflector. The family of Jan James generously donated his wonderful 20 inch Obsession dobsonian telescope. The performance of the 16 inch scope continues to be refined and digital setting circles will be added to the 20 inch scope. So as we move into the next decade the VCO will be well equipped to support both visual and photographic astronomy.

During the last decade the Victoria Centre grew and become more engaged in promoting astronomy. In order to maintain this momentum as we enter the next decade please consider stepping up as the Vice President or Second Vice President at the February 22nd AGM. It will help share the load and provide a source of both enjoyment and satisfaction.

Useable Skies

Reg Dunkley

January 2020 Speaker: From Baby Planets to Black Holes: ALMA Explores the Cold Universe

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Dr. Gerald Schieven, NRC Herzberg

7:30 PM Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 Room A104, Bob Wright Centre, UVic

The ALMA Observatory is a billion dollar multi-national astronomy facility located at high elevation in the Atacama desert of northern Chile. Its 66 antennas work together as if one giant telescope 16 km in diameter, to give us unprecedented images of the cold, dark universe, including the birth of planets around other stars, organic molecules in the early universe, and the first image of the event horizon of the super-massive black hole at the centre of the M87 galaxy. Gerald will talk about the observatory, what it’s like to work there, and some of the astonishing discoveries being made by this facility.

Dr. Gerald Schieven has been a staff astronomer at NRC – Herzberg for 24 years (11 of them in Victoria), and is responsible for managing Canada’s support of the ALMA Observatory. After obtaining his PhD in Astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Gerald worked at Queen’s University in Kingston, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, and the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii before moving to Victoria.

The picture of the ALMA antennas on the Chajnantor plain was taken a few days before the start of ALMA Early Science. Nineteen antennas are in operation, 5000 m above sea level.

December Speaker: The lives and deaths of galaxies — more than just a metaphor

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Dr. Marcin Sawicki

7:30 PM Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 Room A104, Bob Wright Centre, UVic

Astronomers often say that galaxies were “born” soon after the Big Bang, that they “live” while they are forming new stars, and that they “die” when they turn into quiescent “red and dead” ellipticals. Surely, these biological terms are just an interesting metaphor, aren’t they? No! It turns out that there is a deep connection between the pathways galaxies take through time and those that we humans take through our life cycles. In this talk I will show you how the fates of these two very different populations – galaxies and people – are connected at an underlying, fundamental level that lets us better understand the one by understanding the other.

Dr. Marcin Sawicki is an observational astronomer who studies how galaxies form and evolve over cosmic time. He is especially fond of very large samples of galaxies that span multiple epochs, and uses data from ground-based telescopes such as CFHT, Gemini, and Subaru, and space-based observatories such as HST, Spitzer and (soon) JWST. He is Canada Research Chair in Astronomy and Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, and is currently on sabbatical leave visiting NRC-Herzberg in Victoria.

President’s Message December 2019

Posted by as News, President's Message, Uncategorized

Neither history nor society is generous to those who come in second place. Buzz Aldrin knows this all too well and I do not believe there is a movie in the works called “The Second Man”. A similar fate has fallen on the Apollo 12 mission. I bet most of you would have to refer to Bruce Lane’s November SkyNews issue to come up with the names of the Apollo 12 crew. I will spare you the effort; Pete Conrad and Alan Bean climbed into the Lunar Module “Intrepid” and landed on an area of the Ocean of Storms on November 19th 1969. Richard Gordon remained aboard Command Module “Yankee Clipper”. The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing was celebrated with great hoopla around the globe. There were a series of special events at the DAO culminating with Dr. Chris Gainor’s Moon Walk presentation. In contrast the 50th for Apollo 12 barely received a mention.

Apollo 12, however, is memorable for a number of reasons. First of all it was struck by lightning within a minute of launch and the command module immediately lost it’s fuel cells and instrumentation. It was the quick thinking of a brilliant Nasa engineer and Alan Bean’s remarkable memory of an obscure switch which prevented the abortion of the mission.

Apollo 11 was also very nearly aborted during the final descent to the Moon. The relaxed drawl of capsule communicators concealed the alarm that was felt during the last 13 minutes to the Moon. This has been richly captured by an outstanding and immersive BBC podcast https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xttx2/episodes/downloads. Apollo 11 came in too fast and overshot the planned landing area. Neil Armstrong was confronted with rough terrain and had to use up all but 20 seconds of fuel to find a suitable landing spot. In contrast the Apollo 12 mission executed a pinpoint landing and Pete Conrad just had to make a minor intervention at the end to avoid some rubble. They landed within 1000 feet of the Surveyor 3 landing probe. The improvement of the landing accuracy has been attributed to adjusting for local variations in gravity introduced by mountains.

There was concealed drama at the end of the Apollo 12 mission. Remember those lightning strikes? There was concern that they may have damaged the explosive bolts that release the parachutes during the November 24th return to Earth. NASA decided it was better not to share these concerns with the astronauts. They had enough to think about! Even though this was the “second” landing it was a fascinating voyage, rich with history and certainly worthy of celebrating and revisiting. The next 50th anniversary will be in April with Apollo 13 … and there was no shortage of drama on that mission!

For the Victoria Centre Monthly Meeting at 7:30 PM on Wednesday, December 11th we will be changing focus from the solar system to the evolution of galaxies. Visiting Astronomer Dr. Marcin Sawicki will deliver an interesting presentation entitled “The lives and deaths of galaxies — more than just a metaphor”. We hope you can make it to Room A104 in the Bob Wright Centre.

In the past the Victoria Centre held its Annual General Meeting in November. Due to a change in our fiscal year end this year the AGM will be held on February 22nd 2020 at the Cedar Hill Golf Course. We will be circulating the banquet menu for you consideration in the near future.

Please note that doors to Astro Cafe will be closed on December 23rd and December 30th. I would like to end by wishing all Victoria RASCals a very Happy Festive Season and Useable Skies in 2020.

Reg Dunkley

2019 Transit of Mercury

Posted by as Observing Highlights

2016 Transit of Mercury - prize-winning photo by John McDonald. Mercury is the tiny dot just above the trees, not the big sunspot in the middle of the Sun!
2016 Transit of Mercury – prize-winning photo by John McDonald. Mercury is the tiny dot just above the trees, not the big sunspot in the middle of the Sun!

This transit of Mercury will be well underway when the Sun rises at 7:00AM on November 11th. Observers in our location on the west coast of Canada will need to get up early and setup in the dark or pre-dawn, so familiarize yourself with your chosen observing location a few days before this event!

2019 Mercury Transit – gallery of photos and sketches from RASC Victoria Centre members.

Transit timing for Victoria, BC, Canada – Nov 11, 2019 – Pacific Standard Time (PST) – 2 hours & 45 minutes long

  • First contact (ingress, exterior): sun below horizon
  • Second contact (ingress, interior): sun below horizon
  • Sunrise – 7:00AM in the SE
  • Greatest transit: 7:20:26 AM PST
  • Third contact (egress, interior): 10:03:02 AM PST – Sun Altitude 19°
  • Fourth contact (egress, exterior): 10:04:43 AM PST
2019 Mercury Transit world map - Fred Espenak
2019 Mercury Transit world map – Fred Espenak

Observing

2019 Mercury Transit diagram - Fred Espenak
2019 Mercury Transit diagram – Fred Espenak

You should try out any gear you propose to use before Nov 11th. Make sure you have proper solar eclipse filters for any binoculars, camera lenses and telescopes you will be using. Take test photos of the Sun well before this event, so you know your photo gear will work as expected. 

Unlike a total solar eclipse, there is no safe time to take off your solar filters when observing a planetary transit across the Sun. Solar filters must be used the whole time you are looking at the Sun for this event!

Choose a location that has a clear view to the east and southeast, since the transit will be in progress as the Sun rises. Being located on a hill will be an advantage for observing the Sun (and transit) sooner.

Mercury is too small to see without using some magnification, so at a minimum, use solar filters on binoculars or a small telescope to observe with. Mercury will be impossible or extremely difficult to see with unaided eyes or pinhole projectors.

Timing and azimuth of sunrise from Victoria on Nov 11, 2019
Timing and azimuth of sunrise from Victoria on Nov 11, 2019

Finally, relax and enjoy this event. Sit back in a reclining chair, have your solar glasses and filtered binoculars or telescope handy, and enjoy!

Resources

President’s Message: November 2019

Posted by as Meetings, President's Message

The Canadian astronomical community received a wonderful surprise on October 8th when it was announced that Manitoba native Dr. Jim Peebles would receive the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics. Jim was born in St. Boniface and obtained a Bachelor Degree in Physics from University of Manitoba in 1958. He then obtained a Phd from Princeton in 1962 and has remained there every since. He was rewarded for laying a foundation for modern cosmology, including his realization that faint microwave radiation that filled the cosmos 400,000 years after the Big Bang contains crucial clues to what the universe looked like at this primitive stage and how it has evolved since. Dennis Overbye wrote a wonderful account, explaining his discoveries and capturing his character in Chapter Six the classic book The Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos. Randy Enkin and Jim Hesser delivered a short tribute to Peebles during a recent Astro Cafe. Jim Hesser met Peebles when he was a grad student at Princeton and mentioned that Peebles had spent time at the DAO while on Sabbatical in the early 80’s. At that time he boldly predicted that Jim would receive the Nobel Prize some day. It took almost 4 decades but Hesser was delighted when his prediction was finally verified. There is a joyous YouTube video of the Princeton celebration of this announcement. Check it out.

While Jim Peebles contemplated the biggest picture, most of the Victoria Centre presentations during 2019 have focused on our local Solar System. In February Dr. Samatha Lawler explored the controversy about a Planet Nine lurking in the outer reaches of the Solar System. In March Dr. JJ Kavelaars shared the latest findings for the New Horizon’s Flyby of 2014MU69 (Ultima Thule). Dr. Kelsi Springer delivered a public lecture on this rendezvous during a CASCA conference in May. I gave a talk on the Juno mission to Jupiter in May while in June Matt Williams explored the feasibility of leaving the Solar System to explore nearby stars. The Summer was dominated by reflections on the Apollo moon landing while in October Dr. Linda Spilker, Principal Cassini Mission Scientist delivered a fascinating talk on the results of this very successful 13 year exploration of Saturn. Meanwhile Linda’s husband Dr. Tom Spilker, a space mission architect, unveiled plans for a 400 person Space Station … on the scale of the Empress Hotel. I will try to negotiate a Victoria Centre discount. Some age restrictions may apply.

This Solar System theme continues at the November 13th monthly meeting when Dr. Philip Stooke discusses Lunar discoveries that have been made since Apollo. He has applied his specialty in cartography to the Solar System and has developed a Martian Atlas and has also mapped the irregular shapes of Martian moons and many asteroids. It will be an interesting talk and we hope to see you there.

One noteworthy Solar System event is the Transit of Mercury which begins at Sunrise at 7:15 AM on November 11th and ends at 10AM. Because this event occurs very close to Remembrance Day Ceremonies and due to the unfavourable climate for this date the Victoria Centre decided to not heavily promote the Transit. Some Victoria RASCals, however, plan to set up telescopes at Cattle Point and Mount Tolmie if weather permits.

Speaking of weather, a blocking ridge of high pressure became established in late October …which is rare for this time of year. This allowed many clear nights and Victoria RASCals made the most of this opportunity. Over 20 participated in the Plaskett Party on October 26th. This interlude also allowed the technical committee to refine the performance of the 16 inch telescope at the Victoria Centre Observatory and it is back in business “bagging photons”. Many thanks to all who made that happen. Due to our land use agreement with NRC, you have to be a member of the active observers list to attend these VCO sessions. Please see Chris Purse (membership@victoria.rasc.ca) for details.

Useable Skies
Reg Dunkley

November Speaker: The Moon After Apollo

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Dr. Philip Stooke

7:30 PM Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
Room A104 Bob Wright Building, UVic

The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration - Phillip J. Stooke
The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration

Phil Stooke looks at missions to the Moon since the Apollo era (NASA’s Apollo landings and the Soviet Union’s final missions of the early 1970s).  After those missions the Moon was left alone for two decades while space agencies looked further out into the Solar System, but more recently the Moon has returned as a target for exploration.  We will look at a series of early lunar orbiters filling in gaps in our knowledge left after Apollo, then more advanced orbiters with modern instruments, and finally a series of landers, some successful and others not.  What have we done and where are we going?

Phil Stooke
Phil Stooke

Dr. Phil Stooke is a planetary scientist with a PhD from the University of Victoria who has returned to the west coast after 30 years working at Western University in Ontario.  He has worked on mapping asteroids, locating spacecraft landing and impact sites on the Moon and Mars, and depicting the history of exploration of the Moon and Mars.

President’s Message October 2019

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As a baby boomer I feel very fortunate to have lived before the development of adaptive optics, the era of the Hubble Space Telescope and Voyager’s mission to the outer planets. Blurry vision concealed the secrets of the solar system and we were engulfed in an aura of mystery. Then in 1964 Gary Flandro, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer realized that the planets were in a rare alignment that would enable a momentum robbing technique to conduct a Grand Tour of the Solar System. The Voyager mission arose from Gary’s vision and rendezvoused with Jupiter in 1979, Saturn in 1981, Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. This mission enjoyed a spectacular success and each encounter dramatically transformed and improved our understanding of these planets. What a treat for the astronomical community … both professional and amateur. It was like watching a fascinating sporting event unfold in slow motion. This was before the era of High Definition TV and the instant communication of the internet. I remember eagerly awaiting for the arrival of the next issue of Sky and Telescope and then pouring over the stunning imagery and reading about the discoveries detected by the array of instruments.

So, perhaps you will understand my excitement when JPL scientists Linda and Tom Spilker, address our meeting on Wednesday October 9th. Not only did Linda and Tom have front row seats on the Voyager Mission, they got to turn some of the dials as well! As is often the case, the Voyager mission generated more questions than answers. Linda was deeply involved in the remarkably successful followup mission to Saturn called Cassini. As the Cassini Project Scientist she will update us with some of the latest findings of that mission.

Tom Spilker is a Space Mission Architect. It would be difficult to invent a more exciting job title! He currently works with space agencies around the globe and has participated in the Voyager, Cassini, Genesis, and Rosetta missions. In addition to sharing findings of these missions I hope that Linda and Tom will be able to convey what it is like to be involved in such exciting and important mission’s of discovery. If you think that some of your friends might find this evening of interest please invite them along. There is no admission charge. In anticipation of a larger audience we have moved the event to Flury Hall in the Bob Wright Centre at UVic. We hope to see you there at 7:30PM.

A more modest event held locally had it’s own element of excitement. For the second year in a row we held our Victoria Centre Star Party in the serene yard of St. Stephens Anglican Church. Last year, within 5 minutes of erecting my brand new second hand Kendrick astronomy tent the first rain in 7 weeks began falling. It seemed more promising this year and on Friday afternoon I arrived in the church yard in a sun beam. Within 10 minutes, however, hail was bouncing off my car and a deluge of biblical portions followed. We received one quarter of the normal September rainfall in one hour! Perhaps the “committee aloft” that controls things was sending me a message.

Never the less we persevered and a beautiful Saturday afternoon graced our “StarBBQ”. This was perhaps the highlight of the weekend and thanks to Deb Crawford and her team of flippers for making it happen. The sunshine seduced many RASCals to set up scopes. We were, however, stabbed in the back by Friday’s storm and in a return circulation it delivered cloud from Idaho over the church yard Saturday evening. Being swaddled in cloud kept conditions mild and the dew at bay. Around midnight there were still several pockets of RASCals participating in discussions on a wide range of topics. If we had experienced clear skies I imagine that many of those same RASCals would have retreated to their own scopes and resumed observing in isolation. It takes a lot of time and energy to put on a Star Party and I would like to thank all the volunteers who lent a hand. Thanks also to Dr. Chris Gainor and Dr. Robert Beardsall for delivering the interesting evening presentations. In particular I would like to thank Bruce Lane for planning this event and effectively recruiting and directing RASCals.

Cloud Free Nights

Reg Dunkley