President’s Message – November 2014

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Of the organizations that I have belonged to in my life, professional associations, sports clubs, conservation groups, and neighborhood associations, this one, RASC Victoria Centre, has been one of the best, if not THE best. I am honored that for two years I have been its president.

Let me explain why. In my experience, most such groups feature an impenetrable inner circle, a leadership that cannot separate its own interests from the group’s interests, and a mission that is largely ignored in practice. Not so with Victoria Centre. Its leadership positions are easily available to all, and rotate regularly. Its culture is one of inclusion, not exclusion. Best of all, its mission, public outreach, modest though it may seem when compared to the more important sounding missions of larger, but less successful groups, is front-and-center, and is practiced with enthusiasm by most of the members.

This last year stands as a testament to this club’s strength: an enviable national convention held at a first-class university, an astronomy day event held in a downtown Victoria landmark, and the successful resurrection of public tours and night-sky viewing from the DAO after they appeared to be lost among government budget cuts which seem to have become so common today. Most remarkably, these “signature” events were held in addition to our usual array of outreach events.

I could go on, but I won’t. Thanks to everyone in the club that makes its success possible. The energy and competence of our members is, well, amazing.

President’s Message – October 2014

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The end of summer has brought, oddly, mostly clear nights, and great moons for observing, including, tomorrow morning (October 8), a total lunar eclipse.  A bunch of us, if we can get out of bed at the unholy hour of 2:00 am, will be at Clover Point to see it, and to entertain the public.  And just a reminder, our annual general meeting (AGM) for this year will be held again at the appropriately-named Moon Under Water brewpub located at 350 Bay St.  This will be our third outing at this venue, which has proven to be an excellent choice for us.  Date: November 16 at 6:00.  Details to follow.

President’s Message – September 2014

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This will be a summer to remember – our hosting of GA 2014, along with our hosting of a series of “Summer Star Parties” at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.  Although there was a tiny bit of initial reluctance to undertake both of these at the same time (along with, for sure, most of our “normal” summer outreach activities), once the commitment was made, it was full speed ahead.  The obvious success of both of the ventures was due to the almost unbelievable commitment and effort of their organizers.

It is the latter of these that is freshest in the mind.  Last Saturday, at the last of these “Summer Star Parties,” there were nearly five-hundred visitors!  Public attendance on the Saturdays when in was not raining, or when the wind was not howling, was always in the hundreds.  And problems that arose were mostly connected with the traffic on West Saanich Road.

There is something deeply satisfying about the notion and practice of “public outreach,” something known to our members that head up the club’s outreach efforts, but which I have personally really begun to experience only this last year.  Last Saturday, on the hill, the gibbous moon was crystal clear.  We had telescopes set up on both sides of the dome.  Mine was aimed at the moon.  The lineups at my scope were endless: young families, seniors, twenty-somethings.  Out of this hoard of people of all ages who looked at the moon through a telescope, most surely for the first time, there was not a handful who had nothing to say.  The moon, coming and going unnoticed as it does, can still bring a tear to the eye.

Thanks to those of you in this club that made this happen.

OUR STAR PARTY THIS WEEK – WHY YOU SHOULD ATTEND IT!

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HI RASCals –

Our annual star party is coming up this week, and I urge you to support it. Event details

Here’s why:

1.  It is unique.  It is literally an “urban star party” (“semi-urban?”)

2.  It’s close.  It’s twenty minutes from Victoria.

3.  It’s low key (it is organized by a tiny committee which barely knows who its own members are).

4.  The weather provides plenty of opportunity for excitement.  Up to thirty knots of wind has been recorded on the telescope field.

5.  Good speakers, poetry possibly excluded.  Good workshops.

6.  Lots of prizes.  Lots of prizes for the kids.

7.  It’s free (although some pressure for donations might be applied by the “committee” until the cost of the privies is covered).

8.  Camping, and it too is free.  Many of the campers will be local families.

9.  A good turnout by the locals who are eager to look through your scope.

10. It is appreciated as a community event by the community of Metchosin.

11. There is a good restaurant a five minute walk away, plus pizza.

It is easy to find things to criticize about our star party.  It isn’t dark.  The weather is unpredictable. It isn’t advertised nationally.  But I have been to every one of our star parties since 2005 (lots of members have been to many more), and I have also been to the Oregon Star Party (many times), Merritt Star Quest, the Golden State Star Party, and Mt. Kobau.  None of these is a community star party.  None of these is twenty minutes from my house.  None of these has pizza nearby.  And as to darkness …. I have logged many hundreds of deep sky objects from the Metchosin field.  It is certainly as dark as it needs to be to do any list of double stars, or the Messier list, or the Finest NGC list, or even the H-400 list, all of which you are doubtless working on.

Come and join us at what may be the only star party in Canada which is twenty minutes from your front door.

Event details

President’s Message – June 2014

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As I write this final report for this spring, we are on the cusp of what will be a summer to remember. Why? We are hosting GA 2014. We are hosting public night sky viewing on observatory hill. And this in addition to the usual star party and a signature outreach event.

Our hosting of GA 2014 at the University of Victoria is the culmination of the efforts of those too numerous to mention, at least here, headed up by Paul Schumacher and Mark Bohlman, Co-Chairs of the organizing committee. An early start, the selection of first-class committee heads and members, and spot-on organization has led to what promises to be a great success.

The reopening of observatory hill, at least for this summer, is a story of a different type. The closure of the Center of the Universe last summer was immediately followed what can only be called a public outcry, the involvement of an MLA, and a very successful online petition. This led to community involvement, meetings, committees and ultimately to Victoria Centre’s proposal to host public night sky viewing, and tours of the Plaskett, on seven evenings at the end of this summer. Victoria Centre enjoyed the encouragement and assistance of local NRC/Hertzberg staff throughout, with our effort being led, with great determination, by Lauri Roche. Although the Plaskett will be operated this first summer by professional NRC staff, several of our number will be trained in the operation of the great instrument, hopefully to assume responsibility for its operation during future events.

The success of these events depends first and foremost on the participation of the members of Victoria Centre. I hope to see all of you this summer.

President’s Message – May 2014

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This month brings with it, in addition to preparations for the GA 2014, which are proceeding nicely, a very successful International Astronomy Day (IAD). This yearly event was held, for the first time since 2000, at the Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria.

The event, thanks to the usual efforts of Sid, Lauri, and Sherry in organizing it, and a huge cast of enthusiastic Centre volunteers in putting it on, came off without a hitch. The museum staff, led by Leslie Johnson, could not have been more helpful.


Sid, counting at the main entrance to our hall, registered over seven hundred visitors, who were treated to most of the usual displays, plus telescopes (large and small), a kid’s table, Bruno’s Planetarium, and a special treat, as it turned out, the Centre’s one-hundred thirty year-old brass telescope, made, except for the lens, in Toronto, and used in serious astronomy until at least the late 1940’s (one can barely imagine how – but the fact that it was writes volumes about the patience of the astronomers who used it). The scope was proudly situated on its vintage clock-driven mount, and tenderly looked after by Michael and Charles. Sid and his crew of assistants brought the several hundred pounds of it from its home in the now-closed Center of the Universe on Observatory Hill. There with us at the Museum were representatives from Science Ventures at UVic, from Pearson College, from NRC, and from the University of Victoria Astronomy Department.

The day’s festivities were topped off with what was hoped would be “public night sky viewing” on top of said Observatory Hill, an event carefully planned by Lauri, and Jim Hesser, along with Greg Fahlman (NRC Manager) and his staff, including Kevin Farris and Clyde Donnelly, plus Dave Balam and Dave Bohlender, plus (again) Rita Mann and Michele Bannister. The two Daves were to operate the Plaskett Telescope, which was made available for public tours. Rita and Michele, both Post-doctoral fellows at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, were to, and did, give public talks at the CU, which was opened for the evening. Victoria Center volunteers were to lead tours of the CU and set up telescopes in the parking lot.

In spite of the usual clouds and sprinkling rain, this portion of the IAD celebration was also a great success. Over two hundred public members were in attendance, this in spite of the weather. The two lectures and the tours of the Plaskett were big hits. Even the exhibits inside the CU were well-visited.

As most of us know, we have submitted a proposal to NRC that we be allowed to host public openings DAO and its environs for several weekends in July and August. This May evening was a bit of a “dry run” for those events. We certainly hope that the success of this event will hold us in good stead with respect to the later openings.

Happy viewing, all …..

 

Note: One of the first things that I learned as a young lawyer was that in the creation of legal documents one should never list things, because one will inevitably leave something out. It would be better to thank “everyone who helped.” I have ignored that advice. If I have left out someone who should have been thanked, I apologize.

President’s Message – April 2014

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This month we have some excellent news.  Last Wednesday, Victoria Centre Council voted unanimously to submit a proposal to NRC Herzberg that Victoria Centre host a series of Saturday openings of the Observatory this summer.  These openings are in addition to night sky viewing on Astronomy Day, May 3, also hosted by us (with the assistance of NRC staff), and the GA 2014 Welcome BBQ, to be held Thursday, June 26, at the observatory.  We are optimistic that our proposal will be looked at favourably.  It is hoped that this summer “pilot project” lead to a more permanent arrangement with us, the NRC, and other groups taking over functions and activities lost with the closing of this landmark.

This proposal is the result of the hard work of several Council Members, led by Lauri Roche, who are part of the “Short Term Working Group for the Reopening of the Observatory” which was formed at a community meeting held last November, thanks to the efforts of MLA Lana Popham and Don Moffett.  At the time of that meeting, which was held at the Herzberg, and was attended by NRC staff and administration, we hoped both that the Centre of the Universe or the DAO, or both, might be reopened in some form, and that there would be a role for us similar to what we had done in the past, both near, and distant, in terms of public outreach and education on the hill.

It will be proposed that the Observatory be open for seven Saturday evenings, three in each of July and August, and one in September.  The Observatory will be open for tours to be conducted, eventually, by our members.  Other members of our group will be outside with the usual telescopes, weather permitting.  We will propose that four members will be on the hill on each of these openings, and that a small group of us be trained to open and close the observatory, and operate the telescope.

There are still hurdles to be cleared, and matters to be discussed even if our proposal is accepted, but this first step is vital, and is the most important one.  This could turn into a “flagship” activity for our club.  If you are interested in helping with this program, please let us know.

 

 

President’s Message – February 2014

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The hard-working organizers of the upcoming GA 2014 are concerned about our member response, or lack thereof, to their cries for volunteers.  They assure me that it will take almost all of the active members of the Centre to put on this event.  PLEASE get in touch with Paul or Mark and sign yourself up for something.

For a number of reasons, most of which I have forgotten, it was necessary to change the date of our Astronomy Day event, to be held this year at the Royal BC Museum, from May 10 to May 3.  Please call Sherry to get on the list for this one.

The last bit of news concerns our annual RASCals Metchosin Star Party.  As of 2010, the CVSF group has scheduled its annual gathering, now at Bright Angel Park, on the weekend closest to the August new moon, and have now done so in advance for the next several years (as I understand it).  This leaves us in a bit of a quandary about what to do about our event.  The August new moon date is best for those of us in the Pacific Northwest.  The July new moon is less than ideal, as the nights are too short, and the sunset too late, but more importantly, the Metchosin wind in July, can be, and usually is, horrific.  The September new moon is too cold for most (many?) observers.  We have considered at least three other options: abandoning the event altogether, or scheduling ours at the same time as theirs, or scheduling ours also in August, but on a different weekend (this would be referred to as a “Moon Party”).  Each of these five choices has proponents on Council.  This year we have decided to try an August weekend other than that of the new moon (and CVSF Island SP): August 15 through 17.  This is the weekend of the last quarter moon.  Hardly ideal, be we have asked Metchosin if the field is available and will keep you posted.  If you have any input on this, drop me an email.