President’s Message – December 2018

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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:

1) Observing:
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.

2) Learning:
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)

3) Sharing:
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!

Cloudless Nights!

Reg Dunkley

Speaker: History of the Hubble Space Telescope

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Dr. Chris Gainor, President of RASC

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

At 7:30 PM in Room 116,
Engineering and Computer Science Building, UVic
Note Room Change

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.

Speaker: The Formation of Planets around Stars: What We Know and What We Still Need to Learn

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Dr. Doug Johnstone

Saturday November 17th, 2018:~7:30 PM

 

Following Victoria Centre AGM Banquet

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.

October Speaker: Coronal mass ejection evolution and their effects on galactic cosmic rays and planetary magnetospheres.

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Dr. Reka Winslow
Wednesday October 10th, 2018 at 7:30 PM

Room A104 Bob Wright Centre UVic

 

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are large eruptions of plasma and magnetic field into interplanetary space originating in the Sun’s atmosphere. CMEs interact with the environment that they propagate through; for example, they are the most common cause of planetary space weather, and they also modulate the flux of galactic cosmic rays. Because CMEs can be associated with strong southward magnetic fields of long duration, high velocities, enhanced dynamic pressures, and solar energetic particles, they are strong drivers of geomagnetic storm activity at Earth. The effects of CMEs on Earth’s magnetosphere have been studied for many decades; on the other hand, studies of CME effects on other planets are only now becoming possible with a number of spacecraft in orbit around inner solar system planets. This new data enables us, for the first time, to directly observe how CMEs cause space weather on other planets, and also how CMEs change during propagation from the Sun to Earth. In this talk, I will present efforts to investigate how CMEs evolve as they propagate outward from the Sun, in order to better predict their effects on planetary magnetospheres. I will also showcase how CMEs affect Mercury’s magnetosphere as well as the flux of galactic cosmic rays in the inner solar system.

Dr. Reka Winslow is a research scientist in the Space Science Center at University of New Hampshire, where she also conducted her postdoctoral work. She holds a Ph.D. in geophysics, having specialized in space physics and planetary science at UBC. She has over 10 years of experience conducting research in space physics. Her work bridges the fields of heliophysics and planetary science, by focusing on observational studies of coronal mass ejections, interplanetary shocks, galactic cosmic rays, and solar energetic particle events to better understand their evolution in the inner heliosphere and their interaction with different planetary magnetospheres in the solar system. She is a member of the science team for the CRaTER instrument onboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and was a member of the MESSENGER science team while the spacecraft was orbiting Mercury.

September Speaker – Planets Under Construction: How to Study a Million-Year Process

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By Dr. Nienke van der Marel

Wednesday September 12th, 2018 at 7:30 PM

Room A104 Bob Wright Centre UVic

Exoplanets are everywhere! In the last 25 years, thousands of exoplanets have been found throughout the Milky Way. But if they are so common, why is it that we still don’t know how they are formed? With the ALMA telescope we can now finally zoom into the birth cradles of planets: dusty disks around young stars. The spectacular images have given us new insights, but also raised many more questions regarding the process of planet formation.

Dr. Nienke van der Marel is an NRC postdoctoral research fellow at the Herzberg institute. She received her PhD in 2015 at Leiden University in the Netherlands, her country of birth. After that, she spent two years at the University of Hawaii as Parrent research fellow, before joining the Herzberg institute in November last year.

Mars Opposition 2018

Posted by as Observing Highlights

On Friday July 27th 2018 Mars will make it’s closet approach to Earth in 15 years.

RASC Victoria Centre: David Lee &emdash; The Planets at Cattle Point
Planets visible from Cattle Point – by David Lee

This occurs when Mars, Earth and the Sun are aligned with Mars located on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun. Mars will slowly rise on the eastern horizon late that evening … not the best viewing situation. A major dust storm developed on May 31st and has obscured details of the Martian surface. (see image below) Surface details will gradually re-emerge later this Summer as the dust storm subsides.

The viewing characteristics of Mars as seen from the Victoria area are tabulated below for the remaining DAO Saturday Night Summer Star Parties of the season.

Notice that the appearance of Mars (angular diameter) will decrease very slowly after the opposition. One week following opposition the angular diameter will only be 0.5% smaller but Mars will rise earlier and surface features may start to re-emerge.

Evening viewing conditions of Mars therefore will be more favourable and convenient in August.
Consider attending a DAO Saturday Night Star Party this August.
Volunteers of RASC will be there to share the night sky with their telescopes.
Click here to obtain free Star Party tickets. Note: No Star Party on July 28th.

In the Victoria area the best evening views of Mars are obtained with an unobstructed view of the southeast such as: Cattle Point Urban Dark Sky Park, Clover Point, Island View Beach, and Mount Tolmie. In the late evening Mars will appear fairly low in the southeast as an exceptionally bright red dot. It is hard to miss. Check it out.

Click here to learn more about the Mars 2018 Opposition and observing hints.
Click here to see images of the 2018 Martian Dust Storm.

 

The Surface of Mars Before and After the Martian Dust Storm (from NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Inaugural Transboundary Fireworks Festival

Posted by as Observing Highlights

By Reg Dunkley

On a mild July 4th evening about 10 RASCals assembled at Cattle Point Urban Dark Sky Park for the Inaugural Transboundary Fireworks Festival. Attendees were rewarded with spectacular views of two July Forth Fireworks shows. Between 10 PM and 10:15 PM Friday Harbour on San Juan Island took the stage. Terrain blocked some of the low level displays but the airborne clusters filled the field of view of most scopes. The main event occurred between 10:30 PM and 10:50 PM when Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island launched their salvo. Although slightly farther away we enjoyed an unobstructed view of the Lopez conflagration.

A variety of scopes were deployed including refractors, newtonian reflectors, spotting scopes, binoculars as well as an 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain. In order to squeeze in the view RASCals resorted to lower magnifications. This confirmed that you do not need a big scope to enjoy the show.

It took about one minute 20 seconds for the muffled booms to arrive on the scene. This soundscape combined by the spontaneous whoops and ah’s from the RASCals added to the party atmosphere. It would have been nice if we were able to transition from the fireworks to star gazing … but clouds intervened.

Should we try again next year? Randy Atwood’s attached photo captured Chris Aesoph giving it two thumbs up! So I reckon that is a yes. It was a RASCal Worthy event.

The attention the photons received was well deserved.

Thanks to all the attendees.

SPEAKER: The Mysterious Death of Galaxies

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By Dr. Joanna Woo

Wednesday June 13th, 2018 at 7:30 PM

In Room 124 Engineering and Computer Science Building, UVic

Please note the Room Change

Galaxies are vast collections of stars that evolve over billions of years. From surveys of a hundreds of thousands of galaxies, we can see that they fall into roughly two categories: those that are alive and forming new stars, and those that are dead, or no longer forming new stars. Gas is the fuel for star formation, and there is plenty of it in the universe constantly falling into galaxies, so why have some galaxies simply stopped turning gas into stars? This cessation of star formation, called “quenching”, is one of the biggest puzzles of galaxy evolution. Drawing upon my own research, I will give an overview of the different theories explaining the death of galaxies and what the observational evidence tells us.

Dr. Joanna Woo writes: I am an astrophysicist with a focus on galaxy evolution using a variety of cutting-edge observational and theoretical tools. While studying for a B.Sc. in Physics and Astronomy from UBC, I established and became the president of the UBC Astronomy Club which is still active to this day. I also held a part time job at the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre. Being the adventurous type, I decided to pursue graduate studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, receiving my Ph.D. in 2014. Along with a rigorous physics education, I picked up two languages (Hebrew and Arabic). I then spent four years at the Institute for Astronomy of ETH Zurich, where, along with exciting research, I learned the basics of Swiss German. I am thrilled to be back in Canada where I am a postdoctoral researcher at UVic. (I am now trying to improve my French.)

 

SPEAKER: Peering through Nature’s telescope – Gravitational Lensing as a window into the distant universe

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by Dr. Karun Thanjavur

Wednesday May 9th, 2018 at 7:30 PM Room A104 Bob Wright Centre UVic

Gravitational lensing, the “bending” of light in a gravitational field is one of the many awe inspiring phenomena predicted by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, and which have since been unambiguously borne out by observations. Since the first confirmation of a gravitational lens in 1979 -nearly 45 years after it was hypothesized- the catalog of confirmed lenses now runs to a few hundreds. Aided by the rapid advances in telescope and instrumentation technologies, the magnification boost provided by gravitational lensing – Nature’s telescope – is now being harnessed to probe astrophysical processes in extremely distant, faint objects even in the very early universe with a level of detail that would otherwise be exceedingly challenging. My presentation aims to explain the principles of gravitational lensing using basic physics, trace its development as a powerful observational tool, and present two applications and related results drawn from my own research.

Bio: Karun Thanjavur: As an observational cosmologist, discovering new gravitational lenses and developing innovative techniques to harness them as observational tools are amongst my diverse research interests. As part of my doctoral thesis at UVic in 2009, I developed an automated technique to search for lenses in wide field, pan-chromatic imaging. These explorations of the distant universe come after a full career as a mechanical engineer, specializing in control systems and robotics. Born and raised in a small town in South India, I completed my education up to a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering there, before moving to Canada to pursue graduate studies first in Robotics, and later in Astrophysics. After my PhD from UVic, I worked as a Resident Astronomer at CFHT in Hawaii for three years, before returning to UVic to accept a position as a senior lab instructor in astronomy. Even though undergraduate teaching is the focus of my current position, I continue to pursue various research projects. I also enjoy sharing the excitement of science and my research efforts with the public through several outreach initiatives through the UVic observatory.

SPEAKER: Hot Jupiters, super-Earths, and mini-Neptunes! Oh my!

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by Dr. Henry Ngo

Wednesday April 11th 2018 at 7:30 PM Room 167, Elliot Building

No, the lions and tigers and bears have not rebranded! These are categories of exoplanets (planets around other stars). At first, we only knew about a small handful of exoplanets, but they were nothing like the planets from our solar system. As our methods improved, the discoveries kept piling on and now there are several thousand known exoplanets from many different detection techniques. Tonight, I’ll give a summary of exoplanet search techniques and what we know so far about these planets. I’ll also talk a little bit about my own research and share some experiences from studying some of the largest exoplanets using telescopes on Maunakea and Palomar.

Bio: Dr Henry Ngo is currently a Plaskett Postdoctoral Fellow working for the National Research Council of Canada at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. He was born in Mississauga, Ontario but grew up in Richmond, BC. He studied at UBC for his bachelors, Queen’s University in Kingston, ON for his Masters and just finished his PhD in Planetary Science at Caltech last summer. Henry and his family are happy to be back in BC and they are loving life on beautiful Vancouver Island!