Monthly meeting speaker: Dr. Roberto Abraham, UofT professor

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October 14, 2015, 7:30PM, University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre A104 – RASC Victoria Centre’s monthly meeting

Event info

“Exploring the ghostly side of galaxies with Dragonfly” – Dr. Roberto Abraham, University of Toronto professor, Dept of Astronomy & Astrophysics

Dragonfly multi-lens array
Dragonfly multi-lens array

Abstract: Bigger telescopes are usually better telescopes…. but not always. In this talk I will explore the ghostly world of large low surface brightness structures, such as galactic stellar halos, low-surface brightness dwarf galaxies, and other exotica such as supernova light echoes. These objects are nearly undetectable with conventional telescopes, but their properties may hold the key to understanding how galaxies assemble. I will describe why finding these objects is important, and why it is so devilishly difficult.

I will also describe a bizarre new telescope (the Toronto/Yale Dragonfly Telephoto Array, a.k.a. Dragonfly) which is now being used to explore the low surface brightness universe and is testing some of the most fundamental predictions of galaxy formation models. Dragonfly is comprised of multiple commercial 400 mm f/2.8 telephoto lenses which utilize novel nanostructure-based optical coatings that minimize scattered light and ghosting. I’ll showcase some our early results, mainly focusing on the properties of ultra-faint stellar halos. I’ll also report the discovery of gigantic stellar disks underlying nearby galaxies, and will describe the discovery of a new class of ghostlike galaxies that are as big as the Milky Way but have about 1/1000 of its mass.

Bio: Roberto Abraham is a Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. He obtained his BSc from UBC and his doctorate from Oxford. His work is focused on observations of galaxy formation and evolution and the development of innovative instruments. He has been awarded the Canadian Astronomical Society’s P. G. Martin Award, the Canada Foundation for Innovation Career Award, the NSERC Steacie Fellowship, a Premier’s Research Excellence Award, the University of Toronto Outstanding Teaching Award, and a bunch of other things, including recently becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, thus making him officially over the hill.

Prof. Roberto Abraham
Prof. Roberto Abraham

His proudest moment is winning second prize in the Vancouver All-City Elementary School Grade 6 spelling bee, where he lost out for not knowing how to spell the word “satellite”, leading eventually to learning how to spell the word “ironic”. He’s presently Vice-President of the Canadian Astronomical Society. Being keen on outreach, he has served as Honourary President of the Toronto Centre of the RASC for many years. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Gemini Observatory, on the Science Advisory Committee for the Thirty Meter Telescope, has advised NASA by serving as panel chair on the Hubble Space Telescope time allocation committee three times, and is currently by serving as Canada’s representative on the James Webb Space Telescope Advisory Committee.

Victoria Centre AGM & Dinner – Nov 22, 2015

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Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Victoria Centre

Annual General Meeting and Dinner

Sunday, November 22 2015

at the Moon Under Water Brewpub, 350 Bay St, Victoria, BC

Call for Nominations

6:00pm – Drinks, conversation

  • No host bar

6:30 – Dinner

Payment -Cost of the fixed, sit-down dinner is $35.00 per person, inclusive of all taxes and gratuities. Alcoholic beverages not included.

  • Payment is only required for the meal.
  • Attendance at both the speaker presentation and the business meeting is free of charge.
  • The total number of dinners must be confirmed by Friday, November 13th. Please look over the menu and send your choice of First Course and Main Course to:
    • Nelson Walker: 250-477-4820 or by email to
    • Payment at the door – by cheque (preferred) or cash
    • Meals will be pre-ordered and must be paid for, whether you show up or not

Menu: fixed sit-down meal. Choices:

First Course – choice of soup or salad

  • Potato bacon soup
  • House salad

Main Course – choice of one entrée

  • Roast beef dinner with seasonal vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy.

  • Grilled salmon fillet with dill sauce, seasonal vegetables and rice.

  • Vegetarian stuffed mushroom cap with seasonal vegetables and mashed potatoes.

  • Dessert: stand-up dessert buffet.

  • Coffee and Tea included.

7:30pm – Speaker – Where Baby Stars Come From, and Why it’s Important to Know! – Steve Mairs

In this talk, I will examine the birth of a sun-like star and introduce some of the research being performed here in Victoria to further our knowledge on this subject. My main focus will be on the Orion Molecular Cloud, a giant star-forming region in the Milky Way which encompasses the famous Orion Nebula. I will present images of what the Orion Nebula looks like at submillimetre wavelengths and show how these often overlooked observations can provide vital information into the young lives of stars. By studying “where baby stars come from”, we can make links to present day observations of star clusters, supernova explosion rates, the formation of planets, and, in effect our very own origin story.

Steve Mairs
Steve Mairs

Bio: Steve Mairs is a 4th year PhD student in astronomy at UVIC. In 2012, he completed his Bachelor of Science degree with honours, majoring in Physics, from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.

Throughout his undergraduate career, he was involved in a variety of astronomy projects including researching remnants of supernova explosions at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, studying pulsars in an effort to make a detection of gravitational waves at UBC Vancouver, and investigating the evolution of the physical properties of giant star-forming regions in the Triangulum Galaxy.

Steve’s PhD thesis is centred on the formation of stars in the Orion molecular cloud. Specifically, he is using sub-millimetre data collected using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the Combined Array for Research in Millimetre Astronomy to examine how large scale gas and dust structures in our own galaxy relate to the small scale structure which gives rise to the formation of young stars and stellar clusters.

8:30-9:30 pm Annual General Meeting

The agenda.

Monthly meeting speaker: The Search for Alien Life in the Universe – Dr. Jon Willis

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September 9, 2015, 7:30PM, University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre A104 – RASC Victoria Centre’s monthly meeting

Event info

“The Search for Alien Life in the Universe” – Dr. Jon Willis, UVic professor

Abstract: Do aliens exist and how are scientists proposing to find them? No, not a journey into the X-files of science fiction but a presentation of the science of astrobiology: the scientific search for life beyond Earth. However, within a 45 minute talk we have to get our priorities straight. This talk will not offer a reduced Shakespeare company-style overview of astrobiology. Instead I will focus on my top two picks for future success and discuss these in detail.

Streaming broadcast and later recording of meeting, including presentation (on Youtube)

Dr. Jon Willis
Dr. Jon Willis

Bio: Jon Willis is an Associate Professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria.

  • BSc. in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Glasgow (1995).
  • PhD in Astronomy from the University of Cambridge (2000).
  • Post-doc at the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile. (2000-2002).
  • Science Fellow at the European Southern Observatory, Chile (2002-2003).
  • Professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, UVic (2003-present).

Monthly meeting speaker: “Slicing & Dicing Galaxies to Understand What Built Them Up” – Dr. Joel Roediger (NRC/Herzberg)

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June 10, 2015, 7:30PM, University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre A104 – RASC Victoria Centre’s monthly meeting – Event Info

Slicing & Dicing Galaxies to Understand What Built Them Up – Dr. Joel Roediger (NRC/Herzberg)

Joel Roediger
Joel Roediger

As best we can define them, galaxies are immense accumulations of gas, dust, stars, planetary systems, and dark matter, and as such, hold a revered place in the story of where we come from. That, coupled with the intriguing breadth of galactic entities and phenomena, makes it little surprising why many astronomers devote their careers towards filling the gaps in our understanding of the detailed physics that governs galaxy formation.

Observers and modellers (like myself) working in the field of extragalactic astrophysics are constantly finding new ways to challenge our current understanding through innovative measurements of galaxy parameters. One of the latest innovations takes advantage of technological improvements to study galaxies on a pixel-by-pixel basis. This new approach will enable a fuller appreciation of the complexity of galaxy structures, the growth histories of their components, and the amount and structure of dark matter within their visible extents.

Here in Victoria, we have the opportunity to capitalize on such important topics for a complete sample of local galaxies through a state-of-the-art imaging survey targeting the Virgo Cluster. In this talk, I will describe the survey itself and efforts presently underway to map, pixel-by-pixel, the mass in stars within the galaxies of this all-important cluster. This ambitious program promises to enable fundamental insights into the build up of stellar mass, a pillar of the galaxy formation process, within the present-day galaxy population.

Recorded streaming video of the meeting – speaker presentation starts at the 0:31 mark

Monthly meeting speaker: ALMA, low mass star formation, and the SOLA project – Dr. Lewis Knee, NRC Herzberg

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May 13, 2015, 7:30PM, University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre A104 – RASC Victoria Centre’s monthly meeting

“ALMA, low mass star formation, and the SOLA project” – Dr. Lewis Knee, Radio Astronomy Program Programme, Millimetre Technology Group, NRC Herzberg


ALMA array in the Atacama desert
ALMA array in the Atacama desert

Abstract: ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array, has begun science operations after more than a decade of development and construction. Although the observatory has not yet reached its full capability, it is already making important new discoveries. In the area of low mass star formation, ALMA offers very high angular resolution and high sensitivity observations of nearby molecular clouds, the most well-studied of which are in the northern hemisphere. However, it is for studies of the less well-known clouds of the southern sky that ALMA will excel.

One of these molecular cloud complexes lies in the Lupus constellation, and an international consortium of ALMA scientists have begun an effort, the SOLA program, to probe the star formation activity in this region. It turns out that the clouds in Lupus and its star formation has some unique characteristics that make of of great interest for studies of star formation in different environments, particularly for the formation of very low mass stars and brown dwarfs.

Bio: Lewis Knee is a radio astronomer at NRC Herzberg in Victoria. He received his PhD in Radio and Space Science at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden in 1991. Since then he has worked in radio astronomy observatories in Europe, Canada, and Chile, most recently six years at ALMA in the Atacama Desert. His main scientific interests are in spectroscopy, star formation, molecular clouds, and the interstellar medium of our Galaxy.

Video of the business meeting and presentation – Youtube

Presentation – pdf (77 Mb), pptx (69 Mb) – please right click and “Download link as…”

Monthly meeting speaker: Frontiers in Adaptive Optics and Stellar Spectroscopy: Searching for the First Stars Ever Formed – Dr. Masen Lamb

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Adaptive Optics & Spectroscopy
Adaptive Optics & Spectroscopy

April 8, 2015, 7:30PM, University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre B150 – RASC Victoria Centre’s monthly meeting

Frontiers in Adaptive Optics and Stellar Spectroscopy: Searching for the First Stars Ever Formed – Masen Lamb, PhD student at the University of Victoria working in Astronomy and Telescope instrumentation

To compete with space telescopes such as Hubble, current (and future) optical ground based telescopes employ a technology called Adaptive Optics. This technology uses mirrors to cancel out the affects of the atmosphere and provide near diffraction-limited images. One application of Adaptive Optics in astronomy is to resolve dense regions of stars in the centre of our Galaxy. When this application is combined with infrared spectroscopy we can start to hunt for the oldest stars in our Galaxy. I will talk about the latest technologies in both Adaptive Optics and stellar spectroscopy and discuss some of their astronomical implications.

Masen Lamb is a PhD student at the University of Victoria working in Astronomy and Telescope instrumentation. His astronomy work is done at the university while his instrumentation work is at NRC – Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (HIA). Masen Lamb’s website


Recorded streaming video of the whole meeting, including Masen’s presentation ( 1 hour Youtube video)

Monthly meeting speaker: Galaxy mergers in the nearby Universe – Dr. Sara Ellison, Professor, UVic Physics & Astronomy

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This large “flying V” is actually two distinct objects — a pair of interacting galaxies known as IC 2184. Both the galaxies are seen almost edge-on in the large, faint northern constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe), and can be seen as bright streaks of light surrounded by the ghostly shapes of their tidal tails.
This large “flying V” is actually two distinct objects — a pair of interacting galaxies known as IC 2184. Both the galaxies are seen almost edge-on in the large, faint northern constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe), and can be seen as bright streaks of light surrounded by the ghostly shapes of their tidal tails.

March 11, 2015, 7:30PM, University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre A104 – RASC Victoria Centre’s monthly meeting

Despite the emptiness of space, mergers between galaxies are surprisingly common. Around 1% of galaxies in the nearby Universe are currently experiencing an interaction of some kind. I will describe research that uses both observations and computer simulations to trace the dramatic effect of these interactions on a galaxy’s history: how the interaction can lead to massive bursts of star formation, alter the interstellar chemistry and even provide fuel for the central supermassive black hole.

Sara Ellison’s website

Video of the presentation live and online.

Presentation slide deck (pdf)

Jan 14, 2015 Speakers: John McDonald & Reg Dunkley – Rare Meteor Manifestations

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RASC Victoria Monthly Meeting – Jan 14, 2015, 7:30PM at University of Victoria, Bob Wright Building A104


Speakers: John McDonald & Reg Dunkley – Rare Meteor Manifestations


While photographing the Geminid meteor shower this year, John McDonald managed to capture part of a very bright meteor track and smoke plume near the Orion Constellation. Subsequently, John and Reg Dunkley have analyzed the data and speculated on this rare phenomena.

Meteor Plume – online gallery

Video of meteor plume
RASC Victoria Centre: Recent Astrophotos &emdash; Meteor smoke plume expanding

Speaker: The Construction of the DAO – Dan Posey

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RASC Victoria Monthly Meeting – Dec 10, 2014, 7:30PM at University of Victoria, Bob Wright Building B150


’Astronomers’ Work is of Great Value’: The Construction of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and the Foundations of the Modern Canadian Astronomy Program, 1905-1930 by Dan Posey


daoThe Canadian astronomical program rapidly expanded under the guidance of William King and John Stanley Plaskett at the turn of the twentieth century. The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, constructed between 1914 and 1918 was considered an engineering marvel in its time, that radically departed from traditional designs, and was briefly the world’s largest operating telescope upon its completion. This presentation will examine how the construction of the observatory represented a shift in the commitment to scientific programs by the Canadian federal government, and the observatory’s place within a growing national identity during the First World War. Further, it will assess the cultural implications of the project for British Columbians and the establishment of an astronomical tradition for the province.

Dan Posey is a second-year graduate student in the University of Victoria’s History program. He completed his undergraduate degree from the same institution in 2012. His thesis focuses on the history of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and its contributions to both Canadian Astronomy and British Columbia throughout the twentieth century.

AGM, Awards & Elections

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Victoria Centre’s Annual General Meeting and dinner was held on Nov 16, 2014 at Moon Under Water Pub in Victoria, BC, Canada.

After enjoying a delicious dinner, and a fascinating presentation by Dr. James Di Francesco on the latest discoveries coming out of the Atacama Large Meter Array in Chile, awards were presented, reports were given, and an election of officers was held.

Nelson Walker presented Certificates of Appreciation to the whole key General Assembly 2014 team:

  • John McDonald – Registration
  • Chris Purse – Registration
  • Reg Dunkley – Registration
  • Deb Crawford – Hospitality
  • Nelson Walker – Finance
  • Lauri Roche – Papers and Presentations
  • Jim Hesser – Papers and Presentations
  • David Lee – Audio / Visual
  • Sherry Buttnor – Audio / Visual
  • Charles Banville – Transportation

David Lee was presented with the Award of Excellence in Astrophotography for his photos of the Partial Solar Eclipse Oct 2014.

Jim Stillburn was presented with the Ernie Pfannenschmidt Award in Amateur Telescope Making for the fabrication of his custom 10 inch Optical/Reflector Tube Assembly

Mark Bohlman and Paul Schumacher were presented as co-winners of the Newton – Ball Service Award 2014 for their management of the 2014 National General Assembly.

Outgoing President Nelson Walker was presented with a Certificate of Excellence for his excellent leadership of Victoria Centre.

A new slate of officers were all elected by acclamation. Congratulations to all!  See list here.