The Photographic Legacy of the DAO and John Stanley Plaskett – Dennis Crabtree

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Date/Time: Wednesday May 8, 2024 starting at 7:30PM

Location: University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre, Lecture Theatre A104. Park in Lot 1 (pay parking) and cross Ring Road.

Transcript video of meeting presentation

The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) is fortunate that John Stanley Plaskett arranged to have the construction of the Plaskett telescope photographically documented. There are approximately 150 8” x 10” glass plates that were taken during the construction. I am in the process of scanning these plates at high resolution and then “cleaning” them in Photoshop.

About three years ago, I discovered a collection of negatives and prints that were taken by John Stanley Plaskett during the period from 1910 to 1914. These images were taken in Pasadena, Wakefield Quebec, England, Germany, and Victoria.

I will show a selection of images from both of these important historical collections. There will also be a surprise show and tell.


Dennis Crabtree

We are fortunate to have Dennis Crabtree join us to do a presentation about the photographic legacy of Victoria’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) and John Stanley Plaskett. Dennis Crabtree is a retired astronomer who worked for the DAO for over 35 years, being a former Director of the Observatory. During his career he worked for the Canada-France-Telescope, the Gemini Observatory and at the Space Telescope Science Institute. He is the unofficial historian of the DAO.

Galaxies at the Dawn of Time with JWST – Dr. Leonardo Ferreira, UVic Postdoc

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Date/Time: Wednesday March 13, 2024 starting at 7:30PM

Location: University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre, Lecture Theatre A104. Park in Lot 1 (pay parking) and cross Ring Road.

JWST First Deep Field Image: Galaxy Cluster SMACS 0723
JWST First Deep Field Image: Galaxy Cluster SMACS 0723

The new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) brought upon us a golden era for the study of distant galaxies. For the first time, we are capable of seeing the visible light of galaxies during the first billion years of the Universe. Understanding their shapes and forms, and how they changed since this epoch, reveals not only how they formed and evolved, but how our own Universe evolved as well.

This talk will highlight groundbreaking discoveries made with JWST and illustrate how they alter our understanding of the cosmos compared to the pre-JWST era. We will also address misconceptions that have arisen in the mainstream media regarding these new insights into cosmology and how our concept of galaxies has evolved dramatically since 1920.

Biography: Leonardo Ferreira was born in Brazil and pursued an undergraduate degree and master’s degree in physics at the Federal University of Rio Grande, where he first began his work on the morphology of galaxies. He then moved to the UK for his PhD studies in Astronomy, focusing on how galaxies evolved across cosmic time. In 2023, Leonardo joined the University of Victoria as a Postdoctoral Fellow, working within Prof. Sara Ellison’s group on the topics of galaxy evolution through merging interactions. Leonardo has led pioneering studies on the morphology of distant galaxies using JWST and remains actively involved in this research area.

Revealing the Invisible Universe with Radio Telescopes – Dr. Jennifer West, NRC

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Date/Time: Wednesday January 10, 2024 starting at 7:30PM

Location: University of Victoria, Bob Wright Centre, Lecture Theatre A104. Park in Lot 1 (pay parking) and cross Ring Road.

Cylindrical reflector and antenna - CHIME, DRAO Penticton
Cylindrical reflector and antenna – CHIME, DRAO Penticton

Radio astronomy has been around for nearly a hundred years. In that time, we have only managed to see a glimpse of the Universe’s many hidden secrets that can be revealed at radio wavelengths. With recent advances in computing, we have seen an explosion of new radio telescopes, including the upcoming Square Kilometre Array for which Canada has officially announced its intention to become a full member. With these telescopes comes a wealth of new and upcoming data. I will discuss some of the things that we hope to learn, the challenges we still face, and the new technology that comes with it.

Dr. Jennifer West
Dr. Jennifer West

Jennifer West is currently a Covington Fellow at the Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre, National Research Council of Canada. She is interested in magnetic fields in supernova remnants and the Milky Way Galaxy, using data from large surveys using cutting edge radio telescopes. Previously she was at the Dunlap Institute at the University of Toronto and prior to that she completed her PhD at the University of Manitoba.

Space-Based Far-Infrared Telescope – Dr Doug Johnstone

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The Need for a Space-Based Far-Infrared Telescope – Dr Doug Johnstone, NRC

Date/Time: Wednesday December 13th starting at 7:30PM

Location: Bob Wright Centre, Lecture Theatre B150. Park in Lot 1 (pay parking) and cross Ring Road.

Meeting video recording

Far infrared astronomy has been referred to as: the science of the cold, the old, and the dusty. In this talk I will discuss the importance of the far-infrared for astronomy investigations of young stars, distant galaxies, and the granular dirt responsible for rocky planets and, potentially, life! I will give a little history of the space-based missions that have already taken place and provide a glimpse into the difficult task of ensuring a future mission, and Canadian involvement. Along the way I will enumerate the significant complexities of far infrared measurements that lead to the requirement of expensive space-based observatories.

Dr. Doug Johnstone is a Principal Research Officer at NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics (HAA) and the NRC; President’s Science Advisor; Adjunct Professor, University of Victoria.

Doug has been an astronomer at HAA for over twenty years, studying star and planet formation with ground and space-based telescopes. For two years he was the Associate Director of the sub-mm James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.

Most recently his research has focused on the mass assembly of young stars, monitoring the brightness changes of deeply embedded protostars from the mid-IR to sub-mm. He also has guaranteed time observations with JWST, searching for forming planets around young stars.

Circumstellar disks – Dr. Brenda Matthews

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“You can’t have one without the other: Circumstellar disks produce and are produced by planets” – Dr. Brenda Matthews, NRC

Many people know that planets form in circumstellar disks around young stars, but did you know that planets later drive the formation of a secondary disk in approximately 1 out of every 5 solar systems? I will present the latest imaging of planet formation and explore the improving possibilities of detecting planets around main sequence stars via the disks they can help create at later times. Using imaging from ALMA and JWST, I will present new discoveries about these more evolved “debris disks” and highlight the potential for future instrumentation to teach us even more.

Date/Time: November 8, 2023, starting at 7:30PM

Location: Bob Wright Centre, Lecture Theatre A104, University of Victoria. Park in Lot 1 (pay parking) and cross Ring Road.

ALMA telescope array
ALMA telescope array
Dr. Brenda Matthews

Dr. Brenda Matthews has a PhD from McMaster University in 2001. From there, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley before joining NRC in 2004. Since 2019, she has been the Millimetre Astronomy Group Lead and, as such coordinates the MAG support for the ALMA telescope as part of the North American ALMA Science Center. She is an expert in infared,, mm and submm astronomy, polarization imaging and interferometry. Since 2002, much of her research has focussed on debris disks, circumstellar disks around main sequence stars, produced via collisions of comets and asteroids, and she has authored two reviews on debris disks.

She was the PI of a key program on the Herschel Space Observatory, is a member of the disks team of the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey and is a member of an Early Release Science team targeting exoplanets and disks with JWST. Dr. Matthews was also a member of the Canadian Astronomical Society’s 2020 Long Range Plan panel and is co-chair of the Science Advisory Committee for the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA).

NEW EARTH Lab – Find Life on Exoplanets

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Dr. Christian Marois has agreed to deliver a presentation for our October 11th UVic Meeting. It is an exciting topic from a renowned Astronomer. What a great way to relaunch the RASC Speaker Program at UVic! – Reg Dunkley, Past President, RASC Victoria Centre

Date/Time: October 11, 2023, starting at 7:30PM

Location: Bob Wright Centre, Lecture Theatre A104, University of Victoria. Park in Lot 1 (pay parking) and cross Ring Road.


“The NRC NEW EARTH Laboratory, and the Quest to Develop the Tools to Find Life on Exoplanets” – Dr. Christian Marois, NRC

New Earth Lab - NRC

Are there Earth-size exoplanets orbiting nearby stars? Is there life as-we-know-it on these Worlds? The exoplanet field is rapidly progressing toward having the required technology to discover rocky Earth-size exoplanets orbiting nearby Sun-like stars, and search for life signatures. I will describe my NRC NEW EARTH team progress over the last few years to test new innovations, and deploy them in two frontier instruments, the SPIDERS pathfinding at the Subaru telescope, and the CAL2 instrument at the Gemini North observatory. I will also describe our new breakthrough concept, STARLITE, that could dramatically speed-up the discovery and search for Earth-like exoplanets using current and future ground-based telescopes. I will finally discuss possible roles that Canada could play in the ~2040 NASA Habitable World Observatory, a ~6m Hubble Space Telescope successor that is optimized for imaging and characterizing Earth-size planets.

Dr. Christian Marois
Dr. Christian Marois

Dr. Christian Marois, NRC astronomer and University of Victoria adjunct professor, has revolutionized how we view the universe by pioneering direct imaging of exoplanets. He invented the most powerful high-contrast techniques, methods that are now widely used by the community, and he led an international team of astronomers to make the ground-breaking discovery of the first images of planets orbiting a star other than the Sun, the HR8799 planetary system.

Dr. Marois is the founder and principal investigator of Canada’s only high-contrast imaging laboratory, NEW EARTH, a one-of-a-kind facility for innovation. He is involved in international collaborations, including the Gemini Planet Imager instrument survey team, and is working toward developing frontier technologies for current and future 30-m class telescopes, focussing on the discovery of Earth-like exoplanets and search for life outside our Solar system. He is currently leading the development of three projects, SPIDERS, a pathfinder for the Subaru telescope, CAL2, a facility-class sensor for the Gemini Planet Imager, and STARLITE, a system for imaging Earth-like exoplanets orbiting Sun-like stars using ground-based telescopes.