Inaugural Transboundary Fireworks Festival

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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.

President’s Message – June 2018

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This month, I am starting with thanks for contributions to our centre.

My first thanks go to the Astro Café hosting team, Reg Dunkley, Barbara Lane, Kurt Lane, and John McDonald. Their efforts to get the room set up, coordinate presentations, and keep us fed with coffee and cookies are appreciated. Attendance at Astro Café has remained high throughout the year and I attribute that to the work of this team. In addition, I would like to thank everyone who has presented at Astro Café this year. It is impressive to have our youngest member making presentations as well as a number of new members. Well done everyone and I look forward to the resumption of Astro Café on Monday, September 10.

Nelson Walker also deserves thanks for two contributions. Nelson has taken on the modernization of our centre by-laws required by amendments to the BC legislation that governs societies. He has worked tirelessly on this document and we will be distributing the draft to members for discussion and feedback soon. Our plan is to hold a vote on adopting the new by-laws at the monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 12. In addition, Nelson brought a number of his surplus items to sell at Astro Café on May 28. He donated the proceeds to the centre’s public outreach fund. He had a great selection of gear and sold most of it. Over $400 was raised via his generosity. Thank you for those contributions, Nelson, they are greatly appreciated!

Another piece of good news is that the remaining items from the VCO have been sold. Thank you to the team members who worked on that project. I am sure the new owners will put that equipment to good use.

Later this year, we will be seeking nominations for positions on the council. Although that is some time in the future, I want to highlight this now as being on council is a great opportunity to become more involved in the centre and its operation. We rely on members who are willing to devote some of their time to the administration tasks. As you will see in the by-laws, there are some defined positions augmented by members who assist with specific tasks. The time commitment is not too onerous; the adage many hands make light work is true. In addition to the centre activities in which you normally participate, there are council meetings every second month, some duties specific to the role that need to be done on a regular basis, and occasional emails needing a response. I hope that some of members who have not previously served on council will consider it this year.

Finally, please remember that our June monthly meeting is in a different room. We will meet in the Engineering and Computer Science building room 124 for our Wednesday, June 13 meeting. As we do not have monthly meetings in July and August, our next monthly meeting will be on Wednesday, September 12.

Have an enjoyable summer!

President’s Message – May 2018

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May has started with an incredible celebration. The Plaskett Telescope turns 100 this month and the plaque designating the DAO as a National Historic Site of Canada has been unveiled. I was asked to speak on behalf of the Centre at this event. Here is a summary of the speech I made.

In addition to the centenary of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, 2018 marks the sesquicentennial of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada or RASC. Founded in Toronto by a group of astronomy enthusiasts, RASC has grown to be a national, coast to coast organization. With the addition of the Yukon Centre in 2016, the society is moving toward becoming truly coast to coast to coast.

The Victoria Centre joined the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 1914. Centre historians have discovered that the 1914 founding was not the first attempt by astronomy enthusiasts in Victoria to join RASC. In 1909, efforts were made to start a centre here which were unsuccessful.  However, just five years later, the effort was successful. Why was that?

I think a critical piece that was missing in Victoria of 1909 was an anchor for an astronomy group.  In the pre-information age, the success of societies such as RASC was greatly increased when there were locally available, high quality resources to support the efforts of the amateur members. Typically, this would be a research university. A university would provide faculty and staff members who might have expertise in astronomy, current publications in the library, and, perhaps most importantly, access to high quality equipment. By 1914, what had been missing in Victoria was starting to take shape.

The selection of Victoria as the home of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory meant that Victoria became the centre of astronomy in Canada. Having a top notch research institution is the best possible support a RASC centre could hope for. Just look at the telescope that came with this observatory! No one else had anything like that. As a result, the location of the DAO in Victoria was instrumental in the founding and success of the Victoria Centre. It is likely that Victoria would not have a 104 year old RASC centre had this observatory been built somewhere else.

A particular strength of the DAO continues to be public outreach. From the very early days, the public were welcomed to look through the telescope. A centre member studying its history discovered that the DAO was a leading tourist attraction in Victoria of the 1920s; records show that more than 30,000 visitors per year came to the hill. If you ask almost anyone who grew up in Victoria, they can describe a visit to the observatory so this facility certainly made an impression. For 100 years, it has been part of the fabric that makes Victoria an outstanding place to live.

Our centre benefits greatly from our relationship with the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. From the employees who are active RASC members to the many who volunteer to speak at our monthly meetings, we are a stronger centre because of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. In addition, the Victoria Centre has a larger membership that many other centres in Canada that have greater surrounding populations. I attribute some of that to the interest in astronomy that is generated by the presence of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

President’s Message – April 2018

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Our tech committee has made further progress with the upgrade to the Victoria Centre Observatory telescope. More equipment has arrived and has necessitated the installation of some different wiring in the mount. Recently, members of the committee held a work party at the VCO to make the changes.

The committee has also prepared the surplus equipment for sale. Please see victoria.rasc.ca/for-sale-observatory-equipment/ for the details of the items for sale and how to make an offer to purchase. The sale is open for the month of April. This is another step forward in the project as realized funds will be used for further purchases of equipment for the VCO.

Late last month, a few of the council members received emails from what appeared to be the president’s address. These emails asked the recipient to make an urgent payment on behalf of the centre using personal funds; a promise was made that these funds would be reimbursed by the centre within short order. This was a scam. It does go to show that the criminal element is out there looking for opportunities to defraud anyone. I mention this as a reminder to all of us to remain vigilant any time we are asked for money by email.

Here are some announcements:

RASC members may register to attend the CASCA 2018 conference that takes place May 22 – 26. See casca2018.ca/ for more information.

The Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory has launched a new website. The new URL is www.thecentreoftheuniverse.net. This is where the information about the Summer Star Parties will be posted.

The Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair is taking place on April 8 and 9 in the Elliott Building Lecture Wing at the University of Victoria. See web.uvic.ca/~virsf/index.php for more information.

Our monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. will be in the Elliott Building, room 167, as our regular room is being used for an exam.

The Science and Technology Awareness Network (STAN) helps promote science and technology education. This year, their conference is on Wednesday, April 11 in Vancouver. The conference web page provides registration and all other details, www.stanrsst.ca/stan-conference. By the way, STAN membership is free; you may be interested in joining STAN especially if you have an interest in science and technology education.

Astronomy Day will take place on Saturday, April 21. The daytime portion will be at the Royal BC Museum and the evening will be the first of the summer star parties at the DAO.  If you are not already on the list to volunteer at those events please let Ken, our outreach coordinator, know that you are available. He may be contacted at outreach@victoria.rasc.ca.

President’s Message – March 2018

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As the spring and summer approaches, planning is underway for our annual season of outreach events. The first event of the season is Astronomy Day on Saturday, April 21 at the Royal BC Museum. We will require volunteers to help with this event including people for the information table, people to do a show and tell with telescopes and their astrophotography, and some solar viewing as well if the skies cooperate. If you have not already been contacted and wish to help out, please contact Ken (outreach@victoria.rasc.ca) to put your name on the list as an outreach volunteer.

We will be holding another season of Star Parties at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Saturday evenings. The first of these evenings will be on Astronomy Day. The season will continue until Saturday, September 1 for a total of twenty evenings. Planning is underway for some special evenings including Saturday, May 5 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of first light of the Plaskett Telescope that was on May 6, 1918. Again we will need people to be on hand to direct the visitors, provide views of the sky with telescopes, and other duties. We have a contact list of volunteers but if you are not on the list already and would like to be added please contact Chris (president@victoria.rasc.ca).

The annual general meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) is taking place in Victoria this year. The conference title is A New Century for Canadian Astrophysics and it will be at the convention centre from May 22 to 26. Through a special arrangement with the organizing committee, members of RASC may register to attend. The options for RASC members are a one day rate or four day rate; the early bird rates are in effect until April 6. Complete details about the meeting, including a list of invited, centenary, and education and public outreach speakers, an outline of the graduate student workshop program, and special events, can be found on the CASCA 2018 website. One of the speakers, former RASC president R. Peter Broughton, is the author of new book about John Stanley Plaskett founder of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. Entitled Northern Star J.S. Plaskett, it is now available from the RASC store.

President’s Message – February 2018

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I find it fascinating that we have developed a sensationalized vocabulary about naturally occurring events. Perhaps it is the result of reality television becoming so prevalent that everything must be a challenge, a contest, the best, the brightest, the most shocking, etc. Having the recent lunar eclipse labelled with 3 different descriptors, super moon, blue moon, and blood moon, made for some interesting headlines. Are these events really deserving of these labels?

The distance between the moon and the earth does change throughout the month due to the moon’s elliptical orbit. For a viewer on earth, the apparent change in the moon’s diameter between apogee and perigee is about 13%. That does make a full moon around the perigee appear larger thus potentially brighter. But do most of us really notice without being told? Probably not. As the earth has a greatly varying atmosphere, which has a significant influence on light transmission, the amount of light from a full moon is not a reliable indicator. How many of us can recognize that a full moon is larger, or smaller, than the previous time we saw it? Photographs will show a difference but most of us do not have that sort of visual memory. Is a moon that appears to be 13% larger than at its smallest apparent diameter a difference worthy of being called a super moon? I lean toward describing it as a full moon near the perigee.

According to sources I have found, the term blue moon, when used to count full moons in a certain time period, was originally used for seasons. Most seasons have three full moons but every tenth season or so has a fourth full moon. The blue moon was the label given to the third full moon of a season with four full moons. Along the way, blue moon has become an accepted expression for the second full moon in a single calendar month. Is having an extra full moon in a month or a season, both of which are arbitrary, human-designated periods of time, significant? Why not just refer to it as the second full moon of January? By the way, March 2018 also has 2 full moons so we will have a second blue moon this year.

The term blood moon is used to describe the red-coloured moon that we see during a lunar eclipse. During the eclipse, the sun’s light is blocked from reaching the moon’s surface directly. The earth’s atmosphere scatters light, particularly in the blue-violet end of the spectrum. This means that light that has passed through the earth’s atmosphere and travels on toward the moon is primarily at the red end of the spectrum. Some of this light will end up reaching the moon’s surface and the result is a moon illuminated by light that is strongly in the red wavelengths. I’m not sure why we just don’t call it a red moon.

So, although we did not see much of the eclipse here, I hope those who did enjoyed seeing the large, red moon caused by the lunar eclipse during the second full moon of January 2018 when the moon was close to perigee. Ok, maybe saying the super blue blood moon sounds better!

Total Lunar Eclipse – Jan 31, 2018

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Total Lunar Eclipse on Sep 27, 2015 from Victoria
Total Lunar Eclipse on Sep 27, 2015 from Victoria – photo by Joe Carr

On Wednesday, January 31st, weather willing, we will be able to view a total eclipse of the Moon. The Moon will move into full eclipse in the early hours of the morning and will be in partial phase in the western sky as the Sun rises. The Total Lunar Eclipse will develop over the course of about 3 hours. It’s a perfect opportunity to capture some snapshots of the event. Read further to find out what happens during the eclipse and how to capture it photographically.

 

 E C L I P S E   T I M E L I N E
Moon below the horizon Moon’s eastern limb enters the penumbra 2:51 am PST
Partial eclipse begins – 1st Contact Moon’s eastern limb enters the umbra 3:48 am PST
Total eclipse starts – 2nd Contact Moon entirely in the umbra;
deep orange red
4:52 am PST
Totality 5:30 am PST
Total eclipse ends – 3rd Contact 6:08 am PST
Partial eclipse ends – 4th Contact Moon’s western limb leaves the umbra 7:11 am PST
Sunrise 7:48 am PST – approximate
Eclipse ends Moon leaves the penumbra 8:09 am PST

 

What’s Happening

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon. During a lunar eclipse the Moon’s position traverses the Earth’s shadow. The Moon’s first contact with the Earth’s shadow is at the outer band of the shadow called the penumbra. The light falling on the Moon is progressively blocked until at the moment of total eclipse the Moon is completely in the darkest central area of the Earth’s shadow called the umbra. At the point of total eclipse the process starts to reverse itself until the Moon is totally out of the Earth’s shadow.


Glossary

  • limb – the outer edge of the Moon
  • penumbra – the outer band of the Earth’s shadow
  • umbra – the darker central area of the Earth’s shadow
  • partial eclipse – the Moon is positioned within the penumbra
  • total eclipse – the Moon is positioned totally within the umbra
Above Eclipse times are for Pacific Standard Time (PST) for the west coast of North America, and are calculated from UT as presented in the Observers Handbook 2018, pages 126-27.

Observing Tips

What do you need?

Everything from your eyes, binoculars and telescope are suitable. Bear in mind this is a long process and at this time of year dress warmly and bring a chair if you want to be comfortable.

Find yourself a location that has a clear horizon view of the west especially if you wish to view during the late stages.

Keep a log of what you see and note the time. Pay attention to how much of the light on the moon is obscured and if there are any colouration changes. During the total eclipse the Moon will take on a deep orange-red colour. The colour of the Moon is a function of contaminants in the atmosphere and varies from year to year.


Photographic Tips

Equipment
Any camera with the capability of setting shutter speeds and aperture settings manually will do fine. The ability to use interchangeable lenses will be an advantage for more detailed images of the Moon. For the darker parts of the eclipse, eg. totality you should use a tripod support for best results. If you have access to a telescope you can try capturing the event using prime focus techniques through the telescope optics.

Settings
Today’s digital cameras are very sensitive to light reflected by the Moon. Use ISO 400 to ISO 800 and a long telephoto lens or zoom setting. Smartphones and point-and-shoot digital cameras will not produce rewarding photos of the eclipsed Moon, but can be useful for taking panoramic shots of your surroundings which include the eclipsed Moon.

Technique
The simplest eclipse pictures can be taken with manual settings on your camera and a normal lens, preferably supported by a tripod. For best results use a cable release to minimize vibration. Images taken in this fashion result in a small lunar image. This is why it is preferable to use a telephoto lens to photograph the Moon. For a 35mm camera try a 200mm lens or something close to this, even better a 500mm lens or higher. You may also use teleconvertors to increase magnification, these typically come in 1.4x and 2x strengths. Their downside is they reduce the effective aperture of your optical system. A 1.4x teleconvertor will decrease your effective exposure by 1 stop, a 2x teleconvertor will decrease your effective exposure by 2 stops. Work out your effective aperture of your optical system ahead of time so you don’t have to think about it on the night of the eclipse.

Example:

 

 Focal Length  Aperture Effective Focal Length
with 2x teleconvertor
Effective Aperture
with 2x teleconvertor
 180mm  2.8  360mm  5.6
 480mm  6.8  960mm  13.6

 

To achieve any higher magnification than what is stated above you will have to use a telescope at prime focus. For this your manual camera does need to have the capability of using interchangeable lenses. For prime focus you will use the telescope optics as your interchangeable lens. To attach your camera to your telescope you will need two things a T-adapter that fits your camera and a telescope camera adapter that fits your telescope. The telescope camera adapter is designed to fit in the focusing tube of your telescope and is threaded to accept the T-adapter of your camera. With the magnification involved with telescopic optics it is likely that you will need to use a tracking mount. Preferably the mount should be able to track at lunar speed as opposed to sidereal but if the shutter speeds chosen are shorter than 1 or 2 minutes this is not critical.

Exposure times are the next consideration. The following exposure times are based on a medium speed film and an effective aperture that would be common with a long telephoto and teleconverter combination. Exposures may vary with your equipment based on ISO speed of film used and effective aperture. The Danjon Lunar Eclipse Luminosity Scale has been included to provide better guesstimates for totality.

 

Exposure Times: based on ISO 400
Full Moon  1/250 second at f/16
1st Contact 1/125 second at f/16 see note 1.
2nd Contact 2 seconds at f/16 see note 2.
Totality
*see table below
L = 4 : 8 seconds at f16
L = 3: 30 seconds at f16
L = 2: 2 minutes at f16
L = 1: 8 minutes at f16
3rd Contact 2 seconds at f/16 see note 2.
4th Contact 1/125 second at f/16 see note 1.
* Danjon Lunar Eclipse Luminosity Scale
 L = 1 dark eclipse; lunar surface details distinguishable only with difficultly
 L = 2 deep red or rust coloured eclipse; central part of the umbra dark but outer rim relatively bright
 L = 3 brick-red eclipse; usually with a brighter (frequently yellow) rim to the umbra
 L = 4 very bright copper-red or orange eclipse, with a bluish, very bright umbral rim

 

Note 1. 1st and 4th contact times given for the partial phases are biased for the light part of the Moon. Remember you are dealing with vastly different exposures between the light and dark parts of the Moon during eclipse. The bias of about 1 stop minus avoids overexposure of the dominant bright area of the Moon.

Note 2. 2nd and 3rd contact times given for the partial phases are biased for the dark part of the Moon. The bias of about 1 stop plus is a good strategy for negative film not quite so good for slides and digital capture given they don’t tolerate overexposure well.

The exposure times are only recommendations. Remember the cardinal rule about photography … bracket. Always try exposures plus and minus your chosen exposure. This gives you a better chance at getting usable results. Let’s all hope for clear weather. If you have any questions please send email to David Lee at davidflee7331@gmail.com.


David Lee – original image and text
Joe Carr – updated for 2018
Brenda Stuart – illustrations

President’s Message – January 2018

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Happy New Year!

As a follow-up to last January’s report, it is time to report back about my progress with my astronomy resolutions of 2017. One of my goals was to learn more and I did achieve that. One area I know little about is astrophotography. To learn more, I purchased a CCD camera in March and have been learning to use it. Primarily, I have done this in daylight hours so I could see what I was doing. I have tried photographing distant objects, typically trees, so I can work on achieving focus. I chose a monochrome camera so I also bought a set of filters and a filter wheel so I have been figuring out how to include those in what I have been doing. As there are a number of parts to all this, i.e., camera, filter wheel, software, etc. there is a lot to learn. I have taken small steps so far but I am getting much more proficient at the tasks I have practised.

Another goal was to spend more time observing. I did spend more time looking through a telescope in 2017 which was good and I’m getting much better at finding objects. One thing to work on this year is getting out on more evenings when the sky is clear. It is still too easy to turn on the television or sit in front of the computer. So this year, my goals are to keep learning and do even more observing.

2018 is looking to be another active year for the Victoria Centre. As introduced in my December report, the first event of 2018 will be the launch of the RASC sesquicentennial on Saturday, January 27. We will be looking for helpers for this event in the coming weeks and I hope that many of you can attend.

We are planning to hold Astronomy Day in April again this year as well as Summer Star Parties at the DAO. These are great opportunities to get involved and more information will be provided as plans are made. Make sure you visit our website to keep up to date about the activities of our Centre.

Lunar “X” during 2018

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Lunar X feature - photo by Michel Michaud
Lunar X feature – photo by Michel Michaud

by Michel Michaud, RASC Victoria Centre Observing Co-chair & Librarian

The Lunar X is a claire-obscure effect in which light and shadow creates the appearance of a letter “X” on the rim of the Blanchinus, La Caille and Purbach craters. The X is visible only for a few hours before the first quarter slightly below the lunar terminator. Near the X, the lunar V is also visible, formed by Ukert crater and several other small craters.

If you never had the chance to view the Lunar X, also known as the Werner X, there are several time this year that feature could be visible from Victoria. The time predict the beginning of the event and all in LOCAL TIME.

  • 23 January 2018, 2042 (8:42 pm) – Tuesday evening event
  • 23 March 2018, 2357 (11:57 pm) – Friday evening event
  • 21 May 2018, 0002 (12:02 am) – Monday evening event
  • 19 July 2018, 2314 (11:14 pm) – Thursday evening event
  • 16 September 2018, 2332 (11:32 pm) – Sunday evening event
  • 14 November 2018, 0059 (12:59 am) – Wednesday evening event

Werner “X” observation – 2014

President’s Message – December 2017

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With 2018 on the horizon, we have two events to celebrate in the New Year.

The first is the sesquicentennial of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. RASC commissioned a history of the society, Looking Up: A History of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada that was written by R. Peter Broughton and published in 1994. It is available on the RASC website at rasc.ca/looking for those who would like to know more about the history of our society.

The society traces its roots to the year after confederation when a group of friends formed the Toronto Astronomical Club in 1868. The club was renamed as a society in 1869. Around 1884, the name of the society was changed to The Astronomical and Physical Society of Toronto; the society was formally incorporated in Ontario in 1890. In 1900, the name reverted to the 1869 version, namely, The Toronto Astronomical Society. Two factors resulted in this name only being used for three more years. The first was that astronomical clubs were forming in other Canadian cities and a number of clubs elsewhere in Ontario had affiliated with the Toronto society. It was realized that having Toronto in the name was too restrictive. The second was the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of York, later to become King George V and Queen Mary. Their visit increased interest in the monarchy and led to the suggestion that the society become a royal society. After much debate, the society decided to petition King Edward VII for The Toronto Astronomical Society to become the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The formal request to change the name of the society was granted on March 3, 1903.

Additional centres formed over the years with our own centre being founded in 1914. If you look at the centre list, that does make us one of the original six! Much has happened in the 150 years since a group of friends with an interest in astronomy decided to form a club. A wonderful logo has been created to help celebrate this anniversary drawing on highlights of Canadian astronomy. Make sure you have a look at the RASC sesquicentennial site, rasc.ca/2018, to learn more.

There will be a number of celebrations during 2018 in honour of this anniversary. The first will be held on Saturday, January 27. The RASC 2018 committee is proposing a cross-country Star Party that will combine solar and lunar observing (weather permitting), starting on the Atlantic coast and reaching westward and northward to encompass all Centres as the afternoon progresses. The logistics of the local Star Party will be at each Centre’s discretion but the committee proposes a start time of 3 p.m. local time. Technology permitting, the Star Parties will be linked via Google Hangouts and the link will be shared publicly allowing anyone to witness the sun, moon, and the local celebrations. We are looking at holding our event at the University of Victoria as that would provide us with the technological support and space needed. More details will be announced as they become available.

The second anniversary of note is the centennial of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. It was announced in 1914 that the observatory would be built on Little Saanich Mountain but it would take 4 years for the observatory to see first light on May 6, 1918. There are plans underway to celebrate this historic anniversary and further details will be shared as they become available.

On behalf of the Council of the Victoria Centre, I wish each of you a happy holiday season and all the best for 2018!