President’s Report – 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!

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.

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!

 

 

President’s Message – November 2017

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Another Victoria Centre milestone was reached in the past month with the installation of our new 16″ Ritchey-Chrétien telescope at the Victoria Centre Observatory. So far, it is exceeding our high expectations and my initial impression is it was the right choice.

I was part of the group of active observers who met on the hill on Saturday, October 28 for its first light at a VCO evening. We had a look at a number of targets with varying magnifications and the views were impressive. A number of the group, including Charles Banville, Joe Carr, Bruce Lane, and John McDonald, took photographs through the telescope which turned out very well. Some of these were shared at Astro Café on Monday, October 30 and a number are posted to our Zenfolio site. The moon was in the waxing gibbous phase and proved to be a great subject for photography. A couple of the Messier objects, M13 and M57, were photographed as was Uranus. As there were so many members at the VCO, the photographers were taking fewer exposures than normal to give everyone a chance to use the telescope. The quality of the results from last week show the great potential for our new telescope. Just imagine the detail that will be captured with even more photographs being stacked into a single image!

As a new member on one of my first visits to the VCO, I remember being told that the 14″ Meade was a temporary scope. I wondered a bit about that as the 14″ is an impressive telescope. It has a large primary mirror which reaches far into the dim night sky. How could that be surpassed except by an even larger telescope? As I have learned more, I can see why the telescope design matters as well. A Schmidt-Cassegrain, like the 14″ Meade, is a good telescope and served us very well. However, a Ritchey-Chrétien telescope is an even better choice for an observatory such as ours. The advantage of a larger field without optical distortion is why most of the large, professional telescopes favour this design. Our 16″ does not match the professional scopes in size but it does provide us with the same optical design.

A heartfelt thank you goes to the our technical committee for their efforts to research and choose this telescope. I look forward to using our new telescope on future visits to the VCO!

President’s Message – October 2017

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Another season of Summer Star Parties at the DAO has come to an end. We had more evenings this year with a star party most Saturday evenings from the end of April through late September. We will be meeting with our partners, the Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, to review this season and start planning for next year. As always, I am interested in hearing feedback, ideas, and suggestions. Please send me your ideas at president@victoria.rasc.ca.

For me, the highlight of the star parties are the many conversations I have with our visitors. Every evening there were great conversations about what we were seeing, the night sky, travel, life in the universe, etc. There were many gasps of amazement especially when we were looking at Saturn. Saturn really is a highlight of the night sky; it was the first object I recall seeing through a telescope when I was in high school. I still enjoy looking at it all these year later!

Many of the visitors were amazed to learn the telescopes they were looking through are personally owned. So many said how much they appreciated the opportunity to see the night sky and our generosity. The time we donated to the star parties was greatly appreciated and I, too, thank all the members who were involved this year.

Next year, we have two major anniversaries. The first is the centenary of first light of the Plaskett Telescope. Already a National Historic Site of Canada, there are some events being planned in order to celebrate. One of the ideas being considered is submitting an application to have a float in the Victoria Day Parade. We are looking for a couple of centre members who would be interested in helping with the design, planning, and execution of a float. Please let me know if you would like to join the parade committee. The second anniversary is the sesquicentenary of RASC. There will be some celebratory events happening in honour of this anniversary.

Save the date: Shortly, I will be sending out information about the November AGM including pre-ordering your entree. The entree choices are salmon, chicken, vegetarian ravioli, or steak. The AGM will be held on the evening of Saturday, November 18 at the Cedar Hill Golf Course. Doors will open at 6 p.m.

President’s Message – September 2017

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The summer of 2017 will be noted for a relatively rare event, a solar eclipse visible across North America. Many Victoria Centre members travelled to see totality including me. That was my first total eclipse and it was an extraordinary experience. I now understand why many members of the club make it a priority to view total solar eclipses. The totality was all too short but even that 2 minute experience made the trip worthwhile.

I viewed the eclipse at the home of friends in western Idaho; in all, 22 of us set up to watch the eclipse. We put chairs in front of their garage as that faces east and got ready for the eclipse to begin. With the garage door open, we had a shaded space where we could get out of the sun’s heat as needed. As the eclipse progressed, we noticed that we did not need that shade as the sun’s rays no longer felt hot. That happened some time before the amount of light was reduced so it was an interesting sensation.

We looked around for objects projecting the sun and it was great to see the effect of the spaces between leaves as the sun became an increasingly narrow crescent. We had my solar telescopes set up to provide a view of the sunspots and prominences. I noticed that the progress of the eclipse was more evident with the magnification of the telescope than though eclipse glasses. We also put out a white sheet to see if we could see the shadow bands. We did see them at both ends of totality.

Totality was amazing. Having that all too brief diamond ring and then the sudden appearance of the sun’s corona was magical. I had a good look to see if I could see some of the stars but I only saw Venus. As the seconds ticket by, we knew it would soon be over, but did our best to enjoy the spectacle. Sure enough, another diamond ring appeared and the light started coming back. It was a letdown that it was over but the experience is not to be forgotten.

Now we are back into the “regular” time of the year monthly meetings resume on Wednesday, September 13  at 7:30 p.m. in room A104 in the Bob Wright Centre at UVic. Astro Café resumes at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, September 11 in a temporary location while our regular room is renovated. We will be posting the schedule of other events as they are completed. As a reminder, the November meeting is our AGM. That will be held on the evening of Saturday, November 18 at the Cedar Hill Golf Course. Please keep an eye on the website for details about upcoming events.

President’s Message – June 2017

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Another year of Astro Café has concluded. I would like to thank Barb, Reg, and John for the great series of topics, photos, videos, and of course, snacks we shared. With the installation of the larger television screen earlier this year, it is much improved for the sharing of astrophotography, videos, and the like. Astro Café continues to be a well-attended centre event and we look forward to another year starting in September. If you have not been to Astro Café recently, or ever, I encourage you to come by one Monday evening. I don’t think you will be disappointed!

The 2017 Summer Star Parties at the DAO are in full swing and we have had some good observing weather. As we enter summer, the emphasis will be on solar astronomy and targets that can be seen while the sky remains light. If you are not already on the volunteer’s list, and want to help out, please send me an email at president@victoria.rasc.ca. There are many more Saturdays on the calendar and new volunteers are most welcome.

As space exploration is in the news frequently, we have some great conversations at the star parties. I really enjoy sharing that time at the telescope that is often someone’s first time seeing a solar prominence or looking at the moon through a telescope. We’ve even had astronomical events that centre members have not seen before. For example, on 3 June, we saw the double shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Io during the evening. That was a first for me and something I will look out for in the future. The shadow transit coincided with the Great Red Spot being visible so that was great all around!

With general interest in astronomy, I have long thought it is under represented in the school curriculum. Considering the major contributions of Canadian astronomers, it is surprising that our students do not have more exposure to space science and, in particular, the opportunity to take a senior level course in astronomy. I was very happy to learn that teachers at Victoria High School are working to correct that with the introduction of an Astronomy 11 course. The course launches in the 2017 – 18 school year and the initial impressions are that quite a few students are interested in taking this new course. That is a great step forward and I hope it proves to be a great success. As part of the launch of this new course, Victoria High School is hosting a Star Party on Saturday 17 June starting at 8:30 p.m. If you are in the area why not attend? Please see cuyeda.weebly.com/star-party.html for more information.

Finally, as a reminder, our RASCals Star Party will be held on weekend of 28 – 30 July on the District of Metchosin municipal grounds. Information will be posted on our website once we have more details about the events that day. Saturday 29 July has been identified as the National Star Party day with events taking place across Canada as part of the sesquicentennial. I hope many members will come to the party again this year.

President’s Message – May 2017

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I will start with a riddle this month. Question: What do you call the rainy day between 2 sunny days? Answer: Astronomy day.

Although the weather did not cooperate, this year’s Astronomy Day was a fantastic event. Thank you to everyone who contributed and especially Ken Mallory for getting all of us organized. I was pleased to see that there are a more organizations participating with us making it an even better. For example, Knowledge Network of BC approached us this year about showing Space Suite I and Space Suite II. If you have not seen these short videos they are very enjoyable; both are available on the Knowledge Network website. The Royal BC Museum is an excellent host so I would like to acknowledge their outstanding support.

Despite the rainy weather, we did have quite a good turnout on the hill for our first Summer Star Party so it can only get better with clear weather. As we have such a great facility on our doorstep it is wonderful that we can share it with the public. One of the goals with having more evenings this year is to have more visitors so I do hope we can achieve that goal.

At a recent Astro Café we were talking about apps and websites that we enjoy. One iOS app I shared, that is also available as a website, is called The Scale of the Universe 2. Based on a continuing progression of sizes centred on 1 metre, the user scrolls in either direction to see examples of things that are that microscopic and beyond all the way to some of the largest known objects. There are a number of named astronomical objects included so this is a tool that can be used to show comparative sizes. Did you know that Jupiter would fill more than a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon? If you look around the 108.5 m zone you will see this comparison. The Sun appears around 109 m but you don’t see Antares until 1012 m. It is quite fascinating. If you are interested in the miniature world, great examples of the very small are there as well. Check it out; it is very well done.

A reminder that we are back in our normal room, Bob Wright Centre A104, for our monthly meeting on 10 May.

President’s Message – April 2017

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April will see the start of the centre’s outreach season. A major event in our calendar is Astronomy Day that will be held on Saturday 29 April at the Royal BC Museum from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This will be followed by the first of the Summer Star Parties at the DAO.

Please contact Ken (outreach@victoria.rasc.ca) to volunteer to help out with the outreach events that will be occurring this year. We would like to have solar telescopes and people at the table to answer questions. One of the first of these events is Esquimalt Buccaneer Days on 13 and 14 May.

We are looking forward to another set of Summer Star Parties on Observatory Hill. One change this year will be that the Friends of the DAO (FDAO) will lead these evenings. There will be a longer season this year including the Saturdays closest to the solstice. Due to the high demand in past years, we have decided to try opening to visitors even on the evenings when it will not be astronomically dark by closing time. Assuming clear skies, we should have some good solar viewing on those evenings so that could make up for the lack of a night sky!

With the FDAO leading, this will allow evenings to continue on the Saturdays when RASC members are involved with other events. One example of this is Saturday 29 July that coincides with the RASCals Star Party in Metchosin. As you may recall, RASC has designated that Saturday as the national star party day in honour of the sesquicentennial. This means there will be 2 star parties in Greater Victoria that day giving members of the public the option to go to the observatory or the Metchosin municipal grounds.

The Summer Star Parties will occur on Saturday evenings from Saturday 29 April 29 to Saturday 23 September with a few exceptions. There will not be a star party on Saturday 1 July so that everyone can enjoy Canada Day and the 150th anniversary of confederation. We are going to skip the Labour Day weekend and there is also an evening in September when there is a concert in the dome instead.

A reminder that due to April exams being scheduled in our regular meeting room, our monthly meeting on Wednesday 12 April will be in the Elliott Building Lecture Wing Room 167.

President’s Message – March 2017

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Spring is nearly upon us and I am hoping for a distinct change in weather. We have had very few observing sessions at the VCO through the winter and I think the last RASCals of Cattle Point evening that actually went ahead was in 2015. Clouds, clouds, go away!

Thanks to Reg for coordinating the purchase and installation of the new monitor for the Astro Café building. Its first light saw a record attendance with 27 people there. A very special thank you goes to Terry Ryals for building the cabinet for the television; it looks just great.

Due to April exams being scheduled in our regular meeting room, our monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 12 will be in the Elliott Building Lecture Wing Room 167.

My heartfelt thanks to His Worship Mayor Ranns and councillors of the District of Metchosin who approved our request to hold the RASCals Star Party on the weekend of July 28 – 30 with the rental fee waived. That will be proceeding at the Metchosin Municipal Grounds on Happy Valley Road; more information will be provided as it becomes available. Our Star Party will coincide with the National Star Party day of Saturday, July 29. The plan is for as many centres as possible to have public events on that day in honour of the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. We hope there will be clear skies so we can show off the sky!

We are also in the process of finalizing our agreement with the Friends of the DAO to hold another series of Summer Star Parties on Saturday evenings. We are planning to have those every Saturday from Astronomy Day on April 29 to September 16. If you have NOT been involved in past years and would like to volunteer please let Ken know at outreach@victoria.rasc.ca and we will add you to the email list.

Please be reminded to let me know at president@victoria.rasc.ca if you would like to participate in a bulk purchase of the Explore the Universe Guide as I introduced in my January message.