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

President’s Message – November 2018

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As my term as centre president draws to a close, I thought I would look back at some of the noteworthy events from the past 2 years.

  • Centre member Brenda Stuart provided the illustrations for the new edition of the RASC publication Explore the Universe Guide.
  • We had longer seasons of the Summer Star Parties at the DAO in both 2017 and 2018. These started with Astronomy Day at the Royal BC Museum. The stat parties continued to be well attended.
  • Centre member Terry Ryals volunteered his carpentry skills to build a security cabinet so we could install our new monitor in the portable where we hold Astro Café.
  • Victoria High School proposed and launched an Astronomy 11 course.
  • In partnership with Parks Canada, observing evenings were held at Fort Rodd Hill and Gulf Islands National Park.
  • Members who had remained in Victoria hosted public eclipse viewing for the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Many members travelled to the US to see the total eclipse.
  • The centre purchased a new telescope for the VCO and sold the surplus equipment.
  • In 2018, RASC celebrated its sesquicentennial with a number of special events, a commemorative Royal Canadian Mint coin, and a pair of commemorative stamps issued by Canada Post.
  • Centre members Lauri Roche and Jim Hesser organized and coordinated a national contest in honour of the sesquicentennial called Imagining the Skies.
  • The centenary of the Plaskett Telescope was celebrated on May 3, 2018 with the National Historic Site plaque unveiled.
  • RASC members were invited to attend sessions at the Canadian Astronomical Society annual meeting held in Victoria during May 2018.
  • Centre member Chris Gainor was elected National President at the 2018 General Assembly.
  • Centre members David Lee, John McDonald, and Jim Hesser assisted with a second concert of the music of William Hershell. The event in November 2018 was supported by a grant from the RASC special projects fund.
  • David Lee and Dan Posey offered a workshop on PixInsight to a group of astrophotography enthusiasts.
  • Astro Café continues to be well attended and our monitor is well used.
  • Centre members continue to volunteer countless hours for the schools program, Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair, and other outreach events.

I have enjoyed my term as president. It has been my honour to serve the centre and I thank all our members for their contributions. It has been a great experience to work with such an enthusiastic group of people and I look forward to my next role as past president.

A reminder that this month’s meeting is our Annual General Meeting that will take place on Saturday, November 17 at the Cedar Hill Golf Club with doors opening at 6 p.m. The evening starts with a dinner so if you have not booked a seat please do so by Sunday, November 11. The meal costs $40 and is a buffet with a pre-selected entrée. The entrée choices are chicken, salmon, steak, or vegetarian ravioli. If you wish to attend, send me your entrée selection at president@victoria.rasc.ca. Please see below for more information. If you cannot attend the dinner, the speaker and meeting portion are open to everyone at no charge.

Due to exams at the University, our monthly meeting on Wednesday, December 12 will be held in the Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) building room 116. This is near the room where the June 2018 meeting was held.

A final note and a concern. Our centre is not alone in having issues finding members willing to put their names forward for the leadership positions. We rely on a group of members to coordinate activities, make decisions, and keep the centre running in accordance with the relevant regulations. Despite a membership over 270, nominations have not been forthcoming for the incoming centre executive and this is a major problem. The centre cannot run without the council members. If we do not have leaders the centre is not viable and we really must question if we can continue to exist. That would be a sad occurrence after a history of 104 years. So, this is a final appeal before the AGM. We do need some more nominees for people to lead the centre.

President’s Message – October 2018

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Thank you to everyone who was involved in the RASCals Star Party this year. We tried out a new venue in Central Saanich and it looks to have a lot of potential. If only the weather had cooperated! A number of centre members have observed from the site in the past with success. Despite the rainy weather, we did have some great talks and our first attempt at a star party barbecue went well.

I am pleased to report that our application for special project funding was approved. Jim Hesser, John McDonald, and David Lee will be putting together a visual display for the second concert of William Herschel’s music. The application sought funding from the RASC special project fund to cover the costs of some of the equipment needed for the concert. This concert will be part of the fourth season of the explorations in 18th century music. This year’s offering is called On the Construction of the Heav’ns and will feature a Baroque chamber orchestra. The venue is Christ Church Cathedral again this year and the concert will take place on Friday, November 16. There will be a pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. followed by the concert at 7:30 p.m. More information is available on the Christ Church Cathedral website and tickets are $30 each available from Ticket Rocket.

Save the date for our Annual General Meeting on the evening of Saturday, November 17. Evening festivities include a dinner, speaker, annual awards, and election of council. Please let me know if you by email at president@victoria.rasc.ca if wish to attend the dinner. The cost is $40.

We are now accepting nominations for the annual awards. In particular, we are seeking nominations for the Newton-Ball Award. Please see the website for details of the award and how to nominate a member to receive the award.

We will be looking for members to join the council this year. It has been a great experience for me to become part of the council and I encourage everyone, even if you’ve just joined, to consider putting your name forward. Sherry, our past president, will be coordinating the nomination process so please contact her at pastpres@victoria.rasc.ca if you would like more information and to put your name forward.

President’s Message – September 2018

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I hope everyone had an enjoyable summer and had many opportunities to enjoy the night sky.

I am pleased to announce that our very own Dr. Chris Gainor was elected president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at the General Assembly in Calgary. It has been 40 years since another Victoria Centre member, Dr. Alan Batten, was the national president. Please join me in congratulating Chris on his election.

The Victoria Centre had a great summer of outreach events in 2018. Thank you to all everyone who organized and participated. We had another successful season of summer star parties at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory; there were a total of 19 well-attended Saturday evenings offered. A group of RASCals were at the Saanich Strawberry Festival with solar viewing in July. For the second year, members had their telescopes at the Fort Rodd Hill Star Gaze in August. There was an event on Pender Island on the same evening. And, there was the annual participation at the Saanich Fair over the Labour Day weekend. Some members also participated in a number of special events such as instruction and observing offered to guides and cadets. It was a busy and rewarding summer!

It was unfortunate that the Fort Rodd and Pender Island events coincided with the worst viewing conditions that I have experienced. In looking at Saturn, it was a fuzzy football-shaped object instead of its normally stunning planet with a fabulous ring. As I recall, that was one of the first evenings when forest fire smoke was in the skies above us. That really had a major impact and I am concerned that an increase in the severity of our forest fire seasons will make smoke a regular part of our summer.

With the arrival of September, we return to our normal schedule of weekly Astro Cafés starting on Monday, September 10 and monthly meetings resuming on Wednesday, September 12. As a reminder, we will be voting on our revised bylaws at the September 12 meeting.

We have another major event in September this year and that is our annual star party. It is taking place at our new venue on the grounds of St. Stephen’s Church in Central Saanich. That takes place September 7 to 9 and I hope many members are able to attend. Please see the website for the schedule.

Save the date for our Annual General Meeting on the evening of Saturday, November 17. Evening festivities include a dinner, speaker, annual awards, and election of council. We will be posting information about the meal options and cost once that is finalized.

We are now accepting nominations for the annual awards. In particular, we are seeking nominations for the Newton-Ball Award. Please see the website for details of the award and how to nominate a member to receive the award.

We will be looking for members to join the council this year. It has been a great experience for me to become part of the council and I encourage everyone, even if you’ve just joined, to consider putting your name forward. Sherry, our past president, will be coordinating the nomination process so please contact her at pastpres@victoria.rasc.ca if you would like more information and to put your name forward.

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!

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.