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.

President’s Message – February 2017

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It will not be long until our outreach events for begin and planning is in full swing. I hope you will consider volunteering as there are many tasks that need to be done. You may do this by contacting our Outreach Coordinator, Ken, at outreach@victoria.rasc.ca.

One of the areas I would like to emphasize is new member recruitment. This year, we will have complementary copies of the current SkyNews magazine to give out at public outreach events. Centres have been given the option to purchase copies at a minimal cost so we will be giving this a try. If you know of friends and family who share your interest in astronomy, and who are not yet members, you may want to give them a copy! It is my hope that a group of members will take on member recruitment under the coordination of Deb, our Second Vice President, so that there is a presence at all of our outreach events. The goal will be to talk about our society, the benefits of membership, and give out the magazines. Please email Deb at vp2@victoria.rasc.ca if you would like to help out.

Our launch event this year will be Astronomy Day on Saturday, April 29. During the day we will be at the Royal BC Museum where there will be displays, the solar system, and talks about astronomy. We hope the sun will make an all-day appearance so we can look at it this year! That evening will be the first of the Summer Star Parties at the DAO and we hope that clear skies will prevail.

The dates for the remainder of the Summer Star Parties at the DAO are not finalized but we are looking at the Saturdays from Astronomy Day until mid September. More about these dates will be announced as decisions are made.

Ken is also looking for volunteers for the community events we attend such as Buccaneer Days, the Saanich Strawberry Festival, and, of course, the Saanich Fair in September. Again please put your name on the volunteers list if you are able to help out.

We are planning to hold our annual RASCals Star Party from July 28 – 30. The National office has asked all of the centres to organize a public event on Saturday, July 29 in honour of the sesquicentennial so we have decided to hold the Star Party to be part of the national star party. I have been in communication with the District of Metchosin to see if we can secure the cricket field again this year.

One of the highlights this summer will be the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. Many of the members will be travelling to the zone where totality will occur. However, Victoria, assuming clear skies, is in a good location as around 90% of the sun will be covered when the maximum occurs at 10:20 a.m. We hope to have some of the people who remain in Victoria out with solar telescopes so that members of the public can enjoy the eclipse.

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.

President’s Message – January 2017

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Happy New Year! As this is the season for making resolutions I thought I share one of my resolutions. My “astronomy resolution” for 2017 is to spend more time using my telescopes. Looking back in my log, I did not do much personal observing in 2016 so I would like to do much better in 2017. And, when it is cloudy, I plan to devote time to reading and rereading the astronomy books I have in my library so I can optimize my time when I can get out observing.

That got me thinking about a common question we hear at outreach events. That question is how do I know what to look at? Most astronomers do extensive preparation before observing sessions. Part of this process is to determine what part of the sky will be visible from the chosen observing site at the planned observing time. Once that has been determined, references are consulted to see what objects are visible in that part of the sky. This leads to the compilation of a list of targets that may be found and viewed or photographed.

How can a newer astronomer make use of this approach? Perhaps the best method is to complete an observing certificate program. A number of astronomy organizations, including RASC, offer observing programs where a certificate is awarded for documenting the observation of a predetermined list of objects. The advantage of an observing program is that someone has already picked the targets so the participant’s task is to find them and record observations. Specifically, RASC offers the Explore the Universe (ETU) certificate as an introductory program with the goal of learning the basics of observational astronomy while observing at least 55 objects out of a list of 110. This list has been chosen to include a selection of interesting objects that can be seen with the naked eye or binoculars from locations in Canada.

The ETU program has been enhanced by the recent publication of a book aimed at providing support to earn the certificate; the new book is called Explore the Universe Guide. I recently received a copy and have been reading it with interest. It is well organized and benefits from the work of Brenda Stuart, a member of our centre, who contributed the illustrations. The book starts with some “map reading” skills introducing how to navigate in the sky. It then moves into descriptions of the various targets included in the ETU including the Moon, other bodies in our solar system, deep sky objects, and stars. The text is well written and there are many illustrations to help demonstrate the points being made.

I encourage members to consider working on this certificate program especially those who are newer to astronomy or have never completed an observing list. If sufficient centre members are interested in purchasing copies of Explore the Universe Guide, we may be able to place a bulk order which helps save the shipping charge on individual orders. Please let me know by email at president@victoria.rasc.ca if you are interested in participating in a bulk purchase. The book’s list price is around $19 (including GST) and the individual shipping charge is $7.25.

By the way, there are other observing programs offered by the RASC; the list is located at rasc.ca/certificate-programs.

President’s Message – December 2016

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As this is my inaugural message as the centre president, I want to take this opportunity to thank past and current council members for their efforts to make the RASC Victoria Centre a successful and enjoyable organization. It is the people like you, sharing your love of astronomy, who have kept me involved since becoming a member. Compared to many of you, I am a relative newcomer to astronomy having joined RASC in 2010. I cannot believe how much I have learned and experienced in that time, but I have only scratched the surface of this limitless topic. Astronomy is one of the remaining human endeavours where both professionals and amateurs contribute to ongoing research and discovery due to the vastness of the universe.

Over the past few years, I have been the centre’s membership coordinator. It has been great to see the membership numbers growing. As was noted in a session presented at the General Assembly in 2015, a number of people across the country join RASC each year but do not renew their membership when it expires. Why is that? I am sure there are many reasons. I do invite members to let your council know how you think the Victoria Centre is doing. If you have ideas of other activities we might offer, I would welcome hearing from you. Ultimately, my advice to all members is to get involved in the Victoria Centre. Come out to the various activities and meetings as you are able. You will get much more out of your membership through participation.

In reflecting back on the past year, we have had a fascinating series of speakers, learned from each other about our own areas of expertise, spent quite a few evenings at the VCO, camped out for night sky viewing, and shared views of the sun and the night sky with scores of members of the public. We do a lot as a volunteer organization and thank you for making those events successful! We are planning to have a similar number of public events in 2017 so we will be looking for people to help out. Please consider putting your name forward as a volunteer.

In closing, I look forward to working with the new council to further the objectives of the RASC Victoria Centre and continue to make the centre an organization of which you are proud to be a member.