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.

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.