President’s Message – February 2021

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President’s Message February 2021

Much has happened since my previous monthly message. South of the border there was an attempted insurrection, an impeachment and an inauguration of a more temperate leader. North of the border, “NOT YET IMAGINED” the much anticipated study of Hubble Space Telescope Operations authored by Victoria Centre RASCal Chris Gainor was released. Click here for a free download. The Victoria Centre also acquired a beautiful 130 mm Takahashi refractor to pair with the OGS 12.5 inch reflector at the Victoria Centre Observatory. Meanwhile the Covid Vaccine inoculation program is gaining momentum. So one can sense a tentative positive vibe and some are speaking of a “light at the end of the tunnel”. Let us hope that the light is a very faint star “light months” away and not some bright star “light years” distant.

The compelling political drama and Dr. Bonnie’s updates have hijacked our attention and robbed us of that non renewable resource called “time”. The impact of this time theft is apparent in my household as copies of Sky and Telescope and the Journal of RASC lie half read. And then there are the many quality astronomical presentations on You Tube that I never got around to watching. While the face to face outreach activities have ground to a halt astronomical discoveries continue and the recording of Zoom presentations have significantly increased the amount of information available to digest.

So we are presented with a challenge. How should we ration our dwindling amount of time and how much of that should be devoted to astronomy? This, of course, is a highly individual choice. I hope the word ‘joy” is at the heart of the decision and includes the joy experienced observing the night sky, the joy of learning new things, the joy of improving our understanding, the joy of unravelling mysteries and the joy of sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Another key word is “satisfaction” which for instance can be applied to the satisfaction derived from knowing our way around the night sky, the satisfaction of acquiring skills to photograph and sketch astronomical treasures, the satisfaction of mastering a technology and the satisfaction of understanding the theory which explains what we see or detect. And don’t forget the “energy” required to make it happen and the “curiosity” to learn more. If you think of astronomy as a giant smorgasbord, the challenge is to load our plate with nourishing ingredients while trying to minimize overindulgence.

During my term as Victoria Centre President I witnessed the diversity in the appetites displayed by RASCals as they have loaded up their plates at this smorgasbord. I have been inspired by the discipline of many who systematically work on observing lists, the dedication of some to improve their astrophotography skills and the time and energy that others devote to education and outreach. I am also very appreciative of the community of professional astronomers for sharing their knowledge and research with the Victoria Centre. It has been a joy to get to know our amazing group of RASCals better and I am thankful to so many for their cooperation and support while I have been at the helm. It has been an honour to serve and I encourage you to attend our Zoom AGM on Monday, February 22nd to select our next President and Victoria Centre Council. Let us hope that we will be able to gather in person by this time next year.

Stay Well … and oh yes

Usable Skies

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message – January 2021

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President’s Message – January 2021

The catastrophic collapse of the Arecibo Radio Telescope seemed to me to be an apt metaphor for 2020. There is probably little appetite for most to review the events of the past year. Before we say good bye to 2020, however, it would be ungrateful not to mention a few astronomical highlights. The surprise visit of Comet Neowise provided a much needed boost during the first phase of Covid. Wildfire smoke dissipated enough for RASCals to savour the opposition of Mars in the Fall. The miracle of Zoom enabled RASCals to remain connected both locally and nationally and the proficiency gained will be a legacy that will change the way we conduct business going forward. But as vaccines arrive on the scene we look forward to a day when we can reduce our distance and party on.

So let’s look toward the future. There are plenty of space missions on the 2021 calendar but two in particular are guaranteed to generate high drama. The NASA Martian Rover Perserverance is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18th 2021. I am not keen on that rover name as it sounds to me like a brand name for a deodorant. Mind you the JPL team may require a good antiperspirant during the “7 minutes of terror” when the spacecraft executes a stunning array of complicated maneuvers. Even if it successfully sticks the landing like its superstar sibling, Curiosity, it is scheduled to perform another high wire act. Stowed on board is a helicopter, named Ingenuity that will attempt to automatically explore the near by surroundings in an atmosphere that is only one percent of that on Earth … equivalent to the density of air at 85000 feet. I will be on the edge of my seat with fingers crossed when they try to pull this off. Around the same time the United Arab Emirates will place an advanced weather satellite, called Hope, in a Martian orbit and the Chinese mission Tianwen-1 will deliver an orbiter, lander and rover to the red planet. It will be an exciting time!

There will also be plenty of suspense surrounding the launch and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope. After more than a decade of delays, it is scheduled to launch on Halloween 2021. The elaborate multifaceted mirror has 6.5 times the collection area of its predecessor, the Hubble. It is designed to operate in the near infrared which will enable it to study distant red-shifted galaxies and the formation of exoplanets in debris disks. It is imperative that it operates in a very cold, stable thermal environment and a delicate multilayered sunshield is required. It was complications with the deployment of this sunshield that caused the latest delays. So even if the launch is successful, the unfolding of the mirror and sunshield will generate high drama. The Canadian Space Agency has made a significant contribution and so we also have a stake in this important mission.

There will be a great opportunity to review the progress of the Perserverance mission at our AGM that will take place via Zoom on Monday February 22nd. In addition to our annual report and elections we will also have a virtual award ceremony … and even more high drama. So there will be plenty of interesting things in the year ahead.

Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year … and oh yes …

Usable Skies 

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message – December 2020

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President’s Message December 2020

Post election uncertainty and record high Covid case numbers overshadowed recent astronomical developments. A few warrant an honourable mention. On November 16th the Space X Crew Dragon -1 Resilience was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 rocket. It delivered 3 American astronauts and one Japanese astronaut to the International Space Station the next day. This mission was a milestone as it was the first American space vehicle to deliver an operational crew to the ISS since the Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. In the meantime astronauts had to hitch rides on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The commercial entity Space X provided both the launch vehicle and capsule for this 6 month mission. 

On November 25th, Space X also placed another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the total so far to 955. Delivery of global broadband internet to underserved areas from this fledgling network has already commenced. A constellation of 12000 Starlink satellites have already been approved and a request for an additional 30000 has been submitted. The growing alarm from the astronomical community regarding the impact of this vast swarm of satellites was discussed in the May 2020 President’s message.

But as the adage goes, what goes up must come down. I am not talking about satellites here but rather the receiver of the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico. Weighing in at 900 tons the receiver spent November dangling 500 feet above the iconic 1000 foot diameter spherical dish. When one cable broke in August it caused some alarm but when a second more substantial cable snapped in early November it was decided that the instrument could not be safely repaired. That decision received dramatic justification on the morning of December 1st with the failure of another major cable. This allowed the receiver to plunge into the side of the dish in a catastrophic manner which was captured on an astonishing video. What a tragic end to such a productive and beautiful symbol of science.

A softer landing occurred on December 1st when China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft successfully touched down on an elevated volcanic mound Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum. A video of the landing and the collection of moon samples. The Chang’e 5 ascent vehicle lifted off the Moon on December 3rd and is planned to return samples to Earth within a week. 

Another sample return mission is underway. On October 20th NASA’s ORISIS-REx spacecraft successfully acquired about 60 grams of the asteroid Bennu during a touch and go operation. Images suggest that it caught more than anticipated and the sample storage procedure was expedited and completed two days later. The spacecraft will begin its return journey in March 2021 and is scheduled to reach Earth in 2023. This mission will provide a pristine sample of the primordial material that formed the Solar System.

One asteroid of particular interest is 3200 Phaethon which is the parent body of the Geminid meteor shower. Most meteor showers are associated with comets but because 3200 Phaethon comes very close to the Sun it heats up to 700C and sheds particles and dust and has been dubbed a “rock comet”. This year the Geminids will peak around the 13th of December which is a new moon. So we will be particularly well situated to enjoy this spectacle … weather permitting. To learn more about “rock comets” be sure to attend the December 7th Astro Cafe where meteor expert Dr. Abedin Abedin will be the guest speaker.

Remember that the FDAO will be holding a Zoom Winter Solstice Star Party on December 19th. Event info

Also remember that the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will occur on December 21st. Saturn will only be 12 Jupiter diameters away! It is the closest that they have appeared since 1623. So if skies cooperate, point you scope to the western horizon near sunset and savour the sight.

So despite the pandemic plenty is going on aloft. So when skies are usable be sure to look up and enjoy. 

Wishing you good health and the very best of the festive season.

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message November 2020

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Skyrocketing cases of Covid and disturbing developments south of the border have stoked our levels of anxiety. As an antidote to these concerns it is high time for a good news story. Let’s revisit a happy moment in 2017 when a number of Victoria Centre RASCals attended the Great Solar Eclipse Afterparty. We gathered to share images, swap eclipse adventures and relive the magic of this event. Many of these stories were captured in the October 2017 issue of Sky News. A highlight of this joyous occasion was the unboxing of our new TPO 16 inch Ritchey Chretien reflector telescope. This was performed with great fanfare by Matt Watson and Dan Posey. 

In September and October of 2017 Matt and Dan installed the new scope on the Victoria Centre Observatory Paramount ME mount and took great care neatly wiring the scope to connect the cameras, an off axis guider and an electronic focuser to the computer. Official first light occurred on October 28th 2017 (See November 2017 Sky News for early images). Dan Posey’s gallery on zenfolio contains a series of beautiful images taken with the TPO 16 Inch RC between late October 2017 through October 2018 including my favourite, the Fireworks Galaxy (See page 10 October 2018 Sky News). These photos are a testament that the scope was performing well during that interval.

Sadly, no decent images were captured with that scope after October 2018. The TPO 16 Inch seems to have drifted off collimation and the cause remains a mystery. The collimation of a Ritchey-Chretien scope is a tricky business and Dan and Matt spent countless hours researching and trying to re-collimate this instrument over the next year. They even enlisted the help of former DAO member Les Disher. In the spring of 2020 Les demonstrated that collimation could be achieved when the scope was pointed towards the zenith but it went out of collimation as soon as it was slewed to a lower altitude. This indicated that there may be flexure somewhere in the truss or mirror supports of the telescope. It was Victoria Centre’s good fortune that Matt Watson opted to purchase a lifetime warranty on the scope and Council approved to return it to the Los Angeles vendor, OPT, for repair.

By this time Observatory Hill was in lockdown due to Covid. NRC kindly granted permission for special access to the VCO and on June 4th, 2020 four masked men (Dave Robinson, Mike Nash, Dan Posey and your President) furtively removed the TPO 16 inch RC, boxed it up and sent it to OPT via Fedex. In October OPT informed us that they could not fix the scope and offered to send us a new TPO 16 Inch RC … but without a lifetime warranty. The Tech Committee was not comfortable with this arrangement and instead John McDonald negotiated an “in store credit” for the value paid for the scope. 

While the TPO scope was off for repairs, Garry Sedun learned about a used research grade scope that was for sale at an attractive price in Arizona. John McDonald and I bought this scope with the idea that it might be a replacement for the VCO if the repair of the TPO scope did not succeed. Garry Sedun kindly delivered this 12.5 inch OGS Ritchey Chretien scope to Victoria when he returned from Arizona this summer. OGS stands for “Optical Guidance Systems” and they manufacture high quality instruments for NASA, universities and research facilities. Although the optical tube is not in pristine condition the primary mirror is figured to a precision of 1/31st of a wavelength and it has a very stout built quality. 

On September 21st, when limited access to the VCO was restored under strict Covid protocols this scope was attached to the VCO mount. Results were encouraging when the first image was obtained on October 3rd using an improvised focuser. When a helical focuser was attached to the scope on October 30th results were even better. Star field images were crisp with round undistorted stars right out to the corners. Although Dan Posey detected that the primary mirror was just a tad out of collimation, he felt that it was performing better than the old Meade 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope. 

The Tech Committee will continue to evaluate this scope with further star field tests. If it is determined that it will meet the needs of the membership, John McDonald and I are prepared to permanently loan the scope to the Victoria Centre. If Victoria Centre members are dissatisfied with this scope we will deploy it elsewhere. The OPT store credit gives us the flexibility to consider an alternate scope. 

Remember that there is also a high quality 20 inch Obsession Dobsonian telescope at the VCO. Argo Navis digital setting circles will be soon added to this scope and make it easier for visual observers to find objects in the sky. So when you consider that access to the VCO has been restored with a functioning scope for astrophotography and an excellent instrument for visual observers that qualifies as a good news story!

Now all we need are some useable skies

Stay Well

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message October 2020

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Have you noticed that the red planet has received the lion’s share of planetary press coverage lately? In July 2020 three Martian space missions were launched: The United Arab Emirates mission will place an advanced weather satellite, called Hope, in a Martian orbit. The Chinese mission Tianwen-1 will deliver an orbiter, lander and rover to the planet. NASA and JPL will land Perseverance and Ingenuity on Mars. Perseverance is similar to the phenomenally successful Curiosity rover and will drill and deposit caches of samples for a possible retrieval mission. Ingenuity is a small helicopter that will take short three minute missions that will scout for interesting objects for Perseverance to examine. All three missions will reach Mars in February 2021, just in time for the Victoria Centre AGM! What a great time to become the Centre President!

Martian enthusiasts will also be excited to learn the Hilary Swank and her brave team of astronauts in the Netflix Martian exploration drama AWAY will likely be renewed for another season. Keen observers of this program may, like me, be puzzled by the intermittent nature of weightlessness in this drama. I wonder if special effects budgets are a factor.

The big event this month, however, is the opposition of Mars which takes place on October 13th. At this time, only 0.41 astronomical units away, the Martian angular diameter reaches 22.4 arc seconds. In anticipation of this event some keen RASCals like John McDonald have been perfecting their planetary photography techniques. You may remember that during the last opposition in the Summer of 2018 a major dust storm prevented us to savour the surface details. Although weather patterns have been favourable of late, smoke from the major wildfires in Northern California have introduced a new element of uncertainty. We should keep in mind that the crescendo of the Martian angular diameter is a gradual event and let’s hope for usable skies and wonderful images.

Right in the middle of this Martian jamboree, however, I was happy to hear that our much neglected sister planet, Venus, crashed the party. On September 14th, a paper announced that “Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus”. In 2017 the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope detected the spectral signature of the molecule phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere. This was followed up by higher resolution data from ALMA in 2019. This created great excitement because phosphine is considered a bio-signature in rocky planets and offers the intriguing possibility of life in the Venusian atmosphere. This may inspire future missions to Venus … which maybe a good thing since those wildfires are ringing alarm bells about global warming. Maybe we should spend more effort studying the planet next door which provides an outstanding illustration of a runaway greenhouse effect. We have much more to learn.

Stay well …
And Useable Skies

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message September 2020

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I don’t know about you but I am not ready to change the calendar to September just yet. The uncertainty introduced by the pandemic and the political drama unfolding south of the border distracted me from making the most of the Summer. The restrictions of Covid 19 produced a Star Party deficit and deprived the Victoria Centre of the social interaction enjoyed when sharing the night skies with others. But the constellations march on and they are indifferent to our plight. So enough snivelling and it is time to count our blessings.

On the Covid front, whether it was our favourable geography, good governance or good fortune, so far Vancouver Island has experienced relatively few cases when compared to other areas. On the weather front, relatively cool conditions have reduced wild fire smoke and presented favourable observing and imaging opportunities. On the technological front, Zoom and our tireless hosts, Chris Purse, Barbara and Kurt Lane and John McDonald have kept the doors to Astro Cafe open during the summer months. This allowed us to remain connected and share our techniques, images, sketches and enthusiasm. These sessions were all captured on video by the kindness of Joe Carr and posted on the Astronomy Cafe web page. One antidote to the pandemic was the visit by the beautiful comet C/2020 f3 Neowise. Editor Bruce Lane went the extra mile and prepared bonus issue #420 of the Victoria Centre newsletter, SkyNews, that showcased images and sketches of comet Neowise and conveyed the joy it generated. Bruce also provided a colourful history of comets of yesteryear and their relationship leaders of the day.

The National RASC response to Covid was remarkable. There were so many web offerings that they have developed a very useful weekly email entitled “What’s happening at The RASC?” which alerts you to regional and national presentations. If you are not already receiving this email then I encourage you to subscribe here. In particular they had developed a series of Zoom webinars related to the Explore the Universe program. These and other presentations have been captured and are available on the RASCanada YouTube channel for viewing at your convenience.

As we head into September, the number of Covid cases are on the rise and the rooms at UVic will remain closed. Instead of having a special monthly meeting on Zoom, we plan instead to have one Astro Cafe session each month with an invited speaker. The first presenter, Dr. Phil Groff, executive director of RASC, will attend our Astro Cafe Zoom meeting on Monday September 14th at 7:30 PM. It is a great opportunity meet Phil and share your thoughts with him.

As the nights continue to lengthen I do hope that you will find time to step out, look up and marvel.

Useable Skies

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message June 2020

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President’s Report June 2020

The abrupt onset of the pandemic introduced a wave of uncertainty. There is a growing realization that the impacts will continue for some time. Most Victoria Centre activities including monthly meetings, VCO observing sessions and Saturday Night Star Parties at the DAO have been cancelled. Astro Cafe has established a virtual presence on victoria.rasc.ca and a weekly Zoom webinar. The Island Star Party, Merritt Star Party and the Mount Kobau Star Party have been officially cancelled. The Saanich Fair is morphing into some online entity. UVic has announced that lecture halls will be closed until at least January 2021.

This has left us staring into a void. But by suddenly escaping the treadmill of everyday life many were given an unexpected gift of time. This has allowed RASCals more opportunity to step out into the stillness of the night, look up and savour the arrival of starlight. While the days of the week became less relevant, our awareness of the rhythm of the Solar System became more pronounced. RASCals have been sharing wonderful images and sketches of the lunar cycle as well as evening and morning dances of the planets. 

Zoom webinars have proven to be an effective tool that helps reduce the sense of isolation and allows us to share our enthusiasm, knowledge and imagery. As a result the Victoria Centre has acquired its own Zoom Pro license which will increase our capacity to meet on line. During this pandemic the astronomical community has rallied and is posting a rich source of offerings on the internet. RASC National frequently hosts interesting webinars which are usually archived on the RASCanada YouTube site. This site will also be used to live stream a virtual General Assembly event between 11AM and 2PM PDT on Sunday June 7th. Dr. Sara Seager and Bob McDonald will be delivering presentations. UVic has moved its Cafe Scientifique online and is also hosting an Astronomy Open House webinar every Wednesday in the summer at 7:30 PM.

During a recent Victoria Centre Council Meeting we explored options of what to do while we wait for a vaccine. We are currently in the process of sending the VCO 16 Inch RC scope for repair and may have an alternate scope available in the mean time. If activities resume at the VCO, however, attendance will initially be restricted to a very small number. This would enable the site to be safely used more for observing/imaging activities than social interaction. Active Observers would be required to bring their own eyepieces to avoid spread of CoVid19. 

This eyepiece issue may be problematic when Saturday Nights at the DAO resume. One alternative to sharing an eyepiece is to try Electronic Assisted Astronomy (EAA). This technique is “casual astrophotography” that enables a camera to automatically stack images on the fly and display them on a tablet or monitor. It avoids complex post processing and would allow fainter deep skies objects to be viewed by the public without lineups. With an internet connection EAA has the potential to share live imagery to a meeting or webinar. The challenge of CoVid19 has served as a catalyst to explore this option. An interesting overview of EAA is found on this link.

While we are waiting for face to face outreach to resume we could set up static astronomy displays showcasing our astrophotography. David Lee recently delivered an astronomy orientation course using Zoom and similar programs might be considered. In the mean time, if you something that you would like to share on the Virtual Astro Cafe please send it to president@victoria.rasc.ca. In closing I would like to thank hosts Barbara and Kurt Lane, Chris Purse and John McDonald for agreeing to extend the Astro Cafe into the summer season.

Wishing you good health and useable skies this Summer

 Reg Dunkley

President’s Message May 2020

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President’s Message May 2020

During the early dawn of February 16th I obtained a glimpse of the future. After months of almost perpetual overcast, skies finally cleared. While looking northward towards Cassiopeia I noticed a long precession of fairly bright evenly spaced satellites moving from left to right. It took about 10 minutes for this parade to pass. I realized that this must be the Starlink Constellation that had been mentioned in the news. When I searched the Internet to learn more I was in for a surprise.

Starlink is a bold ingenious project with an ambitious mission to deliver high speed broadband internet to locations where access is unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable. It plans to achieve this by deploying a vast constellation of communication satellites. The parent company SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 and has developed a remarkable capacity to launch Falcon 9 rockets and successfully land them for reuse. This greatly reduces the launch costs. The communication satellites are stacked aboard the Falcon 9 in two columns of 30 and they gradually drift apart once they reach orbit. Each satellite is powered by a single solar panel which gently unfolds. The satellites are maneuvered by ion jets using Krypton. This elaborate scheme sounds unwieldy but when Starlink V0.9 was launched in May 2019 it actually worked! 

Satellites are usually expensive “one off” devices that take years to build but by employing the manufacturing expertise that Elon Musk honed at Tesla, Starlink can assemble 6 satellites a day at their Redmond Washington plant. This production rate allows Starlink to launch 60 satellites every two weeks! At that launch rate Starlink can place 1584 satellites in a shell 550 km about the Earth by the end of 2021. They will be placed in 72 orbital planes inclined at 53 degrees. 22 satellites will occupy each plane and when in position they will form an exotic mesh surrounding the globe. Animation of this configuration reveals that the concentration of satellites is greatest between latitudes of 50 to 53 degrees. While this network will provide coverage over most of the globe, two additional phases have been approved by the FCC to increase capacity and speed. Phase two will add an additional 2800 satellites in a 1125 km altitude shell and phase three will add 7500 more satellites in a lower 340 km altitude shell. 

When completed an additional 12000 satellites will be in orbit! This exceeds the 9000 satellites that have been launched during the last 50 years and the 5000 that are still in orbit. The first batch of 60 operational satellites were launched on Starlink 1 on November 11th 2019 and the sixth Starlink mission occurred on April 22nd bringing the total to 420. While Starlink obtained the necessary frequency approvals from the FCC to prevent interference with radio astronomy there was no governance regarding visual and infrared ground based astronomy. The initial Starlink v0.9 group was much brighter than anticipated and generated alarm from visual astronomers. Elon Musk is embarrassed about this oversight and is working with the Astronomical Community to mitigate the impact of this massive network. On April 27th Musk announced VisorSat, an innovative sunshield that may significantly reduce the albedo of the satellites. Some of these shields will be tested during the next Starlink launch. 

The satellites must be illuminated by the Sun to be visible. Due to the low altitude the Phase 1 cohort will only be visible near twilight. The higher altitude Phase 2 will remain visible longer. Satellites are brightest when just launched but will become dimmer as they ascend to operational altitude. Since twilight lingers into the late evening near the Summer Solstice the presence of this constellation will be most pronounced in the area of highest density over Canadian skies this summer. So keep on the lookout for this new swarm of satellites while stargazing this summer. Please share your observations on the Virtual Astro Cafe web page or during the Astro Cafe Webinar which will take place every Monday evening at 7:30 PM. In someways the unintended consequence of this mission resembles an outbreak of a “stellar virus”. And it could get worse as SpaceX has requested permission to place another 30000 satellites in orbit! Let’s hope that the Starlink team creates a stellar vaccine soon and that skies will remain useable.

Wishing everyone good health and useable skies

Reg Dunkley 

President’s Message April 2020

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The tipping point occurred near the 15th, the Ides of March. Just a few days earlier at the Victoria Centre Monthly Meeting 50 RASCals enjoyed the entertaining talk by Dr. Tyrone Woods which involved both supernovae and sword fights. While details of the approaching Astronomy Day were presented there was tension in the air and it was recommended that members monitor HealthLinkBC.ca. By the 17th, Saint Patricks Day, schools were cancelled, the gates to the DAO were locked and even the Pubs were closed! In almost an instant, astronomy “outreach” events Astronomy Day and Saturday Star Parties together with “in-reach” events such as, Astro Cafe, Monthly Meetings, VCO sessions and the 2020 Vancouver General Assembly were cancelled. What lead to this astonishing turnaround? Perhaps it was the eerie images of Italian landmarks, totally devoid of people. Maybe it was the grime graphs of soaring death totals. Or could it be the announcement that even Tom Hanks was not immune to CoVid-19?

Sporting activities involving crowds like hockey and basketball were among the first casualties. In contrast, the stillness, peace and wonderment of observing the night sky can be safely experienced in isolation. One of the joys of the astronomical community, however, is sharing these experiences with others. A “Virtual Astro Cafe” has been set up on https://victoria.rasc.ca and it allows you to share your stories, images and links. We have already enjoyed a strong response and we encourage you to forward your contributions to president@victoria.rasc.ca. One of the things missing from this Virtual Astro Cafe, however, are the comments, questions and banter that add a special touch to the authentic Astro Cafe. The hosts of Astro Cafe are addressing this shortcoming by holding Astro Cafe Webinars using software called Zoom. It is scheduled for Mondays at 7:30PM and all you have to do is click on the link provided by the email from the Astro Cafe host and respond to one or two prompts. It is a surprisingly effective way to achieve a sociable connection at a safe distance. Give it a try!

The mention of Tom Hanks recalls his portrayal of Astronaut Jim Lovell in the epic movie Apollo 13. The 50th anniversary of the explosion aboard Apollo 13 takes place on April 13th. This is a validation of bad luck for the superstitious! The remarkable success of the earlier Apollo missions fostered a sense of complacency among much of the population. This episode, however, dramatically illustrated the dangers and complexity of these space missions and riveted the attention of the world until the capsule safely returned. You may not be aware of the Victoria connection of this adventure. Ernie Pfanneschmidt and Frank Younger of the DAO were atop Mount Kobau during this mission and successfully photographed the oxygen cloud that formed in the wake of the explosion. The 16 inch telescope that they used is now residing in the dome connected to the Centre of the Universe. To learn more see pp 6-7 Sep 2018 SkyNews. Pause and reflect on this historical role when you next peer through the eyepiece of this scope.

Although most Victoria Centre events have been cancelled until further notice, there may be an interesting spectacle to anticipate. Victoria RASCal Martin Gisborne recently imaged comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) discovered by the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) survey on December 28, 2019. Visit Virtual Astro Cafe to view this image It is currently situated above the plane of the Solar System moving from Ursa Major to Camelopardalis. It will swoop southward and make its closest approach to Earth on May 23rd. Some have speculated that it will brighten significantly on approach. Prediction of any sort is a reckless business but it might provide a welcome distraction from the global pandemic.

As we work our way through this challenging time remember that we are all in this together. So keep at a safe distance, be kind and when skies are useable … look up.


Reg Dunkley

President’s Message March 2020

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This is the inaugural Presidents message for my second and final term as President of the Victoria Centre of RASC. I would like to thank members of the Council and other active members for their support in the past year. A special salute to our Treasurer Deb Crawford who was busy sorting out our year end finances when we learned that our AGM planned location, the Cedar Hill Golf Course, was no longer available. She rallied to the cause and soon found an alternate venue that ticked all the boxes. Her initiative was key to the success of the AGM and I am very grateful for her contribution. I would also like to thank our Secretary Barbara Lane for presenting our Annual Report in an entertaining manner and Bruno Quenneville for organizing the awards. Our speaker, Mary Beth Laychak, delivered a most interesting and entertaining presentation on the history of the CFHT and we are fortunate that NRC Herzberg helped make that happen.

Thanks must also go to Marjie Welchframe, Mandy Lee and Bill Weir for stepping up and joining the Victoria Centre Council. Their added support and David Lee’s generous offer to organize Astronomy Day convinced me to stay on for a second term. I was, however, a little disappointed that there were no takers for the position of first Vice President. This places our organization in an awkward position. Our constitution prohibits the President from serving more than two consecutive terms. As a consequence if the current situation stands by next February the President’s position will be vacated with no groomed successor to assume the mantle.

The Victoria Centre is a vibrant and active organization and a leadership role may seem intimidating to some. A number of measures are being taken to make this position less daunting. An operators manual is in the works that will provide step by step instructions for major events such as Astronomy Day, the Victoria Centre Star Party, The Saanich Fair Outreach event and the AGM. Saturday Night Star Parties at the DAO offer an incredibly rich and focused opportunity for Astronomical Outreach. The number of these events have nearly tripled since 2015. In order to accommodate this increase we have attempted to trim our sails and have withdrawn from some of the less focused outreach opportunities. Meanwhile “In-reach” activities like Astro Cafe have grown in popularity and help to engage new members and recharge veteran RASCals with more knowledge, energy and enthusiasm.

The primary duty of the first Vice President is to schedule and introduce speakers for the monthly meetings. NRC Herzberg has been very supportive in this regard and the following speakers are already scheduled for the remainder of the season:
Wednesday March 11th Dr. Tyrone Woods – Understanding Supernovae from Tycho to Today
Wednesday April 8th: Dr. Matt Taylor – Role of Dwarf Galaxies & Globulars in Galaxy formation.
Wednesday May 13th: Dr. JJ Kavalaars – An Update on Arrokoth (aka Ultimae Thule)
Wednesday June 10th: Dr. Abedin Abedin – Modelling Meteoroid Swarms

That only leaves 6 more talks to schedule until the next AGM! So please give the First Vice President role serious consideration. It is a great opportunity to deepen your involvement in this remarkable organization. For 106 years the Victoria Centre has been dedicated to its primary mandate: to stimulate interest and to promote and increase knowledge in astronomy and related sciences. By stepping up you would help keep this wheel turning and make an important and satisfying contribution.
Usable Skies

Reg Dunkley