President’s Message March 2015

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Welcome to March, the month with the most annoying time change of the year. At least for some of us old souls, who have enough trouble staying awake at night. Not only do we lose an hour of sleep, we lose an hour of evening observing time. What a rip! But to make up for that, there’s lots of pleasant news to share with you this month.
First off, join me in welcoming our new Media Liaison officer, Edward Wiebe. With all the events we have planned and all the media enquires we receive, Council felt it wise to create a Media Liaison position to help manage the flow of information to the public. Thanks, Ed!
Next up on the list of positive developments: Metchosin District Council has agreed to waive the fee for the star party field again this year, so the event can proceed. And at the same meeting on February 23rd, Metchosin Council also officially passed their Dark Sky Policy. Thanks to Mayor Ranns and Councillors on both counts.
The DAO Saturday Night public observing nights committee has worked hard at developing a proposal for the upcoming season, which has been submitted to the HIA for consideration. There was a lot to consider! Opening up the DAO to the public entails a lot of work, with many, many details to be worked out. Huge thanks to Lauri Roche, Don Moffatt, Dr Jim Hesser, and Melisa Yestrau for all your efforts. Now we await the results.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a pleasant -and quite unexpected- email from Dave Balam at the DAO, offering three evenings in the next quarter on the 72” Plaskett telescope, for Victoria Centre members. Nice! I hope we can make that work, and I’ll let you know how that turns out. Meanwhile, don’t forget our next scheduled session on the UVic 32” telescope on March 13. We will send a reminder email prior to that date. And the Messier Marathon for Active Observers, on the evening of March 23rd. If you want to participate, email Michel at:
So, apart from the time change, March brings plenty to look forward to!

Clear skies,

Presidents Message February 2015

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How about that comet, eh? Nothing like a lovely comet to make winter skies seem less gloomy, and Comet Lovejoy put on quite a show over the last few weeks. I think, after auroras, comets are my favourite night-sky things to observe and photograph, and we were lucky to have three separate arctic outbreaks this winter, bringing clear sparkling skies for observing. I hope you were able to get out and enjoy them.
As you may know, March is Messier Marathon month; this year the new moon is on March 20, so that weekend should be great for anyone who wants to try this challenging event. If you do, please let our Observing Chairs, Jim Stilburn or Michel Michaud know as soon as possible by email at: and we will set up a session. If there isn’t the interest, we will let it pass for this year.
Plans are well underway for various upcoming events, such as Astronomy Day, and the RASCals Summer Star Party in Metchosin. We will pass along details as they become available.
We have good news for those of you you cannot make the monthly meetings, yet would like to see them: we will begin broadcasting them live over the Web starting immediately with February’s meeting. . After a false start, much discussion about privacy and personal comfort levels -not to mention many emails in favour of live broadcasts- Council has decided to give it a try. Our Admin will send out an email to the Skynews email list each month with instructions on how to view these broadcasts. See you at the meetings. Or at least, you will see us!

Clear skies, everyone.


President’s message, January 2015

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Happy New Year, everyone! Welcome to 2015, the International Year of Light. We are working on a number of public events to celebrate IYL 2015, in collaboration with Natasha Van Bentum. You may remember Natasha; she and her husband Henri participated with us in IYA 2009. I know we’re all looking forward to working with her again!
John McDonald (Victoria Centre) and Russ Robb (UVic) have reinstated the UVic observing sessions, so watch for upcoming email announcements and mark your calendars; they’re scheduled for Jan 16, Feb 13, Mar 13, Apr 10, and May 8. These sessions are primarily visual (although you’re welcome to bring a camera to try a little focal photography). We will be able to view and study lots of great celestial objects with the university’s 32” telescope. These sessions are open to ALL Victoria Centre members, not just those on the Active Observer’s list. Big thanks to John and Russ!
And speaking of great celestial objects: don’t forget Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2). Rising rapidly in the south, it will pass just to the west of Orion, Taurus, and into Perseus this month. It’s a little brighter than predicted and is already a lovely sight in binos and backyard telescopes. Go out and have a look!

Wishing you clear skies, and a wonderful year ahead,


President’s message December 2014

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I would first like to start off by thanking the previous Victoria Centre Council and committees for their outstanding work during their terms, and to welcome the new Council to their positions for the upcoming one. Looking at the names of those who served before us makes me realize we have some pretty big shoes to fill, but we definitely are ready for the challenge.
The coming year looks exciting, and we are already working on events such as our own summer star party, Saturday night public observing at the DAO, various outreach events, and even the total solar eclipse in 2017. It will be a fun year!
There is, however, something you can help me with. We are now just at around 200 members, and many of those are new to the RASC, and astronomy. I would like to know what we can do for you to make your experience in astronomy positive, and enjoyable. This is YOUR Centre. Please always feel free to bring your ideas and comments to Council by email, phone, or at a Council or general meeting.
So let’s make the beginning of the Victoria Centre’s second century as great as its first!

Clear skies,

President’s Message – November 2014

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Of the organizations that I have belonged to in my life, professional associations, sports clubs, conservation groups, and neighborhood associations, this one, RASC Victoria Centre, has been one of the best, if not THE best. I am honored that for two years I have been its president.

Let me explain why. In my experience, most such groups feature an impenetrable inner circle, a leadership that cannot separate its own interests from the group’s interests, and a mission that is largely ignored in practice. Not so with Victoria Centre. Its leadership positions are easily available to all, and rotate regularly. Its culture is one of inclusion, not exclusion. Best of all, its mission, public outreach, modest though it may seem when compared to the more important sounding missions of larger, but less successful groups, is front-and-center, and is practiced with enthusiasm by most of the members.

This last year stands as a testament to this club’s strength: an enviable national convention held at a first-class university, an astronomy day event held in a downtown Victoria landmark, and the successful resurrection of public tours and night-sky viewing from the DAO after they appeared to be lost among government budget cuts which seem to have become so common today. Most remarkably, these “signature” events were held in addition to our usual array of outreach events.

I could go on, but I won’t. Thanks to everyone in the club that makes its success possible. The energy and competence of our members is, well, amazing.

President’s Message – October 2014

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The end of summer has brought, oddly, mostly clear nights, and great moons for observing, including, tomorrow morning (October 8), a total lunar eclipse.  A bunch of us, if we can get out of bed at the unholy hour of 2:00 am, will be at Clover Point to see it, and to entertain the public.  And just a reminder, our annual general meeting (AGM) for this year will be held again at the appropriately-named Moon Under Water brewpub located at 350 Bay St.  This will be our third outing at this venue, which has proven to be an excellent choice for us.  Date: November 16 at 6:00.  Details to follow.

President’s Message – September 2014

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This will be a summer to remember – our hosting of GA 2014, along with our hosting of a series of “Summer Star Parties” at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.  Although there was a tiny bit of initial reluctance to undertake both of these at the same time (along with, for sure, most of our “normal” summer outreach activities), once the commitment was made, it was full speed ahead.  The obvious success of both of the ventures was due to the almost unbelievable commitment and effort of their organizers.

It is the latter of these that is freshest in the mind.  Last Saturday, at the last of these “Summer Star Parties,” there were nearly five-hundred visitors!  Public attendance on the Saturdays when in was not raining, or when the wind was not howling, was always in the hundreds.  And problems that arose were mostly connected with the traffic on West Saanich Road.

There is something deeply satisfying about the notion and practice of “public outreach,” something known to our members that head up the club’s outreach efforts, but which I have personally really begun to experience only this last year.  Last Saturday, on the hill, the gibbous moon was crystal clear.  We had telescopes set up on both sides of the dome.  Mine was aimed at the moon.  The lineups at my scope were endless: young families, seniors, twenty-somethings.  Out of this hoard of people of all ages who looked at the moon through a telescope, most surely for the first time, there was not a handful who had nothing to say.  The moon, coming and going unnoticed as it does, can still bring a tear to the eye.

Thanks to those of you in this club that made this happen.

President’s Message – June 2014

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As I write this final report for this spring, we are on the cusp of what will be a summer to remember. Why? We are hosting GA 2014. We are hosting public night sky viewing on observatory hill. And this in addition to the usual star party and a signature outreach event.

Our hosting of GA 2014 at the University of Victoria is the culmination of the efforts of those too numerous to mention, at least here, headed up by Paul Schumacher and Mark Bohlman, Co-Chairs of the organizing committee. An early start, the selection of first-class committee heads and members, and spot-on organization has led to what promises to be a great success.

The reopening of observatory hill, at least for this summer, is a story of a different type. The closure of the Center of the Universe last summer was immediately followed what can only be called a public outcry, the involvement of an MLA, and a very successful online petition. This led to community involvement, meetings, committees and ultimately to Victoria Centre’s proposal to host public night sky viewing, and tours of the Plaskett, on seven evenings at the end of this summer. Victoria Centre enjoyed the encouragement and assistance of local NRC/Hertzberg staff throughout, with our effort being led, with great determination, by Lauri Roche. Although the Plaskett will be operated this first summer by professional NRC staff, several of our number will be trained in the operation of the great instrument, hopefully to assume responsibility for its operation during future events.

The success of these events depends first and foremost on the participation of the members of Victoria Centre. I hope to see all of you this summer.

President’s Message – May 2014

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This month brings with it, in addition to preparations for the GA 2014, which are proceeding nicely, a very successful International Astronomy Day (IAD). This yearly event was held, for the first time since 2000, at the Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria.

The event, thanks to the usual efforts of Sid, Lauri, and Sherry in organizing it, and a huge cast of enthusiastic Centre volunteers in putting it on, came off without a hitch. The museum staff, led by Leslie Johnson, could not have been more helpful.

Sid, counting at the main entrance to our hall, registered over seven hundred visitors, who were treated to most of the usual displays, plus telescopes (large and small), a kid’s table, Bruno’s Planetarium, and a special treat, as it turned out, the Centre’s one-hundred thirty year-old brass telescope, made, except for the lens, in Toronto, and used in serious astronomy until at least the late 1940’s (one can barely imagine how – but the fact that it was writes volumes about the patience of the astronomers who used it). The scope was proudly situated on its vintage clock-driven mount, and tenderly looked after by Michael and Charles. Sid and his crew of assistants brought the several hundred pounds of it from its home in the now-closed Center of the Universe on Observatory Hill. There with us at the Museum were representatives from Science Ventures at UVic, from Pearson College, from NRC, and from the University of Victoria Astronomy Department.

The day’s festivities were topped off with what was hoped would be “public night sky viewing” on top of said Observatory Hill, an event carefully planned by Lauri, and Jim Hesser, along with Greg Fahlman (NRC Manager) and his staff, including Kevin Farris and Clyde Donnelly, plus Dave Balam and Dave Bohlender, plus (again) Rita Mann and Michele Bannister. The two Daves were to operate the Plaskett Telescope, which was made available for public tours. Rita and Michele, both Post-doctoral fellows at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, were to, and did, give public talks at the CU, which was opened for the evening. Victoria Center volunteers were to lead tours of the CU and set up telescopes in the parking lot.

In spite of the usual clouds and sprinkling rain, this portion of the IAD celebration was also a great success. Over two hundred public members were in attendance, this in spite of the weather. The two lectures and the tours of the Plaskett were big hits. Even the exhibits inside the CU were well-visited.

As most of us know, we have submitted a proposal to NRC that we be allowed to host public openings DAO and its environs for several weekends in July and August. This May evening was a bit of a “dry run” for those events. We certainly hope that the success of this event will hold us in good stead with respect to the later openings.

Happy viewing, all …..


Note: One of the first things that I learned as a young lawyer was that in the creation of legal documents one should never list things, because one will inevitably leave something out. It would be better to thank “everyone who helped.” I have ignored that advice. If I have left out someone who should have been thanked, I apologize.

President’s Message – April 2014

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This month we have some excellent news.  Last Wednesday, Victoria Centre Council voted unanimously to submit a proposal to NRC Herzberg that Victoria Centre host a series of Saturday openings of the Observatory this summer.  These openings are in addition to night sky viewing on Astronomy Day, May 3, also hosted by us (with the assistance of NRC staff), and the GA 2014 Welcome BBQ, to be held Thursday, June 26, at the observatory.  We are optimistic that our proposal will be looked at favourably.  It is hoped that this summer “pilot project” lead to a more permanent arrangement with us, the NRC, and other groups taking over functions and activities lost with the closing of this landmark.

This proposal is the result of the hard work of several Council Members, led by Lauri Roche, who are part of the “Short Term Working Group for the Reopening of the Observatory” which was formed at a community meeting held last November, thanks to the efforts of MLA Lana Popham and Don Moffett.  At the time of that meeting, which was held at the Herzberg, and was attended by NRC staff and administration, we hoped both that the Centre of the Universe or the DAO, or both, might be reopened in some form, and that there would be a role for us similar to what we had done in the past, both near, and distant, in terms of public outreach and education on the hill.

It will be proposed that the Observatory be open for seven Saturday evenings, three in each of July and August, and one in September.  The Observatory will be open for tours to be conducted, eventually, by our members.  Other members of our group will be outside with the usual telescopes, weather permitting.  We will propose that four members will be on the hill on each of these openings, and that a small group of us be trained to open and close the observatory, and operate the telescope.

There are still hurdles to be cleared, and matters to be discussed even if our proposal is accepted, but this first step is vital, and is the most important one.  This could turn into a “flagship” activity for our club.  If you are interested in helping with this program, please let us know.