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.



President’s Message – February 2014

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The hard-working organizers of the upcoming GA 2014 are concerned about our member response, or lack thereof, to their cries for volunteers.  They assure me that it will take almost all of the active members of the Centre to put on this event.  PLEASE get in touch with Paul or Mark and sign yourself up for something.

For a number of reasons, most of which I have forgotten, it was necessary to change the date of our Astronomy Day event, to be held this year at the Royal BC Museum, from May 10 to May 3.  Please call Sherry to get on the list for this one.

The last bit of news concerns our annual RASCals Metchosin Star Party.  As of 2010, the CVSF group has scheduled its annual gathering, now at Bright Angel Park, on the weekend closest to the August new moon, and have now done so in advance for the next several years (as I understand it).  This leaves us in a bit of a quandary about what to do about our event.  The August new moon date is best for those of us in the Pacific Northwest.  The July new moon is less than ideal, as the nights are too short, and the sunset too late, but more importantly, the Metchosin wind in July, can be, and usually is, horrific.  The September new moon is too cold for most (many?) observers.  We have considered at least three other options: abandoning the event altogether, or scheduling ours at the same time as theirs, or scheduling ours also in August, but on a different weekend (this would be referred to as a “Moon Party”).  Each of these five choices has proponents on Council.  This year we have decided to try an August weekend other than that of the new moon (and CVSF Island SP): August 15 through 17.  This is the weekend of the last quarter moon.  Hardly ideal, be we have asked Metchosin if the field is available and will keep you posted.  If you have any input on this, drop me an email.

President’s Message – January 2014

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There is not much to report this month, aside from confirming that the hum you hear in the background is Victoria Centre’s 2014 General Assembly committees working away as the June date nears. Remember too, that we have decided to proceed with our annual Astronomy Day, this year to be held at the Royal BC Museum on May 10. This “double booking” of events will lead to a bit more work on our part, but with Paul and Mark at the helm of the GA, and Sherry heading up the our day at the museum, and our usual cadre of energetic volunteers, we should have a Spring to remember.

On the observing front, I would like to urge all of you to make this your “Messier” year. Start keeping a record of the “M” objects that you observe, and before long you will have one of those little round pins. Messier Certificate

President’s Message – December 2013

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The long-awaited meeting of November 23, organized by Lana Popham (and her assistant, Samuel Godfrey, whom she has committed will stay on to help the “stakeholders”), occurred as scheduled. I suppose that one does not want to be overly optimistic, but it seemed to me to have been a success.

In attendance from RASC Victoria Centre were Chris, Lauri, SId, Roy, Malcolm, Jim and Betty Hesser, and me. In a nutshell, we early-on stated our position, as understood had been decided by counsel, to be that we would continue to provide volunteers for Saturday night viewing, with the understanding that 1) we could not provide security, and 2) only if the Plaskett was open for tours by the public, given that the large telescope is what draws most people up the hill.

The NRC VP from Ottawa also stated his position early on, and clarified and reiterated it a number of times, it being this: NRC has “no appetite” for spending new money on the CU, but neither does it have any plans to “decommission” the CU building, or turn off the heat, or empty it, or stop providing security for it. This led everyone to conclude that the CU could be used by any of the parties there, subject to terms being negotiated, so long as NRC did not have to spend anything on it, a conclusion with which he did not disagree. He seemed to say specifically that NRC providing security on the hill, and for the CU building itself, was the same as providing security for our Saturday night endeavors. How the Plaskett would be tended to on Saturday nights was left for discussion with local NRC staff.

Each of us from Victoria Centre had something to say. Insurance, advertising, and other issues were all discussed. I felt our participation was much appreciated, and we seem in the driver’s seat insofar as what has been our traditional role is concerned, no matter who or what it is that may have something to offer beyond night-sky viewing and a tour of the mighty Plaskett.

Everyone seemed to think that night-sky viewing could resume next spring. Both long and short-term committees were set up to make sure that our momentum is not lost: Lauri and Chris are on the short-term committee, and I am on the long-term committee. A meeting of the short-term committee is in the offing, and I’m sure the long-term group will be meeting after the holidays.

President’s Message – November 2013

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The closing of the Centre of the Universe remains a big disappointment for members of Victoria Centre, to say nothing of its former staff, supporters within the NRC, kids, science-minded parents, teachers, schools, and other members of this community.

Lana Popham, MLA from South Saanich, is spearheading an effort to see if the CU can somehow be saved. Toward that end, she is hosting a meeting of “stakeholders” at the Observatory on November 23 to discuss what might be done. Several members of Victoria Centre have been invited, as have representatives from the local staff of the NRC and the University of Victoria, as well as from local schools, non-profits and businesses.

Hopefully there is a way forward for the CU, which events since the announcement of its closing have shown to be so important to this community. We shall see what develops.

President’s Message – October 2013

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About the only thing to report to have happened since last month is that Jim Hesser and Eric Chisholm, on behalf of the NRC/DAO, UVic, and RASC Victoria Centre, submitted a proposal to the Royal British Columbia Museum seeking the creation of an exhibit to highlight the history of astronomy in British Columbia. It was hoped that the opening of the exhibit would coincide with GA 2014, and that it would feature artifacts, photographs, and history relating to First Nations, contributions to modern astronomy by astronomers at the DAO and UVic, and public outreach efforts by the Centre of the Universe, UVic and the RASC Victoria Centre.

Unfortunately, in spite of the fine efforts of Jim and Eric, we were told that the museum was “full up” for next year, and strapped for funds.

President’s Message – September 2013

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The conversation during the two months that were our summer break was dominated by the announcement of the NRC that the Centre of the Universe was closing at the end of August, supposedly for what could be called “budgetary reasons.” In response to this closure, an online petition drive was launched, followed by a paper version, all amongst numerous stories in the media. For a nice summary of what has taken place, Joe has collected some of the stories, and some images, on our website (Final Night at the Centre of the Universe – Aug 24, 2013), and you are invited to look through them. Thanks to Joe and to those who attended and photographed the last few weekends that the Centre was open.

As to what can and should be done by Victoria Centre given its long history on the hill, representatives of Council have met, and have talked with local NRC staff, in an effort to determine whether our Centre has a role in the future of the Centre of the Universe, assuming that there is such a thing. At our next meeting of Council (September 11), we hope to decide for certain if we do aspire to such a role, what that role could be, and what action we should take to pursue it.

The annual RASCals/Metchosin Star Party took place this year over the Labor Day weekend. The event offered three nights of observing, mostly good, albeit with a little dew. Our speakers and workshops were well-worth attending. There were a number of enthusiastic community members in attendance (even Sunday night). Somewhat unfortunately, donations received will not be enough to cover the costs of the event. There are probably a number of reasons for this, including the number of competing activities and events (even within the club), the reliance on the donations of only “campers” with many observers leaving in the wee hours instead of spending the night, and, perhaps, a general lack of interest in astronomical observing. Anyway, to those that attend, the event is something to look forward to, if only to see what the Metchosin weather will offer up for our pleasure.