Could Creamsicles overtake Viva Puffs to become the favourite Astro Cafe summer treat? Penumbral Eclipse July 4. 2020 Billed as a subtle eclipse the penumbral shadow is subtle. What David didn’t expect was the orange ball that emerged from the horizon. A nice creamsicle colour! Camera: Nikon Z6 with FTZ adapter Lens: Nikkor 300/4 AFS with 1.4 x TC Effective 420mm cropped. Sensor ISO: 1600. Exposure: 1/100 sec at f/5.6 Processing: Adobe Photoshop CC 2020
Martian Citizen Science: Zoom Webinar at 11AM Tuesday
Meg Schwamb (Queen’s University Belfast) will be speaking about “Exploring Mars with 150,000 Earthlings.”
Planet Four (http://www.planetfour.org) and Planet Four: Terrains (http://terrains.planetfour.org) are citizen science projects mining Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) images to explore how the south pole of Mars is sculpted by the never-ending cycle of freezing and thawing of exposed carbon dioxide ice. In the summer, carbon dioxide jets loft dust and dirt through cracks in the thawing carbon dioxide ice sheet to the surface where winds blow the material into the hundreds of thousands of dark fans observed from orbit. Planet Four enlists over 136,000 volunteers to map the sizes, shapes, and orientations of these fans in high resolution images. Planet Four is creating an unprecedented wind map of the south pole of Mars in order to probe how the Martian climate changes over time and is impacted year to year by dust storms and other global-scale events. Planet Four: Terrains, aims to study the distribution of the jet process across the south pole and identify new targets of interest for MRO. Over 12,000 people have helped identify the channels and pits (dubbed araneiforms) carved during the jet formation process. In this talk, I’ll give an overview of Planet Four and Planet Four: Terrains and present the latest results from these projects.
Astronomy Poem inspires Mystery Novel: from Marjie Welchframe
“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too truly to be feaful of the night.”
From poem The Old Astronomer Sarah Williams/S.A.D.I. English poet/novelist, 1868
Novelist Ian Rankin titled his Inspector Rebus novel Set in Darkness after these lines. The poem is written from the perspective of an aged astronomer on his deathbed bidding his student to continue his humble research. The lines have been chosen by a number of professional and amateur astronomers as their epitaphs. Entire poem: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Twilight_Hours_(1868)/The_Old_Astronomer
Time lapses by Neelam and Ajay Talwar and family in an amazingly complicated setup in the midday heat – note the giant fans! They did a wonderful job of capturing Bailey’s Beads peeking through the lunar craters and mountains along the thin rim of sunlight at the edge of the Moon at mid-eclipse.
Noctilucent clouds from Osoyoos – Debra Ceravolo
Debra’s comments on her Facebook page: “Many people like me have never seen noctilucent clouds and here I have seen and photographed four different events this month. The frequency of these special iridescent clouds is increasing due to climate change. Noctilucent clouds or NLCs form way out in the mesosphere at the edge of cold space. Meteor ‘smoke’ lingers there and ice crystals form around that. The solar minimum causes the thermosphere/mesosphere to be even colder and terrestrial activity affects how water vapour gets up there. So it’s water vapours and extreme cold that form NLCs. This photo was taken the evening of June 27th from my home in southern BC.”
Here is my time lapse video of another display on the morning of June 22.
Recording Astronomical Observations – Joe Carr
Joe reviews how he records his observations by using a combination of an observing log, photos, diagrams, and he also shares how he stays motivated and shares his observations online.
On 23 June former NRC/DAO Plaskett Fellow Samantha Lawler gave a public outreach lecture from her new Regina home entitled, “Planet Nine or Planet Nein?” She radiates enthusiasm for studying the outer solar system and includes some excellent graphics to help her audience gain new understanding in an enjoyable fashion. Here is UR’s message with links; if you watch the video I’m sure Samantha and UR would be grateful to receive your feedback via the form they provide:
“We hope you enjoyed “Planet Nine or Planet Nein?” with Dr. Samantha Lawler. A few links and attachments follow: 1) Please complete this survey – we would like to hear your feedback. 2) Please click on this link to view the recording of the presentation. 3) Attached are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the slide deck of Dr. Lawler’s presentation Again, thank you for your interest in the University of Regina’s Research with Impact!”
More Noctilucent Cloud Sightings from Edmonton’s Alister Ling
UVic Open House Presentation: Using Telescopes as Time Machines
Be sure to catch the following UVic Webinar that begins at 7:30PM on Wednesday June 24th: Using Telescopes as Time Machines by Nishith Eluri and Jonathan Ranallo
“The telescope is perhaps an astronomer’s most useful tool, allowing them to study and understand things billions of lightyears away, in places we could never dream of visiting in person. With only a small telescope and a dark view of the heavens, anyone can see with their own eyes the beautiful planets and moons of our Solar System, faraway spiral galaxies dancing and interacting with each other, the nebulous death throes of ancient stars, clusters of young stars just leaving their nurseries, and a myriad of other celestial wonders. This week, our volunteers Nishith and Jonathan will delve into the history and inner workings of telescopes of all types, from Galileo’s first hand-made refractor to the Earth-sized telescope used to image a black hole, and everything in between.”
Chris Purse shared this CBC story on a legal dispute regarding price fixing of amateur telescopes.
Christopher Go Planetary Imaging Tutorials
Zoom has allowed accomplished members of the astronomical community to share their expertise in a Webinar environment. These sessions are often posted on YouTube to replay at your leisure. There are so many postings, however it is easy to miss some valuable talks. In the following three links acclaimed planetary imager Christopher Go shares his expertise. These sessions may help some local planetary and lunar imagers to further hone their skills. These sessions were hosted by Woodland Hills Camera and Telescopes in April 2020.
Kuiper belt talk at the Wednesday Night UVic Astronomy Open House at 7:30 PM
Using New Horizons Probe for Parallax
The distance between the Earth and New Horizons offers a very long baseline that facilitates parallax measurements. Check out the interesting article here.
CANadian Virtual Astronomy Seminar Series (CANVAS)
The next talk in the CANVAS series will be given Paul Weigert of Western on Monday June 22 at 11:00 PDT. Dr. Weigert’s talk is titled ‘ Interstellar asteroids and comets: what are they and where do they come from?’
Visit the CANVAS webpage – http://astroherzberg.org/canvas/ – for the schedule of talks, a link to the YouTube channel, and links to the recorded talks and upcoming talks.
During this cloudy interlude RASCals have had to resort to desperate measures to capture Astro objects. Despite multiple layers of cloud and a rising Sun, Mike managed to get a remarkable amount of detail in this image taken at 9AM on Sunday June 14th. He writes: “The filter works well enough, but not perfect – on screen the sky is grey rather than a completely visible light-blocking black. Alignment points (for stacking software) needed to be set at a much higher brightness than I would normally do.” Check it out
There is a new sunspot on the Sun after three months of being spotless! Both Bill Weir and Joe Carr captured this apparition. More info on SpaceWeather.com for June 6, 2020.
Golden Week of Webinars in Astrophysics 2020
Photos from Edmonton
Thanks to Dave Robinson for forwarding these photos.
Undulating fog in the river valley – a time-lapse captured by Alister. The movie really shows the bulk motions that are not visible to the eye. Sped up 100X. Definitely on the meteorology side of things, but the Moon is in the movie at the start!
Masked Men Make Off with VCO Telescope
On June 4th, vigilant lunar astrophotographer Mike Nash captures RASCals in the act as they conduct top secret mission to ship Victoria Centre Observatory scope to a telescope spa in the Los Angeles area.
Venus setting behind the Chiricahua Mountains from Portal, Arizona
On May 28, 2020, I shot a video of the crescent Venus setting behind the Chiricahua Mountains. This was just 6 days before Venus passed between Earth and the Sun (i.e., inferior conjunction). Shot from Bifrost Observatory, 8-inch Meade LX200, Sony A6000. Fred Espenak (Mr. Eclipse)
Astronomy Cafe is normally held every Monday evening in Fairfield, Victoria, BC, Canada except during summer months or when the Monday falls on a statutory holiday. During the Spring of 2020, in-person meetings were suspended in favour of meeting online in order to comply with British Columbia’s provincial health directives to minimize risk for contracting the coronavirus COVID-19.
You are invited to share content for upcoming online meetings via our President Reg Dunkley (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will post your submitted content to our website and present it to members at the next online meeting, which still happens every Monday evening at 7:30PM. Of course, you are welcome to log in and present your content personally! Links to our online meetings are emailed to RASC Victoria Centre members a day or two ahead of time, so please join us!
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 email@example.com. 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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.