- The Victoria Centre of the RASC and the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Vancouver Island both shared a common origin in the year 1914. This was the year when the Federal Government of the day began building a new observatory on the west coast, directed by Dr. J. S. Plaskett. Besides being an active member of the Ottawa Centre Dr. Plaskett held the position of president at the national level and personally advocated the establishment of a Centre in Victoria.
Visit of the Dominion Chief Astronomer and a Picnic
The number of members enrolled in 1914 was 101 and the work of the Centre during the first year was of an elementary character necessitated by the work of organization, later delayed by the inability of most people to discuss any other subject than the Great War in Europe.
During the nine months that the Centre had operated, six meetings had been held. On one occasion, that of the visiting Dr. W. F. King, Dominion Chief Astronomer, and Dr. J. S. Plaskett to Victoria in July, the Centre held a picnic at the new observatory site for the purpose of meeting the two visitors.
During the year the Centre suffered a serious loss with the death of W. J. Sutton, a committee member, who had been instrumental in forming the Centre.
Centre Invited to Visit the Telescope
Letter from Percival Lowell Regarding Martian Canals
Brashear and Swasey Visit the Telescope
A notable event of 1916 was the Centre’s visit to Little Saanich Mountain, on the invitation of Dr. J. S. Plaskett, to view the great telescope. Although the optical parts were not yet in place the visit was of special interest because the telescope’s mounting had a distinct advantage over current practices of that time in that the polar and declination axes are borne in solid wall bearings. Perfect control and ease of movement of the 45 tons of moving parts fully justified Dr. Plaskett’s courageous innovation.
Another event was the reading by Dr. Denison, during his lecture on Planets, Comets and Meteors, of a communication to him from Dr. Percival Lowell (elected an Hon. Fellow of the Society on June 1, 1916) regarding the existence of the much-disputed Martian Canals. Dr. Lowell’s statement was published in the Daily Colonist of Sunday, April 2, 1916. (Unfortunately, the article is too blurred to read.)
In October Dr. John A. Brashear, Pittsburgh, Pa., whose firm figured the new telescope’s mirrors, and Mr. Ambrose Swasey, of the firm of Warner & Swasey, Cleveland, Ohio, who built the telescope’s mountings, visited Victoria. Mr. McCurdy, the President, and other members of the Victoria Centre entertained these gentlemen.
Official Name Change for Little Saanich Mountain
DAO Mirror Installation and Observatory Opening by Lieut.-Governor Barnard
On January 8 the Geographic Board of Canada changed the official name of Little Saanich Mountain to Observatory Hill, following a suggestion by Dr. Plaskett, and on April 29 Dr. Plaskett announced that the mirror for the 72-in. telescope had been hoisted safely to the observatory’s observing floor.
After its installation the Lieut-Governor of British Columbia, Sir Frank Barnard, opened the observatory officially on June 4, 1918.
A great crowd of visitors, among them many Centre members, attended this notable occasion at the opening of the largest telescope in the world at that time, but only for a few weeks. Newspapers worldwide carried notices of the event, drawing much favourable publicity to Greater Victoria.
Professor Chant Visits Before Directing a Successful Solar Eclipse Expedition
Einstein’s Prediction of Gravitational Star Shifting Confirmed
1922 saw a notable visit by Prof. C. A. Chant, an RASC board member, who was directing an expedition to Australia to observe a solar eclipse on September 21.
A luncheon in his honor was held at the Empress Hotel, presided over by Centre President, W. E. Harper, during which Prof. Chant gave a talk on the chief object of the expedition, namely, to obtain evidence for or against the Einstein theory of relativity.
Dr. R. K. Young, representing the DAO, accompanied the Chant party to Australia and on the return of the expedition, was entrusted by Dr. Chant with the measurement and reduction of the Einstein plates. Images of star shift were found to be approximately the amount predicted by Einstein.
At the Annual Meeting on December 15, Dr. Young gave an account of the work of the Canadian Eclipse Expedition organized by Dr. Chant.
Dr. Plaskett and the DAO Confirm the Rotation of the Milky Way Galaxy
and Receives the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
1930 was a banner year for Dr. Plaskett and the DAO. The Victoria Daily Times of January 29, in a report following a meeting on the 28th, states: “Dr. Plaskett, the speaker of the evening, discussed the success recently attained by the Observatory in demonstrating the rotation of the galaxy.
His address was similar to one delivered recently at Des Moines, before the annual convention of the American Astronomical Association, which was the first official announcement of the important calculations and conclusions worked out by the staff of the local observatory.”
The Victoria Centre also congratulated Dr. Plaskett upon his being awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
En Route to The Solar Eclipse of August 31
Visit of Astronomer Royal from England
On August 8, a dinner was held at the Empress Hotel in honour of 20 European scientists and their wives, who were on a tour of North America en route to the solar eclipse of August 31. The party included Sir Frank Dyson, Astronomer Royal for England and Lady Dyson. President P. H. Hughes occupied the chair and was toastmaster and the entertainment committee consisted of Dr. Plaskett, Dr. Pearce, Mr. and Mrs. W. E. Harper, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Brydon.
Other events included a trip to Butchart Gardens, a garden party at Government House, and an evening visit to the DAO.
Later, on September 22, Mr. Harper described the disappointment of all the Victoria astronomers encamped at Magog, Quebec, when they were clouded out. H. D. Parizeau made an interesting allusion in the course of his undated lecture on “The Hydrographic Survey of the Coast of British Columbia.”
Inaugural Year of a New Professional Canadian Astronomical Society
Many Professionals Retain Their RASC Membership
The RASC continued to be the only organization for professional and amateur astronomers until 1971, when professional astronomers realized that they had better organize themselves into a separate scientific society for their own protection, underneath an umbrella organization (SCITEC). Thus the professional Canadian Astronomical Society came into existence (CASCA).
Remarkably, a great number of professionals retained their membership and association with the RASC after joining CASCA and continue to give sterling service to the Centre down to this day.
George Ball and his Pioneering Cold Camera
A Trailer-Mounted Observatory
George Ball gave a talk explaining the construction of cold cameras for astrophotography, i.e. those that he made for Jack Newton. Using CO2 (dry ice) in a specially constructed film camera was an improvement on existing gas hyperization methods which required soaking a roll of film in hydrogen. Reciprocity failure occurred when film was exposed at nighttime and could be controlled by both methods.
Cold cameras used a single frame of film cut off from a roll and placed in the camera in front of a chamber containing small pieces of dry ice thereby preventing reciprocity failure. Gas hypersensitization is actually a combination of two different hypersensitization techniques, baking and gas hypering. The magic seems to come from taking the moisture and contaminants out of the film. They inhibit the recording of the faint amount of light hitting the film’s emulsion from distant and faint astronomical objects. Neither of these methods is used today and film cameras are almost extinct!
The Centre made little visible progress in completing an agreement to use the historic Gonzales weather station observatory as an astronomical site.
Efforts were redirected into construction of a trailer-mounted mobile observatory with a 50cm diameter reflecting telescope. Leo van der Byl was in charge of this project and considerable progress was made. Unfortunately, it was an ambitious project that failed due to its cumbersome size.
First RASC General Assembly to be Held in Victoria
Our Centre Incorporated Under the B.C. Society Act
1981 was a particularly exciting and rewarding one for our Centre in a number of respects. Foremost was the hosting of our first-ever Annual General Meeting of the RASC, held at the University of Victoria, June 26-29.
This occasion brought us together with members from most Centres coast-to-coast and from south of the border. 154 registrants plus members of their families swelled the attendance at some of the weekend’s events to close to 200 people.
Another landmark was the incorporation of the Centre for tax purposes under the B.C. Society Act on September 22. The efforts of Robert Bryden in bringing this to fruition are noted with thanks.
RASC Journal Editor Jeremy Tatum’s Hilarious Appearance on TV
CCD Cameras Are Catching On
Takahashi 100 mm Doublet Donated to Centre
A Centre-made 20″ Dobsonian Completed
In April we enjoyed a slide show from Bill Almond, who built an observatory that dwarfs his two-storey house and hilarious videotape made of RASC Journal editor and Victoria Centre member Jeremy Tatum’s appearance on the TV program Front Page Challenge.
Jack Newton continues to wow everyone with his incredible colour CCD images. His cold camera has been pushed into the corner of a cupboard and the only time he uses his camera is to photograph his computer screen for hard copy.
CCD software manufacturers occasionally send him their products to “test drive” before marketing them. Some members are getting hooked on CCD imaging and with dedicated software increasingly becoming available; it should soon entice many more.
An almost-new Takahashi 100 mm doublet fluorite refractor was recently donated to the Centre. This, along with a newly completed 20” Dobsonian that Gene Steeves began and George Ball completed, and other, older telescopes, now lets our members take advantage of an excellent arsenal.
Centre Members Assist in Building and Equipping the
Pearson College Observatory
By early April 1995 everything at Lester B. Pearson College Observatory was ready. A 16-foot dome sits above a splendid office and warm room. The telescope has been equipped with an SBIG ST6 CCD, which, in turn, was connected to two computers. A winding connecting road, appropriately named The Milky Way, had been built up the steep hillside. Invitations to the official opening of the observatory were sent out for the big day, which was to be held on April 7th, 1995.
Victoria Centre council members were among the fifty patrons and foundation representatives that were present. After a dinner, speeches and ribbon cutting, everyone inspected the facility and expressed their deep satisfaction that the effort to build the observatory had been well worthwhile.
Centre members are very proud to have contributed something of educational value to the young men and women who attend the college. Many students come from third-world nations.
Most have never had an introduction to the wonders of the night sky or looked through a telescope. Much of their astronomical background is rudimentary and it is pleasing to see their interest as they devour their new found knowledge.
Federal License Issued Allowing Members Free Access to Our New Observatory
More New Equipment Bought
The Victoria Centre and the National Research Council (NRC) are pleased to announce a Licence to Use Land Agreement. Centre members will now be allowed expanded access to NRC/HIA property on Observatory Hill, including access during times which are outside the normal operating hours of the Centre of the Universe Interpretation Centre. Centre members in good standing, who are active observers, qualify to use this excellent site.
This year the Centre purchased a Solar Max telescope, a data projector, an Astrovid Camera and two telescopes for our collection. A Truss Dob telescope was rebuilt by reusing an existing 20-inch mirror.
Centre’s Observatory Officially Opened
The Victoria Centre Observatory (VCO) was officially opened 2008 August 18, with RASC members, corporate partners, and the National Research Council (NRC) staff helping to celebrate this milestone in the Victoria Centre’s history.
The project was completed on time and under budget with the generous assistance from our corporate partners, generous donations of funds and labour from Victoria Centre members, and the goodwill and support from the NRC. Victoria Centre members put their hearts into this project and we are all very proud of this achievement.
International Year of Astronomy Outreach Goal Met
Observatory Equipment Added Along With an Obervatory Extension
At last count, RASC Victoria Centre volunteers had participated in, or organized, over 145 days of outreach events associated with IYA. Our IYA goal for the year was to elicit 20,000 “Galileo Moments” with the public attending, or walking by, our events. By our most recent count of these reactions, we have met that goal.
Although our observatory was substantially completed in August 2008, work there has continued, both on the building and the equipment inside.
We have added a Tele Vue 5-inch (127-mm) refractor to the mount alongside the Meade 14-inch SCT, and have obtained a QSI 583 CCD camera for use in the observatory. As far as the building is concerned, we have added a large observing pad to the outside to make room for members and telescopes, and have added an extension to the observatory building to house the club’s 20-inch Dobsonian reflector.
War on Light Pollution Declared
Dr. James Hesser Selected as Honorary President of the RASC
More Upgrades for the VCO
As the International Year of Astronomy drew to a close, Victoria Centre could point with pride to its achievements for the year: over 22,000 Galileo Moments recorded at 170 events and engagements, over 2000 hours of volunteer effort, continued work upgrading its observatory, and a whole new format and venue for its annual star party. There was to be no resting on its laurels, however, as President John McDonald declared war on light pollution.
We are proud that Victoria Centre Council member Jim Hesser, Director of the DAO of the HIA, has been selected as Honorary President of the RASC, to serve until 2013. Dr. Hesser is a tireless advocate of public outreach and of bringing the glories of astronomy to the public: he was seen at a recent open house of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, acting as parking lot attendant, dressed as Galileo, complete with a metre-long telescope, and welcoming all comers.
Upgrades continued at the VCO, with the addition of Hyperstar imaging capability to the 14-inch telescope, and the addition of a video camera to the VCO’s arsenal of imaging choices. The 20-inch Dobsonian telescope, now housed in its own addition at the VCO, has been upgraded with new trusses, a hand-made shroud, and a new secondary mirror, all of which will allow us to take full advantage of its large aperture. This large scope can be ready for use literally within minutes of the arrival of an observer. In addition, there is now a 12-inch Dobsonian available for use, courtesy of Charles Banville.
Public Outreach Greatly Extended
Four Night-Sky Presentations made to B.C. Parks
In 2011, we recorded 5520 Galileo Moments and logged 775 hours of volunteer time. I think that these numbers prove that IYA2009 is a force that can be sustained over time and that our club, under the leadership of Lauri Roche, has a commitment to education and awareness about astronomy that is extraordinary.
We set up booths and participated in local community events such as the Hobby Show, Earth Walk, Buccaneer Day, the Saanich Strawberry Festival, and the Saanich Fair. Our Saanich Fair participation was particularly successful with approximately 2000 visitors to our set-up. We also made numerous presentations and conducted night-sky viewing with community groups such as the Beavers, Girl Guides, McGill University Alumni, and several seniors’ residences.
Our members made four night-sky presentations in B.C. Parks across southern Vancouver Island this summer. These were held at Goldstream, Miracle Beach, and two locations in Parksville. These events were extremely successful with one event hosting 180 very enthusiastic people. Our group’s relationship with B.C. Parks is very strong and we have discussed a potential telescope donation to one of the parks.