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

Astronomy Cafe

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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 (president@victoria.rasc.ca). 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!

  • October 19, 2020
    • Kevin Light & Kia Tully’s photo of a kayaker in front of the full Moon, taken from Mt. Douglas
    • Astrophotography by the Victoria Camera Club members who participated in John McDonald’s astrophoto workshop
    • Harvest Moonrise over Edmonton – Luca Vanzella
    • Black Holes and the 2020 Nobel Prizes – Randy Enkin
    • TPO 16″ telescope repair status & observatory access update – Reg Dunkley
    • Mars sequential photos – John McDonald
  • October 5, 2020
    • Sunset Azimuth Sweep – Luca Vanzella
    • Review of Astro Cafe web page for this week – Reg Dunkley
      • Mars detailed image – John McDonald
      • Mars – Abdur Anwar, Edmonton Centre
      • Unquiet Slumbers Aurora video from Alastair Ling, Edmonton
      • Two astronomy presentation alerts from Jim Hesser – gravitational waves, asteroid sample return JAXA mission
      • Electronically-assisted astronomy (EAA) – David Lee
    • FDAO Star Party & AGM – Lauri Roche
  • September 28, 2020
    • Report from the VCO by Reg Dunkley
    • Perseverance Mars Mission UofA webinar – Chris Herd, presenter – presented by Dave Robinson
    • Mars & Uranus with moons – Abdur Anwar’s photos from Edmonton – presented by Dave Robinson
    • 12.5″ RC telescope installation – a slideshow by Joe Carr
    • Astro Cafe web page review – Reg Dunkley
      • Astrobiology – a UVic Open House presentation by James di Francesco
      • Baby Planets to Black Holes (ALMA & New Horizon telescope) – lecture to Engineering Society by Dr. Schieven
      • The Quantum Physicist as Causal Detective
      • What’s happening at the RASC
    • Observe the Moon Night – Randy Enkin
    • APOD Equinox composite photo over Edmonton by Luca Vanzella – presented by Chris Purse
  • September 21, 2020
    • Overall Winners 2020 – Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition – presented by Barbara Lane
    • Return to the VCO – Reg Dunkley
    • Time lapse video of the work party at the VCO today – Joe Carr
    • VCO operating procedure Q&A – all
    • Summer Solstice to Autumnal Equinox – Randy Enkin
    • Astro Cafe web page review – Reg Dunkley
      • FDAO Virtual Star Party
      • UVic Observatory Open House
      • Astro Imagers from Edmonton
      • Indigenous Astronomy 
  • September 14, 2020
    • Dr. Phil Groff, Executive Director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
  • Used Newtonian telescope purchase, re-configuration and collimation – Randy Enkin
  • Sketching Lunar trenches using NASA Scientific Visualization – Randy Enkin
  • An upcoming astrophotography workshop to Victoria Camera Club (Sep 15 & 29) – a trial run using zoom – John McDonald
  • Comet Imaging – journey of discovery – Garry Sedun
  • Equipment purchases – small astrograph, new mount & Lunar Observing – David Lee
  • Astro Cafe web page review – Reg Dunkley
    • Sketch of fading Comet Neowise by Bill Weir
    • What’s happening at the RASC? – how to register and a review
    • Impressive Images of Mars using Winjupos software – from Edmonton RASCal Abdur Anwar
    • Mars in 4K (Part 2) – youtube video – ElderFox Documentaries
    • Dan’s image of the North America nebula (NGC 7000) – using dual narrow-band filter
    • Sep 8th – Victoria Centre Council meeting
    • Sep 14th Phil Groth presentation – send questions
    • Membership is declining both nationally and locally – lowest in 5 years
  • FDAO “Equinox to Solstice” – 4 public outreach sessions and Virtual tour for Observatory Hill is coming along – Lauri Roche
  • August 24, 2020
    • Perspective 209 seconds video – Marji Welchframe
    • M31 Andromeda Galaxy from Nanoose Bay and 2,000th Moon milestone on Enkin’s Daily Moon on Facebook – Randy Enkin
    • Review of tonight’s Astro Cafe web page – Reg Dunkley
      • A Poetic Pelican photo by Doug MacDonald
      • Lagoon & Trifid Nebulae photo by Dan Posey
      • Cosmic Collisions – final UVic Open House – Mallory Thorpe
      • RASC Robotic Telescope Editing Contest for August – M82 data processing
      • Speaker Series – Hawaiian Nights
      • Edmonton RASCals deep sky imaging
      • Press briefing on Starlink
    • Observing Comet NEOWISE & Campbell’s Hydrogen Star – Bill Weir at Pearson College Godin-Newton Observatory
    • Moon shadows on Jupiter by John McDonald
  • August 17, 2020
    • Astronomy Cafe zoom passwords – Joe Carr
    • Jupiter shadow transits – sequential frames – John McDonald
    • Perseid meteor shower photos from his allsky camera – Sid Sidhu
    • Mars, the Moon & Venus this past week – David Lee
    • Question about observing meteors low to the horizon – Dorothy Paul
    • Review of tonight’s Astro Cafe web page – Reg Dunkley
  • August 10, 2020
    • Mars and the Moon – David Lee
    • Colour Filters for lunar observing – Randy Enkin
    • How human sight works – yellow filters for lunar observing and seeing colour when observing nebula – Dorothy Paul
    • Space Educator’s Institute -3-day online conference – Lauri Roche & David Lee
    • Perseid meteor shower and other observing hints – Chris Purse
    • RASC National for Perseids observing group – Discord chat service being used – Bill Weir
  • July 27, 2020
    • Historical Comets – members’ photos, sketches and observations of comets past, including some famous ones!
    • Falling Through Space” – Dr. Gordon Walker – UVic presentation
    • First FDAO Virtual Star Party – featuring Dave Balam
    • Canadian Comet Sleuth David Levy: Webinar
  • July 20, 2020
    • North America Nebula – image by Dan Posey
    • Comet NEOWISE C/2020 F3 – images from John Mcdonald, Randy Enkin & others
    • Bigger, better, faster: how changes in technology drive astronomy data collection by Nat Comeau – UVic Astronomy Open House
    • Observing – links to resources
  • July 13, 2020
    • Comet NEOWISE C/2020 F3 – images and sketches from Victoria Centre members
    • Useful comet websites
    • Computer Science in Astronomy: A UVic Open House Webinar
    • Observing
  • July 6, 2020
    • Noctilucent clouds from Edmonton – Alistair Ling
    • Penumbral Eclipse – July 4th – Doug Hardy, David Lee, Dorothy Paul, Randy Enkin
    • Martian Citizen Science – webinar notice
    • Astronomy Poem inspires Mystery Novel – The Old Astronomer by Sarah Williams – Marjie Welchframe
    • Lunar photos – Alex Schmid & John McDonald
  • June 29, 2020
    • More Lunar Photos from Mike Nash
    • Balcony Astronomy from Edmonton – Abdur Anwar
    • June 21st Annular Eclipse of the Sun from India – Time lapses by Neelam and Ajay Talwar
    • Noctilucent clouds from Osoyoos – Debra Ceravolo
    • Recording Astronomical Observations – Joe Carr
    • “Planet Nine or Planet Nein?” with Dr. Samantha Lawler – presented by Reg Dunkley
    • Observing and review of the RASC National youtube channel – Chris Purse
  • June 22, 2020
    • More Noctilucent Cloud Sightings from Edmonton’s Alister Ling
    • Telescope Price Fixing Legal Dispute – presented by Chris Purse
    • Christopher Go Planetary Imaging Tutorials
    • Geomagnetic Measurements Project – Nathan & other members
  • June 15, 2020
    • Sketching by Victoria Centre Members – Phillip Teece’s historical sketches, Diane Bell, Dorothy Paul
    • Noctilucent clouds from Edmonton – Alistair Ling
    • Daytime Lunar Photo from Mike Nash
    • Observing – review of the coming week’s opportunities from Skynews and Sky & Telescope magazines
  • June 8, 2020
    • First sunspot in 3 months! – Bill Weir’s sketches & public outreach photos and Joe Carr’s photo
    • Photos from Edmonton – Alistair Ling’s and Larry Wood’s Moonset and Noctilucent cloud photos, and Alistair’s setting Venus and drifting fog time lapse videos
    • Masked Men Make Off with VCO Telescope – Reg Dunkley, Dave Robinson, Dan Posey and Mike Nash remove and pack up the 16″ TPO RC telescope
    • Venus setting behind the Chiricahua Mountains – Fred Espenak (Mr. Eclipse) captures a beautiful crescent-phased Venus setting in a time lapse video from southern Arizona
    • Observing – review of the coming week’s opportunities from Skynews and Sky & Telescope magazines

Virtual Astro Cafe – March to June 1st, 2020

Astro Cafe Presentations Archive – 2014-2019

Astronomy Cafe event photos

President’s Message June 2020

Posted by as News, President's Message

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