Suspension of in-person Astro Café

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During the COVID-19 outbreak, we have decided to suspend the in-person meetings of Astro Café, Instead, you are invited to share content via Reg Dunkley (president@victoria.rasc.ca) that will be posted on the Virtual Astro Café Page.

This Monday Night Astro Cafe Webinar begins at its regularly scheduled time of 7:30PM. We hope to see you there!

This Just In:

May 25th: Evening and Dawn Images Plus Interesting Web Offerings

Check It Out!

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President’s Message May 2020

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President’s Message May 2020

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.

Wishing everyone good health and useable skies

Reg Dunkley 

President’s Message April 2020

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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 president@victoria.rasc.ca. 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.


Reg Dunkley

March 2020 Speaker: When Stars Explode: Understanding Supernovae from Tycho to Today

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Dr. Tyrone Woods

7:30PM Wednesday March 11th 2020, Room A104 Bob Wright Centre, UVic

In 1572, a new “star” appeared in the sky that forever changed the way we think about the Universe. Identified by famed Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, this incredible event is now understood to have been the explosion of a dead star — a supernova. Since then, supernova observations have illuminated the Cosmos, revealing everything from the origin of the iron in our blood to the final fate of the Universe. In this talk, I’ll outline a brief history of supernova astronomy, culminating in the cutting-edge work being carried out in Victoria and across Canada today to understand why and how some stars explode, and the lasting impact of their explosions and remnants in our Galaxy and beyond.

Dr. Tyrone E. Woods is a research associate and Plaskett Fellow at NRC-Herzberg in Victoria. There, he studies the physics of some of the most energetic events in the Universe, by combining theoretical models with observations across the electromagnetic spectrum. Before returning to Canada, he completed his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Munich, Germany, and held research positions in Australia and the UK.

President’s Message March 2020

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This is the inaugural Presidents message for my second and final term as President of the Victoria Centre of RASC. I would like to thank members of the Council and other active members for their support in the past year. A special salute to our Treasurer Deb Crawford who was busy sorting out our year end finances when we learned that our AGM planned location, the Cedar Hill Golf Course, was no longer available. She rallied to the cause and soon found an alternate venue that ticked all the boxes. Her initiative was key to the success of the AGM and I am very grateful for her contribution. I would also like to thank our Secretary Barbara Lane for presenting our Annual Report in an entertaining manner and Bruno Quenneville for organizing the awards. Our speaker, Mary Beth Laychak, delivered a most interesting and entertaining presentation on the history of the CFHT and we are fortunate that NRC Herzberg helped make that happen.

Thanks must also go to Marjie Welchframe, Mandy Lee and Bill Weir for stepping up and joining the Victoria Centre Council. Their added support and David Lee’s generous offer to organize Astronomy Day convinced me to stay on for a second term. I was, however, a little disappointed that there were no takers for the position of first Vice President. This places our organization in an awkward position. Our constitution prohibits the President from serving more than two consecutive terms. As a consequence if the current situation stands by next February the President’s position will be vacated with no groomed successor to assume the mantle.

The Victoria Centre is a vibrant and active organization and a leadership role may seem intimidating to some. A number of measures are being taken to make this position less daunting. An operators manual is in the works that will provide step by step instructions for major events such as Astronomy Day, the Victoria Centre Star Party, The Saanich Fair Outreach event and the AGM. Saturday Night Star Parties at the DAO offer an incredibly rich and focused opportunity for Astronomical Outreach. The number of these events have nearly tripled since 2015. In order to accommodate this increase we have attempted to trim our sails and have withdrawn from some of the less focused outreach opportunities. Meanwhile “In-reach” activities like Astro Cafe have grown in popularity and help to engage new members and recharge veteran RASCals with more knowledge, energy and enthusiasm.

The primary duty of the first Vice President is to schedule and introduce speakers for the monthly meetings. NRC Herzberg has been very supportive in this regard and the following speakers are already scheduled for the remainder of the season:
Wednesday March 11th Dr. Tyrone Woods – Understanding Supernovae from Tycho to Today
Wednesday April 8th: Dr. Matt Taylor – Role of Dwarf Galaxies & Globulars in Galaxy formation.
Wednesday May 13th: Dr. JJ Kavalaars – An Update on Arrokoth (aka Ultimae Thule)
Wednesday June 10th: Dr. Abedin Abedin – Modelling Meteoroid Swarms

That only leaves 6 more talks to schedule until the next AGM! So please give the First Vice President role serious consideration. It is a great opportunity to deepen your involvement in this remarkable organization. For 106 years the Victoria Centre has been dedicated to its primary mandate: to stimulate interest and to promote and increase knowledge in astronomy and related sciences. By stepping up you would help keep this wheel turning and make an important and satisfying contribution.
Usable Skies

Reg Dunkley

2020 AGM Service Awards

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Awards to members for service in 2019

Newton/Ball Award: Michel Michaud

  • Michel has made a major contribution to the Victoria Centre serving as Librarian and Observing Chair where he coordinated MIC’s for the VCO and scheduled Messier Marathons.
  • He is one of the few who are qualified to run the Plaskett Telescope and plays an essential role operating this instrument at DAO Saturday Star Parties and capturing images for RASC’als.
  • Michel’s quality binary star measurements in the Pleiades have been published in scientific databases and he serves as a role model for citizen science.
Reg presenting Michel Michaud with the Newton Ball Service Award
Reg presenting Michel Michaud with the Newton Ball Service Award

Ernie Pfannenschmidt Telescope Making Award: Ken Mallory

  • For his innovative stylish design of a viewing shield that will safely allow observers to direct solar binoculars at the Sun.
Ken Mallory using his innovative solar shield
Ken Mallory using his innovative solar shield

Award of Excellence in Astrophotography: Doug MacDonald

  • For his Excellence in capturing NGC 6992, The Eastern Veil in the Cyngus loop. Collecting 3 hours of Ha and OIII and one hour of RGB with a 5″ refractor in Victoria BC.
NGC6992 - Eastern Veil Nebula - by Doug MacDonald
NGC6992 – Eastern Veil Nebula – by Doug MacDonald

Certificate of Appreciation: Marjie Welchframe

  • For her Outstanding Support and Engagement for recruiting and scheduling RASC’als to tend the Centre of the Universe Welcome Desk.
Reg presenting Marjie Welchframe with a Certificate of Appreciation
Reg presenting Marjie Welchframe with a Certificate of Appreciation

Certificate of Appreciation: Chris Aesoph

  • For his Outstanding Support and Engagement for coordinating the RASC’s Stargazing event at Fort Rodd Hill.
Starting to observe from Fort Rodd Hill
Starting to observe from Fort Rodd Hill

Certificate of Appreciation: Bruce Lane

  • For his Outstanding Support in organizing the Victoria Centre Star Party at St. Stephens Anglican Church and his effective recruitment of RASC Volunteers.
Reg presenting Bruce Lane with a Certificate of Appreciation
Reg presenting Bruce Lane with a Certificate of Appreciation

Certificate of Appreciation: David Lee

  • For his vital contribution by stepping in as the Astronomy DayTeam Captain, recruiting Saturday Star Party Speakers and coordinating a Public Library Astronomy Display.
Reg presenting David Lee with a Certificate of Appreciation
Reg presenting David Lee with a Certificate of Appreciation

President’s Message February 2020

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The 50th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing received the lions share of astronomical attention in 2019. There was another RASCal worthy milestone, however, that was overshadowed by this event. In October 2019 the Canada France Hawaii Telescope celebrated its 40th Birthday! In order to celebrate this momentous occasion the Victoria Centre has invited Mary Beth Laychak to deliver a presentation on the CHFT at our AGM banquet. Mary Beth is the author of the CHFT Chronicles, a very interesting column which appears in the RASC Journal. As the Director of Strategic Communications for the CFHT she is the ideal person to share stories of the science, staff, instrumentation, and adventure from this remarkable observatory that is brimming with Canadian content.

It should be noted that all Victoria Centre RASCals are welcome to attend this presentation. It will begin at 7:30PM on Saturday February 22nd at the Ambrosia Centre, located at 638 Fisgard Street. Participation in the banquet is not required but I encourage you to consider this savoury opportunity. The AGM was originally booked at the Cedar Hill Golf Course but in January a plumbing failure closed that venue for 6 months. In response to this crisis our intrepid Treasurer, Deb Crawford, went into overdrive and secured the Ambrosia Centre, which enjoys an outstanding culinary reputation. Since easy parking is available across the street we hope that you will join us for delicious cuisine, sparkling conversation, an interesting presentation and recognition of remarkable RASCals. There will also be a streamlined business meeting that will be so short that it will be painless. If you plan to attend please email Deb Crawford treasurer@victoria.rasc.ca by February 15th with your choice of entree.

Snow and fierce winds forced us to reschedule our Victoria Centre Council Meeting to January 22nd. Council focused on upcoming events.
– Astronomy Day will occur on Saturday April 25th at the Royal BC Museum. David Lee has once again kindly volunteered to organize this event. It serves as the kickoff of our ambitious 2020 outreach season. The first of 21 scheduled Saturday Night Star Parties at the DAO commence that evening and will continue until September 12th.
– From April 15th to May 2nd Langham Court Theatre will be performing Silent Sky, a wonderful play featuring the life of Henrietta Leavitt, who discovered the luminosity-period relationship of Cepheid variables. Potential outreach possibilities are being explored.
– The 2020 RASC General Assembly in Metro Vancouver June 5th to 7th. Early bird registration discount ends February 15th.
– Fort Rodd Hill Stargazing event on Friday August 7th.
– The 25th Annual Island Star Party at Bright Angel Park on August 22nd and 23rd.
– Saanich Fair Epic Outreach Event September 5th to 7th.

You might notice that no Victoria Centre RASCal Star Party is planned for 2020. During a lengthy discussion it was noted that in order to select a star party date that did not conflict with the Island Star Party, Saturday Night at the DAO and the Saanich Fair, the Victoria Centre event would have to be held in late September. Both star parties held in September at St Stephens Church were rained out and demonstrated the unreliable nature of September weather. A significant majority of council felt that it was not worth the time, energy and expense to organize a star party when the likelihood of success was marginal. The idea of a “downsized” event that would provide both social benefits and encourage communal stargazing had a certain appeal. The option of a casual “Picnic at Pearson” might fit the bill and a late summer pot luck event at Pearson College is actively being explored. We may also hold a couple of casual observing sessions at Cattle Point during a favourable weather window. We will see how this works this year and revisit the Star Party option next year. When you remember that we also have the weekly events at the Victoria Centre Observatory we have plenty of activities for a busy season ahead.

Useable Skies
Reg Dunkley

February 2020 Speaker: 40 Years of Astronomy at the Top of the World

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Mary Beth Laychak, Canada France Hawaii Telescope

7:30 PM Saturday February 22nd 2020 The Ambrosia Centre, 638 Fisgard Street

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope celebrated it’s 40th anniversary in 2019. Mary Beth Laychak, CFHT’s Director of Strategic Communications will share stories of the science, staff, instrumentation, and adventure from CFHT.

Mary Beth Laychak is the Director of Strategic Communications at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii. She also runs the Maunakea Scholars program, an innovative astronomy outreach program for Hawaii public high school students. Mary Beth has an undergraduate degree in astronomy and astrophysics from Penn State University and a masters degree in educational technology from San Diego State. Her passions include astronomy, sharing astronomy with the public, astronomy based crafts, and running. She lives in Waimea, Hawaii with her husband and cat.

Notice of Election at 2020 AGM

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Barbara Lane, Secretary, RASC Victoria Centre

There will be an election for the Victoria Centre council at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Victoria Centre, being held on February 22, 2020 at 7:30PM. Location: The Ambrosia Centre, 638 Fisgard Street, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Here is the list of nominees.

President: Reg Dunkley
First Vice President: VACANT
Second Vice President: Marjie Welchframe
Secretary: Barbara Lane
Treasurer: Deb Crawford

Librarian: Diane Bell
Membership Coordinator: Chris Purse
National Rep: Nelson Walker, Bill Weir
Observing: Jim Stilburn
Outreach Coordinator: Mandy Lee
Past President: Chris Purse
Progressive Lighting Policies: Dave Robinson
Schools Program & Telescopes: Sid Sidhu
SkyNews Editor: Bruce Lane
Technical Committee Chair: Matt Watson
Webmaster: Joe Carr

Directors:

    James Di Francesco (DAO Liaison)
    Chris Gainor
    Jim Hesser
    David Lee
    John McDonald
    Bill Weir (Pearson College Liaison)
    Jim Nemec (Camosun College LIaison)
    Dan Posey
    Lauri Roche (Friends of the DAO Liaison)
    Alex Schmid (University of Victoria Liaison)

RASC Victoria AGM 2020

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You may have heard that the venue we had booked for our AGM, the Cedar Hill Golf Club was flooded and will be closed for the next 6 months. We are very fortunate to have found an alternative and excellent venue: The Ambrosia Centre at 638 Fisgard Street. The building is currently dressed up in tarps (it is being re-wrapped to make it more energy efficient) but the interior is just fine. There is lots of parking on the street, as well as in the City Parkade directly across the street, and Douglas Street offers a major bus route with stops in the same block. When entering the building, use the left door and walk straight ahead into our lovely room.

For all those of you who have already placed orders, you need do nothing more than show up at the new venue on February 22, 2020. If you have yet to sign up, please contact our Treasurer Deb Crawford by email no later than 7 days before the event (Feb 15th). Please specifiy how many in your party, and their choice of entree. Cost for dinner is $40 per person (including tip and tax).

Members who wish to skip the dinner but attend the AGM and presentation, please arrive at 7:30PM. There is no cost to attend, in this case.

Pre-dinner drinks and chat - 2018 AGM and dinner
Pre-dinner drinks and chat – 2018 AGM and dinner

The menu will be much the same as publicized before, however the chicken option is no longer offered, and a new vegetarian dish is added.

Entrees:

  1. Steak – state rare, medium or well-done when ordering
  2. Baked Wild Salmon – choice of sauce
  3. Vegetarian Lasagna – grilled vegetables layered with tomato sauce & noodles topped with cheese

Salads:

  • Caesar salad
  • Mixed greens with vinaigrette dressing
  • Marinated vegetable pesto
  • Traditional coleslaw

Side: Roasted Rosemary Baby Potatoes

Desserts:

  • Assorted mini pastries with fruit garnish
  • Homemade cheesecake
Mary Beth Laychak, CFHT
Mary Beth Laychak, CFHT

Schedule – Feb 22, 2020

  • 6:00 p.m. Doors Open – No Host Bar
  • 6:30 p.m. Buffet Style Banquet
  • 7:30 p.m. Presentation: The Canada France Hawaii Telescope: The First 40 Years by Mary Beth Laychak
  • 8:30 p.m. Annual General Meeting and Awards – Notice of Election