President’s Message December 2019

Posted by as News, President's Message, Uncategorized

Neither history nor society is generous to those who come in second place. Buzz Aldrin knows this all too well and I do not believe there is a movie in the works called “The Second Man”. A similar fate has fallen on the Apollo 12 mission. I bet most of you would have to refer to Bruce Lane’s November SkyNews issue to come up with the names of the Apollo 12 crew. I will spare you the effort; Pete Conrad and Alan Bean climbed into the Lunar Module “Intrepid” and landed on an area of the Ocean of Storms on November 19th 1969. Richard Gordon remained aboard Command Module “Yankee Clipper”. The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing was celebrated with great hoopla around the globe. There were a series of special events at the DAO culminating with Dr. Chris Gainor’s Moon Walk presentation. In contrast the 50th for Apollo 12 barely received a mention.

Apollo 12, however, is memorable for a number of reasons. First of all it was struck by lightning within a minute of launch and the command module immediately lost it’s fuel cells and instrumentation. It was the quick thinking of a brilliant Nasa engineer and Alan Bean’s remarkable memory of an obscure switch which prevented the abortion of the mission.

Apollo 11 was also very nearly aborted during the final descent to the Moon. The relaxed drawl of capsule communicators concealed the alarm that was felt during the last 13 minutes to the Moon. This has been richly captured by an outstanding and immersive BBC podcast https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xttx2/episodes/downloads. Apollo 11 came in too fast and overshot the planned landing area. Neil Armstrong was confronted with rough terrain and had to use up all but 20 seconds of fuel to find a suitable landing spot. In contrast the Apollo 12 mission executed a pinpoint landing and Pete Conrad just had to make a minor intervention at the end to avoid some rubble. They landed within 1000 feet of the Surveyor 3 landing probe. The improvement of the landing accuracy has been attributed to adjusting for local variations in gravity introduced by mountains.

There was concealed drama at the end of the Apollo 12 mission. Remember those lightning strikes? There was concern that they may have damaged the explosive bolts that release the parachutes during the November 24th return to Earth. NASA decided it was better not to share these concerns with the astronauts. They had enough to think about! Even though this was the “second” landing it was a fascinating voyage, rich with history and certainly worthy of celebrating and revisiting. The next 50th anniversary will be in April with Apollo 13 … and there was no shortage of drama on that mission!

For the Victoria Centre Monthly Meeting at 7:30 PM on Wednesday, December 11th we will be changing focus from the solar system to the evolution of galaxies. Visiting Astronomer Dr. Marcin Sawicki will deliver an interesting presentation entitled “The lives and deaths of galaxies — more than just a metaphor”. We hope you can make it to Room A104 in the Bob Wright Centre.

In the past the Victoria Centre held its Annual General Meeting in November. Due to a change in our fiscal year end this year the AGM will be held on February 22nd 2020 at the Cedar Hill Golf Course. We will be circulating the banquet menu for you consideration in the near future.

Please note that doors to Astro Cafe will be closed on December 23rd and December 30th. I would like to end by wishing all Victoria RASCals a very Happy Festive Season and Useable Skies in 2020.

Reg Dunkley

2019 Transit of Mercury

Posted by as Observing Highlights

2016 Transit of Mercury - prize-winning photo by John McDonald. Mercury is the tiny dot just above the trees, not the big sunspot in the middle of the Sun!
2016 Transit of Mercury – prize-winning photo by John McDonald. Mercury is the tiny dot just above the trees, not the big sunspot in the middle of the Sun!

This transit of Mercury will be well underway when the Sun rises at 7:00AM on November 11th. Observers in our location on the west coast of Canada will need to get up early and setup in the dark or pre-dawn, so familiarize yourself with your chosen observing location a few days before this event!

2019 Mercury Transit – gallery of photos and sketches from RASC Victoria Centre members.

Transit timing for Victoria, BC, Canada – Nov 11, 2019 – Pacific Standard Time (PST) – 2 hours & 45 minutes long

  • First contact (ingress, exterior): sun below horizon
  • Second contact (ingress, interior): sun below horizon
  • Sunrise – 7:00AM in the SE
  • Greatest transit: 7:20:26 AM PST
  • Third contact (egress, interior): 10:03:02 AM PST – Sun Altitude 19°
  • Fourth contact (egress, exterior): 10:04:43 AM PST
2019 Mercury Transit world map - Fred Espenak
2019 Mercury Transit world map – Fred Espenak

Observing

2019 Mercury Transit diagram - Fred Espenak
2019 Mercury Transit diagram – Fred Espenak

You should try out any gear you propose to use before Nov 11th. Make sure you have proper solar eclipse filters for any binoculars, camera lenses and telescopes you will be using. Take test photos of the Sun well before this event, so you know your photo gear will work as expected. 

Unlike a total solar eclipse, there is no safe time to take off your solar filters when observing a planetary transit across the Sun. Solar filters must be used the whole time you are looking at the Sun for this event!

Choose a location that has a clear view to the east and southeast, since the transit will be in progress as the Sun rises. Being located on a hill will be an advantage for observing the Sun (and transit) sooner.

Mercury is too small to see without using some magnification, so at a minimum, use solar filters on binoculars or a small telescope to observe with. Mercury will be impossible or extremely difficult to see with unaided eyes or pinhole projectors.

Timing and azimuth of sunrise from Victoria on Nov 11, 2019
Timing and azimuth of sunrise from Victoria on Nov 11, 2019

Finally, relax and enjoy this event. Sit back in a reclining chair, have your solar glasses and filtered binoculars or telescope handy, and enjoy!

Resources

President’s Message: November 2019

Posted by as Meetings, President's Message

The Canadian astronomical community received a wonderful surprise on October 8th when it was announced that Manitoba native Dr. Jim Peebles would receive the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics. Jim was born in St. Boniface and obtained a Bachelor Degree in Physics from University of Manitoba in 1958. He then obtained a Phd from Princeton in 1962 and has remained there every since. He was rewarded for laying a foundation for modern cosmology, including his realization that faint microwave radiation that filled the cosmos 400,000 years after the Big Bang contains crucial clues to what the universe looked like at this primitive stage and how it has evolved since. Dennis Overbye wrote a wonderful account, explaining his discoveries and capturing his character in Chapter Six the classic book The Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos. Randy Enkin and Jim Hesser delivered a short tribute to Peebles during a recent Astro Cafe. Jim Hesser met Peebles when he was a grad student at Princeton and mentioned that Peebles had spent time at the DAO while on Sabbatical in the early 80’s. At that time he boldly predicted that Jim would receive the Nobel Prize some day. It took almost 4 decades but Hesser was delighted when his prediction was finally verified. There is a joyous YouTube video of the Princeton celebration of this announcement. Check it out.

While Jim Peebles contemplated the biggest picture, most of the Victoria Centre presentations during 2019 have focused on our local Solar System. In February Dr. Samatha Lawler explored the controversy about a Planet Nine lurking in the outer reaches of the Solar System. In March Dr. JJ Kavelaars shared the latest findings for the New Horizon’s Flyby of 2014MU69 (Ultima Thule). Dr. Kelsi Springer delivered a public lecture on this rendezvous during a CASCA conference in May. I gave a talk on the Juno mission to Jupiter in May while in June Matt Williams explored the feasibility of leaving the Solar System to explore nearby stars. The Summer was dominated by reflections on the Apollo moon landing while in October Dr. Linda Spilker, Principal Cassini Mission Scientist delivered a fascinating talk on the results of this very successful 13 year exploration of Saturn. Meanwhile Linda’s husband Dr. Tom Spilker, a space mission architect, unveiled plans for a 400 person Space Station … on the scale of the Empress Hotel. I will try to negotiate a Victoria Centre discount. Some age restrictions may apply.

This Solar System theme continues at the November 13th monthly meeting when Dr. Philip Stooke discusses Lunar discoveries that have been made since Apollo. He has applied his specialty in cartography to the Solar System and has developed a Martian Atlas and has also mapped the irregular shapes of Martian moons and many asteroids. It will be an interesting talk and we hope to see you there.

One noteworthy Solar System event is the Transit of Mercury which begins at Sunrise at 7:15 AM on November 11th and ends at 10AM. Because this event occurs very close to Remembrance Day Ceremonies and due to the unfavourable climate for this date the Victoria Centre decided to not heavily promote the Transit. Some Victoria RASCals, however, plan to set up telescopes at Cattle Point and Mount Tolmie if weather permits.

Speaking of weather, a blocking ridge of high pressure became established in late October …which is rare for this time of year. This allowed many clear nights and Victoria RASCals made the most of this opportunity. Over 20 participated in the Plaskett Party on October 26th. This interlude also allowed the technical committee to refine the performance of the 16 inch telescope at the Victoria Centre Observatory and it is back in business “bagging photons”. Many thanks to all who made that happen. Due to our land use agreement with NRC, you have to be a member of the active observers list to attend these VCO sessions. Please see Chris Purse (membership@victoria.rasc.ca) for details.

Useable Skies
Reg Dunkley