President’s Message – June 2021

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In praise of our Astro Cafe

Members attending Astronomy Cafe using Zoom

Every Monday evening at 19:30, the Victoria Centre runs the Astro Cafe on Zoom. I look forward to it every week! Much of our time as amateur astronomers is spent alone and I suspect that is considered a feature of this hobby by many. But we also like to share our accomplishments and problems. While we are isolated by the pandemic, Astro Cafe brings our community together.

I had been a regular contributor since I joined the Victoria Centre three years ago. Now that you have made me president, I feel that part of the job is to think of something to contribute each week. I try to riff off of some recent astronomical event, for example the summer solstice for our June 21 Astro Cafe. I am particularly excited about linking current astronomical work to the centuries and millennia of astronomers from the past, who figured out so much of how our universe works without the advantage of all the recent technologies and research.

The Astro Cafe also helps us advertise events and opportunities. It provides our members a forum to present their recent, or not so recent, work. I particularly enjoy the discussions, as we learn from each other. We have such a wide variety of specialties and levels of expertise to learn from. Our community is refreshingly supportive and non-judgemental. Everybody should consider making a presentation. If you read something that you found interesting, share it! If you feel proud of an observation, sketch, or photo, share it! If you have an astronomy question, ask it!

Special thanks go out to Chris Purse who masterfully organizes and leads the discussion each week, and to Joe Carr who curates the Astro Cafe videos onto Youtube.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin email

President’s Message – May 2021

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Part of the fun of amateur astronomy is getting caught up in “rabbit holes”. You see something on Facebook, that gets you looking up articles in the popular press, and then into academic publications, and they lead you in a different direction and everything is so fascinating and time just rushes by…

The Moon aligned with Ogden Point breakwater - Randy Enkin photo
The Moon aligned with Ogden Point breakwater – Randy Enkin photo

My current example is looking into the timing of craters on the moon – when they enter and exit the umbra or full shade of the Earth. It was an important way to figure out the time, and therefore one’s longitude, before reliable clocks were made. In the 18th century, astronomers recognized that there is a problem (La Hire, Tabulae Astronomicae, Paris 1707); the earth’s shadow is over 100 km bigger than expected. The anomaly is bigger than can be explained easily with the atmosphere. One would think this is a simple geometric problem that is fully understood, but it is still under study!

Amateur astronomers are helping collect the necessary data. Sky and Telescope publishes predicted times for when the shadow is expected to cross 24 prominent craters, and they request people to email in their observed times. Upcoming May 26, 2021, eclipse online info. Up to 2011, their database includes 22,539 observations by 764 different people. If the sky is clear between 02:52 and 05:48 on Wednesday May 26, I hope to add my name to the list!

The point is, we are a community of interesting and interested people. We set challenges for ourselves. Some are simple; some are very difficult. Get your telescope to track better. Process an image to show more detail. Understand black holes a bit more. Learn another myth of a constellation. And then we get together (virtually, these days) and support each other in these pursuits.

President’s Message – April 2021

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I love the variety of categories in the Amateur Astronomy community. Most of us will be interested in several and passionate in a few. I’m just listing the following from the top of my head and I would appreciate your input.

Randy Enkin using a sextant

We can categorize by equipment: naked eye, binocular, wide-field camera, telescopes, and a few who adventure outside visible light to study radio waves. Telescopes range in aperture, focal length, geometry, optical quality; plus mount style, motors, and automation.

How about by target: the constellations, the sun, the moon, the planets, binary stars, and the deep space objects – nebulas, clusters, and galaxies. There are also the ephemera: meteors, auroras, and the occasional comets. There are also the more predictable events such as eclipses, conjunctions, and occultations.

Some people simply observe, while others record notes, sketch, or photograph. Astrophotography has quite a range, from single shot, to stacking, to long exposures with specific filters.

There are some specific studies, such as variable star photometry, spectrography, or plotting annual parallax. My 31-year- long time series of lunar phases and my recent addition of measuring changes in the lunar diameter would fit here.

And then there are the arm-chair categories – too many to be exhaustive: studies in stellar evolution, planetary evolution, exoplanets and exobiology, galactic evolution, astronomy across the entire electromagnetic spectrum and now gravity waves, black holes, and cosmology. Space travel and technology is a huge category on its own. I have a particular interest in the history of astronomy – how we got to understand things so distant and complex with simpler equipment and theory.

I know members of our community interested in every single one of these categories! And it makes me rejoice that we are together at all our different levels and complementary interests and skills.

Look Up,

Randy Enkin Email

President’s Message – March 2021

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The RASC Victoria Centre welcomed me 3 years ago. I was asked to give a talk about my moon observations at the Astrocafe, and then I became a regular. Now you have given me the opportunity and challenge to be this community’s president.

Ten-year-old Randy projecting the solar eclipse in Hamilton, Ontario, 1970-07-10. (Photo credit, Eleanor Enkin)
Ten-year-old Randy projecting the solar eclipse in Hamilton, Ontario, 1970-07-10. (Photo credit, Eleanor Enkin)

Astronomy has been a big part of my life since I was 8 years old, when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. While my friends wanted to become astronauts, my attention was on the people on the ground who were so enthusiastic about the science, and I decided I would become an astronomer. The path one walks in life is seldom a straight line, and mine brought me to earth science. I am a research scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada, studying the physical properties of rocks and sediments. But I have always dabbled in astronomy.

Fifty-six-year-old Randy projecting the solar eclipse in Victoria B.C., 2017-08-21. (Photo credit, Randy Enkin)
Fifty-six-year-old Randy projecting the solar eclipse in Victoria B.C., 2017-08-21. (Photo credit, Randy Enkin)

I have learned during the last three years that the amateur astronomy community comprises people with a wide range of interests, skills, and levels, but with a common passion to enjoy and share the sky. I have been involved with many volunteer organizations, and my impression is that the RASC Victoria Centre has an extremely high level of volunteerism and mutual support. During my tenure as president, I hope to help nurture this spirit, and support our ongoing inreach and outreach efforts within the broader Victoria Astronomy community. I look forward to getting to know more of you and learn what aspects of astronomy bring you joy and fulfilment.

It is fun to see the various ways astronomy-buffs sign off their letters. “Clear Skies” is wonderful. My predecessor liked “Usable Skies”. My sign-off comes from a note my sister has posted over her computer to remind her to get away from it as often as possible. I like the many meanings these two words hold for us:

Look Up

Randy Enkin