September Speaker: Canada’s role in the next generation wide field spectroscopy

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Dr. Alan McConnachie

7:30 PM Wednesday September 11th

Room A104 Bob Wright Building, UVic

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT, 1979-) is a 3.6-metre class facility that has been a consistently productive and competitive instrument during its decades long life. Science evolves, and the instruments for science must evolve too. The Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) is an ambitious 11.25-metre dedicated multi-object spectroscopic facility that is intended as a major refurbishment of the CFHT. It is designed to fill an outstanding critical niche in the future astronomy facility landscape and first light is planned for 2029. Canada is one of the leaders in the project, which represents an exciting opportunity for the country and its international partners to tackle key science ranging from the nature of the dark matter particle to the origins of the elements of the Periodic Table.


Alan McConnachie received his PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Cambridge in 2005. He then moved to Canada, and held postdoctoral positions at the University of Victoria and the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO). He then became a Research Officer at DAO, a position he has held since 2011. Dr. McConnachie specialises in observational studies of nearby galaxies, their resolved stellar populations, and the tools we need to understand them. He is the author of more than 120 peer reviewed publications. He is one of the originators of the MSE concept, and served as Project Scientist from 2014 – 2018. He is currently the MSE Project Spokesperson.

President’s Message September 2019

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As the Victoria Centre slides into September the Summer season is still winding down just as we kickstart our Winter program. This makes it the busiest month of the year and there are many ways to deepen your engagement in Astronomy in general and within the RASC in particular.

During the first week, for instance, just as the Island Star Party at Bright Angel Park closes the Victoria Centre stages a major outreach event at the Saanich Fair. This significant undertaking is organized and championed by our human dynamo, Lauri Roche. Then at 7:30PM on Wednesday September 4th there is the Victoria Centre Council Meeting in the Fourth Floor Lounge of the Elliot Building at UVic. All RASCals are welcome to attend. On September 7th the final DAO Saturday Star Party of the season occurs … bringing our total to a record 22 Star Parties this year! Special thanks must go to David Lee for recruiting and introducing the speakers, Lauri Roche for being a key ring leader with our cousins the Friends of the DAO, Michel Michaud and Dan Posey for operating the Plaskett Telescope and the many RASCals who generously share their telescopes, knowledge and enthusiasm with a most appreciative Public. This is Public Outreach on steroids!

But now let’s talk about some “in reach” activities. This is where RASCals recharge their enthusiasm by sharing their knowledge, interests and adventures with other members of the Astronomical Community. At 7:30PM on Monday September 9th the first Astro Cafe of the season opens its doors in the Portable behind the Fairfield Community Centre. These are informal sessions where questions are welcome and it is a great place for people who are newbies to learn more. You do not have to be a member to attend. Thanks to Barb and Kurt Lane, John McDonald and Chris Purse for hosting these weekly events that will continue through May 2020.

And then there are our Monthly meetings held on the second Wednesday of the month from September until June. They begin at 7:30PM, usually in Room A104 of the Bob Wright Centre at UVic. We have an exciting Fall lineup of speakers scheduled:
– On September 11th Dr. Alan McConnachie will describe the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer. This is an ambitious project to upgrade the Canada French Hawaiian Telescope on Mauna Kea. Upgrade you say? Yes the CFHT is 40 years old and it is time for a makeover. Yikes time flies!
– On October 9th Linda and Tom Spilker, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will share their adventures obtained while exploring the Solar System from front row seats of major Nasa missions. Linda is the Principal Investigator of the Cassini Project and has recently been featured on a number of documentaries on PBS and Netflix. Tom is a “Space Flight Mission Architect” and consults with space agencies around the globe. Doesn’t that sound amazing!
– On November 13th Dr. Philip Stooke will talk about “Lunar Exploration after the Apollo Landings”. You might not be aware that there have been numerous soft landings since Apollo and the Lunar surface is beginning to resemble a parking lot! It is a great opportunity to update you knowledge.

Joe Carr has kindly organized a weekend workshop on the incredibly powerful astrophotography software package PixInsight. It will begin on Saturday September 21st at the Centre of the Universe. One of the instructors, Warren Kellar, is an expert on PixInsight and has authored this must have “how to” user manual on this software. Click here for details. Also on Saturday the 21st we have the Fall Fairfield outreach event at Sir James Douglas School as well as an evening observing session at the VCO. The Friends of the DAO will also hold their AGM that evening! It will have a marathon quality for those “friendly RASCals” with dual membership in both organizations.

The major event of the month however is the RASCals Star Party hosted by the Victoria Centre from Friday September 27th until Sunday September 29th in the churchyard of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Central Saanich. While the public is welcome this is a great opportunity for RASCals to connect with each other. Many thanks to Bruce Lane for organizing this signature event. Click here for more details. Keep your fingers crossed for useable skies!

We hope to see you there!

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message Mid Summer Report

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RASC Display at Library

The Summer is whizzing by and we are already a week deep into August! Since so much has already happened it is a good time pause and reflect on July’s accomplishments and look forward to August’s schedule.

During July most RASCals were infected with Apollo Fever. We were treated to a remarkable series of outstanding movies, documentaries, podcasts and articles about the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. The Victoria Centre participated in many related activities including:

On July 4th an Astronomy Display was set up at the Bruce Hutchinson Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library. This lunar themed display was designed to resonate with the Apollo anniversary. We received very positive comments from the library and they noted that there was a significant increase in the circulation of astronomy books during July. Thanks must go to David Lee who initiated this project and to the following RASCals who helped make it happen: Marjie Welchframe, Lauri Roche, Sid Sidhu, Dave Essery and Reg Dunkley.

On the Moon Again. RASCals joined this global lunar observing event on July 12th and set up scopes at Cattle Point Urban Dark Sky Park. Clouds frequently blocked the Moon but a continuous stream of cruise ship passengers marvelled at views of Mount Rainier. This intersection of Cruise Ship Buses and Cattle Point RASCals may have the makings of an astronomical outreach sausage factory. That would really boost those Galileo Moments!

Lunar Saturday Night Star Parties. David Lee scheduled a series of interesting and relevant lunar themed talks for the Saturday Night Star Parties. Our tireless cousins at the FDAO went all out during the week of the landing with Apollo talks on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Centre of the Universe. The climax occurred on Saturday the 20th with a barbecue and a 2 hour Moon Walk presentation where Dr. Chris Gainor amazed us with all sorts of fascinating Apollo anecdotes. It was a wonderful opportunity for space travel enthusiasts. If you are suffering from Apollo withdrawal there is an absolutely riveting BBC podcast called 13 Minutes to the Moon Hardcore Apollo fanatics will love it. This celebration of the Apollo provided a welcome relief from todays rather disturbing news cycle. Congratulations must go to all the RASCals and Friends of the DAO for this epic outreach event. The scale of their endeavour acquired its own “Moon Shot” magnitude.

Meanwhile progress has been made on the optical front:

A mirror washing clinic was kindly conducted by Bill Weir on Friday June 14th using the 20 inch Dobsonian mirror at the Centre of the Universe. Several RASCals have already applied this technique to their own scopes. Thanks Bill.

The 16 Inch is Back! Congratulations must also go to Dan Posey, Les Disher and Matt Watson for successfully re-collimating the 16 inch Richey Chretien reflector at the Victoria Centre Observatory. This accomplishment required troubleshooting skills , mastery of new techniques and tenacity.

Events of August:

The Fort Rodd Hill Star Party will take place on the evening of Friday August 9th. Contact Chris Aesoph at chris@aesoph.com if you plan to bring a scope and have not already notified him or if you would like to lend a helping hand.

Cowichan Valley Starfinders Star Party begins on Friday August 30th at Bright Angel Park.

Saanich Fall Fair: Saturday August 31st to Monday September 2nd. Victoria RASCals share their enthusiasm of astronomy with thousands of attendees at this annual event. We will need volunteers. Please contact Lauri Roche at roche.lauri@gmail.com

And finally I would like to extend a thank you to all the RASCals who, as Ambassadors of the Universe, generously share their scopes, time, enthusiasm and knowledge to a grateful public at the Saturday Night Star Parties. Thanks also must go to Marjie Welchframe and her team of Victoria Centre volunteers who “person” the Welcome Table.

Cloud Free Nights

Reg Dunkley

50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

Posted by as Events, Special Events

July 20th marks the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. Due to media attention a desire to take a closer look at the Moon may grow as this date approaches. Unfortunately the Moon will not rise until 11:14PM on the anniversary of the landing. As a result the International Astronomical Union is organizing a global lunar observing event on July 12th called “On the Moon Again”. Between 8PM and 11PM on Friday July 12th, members of the Victoria Centre of RASC will set up telescopes in Oak Bay at the Cattle Point Dark Sky Urban Star Park. If weather permits they will be happy to share views of the Moon with you.

Apollo 11 astronauts on the Moon

Victoria Centre telescopes will also be in position at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory every Saturday evening in July from 7:15PM to 10:45PM for weekly Star Parties. These events, co-hosted with The Friends of the DAO, will include the following Moon related lectures:

July 6th: The Voyages of Apollo by Dr. Philip Stooke
July 13th: “Explore the Moon: My 50-Year, 30-Year, and 1-Year Projects” by Randy Enkin
July 20th: The Apollo Moon Walk by Dr. Chris Gainor
July 27th: Through the Knowledge Network: Space Suite Apollo and Space Suite IV

In addition to the above programs these Star Parties also include tours of the historic Plaskett Telescope, the Centre of the Universe Museum and Planetarium shows. Obtain free tickets to the Saturday Star Parties at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

During the week of the July 20th the Friends of the DAO will hold the following additional lectures on Apollo at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, starting shortly after 7:00 PM.:

Tuesday July 16: Canada’s Contributions to Apollo by Dr. Chris Gainor

Wednesday July 17: Apollo in the Age of Aquarius by Dr. Dennis Crabtree

Thursday July 18: The Voyages of Apollo by Dr. Philip Stooke

The Centre of the Universe at the DAO will also be open to the public from 10 AM to 3 PM on Tuesday July 16 through Friday July 19.

Here is more detailed information of the scheduled Saturday Star Party lectures at the DAO:

July 6th 2019 – 8:30pm repeats at 9:30pm
The Voyages of Apollo
Dr. Philip Stooke

Abstract: A summary of the Apollo Program including its origins, steps along the way to the Moon, the choice of landing sites and a pictorial look at each mission.

Bio: Phil Stooke is a planetary scientist and cartographer with a PhD from UVic. He taught in the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration at Western University in London, Ontario until his recent retirement. He has published The International Atlas of Lunar Exploration and similar books on Mars, and is currently revising his lunar atlas.

July 13th 2019 – 8:30pm repeats at 9:30pm
“Explore the Moon: My 50-Year, 30-Year, and 1-Year Projects”
Randy Enkin

Abstract: In 1969, at age 8, the Apollo missions motivated me to become an astronomer. Very quickly I mastered the subject, but then over the following 50 years I mostly found out how little I know. In this presentation, I will present my 30-year time series of lunar phase observations, and my lunar sketches from the past year which earned me the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada “Explore the Moon Observing Certificate” (https://www.rasc.ca/observing/explore-the-moon-observing-certificate). And you will be introduced to “Enkin’s Daily Moon” where images of the moon explore “the passage of time, illumination, the feminine, and world unity”. (https://www.facebook.com/EnkinsDailyMoon/)

Bio: Randy Enkin did not become a professional astronomer. He is a Research Scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada, working on earthquakes. He is an enthusiastic member of the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

July 20th 2019 – 7:45pm to 10:45pm
The Apollo 11 Moonwalk with Dr. Chris Gainor

Abstract: This presentation will show the entire Apollo 11 moonwalk as it was televised on the evening of July 20, 1969, along with descriptive slides. Chris Gainor will discuss the flight of Apollo 11, the symbolic aspects of the first walk on another celestial body, and the scientific work carried out by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface. The presentation will begin shortly before 8 p.m., just as it did in real time in 1969, and will continue for the two hours and 40 minutes of this historic event.

Bio: Chris Gainor is a historian specializing in the history of space flight and aeronautics. He has five published books and is currently writing a history of the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA. He is President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

July 27th 2019 – 8:30pm to 10:45pm
Through the Knowledge Network: Space Suite IV and Space Suite Apollo

Producers – Imagine Create Media
Space Suite IV
A series of 10 short films that explore the infinite wonders of our universe and our interactions with the cosmos.
Space Suite Apollo
Trace the history of NASA’s Lunar missions from Mercury to Gemini, to the Apollo Missions that ultimately landed a man on the moon. Set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Space Suite Apollo gives viewers an unflinching look at the raw footage that continues to capture the world’s imagination.

President’s Message: June 2019

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The final Astro Cafe of the season ended in fine form on Monday May 27th with an epic cookie fest. Astro cookie architect Diane Bell kindly brought tasty replicas of the M87 Black Hole. Meanwhile there were concerns that the emergency biscuit stockpile may not fair well over the summer break. So RASCals rallied to the challenge and by evenings end there was not a Viva Puff to be found. Thanks must go to Astro Cafe hosts Barbara and Kurt Lane, John McDonald and Chris Purse for maintaining such a welcoming and informal tone to the gatherings. This encouraged attendees of all ages to showcase their stunning images and projects, demonstrate techniques and gear, ask and answer questions, discuss breaking news, and share their enthusiasm and passion for all things astronomical. Thanks must also go to the presenters who made these evenings so informative and entertaining. If you have not made it to an Astro Cafe yet, doors will re-open at 7:30 PM on Monday September 9th in the Portable at Fairfield Community Centre … and oh yes … please bring a reusable mug.

We still have one more monthly meeting to go before the summer intermission. On Wednesday, June 12th, science journalist Matt Williams will give a talk on Interstellar Exploration. With the growing alarm about global warming, the search for exoplanets seems to have morphed into a “house hunting” mission. Even if we identify a suitable new planet, can we get there? Matt will explore the challenges involved and assess the feasibility. Maybe it will be easier to take better care of our home planet.

While many organizations take a break over the Summer, Victoria Centre RASCals will remain in high gear. Observing sessions are scheduled at the Victoria Centre Observatory every Friday evening. If you have not yet peered through our recently commissioned Obsession 20 Inch Dobsonian you are in for a treat. In order to participate you must be a member of the Active Observers list. Send an e-mail to membership@victoria.rasc.ca for details.

We will continue to co-host Saturday Star Parties at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory with our “cousins”, the Friends of the DAO. A record 22 Star Parties will have been held by the time this program winds down on September 7th. The combination of Plaskett tours, astronomical lectures, planetarium shows and night sky viewing through RASCal scopes makes these evenings unusually rich outreach offerings. We have recently redeployed our old 20 Inch Walton Dobsonian to the Centre of the Universe. When we roll this scope onto the adjacent patio it will help boost views of the planets during the twilight zone around the solstice and reveal deep sky objects when darker skies return near Summer’s end. If you would like to become more engaged in the Victoria Centre we are still looking for volunteers. Perhaps you would like to help Martin Caldwell operate the 20 inch Walton Dob or “person” our Welcome Desk. Maybe you have a short presentation you would like to deliver in the Black Hole Theatre. Please email me at president@victoria.rasc.ca if you would like to contribute.

A number of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing are still in the planning stage both on and off Observatory Hill. Announcements will be emailed when details are finalized. Be sure to read Chris Gainor’s excellent article about the Canadian contribution to the Apollo mission in the July-August issue of the Sky News Magazine.

In the longer term be aware that the Victoria Centre plans to set up outreach tables at both the Saanich Fair on Labour Day Weekend and at Fall Fairfield on Sept 21st. Our Victoria Centre Star Party will take place at St Stephens Anglican Churchyard between September 27th and the 29th. Be sure to guard those dates. It is shaping up to be an action packed Summer. Enjoy!

Cloud Free Nights
Reg Dunkley

June Speaker: Going Interstellar: When and How Will We Travel to the Nearest Stars?

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Matthew Williams

7:30PM Wednesday, June 12th 2019

Room A104 Bob Wright Centre, UVic

The dream of traveling to the nearest stars is one that has haunted the public imagination for centuries. But it has only been in the past few decades that we have been able to contemplate what such a journey would look like. And in recent years, the desire to send missions to neighboring planets – and also neighboring stars – has reemerged with a vengeance. There are many reasons for this: the Voyager 1 and 2 probes recently joined each other in interstellar space, the discovery of exoplanets (including one next door) has inspired scientists to look for life on them directly, and emerging technology has been making space travel cheaper and more accessible. But how (and when) will we “go interstellar”? As with most things having to do with space exploration, the simplest answers are: “How fast do we need to get there?” and “How much are we willing to spend?”

Matthew S Williams is a professional writer for Universe Today and Interesting Engineering. His articles have been featured in Phys.org, HeroX, Popular Mechanics, Business Insider, Gizmodo and IO9, Science Alert, Knowridge Science Report, and Real Clear Science, with topics ranging from astronomy and Earth sciences to technological advances, environmental issues, and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). He is a former teacher, a science-fiction author, and a 5th degree Black Belt Tae Kwon-Do instructor. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and family.

May Meeting Speakers: A Medley of Short Presentations by Victoria Centre RASCals

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7:30 PM Wednesday May 8th 2019 in Room A104, Bob Wright Centre at the UVic

Instead of featuring a single speaker the May meeting will be a “Members Night” where a number of Victoria Centre RASCals will deliver short presentations on their projects, imagery or fascinating topics. It should be a fun night. We hope to see you there.

  • Royal BC Museum Classroom Kit – DAO Outreach demonstration – Lauri Roche
  • Jupiter and the Juno Mission – Reg Dunkley

President’s Message: May 2019

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April was a momentous month for the Astronomical community. On April 10th an image of the shadow of a black hole at the centre of the enormous galaxy M87 was released to the public. The image itself looked like a glazed donut sitting in a Tim Horton’s display case. It was the donut hole that generated the buzz. This was the first direct visual evidence of the existence of a black hole. It was obtained by the Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of 8 facilities distributed around the globe that simultaneously collected data for the same object. The signals, collected at the millimetre wavelength were combined together using Very Long Baseline Interferometry, a technique first pioneered in Canada in 1967. This array, almost spanning the diameter of the earth, has a remarkable resolution and could detect a grapefruit lying on the lunar surface. Extraordinary precision was required to pull this off and the fact that it actually worked is cause for great jubilation. It is also a wonderful example of what can be achieved when nations around the globe agree to work together. This is just the first of many remarkable objects that the Event Horizon Telescope will examine. Rumour has it that the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way will be the next target.


April was also a great month for the Victoria Centre. On Saturday the 27th, RASCals rallied at the Royal BC Museum for Astronomy Day 2019. Together with RASC, eight other organizations joined in this celebration of Astronomy. The smooth roll out was a tribute to the excellent planning effort by David Lee and the wonderful cooperation of the The RBCM. Four speakers delivered interesting presentations in the adjacent Newcombe Conference Hall. In the evening Victoria RASCals gathered together with their “cousins” in the FDAO to co-host the first Saturday Star Party of the season. The weather was wonderful and there was an impressive array of RASCal telescopes assembled in the parking lot adjacent to the Plaskett Dome. A heartfelt thanks to all the RASCal volunteers who helped make Astronomy Day a wonderful success. It was a great launch to the 2019 Outreach Season.


One tireless RASCal, Lauri Roche could be found setting up on Friday, hosting the Children’s Activity table at the Museum on Astronomy Day and playing a lead role at the Star Party that evening. This is just one of many examples of Lauri’s passion for and devotion to astronomical public outreach and education. Victoria Centre Rascals were thrilled to learn that Lauri will be receiving the prestigious RASC Service Award when she attends the General Assembly in Toronto in June. There have only been two Victoria Centre winners in the last 31 years and Lauri richly deserves this honour!


Speaking of outreach, the Victoria Centre has just acquired a new 40 inch monitor that is ideal for displaying astrophotography at events. During most of the summer it will be situated next to our Victoria Centre Welcome Table at the Centre of the Universe. This offers a great opportunity to enhance our visual offerings at the Welcome Table. In addition to showcasing Victoria Centre astro photos it could be employed demonstrating a host of astronomical topics or sharing those amazing video clips with the public. This could be a lot of fun and all you need is a thumb drive or a lap top to put on a show. Give it your consideration. It could be the next big thing!


Those who attended the presentation by Dr. JJ Kavelaars on Astronomy Day are aware of the important contribution that JJ and the Canadian team made when selecting Ultima Thule for the New Horizons followup mission. A professional conference on the New Horizon’s mission will be at held at the Victoria Conference Centre in May. At 7PM on Tuesday, May the 14th, Dr. Kelsi Singer will be delivering a free public lecture entitled, The New Horizons Mission to Pluto and Beyond. The Victoria Centre will have a table at the Victoria Conference Centre that evening. We hope to see you there!


Reg Dunkley

Cloudless Nights

Speaker: Deep (Machine) Learning with Neural Networks – the second industrial revolution

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Dr. Karun Thanjuvar

7:30 PM, Wednesday, April 10th; 2019 in Room A104, Bob Wright Centre, UVic

Artificial intelligence (AI), especially Deep (Machine) Learning applications, are already ubiquitous and in everyday use, and have been called the second industrial revolution. Deep Learning algorithms, called Neural Networks, thrive on Big Data. The happy ‘problem’ we now face of enormous amounts of data available in this digital era. In astronomy too,telescopes will soon routinely produce terabytes of data every night. Piggybacked on the impressive recent advances in high performance computing, neural networks are trained on these available large datasets to then perform a variety of human-like tasks, such as real-time decision making, identifying subtle patterns in the data, forecasting and making recommendations based on experience, and so on. In this presentation I aim to provide an overview of this rapidly burgeoning field, explain in simple terms the construction and working of a neural net, and illustrate these principles with a working model.

Dr. Karun Thanjuvar: As an observational cosmologist, discovering new gravitational lenses and developing innovative techniques to harness them as observational tools are amongst my diverse research interests. As part of my doctoral thesis at UVic in 2009, I developed an automated technique to search for lenses in wide field, pan-chromatic imaging. These explorations of the distant universe come after a full career as a mechanical engineer, specializing in control systems and robotics. Born andraised in a small town in South India, I completed my education up to a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering there, before moving to Canada to pursue graduate studies; first in Robotics, and later in Astrophysics. After my PhD from UVic, I worked as a Resident Astronomer at CFHT in Hawaii for three years, before returning to UVic to accept a position as a senior lab instructor in astronomy. Even though undergraduate teaching is the focus of my current position, I continue to pursue various research projects. I also enjoy sharing the excitement of science and my research efforts with the public through several outreach initiatives through the UVic observatory.