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

Posted by as Meetings

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

Posted by as Meetings

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

Posted by as News, President's Message

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

Posted by as Meetings

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.

President’s Message April 2019

Posted by as News, President's Message

The Victoria atmosphere has finally acquired some Spring like qualities. This means that it is almost time to launch the 2019 Public Outreach Season. The official kick off takes place on Saturday April 27th with Astronomy Day. From 10AM to 4PM the Victoria Centre will be hosting the session at the Royal BC Museum. Numerous tables devoted to all things Astronomical will be located in the Clifford Carl Hall. Three lectures will be delivered in the adjacent Newcombe Conference Hall. David Lee, the captain of the Astronomy Day Team has recruited leaders to organize the various tables and things are coming together nicely. From 7:30PM to 11PM, our cousins, the Friends of the DAO, will be hosting the first Saturday Star Party of the season at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. RASC members will be in force with their telescopes to act as tour guides of the Universe. RASC will also have an information table in the Centre of the Universe. Star Parties at the DAO will be held every Saturday until September 7th.

Victoria Centre usually hosts another type of Star Party each year. The main focus of this event is an observing session directed toward the community of amateur astronomers rather than the general public. Selecting the date of a Star Party can be a challenge. It should meet the following criteria: fall near a New Moon, have a sufficient amount of darkness, avoid conflict with other nearby Star Parties and … oh yes … enjoy favourable weather conditions. This year the Mount Kobau Star Party, near Osoyoos will take place between July 31st and August 4th and the Island Star Party, held at Bright Angel Park in the Cowichan Valley, will occur on the Labour Day weekend. Many Victoria RASCals are loyal attendees of the Island Star Party so it is best to avoid that weekend. The New Moon and amount of darkness are easy to predict. It is, however, a bit trickier when it comes to the weather.

The saying goes that climate is what you expect and weather is what you get. While climate statistics can let you down it does reveal that the atmospheric dice are loaded. One rudimentary statistic which has proven useful in this area is the chance of 5 consecutive days without rain. The premise is that if there is no rain during a 5 day interval it suggests the presence of a ridge of high pressure that is diverting weather systems away from the area and suppressing afternoon shower activity. Using 50 years of quality controlled precipitation data from Victoria International Airport I calculated that the chance of 5 consecutive days without rain varied from 65% on Aug 1st to 47% on Sept 1st to 29% on Sept 28th. These values suggest that favourable weather conditions may be more than twice as likely on August 1st than during the New Moon interval near Sept. 28th. During the last three summers, however, smoke from wildfires has frequently obscured the night skies during July and August. Also astronomical twilight ends at 8:43 PM on Sept. 28th compared to 11:13PM on Aug. 1st. As a consequence the Council is leaning towards holding the Victoria Centre Star Party from Friday Sept. 27th to Sunday Sept. 29th. The location will once again be the yard of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Central Saanich … which was rained out on Sept. 7th last year. Be wary of those climate statistics!

Cloudless Nights

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message March 2019

Posted by as News

Normally at the beginning of March Victoria Centre RASCals are trudging through cherry blossoms. Snow is not an option. So just imagine your puzzled president when he arrived at the VCO on February 27th. The observing pad was covered with 6 inches of white stuff topped with an icy crust. This unseasonably cold weather tormented tender West Coast RASCals throughout February and almost derailed the Mini AGM of February 13th. 

Mini AGM you say? This administrative AGM resulted from trying to make others happy. To streamline financial procedures the Canadian Revenue Agency wanted the Victoria Centre to move our fiscal year end from September 30th to December 31st. When we did that the BC Societies Act insisted that we hold an AGM in 2019. So this “administrative AGM” which covers the three month interval extending from October to December 2018 was scheduled to coincide with the February monthly meeting. This would make the CRA happy and the BC Societies people happy … but there was a problem.

It all has to do with our bylaws. When the bylaws were recently updated the quorum was boosted from 3 to 25. The architects of these new bylaws never envisioned that the “Garden City” would be paralyzed by snow. Since North Saanich was buried under 2 feet and many members were trapped in unplowed cul de sacs it was looking like the Mini AGM was toast.  Fortunately these very same bylaw architects included a provision for proxy votes. At the last minute your desperate president e-mailed the membership with a plea for proxies. The first proxy arrived from Tasmania! Nearby RASCals also rallied to the cause. A quorum was established and the first Mini AGM in the 104 year history of the Victoria Centre went ahead. Let us hope that it will also be the last Mini AGM in history as this bureaucratic process is more complicated than astrophysics.

Speaking of “astro” things let’s talk about AstroFest 2019. This event, the first of its kind, was held in Nanaimo on February 28th. It was extremely well organized and hosted by the Nanaimo Astronomy Society. The idea was to bring Island astronomers together to share their knowledge and enthusiasm. This mid island rendezvous was well advertised and over 120 attended the event. Nelson Walker, Bill Weir and I manned the Victoria Centre table while Lauri Roche and Ben Dorman represented the FDAO. Victoria Centre RASCal Francois Pilote led a contingent of 5 from the Comox Valley and Victoria member Mike Krempotic came from Port Alberni. Dennis Crabtree set up the very popular virtual reality system and captivated many.

There were a number of presentations. I provided info on the  Victoria Centre while Nanaimo President Chris Boar described the activities of the Nanaimo Society. In addition to talks at their monthly meeting they hold many outreach events and like Victoria are swamped by the curious public during eclipses. They also take time to have fun and schedule an annual Beer and Burger night. The Cowichan Valley Starfinders promoted their star party and Nigel Mayes from  Shawnigan Lake School described their facility and active astronomy program. John and Carol Nemy delivered a spectacular visual presentation of the night sky which featured their Island Stars Observatory located on Hornby Island. The members of the Nanaimo Astronomy Society were very friendly and hospitable. Several members had roll off roof observatories. Many of the attendees were newbies looking for ways to get involved in Astronomy. Bruce Lane from Quarky Science donated a nice pair of binoculars as a door prize. There was great enthusiasm for this event and it is hoped that it will be repeated. Special thanks must go to Chris Boar, Tony Puerez and Janeane MacGillivary for magically making it all happen. 

Snowless Days

Cloudless Nights

Reg Dunkley

Speaker: Exploring a new world on the Edge of the Solar System, New Horizons and 2014 MU69

Posted by as Meetings

Dr. J.J. Kavelaars

7:30 PM Wednesday March 13th

Room A104, Bob Wright Centre at UVic

On January 1st, 2019 NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft executed a flawless encounter of the small world provisionally known as 2014 MU69.  Our understanding of the nature of the outer solar system and processes of planet formation have been transformed by the very first resolved images of 2014 MU69.  Now, 2 months after encounter, the imaging and spectroscopy from 2014 MU69 continue to trickle in.  I will describe the processes that enable this historic encounter to occur and the initial results from the spacecraft imaging.
Dr. JJ Kavelaars received his Ph.D. from the Department of Physics at Queen’s University in Kingston ON in 1998.  He is an Astronomer at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria and is a member of the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre. His areas of interest include the outer solar system including the Kuiper belt. This specialty enabled him to assist in selecting a followup target for the New Horizons spacecraft after it flew by Pluto. While studying irregular planetary satellites JJ and his team discovered 23 moons surrounding Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. In 2016 he discovered the sixth dwarf planet in the solar system.

Speaker: Planet Nine or Planet Nein? Discoveries in the Outer Solar System

Posted by as Meetings

Dr. Samatha Lawler

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

At 7:30 PM In Room A104, Bob Wright Centre, UVic

Abstract:Over the last couple of years, there have been many headlines about the possibility of an undiscovered giant planet in the outer reaches of our Solar System.  But is it real?  Dr. Sam Lawler will lead you through the wilds of the distant Kuiper Belt with a surprisingly digestible (we promise!) discussion of orbital dynamics, observation biases, and dwarf planet discoveries.  She will show you the latest discoveries from a large international collaboration, including astronomers right here in Canada, and you can decide for yourself whether or not you believe in Planet 9.


Sam Lawler received her B.S. in astrophysics from Caltech, followed by 2 years of research work at Caltech’s IPAC facility on early Spitzer data of debris disks.  She then received her M.A. from Wesleyan University before coming to Canada for her PhD work at UBC.  She has been in Victoria ever since her PhD, initially as a UVic postdoc/lecturer, and since 2015 as a Plaskett Fellow at NRC-Herzberg.  Her work utilizes dynamical simulations of the effects of planets on debris disks and on the structure of the Kuiper Belt.  Several of her recent projects involve dynamically testing the existence of reported planets.  She has shown tau Ceti’s reported planet system is allowed by its wide debris disk, Fomalhaut b is likely a catastrophically disrupted icy body, and the structure of the Kuiper Belt does not require an additional distant planet in the Solar System.  While her dynamical simulations are running on the computer cluster, she likes to play with her kids and grow food.


President’s Message February 2019

Posted by as News, President's Message

For much of the astronomical community 2019 came barreling in at 50000 km/h. It was like they were riding in the back seat of New Horizons urging it to capture great shots of Ultima Thule as it whizzed by on New Years Day. The data slowly trickled in as the feeble signal completed its 6 hour journey home. To the amazement of all a strange snowman like feature emerged. During January this image became crisper as more data was accumulated. This technological triumph was a great way to begin the year.

One of the team members that selected this Kuiper belt object, officially named 2014 MU69, was Victoria astronomer Dr. JJ Kavelaars. He is the scheduled speaker at our March monthly meeting and JJ will have the latest information to share. At our February monthly meeting Dr. Samantha Lawler will deliver a presentation on even more remote Kuiper belt objects and she will examine the evidence for a mysterious Planet Nine or maybe that should it be Planet Nein?

January is not renowned for great observing conditions. During the late afternoon of Sunday January 20th, however, skies magically cleared in the Victoria area and set the stage for a beautiful lunar eclipse. A fireball and a fleeting impact on the lunar surface were also witnessed by a lucky few. Due to its brightness I generally avoid observing the full moon but at this phase the ejecta rays of craters like Tycho and Copernicus were prominent. I adjusted my camera to highlight these striking features during the event. My optimum settings with a 127 mm refractor varied from 1/1250 second at ISO 100 at the beginning to 4 seconds at ISO 800 during totality. This remarkable reduction in intensity enabled one to enjoy a rich star field during totality. I observed the eclipse at Cattle Point Urban Dark Sky Park. The parking lot was full. The atmosphere was joyous with occasional outbreaks of wolf howls to honour the Super Wolf Blood Moon. It was wonderful to share this event in community.

This eclipse has inspired a number of RASCals to attempt the RASC lunar observing programs. These in include an introductory program entitled Explore the Moon and a more comprehensive program called the Isabel Williamson Lunar Observing Program. So far only 18 RASCals nation wide have completed the Isabel Williamson challenge. Perhaps you will want to join Victoria’s own Nelson Walker in this elite group. Check it out!

Some changes have been made at the Victoria Centre Observatory. The Victoria Centre recently received a generous donation of a 20 Inch Obsession Dobsonian telescope. In order the accommodate this scope at the VCO the existing 20 inch Dobsonian has been relocated to the Center of the Universe. This scope was beautifully crafted by Guy Walton in 2003 using a mirror from Jack Newton. In addition to serving as a museum piece this scope will be rolled out on the patio and used for public outreach events.

RASCals are reminded that during our February 13th Monthly Meeting there will be a very short administrative “Mini AGM”. This meeting is required as a result of the recent change of our fiscal year end from September 30th to December 31st. This could take less than 5 minutes so bring your stop watches!

Cloudless Nights! Reg Dunkley

Speaker: Dark Nebulae in New Light

Posted by as Meetings

Paul Gray, RASC Halifax Centre

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

At 7:30 PM in Room A104, Bob Wright Centre, UVic

Dark Nebulae are elusive and one of the most difficult deep sky objects to observe. With the aid of larger telescopes in the 1990s more amateurs started to seek out these objects. Inspired by a mentor of the RASC Halifax Centre Paul pursued a project to observe as many of E. E. Barnard’s Dark Nebulae objects as possible and composed a list for the Observer’s Handbook. In the process much was learned about how best to observe these dark nebulae and Paul made a discovery along the way. Recently with the construction of a backyard observatory Paul’s obsession with dark nebulae has been rejuvenated with a new project. The second part of this talk will discuss that observatory itself and a current project to reimage Barnard’s catalogue.

Paul Gray: It was the visit of Halley’s Comet in 1985 that hooked Paul on astronomy. He has been active member of RASC since 1988 and has served as president in both the Moncton and Halifax Centres. He chaired the 2010 General Assembly. Paul has served on numerous positions at the national level including the Chair of the National Observing Committee and the Editor of the RASC Observer’s Calendar. In 2016 Paul was awarded the RASC Service Award for his contributions at both the local and national level. He is also a 3 time recipient of the Ken Chilton award. In 1998 Paul found himself moving to Maryland, USA for 5 years. While there he became a member of the Delmarva Stargazers and still remains as their Honorary Northern member.

Observing first with a 60mm Tasco and then a 100mm F4, made from a Taylor Hobson TV Lens, he completed the Messier list. Later, in his final year of high school he built a 330mm F4.5 reflector. After his move to the USA he observed with a 12.5” F5 reflector to complete his Finest NGC List as well as his Dark Nebulae project. He has a passion for meteor observing and deep sky observing. He has ventured into photography many times over the years in film, DSLR and CCD. He “went off the deep end” so to speak while in college when he teamed up with David Lane to conduct a supernova search and at age 22 found his first. He would later discover 5 supernovae and share one with his daughter Kathryn Aurora Gray. To keep things in the family his son Nathan Gray also would find a supernova as part of the program he and David Lane developed. Recently he made a dream come true by finally building his backyard observatory at his home in Nova Scotia.