President’s Message June 2020

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President’s Report June 2020

The abrupt onset of the pandemic introduced a wave of uncertainty. There is a growing realization that the impacts will continue for some time. Most Victoria Centre activities including monthly meetings, VCO observing sessions and Saturday Night Star Parties at the DAO have been cancelled. Astro Cafe has established a virtual presence on victoria.rasc.ca and a weekly Zoom webinar. The Island Star Party, Merritt Star Party and the Mount Kobau Star Party have been officially cancelled. The Saanich Fair is morphing into some online entity. UVic has announced that lecture halls will be closed until at least January 2021.

This has left us staring into a void. But by suddenly escaping the treadmill of everyday life many were given an unexpected gift of time. This has allowed RASCals more opportunity to step out into the stillness of the night, look up and savour the arrival of starlight. While the days of the week became less relevant, our awareness of the rhythm of the Solar System became more pronounced. RASCals have been sharing wonderful images and sketches of the lunar cycle as well as evening and morning dances of the planets. 

Zoom webinars have proven to be an effective tool that helps reduce the sense of isolation and allows us to share our enthusiasm, knowledge and imagery. As a result the Victoria Centre has acquired its own Zoom Pro license which will increase our capacity to meet on line. During this pandemic the astronomical community has rallied and is posting a rich source of offerings on the internet. RASC National frequently hosts interesting webinars which are usually archived on the RASCanada YouTube site. This site will also be used to live stream a virtual General Assembly event between 11AM and 2PM PDT on Sunday June 7th. Dr. Sara Seager and Bob McDonald will be delivering presentations. UVic has moved its Cafe Scientifique online and is also hosting an Astronomy Open House webinar every Wednesday in the summer at 7:30 PM.

During a recent Victoria Centre Council Meeting we explored options of what to do while we wait for a vaccine. We are currently in the process of sending the VCO 16 Inch RC scope for repair and may have an alternate scope available in the mean time. If activities resume at the VCO, however, attendance will initially be restricted to a very small number. This would enable the site to be safely used more for observing/imaging activities than social interaction. Active Observers would be required to bring their own eyepieces to avoid spread of CoVid19. 

This eyepiece issue may be problematic when Saturday Nights at the DAO resume. One alternative to sharing an eyepiece is to try Electronic Assisted Astronomy (EAA). This technique is “casual astrophotography” that enables a camera to automatically stack images on the fly and display them on a tablet or monitor. It avoids complex post processing and would allow fainter deep skies objects to be viewed by the public without lineups. With an internet connection EAA has the potential to share live imagery to a meeting or webinar. The challenge of CoVid19 has served as a catalyst to explore this option. An interesting overview of EAA is found on this link.

While we are waiting for face to face outreach to resume we could set up static astronomy displays showcasing our astrophotography. David Lee recently delivered an astronomy orientation course using Zoom and similar programs might be considered. In the mean time, if you something that you would like to share on the Virtual Astro Cafe please send it to president@victoria.rasc.ca. In closing I would like to thank hosts Barbara and Kurt Lane, Chris Purse and John McDonald for agreeing to extend the Astro Cafe into the summer season.

Wishing you good health and useable skies this Summer

 Reg Dunkley

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

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

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

President’s Message January 2020

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Happy New Year RASCals! As we slide into a brand new decade it is a good time to reflect on astronomical accomplishments and events that have taken place over the last 10 years. It has been an amazing period for the field of Astronomy and I will list some of the significant stories that enjoyed widespread attention:

Within the Solar System: In 2011 the Messenger spacecraft went into orbit around Mercury while in July 2016 Juno went into orbit around Jupiter. In September 2017 Cassini crashed into Saturn ending an amazing 13 year exploration around the ringed planet. A number of other spacecraft went into orbit around Mars, comets and and asteroids during the decade. The New Horizons spacecraft captured fascinating imagery as it whizzed by Pluto in 2015 and managed a followup flyby of Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 (Arrokoth) on Jan. 1 2019. In August 2012 the Curiosity Rover made a spectacular landing on Mars and detected evidence of ancient stream beds and the potential conditions for life. It continues a fascinating survey on the slopes of Mount Sharp.

On February 15th 2013 a large meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk Russia and caused significant damage.

Beyond the Solar System: The Kepler mission discovered over 2600 exoplanets and the TESS satellite is currently conducting a wider search for more nearby exoplanets. ALMA, the Atacama Large Microwave Array became operational and detected protoplanetary debris disks around nearby stars. ALMA also combined forces with other instruments as the Event Horizon Telescope and in 2019 captured the shadow of the supermassive black hole in M87.

In 2016 the LIGO interferometer measured gravitational waves for the first time and in August 2017 it detected the collision of neutron stars that was also confirmed by optical instruments.

In 2014 the GAIA Space telescope began a remarkable survey which has already mapped the position and brightness of 1.7 billion stars with precedented accuracy and measured the parallax and proper motion of 1.3 billion stars. The survey may continue until 2022 and has already had a major impact in many astronomical fields.

Within the Victoria Centre: The membership grew from 166 in 2010 to over 280 in 2018 and is currently around 265. Why the significant increase? Well the membership began to skyrocket in 2014. Two major things occurred that year. In June 2014 the Victoria Centre hosted the RASC General Assembly which celebrated the centenary of the Victoria Centre. President Nelson Walker rallied the RASCals and Mark Bohlman and Paul Schumacher organized a wonderful event which re-energized the membership. The Victoria Centre also hosted 7 Summer Star Parties at the DAO that year. This was in response to the closure of the Centre of the Universe in August 2013. The strong public interest in these star parties fostered the formation of the Friends of the DAO in 2015 and the number of star parties increased to 12 in 2015, 13 in 2016 and 20 events in 2017, 2018 and 2019. These Saturday night gatherings provided a rich outreach experience and also presented a great opportunity to recruit new members. During the past 3 years, star parties were also held at Fort Rodd Hill to coincide with the August Perseid meteor shower. The public were welcome to pitch tents in the field and this contributed to a joyous atmosphere for astronomical outreach.

Attendance at our informal weekly Astro Cafe increased from about 10 to 25 or 30 over the decade. The acquisition of a large monitor facilitated the display of astrophotos and presentations and may have helped boost attendance.
A review of past issues of SkyNews suggests that the Transit of Venus on June 5th 2012 and the Solar Eclipse of August 21st 2017 were the premiere observing events of the decade. At the Victoria Centre Observatory the 14 inch SCT and 127 mm refractor were sold in 2018 and replaced by a 16 inch RC reflector. The family of Jan James generously donated his wonderful 20 inch Obsession dobsonian telescope. The performance of the 16 inch scope continues to be refined and digital setting circles will be added to the 20 inch scope. So as we move into the next decade the VCO will be well equipped to support both visual and photographic astronomy.

During the last decade the Victoria Centre grew and become more engaged in promoting astronomy. In order to maintain this momentum as we enter the next decade please consider stepping up as the Vice President or Second Vice President at the February 22nd AGM. It will help share the load and provide a source of both enjoyment and satisfaction.

Useable Skies

Reg Dunkley

President’s Message December 2019

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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

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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

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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

President’s Message October 2019

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As a baby boomer I feel very fortunate to have lived before the development of adaptive optics, the era of the Hubble Space Telescope and Voyager’s mission to the outer planets. Blurry vision concealed the secrets of the solar system and we were engulfed in an aura of mystery. Then in 1964 Gary Flandro, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer realized that the planets were in a rare alignment that would enable a momentum robbing technique to conduct a Grand Tour of the Solar System. The Voyager mission arose from Gary’s vision and rendezvoused with Jupiter in 1979, Saturn in 1981, Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. This mission enjoyed a spectacular success and each encounter dramatically transformed and improved our understanding of these planets. What a treat for the astronomical community … both professional and amateur. It was like watching a fascinating sporting event unfold in slow motion. This was before the era of High Definition TV and the instant communication of the internet. I remember eagerly awaiting for the arrival of the next issue of Sky and Telescope and then pouring over the stunning imagery and reading about the discoveries detected by the array of instruments.

So, perhaps you will understand my excitement when JPL scientists Linda and Tom Spilker, address our meeting on Wednesday October 9th. Not only did Linda and Tom have front row seats on the Voyager Mission, they got to turn some of the dials as well! As is often the case, the Voyager mission generated more questions than answers. Linda was deeply involved in the remarkably successful followup mission to Saturn called Cassini. As the Cassini Project Scientist she will update us with some of the latest findings of that mission.

Tom Spilker is a Space Mission Architect. It would be difficult to invent a more exciting job title! He currently works with space agencies around the globe and has participated in the Voyager, Cassini, Genesis, and Rosetta missions. In addition to sharing findings of these missions I hope that Linda and Tom will be able to convey what it is like to be involved in such exciting and important mission’s of discovery. If you think that some of your friends might find this evening of interest please invite them along. There is no admission charge. In anticipation of a larger audience we have moved the event to Flury Hall in the Bob Wright Centre at UVic. We hope to see you there at 7:30PM.

A more modest event held locally had it’s own element of excitement. For the second year in a row we held our Victoria Centre Star Party in the serene yard of St. Stephens Anglican Church. Last year, within 5 minutes of erecting my brand new second hand Kendrick astronomy tent the first rain in 7 weeks began falling. It seemed more promising this year and on Friday afternoon I arrived in the church yard in a sun beam. Within 10 minutes, however, hail was bouncing off my car and a deluge of biblical portions followed. We received one quarter of the normal September rainfall in one hour! Perhaps the “committee aloft” that controls things was sending me a message.

Never the less we persevered and a beautiful Saturday afternoon graced our “StarBBQ”. This was perhaps the highlight of the weekend and thanks to Deb Crawford and her team of flippers for making it happen. The sunshine seduced many RASCals to set up scopes. We were, however, stabbed in the back by Friday’s storm and in a return circulation it delivered cloud from Idaho over the church yard Saturday evening. Being swaddled in cloud kept conditions mild and the dew at bay. Around midnight there were still several pockets of RASCals participating in discussions on a wide range of topics. If we had experienced clear skies I imagine that many of those same RASCals would have retreated to their own scopes and resumed observing in isolation. It takes a lot of time and energy to put on a Star Party and I would like to thank all the volunteers who lent a hand. Thanks also to Dr. Chris Gainor and Dr. Robert Beardsall for delivering the interesting evening presentations. In particular I would like to thank Bruce Lane for planning this event and effectively recruiting and directing RASCals.

Cloud Free Nights

Reg Dunkley