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.
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!
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
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!
I’m pleased to announce that our own Lauri Roche has won the RASC Service Award.
The Service Award is a major award of the Society given to a member in recognition of outstanding service, rendered over an extended period of time, where such service has had a major impact on the work of the Society and/or of a Centre of the Society.
We all know the many things Lauri does in the Victoria Centre, and at the national level she has also made major contributions, including her work with education programs.
Chris Gainor, Ph.D. President Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
Lauri Roche has been a member of RASC since 1995. She was an elementary and middle school teacher for many years, using her Masters of Education from Carlton effectively to support kids with a wide range of disabilities as a special education teacher. Lauri switched to teaching grade 7-8 math and science through to her retirement, and she continues to substitute teach those subjects, and tutors students as well.
Lauri has been active in Victoria Centre, volunteering for or leading countless public outreach events, including: International Astronomy Day, public nights at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO), International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), Vancouver Island Regional Science Fairs, numerous public observing events, and bringing astronomy to the very popular Saanich (agricultural) Fair.
Lauri is also active at the National level of RASC, contributing to the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) committee. During 2018, she co-hosted a national contest in honour of the RASC sesquicentennial called Imagining the Skies. This online contest highlighted astronomical media through photography, sketching, art and crafts.
Serving terms on Victoria Centre’s Council as Treasurer, Vice-president, and President, Lauri has shown great leadership through collaboration with many Centre members. Her past efforts to involve RASC members in public outreach have resulted in many members who continue to support this most important mission to engage the public in science and especially astronomy. Her support of others’ leadership of events speaks to her excellent collaborative approach to public outreach, and using volunteerism as a fun, social activity to get members involved in RASC’s main mission.
As one of the lead members of the Victoria Centre’s School Telescope Program, Lauri has lent her considerable expertise in interacting with students of all ages (kindergarten to high school), and has helped make this program the most sought after by teachers beyond the local area schools. In the 2017-2018 school year more than 2,000 students took advantage of this program, involving 80 presentations and night sky viewing sessions.
Lauri’s support of astronomy outreach to the public on Observatory Hill through Saturday night events during the summer months at the Centre of the Universe and the historic Plaskett telescope predates her involvement in the Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (FDAO). That said, she joined the board of the FDAO very soon after its inception and has been one of its strongest resources for outreach and education ever since, as the FDAO strives to revitalize EPO on Observatory Hill.
Lauri has almost single-handedly kept FDAO’s fledgling volunteer daytime tours program running, not only by being lead presenter and educator, but also by organizing other volunteers to participate. She has also been a mainstay of regular Saturday Star parties for the public every summer, and unstintingly gives her time on other evenings of the week to give talks on basic astronomy and about Canadian observatories around the world to all ages and levels of knowledge. Finally, Lauri is a strong advocate on the board for enhancing public outreach offerings and their accessibility to the widest possible public.
Collaborating with and encouraging RASC members to get involved has been the hallmark of Lauri’s approach to public outreach. Lauri’s contagious enthusiasm for astronomy and science, and her active support outside the classroom of young women choosing science careers can’t help but support astronomy being more inclusive. There is no doubt that her outreach in the classroom has helped younger people to consider scientific endeavours as cool and desirable career choices.
Reg Dunkley, President, RASC Victoria Centre Chris Purse, Past President, RASC Victoria Centre Dr. Chris Gainor, President, RASC National Sid Sidhu, RASC Victoria Centre Dr. Ben Dorman, Chair, Friends of the DAO and RASC member Joe Carr, RASC Victoria Centre
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!
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.
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!
On Sunday, January 20th, 2019, we will be able to view a total eclipse of the Moon (weather permitting). The Moon will be in partial phase after rising from the eastern horizon, and move into full eclipse in evening hours as it climbs in altitude and moves to the southeast. The Total Lunar Eclipse will develop over the course of about 3 hours, will be in Totality for about an hour, and will end just before midnight.
This is a perfect opportunity to visually observe this beautiful celestial event, and possibly capture some photographs from a location with an unobstructed view to the east and south.
Moon’s eastern limb enters the penumbra
6:36 pm PST
Partial eclipse begins – 1st Contact
Moon’s eastern limb enters the umbra
7:33 pm PST
Total eclipse starts – 2nd Contact
Moon entirely in the umbra; deep orange red
8:41 pm PST
9:12 pm PST
Total eclipse ends – 3rd Contact
9:43 pm PST
Partial eclipse ends – 4th Contact
Moon’s western limb leaves the umbra
Moon leaves the penumbra
11:48 pm PST
Above Eclipse times are for Pacific Standard Time (PST) for the west coast of North America, and are calculated from UT as presented in the Observers Handbook 2019, pages 127-29.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon. During a lunar eclipse the Moon’s position traverses the Earth’s shadow. The Moon’s first contact with the Earth’s shadow is at the outer band of the shadow called the penumbra. The light falling on the Moon is progressively blocked until at the moment of total eclipse the Moon is completely in the darkest central area of the Earth’s shadow called the umbra. At the point of total eclipse the process starts to reverse itself until the Moon is totally out of the Earth’s shadow.
umbra – the darker central area of the Earth’s shadow
partial eclipse – the Moon is positioned within the penumbra
total eclipse – the Moon is positioned totally within the umbra
What do you need?
Everything from your eyes, binoculars and telescope are suitable. Bear in mind this is a long process and at this time of year dress warmly and bring a chair if you want to be comfortable.
Find yourself a location that has a clear horizon view to the east and south especially if you wish to view during the late stages.
Keep a log of what you see and note the time. Pay attention to how much of the light on the moon is obscured and if there are any colouration changes. During the total eclipse the Moon will take on a deep orange-red colour. The colour of the Moon is a function of contaminants in the atmosphere and varies from year to year.
A good observing project for this long-lasting eclipse will be to observe the craters on the Moon as the eclipse progresses. Craters will be immersed and emerge from the Earth’s shadow on the Moon at times specified in the Observers Handbook 2019, page 129.
Any camera with the capability of setting shutter speeds and aperture settings manually will do fine. The ability to use interchangeable lenses will be an advantage for more detailed images of the Moon. For the darker parts of the eclipse, eg. totality you should use a tripod support for best results. If you have access to a telescope you can try capturing the event using prime focus techniques through the telescope optics.
Today’s digital cameras are very sensitive to light reflected by the Moon. Use ISO 400 to ISO 800 and a long telephoto lens or zoom setting. Smartphones and point-and-shoot digital cameras will not produce rewarding photos of the eclipsed Moon, but can be useful for taking panoramic shots of your surroundings which include the eclipsed Moon.
Technique for smartphone cameras
Smartphone cameras typically do not support manual settings, so using them to capture a lunar eclipse will be less rewarding than using more capable cameras. That said, smartphone cameras can be held up to a telescope eyepiece to capture an image of the Moon. Aligning the tiny lens to the eyepiece can be tricky, however there are platforms made to clamp onto an eyepiece barrel which will hold smartphones steady enough to take acceptable photos of the Moon, including the eclipsed Moon.
Technique for interchangeable lens cameras
The simplest eclipse pictures can be taken with manual settings on your camera and a normal lens, preferably supported by a tripod. For best results use a cable release to minimize vibration. Images taken in this fashion result in a small lunar image. This is why it is preferable to use a telephoto lens to photograph the Moon.
For a full frame camera try a 200mm lens or something close to this, even better a 500mm lens or higher. You may also use teleconverters to increase magnification, these typically come in 1.4x and 2x strengths. Their downside is they reduce the effective aperture of your optical system. A 1.4x teleconverter will decrease your effective exposure by 1 stop, a 2x teleconverter will decrease your effective exposure by 2 stops. Work out your effective aperture of your optical system ahead of time so you don’t have to think about it on the night of the eclipse.
Note for the smaller sub-full frame sensors of some digital cameras you gain an extra advantage as the focal length of the lens is effectively magnified by a factor. For example a Nikon DX body your 200mm lens would be effectively 300mm.
APS-C Nikon DX, Pentax : 1.5x
APS-C Canon EF-S : 1.6x
Four Thirds : 2x
Effective Focal Length with 2x teleconvertor
Effective Aperture with 2x teleconvertor
To achieve any higher magnification than what is stated above you will have to use a telescope at prime focus. For this your manual camera does need to have the capability of using interchangeable lenses. For prime focus you will use the telescope optics as your interchangeable lens. To attach your camera to your telescope you will need two things a T-adapter that fits your camera and a telescope camera adapter that fits your telescope.
The telescope camera adapter is designed to fit in the focusing tube of your telescope and is threaded to accept the T-adapter of your camera. With the magnification involved with telescopic optics it is likely that you will need to use a tracking mount. Preferably the mount should be able to track at lunar speed as opposed to sidereal but if the shutter speeds chosen are shorter than 1 or 2 minutes this is not critical.
Exposure times are the next consideration. The following exposure times are based on a medium ISO setting and an effective aperture that would be common with a long telephoto and teleconverter combination. Exposures may vary with your equipment based on ISO speed and effective aperture. The Danjon Lunar Eclipse Luminosity Scale has been included to provide better guesstimates for totality.
Exposure Times: based on ISO 400
1/500 second at f/16
1/250 second at f/16 see note 1.
1 second at f/16 see note 2.
Totality *see table below
L = 4 :
4 seconds at f16
L = 3:
15 seconds at f16
L = 2:
1 minute at f16
L = 1:
4 minutes at f16
1 second at f/16 see note 2.
1/250 second at f/16 see note 1.
* Danjon Lunar Eclipse Luminosity Scale
L = 1
dark eclipse; lunar surface details distinguishable only with difficultly
L = 2
deep red or rust coloured eclipse; central part of the umbra dark but outer rim relatively bright
L = 3
brick-red eclipse; usually with a brighter (frequently yellow) rim to the umbra
L = 4
very bright copper-red or orange eclipse, with a bluish, very bright umbral rim
Note 1. 1st and 4th contact times given for the partial phases are biased for the light part of the Moon. Remember you are dealing with vastly different exposures between the light and dark parts of the Moon during eclipse. The bias of about 1 stop minus avoids overexposure of the dominant bright area of the Moon.
Note 2. 2nd and 3rd contact times given for the partial phases are biased for the dark part of the Moon. The bias of about 1 stop plus is a good strategy for negative film not quite so good for slides and digital capture given they don’t tolerate overexposure well.
The exposure times are only recommendations. Remember the cardinal rule about photography … bracket. Always try exposures plus and minus your chosen exposure. This gives you a better chance at getting usable results. Let’s all hope for clear weather. If you have any questions please send email to David Lee at email@example.com.
David Lee – original text Joe Carr – updated for 2019 Brenda Stuart – illustrations