President's Message - June 2008

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Cassiopeia rising over the Plaskett - an award-winning photo by Charles Banville

by Joe Carr

Despite our cool weather, I know summer is approaching.  We attended our last Astronomy Caf� at the end of May, and the Centre of the Universe is now open for their summer season.  Our volunteers kicked off this milestone by setting up their telescopes in the parking lot beside the Plaskett telescope, as so many before us have done over the decades.  I think Scott Mair put it best in his President's Message for April 2005 when he wrote:

The creaking of the shutter doors of the Plaskett dome remind me of the squeals all the pyjama clad kids that scrambled up rickety ladders to peer through the eyepiece of what was once the largest telescope in the world. Saturday public telescope viewing has been part of the DAO since the telescope was completed in 1918.

How many chances to you have to be part of history? Each Saturday I set-up my telescope I continue a tradition that began 87 years ago.

The 90th birthday of the Plaskett telescope was celebrated a few weeks ago at the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) tour of the facilities on Observatory Hill. Cake was served, speeches were made, and many of our RASC volunteers attended.  As I sat inside the dome, I was thinking about all the important science that has happened in this place since that time 90 years ago when the Plaskett saw first light.  Again, quoting Scott's April 2005 message:

In the silent spinning of the great white dome I'm reminded of all the astronomers that reached back into space and time to unravel the story of the Universe from this site. JS Plaskett and Pearce confirmed the rotation and size of our galaxy; McKellar discovered molecules (including organic ones) in interstellar space; Beals showed that interstellar matter is clumpy not spread evenly through space; and in the search for potentially hazardous near-earth asteroids the Plaskett Telescope has played a vital role.

Here in Victoria, we are blessed to be in the midst of this rich Canadian astronomical history.  However we don't rest on our laurels.  We continue to contribute to this heritage, and nurture it as we move forward into the future of astronomy.  These aren't just empty words; I see the fire of enthusiasm in our members whenever I attend an event in which Victoria Centre is involved.  I also see it in the excitement that  the professional astronomers have for their work when we hear from them at our meetings and events.  Finally, astronomy is a subject that never fails to fascinate the public.  As was said at the CASCA meetings I attended recently, the whole world's population can't seem to get enough of astronomy and cosmology - a rare circumstance not shared by most other sciences, as I learned.  RASC's stated mission is to bring astronomy to the public.  I think we do pretty well at fulfilling that goal.

Astronomy Day 2008Astronomy Day 2008 was a great success, with about 500 adults (and countless children) attending this year's event.  As always, our volunteers did a terrific job of reaching out to the public. Staging the event for the whole day at the Centre of the Universe worked well.  As expected, we saw more local people attend this year, which is good news for Victoria Centre, and it certainly can't help but encourage people to come back to the Centre of the Universe throughout the rest of the year.  Please take some time to browse the photos on our website to see our volunteers and the CU staff in action.  Thanks go to Scott Mair, who organized this year's event.  Thanks also go to our corporate partners. Without their support, this year's event would have been a much more modest affair.

In addition to the TV interview I gave for Astronomy Day, another TV station interviewed me a few days later about Virtual Observing using WorldWide Telescope.  This new service by Microsoft promises to combine what their competitor Google Sky offers, and add in online collaboration tools to allow anyone with a web connection to show others what excites them about the cosmos.  RASC has plans to take advantage of this new technology.  I think we will be hearing much more about this and other competing services that take astronomy to the public in new ways.

Observatory Project - new Meade 14" SCT - Bruno & JohnSpeaking of taking astronomy to the public, our Observatory Project is moving along well.  We purchased a Meade 14" SCT optical tube from a fellow RASC member in Ontario for a bargain price, and it is now installed in our Victoria Centre Observatory.  As I write this, the Technical Committee is working hard to finish the important tasks to make the facility ready for our members as quickly as possible.  I expect to see our new observatory operational for visual use before I write next month's President's Message, so stay tuned for news about our grand opening!

Victoria Centre participated in Beaveree 2008, which is a fun event held each year locally at Camp Barnard for Beavers (6-8 year olds).  We had telescopes setup, along with the solar system model (complete with an asteroid belt), and Steven Courtin brought his ecliptic calendar and ecliptic VW bus.  Kids this age are super enthusiastic about almost everything, and when they get together in a crowd of several hundred, the combined energy could probably power a small city if only we could harness it!  Our volunteers enjoyed themselves in the nice sunny weather, and the kids got to put their eyeballs to eyepieces to see a spotless Sun and a daytime Moon.

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