RASC General Assembly / Saskatchewan Summer Star Party 2009

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Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park

August 13-16 2009

Report by Chris Gainor
Victoria Centre National Rep

Photo gallery - 2009 RASC General Assembly - SSSP

"RASC Rogues" - a mock trial at Fort Walsh - a video taken during the Winery/Ft. Walsh tour

Like most things we astronomers are doing this International Year of Astronomy, the 2009 RASC General Assembly commemorated the 400th anniversary of Galileo pointing his telescope at the heavens. This GA broke precedent by being held in a location far away from cities and universities, instead taking place in conjunction with the 2009 Saskatchewan Summer Star Party in the Cypress Hills.

This was also the first GA to take place in August, rather than at the usual May 24 or July 1 long weekend GA times. As the dates fell, the GA and the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party took place on the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock rock festival, and unfortunately I was reminded often of Woodstock because both events were marked by rainy weather.

Those of us who arrived on August 12, the eve of the GA and the star party, were treated to the beautiful clear skies that have made the SSSP famous.
The night was also marked by a terrific display of Perseids, making it one of the best nights of meteor shower viewing I have ever enjoyed.

Unfortunately, when I put my telescope away that night after moonrise, I would not have reason to use it again on that trip. Fortunately, the speakers such as astronomy writer, lecturer and photographer Alan Dyer, Jim Hesser with his excellent report on the IYA, and First Nations astronomy experts Wilfred Buck and Rocky McKay (Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre), kept disappointed observers engaged with their fascinating and well-illustrated talks.

Chris Gainor, Charles Banville, Bruno Quenneville, Frank Ogonowski, Joe Carr, & Jim Hesser standing in the rainMore than 400 people attended the event, a record for SSSP, and many friendships and acquaintances were renewed. As well, everyone enjoyed seeing the latest astronomical equipment on show and on sale.

Many members came from the Victoria Centre, including President John McDonald, Wendy McDonald, Bruno Quenneville, Joe Carr, Charles Banville, Jim Hesser, Gerry Rozema, Chris Martens, Don & Elizabeth van Akker, and Frank Ogonowski, along with the author. John entered three photographs in competition, and his wide field study of the Cygnus region won top prize in its category. John also captured a beautiful image of the Crescent Nebula on the night of August 12. Wendy exhibited her astronomically themed quilts, and Victoria Centre member Peter Goodman�s art was also on display.

RASC Business

Last year�s GA went down in history as one of the most eventful on record as the RASC grappled with a major dues increase, a restructuring dictated by changes in tax law, and the decision to sell the national office in Toronto and move to rented quarters. This year, things were much quieter.

The RASC national Annual General Meeting ratified National Council�s decision to wind up the Life Members program. This decision, which came after long discussion at both the national and centre levels, means that no new life memberships will be made available, except for honourary life members elected by National Council. Current life members will continue to receive services from the national RASC, and the Victoria Centre and other centres have committed to continue to provide services to these members. The AGM also passed a motion straightening out an error in the RASC bylaws made in last year�s sweeping set of changes.

During the meeting, we were told that the RASC membership has not increased during the International Year of Astronomy, possibly because new memberships resulting from the promotional activities for IYA are balancing out membership losses due to the recession and last year�s dues increase. The executive and council will also begin a process to decide what to do with the proceeds from the sale earlier this year of the RASC�s former national office in Toronto.

Earlier in the GA, the National Council held an all-day meeting. During that meeting, council elected our own Dr. Jim Hesser as Honourary President of the RASC for a four-year term. Jim takes over from Dr. Bob Garrison of Toronto. Given Jim�s incredible record of promoting the IYA in particular and astronomy in general here and around the world, his election won unanimous support in council and praise from members and friends.

National Council also voted to accept the nominations of the Mount Carleton Provincial Park in New Brunswick and the Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan as RASC Dark Sky Preserves.

In reports to National Council, we heard that the new IMIS membership management system for the RASC is moving ahead, albeit at a slower pace than hoped. The system went on line last fall, but more work remains to be done before it can come into full use.

First Vice President Mary Lou Whitehorne told council that she is preparing a report on the volunteer deficit problem that is creating problems for the national RASC. This report should be ready next spring.

Family and Associate Memberships

Prior to the GA, a number of Victoria Centre members expressed concern to the Victoria Centre Council about the lack of family memberships for spouses and children of RASC members. During the GA, President John McDonald, Gerry Rozema, and I raised this issue, as did members from other centres.

We were told that a proposal for family memberships was considered and turned down by National Council a number of years ago, probably because it was poorly thought out. It was brought to our attention that the RASC National Bylaws provide for Associate Memberships at the Centre level.
Associate Membership is aimed at spouses and children of RASC members, and appears to deal with the problem of duplicate publications and eligibility to use facilities such as the Victoria Centre Observatory.

As a result of these discussions, we will work in Victoria Centre Council to amend our centre bylaws to provide for Associate Memberships in the RASC Victoria Centre. If this fails to deal with the issues arising from the current membership situation, we will return to the national society with recommendations for change.

Future General Assemblies

The 2010 General Assembly will take place July 1 to 4 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. No centre has yet bid for the 2011 GA. During discussion on this matter, I informed National Council that the Victoria Centre is planning to host the 2014 GA during Victoria Centre�s centennial year.

Chris Gainor

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