RASCals national email list – members can subscribe
Local observing sites – a Google Map maintained by Jim Cliffe
The next Astro Cafe will be held Jan 11, 2021
Winter Storm And The Great Conjunction
The trailing edge of an active Pacific frontal system will move inland early Monday evening. The Environment Canada Astronomy Cloud Forecast predicts that skies in the Victoria area will clear by 8PM. This will be too late to enjoy the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which will be best viewed near the western horizon around 5:30 PM PDT on Monday. You might want to have your grab and go scope at the ready just in case the front moves faster than anticipated. Then join us at the Astro Cafe Zoom Meeting at 7:30PM where we can weep or rejoice.
At 5:30 PM on Monday December 21st Jupiter will be 9 degrees above the horizon in the west. The angular separation of Jupiter and Saturn is 6 arc minutes 26 arc seconds … the closest it has been since 1623! Check it out!
Not Quite so Great Conjunction: Sunday December 20th
In case the weather is unfavourable on Monday evening you might want to give Sunday evening try. At 5:30 PM PST on Sunday December 20th, Jupiter is 9 deg 32 minutes above the horizon and the angular separation between Jupiter and Saturn is 7 arc minutes 43 arc seconds. Jupiter is only 1 arc minute 17 arc seconds closer to Saturn on Monday night than Sunday night which is only two Jupiter diameters closer!
SPEAKER: The Age and Parent Body of the Quadrantid meteoroid stream – Dr. Abedin Abedin, a postdoctoral fellow from NRC Herzberg
Abedin Abedin will share his research on meteoroid streams … the swarm of particles left in the wake of comets and near earth asteroids that cause meteor showers. This presentation is just in time to kindle enthusiasm for the Geminids. This is the strongest meteor shower of the year and will peak on the 13th of December.
Interesting Presentations Recommended by Jim Hesser …
Presentation on the Perseverance Rover
Jim Hesser writes: I highly recommend this recorded talk by Dr. Farah Alibay on NASA’s Perseverance rover (scheduled to land on Mars on 18 Feb. 2021). She is an excellent communicator who enriches the engineering story with many human interest elements. While anyone interested in planetary exploration would likely find it interesting, about fifteen minutes before the end of the recording she’s asked a question about what barriers she faced on her way to a great job at the Jet Propulsion Labooratory. Her answer will encourage and inspire any young person (particularly girls) to persevere in following their dreams.
“Mars 2020: The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) Ottawa Centre in conjunction with the RASC Montréal Centre is excited to invite you to learn all about the Engineering of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission and the Perseverance Rover during a webinar by Montreal-born Dr. Farah Alibay. Dr. Alibay is a flight system engineer on the team that will “drive” the rover on Mars, having prior experience with 2 other Mars missions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Dr. Alibay possesses an undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Cambridge in the U.K., and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all in Aerospace Engineering. We are pleased to co-host this exciting Zoom Webinar with the RASC Montréal Centre and the RASC NextGen Committee.”
The search for life as we don’t know it … a 30 minute conversation
Earth is the only place in the Universe where we know life definitely exists. But does that mean life, if it exists elsewhere, will always thrive in Earth-like conditions, with our particular set of chemicals, temperatures, and pressures?
On December 3rd, Heather Graham, a fellow in CIFAR’s Earth 4D: Subsurface Science & Exploration program and research associate at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, introduced her unique approach to the search for extraterrestrial life. She starts from the assumption that life in the universe need not have much in common with life on Earth, and looks for agnostic biosignatures that may help us find life that is different from the life we know on Earth. To watch, go to https://www.cifar.ca/virtual-talks. After registration you can view the conversation with her.
Solar Eclipses: Science and the Spectacle on December 14th
Post election uncertainty and record high Covid case numbers overshadowed recent astronomical developments. A few warrant an honourable mention. On November 16th the Space X Crew Dragon -1 Resilience was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 rocket. It delivered 3 American astronauts and one Japanese astronaut to the International Space Station the next day. This mission was a milestone as it was the first American space vehicle to deliver an operational crew to the ISS since the Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. In the meantime astronauts had to hitch rides on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The commercial entity Space X provided both the launch vehicle and capsule for this 6 month mission.
On November 25th, Space X also placed another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the total so far to 955. Delivery of global broadband internet to underserved areas from this fledgling network has already commenced. A constellation of 12000 Starlink satellites have already been approved and a request for an additional 30000 has been submitted. The growing alarm from the astronomical community regarding the impact of this vast swarm of satellites was discussed in the May 2020 President’s message.
But as the adage goes, what goes up must come down. I am not talking about satellites here but rather the receiver of the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico. Weighing in at 900 tons the receiver spent November dangling 500 feet above the iconic 1000 foot diameter spherical dish. When one cable broke in August it caused some alarm but when a second more substantial cable snapped in early November it was decided that the instrument could not be safely repaired. That decision received dramatic justification on the morning of December 1st with the failure of another major cable. This allowed the receiver to plunge into the side of the dish in a catastrophic manner which was captured on an astonishing video. What a tragic end to such a productive and beautiful symbol of science.
A softer landing occurred on December 1st when China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft successfully touched down on an elevated volcanic mound Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum. A video of the landing and the collection of moon samples. The Chang’e 5 ascent vehicle lifted off the Moon on December 3rd and is planned to return samples to Earth within a week.
Another sample return mission is underway. On October 20th NASA’s ORISIS-REx spacecraft successfully acquired about 60 grams of the asteroid Bennu during a touch and go operation. Images suggest that it caught more than anticipated and the sample storage procedure was expedited and completed two days later. The spacecraft will begin its return journey in March 2021 and is scheduled to reach Earth in 2023. This mission will provide a pristine sample of the primordial material that formed the Solar System.
One asteroid of particular interest is 3200 Phaethon which is the parent body of the Geminid meteor shower. Most meteor showers are associated with comets but because 3200 Phaethon comes very close to the Sun it heats up to 700C and sheds particles and dust and has been dubbed a “rock comet”. This year the Geminids will peak around the 13th of December which is a new moon. So we will be particularly well situated to enjoy this spectacle … weather permitting. To learn more about “rock comets” be sure to attend the December 7th Astro Cafe where meteor expert Dr. Abedin Abedin will be the guest speaker.
Remember that the FDAO will be holding a Zoom Winter Solstice Star Party on December 19th. Event info
Also remember that the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn will occur on December 21st. Saturn will only be 12 Jupiter diameters away! It is the closest that they have appeared since 1623. So if skies cooperate, point you scope to the western horizon near sunset and savour the sight.
So despite the pandemic plenty is going on aloft. So when skies are usable be sure to look up and enjoy.
Wishing you good health and the very best of the festive season.
Meteor Shower Expert is Guest Speaker at the Astro Cafe on Monday December 7th.
The Geminids are usually the strongest meteor shower and this year they peak around the 13th of December which is a new moon. So if skies cooperate, conditions could be ideal for savouring this shower. In anticipation this event we have arranged for Abedin Abedin, a postdoctoral fellow at NRC Herzberg to share his research on meteoroid streams, the swarm of particles left in the wake of comets and near earth asteroids that cause meteor showers.
Title: “The age and parent body of the Quadrantids meteoroid stream”
Abstract: The Earth intersects the orbit of Quadrantids meteoroid stream every year around January 3-4, giving raise to the Quadrantid meteor shower. The Quadrantids are among the strongest meteor showers with Zenithal Hourly Rate ZHR~110-130. The Quadrantids are unique among other meteor showers: It has very short duration of just a few days with even narrower core activity which has a Full Width of Half Maximum (FWHM)~0.6 days – a strong proxy of a very young meteor shower. Secondly, the meteoroid stream has been linked to the Near-Earth Object 2003 EH1, – a body of asteroidal appearance. Meteoroid streams are generally associated with comets and to a lesser degree with asteroids, which raises an interesting question if 2003 EH1 is the nucleus of a dormant or recently extinct comet. Here, I will present on how we trace a meteoroid stream to a proposed parent body and how we determine the age of Quadrantids, which appears to be as young as 200 years. Furthermore, the Quadrantids have also been linked to comet 96P/Machholz, which gives rise to 7 additional meteor showers. I will also discuss the relationship between the Quadrantids, 2003 EH1 and comet 96P.
Biography: Abedin Abedin writes: I obtained my master’s degree in 2006 from the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. I then worked at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences for three years. In 2011 I started my PhD degree at the University of Western Ontario, London ON. I worked on determining the age of eight meteoroid streams, associated with comet 96P/Machholz. I completed my degree in September 2016. Since Aug. 2018, I’ve been a postdoctoral fellow at Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics at NRC, working on collisional probabilities and dust production rates in the trans-Neptunian Region.
Tales of the littlest galaxies that could … at UVic Observatory Open House Wednesday December 2nd
You are invited to a Zoom presentation at the UVic Observatory Open House at 7:30PM on Wednesday December 2nd. Dr. Matt Taylor a post doc at Herzberg Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics will discuss the important role that Dwarf Galaxies play. Entitled “Judge Me By My Size, Do You? Tales of the littlest galaxies that could.” this sounds like it will be entertaining as well as informative. Join the Zoom Meeting
Canadian France Hawaii Telescope Virtual Tour at UVic Observatory Open House
At 7:30PM on Wednesday November 25th, Cam Wipper, Remote Observer, at the CFHT will give us a virtual tour of the observatory and the telescope, as well as the start of night time observing operations from their control room. He will then give an overview of how a modern observatory conducts science operations, followed by his personal story from Nanaimo to the CFHT. If time permits, he will also present a brief history of Mauna Kea Astronomy from a geological and human perspective.
NAS Board member Bill Weller (retired astronomer and astronomy Prof) had been following (on Facebook) Pranvera and the Astronomy Outreach of Kosovo group she founded, and we’re grateful she accepted our invitation to present.
I’m grateful too for the wide-ranging and heartfelt tributes RASC Victoria members shared about Diane Bell at last week’s Astrocafe, and this invitation is made for that reason in fellowship with your group.
Janeane MacGillivray, Director-at-Large, Nanaimo Astronomy Society
UVic Observatory Open House – Lisa Wells, CFHT Remote Observer, talks about Supernovae
You are invited to a Zoom presentation by Lisa Wells at 7:30 PM on Wednesday November 18th 2020. In addition to talking about her research interest in Supernovae, Lisa will describe how she remotely uses the Canadian France Hawaii Telescope.
The talk will explain the current thinking of the star classes producing these bright events, why a star dies in such a spectacular way, and give insights into their classification and naming scheme. Next you will learn about the first of the major searches and how that led to the Nobel Prize.
The Research Legacy of the Lowell Observatory: Monday November 23rd at 5:30 PM PST
You are invited to a presentation on The Research Legacy of Lowell Observatory Presented by Klaus Brasch Sponsored by RASC History Committee Abstract: Percival Lowell founded his observatory in 1894 and commissioned the famed firm of Alvan Clark & Sons, to build a 24-in aperture refracting telescope among the largest in private hands at the time. Clark himself deemed it as one of his best. Both Lowell and his great refractor soon gained notoriety with reports of putative canals on Mars, allegedly the work of a dying civilization to channel water from the planet’s poles to its desert equatorial regions. Amid all the ensuing controversy, the Observatory’s many other scientific achievements are not as widely known as they should. This talk will review some of those and also current research and educational efforts at this historic institution. Bio: Klaus Brasch is a retired biomedical scientist and a volunteer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. Born in Germany, his family emigrated to Canada in 1953, where Klaus got hooked on astronomy in his teens, joined the Montreal Center of the RASC in 1958 and has been an avid amateur ever since. He earned his BSc at Concordia and Ph.D. at Carleton University, before joining the biology faculty at Queen’s University in Kingston. In 1990 he joined California State University, where he served as department chair, dean of science and director of campus research. Klaus has translated popular French astronomy books into English, lectured widely on topics ranging from life in the universe to astrophotography and published articles in Astronomy, Sky & Telescope, Sky News, JRASC and elsewhere. Asteroid 25226 Brasch, was recently named for him by Lowell Observatory.
The Iris Nebula and Dust Clouds of Cepheus by Dan Posey
Your Invited to the FDAO Virtual Star Party 7:30 PM Saturday Nov 21st
SELENOPHILE OR LUNATIC? THIRTY YEARS OF OBSERVING AND LOVING THE MOON
Randy Enkin avidly followed the Apollo missions from when he was 8 years old, and had decided he would grow up to be an astronomer. With life’s turns, he ended up being an Earth Scientist working for the Geological Survey of Canada. But the moon always attracted his attention and he is now more than 30 years into a lunar observation time series. For 6 years, Randy has been posting an artistic image of the moon every day on
Image of Dumbbell Nebula From New VCO Telescope by John McDonald
Public Lecture on latest discoveries regarding cosmology: 7PM Tuesday Nov. 10th
Jim Hesser recommends this public lecture by Joel Primack, prof. emeritus UC Santa Cruz,:
Description: This lecture will discuss the current understanding and the latest discoveries regarding cosmology – the science of the universe as a whole – and galaxies and planets. There is overwhelming evidence that most of the density of the universe is invisible dark matter and dark energy, with atomic matter making up only about five percent of cosmic density. UCSC cosmologists helped to create the standard modern cosmological theory — but the latest high-precision measurements have revealed potential discrepancies that may require new physics. Galaxies were long thought to start as disks of gas and stars, but observations by Hubble Space Telescope show that most galaxies instead start pickle shaped. More massive galaxies have massive black holes at their centers, and matter falling onto these black holes causes outflows of energy that can strongly affect their host galaxies. Information about planetary systems is growing rapidly with new observations, and our own solar system seems increasingly to be unusual.
Skyrocketing cases of Covid and disturbing developments south of the border have stoked our levels of anxiety. As an antidote to these concerns it is high time for a good news story. Let’s revisit a happy moment in 2017 when a number of Victoria Centre RASCals attended the Great Solar Eclipse Afterparty. We gathered to share images, swap eclipse adventures and relive the magic of this event. Many of these stories were captured in the October 2017 issue of Sky News. A highlight of this joyous occasion was the unboxing of our new TPO 16 inch Ritchey Chretien reflector telescope. This was performed with great fanfare by Matt Watson and Dan Posey.
In September and October of 2017 Matt and Dan installed the new scope on the Victoria Centre Observatory Paramount ME mount and took great care neatly wiring the scope to connect the cameras, an off axis guider and an electronic focuser to the computer. Official first light occurred on October 28th 2017 (See November 2017 Sky News for early images). Dan Posey’s gallery on zenfolio contains a series of beautiful images taken with the TPO 16 Inch RC between late October 2017 through October 2018 including my favourite, the Fireworks Galaxy (See page 10 October 2018 Sky News). These photos are a testament that the scope was performing well during that interval.
Sadly, no decent images were captured with that scope after October 2018. The TPO 16 Inch seems to have drifted off collimation and the cause remains a mystery. The collimation of a Ritchey-Chretien scope is a tricky business and Dan and Matt spent countless hours researching and trying to re-collimate this instrument over the next year. They even enlisted the help of former DAO member Les Disher. In the spring of 2020 Les demonstrated that collimation could be achieved when the scope was pointed towards the zenith but it went out of collimation as soon as it was slewed to a lower altitude. This indicated that there may be flexure somewhere in the truss or mirror supports of the telescope. It was Victoria Centre’s good fortune that Matt Watson opted to purchase a lifetime warranty on the scope and Council approved to return it to the Los Angeles vendor, OPT, for repair.
By this time Observatory Hill was in lockdown due to Covid. NRC kindly granted permission for special access to the VCO and on June 4th, 2020 four masked men (Dave Robinson, Mike Nash, Dan Posey and your President) furtively removed the TPO 16 inch RC, boxed it up and sent it to OPT via Fedex. In October OPT informed us that they could not fix the scope and offered to send us a new TPO 16 Inch RC … but without a lifetime warranty. The Tech Committee was not comfortable with this arrangement and instead John McDonald negotiated an “in store credit” for the value paid for the scope.
While the TPO scope was off for repairs, Garry Sedun learned about a used research grade scope that was for sale at an attractive price in Arizona. John McDonald and I bought this scope with the idea that it might be a replacement for the VCO if the repair of the TPO scope did not succeed. Garry Sedun kindly delivered this 12.5 inch OGS Ritchey Chretien scope to Victoria when he returned from Arizona this summer. OGS stands for “Optical Guidance Systems” and they manufacture high quality instruments for NASA, universities and research facilities. Although the optical tube is not in pristine condition the primary mirror is figured to a precision of 1/31st of a wavelength and it has a very stout built quality.
On September 21st, when limited access to the VCO was restored under strict Covid protocols this scope was attached to the VCO mount. Results were encouraging when the first image was obtained on October 3rd using an improvised focuser. When a helical focuser was attached to the scope on October 30th results were even better. Star field images were crisp with round undistorted stars right out to the corners. Although Dan Posey detected that the primary mirror was just a tad out of collimation, he felt that it was performing better than the old Meade 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope.
The Tech Committee will continue to evaluate this scope with further star field tests. If it is determined that it will meet the needs of the membership, John McDonald and I are prepared to permanently loan the scope to the Victoria Centre. If Victoria Centre members are dissatisfied with this scope we will deploy it elsewhere. The OPT store credit gives us the flexibility to consider an alternate scope.
Remember that there is also a high quality 20 inch Obsession Dobsonian telescope at the VCO. Argo Navis digital setting circles will be soon added to this scope and make it easier for visual observers to find objects in the sky. So when you consider that access to the VCO has been restored with a functioning scope for astrophotography and an excellent instrument for visual observers that qualifies as a good news story!
UVic Observatory Open House: “Messy Stellar Siblings”
You are invited to a Zoom presentation at 7:30PM on Wednesday November 4th by Dr Melissa Graham from the Vera Rubin Observatory. The title is “Messy Stellar Siblings” and the future of Supernovae studies with the Vera Rubin Observatory. Zoom session
Fast Radio Bursts – by Victoria Kaspi
Jim Hesser highly recommends this UVic Physics and Astronomy Colloquia on Fast Radio Bursts: by Dr. Victoria Kaspi, from McGill which takes place at 3:30pm PST on Wednesday November 4
“Fast Radio Bursts” Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are short (few millisecond) bursts of radio waves observed from cosmological distances. Their origin is presently unknown, yet their rate is many hundreds per sky per day, indicating a not-uncommon phenomenon in the Universe. In this talk, I will review the FRB field and present new results on FRBs from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). Zoom session
Electronically Assisted Astronomy – David Lee
As discussed at the meeting tonight let me know (email) if any member has an interest in or any questions about Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA). There’s also some talk about developing a national certificate around the skills involved in this activity, likely revolving around its use in projects. As this evolves I’ll keep members informed. For details about David’s presentation about EAA, view the transcript video at the 0:39:15 mark.