President’s Message – Mar 2022

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What is it that links our community together? Every year, we recognize a few members of the Victoria Centre and present them awards of appreciation and excellence. We announced the recipients at the Annual General Meeting. I had the pleasure last week of driving around Victoria handing out their framed certificates. I enjoyed seeing these stellar members of our community in their home settings. It is one of the great privileges of being president. Everyone was proud and delighted, and often surprised at the recognition. We are far greater than the sum of our parts. These members have gone an extra length to make our community stronger and more active. Thank-you!

Awardees (clockwise from top left): John McDonald, Chris Purse, Alec Lee, Bruce Lane, Barbara Lane, Cameron Burton.

We have a wide range of backgrounds and interests. We spend our time with a variety of aspects spanning the range of amateur astronomy. I particularly like the feeling of connection with people around the world and throughout time. Some are interested to produce the best image of an astronomical object. Some are keen to know their way around the constellations.

There is a huge hunger for astronomical knowledge out there in the bigger public. This was made very clear this last week with front page articles and television features about our friend and astro- buddy Sid Sidhu; on the occasion of having an asteroid named after him. Sid has been central to our public outreach and society in- reach activities over a period of decades!

What is it that links our community together is that the wonders of the sky fill us with awe and with pleasure.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin (email)

President’s Message – Feb 2022

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Randy Enkin

A colleague recently told me that my family name, Enkin, in Japanese literally means “near-far” (遠近). One sense of the Japanese word “enkin” is “perspective”; another is “bifocal glasses”. My colleague flatteringly suggested that if we could get some of our other colleagues to spend time wearing Enkin glasses, we could probably quickly achieve consensus regarding a scientific controversy that we have been involved in for the last 30 years.

One of the joys of astronomy is using our knowledge of what is near to help us understand what is far. For me, my training as a geologist gives me a fair amount of knowledge concerning how the earth works and this informs my way at looking at astronomical objects. In my Astro Café presentations, I try to help the rest of you to see my perspective on various astronomical topics.

Everybody in the Victoria Centre has something important to contribute. You all have your personal interests and experiences, which informs what you see and understand in our common interest of astronomy. It would be wonderful to hear more of you at the Astro Café. I am quite sure our wonderful SkyNews editor would love to receive more articles for this newsletter! Presentations do not have to be polished, nor original. Your perspective is what we value. In my experience, I see that we are a particularly patient and accepting audience.

So, put on some Enkin glasses. Take joy in what you see and share it with our community. We will all learn to see your subject with a new perspective, and we will gain a better appreciation of each other.
Thank you all for accepting and supporting me through my first year as President of the Victoria Centre. It is an honour to be part of this long-running institution. I look forward to year two, with lots more activities – sometimes even in person! I look forward to getting to know more of you and sharing our mutual appreciation of the wonders of the sky.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President@Victoria.RASC.ca

President’s Message – Jan 2022

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Betelgeuse winked two years ago. The bright red shoulder star of Orion became noticeably dimmer and then recovered over a number of months. I prepared a presentation on this red giant for our Astro Cafe (2020-01-27) and included a note about how some other cultures explain the phenomenon:

Randy Enkin using his sextant
Randy Enkin using his sextant

“Orion represents Nyeeruna, who creates fire-magic in his right hand, represented by Betelgeuse, to reach the Yugarilya sisters (the Pleiades). The eldest sister, Kambugudha, symbolized by the Hyades cluster, kicks sand in his face, dispelling his magic, and stops him from gaining access to the sisters. The process is described as cyclic, with Betelgeuse brightening and fading over time. The Pemon people in Brazil called Orion Zililkawai and the constellation represented a man whose wife cut off his leg. Betelgeuse’s variable brightness was associated with the cutting of the limb.”

Last weekend, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Vice President, Charles Ennis, gave a wonderful presentation at the FDAO Star Party on the RASC’s World Asterisms Project. His compilation includes 455 asterisms that include stars found in the region of the constellation Orion! At least 455 cultures from every corner of the world have looked up at the sky and were inspired to describe this same view with a story.

Charles Ennis’ presenting at FDAO Star Party

We amateur astronomers are part of this connection between all people over space and time. The sky continues to delight and fascinate us. We share our stories, and invent new ones. We look up.

I am so pleased to share the love of the sky with you. The earth has almost traveled a complete orbit around the sun since you have asked me to be the president of the Victoria Centre. Thank you for your support and trust in me. I look forward to the next orbit!

Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President@Victoria.RASC.ca

President’s Message – Dec 2021

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Ah 2021. What a strange trip around the Sun! I am writing this letter on the day of the winter solstice. There is a waning gibbous moon shining high in the east, when I go to bed, and it is high in the west to greet me in the morning. I take great solace in watching and thinking about the dependable motion of the Earth through the Universe, while so much of life and news this year has left me feeling unsettled.

Randy Enkin using his sextant
Randy Enkin using his sextant

Nearly as dependable as the astronomical objects has been you, our astronomical community. I am so pleased when I see the 30 or 40 of us gather each Monday evening at our virtual Astro Café. We are an appreciative and supportive community. Look at all the different skill sets and experiences that get shared every week. And look at those beautiful photos and sketches that we have created. I particularly wish to mention the personal observatories (I know of 3!) that are getting designed and built by members of our centre, as well as the fantastic work by our technical committee in upgrading the Victoria Centre Observatory.

Our group has motivated me to try new astro-projects – whether observing sunspots with a solar telescope borrowed from the Centre (thanks to the capable curation of our telescope collection by Sid Sidhu), or star hopping to those faint fuzzies that you deep space observers like. And I love the expressions of appreciation when I show off my lunar sketches to our crowd.

Do remember that our community survives on the strength of our volunteerism. We have a specific requirement this year for a new secretary and a new vice president. Don’t feel you aren’t up to the job! I still feel like a newbie in the role of president, but there is no shortage of good council from the many past executives who continue to be active. Come join us on the inside, and you will feel even more affection for the Centre.

I wish us all a fruitful and fulfilling new year, with many clear skies.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President@Victoria.RASC.ca

President’s Message – Nov 2021

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Everybody should have a good astro-project on the go. My current one concerns the timing of lunar eclipses.

Solar eclipse geography and timing is known with remarkable precision. So much so that people, including many members of our RASC community, are willing to plan long, difficult, and expensive trips to watch them. The timing and location of the earth’s shadow, or umbra, across the Moon during a lunar eclipse is much more variable and poorly understood.

I was delighted to learn that as far back as 1687, Philippe de la Hire published that the Earth’s shadow was larger than could be accounted for by an airless Earth, leading to lunar eclipses that start a few minutes earlier and end a few minutes later than expected. This was important work, because observing the timing of eclipses was, in principle, one way to measure longitude – as long as the expected timing was well established.

Moon on Dallas Road, Oct 8, 2021, by Randy Enkin

The problem arises from the complex nature of the earth’s atmosphere that obscures, diffracts and refracts the sun’s light on its way to the Moon. I first became aware of the role of amateur lunar crater eclipse timing just before the eclipse last May (which was clouded out), and I am certainly keen to try again on the upcoming lunar eclipse, starting around 23:19 PST on Thursday, November 18. If there are clear skies, I’ll be out with my telescope, noting the time to the tenth of a minute that the earth’s umbra darkens (“immersion”) and then departs (“emersion”) from various lunar craters. Sky and Telescope has been compiling these observations since 1956. Herald and Sinnott (2014) have analysed the compilation, extended back to 1842, with an amazing 22 539 observations. Their main conclusion is that the Earth is surrounded by a “notional eclipse-forming layer” that is 87km thick. It is a really surprising result, since even noctilucent clouds don’t show up that high in the atmosphere.

Herald and Sinnott point out that amateur uninstrumented observations provide continuity with the early observations in their compilation and provide insight into the visual response of the human eye. To help with the observations, Thursday- Friday November 18-19, I have annotated a picture of the full moon with the crater timings predicted by Fred Espenak. I hope some of you will join me making these simple but useful observations.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President@Victoria.RASC.ca

President’s Message – October 2021

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Questions, Answers, and Questions

Randy Enkin using his sextant
Randy Enkin using his sextant

One satisfaction of astronomy is the sense of continuity with astronomers from all over the world and spanning the decades, centuries, and millennia. The wonders of the sky fill us with awe and provoke so many questions. I appreciate the multidisciplinary approach to answering these questions.

Today’s anecdote concerns an article published this week, with 25 authors from 5 countries. The Chinese Chang’e 5 probe brought back to Earth the first lunar samples in 4 decades. They targeted a place on the Moon that was suspected of being young, due to the region’s low density of craters. Galileo observed craters on the moon 400 years ago, but it was only in the 1960s that meteor impacts were confirmed to be the dominant mechanism of their origin.

The observational and theoretical development of celestial mechanics, universal gravitation, the solar nebula, and planetary accretion were all required to understand dating planetary surfaces, by measuring the size and number of craters. We also needed telescopes, rockets, robotics, petrology, geochemistry, and geochronology to complement the study. The Moon is the only planetary body where impact crater ages have been calibrated with radiometric dating, but there had been no samples so far measured that are between 3.2 and 0.8 billion years old. The new samples were dated at 1.96±.06 billion years, sitting in the middle of that gap and forcing a revision of the current crater dating method. The new date is very young for the Moon’s surface and brings up new questions, like why the Moon was still melting crust so recently.

Back-scattered electron (BSE) images and false color energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) element maps of the two fragments from the Chang’e 5 sample
Back-scattered electron (BSE) images and false color energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) element maps of the two fragments from the Chang’e 5 sample

I’m filled with a sense of connection with my fellow humans who can conceive of such questions, work on them from many different aspects over the centuries, answer some, and end up with even more questions. And I look up at the sky with happiness.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin email

President’s Message – September 2021

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Carolyn Shoemaker
Carolyn Shoemaker (Nature)

Carolyn Shoemaker died last month. After her children had grown up and she was 51 years old, she started her astronomy career. She helped establish the Palomar Asteroid and Comet Survey, and for decades she studied the photographic plates coming off of the 18 inch Schmidt wide-field telescope, located in a dome next to the Palomar 200 inch telescope. At an average of 1 discovery for every 100 hours spent at the stereoscopic microscope, she became the world’s top comet finder.

This was more than a job. Everybody who knew her emphasizes her enthusiasm and humour. Among these friends is an acquaintance of several of our centre members, David Levy. On March 23, 1993, David passed some photographs he had just taken of the region near Jupiter, and Carolyn exclaimed that she saw in these images a strange “squashed” comet. This comet became known as Shoemaker-Levy-9. It was actually the 11th comet they had discovered together, but two were aperiodic and so had a different naming convention. I remember the excitement, when 4 months later, 21 fragments of SL9 crashed into Jupiter with images from professionals and amateurs alike started pouring in. We got to watch a cosmic collision in real time!

What kept Carolyn Shoemaker at this slow, painstaking task was similar to what many amateur astronomers feel. She said “The thrill of discovery is deeply satisfying”. Few of us will get the opportunity to do cutting edge science with the best instruments available, but all of us get our own personal thrills. Whether the discovery is at the eyepiece, or on the computer monitor, or from a revelation that comes during a talk at our Astro Cafe, the experience continues to be deeply satisfying. In memory of Carolyn Shoemaker, I wish you all many more of these deeply satisfying moments!

Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President email

President’s Message – August 2021

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I’ve had a couple of requests this summer to help friends who have never seen Saturn through a telescope with their own eyes before. One of them was lent the wonderful 1970s Tasco 60mm refractor that I bought off Reg Dunkley, at our Astro Cafe exchange, way back when we could meet in person. Reg says this telescope kindled his interest in astronomy years ago, so it is fun to give this equipment to another enthusiastic newbie. The other request is from Toronto and I’m getting a RASC Toronto Centre loaner scope ready, for when I’m there next week. We do indeed belong to a great society that gives us these opportunities.

Saturn – by Brock Johnston

But what is it about seeing the beautiful objects in the sky ourselves? There are much better images available on the internet. Nothing we can see from Earth compares to the pictures of our sixth planet sent by the Voyager and Cassini spacecraft. Saturn especially has been something that has turned on people from all walks of life to the delights of the night sky. Indeed, the design specifications for the “Galileo-scope” included the possibility to see the rings of Saturn, because they knew that that view is the gateway to spending more time with a telescope (I have one, and it works!).

Saturn is certainly other- worldly. It is beautiful in its form and symmetry. The physics which produce the rings are non-intuitive. It is a challenge to see it, but not an unreasonable challenge for most. But there must be more.

Each time I take my telescope out, I fall in love again with the universe we live in. Even when I am alone, I sometimes swoon out loud. I don’t know why, but I sure am glad I get to share the feeling with my astro-friends. As our friend Diane Bell told us: “the sky is a gift!”

Enjoy the sky. Share it.
Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President email

President’s Message – July 2021

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Do we ever get tired of the view?

I recently picked up my niece from the airport. When we got our first sight of the Olympic Mountains towering over the Juan de Fuca Strait, she asked if people in Victoria ever get tired of the view. I don’t think so.

Similarly, I observe that amateur astronomers just don’t get tired of looking up. The beauty takes our breath away. There is a joy in learning the constellations and getting competent at star hopping. There is the awe in learning more about the processes that produce the spots and fuzz-balls in the night sky. I never tire of improving my knowledge of the craters and mountains on the Moon, but often I just wander about the Moon in my eyepiece, appreciating the view. We keep improving our equipment, trying to see that little bit of extra detail. Why? For the joy and sense of accomplishment.

At the Astro Cafe this week, we hosted two distinguished selenologists. Gary Varney, from Florida, is a renowned lunar astrophotographer who waxed eloquent about the details he loves to watch at the terminator – the line that separates day from night on the Moon. Brian Day, from California, leads a program at NASA that presents map and data portals, available for free on the Internet, of the planets and moons. Brian told us that he enjoys ending his day by flying around over the Moon with Moon Trek, enjoying the view and trying to figure out how features were formed.

We had dinner guests this week, and I got to show them the young (27 hour old) moon through the 8 inch Dob I’m borrowing from the club (Nelson Walker’s old telescope). One guest had never seen the craters on the moon and got wonderfully excited. Do I ever get tired of the view? Not at all. It feels as fresh and exciting as when I first saw the craters when I was 8 years old.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President@Victoria.RASC.ca

President’s Message – June 2021

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In praise of our Astro Cafe

Members attending Astronomy Cafe using Zoom

Every Monday evening at 19:30, the Victoria Centre runs the Astro Cafe on Zoom. I look forward to it every week! Much of our time as amateur astronomers is spent alone and I suspect that is considered a feature of this hobby by many. But we also like to share our accomplishments and problems. While we are isolated by the pandemic, Astro Cafe brings our community together.

I had been a regular contributor since I joined the Victoria Centre three years ago. Now that you have made me president, I feel that part of the job is to think of something to contribute each week. I try to riff off of some recent astronomical event, for example the summer solstice for our June 21 Astro Cafe. I am particularly excited about linking current astronomical work to the centuries and millennia of astronomers from the past, who figured out so much of how our universe works without the advantage of all the recent technologies and research.

The Astro Cafe also helps us advertise events and opportunities. It provides our members a forum to present their recent, or not so recent, work. I particularly enjoy the discussions, as we learn from each other. We have such a wide variety of specialties and levels of expertise to learn from. Our community is refreshingly supportive and non-judgemental. Everybody should consider making a presentation. If you read something that you found interesting, share it! If you feel proud of an observation, sketch, or photo, share it! If you have an astronomy question, ask it!

Special thanks go out to Chris Purse who masterfully organizes and leads the discussion each week, and to Joe Carr who curates the Astro Cafe videos onto Youtube.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin email