President’s Message – October 2022

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It has been five years since the astronomy bug caught me big. After the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, I started looking for a telescope to replace my old Tasco refractor. I was close to buying a used C8 Schmidt Cassegrain, but couldn’t figure out how I could fit it in my house (or life). My first “new” telescope was an adequate little Newtonian, and since then I have acquired many telescopes, mounts, and accessories; never spending more than $150 at a time, to make a Frankenscope that works for me.

During that exciting autumn of 2017, I met Lauri Roche at a science outreach event and she invited me to give a talk at the RASC Victoria Centre Astro Cafe about a “gizmo” I developed for my telescope. Soon after, I joined the Society and made friends with many of you at Astro Cafe. With the Pandemic, our online events became important social activities for me. We’ve been doing outreach and in-reach events together. We have been a wonderful supportive community, which I now treasure.

In the autumn of 2020, our then president, Reg Dunkley, sent out a desperate plea for new council members, and in particular somebody who would step up to be our next president. I felt I was still a newbie, but the community was important to me and I did step up. I’ve been having a wonderful time working with this group, and I’m looking forward to many more roles I can take to keep our programs going and growing. But I am approaching the end of my second year as president and according to our bylaws, we need a new person to put their name forward as president. We have several other Council positions to fill as well.

So here is my plea – my desperate plea: please volunteer for our council! The roles are not onerous and we have a strong volunteer base to get things done. The past executives are all very helpful and supportive, so no one needs to feel they are all alone. But our society cannot function without people in the key positions and I know there are several of you reading this not thinking that you could be one of them. You can.

You should directly contact Reg, who as Past-President (pastpres@victoria.rasc.ca) is in charge of council nominations. But we know that few people ever volunteer on their own initiative. Please don’t be surprised or unhappy if you get a call from one of us. We need you. We appreciate you. We’ll have fun with you!

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

President’s Message – August 2022

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Summer Outreach

I had the pleasure of spending a Saturday evening with Sherry Buttnor, demonstrating the 16 inch reflector up at the Centre of the Universe. It is humbling being in the dome with her, as Sherry has been operating and demonstrating the 16 inch since 1987! For most of the time, we had the telescope trained on the moon. Once the moon got too low, we moved to M13 – the Hercules cluster. Everybody who looked in the eyepiece exclaimed some version of “Wow!” Sherry often told the people, “You’ll never look at the moon the same way from now on.”

Brock Johnston that night had one of the 8″ Dobsonians set up behind the Plaskett Telescope, with a steady stream of people coming for a glimpse of Saturn. A woman who had never before seen Saturn through a telescope said she was in tears afterwards, she was so awestruck.

Astronomy outreach is fun! The people who come to star parties and other
outreach events are keen to learn, and they appreciate our efforts to help them see the sky. Sometimes it feels like a lot of work, but once you are at it, it is a real high.

So make the decision to help out at our outreach events!

  • We need people for Saturday nights at the Centre of the Universe (contact Garry Sedun, vp2@victoria.rasc.ca); especially if you are willing to set up your telescope.
  • We need volunteers for the Vancouver Island Star Party, an hour north of Victoria at Bright Angel Park, August 26-27 (contact Dave Payne, vp@victoria.rasc.ca). Also, plan to go to the star party – Dave has been working with the Cowichan Valley Starfinders Astronomy Club to create an excellent program of speakers and events.
  • We need volunteers for the Saanich Fair at the Saanich Fairgrounds, September 3-5 (contact Lauri Roche, roche.lauri@gmail.com).
  • We need volunteers for the Fall Fairfield, Sept. 25, right outside our Astro Cafe venue at the Sir James Douglas School yard (contact Reg Dunkley, pastpres@victoria.rasc.ca).

At these events, you can typically take a shift of a couple of hours and answer questions from the eager public. I have seen members with the whole range of background and experience taking on these roles, and everybody has done well. Just show a bit of the enthusiasm that I know all RASC Victoria Centre members have.

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

President’s Message – July 2022

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Randy Enkin - Luna Cognita
Randy Enkin – Luna Cognita

The first science images from the James Webb Space Telescope were released to huge fanfare last week. I’m not surprised that my social media was filled with the news, commentary, analysis, and silly memes. My favourite is the melding of Van Gogh’s Starry Night into the SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster. What surprised me was how much the images caught on with the general public. The images are indeed beautiful, and the public relations teams know how to get the message right. But there is a clearly a desire, a fascination to follow the story of this telescope and its potential.

I used to be “the general public”. When they went to the moon during the Apollo missions, I realized I had to learn all I could about astronomy. Most importantly, I decided to become a scientist. And through good fortune and a fair amount of work, I got to make a career as a research scientist – in geology rather than in astronomy, but my fascination with astronomy never left.

Is astronomy important? I really don’t know. But science and science literacy certainly is, and quite possibly the James Webb Space Telescope will attract the general public to find out more. People will look at the beautiful images and ask what is going on. They will learn about how 30 years of science and engineering went into producing the images. They will find out about the scientific edifice which has built up over millennia to place the new research in context.

The first batch of images masterfully span the range of subjects that the space telescope will research: the birth of stars, the death of stars, the structure of galaxies, and the early universe. The fifth image, or actually spectrum, reveals an application that could only have been dreamed of when the
instrument was designed – composition of an exoplanet spectrum.

Exoplanet: WASP-96 B

They weren’t even sure that exoplanets could be located when the space telescope was first designed.
We amateur astronomers get to play an important role as more space telescope data get released. Let’s keep up with the research and help our wider community understand what it means. Let’s help with outreach events whenever possible. Let’s do astronomy.

Astro Cafe Logo

On that note, the Victoria Centre Astro Café went virtual for two years. It was a tonic to our isolated lives during the worst of the covid-19 pandemic. Many thanks to Chris Purse and Joe Carr for their devoted work to keep Astro Café up and running so well! In May, we ran our first attempts at hybrid meetings, in person at the Fairfield Community Centre and online over Zoom. The response has been very positive, and we will continue the hybrid Astro Café format every Monday evening (except statutory holidays) at 19:30 starting September 12. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS. The roles are not onerous, but they are essential. Each evening we will need a host and a tech. Please be brave. Please be generous.

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

President’s Message – June 2022

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This week, the citizens of the Earth were given a wonderful present. The Gaia Data Release 3 was publicized at 9 UT, June 13. And yes I was awake at 2 in the morning to watch the event. The Gaia satellite has been mapping 2 billion (!!!) points of lights in the sky – stars, galaxies, quasars, and solar system objects. They are measuring positions, distances, motions, colours, and spectra. For an Astro Café talk I prepared about the Gaia Data Release 2, I displayed a plot of the number and angular precision of catalogued stars. From the Hipparchus’ catalog of 1000 stars in 150 BCE to the best Earth-based collections from last century, there was a continuous but slow improvement. But with space-based measurements over the last 20 years, the catalogs have improved by orders of magnitude! And Gaia should continue collecting data through to 2025 to continue this trend.

Gaia Data Release 3 - group photo
Gaia Data Release 3 – group photo

The branch of amateur astronomy pejoratively labeled “armchair astronomy” sounds very passive, but we delight in the personal journey to discovery, which the professional astronomers afford us by collecting and analysing these extreme data sets. One of my passions is following the trajectory of knowledge from the early astronomical observations to the present. For example, I love to learn how the first stellar spectra measured in the 19th century led to Annie Jump Cannon’s stellar classifications (Only Bad Astronomers Forget Generally Known Mnemonics), leading to the Hertzsprung-Russell colour-magnitude diagram, and further leading to amazing insights such as the age of stars. And now such analyses can be extended to hundreds of millions of stars with the public release of the Gaia data.

The Gaia mission is akin to a gothic cathedral. It is a huge edifice, erected with major societal investment that was accomplished by many, many ordinary people who each do their small part. This edifice is a public good which inspires, and makes us bigger and better human beings.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin, President
(email)

President’s Message – May 2022

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Every year, the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada sponsors two awards at the Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair. Well, not every year – we missed the last two years because of covid. This year, the Science Fair was virtual and about one quarter the size of the pre-covid event – 52 projects – with 6 assessed to be on astronomical or astronomy-adjacent themes. Many thanks to our representatives, Dorothy Paul and David Lee, for interviewing the students and arriving at their decisions. Each winner received a recognition certificate, a RASC family membership (for the student and one adult), a copy of Explore the Universe, and the offer of a classroom visit from our Schools Programs officers. We also invited the prize winners to present their projects at the Astro Café.

Nathan Hellner-Mestelman and Beata Ariana-Minniti
Nathan Hellner-Mestelman and Beata Ariana-Minniti

Grade 7 student Beata Ariana-Minniti created a very clever solar heat collector, coupled to a battery charger. Nathan Hellner-Mestelman (Grade 9) worked out the optimal orbit for cube-sats to avoid chain-reaction collisions. These students wowed us with their presentations at the Astro Café. Nathan was included in Team Vancouver Island at the Canada-Wide Science Fair and went on to win a silver medal.

As this year of Astro Cafés come to a close, we should all thank Joe Carr and Chris Purse for getting us through the fully online times and the transition to hybrid meetings. We have grown closer, despite the isolation of the last couple of years, because of their efforts. We’ll see you again at Astro Café starting in September. It is essential that we get more people to step up to help continue the Astro Café.

I want to congratulate our strong community who pulled together to put on all the facets that went into International Astronomy Day on May 7. We did not have much time to organize, as we did not even know if there would be in-person events until March. David Lee and Laurie Roche coordinated our volunteers wonderfully. There are others among you who are perfectly capable and I hope willing to take on their roles for future events. Astronomy outreach is very satisfying. Let’s share the load in making these opportunities happen.

The amateur astronomy community in Victoria is strong. Our club is extremely fortunate to have sufficient funds to make fund-raising unnecessary and sufficient volunteers to put on several high quality events. We are not lacking a strong Board and Council. Nevertheless, some members are not joining in, I think because they have not imagined that their contribution would be valuable and fun. Let me assure you that indeed you will get more out of such volunteerism than you put in.

Look Up,
Randy Enkin (email)

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