Happy New Year RASCals! As we slide into a brand new decade it is a good time to reflect on astronomical accomplishments and events that have taken place over the last 10 years. It has been an amazing period for the field of Astronomy and I will list some of the significant stories that enjoyed widespread attention:
Within the Solar System: In 2011 the Messenger spacecraft went into orbit around Mercury while in July 2016 Juno went into orbit around Jupiter. In September 2017 Cassini crashed into Saturn ending an amazing 13 year exploration around the ringed planet. A number of other spacecraft went into orbit around Mars, comets and and asteroids during the decade. The New Horizons spacecraft captured fascinating imagery as it whizzed by Pluto in 2015 and managed a followup flyby of Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 (Arrokoth) on Jan. 1 2019. In August 2012 the Curiosity Rover made a spectacular landing on Mars and detected evidence of ancient stream beds and the potential conditions for life. It continues a fascinating survey on the slopes of Mount Sharp.
On February 15th 2013 a large meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk Russia and caused significant damage.
Beyond the Solar System: The Kepler mission discovered over 2600 exoplanets and the TESS satellite is currently conducting a wider search for more nearby exoplanets. ALMA, the Atacama Large Microwave Array became operational and detected protoplanetary debris disks around nearby stars. ALMA also combined forces with other instruments as the Event Horizon Telescope and in 2019 captured the shadow of the supermassive black hole in M87.
In 2016 the LIGO interferometer measured gravitational waves for the first time and in August 2017 it detected the collision of neutron stars that was also confirmed by optical instruments.
In 2014 the GAIA Space telescope began a remarkable survey which has already mapped the position and brightness of 1.7 billion stars with precedented accuracy and measured the parallax and proper motion of 1.3 billion stars. The survey may continue until 2022 and has already had a major impact in many astronomical fields.
Within the Victoria Centre: The membership grew from 166 in 2010 to over 280 in 2018 and is currently around 265. Why the significant increase? Well the membership began to skyrocket in 2014. Two major things occurred that year. In June 2014 the Victoria Centre hosted the RASC General Assembly which celebrated the centenary of the Victoria Centre. President Nelson Walker rallied the RASCals and Mark Bohlman and Paul Schumacher organized a wonderful event which re-energized the membership. The Victoria Centre also hosted 7 Summer Star Parties at the DAO that year. This was in response to the closure of the Centre of the Universe in August 2013. The strong public interest in these star parties fostered the formation of the Friends of the DAO in 2015 and the number of star parties increased to 12 in 2015, 13 in 2016 and 20 events in 2017, 2018 and 2019. These Saturday night gatherings provided a rich outreach experience and also presented a great opportunity to recruit new members. During the past 3 years, star parties were also held at Fort Rodd Hill to coincide with the August Perseid meteor shower. The public were welcome to pitch tents in the field and this contributed to a joyous atmosphere for astronomical outreach.
Attendance at our informal weekly Astro Cafe increased from about 10 to 25 or 30 over the decade. The acquisition of a large monitor facilitated the display of astrophotos and presentations and may have helped boost attendance.
A review of past issues of SkyNews suggests that the Transit of Venus on June 5th 2012 and the Solar Eclipse of August 21st 2017 were the premiere observing events of the decade. At the Victoria Centre Observatory the 14 inch SCT and 127 mm refractor were sold in 2018 and replaced by a 16 inch RC reflector. The family of Jan James generously donated his wonderful 20 inch Obsession dobsonian telescope. The performance of the 16 inch scope continues to be refined and digital setting circles will be added to the 20 inch scope. So as we move into the next decade the VCO will be well equipped to support both visual and photographic astronomy.
During the last decade the Victoria Centre grew and become more engaged in promoting astronomy. In order to maintain this momentum as we enter the next decade please consider stepping up as the Vice President or Second Vice President at the February 22nd AGM. It will help share the load and provide a source of both enjoyment and satisfaction.