Ring Diving at Saturn


Dr. Lynda Spilker talked about Going out in a Blaze of Glory: Cassini Science Highlights and the Grand Finale at our Paul Sykes Memorial Lecture back in January of this year. More remarkable discovers from Cassini are expected when it repeatedly dives between the innermost ring and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere during its final six months starting this week. The first of the spaceship’s 22 deep, daring dives is scheduled for April 26 at 2:00am PDT.

When Cassini passed close by Titan on April 22, the moon’s gravity pulled strongly on the spacecraft. The flyby gave Cassini a change in velocity of about 800 meters per second that started the spacecraft on its first of the ring-gap orbits.

A grand finale dive will plunge Cassini into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15th, vaporizing the spacecraft to protect tiny Enceladus, one of Saturn’s ocean worlds, from hardy Earth-based microbes that may have stowed-away on Cassini.

The Cassini mission’s findings have revolutionized our understanding of Saturn, its complex rings, the amazing assortment of moons and the planet’s dynamic magnetic environment. The robotic spacecraft arrived in 2004 after a 7-year flight from Earth, dropped a parachuted probe named Huygens to study the atmosphere and surface of Saturn’s big moon Titan. Some of the mission highlights include:

  1. The Huygens probe makes first landing on a moon in the outer solar system (Titan)
  2. The discovery of active, icy plumes on the Saturnian moon Enceladus
  3. Saturn’s rings revealed as active and dynamic — a laboratory for how planets form
  4. First complete view of the north polar hexagon and discovery of giant hurricanes at both of Saturn’s poles
  5. First Deep Seafloor Hydrothermal Vents Found Beyond Earth

The Cassini  mission is a cooperative undertaking by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI).


Astronomy Day 2017

Astronomy Day is celebrated in conjunction with SFU’s Science Rendezvous.  Come join us on Saturday, May 13th from 11am to 3pm in the East Concourse of the Academic Quadrangle (see map) and at the Trottier Observatory.  There will be activities and short lectures throughout the day.

Budding youth astronomers can get a free ticket in a draw for a new telescope provided by Sky-Watcher Telescopes.

Image of Trottier Observatory as SFU and the Science Courtyard
Trottier Observatory at SFU and the Science Courtyard
  • Apollo Rockets and Mission display
  • Jim Bernath and his hands-on science activities
  • Light pollution display
  • Solar system and our planets display
  • Solar telescope display and observing (weather permitting)
  • Numerous craft and activity tables for children
  • SFU’s Trottier Observatory will be open for tours
Lecture Schedule

11:00-11:30, What’s new in the search for exo-planets and extra-terrestrial life by Stanley Greenspoon
12:00-12:30, The Moon 101 by Ted Stroman
1:00-1:30, Proxima_ b:  The planet next door by Robin Adams
2:00-2:30, Tales from the Russian Space Program by Scott McGillivray

A beautiful documentary film about western Canada’s dark sky parks, and star parties: Ambassadors of the Sky by Brandy Y Productions.  It will be aired every hour on the hour.

New Telescope Draw

A special prize for a budding young astronomer.  A brand new Telescope provided by Sky-Watcher Telescopes.  Tickets are free to youth from 6 to 18 years of age.  A draw will occur at the end of the event and the winner notified.

Sky-Watcher BK804AZ3 includes mount.

Yuri’s Night

“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”
— Yuri Gagarin, 1st human in space.

Yuri Night Logo

RASC Vancouver has organized a Yuri’s night meetup event to celebrate humanity’s past, present, and future in space.  Yuri’s Night parties and events are held around the world every April in commemoration of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to venture into space on April 12, 1961, and the inaugural launch of the first Space Shuttle on April 12, 1981.

First Space Shuttle LaunchYuri’s Night at La Fontana Cafe

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 6:30pm-11:00pm
La Fontana Cafe
101-3701 Hastings Street, Burnaby, BC (map)
RSVP on the Meetup Event: still some spots available as of 2:30pm on April 22nd.

RASC’s own Scott MacGillivray of Global TV’s “Space Talk with Scott” will be presenting on humanities first endeavours into space travel. (at approx 8:00 pm).



Citizen Scientists Discover Exoplanets

Four previously unknown exoplanets were discovered by Australian citizen scientists and confirmed to be orbiting a nearby star.

The citizen scientists were part of a crowd-sourcing project that aired on ABC’s Stargazing Live. Viewers were asked to hunt for exoplanets by trawling through observations of about 100,000 stars via a project on the Zooniverse website using data from the Kepler Space Telescope. The citizen scientists will be listed as co-authors on a scientific paper about the discovery.

The four exoplanets are “Super Earths” about twice the size of Earth. They are orbiting a star in the Aquarius constellation 600 light years away from Earth. The four discovered planets are most likely rocky and far too hot to support human life, said Dr Lintott, principal investigator at Zooniverse. The star’s planets are “crammed together” suggesting there may be additional planets further from the star.

Simulation of the exoplanets found by citizen scientists.

Additional details can be found in this article.

April Comets

Observing Opportunity for Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak

There may be a nice opportunity to view Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak in the next few days as the current Vancouver forecast calls for partially clear skies from Sunday, April 2nd to Tuesday, April 4th.

Image of Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák
Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák on March 24, 2017. Credit: Chris Schur/www.schursastrophotography.com
Starchart for Finding 41P-Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak
Star chart for finding Comet 41P-Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak. Facing north at 09:00 pm on April 1st, 2017

This comet is now as bright as 6.5 mag and may brighten even more as it gets closer to the Sun. The comet is closest to Earth on April Fools’ Day, about 21.2 million km away, the closest approach to Earth since its discovery. The comet’s perihelion point, where is it positioned closest to the sun, occurs on April 12th.

It is in an excellent position for observing: near the constellations Draco, Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) and Ursa Major (the Big Dipper). The comet is quite diffuse but should be visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

41P makes a trip around the sun every 5.4 years, coming relatively close to Earth on only some of those trips. The comet is a member of the Jupiter class of comets.  A NASA team will be observing 41P on April 1 using the Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. Because comets formed early in the solar system’s history, Comets that come close to the Earth give scientists a chance to deepen our understanding of the processes that led to the formation of our planet.

“An important aspect of Jupiter-family comets is that fewer of them have been studied, especially in terms of the composition of ices in their nuclei, compared with comets from the Oort cloud”,  said Michael DiSanti of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

A Surprise Brightening of Comet C/2017 E4 Lovejoy

Comet C/2017 E4 Lovejoy was only expected to reach 9th magnitude at its brightest in mid-April but it has already reached 7th magnitude and it’s more condensed and is easier to see. E4 Lovejoy is located in Pegasus, in the east just before dawn. Recent images show a small ion tail. A Sky and Telescope article has images and more details.

Image of Comet C/2017 E4 Lovejoy
A faint ion tail extends for more than 1° in this photo taken on March 30. Image Credit: Sky and Telescope Magazine.

Free TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanet Poster

NASA has made a poster of the the TRAPPIST-1 system available following their announcement on the discovery of the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. In this system, called TRAPPIST-1,  all of the planets are likely to be rocky based on their densities. Further, three of these planets are located in the habitable zone the where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The TRAPPIST-1 star is classified as an ultra-cool dwarf and all seven planet orbits are closer to their star than Mercury’s orbit is to our Sun. The planets are also close to each other; to an observer on one of the planet’s surface, the others would appear larger than the moon our sky.