Chinese Space Station Heading Back To Earth

The Chinese space station,  TIANGONG-1 or “Heavenly Palace” is headed back to earth with re-entry likely happening tomorrow afternoon.

Its re-entry, unlike most, is uncontrolled as the space station became unresponsive in March, 2016. The latest forecasts remain highly variable but are centred in a window around 16:25 PDT on April 1st. This is later than originally predicted with the delay attributed to low solar activity, which has allowed Earth’s upper atmosphere to cool and shrink away from Tiangong-1 – less air  means less aerodynamic friction and a slower decay. Check here for updates.

Most of the 8.5 tonne spacecraft will burn up in the atmosphere with 1.5 to 3.5 tonnes expected to impact the earth. The impact zone is from 43° North latitude to 43° south latitude and it is likely come down in an ocean rather than over land. So that excludes BC and most of Canada. Impact debris is typically heat resistant metal objects such as fuel tanks.

TIANGONG-1 is about the size of bus. It is much smaller than the 74 tonne Skylab space station that had an uncontrolled re-entry in 1979. Still, it would be a spectacular sight if you happen to be in the right place at the right time to see it. It will be visible even in daylight and will appear as a slow moving shooting star or fireball,  a smoke trail might even be visible.


Space Talk with Scott – Feb 24th, 2018

RASC’s Scott McGillivray talks about viewing the Humanity Star – the “disco mirror ball” that is currently in orbit; and his favourite upcoming space mission.

Kidney Transplant Needed by RASC Member


The following letter is from long time RASC Vancouver member Barry Shanko to let you know about his current health challenges and how you can help.  Barry has been a wonderfully generous volunteer for our activities.   In particular, as our Speakers Chair for many years, Barry ensured an interesting series of talks at our public lectures.  Barry needs a new kidney, and we hope you will consider being tested to be a living donor.


Dear Fellow Members of the Vancouver Centre:

In reaching out to you I have to say this is the hardest letter I’ve ever had to write. My kidneys have failed and I undergo dialysis three times a week. This is a temporary fix; the best long term solution is a kidney transplant.

The waiting time for a deceased donor kidney is years and I have been advised to try and find someone who would be willing to donate one of their kidneys to me. I’m writing this letter with the hopes that you or someone you know will come forward to volunteer to be tested as a first step towards donation.

I understand this is a huge request, and I want you to be totally comfortable with your decision. No matter what you decide, I will respect it.  If you are comfortable with saying yes, I hope you will consider stepping forward to be tested.

Life with dialysis is not easy. I need treatment three times a week, four hours per session. This is a great hit to my lifestyle, meaning that I have to plan my life around my appointments. It is almost as though I was attached to the machines via a leash. For example, on work days when I have dialysis, I leave for work at 7:30 am, but don’t get home until almost 10 in the evening. A new kidney would eliminate these restrictions and return me to a normal life.

This is also a hard thing for me personally. My mom died from kidney failure. She wasn’t able to have a transplant and eventually the dialysis stopped working. Her last few years were a constant cycle of dialysis and then rest until the next session. It wasn’t much of a life.

I’ve learned kidney donors are able to live normal and healthy lives with just a single kidney. Donors are carefully screened to make sure it is safe for them to give up a kidney. The testing is comprehensive and only if you pass the tests will you be asked to take the next step to donation. The transplant team makes the donor’s health and well-being a priority. Donors don’t have to be a relative, or even have the same blood type to volunteer. And should the worst happen and your single kidney fails, as a live donor, you would go straight to the top of the transplant list without having to wait in line.

I know I’ve given you a lot to think about. If you are interested in exploring the idea of a kidney donation and want more information, I’d urge you to start by checking out the BC Transplant website [] or contact the VGH pre-transplant clinic at 604-875-5182 for more information. Just asking for information is not a commitment to going forward with it and you can stop at any point in the process. All of your contacts and information will be kept in the strictest confidence.

If you’d like, I’d be happy to talk with you confidentially about this and pass along more information.

Thank you for letting me share my information. If you know of someone you think would be interested in donating, feel free to pass this letter along to them. The wider the net, the better my chances.


Barry Shanko


Smaller and Lighter Optics using Metalenses

Conventional round and curved lenses are the key element in refracting telescopes. While there have been advances in the materials used, the coatings, and the use of multiple lenses to correct distortions,  basic lens design has not changed much since the time of Galileo.

A flat metalens that focuses the visible spectrum in the same spot. Image Credit: Jared Sisler/Harvard SEAS

Metalenses promise to revolutionize optics by replacing the bulky, curved lenses  with a simple, flat surface.

A metalens takes a new approach to focusing light. Rather than exploiting the diffraction properties of glass, a metalens uses tiny pillars, typically made of titanium dioxide, to bend wavelengths toward the focal point.

The pillars are arranged in different patterns where each specific pattern focuses a different color of light. This short 2-minute video by Science Magazine does a good job of illustrating the concept in simple terms.

Recently, researchers from the Harvard School of Engineering have announced the development of the first single metalens that can focus almost the entire visible spectrum of light in the same spot. The Harvard metalens covers 470 nanometers (bold blue) to 680 nanometers (deep red)  while a healthy eyeball reacts to wavelengths ranging from about 380 to about 700 nanometers. The Harvard metalens is a good prototype and additional advances may allow it to cover the whole visual spectrum.

A BC Company, NexOptic,  has similar goals: to enable bigger apertures in small devices. They claimed to have developed a prototype  telescope that was unveiled at the Macmillan Planetarium last year.


NexOptic has not revealed details on how their technology works but the prototype was evaluated on some moon images by a RASC-Calgary member, Larry McNish.

Conventional vs Blade Optics

This is still early stage technology and a number of challenges remain for metalenses but hopefully it will enable dramatically smaller and lighter telescopes in the future.

Space Talk with Scott – Jan 27th, 2018

RASC’s Scott McGillivray talks with Lynn Colliar about this week’s lunar eclipse, the Sapphire  Space Telescope, and discoveries from the Messenger mission to Mercury.


Indoor Astronomy Events for a Rainy Weekend

Despite the rainy weather forecast for the weekend

You can take in an indoor astronomy event this weekend such as

  • Learn about the discovery of Ice on Mercury at our Paul Sykes Memorial Lecture at Simon Fraser University on Saturday at 7:30 pm,
  • Celebrate RASC’s 150 anniversary with other centers at the on-line national star party starting at 10am on Saturday, or
  • Watch the Ambassadors of the Sky video on the efforts to preserve the night sky in Alberta and BC – streamed by the Knowledge Network until Feb. 6th.

Nova Newsletter – Jan/Feb 2018

Our NOVA Newsletter, for Jan-Feb 2018 is available as a hi-res or low-res pdf file. An archive of older issues can be found on our Newsletter page.

Contents of Volume 2018, Issue 1, January-February-2018:

Paul Sykes Lecture – Ice on Mercury featuring Dr. Nancy Chabot – Sat, Jan 27 @ 7:30pm at SFU

President’s Message by Leigh Cummings

How to View Iridium Flares in the Telescope Eyepiece by Robert Conrad

RASC – Celebrating 150 Years by Suzanna Nagy

Photographing an Iridium Flare by Elena Popovici

Celebrating RASC’s 150th Anniversary

2018 marks the 150th year since the Society’s inception.   RASC national is planning a number of activities and events to celebrate.

The celebration begins on January 27h, 2018 with a cross-country Star Party that combines solar and lunar observing with local Centre events from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific and reaching northwards to encompass many of our Centres.

The activities of each Centre’s Star Party as well as messages from astronomical and civilian luminaries will be streamed for public viewing  at on January 27th, 2018 from approximately 10:00 am to 5:00 PST.


Later that evening, RASC Vancouver is hosting our annual Paul Sykes Memorial Lecture at the SFU Burnaby campus.   Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University, will be speaking on the topic of Ice On Mercury.  The lecture is free and open to the public and more details can be found on our meetup post.

Paul Sykes Memorial Lecture

Saturday, January 27, 2018  7:30 PM to 9:30 PM
Room: SWH10081,Saywell Hall, adjacent to the Atrium
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby Campus

Topic:  Ice on Mercury

Even though Mercury is the planet closest to the Sun, there are places at its poles that never receive sunlight and are very cold – cold enough to hold water ice! In this presentation, I’ll show the multiple lines of evidence that regions near Mercury’s poles hold water ice – from the first discovery by Earth-based radar observations to multiple data sets from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, the first spacecraft ever to orbit the planet Mercury. These combined results suggest that Mercury’s polar ice deposits are substantial, perhaps comparable to the amount of water in Lake Ontario! Where did the ice come from and how did it get there? I’ll discuss these questions and others during this presentation of water ice on our Solar System’s innermost planet.

Observational Astronomy Course at SFU

Our Observing Chair, Robert Conrad, is teaching an observational astronomy course every Saturday from January 6th to February 17th (except February 10th due to the long weekend). It’s offered through the continuing education department at SFU at the downtown campus and has a fee. The course starts at 10:30am and finishes at 12:30pm. It’s called “The Night Sky in your computer” and uses various simulation tools and apps to enhance your observing experience. As part of the course, you will gain access to many quick references and guides to enhance your observing experience.

The course description from SFU has more information.

What you will learn

Week 1: Setting Up and Customizing Stellarium

Week 2: Locating Deep-Sky-Object Treasures Using Stellarium

Week 3: Complementary Software to Stellarium

Week 4: Mobile Apps for Astronomy

Week 5: Starhopping and Telescope Basics

Week 6: Observation Resources and Putting Together an Observation Session Plan