Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Landing

Join us for a gathering with light snacks, door prizes, moon talks and short films followed by observing Jupiter and Saturn at the Trottier Observatory.

Saturday, July 20, 2019, 7:30 PM to Midnight
Room SWH 10081 in Saywell Hall.
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby Campus – find us on a map

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Speakers: Ted Stroman and Leigh Cummings

Abstract: On October 4th, 1957, the USSR launched the first successful orbital satellite into space. By the end of the 1960s, only 13 years later, the USA successfully landed 2 men on the Moon. Ted Stroman is an expert on the history of the Apollo program that brought that to be. Leigh Cummings has been trying to keep up with the developments in the effort to return to the Moon by the next decade. We hope to give an entertaining and eye-opening picture of where and how we have been to the Moon and where and how we might go on.

One of the interesting Apollo facts you will learn at the talk is that the first Apollo 11 “feet” to touch the Moon were Canadian! The four landing gear system “legs” (or “struts”) on the Apollo Lunar Module descent stages were built by the Canadian company  Heroux-Devtek, based in Quebec. These landing legs were constructed of a light-weight aluminum and compressible honeycomb design to aid in shock absorption.

The first Apollo 11 feet to actually touch the surface of the moon – were made in Montreal. Image credit: NASA

Neil Armstrong landed so gently that the legs did not compress on impact leaving the Lunar Module’s ladder positioned quite high above the surface.

Join us on July 20th to learn more.

High Tides during the Eclipse

A visitor to our Canada Day table noticed that the tide seem very low in False Creek and wondered if it had any connection to the Total Solar Eclipse on July 2nd in South America.

The answer is yes. A solar eclipse must happen at new Moon when the the Moon is lined up directly between the Sun and the Earth.

Image Credit: Penn State Astronomy & Astrophysics

Tides are mostly caused by the gravity of the Moon as it pulls the water on the near-side away from the Earth and pulls the Earth away from the water on the far side. With the Sun aligned with the Moon during an eclipse – the Sun is also pulling in the same direction and so the tides are larger.

Total solar eclipses are awesome events to see but not that special for tides. The same alignment and high tides occur at every new Moon regardless of whether or not there is an eclipse. Such high tides have been give the name “spring tide” (technically, spring tides also include the high tides that occur when the Moon is full)..

Other factors cause the highest tides which are colloquially known as “King Tides”. The orbit of the Moon around the Earth, and the Earth around the Sun are not perfectly circular and tides are larger when

  • The Moon is closest to the Earth – the Moon is at perigee
  • The Earth is closest to the Sun – the Earth is at perihelion

Back in Sept 2015, the above factors plus others combined to give extreme tides that will not be matched again until 2034! Read more about the Extreme Tides September 28 in 2015.

Solar Minimum Ha Fun on Canada Day

You might think there is not much to see on the Sun as experts predict a long, deep solar minimum in 2019. But you can try to prove them wrong by observing the sun at the Canada Day celebration in Maple Ridge‘s Memorial Peace Park from 12 pm to 6 pm on Monday, July 1st, 2019.

RASC Vancouver will have several special hydrogen-alpha (Ha) telescopes setup for the public to safely observe solar features such as flares, prominences, sunspots, and filaments. Hydrogen-alpha (Ha) telescopes use special filters that block almost all the light from the sun except for a narrow band of red light emitted when hydrogen is energized in sun’s chromosphere. Many think that Ha’s greatest highlights are the prominences shot out from the sun’s limb, and large prominences can occur even during a solar minimum.

If the weather and the sun cooperate then you will be able to see some on Canada Day. In the the mean time, take a look at the pictures below, taken by amateur astronomers, to see what solar features can look like in Ha.

Full Disc Image with Prominences and Filaments from June 4th 2019 . Image Credit:
Fountain Prominence Animation on May 18th, 2019. Image Credit: http://www.astrobin.com/users/rigel123/
Active Region AR2741 from May 15th, 2019. Image Credit:
Large Solar Prominence from Coquitlam on Oct 16th, 2018. Image Credit: Ken Jackson

Five Tidbits for Asteroid Day

Asteroid Day events are scheduled during the week of 30 June, the date of the largest asteroid impact of Earth in recorded history (Tunguska). Asteroid Day promotes awareness and provides knowledge to the general public about the importance of asteroids in the formation of our universe and the role they play in our solar system today. Asteroid Day TV started streaming on June 27th at 4am PDT.

Below are some tidbits about asteroids to help celebrate the day.

An Asteroid with a Comet-Like Tail

Observations from December and early January show that Asteroid (6478) Gault has developed a comet-like tail.  This small asteroid is spining so fast that it is throwing off material from its surface.

Double Tail of Asteroid 6478 Gault. Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA [CC BY 2.0 ]

Observe Asteroid 18 Melpomene at Opposition

Asteroid 18 Melpomene is currently well placed for observation, located in the constellation Scutum. It is at opposition on July 2nd 2019 and will reach its highest point 31° above the southern horizon around 1 am PDT. It will be visible in small telescopes as its visual magnitude is 9.2

Asteroid 17 Melpomene at Opposition on July 2nd, 2019. Image credit: theskylive.com

Asteroid Re-named as a Tribute to Brian Eno

Astronomers renamed the asteroid formerly known as 81948 (2000 OM69) to “Eno” as a tribute to musician, composer and record producer Brian Eno. Eno was described as “an experimental sculptor of sound” and has become synonymous with ambient music. The honour came just a day after Eno was presented with the Stephen Hawking Medal at Starmus 2019 for the reissue of his 1983 album, “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks”.

Asteroids can have a Moon

About 15% of asteroids are in binary systems, and the smaller of these pairs is referred to as a moon. The Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission proposes to send a pair of space probes to study and demonstrate the effects of crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid. NASA’s Dart spacecraft will impact the moonlet, “Didymoon”, that orbits the larger asteroid Didymos. The European Space Agency’s Hera spacecraft will follow-up with a detail survey of the results of the impact. The mission will help explore the possibility of deflecting this type of asteroid and formulate ways to protect Earth from harmful space rocks.

Astrophysicist and Musician, Brian May, describes ESA’s Hera Mission

Asteroid with Enough Metal to Make Everyone Rich

It’s estimated that asteroid Psyche 16 contains various metals worth $10,000 quadrillion Mining all its metal could make everyone on Earth a billionaire, or could destroy commodity prices and cause the world’s economy to collapse. Pysche 16 is one of the ten most massive asteroids in he asteroid belt. It was discovered by the Italian astronomer Annibale de Gasparis in 1852

Artist’s conception of the asteroid 16 Psyche. Image credit: Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists classify Psyche 16 as a M-type (metallic) asteroid that is comprised mostly of metallic iron and nickel similar to Earth’s core. Psyche 16 could be an exposed core of an early planet, maybe as large as Mars. NASA is launching a mission to probe the asteroid in the summer of 2022. The “Discovery Mission” should arrive at Psyche 16 in 2026. This will be the first mission to explore a world of metal rather than one of rock and ice.

Black Holes Undressed

Black holes, event horizons, and singularities are weird concepts that just seem to go together. A black hole is a region of such strong gravitational pull that nothing can escape not even light. An event horizon is the boundary of black hole – anything within the event horizon can never escape while light originating right at the event horizon could escape. A singularity is a location within a black hole where the density and gravitational force becomes infinite.

Artist’s Conception of a Black Hole. Image credit: XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA

In the case of a black hole, the singularity is hidden from view by its event horizon. So Black holes are singularities that are “dressed in black” by their event horizon and undressing a Black Hole would reveal a “Naked Singularity” – if such objects actually exist.

All black holes have an event horizon whose size or radius is proportional to the the mass the black hole according an equation derived by the German astrophysicist Karl Schwarzschild:

Rg = 2GM/c2.

where M is the mass, G is the universal gravitational constant and c is speed of light. The following table shows the radius the event horizon based on the masses of a few well-know objects.

ObjectRadius (m)
The Recently imaged black hole in the Messier 87 galaxy2×1013 
Sagittarius A* – the black hole at the center of our galaxy1×1010
The Sun
(3 km)
The Earth
(9 mm) 
A 70 kg Human

In other words, you could create a small black hole by compressing the Earth down to a less than than the size of a Canadian dime.

The physicist, Roger Penrose, showed that every black hole contains a singularity but he could not prove that every singularity also had an event horizon. The potential existence of these naked singularities is a challenge to theoretical physics – a model of singularities would require dealing with infinities and the unification of warped space-time from general relatively with the weird behaviour of very small objects from quantum theory. If naked singularities physically exist then they could be potentially be observed because they are not hidden by an event horizon. A 2017 paper in Physical Review suggests a way that naked singularities could be detected and distinguished from black holes.

Penrose proposed that some physical principle, not yet understood, excluded the existence of naked singularities (except for Big Bang singularity). This is known as the “cosmic censorship conjecture“.

Stephen Hawking found the idea of naked singularities to be obscene and felt that singularities should be “decently hidden” in places where they cannot be seen. He bet Dr. Kip Thorne and another physicist, John Preskill that these abominations cannot possibly occur. The loser agreed “to reward the winner with clothing to cover the winner’s nakedness.” The clothing was to be embroidered with “a suitable concessionary message.”

Hawking conceded the bet after a computer simulation by Matthew Choptuik of the University of Texas in Austin showed that under very rare and contrived circumstances a black hole might collapse in such a way that its singularity would be exposed, stripped for all to see. Having lost the bet on a technicality, Dr. Hawking provided Preskill with an embarrassing t-shirt while giving a talk to 1,000 people at Caltech. The t-shirt featured a nearly-naked lady and the slogan “Nature Abhors a Naked Singularity”. Hawking also placed another bet:

Whereas Stephen W. Hawking (having lost a previous bet on this subject by not demanding genericity) still firmly believes that naked singularities are an anathema and should be prohibited by the laws of classical physics,

And whereas John Preskill and Kip Thorne (having won the previous bet) still regard naked singularities as quantum gravitational objects that might exist, unclothed by horizons, for all the Universe to see,

Therefore Hawking offers, and Preskill/Thorne accept, a wager that

When any form of classical matter or field that is incapable of becoming singular in flat spacetime is coupled to general relativity via the classical Einstein equations, then

A dynamical evolution from generic initial conditions (i.e., from an open 
set of initial data) can never produce a naked singularity 
(a past-incomplete null geodesic from scri-plus).

The loser will reward the winner with clothing to cover the winner’s nakedness. The clothing is to be embroidered with a suitable, truly concessionary message.

Stephen W. Hawking, John P. Preskill, Kip S. Thorne 
Pasadena, California, 5 February 1997

The new bet is still standing!

A Double Star Puzzle

What well-known double star has a companion that appears to orbit the primary once every 24 hours?

The answer is a well-known star that looks like a single star to our naked eye but is actually a binary system with a smaller companion star. The companion star is visible in a telescope and appears to orbit the primary once every day. If you view this system through a 24 hour period, perhaps in Winter from above the Arctic Circle where it remains dark all day, then the companion would trace one complete orbit around the primary and end up back where it started. If you are impatient then scroll down to the video below for the answer.

Albireo – one star blue and the other golden – as captured by Tom Wildoner in July, 2015. Visit Tom’s blog, Leisurely Scientist.

A double star is a pair of stars that appear close to each other as viewed from Earth, especially with the aid of a telescope. In binary systems, the stars are physically bound together by gravity so they are in orbit around each other. Binary stars are important to astronomers as knowledge of their motions allows direct calculation of stellar mass.

The star Alberio, the head of swan in the constellation Cygnus, is considered to be one of the most beautiful double stars. It is a binary system with the brighter gold star and the dimmer blue star orbiting around their common center of mass.

The video below shows the answer to the double star puzzle produced by simulating the binary system using the SkySafari app.

Polaris, the north star, is a binary system with a companion SAO 305, also known as Alpha Ursae Minoris B or Polaris B. If you pay attention to the date/time at the bottom of video then you can see that SAO 305 does, in fact, appear to orbit Polar once every 24 hours.

But the puzzle is a deception, of course, because all the stars that we can view from the Northern Hemisphere appear to orbit Polaris every 24 hours as seen in the following video with a wider field.

These “orbits” appear because of the rotation of the Earth rather than the motion of the stars.

But the universe keeps things interesting – In 1929, another very close companion was found near Polaris making it a system of three stars that are gravitationally bound together.

Credit: This puzzle came from Glenn Chaple‘s Oberving Basics column in the May issue of Astronomy Magazine, published Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

Catch SpaceX’s Satellite Train Speeding Past Deneb

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket recently launched the first set of 60 Starlink satellites. News broke last Friday night that Dr. Marco Langbroek captured a video of a train of these satellites over in the Netherlands shortly after the launch.

There is a chance to see this satellite train over Vancouver and the Lower Mainland on the night of June 3rd around 11:07 pm PDT as they pass close to Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus. The charts below, plotted for SFU’s Burnaby campus, can help locate the satellites but they might be best viewed in binoculars.

Other opportunities to view this satellite train can be found on the heavens-above website.

There is lots of concern and debate on the how Starlink satellites might be harmful to astronomy.

Help us Measure Light Pollution in BC

At Astronomy Day we showed people how easy it is to use phone apps to measure light pollution. Now it is your turn to help us measure the sky glow and light pollution in BC through a campaign called #MeasureTheSkyBC – all you need is your phone and your eyes.

The page MeasureTheSkyBC has more information on the apps and the campaign. You can win prizes by using an app to take a measurement and submitting it via email to [email protected] from June through September 2019. The next two weeks are a great time to start taking measurements as the waning Moon will be less-and-less illuminated until new Moon on June 3rd.

Cover of SkyNews Magazine

Early-bird bonus: be one of the first five to submit a measurement and we’ll send you a free issue of Canada’s SkyNews Magazine that features an article on fighting light pollution.

Light Pollution affects more than just Astronomy – checkout the light pollution section of our website and Five Reasons to Care for its effects on wildlife, human health, and the economy. Or find out more by watching the SUPERnova Episode3 video below on YouTube.

Congratulations to Kelvin Dueck for the Prime Minister’s Award on Teaching Excellence

RASC Vancouver congratulates Kelvin Dueck, a Pitt Meadows secondary physics, science and math teacher, on his receipt of a 2019 Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence in STEM.

Kelvin Dueck teaches physics, science, and math to Grades 9 through 12 students at Pitt Meadows Secondary. His teaching achievements and his willingness do almost anything to get his students engaged have been recognized with this award.

RASC Vancouver worked with Kelvin when he recommended one of his students to take part in an astronomy project on Cepheid variable stars with some of our junior members. We also held a solar viewing party at his school.

Kevin’s motto

“Mistakes are expected, respected, inspected and corrected”

encourages students to discover physics for themselves rather than mindlessly memorizing equations. He will do almost anything to get his students engaged, including going skydiving to teach lessons on the physics of free-fall.

More details on Kelvin’s achievements and award are available on the Government Of Canada’s website.

A Good Adieu to Galaxy Season

I was fortunate to spend a few nights under wonderfully dark skies at Manning Park last week. The first night was a bit of a disaster with trying out some new astrophotography equipment, so I switched to visual observing on the second night with the goal of observing some Messier Galaxies, M59, M60 and M89, that I had not yet checked off my Messier observing list.

I was joined by Hayley Miller, RASC’s event coordinator, and we started setting up near the boat launch at Lightning Lake around 8:30 pm. It is a gorgeous site with the lake in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Image of Lightning Lake observing site.
Observing Site – Lightning Lake at Manning Park

We had the area largely to ourselves with just one car in the parking lot and the silence was only disturbed by a few ducks and geese out on the lake. To the west, a beautiful sliver of the 4-day old Moon was heading down towards the mountains.

We watched the brighter stars (Capella, Vega, Arcturus, Spica, Castor and Pollux) and constellations (Cygnus Lyra, Bootes, Virgo, Gemini, Ursa Minor and Ursa Major) pop in to view until around 10:30pm when the skies had turned truly dark – the skies at Manning Park are Bortle class 2 and I measured the sky quality as 21.6 with a unihedron sqm-l.

I then turned my Edge HD 8 scope towards my target galaxies in the Virgo cluster. The north-east part of the constellation Virgo is littered with galaxies.

Virgo galaxy cluster
The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. Image credit: Rogelio Bernal Andreo, APOD Aug 4th, 2015.

Early March to Mid-April is known as Galaxy Season because of the sheer number of galaxies in the Virgo cluster and the close-by constellations of Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici, and Leo. The image below is a visual explanation for why this time of year is known as Galaxy Season.

Imaging-worthy galaxy locations by optimal viewing date. Image credit: Charlie Bracken

Each red dot is an imaging-worthy galaxy. The Y-axis shows the galaxy’s declination and the X-axis shows the best time of year to observe the galaxy – that is, the time of year when it crosses the meridian at midnight.

I spent the next two hours galaxy hopping through the Virgo Cluster, Coma
Berenices and a little way into Leo. My scope was mounted on a Stellarvue M2 alt-az mount which was easily pushed from one target to the next. My original targets, M59, M60, and M89 were easy to find but I also spent time on M88, M90, M100, M85, the Coma Pinwheel Galaxy, the Siamese Twins, NGC 4503, M87 (with its black hole), Markarian’s Chain, and others. Anything down to magnitude 11 was easy and I’m sure better eyes than mine would easily have gone much deeper.

The night was a wonderful way to say adieu to Galaxy Season for this year. The waxing Moon will interfere with observing faint galaxies until the next new Moon on June 3rd and by then there is only about one hour of true darkness between the end of Astronomical Twilight at 12:35 am and the start of Twilight on the “next day” at 1:45 am. So goodbye to galaxy season but I expect to say hello to some summer Globular Clusters, double stars, and to spend more time on solar observing.