President's Message for July 2011

“What’s Up?” lately with RASC Vancouver

Summer is a unique season at RASC Vancouver, at least as measured by the number of our members to be found close to home, and at our July and August public meetings.

Many of our members heed the clarion call of the celestial treasures of summer, with the Milky Way tracing a glorious arc through the zenith as the skies darken, and take advantage of summer vacation time to get under dark skies far from city lights. Some feel an almost instinctive draw to the Mount Kobau Star Party (this year’s 28th edition running from dusk July 30 until dawn August 7), and the Merritt Star Quest (running August 27 to September 3).

Not that our Council and member volunteers let up on public engagement during the summer. This summer, RASC Vancouver will be participating at the New Westminster Grimston Park “Summerfest” on July 16; at the Metro Parks Deas Island Regional Park “Starry Night” on August 13; and at Metro Parks “All Night Stargazing” at Aldergrove Lake Regional Park on August 19. Details on all these events will be posted on our Meetup social networking site Your Council has also been keeping itself very busy with July and August council meetings chock full of important business, including some items of long-term importance for our Centre (a full report on that is coming this fall!).

But the general summer interlude seems like a good time to update our membership and our public readership on “What’s Up?” lately with RASC-Vancouver, including for those of us who may read this NOVA from afar.

First, if you have been reading NOVA in printed form, for any length of time, and have picked up this edition in hardcopy, then you will immediately ask yourself, how did the outer pages of NOVA end up in colour?

This development owes to our newest sponsor, Canadian Telescopes! Not only did Canadian Telescopes come forward with an offer to cover the full print cost for this and the remaining editions of NOVA 2011, but insisted as well that we quite literally add some colour to our digest. Your Council was only too happy to comply!

Canadian Telescopes has also generously come forward with two other methods of sponsorship. One is to offer a $20 gift certificate for any new member of RASC Vancouver (see our website for details). The other is to donate a telescope as a monthly door prize at RASC Vancouver’s newest public outreach offering, literally called “What’s Up?” (young people up to and including high-school graduation age in attendance are eligible for the door prize).

“What’s Up?” is a 20-minute segment that we have been offering since February, in association with our monthly public lecture at the Space Centre, on the second Thursday of each month. “What’s Up? begins at 7:00PM, just ahead of the 7:30PM lecture, and is tailored to newcomers to astronomy, especially young ones (though more experienced astronomy fans might well find something of interest too!). “What’s Up?” is meant to cover a variety of introductory topics, including what to look for in the night sky, all about telescopes and other astronomy gear, and non-technical Introductions to cool topics and breaking news in astronomy and space science.

“What’s Up?” has been successful in bringing many newcomers to our meetings, notably many young families with kids from tots to teens. Attendance at some of these segments has topped one hundred!

At the inaugural “What’s Up?” in February, I got our audience (young and old!) to use a hands-on, do-it yourself expanding universe, to come up with answers to three “deep” questions about the cosmos. Since then, we’ve taken a look back at “Tales from Four Apollo Missions” in March (also by Yours Truly); we were treated to a warmly personal segment in April, “Navigating the Night Sky”, thanks to Treasurer Wayne Lyons; in May, we participated with our Webmaster Harvey Dueck in awe-inspiring visualizations of why, for the universe and its contents, “Size Matters”; and in June we heard an impassioned plea by AOMO co-Chair Leigh Cummings for young people to help all of us to explain “Ten Solar System Mysteries”.

Indeed, the ultimate message of Leigh’s “What’s Up?” segment is the ultimate reason behind our efforts to attract young people to RASC Vancouver events, including with programs such as “What’s Up?”. Of course, young people represent the future of RASC Vancouver, as with all regional centres and the RASC nationally, and only by expanding and deepening our commitment to public outreach, particularly to young families, can we ensure the continued vitality of our treasured Centre. But the loftier goal towards which we aspire when, as RASC Vancouver volunteers, we engage the public, is to inspire the next generation of scientists, and to enhance public understanding of science.

Owing in part to the summer interlude taken by many of our members, your Council has decided to turn our July and August public meetings at the Space Centre over entirely to the “What’s Up?” program. Instead of the usual public lecture, we’ll devote the full hour from 7:30PM-8:30PM to the “What’s Up?”. On July 14 Bob Parry, well known to our members as a past President and Director of Telescopes, will take our audience on a tour with “Robots of the Solar System”. For the August 11 meeting, we are working with some young people to them take over the “What’s Up?” presentation itself (details to appear on Meetup).

So here’s to clear summer skies, and more time under the stars, with membership and the public!

Howard Trottier

President, RASC-VC

Professor of Physics, SFU