President's Message for September, 2011

As I start to write this message, it’s nearing 2AM on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. This will be the last day of my family’s first summer in rural south Okanagan, much of it to be spent in the usual ritual of tidying and packing that comes with the end of summer vacation (though with time for a hike into the woods with my son Alexandre). Tomorrow we will drive back to Vancouver and into the real world.

Many an amateur astronomer has been born under the deep dark skies of a rural summer, not to mention the countless childhood memories that are forged when the Milky Way is seen to trace its glorious summer arc through the zenith. No wonder that for so many members of our Vancouver Centre, as with thousands of RASCals across the country, the urge to get under a rural sky has its greatest power in the summer.

Annual summer star parties in isolated rural locales are held throughout North America. The Mount Kobau Star Party (this year’s 28th edition having run from July 30 until August 7), and the Merritt Star Quest (which started on August 27 and wraps up today), both draw many of our members. Mind you, not even summer skies can compromise the commitment of your Council and other member volunteers to bring astronomy to the public at convenient locations in and near to the urban light swamp that is Vancouver! (Full confession: my own public outreach efforts this summer have been confined to a keyboard .)

RASC Vancouver participated 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. (BTW, this makes four events so far this year at which Metro Parks and Vancouver Centre have partnered to bring astronomy to thousands of people. We started with Metro Parks annual “Night Quest” at Pacific Spirit Regional Park back on March 19, and held our very rainy Astronomy Day at Aldergrove Lake Regional Park on May 7, with Metro Parks awesome logistical support.)

As I reported in the July/August edition of NOVA, your Council decided to devote our July and August public meetings at the Space Centre entirely to our “What’s Up?” program, which is tailored to newcomers to astronomy (especially young ones!). The back story is that attendance by members at summer meetings has historically been on the low side (owing in part to the need that so many of us have to scratch that rural summer sky itch), and there always exists the temptation for Council to cancel the summer meetings, so that its members can parktake to the fullest in the rural summer sky odyssey. (Another confession: while others on Council have done good much work this summer, I’ve been fixed under south Okanagan skies >:).) On July 14 Bob Parry, well known to our members as a past President and Director of Telescopes, took our audience on a tour with “Robots of the Solar System”, and on August 11, your Education Chair, “Mr. Stargazer” Bill Burnyeat, gave our audience an introduction to the celestial treasures of summer skies, and a look ahead to astronomical treats of autumn. Both meetings were very well attended, with many young families present, and Canadian Telescopes once again donated a telescope door prize at each meeting, in support of our ongoing efforts to bring young people into astronomy.

With summer nearly over, RASC Vancouver is gearing up for a very exciting fall season, chock full of A-list guest lecturers, star parties, and special events. Here are just two examples of what’s in the offing.

Our September 8 public meeting brings a distinguished guest lecturer to the Space Centre: David Halliday, President of Dynamic Structures. Mr. Halliday was appointed to the Order of Canada in December 2010 for “advancing the field of astronomy, notably through his leadership in the design and construction of some of the world’s largest telescope observatories.” Your Council recently and unanimously approved a motion to elect Mr. Halliday as an honorary member, as provided under our bylaws. We are honoured that Mr. Halliday has accepted. A formal presentation of his honorary membership will take place just prior to his lecture, which is entitled “In Focus”.

Our annual Paul Skyes Memorial Lecture will take place this year on Saturday October 1, at Simon Fraser University, and will be given by Jon Lomberg, a world-renowned astronomy artist and speaker. Lomberg has done many high-profile astronomy art installations, and works of scientific artistry, including for the Voyager “Golden Record”, and a beautiful rendering of the Milky Way galaxy for NASA, illustrating the search region for the Kepler spacecraft exo-planet survey. In addition to delivering the Skyes lecture, Lomberg will be at SFU for consultation on a very exciting project … but I can’t reveal what that is about just yet ;). But come to the Paul Skyes lecture to hear Lomberg talk about his 25 years of collaboration with Carl Sagan, a stellar example of how the arts and sciences can inform each other, and the public. You might also find out what’s going on under the stars at SFU, with the essential support of Vancouver Centre!

Finally, to close out this column, why am I writing this column at 2AM (oops, make that 5AM now), besides trying to surprise NOVA editor Gordon Farrell by submitting a President’s message ahead of time (for once!)? I’m trying to capture every last deep-sky photon that I can get into my camera before the end of this summer of celestial bliss .

Howard Trottier

President, RASC-VC

Professor of Physics, SFU