Guts for a 10" f/4 Dob

haunting the usual place, Vancouver telescope. I have managed to find so much to interest me there. Nick seems to have new stuff most visits, and I will kill a few hours talking and looking.

This time there were a number of parts and a sonotube. It was what was left from a 10″ f/4 Dobsonian  F/4 is a very short focal range for Newtonians, but quite common NOW. When this was ground, polished and then coated at Pancro in the 60’s or 70’s, f/4 was unusual. Very few would have parabolized a mirror in this range with any degree of competence.

The mirror has little to identify it: a sticker from the coating  company, Pancro, and a focal length inscribed with  ‘ 39.8″ ‘ a cell, spider and secondary holder by Kenneth Novak, very well known and regarded in amateur and professional circles. The focuser was only a 1 1/4″, far too puny to delivery wide field viewing with 2″ eyepieces.

I am proceeding down the same road as my 12 1/2″ build, using baltic birch plywood, a very hard and dimensionally stable composite wood product. It usually comes in standard imperial thicknesses (1/4, 3/8″ and 1/2″ are my usual picks). The size is 5 feet by 5 feet. making it very tricky to cut up to smaller sizes, even on a 10″ table saw.

I cut a strip 10″ wide and used a finger-jointing jig I have used on many other projects.

The first was a case for an 8″ Maksutov M809 by Intes, the 2nd an eyepiece case out of Jatoba and the 3rd a case fror my smaller MN-61.

Quite simple to use, you can make it yourself as you need different ones for different finger widths. The tools you need are a table saw with adequate capacity to take a dado blade set.

The part is just a board with a finger of wood the width of the dado you are cutting. The finger acts as a registration point to cut the slots, and you then put the dado you just cut over the finger and repeat until you have cut all the fingers. For each side of the box, you gang the sides together in pairs to get them identical. For the second pair, you ADD a piece of wood between the finger and the plywood to get an offset. It should be close to the width of the dado but it doesn’t need to be exact, as any unevenness can be planed off once glued up.

You can add a gusset of wood, cut at 45 degrees to reinforce the interior of the box for robustness. If you need to make the box lighter for balance or other considerations, just use your table saw to rip a section off end end


You just need to test it first to make sure the gap is correct. I am testing a few scraps out to try veneering to surface of the wood for a more refined look. I have a choice of using maple, cherry or walnut. I am leaning towards walnut but that means I will have to match and tape together sections to do each side correctly.

Stuff You Find When Not Looking Too Hard

I have been of the receiving end of ATM luck for some time, mostly good luck as this is not as popular as it once was. Telescopes have been much the same. Since I got my two Maks though, I haven’t been as tempted as before with two exceptions. I got a 80mm scope as it was on sale used for a decent price

My first was a 12 1/2″ blank someone had made a start on but quit. I got it for $100 (less than half its usual price AND part of the hard grunt work of roughing done). It has gone slowly, my time eaten up by laziness, sloth, Diabetes and the work involved in paying for and maintaining a house.  I have restarted it but need to test it again to be sure where it lies, and if it needs more polishing. I now have the frame and box complete, it needs a mirror cell, a trunnion and a way to connect the top to the bottom.

This years is just south of Osoyuos so a double shot at Mt Kobau is possible. If you’ve never gone, please do it. Maybe I’ll have any entry this year.

I find things at Vancouver Telescope often. The above blank, a new (but scuffed) 3.5″ Newtonian secondary mirror, odds and ends. One was a new in box (since 1965) 10″ mirror making kit, with two Pyrex blanks, all the grit but no polish or pitch for $100. A steal considering its cost in 1965 was $67.50, about $400 in today’s dollars.


January 2013

Weather has been poor, so little observing except hauling out my new refractor to try it out. I already own a small 80mm f/6.25 I got 25% off it price at a North Shore pawn shop years ago. I liked the scope for its quick setup. A few things were problematic. My tripod, a large Manfrotto with a bubble level head, has no trouble with my heaviest camera lens, a 200mm f/1.8 USM Canon telephoto. The 80mm ED with its long heavy tube overpowers the lock in the tripod head. In an effort to lock it securely, I have now broken the threaded part off twice, making it necessary the file in a slot in the remainder to use a screwdriver to remove. FFFUUU. I have tried it with my Canon 7D, and while it does get a focus confirm beep, the actual focus is a bit soft on occasion. My Canon 200mm f/1.8 has no such problem, focus in manual is unmistakable.

Someone who knows my love of telescopes told me a friend was clearing out some items and gave me an address. He had a few items like a nice tripod and some eyepieces that were duplicates of better ones I already owned. I told him he could go to a local telescope shop as he always had people coming in looking to add eyepieces but I was interested in the tripod.

He laughed derisively at my experience with my expensive tripod and said he thought this one would be better. I asked what telescopes he still had and he’d sold the two cheaper ones to some students on budgets. He got a case from the corner with an unfamiliar logo. He hefted the heavy for its size case up to a table to open it. A rather plain white tube with a dual speed focuser.

I have heard about AstroPhysics scopes and even looked through a number of them. I liked their color free look but the cost verses size argument lost me. This one was remarkably short and light for a 93 mm refractor. We set it up on his small tripod and did some observing of the city. Buildings in downtown, over 4 miles away, showed clearly in spite of obvious heat waves distorting the seeing. The white parts of Canadian flags visible on buildings were perfect without extraneous color fringes.  He said he seldom bothered to use his best eyepieces with it as it did fine with unremarkable Orthos or even Plossel EPs.

We covered it with a cloth and he got me some tea and biscuits and we talked while the sun went down and the near full Moon came up over Burnaby Mountain. We resumed observing, this time on a dark orange target hazed by pollution. It got clearer with altitude and he started showing me around all the little features I’d never bothered to learn the names to. Craters were nice in spite of the lack of shadows due to the near full phase.He got out a set of eyepieces in a box made of walnut. I KNEW what these were, a matched set of Zeiss orthoscopics.

I had wanted a set of these, being a camera buff who revered the name Zeiss but few ever showed up for sale. Neither did these 🙁 He targeted a number of double and multiple stars and the color contrast between them was very evident, not like my refractors more indistinct view.

Obscure rilles, domes and smaller craters dotted the area. One I had seen before in my 6″ only stood out due to its shades of grey being a bit lighter than the surrounding Even small craters in the bottom of Plato were quite clear. He informed me this little scope was one of their special projects,never repeated or equaled, called the “Stowaway” for its very fast f/4.9 ratio. He got me an adapter for my Canon and I hooked up my 7D. The city photos were clear and crisp, no autofocus but with its fast ratio the cameras sensors did work and give me a beep for focus confirmation.
A few pics of the moon, using care to use high shutter speeds to reduce glare and get proper contrast were in order. It use one of them for my wallpaper on my home computer.

I bought it for his asking price, too high for my taste, but fair considering it was around that price new back in the day. So far I haven’t used it too much. Just around Squamish for some pictures and some eagle watching this winter. I must say the white paint doesn’t cool off like my black tube refractor and frost up as easily. I didn’t realize what a desirable scope this was until using it and since then a few others who have seen/ looked through it have. One person who saw me using it was invited to look through it for a while and when he took a good look at it, must have know the scope, at least by its legendary reputation in astro-photography circles as he asked me if I was considering selling it. I just gave my head a quick shake and he gave a sigh and a small frown, his close encounter with this scope likely to be his closest one.

I took time to really star test it and was quite please with the results. A 5mm Nagler plus my 2X Big Barlow gave me around 190X. Jupiter showed its subtle color differences between zones that I never noticed before on my other refractor. Even the faded Red Spot was clearly visible near one limb. He sold me (for an extra $400) a small set of matched EPs called monocentrics. These are more specialized eyepieces, made either from a single piece of glass or several types cemented together. This means (back when coating glass was expensive and not as good) you had fewer air to glass surfaces from which light could scatter, meaning brighter images. The down side is you have a narrow field of view, typically around 30 degrees or less and little eye relief.

Jupiter was astounding with a 2mm and slighter better when I added a baralow. I had to admit it was fuzzy but subtle bands boundaries were visible intermitantly.


24 Inch Dall-Kirkham Mirror and Secondary Focuser

Years back, a chapter of RASC got a donation from the estate of Heinz Lorenz, a well-off industrialist who had his own observatory, the Innisfil Observatory.  Sadly, the structure was abandoned and later demolished after falling into disrepair.

The main mirror plus the motorized secondary support, spider and focuser survived. No secondary mirror though

Its main disadvantage is a fairly small field of view before coma becomes a problem. The primary has a figure that is only 70% as deep as a parabolic mirror for a Newtonian. A field corrector can fix this quite readily and is less of a concern now.

Anyway, the mirror got shipped around the a few other RASC center like Edmonton and then Okanagan. They decided it was too much work to get this modified to a Newtonian so they passed it on

The secondary mechanism was in really good shape and showed professional grade workmanship. The stalk was bored from a solid piece of Invar ™ a proprietary alloy that has very low coefficient of expansion, meaning the mirrors focus will no change with temperature. The secondary mount tilts but does not shift laterally, confirming it is a DK telescope. More on this later. The design included two switches which cut power to the motor if it moves too far from its range, about 1.5 inches. This range allows you to get enough back focus for adding various accessories like cameras, photometers or possibly even a spectrograph. The telescope was part of a group doing research and a 24 inch scope could do that.

The construction of the scope et al was done by defunct maker, Group 128, well know in professional circles. The main mirror is heavy at 24 inches in diameter and some 4 inches thick and made of Zerodur, a premium mirror substrate.

There are some peculiarities in a DK telescope. For those who don`t know, a Dall-Kirkham is one type of Cassegrain telescopes. The primary is elliptical, that is to say it is deeper than a spherical mirror but not AS deep as a parabolic one. The secondary is a convex spherical mirror. This does allow ease of alignment as the secondary only has to be adjusted for tilt, not centering




AFTERNOON PROGRAM, NOON-4PM, at the HR MacMillan Space Centre

Activities and displays by location at the Space Centre. Events run continuously. The RASC program is
free of charge. Events hosted by the Space Centre are with admission.

Main level (no admission required)

Lobby Craft – Rays of the Sun
Physics/Astronomy interactive displays
Book sale/give away
Gallery entrance Vancouver Telescope

Main Level (with admission to Space Centre)

Cosmic Courtyard Craft: Moon mobile The Apollo missions display

Lower level (no admission required)

Auditorium Lecture series
Auditorium area Light Pollution Display
RASC membership and astronomy give-aways
Children’s activity table

Upper level (in the Hubble Gallery) (no admission required)

  • Solar system display

Outside near GMS Observatory (no admission required)

  • Solar telescopes (weather permitting)

Campus map with parking and event locations

8PM (Room C9001, south concourse of the Academic Quadrangle):

  • John Nemy presents “Island In The Stars”, a tour of the night sky from the Milky Way to the edge of the universe, and “The Stargazers”, a visual and musical presentation of the best of amateur astronomy! Prepare to be entertained & inspired!

9PM (Lawn just east of the Academic Quadrangle):

  • Star party, weather permitting!

President’s Message for January and February, 2012

On behalf of the RASC Vancouver Centre Council, and on the occasion of the publication
of this, our first edition of NOVA for 2012, I would like to extend best wishes to our
members and public for a happy and fulfilling New Year, one that includes an abundance of
astronomy in all of its forms, especially clear skies!

If you are reading a hardcopy of this edition of NOVA, then you quite likely picked it up
at our first public lecture of the year, which is being held at the UBC Hennings Physics
Building. We will be hosting Prof. Ray Jayawardhana, Professor and Canada Research
Council Chair of the University of Toronto, for our January 12 lecture. Prof. Jayawardhana’s
presentation is entitled Rocks, Ice and Penguins: Searching for Meteorites in Antarctica. Be
sure to look elsewhere in this edition of NOVA for a backgrounder on our speaker, who has
been hailed by Wired Magazine as “a rock star” of astronomy!

This lecture promises to be just the start of another year of presentations by A-list
speakers, on a diverse range of topics! Our top-flight speaker program is one of the great
strengths of RASC Vancouver’s programming, but is just one of our many services that
benefit our members, and which contribute to the community at large.

If you are a member of RASC Vancouver, then you probably already know the broad
outlines of the other priorities that council has set for our 2012 programming, which we
have carefully chosen in order to effectively concentrate our efforts in four key types of
activity: Public outreach; Observing Programs; Membership Building; and Web Presence.
Council has set specific goals within each of these four areas, whilst we keep on the lookout
for other opportunities that may arise during the course of the year.

For outreach, we intend to invest in our partnerships with the SFU Observatory (coming
soon to a Burnaby campus near you!) and the BCIT Planetarium, including using these
venues to reintroduce our very successful “What’s Up?” program for newcomers to
astronomy (especially young ones!). The “What’s Up?” program was established last year
as an “add-on” to our monthly lecture series, but will instead be offered this year a series of
special events, independent of our speaker program, so as to better serve a young audience.

To reinvigorate our observing program, we will establish a regular series of observing
nights, using Twitter to link participants to these events in real time (more on Twitter
below), along with a series of clinics on telescope use, astrophotography, and other areas
of interest (looking to our members for direction here). We will also continue to improve
access to our valuable observatory, the AOMO in Maple Ridge.

To build our membership, we will survey members and our many non-member guests to
establish what we need to do to bring more value to our existing membership, and to entice
newcomers to our society. The June 5 transit of Venus promises to be a extraordinary
opportunity to showcase Vancouver Centre to a large public audience, allowing us to
highlight the expertise of our membership with appearances on local TV and radio
broadcasts, and in interviews by print media, and accentuating our capacity for community

engagement by a massive show of force on event day! We are already gearing up for
this fabulous occasion! If you are a member of Vancouver Centre, and are interested
in becoming involved in our public presence, there is no better way to do so than by
contributing to our Venus transit effort, and no better time to step forward than now! I
heartily encourage you to contact Vancouver Centre’s Event Coordinator, Suzanna Nagy, at
[email protected].

Turning to our fourth and final priority for 21012, which is to improve our electronic
presence, we will establish Facebook and Twitter as prime social networking tools (in
addition to our successful Meetup site), especially for linking our members in real time, and
we will increase content on our much improved web site,

RASC Vancouver Centre also has an important new challenge in 2012. This concerns a
central part of our efforts, which, as I described at the top of this column, is to provide a
monthly speaker to our membership and the general public. Over the past 40 years, our
venue for these meetings has been the HR MacMillan Space Centre, where we were not
charged for meeting space. Owning to a difficult financial situation, the Space Centre will
now charge its standard rate for nonprofit organizations, of $640 per meeting. Council has
unanimously agreed we cannot afford this fee without serious compromise to the rest of
Vancouver Centre’s efforts.

Fortunately, we have much less expensive alternatives that we can use while we look for
a longer-term solution. We have already made ongoing arrangements with SFU and UBC,
which will provide us with meeting space at minimal or zero cost, and with BCIT, which
has economical rates, and which suits our priorities for this year. The Space Centre will
continue to offer us free use of the auditorium for speakers that they think will appeal to a
broad enough segment of their audience. The Space Centre has also pledged to revisit our
relationship once they return to fiscal health

At this point, we have established the venues for the first three lectures of 2012, which
all promise to be of outstanding quality, and on exciting and timely topics. Following
our January 12 lecture at UBC by Prof. Ray Jayawardhana, our Thursday February 9
presentation will be at the Space Centre, where we will host Dr. Ed Krupp, Director of
the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and our Thursday March 8 lecture will return to
UBC, where will we host Dr. Catherine Johnson of the UBC Department of Earth and Ocean
Sciences, and a member of the MESSENGER spacecraft science team. For April and beyond,
locations will be announced as soon as we have determined the venues. Notifications will
be sent to membership by email, and will be posted on Meetup. In general, please consult
our Meetup site on a regular basis for more information, as it becomes available: http://

Finally, all of us council would like membership and our public to know that we are actively
working on an opportunity to establish a new permanent base of operations, one that may
turn out to be remarkably close at hand.

There is much to look forward to in 2012 at RASC Vancouver! All of us on council look
forward to you at more of our monthly lectures, and our many other events.

Howard Trottier
President, RASC-VC
Professor of Physics, SFU

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

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


President's Message for May 2011

I’ve been a member of RASC Vancouver for only four years, and look what has happened to me!

Clarification: I’m thrilled to be serving as Vancouver Centre President! And in the past four years, I’ve become so deeply submerged in astronomy, for public outreach at RASC Vancouver and at SFU, and to scratch my personal itch for astronomical imaging, that my family’s lifestyle has been forever changed (more on the latter in a two part story in NOVA: Part 1 was in the last edition, and Part 2 will appear in the next; elsewhere in this edition, please look for a short piece on my encounter with the Horsehead Nebula!).

So after only four years at RASC Vancouver, I have many members still to meet, and many others to get to know still better. Perhaps more surprising is the number of activities put on by our society that I have yet to experience, despite my deep submersion in astronomy, both personally and as an educator, over the last four years. I am continually impressed and inspired anew by the passionate commitment to public service of so many members of Vancouver Centre, and by the wide range of activities for the public as well as our fellow members that is powered by this commitment.

Since the last regular edition of NOVA, I’ve had the particular pleasure of diving deep into two of RASC Vancouver’s signature annual events: “Night Quest,” put on by Metro Parks at Pacific Spirit Regional Park on West 16th, to which we have been invited to participate for many years, and which this year took place on Saturday March 19; and Astronomy Day, which we held this year at Aldergrove Lake Regional Park on Saturday May 8, at the invitation of Metro Parks, in association with their annual “Urban Star Quest.”

(My first participation in RASC Vancouver’s Astronomy Day was last year, when it was held at SFU in September, though that time out I primarily wore my “SFU astronomy outreach” hat. SFU put on a huge science open house to promote its project to build an observatory and science outreach centre, and RASC Vancouver’s Astronomy Day generating the initial impetus for the event. BTW, did you know that RASC Vancouver has provided significant support for this project in particular, and SFU astronomy outreach in general, including a generous matching donation last year on behalf of membership to the observatory’s capital construction fund, and a major commitment of volunteer time to SFU’s outreach activities? I can tell you that this support is well recognized at SFU!)

Metro Park’s “Night Quest” had a huge turnout again this year, this time in excess of 1600 people! We estimate about half that number paid a visit to the RASC Vancouver area, which was located at a very prominent location designated especially for us by Metro Parks. Our many guests enjoyed telescopic views of the night sky, thanks to council members Suzanna Nagy, Harvey Dueck, and Doug Montgomery, and took home additional insights into the cosmos from conversations with Bill Burnyeat and yours truly, along with handouts including some 200 RASC star wheels, and information on Vancouver Centre. The event was also notable for the fact that by about Noon that day, we had “officially” given up on bringing telescopes, with the forecast from Environment Canada calling for late afternoon thunderstorms and heavy rain into the evening! Nonetheless, our guests were treated to some pretty decent skies, and RASC Vancouver was there with telescopes!

How is it that a bad forecast so rarely turns out to be wrong, while good forecasts frequently (usually?) turn bad?

I took a little time off from our station, during a lull between surges of guests, for my first-ever walk the “Night Quest” trail. There were lanterns along the path; a series of inspiring and thought-provoking quotes from naturalists, scientists, and other writers, posted on trees all along the way; and many volunteers in costume, and staffing hands-on displays about nocturnal wildlife, at many stations on the trail. RASC Vancouver’s site was at an elevated clearing close to the trailhead, and just down the slope from us stood a big tent where grade-school age volunteers served up low-cost treats. All of this came together to create a magical and moving experience. My only regret was that I did not discover “Night Quest” when my son Alexandre was a tot, as it is an experience that must surely leave a young visitor (not to mention their familial chaperons!) with an enduring sense of a profound connection to the natural world.

Incidentally, this was the first Vancouver Centre public event where our volunteers wore our new “RASC Volunteer” red bibs. These eye-catching pullovers can be worn even over bulky winter coats and jackets, and are one of the fruits of having Suzanna Nagy as Events Coordinator; among many other initiatives, Suzanna has been busy reimagining and remaking our public display materials. The red bibs certainly had the desired effect on this occasion, most tellingly demonstrated as I walked along the trail, when I overheard comments from numerous passersby who noticed my bib, despite the darkness of the trail: “Oh, there goes an Astronomy volunteer” – I kid you not!

RASC Vancouver’s most ambitious public outreach event of the year is Astronomy Day, and this year a remarkably high number of volunteers came forward to deliver an outstanding slate of activities. Not including Council members who turned out in force, 26 RASCals contributed their time, either in the preparations leading to the event, on event day itself, with many working both ends of this undertaking. Our masterful Events Coordinator, Suzanna Nagy, orchestrated the whole effort with skill and poise! If you see Suzanna at any of our meetings or events, please give her kudos, not just in connection with Astronomy Day, but also for the many events that she coordinates on behalf of RASC Vancouver throughout the year.

Better yet, why not contact Suzanna and volunteer your time, if you haven’t done so already? This can be for any degree of commitment that works for you, from casual to continuing! After all, this is what we are all about. Did you get into astronomy thanks to someone who satisfied your curiosity about some topic in space science, or who introduced you to observing the night sky? If so, then you have a special reason to volunteer your time, either behind the scenes or out in front. No matter how you got into astronomy, email Suzanna at [email protected], so you can give back to the community at large!

So about Astronomy Day … what the weather gives to astronomers on one evening (in this illustration, consider our “Night Quest” evening in March), the weather seems to take back in spades on another. Hence it seemed almost preordained that the skies would open up, as they did, with a torrential downpour the morning of Astronomy Day. This included hail in some regions of greater Vancouver, and the rain did not let up until after our Noon start time.

Needless to say, plans had to be adjusted accordingly. The original program was to feature an all-night star party, thanks to our Metro Parks hosts, which was scrubbed the day before based on the dismal forecast. Happily, our Noon-6PM slate of activities went ahead without a hitch, thanks to a large collection of ginormous tents, a multitude of electrical power connections, and bathroom facilities, all provided by Metro Parks. Did I mention that Metro Parks underwrote and managed the entire logistical effort for Astronomy Day, with a bargain entrance fee of just $2?! Our volunteers had only to set up some tables and chairs, along with a couple of our own tents, to then get busy engaging the public with our many displays and activities.

I imagine that at this point one might like to know the attendance. At last year’s Astronomy Day we had over 1,000 guests , and this year … about 140 . But we had alot of very positive feedback from those that came despite the morning downpour, and this kept our volunteers and participating groups in very good spirits. And lesson learned: next year, as with last year, we will choose a venue with a fully enclosed interior space in case of rain.

I’m going to take a stab at describing a few of the many highlights of our Astronomy Day program (and you can find more information in Suzanna Nagy’s article elsewhere in this edition of NOVA). But first I want to thank our sponsors, and first and foremost that means the Metro Parks team led by Parks Interpretation Specialist Lori Bartley. Lori and her crew went above and beyond the call of duty to run a professional logistical operation that made all the difference. So on behalf of RASC Vancouver, I want to shout out a ginormous “Thank You” to our friends from Metro Parks.

A set of ginormous “Thank You”-s goes out to our sponsors: the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Vancouver Telescope, and Canadian Telescope. Their generosity showed in our large collection of first-rate raffle and door prizes. See RASC Vancouver Treasurer Wayne Lyons’ article elsewhere in this NOVA for the full set of prizes and the lucky winners.

I also want to single out Sharon Guilford for special mention. Sharon’s kids and their Grade 2/3 elementary school class participated in an SFU astronomy workshop way back in February of 2009. Her family’s continuing involvement in SFU’s outreach program “Starry Nights @ SFU” eventually led them to attend one of Vancouver Centre’s first “What’s Up?” functions at the Space Centre, in March. “What’s Up?” is a new series that is designed especially for newcomers to astronomy, particularly young ones, and which precedes our regular monthly lectures. Sharon was moved to donate  a portion of the Bob Thirsk memorabilia in her possession to RASC Vancouver, including pins from an ISS flight, and autographed pictures of the man himself, the Canadian astronaut who has logged the most hours in space, and who has also spent the longest time in space on a single mission. Sharon knows Thirsk from when her family lived outside Houston. In 2009 Sharon got Thirsk to connect from the ISS via video with the elementary school class attended by her kids. Hence the memorabilia. Sharon gave RASC Council complete latitude to use these items in the most effective ways we could come up with. After much discussion, Council decided to use this treasure trove to acknowledge the work done by RASC Vancouver volunteers. At our May 12 public meeting at the Space Centre, our Events Coordinator Suzanna Nagy will present one of these items to one of our Astronomy Day volunteers, drawn at random.

Among our many presenters on Astronomy Day, Jim Bernath was on hand with his awesome collection of space rocks, which he insists that a visitor inspect hands-on, as well as through his microscope, and which include a moon rock and a passel of meteorites. And then there was Jim’s mind-bending dark bottomless pit in a box! Jim’s display is well known to many RASCals, and has been seen by countless kids, but this was my first time through his collection, and I’ll be back for more! Another first for me was to participate in Ted Stroman’s passionate and authoritative presentation on the Apollo missions; I came away with a renewed conviction that the best public presentations make minimal or no use of “canned goods” such as “Powerpoint”, and maximal use of imaginations fired by compelling story telling using “real world” props, as Ted does with his models of Apollo-era rockets and spacecraft, including the Saturn V. Council members premiered RASC Vancouver’s new set of professional-looking posters on the Sun and planets, simultaneously eye-catching and informative, thanks to the vision of Suzanna Nagy, and genuinely professional graphic design by NOVA editor Gordon Farrell, and drawing on raw material from our partners at the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria.

Another highlight of Astronomy Day was the “Solar System Walk” put on SFU Student Astronomy Club members Ciara Morgan-Feir, Alanna Shuh, Michelle Murvai, and Rohit Grover (who is one of RASC Vancouver’s newest members). What sets this solar system model apart from many others is that an equal scale is applied to the planet sizes and their orbits. Shrink the Earth down to a peppercorn, and walk one kilometer to reach a pinhead Pluto, an honorary full-fledged planet on this occasion! Our SFU student volunteers were kept busy throughout the afternoon with a steady stream of kids of all ages, including many repeat customers .

I’ve just scratched the surface of our program. There were kids crafts and activity tables, with Jill Breckenridge first to jump in as always at the earliest planning stages; an informative display on Light Pollution Abatement by LPA Chair Mark Eburne; a speaker series kicked off and hosted by yours truly; and impressive displays by our partners from the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Canadian Telescope, the Fraser Valley Astronomical Society, and Space Launch Canada. And finally, not to forget our many top-quality raffle and door prizes.

In case the foregoing account of “Night Quest” and “Astronomy Day/Urban Star Quest” is not enough to raise your eyebrows at RASC Vancouver’s major-league engagement with the public, RASCals have been busy over the past two months with much more!

At our March 10 public meeting we hosted science educator and writer Sharon Proctor, who had a intriguing astronomical tale to tell from Vancouver’s early history, “Grouse Mountain Observatory: an early 20th century dream.” We sponsored and participated in “Galaxy Forum 2011” on April 10 at the Space Centre, an education and outreach event organized by the International Lunar Observatory Association based in Palo Alto and Hawaii. Our April 14 public meeting brought us a Members’ night that included a wonderfully personal introduction to the night sky by Treasurer Wayne Lyons, part of our new “What’s Up?” series. Membership Chair Gavin McLeod gave a wry scientific presentation on the Moon as part of “Vancyclopedia” at the Havanna Theatre on April 23. Education Chair Bill Burnyeat presented a public lecture at the Yaletown Roundhouse on April 29, and recently surpassed a dozen special shows at the BCIT planetarium for this year alone. We’ve held a number of “Sidewalk Astronomy” events in recent months, including a very successful two-day program at the Valley Fair Mall in Maple Ridge on April 30 and May 1, organized by AOMO co-Chair Leigh Cummings (who has also brought astronomy to a number of Girl Guide groups in recent weeks) with major assists by Mark Eburne (who wears three hats on Council), and Immediate Past President Ron Jerome. And Yours Truly flew the RASC Vancouver flag at four daytime SFU astronomy workshops between March and early May, hosting a total of about 200 grade-school age kids from 6 schools, with the assistance of RASCals Leigh Cummings, Ron Jerome, and Steve Megahan; and in addition, on April 27, I visited Sperling Elementary in Burnaby, to take a Grade 2 class along with their teacher and some parents on a half-kilometer “Solar System Walk” up Sperling Avenue, with the Principal’s permission of course!

Finally, and by way of an impassioned summing up, I urge you to consider what RASC Vancouver already contributes to the community, and volunteer your time to make it an even stronger leader in public science education and, perhaps even more importantly, in bringing the experience of science to the public. As I wrote above, this is what we are all about, and your participation can be for any degree of commitment that works for you, from casual to continuing. So please email our Events Coordinator Suzanna Nagy at [email protected]!

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

Howard Trottier

President, RASC-VC

Professor of Physics, SFU


Finally some clear skies

Looks like fine observing weather tonight and tomorrow. The moon is just two days old and the skies are clear.

I need to find the time to put up maps to various observing sites, along with an easy way to announce when people are planning to be there.

I’m planning to go to the Boundary Bay observing site at the south end of 72nd street this evening at around 10:30pm. It would be nice to have company.

RASC Weekend at ValleyFair Mall, Maple Ridge

On the weekend of April 30 and May 1 we held a display at the ValleyFair Mall in east Maple Ridge.  The Management and staff of the Mall were very enthusiastic about us holding our event at their location.  We were warmly greeted into their fine establishment and given every support they could to make our weekend a success. On behalf of our RASC membership I wish to extend a heartfelt thank you to Nicole and Valerie and their staff for making us feel so welcome.

Mark Eburne brought a whole truck load of astronomy gear to show the public.  Not only did he bring his ED80 and mount, his binocular parrallellagram mount and his freshly made easels for our new posters; he also brought the “water heater”.  Mark also supplied his projector so that we could show slides and presentations when the public gathered.  I brought the RASC solar telescope and mounted it on my EQ3 as well as my Eclipse which I mounted on my HEQ5 as a static display.  Mark also brought a formidable amount of handouts and literature on light pollution.

On the Saturday, Mark and I were kept busy answering the public’s questions about our equipment, light pollution, and viewing in the Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Mission regions.  The “water heater” was a real magnet for drawing people in towards our display table.  Everyone wanted to have a closeup look at the “old beast”.  Many were impressed by that 14.5″ mirror at the back end.  Unfortunately, the Mall is not long enough to allow us to achieve focus so they had to be satisfied with views through Marks ED80 and my Eclipse 150.

Our new posters were also a very big draw and sparked conversations around our solar system and future exploration and discovery.  I took the oportunity to point out that Saturn was in the evening sky and would be available for viewing that evening.  I soon found myself promising children and adults that I would be setting up a telescope that evening in front of the SaveOn Foods to do just that.  The solar posters got me into promising to set up the solar telescope on the next day at the same location.  I had two families as well as a few other groups of people visit me on both ocassions to look through the telescopes.  Their enthusiasm was infectious.

Mark was kept very busy having conversations about light pollution and what we can do to plan for a darker future.  I think he found a ground swell of support from the general public for the cause.  I believe more people spent more time talking to Mark about light pollution than to me about the night sky.  I was almost jealous ;).

I wish to also thank Dave Smith, Operations manager at SaveOn Foods, for allowing me to set up on Saturday night in front of his store.  He also permitted me to store my EQ3 mount and tripod in the store overnight so that it would be quicker to set up the next day for the solar viewing.  Even at that, I had some kids waiting for me on Sunday to get the solar scope aligned up and focused in.


On Sunday we also had the help of Ron Jerome. This allowed me to spend the afternoon at the solar scope showing our closest star to the public.  Although I didn’t get to see Ron much, lots of people told me they were sent to me by Ron.  Ron also brought more handouts and reference materials for the public, which was timely as  Mark and I were close to running out of supplies. I also know that one gentleman went home and brought his telescope to Ron for advise and education in its use.  He couldn’t have been luckier than to have Ron manning the booth that day.

Overall I would have to say that the event was very successful.  We promoted the Astronomy Day event as much as possible,  we sold raffle tickets, and discovered a lot of people in our community interested in astronomy as well as a few “closet” astronomers.  I hope we can put on similar events at other malls in the lower mainland in the future.