Comet 21P Expected to Brighten More

Our Observing Driector, Robert Conrad, has posted several times  on this Facebook page about the bright comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. It was recently close to the famous Heart and Soul Nebula in Cassiopeia and imaged by some amateur astronomers.

Comet 21P With Heart , Soul Nebulae And Double Cluster. Taken by Roman Kulesza on August 15, 2018 @ Tiny Twp. ON , Canada

The comet will pass through the constellation Auriga during the first week of September. It will be close to Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, on Sept 1st and 2nd.

Comet 21/P Finder
Comet 21/P at midnight on Sept 21st. 2018

It is now, as of mid-August, very bright at magnitude 7.8 and is expected to brighten up to 7th magnitude through September. It should be easily visible in backyard telescopes and some binoculars, especially from dark skies outside the city and when close to the new moon on Sept 9th.

Actual and expected brightness curve for comet 21P 2018 from

21P is a periodic comet with an orbital period of about 6.6 years. It was discovered by Michael Giacobini in December 1900 at the Nice observatory. Ernst Zinner unknowingly observed its return 6.5 years later while observing variable stars.

Giacobini–Zinner was the target of the International Cometary Explorer spacecraft, which passed through its plasma tail on September 11, 1985.


Ready for the Perseid Meteor Shower?

Next weekend, August 10th-13th, you’ll have a chance to see one of the best meteor shower in years. The annual Perseid Meteor Shower is expected to peak on the night of Aug 12th-13th.

Image of 3 Perseid Meteors from 2016
Three Persied Meteors taken on Aug 12, 2016 at the south end of Pitt Lake in Maple Ridge, BC

You can expect to see 50-75 meteors per hour when observing from  a reasonably dark site outside of the city such as Aldergrove Regional Park where RASC Vancouver is holding a meteor shower watch.

Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Watch at Aldergrove Regional Park

Saturday, Aug 11, 2018, 8:00 PM

Aldergrove Regional Park
Lefeuvre Road at 8th Avenue Abbotsford, BC

58 Astronomy enthusiasts Attending

Please join us to enjoy Metro Vancouver Regional Parks annual Perseid Meteor Shower Watch at Aldergrove Regional Park. It is the only night of the year that overnight camping is allowed in this park which makes this a very magical experience for all ages. Metro Vancouver Regional Parks puts on a great event with lots of activities for all ages. The…

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The Perseid shower occurs annually when the Earth passes through the debris left by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. There are a number of factors that make this shower special:

  1. For the Perseids, the Earth passes close to the center of the comet’s debris stream.
  2. The Perseid debris stream strikes Earth at high speed, around  50 km/s. Faster speeds mean more energy, and hence brighter, more visible meteors.
  3. This year has a new Moon on August 11th, ideal for minimal light pollution and seeing fainter meteors.

Meteor showers are named for the constellation from where the meteors seem to originate. The radiant of the Perseids are in the constellation Perseus, which will be well positioned in the northeastern sky around midnight.

You don’t need a telescope or binoculars, just get out of the city to a dark site and look up at the darkest part of the sky.  And put away that phone – the white light will hamper your ability to see faint meteors. Lying down is a more comfortable way to observe the show, so find a blanket and just look up.

CHIME Telescope Detects a Signal

The CHIME telescope, located south of Penticton BC, is Canada’s largest radio telescope. It has only been in operation for about a year but detected the first-ever Fast Radio Burst (FRB) at frequencies below 700 MHz on July 25th 2018, a signal named FRB 180725A.

Image of CHIME radio telescope
The CHIME radio telescope consists of four adjacent 20m x 100m cylindrical reflectors oriented north-south

A fast radio burst (FRB) is a high-energy astrophysical phenomenon of unknown origin detected as a bright radio pulse lasting a few milliseconds on average. The exact origin and cause of FRBs is uncertain, they are found in parts of the sky outside the plane of the Milky Way galaxy and are thought to be extragalactic. The first FRB was reported in 2007 and roughly two dozen have been reported as of mid-2017. However, they are ubiquitous: with estimates suggesting these events arrive at Earth roughly a thousand times per day.

CHIME has a novel design with no moving parts. The telescope has a large collecting area consisting of four 20m x 100m cylindrical reflectors. It has a large field of view (~200 square degrees) and broad frequency coverage (400-800 MHz). It was designed to map the density of the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen, over a large part of the observable universe. CHIME’s design also makes it a superb detector of FRBs – the CHIME FRB event rate is predicted to be between 2 and 50 FRBs per day. This high event rate promises major progress on these puzzling astrophysical phenomenon.


Star Party Season

Late summer and early fall are ideal times for observing as the Sun goes down earlier and the fall rains haven’t started yet.  Star Parties are a great way to get in some observing time and mingle with other astronomy enthusiasts, often under pristine dark skies.   Here are five star parties in the BC neighbourhood to consider attending this year.

Merritt Star Quest

Dates: Saturday, September 8 – Sunday September 16, 2018

Organized by the Merritt Astronomical Society with significant participation by RASC Vancouver.  If you’re into camping and doing “all nighter’s” under a canopy of stars, observing deep sky objects and the occasional planet then this event is right up your alley! The event runs for a period of 8 days and 8 nights! Making it possible for those who can’t make it for the entire event to at least have the weekends.   If you’re a hearty observer like so many others at this event then you’re in good company! When the weather is spot on, it’s really spectacular!

Mt. Kobau Star Party

Dates: Saturday, August 4 – Saturday, August 12, 2018The 35th Annual

MKSP runs 8 nights on the sage-and-fir scented summit of Mt. Kobau, near Osoyoos, BC. Dark sky observing, guest talks, a popular door prize draw and great astro-fellowshipping characterize this warm-spirited event. Last year’s wildfire on the mountain did not affect the star party site or any of our plans for the future, but affords a rare chance for attendees to get an up-close look at a recovering forest on the road to the summit.

Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival

Dates: Aug 23 to 26, 2018

Come explore the universe and enjoy our renowned northern hospitality! The DSF is hosted in Fort Smith, NT and the in world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve, Wood Buffalo National Park.  The festival  celebrates the return of the dark evening sky to our northern latitude. Dr. Roberta Bondar will be a featured guest speaker.

Jasper Dark Sky Festival

Dates:  October 12th-21st, 2018

As daylight hours begin to recede, October is the ideal time to celebrate the skies with the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival, an ever-growing festival aimed at connecting all ages to our universe and beyond.

Island Star Party

Dates: August 10th to 13th, 2018

The 23rd Annual Island Star Party wil be held in Bright Angel Park, Cowichan Station.  A three day Star Party to take in the Perseid Meteor Shower.


Mars Closest Approach in 15 Years

Next Friday, on July 27th 2018, Mars reaches opposition  where it lines up directly opposite the Sun from the Earth. It then makes its closest approach to Earth a few days later on July 31st.  During this time, Mars will appear brighter and larger than usual.

In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 31. It will be at a  distance of 57.6 million kms when at its closest approach to Earth on the 31st. .Image Credit: NASA

Oppositions of Mars happen roughy every 26 months but what makes this one more special is that the Red Planet will be at its brightest since 2003  when it made the closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years.

Viewing Mars at Opposition

The Moon will be full on July 27th which will make it easy to find Mars.  Looking to the south-east between 11 and 12 pm, Mars will be the bright object close to the Moon – about a fist width lower and to the south.

Mars Sky Chart
Mars appears a little lower and to the south of the full Moon on July 27th, 2018 at 11:30 pm

Mars is close to the horizon during this year’s opposition – just a bit above 10° – so you will need a clear view to the south-east to see it.   The low altitude also impairs telescopic views more than usual due to additional atmospheric turbulence.

RASC volunteers will have telescopes trained on Mars and available for public viewing at the Starry Nights Event at Simon Fraser University on Friday, July 27th.   The event starts at 09:00 pm but Mars will not be visible until after 11:00 pm.

Unfortunately, a global dust storm has also been obscuring telescopic views of the planet since May 30th, 2018. Some amateur imagers in the Southern Hemisphere have recently reported that the dust may be subsiding and have been able to capture impressive surface detail.

Amateur Image of Mars
Impressive amateur image of the surface of mars despite the Dust.

A brochure on Mars and other information on observing the planet is available from the Mars 2018 Opposition page on the RASC national web site.

Mars Missions

The best time to go to Mars is around its closest approach so that the travel distance is minimized.  Many Mars missions have taken advantage of the close distance to visit the planet and 2018 is no exception – NASA’s  InSight mission launched on May 5th, 2018. This mission aims to land a probe on Mars in November that will investigate the interior. The rocket that launched InSight also launched a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These briefcase-sized CubeSats fly on their own path to Mars behind InSight.



Unique RASC Coin and Stamps

A RASC coin and two stamps were recently released by the Royal Canada Mint and Canada Post to commemorate RASC’s 150th anniversary.

The coin features the Eagle Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Moon, and a view of the meteorite formed Manicouagan crater in Quebec. But the coolest thing is that the coin includes a fragment of a meteorite from the Campo del Cielo meteorite field in Argentina. The iron meteorite was recovered from one of 26 impact craters formed roughly 4,500 years ago. The typical composition of a Campo del Cielo meteorite is 92.7% iron, 6.15% nickel, 0.42% cobalt, 0.37% carbon and 0.28% phosphorus.

The stamps feature two spectacular phenomena – the Milky Way and the Northern Lights – from photos taken in 2016 by two Canadian astro-photographers: the Milky Way from Bruce Peninsula in Ontario by Matt Quinn, and the Northern Lights from Churchill in Manitoba by Alan Dyer.

Unveiling of the RASC stamps at the University of Calgary with photographer Alan Dyer, who took the Northern Lights image; David Foot, a member of the Canada Post Stamp Advisory Committee; Chris Gainor, the new President of RASC; and Colin Haig, the society’s former president.

The stamps include hidden information about the photos written in special ink that is only visible under black light. The hidden information includes the date and time the photograph was taken, GPS coordinates, and the type of camera lens used for the photo. The special ink is also used to overlay Constellation lines and names on top of the photos.


Nova Newsletter – July/Aug 2018

Our NOVA Newsletter, for July-August 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 4, July-August 2018:

What Canada Day Meant for Me This Year by Suzanna Nagy

President’s Message by Leigh Cummings

The Dangers of Astronomy in Afghanistan by Bill Burnyeat

Hoo… hoo… hoo… by J. Karl Miller



See the Moon & Venus Conjunction and Other Planets Tonight

There is a close conjunction of a thin crescent Moon and Venus visible tonight just after sunset. Mercury is also visible but will be harder to spot in the glow of the sunset. Binoculars will show Venus and the Moon in the same field of view, reveal details of the Moon’s surface,  and make it easier to isolate Mercury from the sky glow. But remember to never point binoculars towards the sun!

Moon Venus Conjunction
Moon and Venus Conjunction from Vancouver at Sunset – Sunday July 15th at  09:11 pm

Stay up later to see Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.   That makes up the 5 planets in one night identified by a CBC article. If you have a pair of binoculars, aim them at Jupiter around 10:30 pm  to see four of Jupiter’s moons: Callisto, Ganymede, Io, and Europa.

P.S. You can view a sixth planet by looking down at some point during the night.






Planet Hunter enters Hibernation

NASA has put its planet hunting  Kepler space telescope  into hibernation because it is running low on fuel. Kepler has discovered over 2,500 exoplanets by monitoring more than 150,000 stars for slight dips in brightness that might be caused by an exoplanet passing in front of the star.

Artistic rendition of NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2.

NASA made the move to ensure that Kepler has enough fuel left to beam its latest data haul to its handlers early next month. Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign since May 2018. It has been pointing at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer that it previously studied in 2015. This second look will provide data that helps astronomers  confirm previous exoplanet candidates. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel. On August 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its hibernation state, maneuver the spacecraft to point its large antenna back toward earth, and transmit the data over the Deep Space Network.

The Kepler mission launched in March 2009, with the goal of helping astronomers determine just how common Earth-like planets are throughout the Milky Way galaxy. Kepler has been tremendously successful by any measure. A key finding from he spacecraft’s observations suggest that about 20 percent of sunlike stars host a roughly Earth-size planet in the habitable zone (where liquid water could exist on a world’s surface).

Kepler’s primary mission  ran through May 2013, when the second of the spacecraft’s four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels failed. The K2 mission  was developed  in the months following the failure with the novel concept of using sunlight pressure to help stabilize the spacecraft. K2 became fully operational in May 2014 allowing Kepler to  continue making scientific observations.

The transit method of detecting exoplanets looks for slight dips in the brightness of a star when a planet passes in front of a it as viewed from Earth. We can observe an occasional transit of Venus or Mercury when they pass in front of the Sun and appear as a small black dot creeping across the Sun’s surface as seen from Earth.

Kepler Habitable-zone exoplanet hall of fame

After  several transits are detected, the planet’s orbital radius can be calculated from the period (how long it takes the planet to orbit once around the star) and the mass of the star. The size of the planet is found from the depth of the transit (how much the brightness of the star drops) and the size of the star. From the orbital size and the temperature of the star, the planet’s characteristic temperature can be calculated. From this the question of whether or not the planet is habitable (not necessarily inhabited) can be answered.

Nanaimo Worms Launched in SpaceX Cargo Ship

The SpaceX CRS-15 Mission to the International Space Station launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 2:42 am PDT this morning. In attendance were three students from the Nanaimo District Secondary School to witness a space mission that they have been working on since September.

The mission involves sending planarian flatworms into orbit to test the effects of micro-gravity and the supplement L-carnitine on muscle loss. A  group of worms still in Nanaimo, and not sent into space, serve as a control group. Astronauts in space experience muscle mass loss and the experiment may yield insights that will help astronauts on extended missions.

The  CRS-15 mission marked SpaceX’s fastest re-flight of a booster. The same booster launched the planet-hunting Tess satellite in April. The booster was topped with  a used Dragon cargo spacecraft with 2,700 kilograms of supplies and science gear for the International Space Station. The  cargo includes the spherical AI bot named Cimon, genetically identical mice, super-caffeinated coffee and the Nanaimo worms.